Sunday 12th April 2015: 4.03am. Our vacation according to Google. We stayed in a different hotel each night, each had something distinctively good about it as one would expect given we chose from internet rankings only the very top rated locations (8.5 out of 10 or higher):
Ballyrobin Country Lodge in Aldergrove Northern Ireland: the most affordable stay of our trip at less than 100 euro. Punched far above its weight, here was as good as others costing twice as much. No pool, spa or anything like that though, which was fine actually as we were all exhausted and slept surprisingly well on what was as good a bed as places costing four times more.
The Adelphi Portrush: Flawless execution at a reasonable price. It's nothing special, except in the lack of mistakes most hotels make in that price category - for example the breakfast was as good as any hotel I've ever stayed at, and most hotels screw something up especially the bacon in the cooked breakfast, followed by the toast which hotels also struggle with getting right. Clara did love the giant two room space though, this was by far the biggest of our vacation. If they had a pool they would beat everybody else for the price paid I think, though dinner was only better than average though very affordable, indeed one of the cheapest of our vacation despite me getting fillet steak for which they only charge twenty quid.
Castlegrove in Letterkenny: If you like staying in old mansion houses as the nobility lived in this is as good as any in Ireland. Dinner was very hearty fare, typical of places like the old mansion Longford House just next to us here in Mallow.
Lough Eske Solis in Donegal: this was very good, but also cost more than twice anywhere else about 480 euro. And yet they still made a number of small and silly, given the price, mistakes. I also object to the 40% price premium they added to everything - we spent more on the bar here than anywhere else despite drinking the least of anywhere. And the dinner was silly expensive at 160 euro for nothing better than anywhere else. Way overpriced for what it was.
Westport Plaza in Westport, County Mayo: it was funny being here after Lough Eske because it had all the same facilities, in fact exactly so - pool, spa, jacuzzi, sauna plus a bigger, if not quite as nice, room. In fact I'd rate the dinner here better than Lough Eske but almost exactly half the price. The stay was just not executed as well, nor as well as the Adelphi, this is a chain staffed by people who don't pretend to love their jobs and you knew it. Total bill was nearly half that of Lough Eske though, and to be honest Lough Eske isn't worth the doubling of cost, as much as Lough Eske tries to not feel like an impersonal hotel chain, it doesn't quite get there - the staff won't veer from the script they've been told to start conversations with and that leaves you constantly feeling that they are only talking to you because it's their job and if they aren't seen to start conversations with you they'd get in trouble. Which doesn't leave a positive impression on you for obvious reasons.
It does make you wonder what happens when you double the nightly rate again. On the way back home we stopped for tea at Ashford Castle which is a 500 euro a night establishment favoured by celebrities - indeed the hoi palloi aren't allowed closer than the moat (yes the castle has a moat!), to get past that you need to be staying there. And I suspect it's a bit like getting into Google's offices - hard to get into, but once inside it's little but a few press friendly gimmicks and otherwise it's just yet another tech multinational trying very hard to not be like the others, but not really getting there despite the volumes of money expended. I therefore suspect that hotels are a bit like wine, the first doubling of price is worth exponentially more than the second doubling of price.
I think this will be our last touring vacation. It was surprisingly stressful constantly checking in and out and racing to meet fixed times to be somewhere or be ready for something, not helped by eating too much rich food too late in the evening and therefore not sleeping well. We all are far more tired now than when we left, indeed Megan is quite sick from exhaustion, and that isn't the point of a vacation. Clara also dislikes too much change at once and got upset from Lough Eske onwards and was very obviously overjoyed to return home. Next time we'll try a single affordable location with pool as Clara loves that and stay there for a period not exceeding four nights. We might actually return feeling refreshed instead of exhausted!