Shangri-La Hotel (The Shard) review
If you've ever wondered what it's like staying in a 5-star hotel then let me just say one thing: heated toilet seats. The Shangri-La has got a heated toilet seat for chrissakes, like you're sitting on a warmed up oven; and you don't even need toilet paper because they've got little sprays that fire up from the toilet bowl (I know this is uncouth, but this is important information that I'm giving you here). And you can angle the sprays as well, and have them attack you from the front or back. It's a very hi-tech toilet. That is why the room costs 450 quid a night -- you are paying 200 quid just for the toilet. I've never sat on a toilet that is plugged into the mains before, and comes with a control panel attached (I have included a photo -- see if you can make sense of it!).
I like this bathroom better than the one at The Ritz. Forget the bedroom. Forget the restaurant, and the bar and the bed... let's just focus on the bathroom for a little while longer. They've got some electronic scales in here and a space-age telly floating in the middle of the mirror. It's a bit like one of those hologram screens that hover above the table in Star Trek. So you can look at yourself in the mirror and watch the TV at the same time -- useful. It's got two fluffy white rugs and a couple of dressing gowns and a pair of flip flops too. I think I'm just going to stay in this toilet for two days.
The Shangri-La is halfway up The Shard, by the way. (Did I not mention that? I was too busy talking about the toilet.) It spans floors 34-52, and my room is on the 45th. (The public observation deck is on 68-72.) When you first enter the hotel you have to say hello to the welcome desk, where you'll meet a nice lady who whisks you up 35 floors in the lift. Then you've got all your form filling and signing to do at the reception, where you'll meet another nice lady who will take you up to your room. I don't know if this is standard for 5-star hotels, but every time I've stayed in one so far I get a little guided tour of the place. The first time it happened at The Ritz I thought I was special, but now it just seems as if they do it for everyone.
The room is a bit of a knockout. It's not that big for a luxury hotel but the view is something else. I paid for a 'City View' room, so it looks out over Bankside and the Square Mile. I can see everything from Big Ben and Parliament in the west, right round the bend of the Thames to the Gherkin, with St. Paul's slap bang in the middle. It doesn't quite go far enough around to see Tower Bridge, but I'm sure that some of their other rooms do. The farthest thing that I can recognise is the tall arch of Wembley Stadium.
I thought it was a nice touch that they've provided a pair of binoculars in the room and a seat by the window, so you can just sit and relax, and watch the trains snaking their way into London Bridge. I can follow their entire railway journey from Waterloo to Cannon Street station from my seat in the sky -- if you're a train spotter then this is your dream come true. I'm probably looking at a million people up here. A million people and fifty thousand rooftops. A quick count reveals eight river bridges and three different cathedrals -- St. Paul's, Southwark and Westminster Cathedral. Plus Westminster Abbey as well. The binoculars bring out Whitehall and maybe Buckingham Palace too, but the sunlight is starting to make it hazy. Imagine being able to see all of that, plus the Bank of England, Royal Courts of Justice, Tate Modern and Nelson's Column -- in the same view. (You will need the binoculars and good geography to see Nelson -- good luck.) I can see people using the telescopes at the top of The Monument too -- not realising that there are people higher up spying on their lives.
The view at nighttime is pretty cool. And instead of the quick half-hour you've got on a visit to The Shard, in a hotel room you can literally sit here all night with your floor to ceiling panorama, fifteen feet across. It makes you realise how big the city is when you can see all the lights come to life -- they cover every speck of land to the wide horizon, like a load of dodgy pixels flashing on and off. And then you look down close and see a snake of cars and buses, and tiny little ants walking home across the bridge. I feel like a spy satellite, sitting here, nosing down on people's lives, whilst they wander along oblivious.
So what else is there? Well... the first time you enter the room they will have warmed up a pot of tea for you, all ready to pour. I thought that was quite nice, until I discovered that it was Chinese tea, with no milk and a load of herbal weeds in it. They've put a little Pot Noodle in the cupboard too (but with a posher sounding name than Pot Noodle, of course -- but we all know it's a Pot Noodle) and a few tubs of nuts and shortbread. I daren't eat any of this stuff yet because I don't know how much it costs -- I haven't found the minibar menu.
Here's something weird: I've just discovered a chunky torch in the drawer. I'm assuming that must be for emergencies, in case we have to climb down the skyscraper stairs in darkness. That's a bit worrying! I immediately start thinking of the Towering Inferno and Steve McQueen.
But here comes the bad bit... I've been here for two nights now, and I must admit that I don't like the restaurant and bar very much. Silly old me just kind-of assumed that because it was a 5-star hotel, it would always have a place to eat and drink. But it turns out that you have to book well in advance for both, because they are so busy (because of the view). They've decided to pack them out with people off the street, and no preference is given to the guests. If you decide to go down there in the evening, on a whim, then you may as well just forget it -- you've got no chance. I got turned away myself, and heard another guy complaining at the desk when he suffered the same. Another couple had one eye on the clock because they'd been given a deadline to leave. Who's ever heard of booking time slots in a hotel bar? It doesn't seem like a very friendly way to treat your high-paying guests.
The breakfast the next morning was !@$% too. I went down there at 7 AM, which was half-an-hour after it opened, and waited an age for the waitress to turn up, only to be told that the hot buffet (bacon, sausages, eggs etc) wouldn't be out for another fifteen minutes -- which would have been 25 minutes after I sat down (and nearly an hour after it was supposed to have opened). So I switched to a continental breakfast instead, only to be told that the bread and rolls weren't ready yet either... but I could have a cup of fruit juice and a bowl of cornflakes (bear in mind that a continental breakfast in this place costs 28 quid). Would you want to spend £28 on a bowl of cornflakes? That was when I gave up and went to Starbucks.
Oh yeah... and the bar latch on my hotel door fell off. Do you know that thing that you flap across the door to stop thieves getting in? Well that was screwed on so tightly that it just fell off when I shut the door. So if you want to burgle some rooms, you should go to the Shangri La. Give the door a big shove and the lock will probably fall off. (Although to be fair to them, they did send somebody up to fix it very quickly.)
And one last thing to be aware of: they do that cheeky thing of pre-authorising a load of extra money on your credit card, in case you decide to make any phone calls or ring down for room service etc. And it's a very hefty charge = 200 quid a night (on top of the £450 a night that you've already paid for the room). That 200 quid a night becomes frozen money that you can't spend until your holiday is over. Why are they confiscating money for something that you might not even buy? Why can't they just charge you at the end, like everyone else?
Here is my final advice: this hotel is all about the view, which is fantastic, but it's not worth staying overnight for.
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