Yesterday I was at the Sheraton Skyline in Heathrow simultaneously sampling both my first Starwood lounge and my 50th hotel Exec lounge where I receive complimentary access due to my top tier status in a hotel program, mostly Marriotts brands but there’s yesterdays Sheraton, four Crowne Plazas following a recent policy change to offer free lounge access to top-tier Spires and two Hilton’s following a status match with them last year. I’ve visited all of these lounges in the last decade and have ranked them top to bottom. They’re based on places that are pleasant to spend some of your leisure time, so whilst good food and seating is important so are good views, free alcohol, and general ambience.
The list is divided down into 6 categories, Outstanding, Excellent, Good, Adequate, Poor, and alas, Closed. There’s no limit to how many lounges can be in any one category, each lounge is placed where it belongs, if I visit a lounge that makes it to number 4, that won’t relegate Budapest out of “outstanding“, it’ll remain in the outstanding category but will become the fifth in that category, unless a later visit confirms adverse changes that cause its relegation. The below key lists the principal lounge facilities.
f = decent Food choices
b = free Beer and Wine
c = free Cocktails or Spirits
7 = 7-day evening service
V = great views, or at least not internal (v)
OUTSTANDING LOUNGES - go out of your way to stay:
01. London St Pancras Renaissance (fbc7v)
02. Beijing Wangfujing Renaissance (fbc7V)
03. Niagara Fallsview Marriott (fV)
04. Budapest Marriott (fbc7V)
I place the St Pancras Chambers Club at the top, although there’s no real outside views from the lounge, inside it’s like an English Gentleman’s club (no, NOT the Spearmint Rhino type) and indeed calls itself the Chambers club, and with that turn of phrase excludes Golds. This I’m afraid is a Plats only lounge. Situated in the historic wing of the building and beautifully decorated with varied seating, interesting architectural and design features clearly a lot of thought has gone into the club. Lots of nooks and crannies and manned all day with the longest free beer and wine hours anywhere in Marriott-dom, serving a very good breakfast in the club or the option of one of the best restaurant Buffet breakfasts anywhere, it follows that up by cracking open the craft beer and decent wine for its impressive afternoon tea followed by a wide ranging and lengthy evening service and a cocktail hour too. And to cap it off, if you’re travelling by Eurostar, an escorted VIP service through to your international departure, simply advise the night before, turn up in the club half an hour before your departure time and you’ll be whisked through the formalities via the VIP facilities and reunited with your luggage on the train in minutes, and well before the great unwashed start boarding! The Beijing Wangfujing Renaissance takes second place. With Forbidden City views in the background it offers varied seating with lots of private nooks and crannies plus excellent service manned all day long. It offers a huge lounge breakfast selection and cooked to order eggs in the lounges own chef-manned kitchen. This kitchen arrangement is repeated at night when chef cooks up a nightly special during the lengthy evening service that has the widest evening food selection I’ve seen in any lounge anywhere. Topped off by long alcohol hours and a full “help yourself” liquor bar selection, including, first time I’ve seen it, Free-pour Baileys! The third place Niagara choice is probably controversial because it’s manned only during service, too small for the hotel and breakfast & evening food offerings are okay at best, but this lounge is about the seating offering sweeping views of Niagara Falls. Where else in the world can you enjoy breakfast or a few evening snacks and a drink overlooking one of the worlds natural wonders? The view is incredible and makes this otherwise uninspiring lounge into a must visit. And finally on this “Go out of your way to stay” list is the Budapest Marriott which has a large lounge with a great range of plentiful food offerings at both breakfast but especially in the evenings with long help yourself beer, wine and spirits hours. What really elevates this though is it’s huge terrace overlooking the Danube and Buda castle. An absolutely excellent place to spend time during the summer months. Just beautiful. Honestly, sit on that terrace with your free beer, wine or spirit and you’ve got the best view in Budapest, free of charge, courtesy of your loyalty!
EXCELLENT LOUNGES - if staying in the area, these lounges are a great perk:
05. London County Hall Marriott (fbc7V)
06. Shanghai City Centre Marriott (fbc7v)
07. London West India Quay Marriott (fbc7V)
08. Copenhagen Marriott (fb7v)
09. Xi’an Hilton (fbc7v)
10. Warsaw Marriott (fb7v)
11. London Park Lane Marriott (fbc7v)
12. Leeds Marriott (fb7v)
13. London Heathrow Renaissance (fb7V)
14. Moscow Royal Aurora Marriott (fbc7)
15. London Grosvenor House JW (fbc7)
16. Newcastle Crowne Plaza (fbc7v)
17. London Heathrow Sheraton Skyline (fb7v)
18. Montreal Chateau Champlain Marriott (fV)
All save one of these lounges are open 7 days a week, offer free beer, wine (some with cocktails/spirits) and good food in pleasant surroundings. In fact the Hilton Xi’an provided one of the best hotel experiences in my life, but here I’m marking the lounge, and although a truly top-10 lounge it’s just not outstanding, but the hotel itself is! Now, you will also find a lounge on this list that doesn’t offer weekend service but when open Montreal Chateau Champlains food offerings are amongst the most generous out there and although the beer isn’t free it offers several local craft bottles at reasonable prices all in a very plush environment with excellent views across Montreal.
