The Other Side of Amsterdam
If you’re thinking of Amsterdam you’re probably picturing canals, cute tall gabled houses, maybe a bit of sleeze and porn and a few dodgy coffee shops. That’s the Amsterdam of tourists. What I get more often than not is to stay in places by the airport which lack any character or pizzazz at all. In the past 10 years or so I’ve stayed in a lot of the hotels around Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport and can’t really say that any impressed me very much. There’s something undeniably debilitating about such ‘transit’ places and in a country that’s as well known for its laissez faire (that’s French for ‘couldn’t give a hoot’) attitude to service as Holland, you can get some really bad places.
My admiration for the Spanish-owned international hotel chains is almost as well established as my contempt for Dutch hotels. So when I learned that I had to go and stay at the nH Schipol Airport hotel, I was torn between the conflicting emotions of ‘Oh no, not another Dutch airport hotel’ and ‘Goody, a Spanish chain hotel’. The challenge would be to see whether the good vibes and training of nH could overcome the natural ‘couldn’t give a hoot-ness’ of the Dutch.
I was actually pretty impressed – but knowing that one swallow doesn’t make a supper or a summer and that a couple of bad staff could spoil things, I held back from reviewing the hotel straight after my first visit because I learned I’d have to go back again two weeks later.
Like most of the airport hotels around Schiphol, it’s not exactly on the doorstep and certainly not in walking distance. With the exception of the Crowne Plaza and the Hilton, most of the airport hotels need you to take a shuttle bus to reach them. If you are tempted to throw caution to the wind and get a taxi instead, expect the driver to rip you off for a small fortune and sulk most of the way there. Some buses really do go all around the houses (I’m thinking particularly of the bus that serves the Accor family of hotels – Etap, Ibis, Novotel, Mercure……) and those take so long that you might as well have been at a hotel in Belgium for the time it takes to get there, but in the case of the nH, the bus serves only the one hotel and goes directly.
All the shuttle buses congregate on the road outside the airport at the arrivals level and the area is quite well sign-posted unless you get distracted by the giant poster of Cristiano Ronaldo in his undies which hangs nearby. On my first visit I hit lucky and walked out of the airport just at the moment that the bus appeared but on the second visit it took a bit longer and only a small minibus was supplied. If there had been just a couple more passengers waiting the minibus would have been full. The driver took off a few minutes early so I guess the timetable is more of a guideline than an actual commitment. Each time I have stayed there was no charge for the journey to the hotel. For returning to the airport, the hotel will try to sell you a ticket for the bus for €5 when you check out. Like a good Brit I paid up and then found that two thirds of the people on the bus were refusing to pay on the grounds that they were guests and didn’t think they should have to. They got away with it but it’s really up to you how much conflict you like to have in your life. Shuttles go every 30 minutes so make sure you check the timetable to avoid getting to the airport too early or too late.
First impressions on arrival were a bit bleak – a mix of ‘Gosh, that McDonalds is really very close’ and ‘So is the motorway’ – but once inside it’s a nice looking place. Directly ahead of you is a café/bar and the reception is to the right. On both times I’ve stayed the hotel has had problems with their computers but I’ve been lucky not to be delayed by these problems. Some of my colleagues weren’t so lucky and took a long time to get checked in. When the bus pulls up outside, I jump out and run for reception to avoid the risk of being at the back of the line.With check-in completed and my credit card swiped, I was sent to the lifts nearby and headed up to the fourth floor which is the top-most level. Both rooms I’ve had were absolutely identical but mirror images of one another. In each case this wasn’t a problem as the rooms were very pleasant and nicely decorated.
The rooms are decorated in shades of beige which could very easily be a bit bland but somehow nH have managed to make it look quite classy. There are thick red throws on the beds which give a nice ‘lift’ of colour and the furniture is in dark wood which contrasts well with the beige. In addition to a large bed which was two singles pushed together, each with their own duvet, there were two bedside units, two velvet arm chairs (a brave choice of fabric I thought) with a coffee table between, a long desk with a flat screen television on the wall above and a kettle to one side, a suitcase stand and a wardrobe with an ironing board and iron and a room safe. The rooms have automated minibars which appeared to be empty but I was too chicken to explore in much depth for fear of getting charged without getting anything. The carpet was flecked in shades of brown and beige and the lighting was more than adequate. The curtains were dark cream in colour and very light-tight.
The bathroom was very clean and bright but lacked any sense of real style. Nothing was missing – there was a make up mirror, hairdryer and plenty of towels but just nothing to make the bathroom stand out from so many others. The toiletries provided were in strong citrus scents and the water pressure was good.
On my first visit I ordered room service for my dinner. I was told it would take about 20 minutes and when it arrived after 30 minutes, part of what I had ordered was missing. Since I was in Holland, land of assertiveness, I told the waiter that I wasn’t happy that my chips had been replaced with some rather dry looking bread and butter. He promised to go back to the kitchen and get some for me and to give him credit, that’s exactly what he did but by the time he returned I’d had to eat my mushroom omelette as there was no way I could have stomached eating that cold. To be fair I thought the 20 minute offer from the kitchen was ambitious so I wasn’t surprised my food was late but I was a bit annoyed that it was wrong.Shortly after I finished my colleague arrived and asked if I wanted to join her for a drink in the bar. I didn’t really as I’d polished off a large beer with my room service dinner but I went down to keep her company and had some water whilst she ordered a snack in the café/bar area. The menu was uninspiring and I didn’t regret that I’d eaten already.
Breakfast was expensive and quite a muddle. I spent half my time hunting for plates and spoons and trying to figure out what to have. I really don’t need that much aggro first thing in the morning so on my return visit I skipped breakfast and then realised afterwards that it had been included in my room. My colleague’s biggest grumble was that the coffee was lousy, and she was right. The quality of some of the breads was also rather disappointing although the selection of food on offer was pretty impressive.
On my second visit we had a buffet lunch in the restaurant which was exceptionally good but hard to get to due to the dishes being laid out very close together. They’d managed to schedule several conference groups to all turn up at the same time which meant it was a bit of a crush.
Recommendation? - no Hesitation
This is not a place to choose if you really want to be in the city. Yes, you can take the shuttle to the airport and then hop a train to Central Station but that's rather a lot of bother. Treat it as an airport hotel and it will serve you well. Of the many hotels I’ve used around the airport, I think this offers one of the best combinations of proximity and service. Both of my visits were for training or large meetings and we used the meeting rooms on the first floor which were excellent with lots of natural light and plenty of space. Even if you don’t stay, this hotel is a good choice for hosting mid-sized events. The direct shuttle is a massive advantage over some of the other hotels, it’s closer than many and you shouldn’t struggle for getting to and from the airport even during a Dutch rush-hour (that’s like a UK one but 3 times longer). I paid about €90 plus breakfast and €120 including breakfast the second time but I’m rather suspicious that both rates included a contribution towards the meeting room hire and lunches. I think you should be able to do a lot better if you shop around.