GOOD LOUNGES - if you’re in the hotel, worth visiting during service hours:
19. Paris Rive Gauche Marriott (fbv)
20. Brussels Marriott (fb7v)
21. Houston Downtown JW (fV)
22. Richmond Marriott (fV)
23. Dubai JW (fbc7v)
24. Cardiff Marriott (fb7v)
25. London Regents Park Marriott (fb7)
26. Liverpool Airport Crowne Plaza (fbc7v)
27. London Kensington Marriott (fb7)
28. Birmingham Crowne Plaza (bc7v)
29. Bristol City Centre Marriott (fb7)
30. Manchester Airport Marriott (fb7)
31. London Heathrow Marriott (fb7)
32. Birmingham Metropole Hilton (fb7v)
33. Philadelphia Marriott (fv)
34. New York Times Sq Renaissance (fV)
35. London Grosvenor Sq Marriott (fb7)
36. Windsor Marriott (fbv)
37. San Antonio Plaza Marriott (fv)
38. Leicester Marriott (fb)
39. Nottingham Crowne Plaza (b7v)
40. Toronto Eaton Marriott (f)
The fact these places have a lounge should be viewed as an advantage, but shouldn’t sell them to you for leisure. They’re still good and - especially the lounges that serve free beer and wine - worth a small premium to stay over other choices. But one way or another they have shortcomings, whether it’s because they’re internal, small rooms, short alcohol hours, or none at all, overcrowded, or poor food. Or in the case of the Ren Times Sq, the R lounge which isn’t really an Exec lounge but instead plays a hybrid role both as a guest lounge in the evening but an elites-only free breakfast lounge each weekday morning, and I score it as an Exec lounge here because of the opportunity to have free breakfast in a lounge environment with an absolutely unbeatable view of Times Sq. Indeed, the view is so good that during times of particularly newsworthy American events, Britain’s Sky News hires the R lounge as it’s HQ, using the Times Sq view as it’s backdrop, as does CNN International on NYE. The Toronto Eaton Marriott just slips into this category as although it’s windowless and it’s evening food uninspiring, it’s big and the breakfast is top-hole as you simply grab a tray, walk through the door into the restaurant, load up your food and then walk back into the lounge, so It’s the full restaurant breakfast grab-and-go style in the lounge, which is great!
ADEQUATE LOUNGES - they wouldn’t make me any more likely to stay here:
41. Brussels Renaissance (b)
42. Houston Marriott North (fv)
43. Ottawa Marriott (v)
44. Newark Airport Renaissance (v)
For a Biz stay these are quite adequate, pop in for a soda (or beer in the case of the otherwise sterile Brussels Ren Lounge, it’s couple of hours free beer is literally all that holds its place here) or maybe a snack, but theres little to detain you in any of these.
POOR LOUNGES - don’t be swayed by lounges here, they’re nothing worthwhile:
45. Quebec Delta (v)
46. New York Times Sq Marriott Marquis (fv)
47. Newcastle Gosforth Park (v)
Just to be clear here, these poor lounges are not bad spaces, they’re clean enough and have seating away from your room. If you need to get away from the kids to do a bit of work, they’ll fit the bill, but expect nothing more here than a table, chair and coffee in a comfortable and clean environment. Quebec Deltas food offerings are unimpressive, Newcastle Gosforth Park Marriott doesn’t provide any service at all and New York Marquis may have slightly better food than the Quebec Delta but is way too small for the size of hotel and number of elites, it’s just not a relaxing place to be during evening or breakfast service. The fact that these places have a lounge wouldn't influence my leisure decision in their favour at all, not one bit.
CLOSED LOUNGES - these are no longer available
Life moves on and so do Hotels, so it’s inevitable that out of 50 different properties over a decade some would no longer be available, in this case 3 lounges, namely:
48. London Chancery Court Renaissance - now deflagged.
49. Miami Beach Stanton Marriott - now a resort, hence closed.
50. Edinburgh Marriott - now closed, no reason, they just closed it!
And I’ve managed to rank these 3 as well, not on the quality of the lounges as they stood, though all were actually very good, none were outstanding but all 3 had strong points, so are a sad loss. I can hardly criticise the Chancery Court Renaissance lack of availability as it’s the outcome of the properties decision to deflag and try its fortunes with the more upmarket Rosewood brand. Miami Beach Marriott's excuse is weaker. The pursuit of Resort status for this small property became an exercise in box ticking producing teeny-weeny pools and titchy-tiny eateries, the reward being the opportunity to charge a ridiculous cash-grab resort junk fee and close the lounge to make way for something more profitable. Not an approach I endorse! But at least not as bad as the Edinburgh Marriott who despite remaining a full service Marriott just closed its lounge without notice or explanation. The Marriott Stanton must be kicking itself, no need to become a “fake resort” to get rid of the lounge, in the words of Nike “Just do it”. It’s a great pity Marriott let these 2 get away with their manoeuvres, neither of which justified the lounge closures. Nonetheless with Edinburgh’s excuse for closure being the weakest, well no excuse at all actually - it roots itself ignominiously to the bottom of the table.