7 May 2017

Venice Marco Polo Airport Lounge (BA & Priority Pass) - Update

Visiting the Marco Polo Lounge at Venice Airport (VCE) at the end of April (see my previous report), I was delighted to find that the new areas of the lounge were partly open after refurbishment.


Inside the Marco Polo Lounge
The most striking addition is a covered ‘winter garden’ terrace with low basket seating and greenery, with glass walls. This occupies part of the old under-used viewing terrace. There is still an outdoor terrace alongside, overlooking the runway and lagoon; this now has protective glass walls and is smaller, with no seating. The winter garden is a very pleasant place to sit and relax or work, though I should think it will need powerful air conditioning to keep it a comfortable temperature in summer.

Winter garden


The lounge's new look is smarter and more expensive than previously. Whereas before there was no attempt at anything other than functionality, there are now lots of design-y touches. This is particularly obvious in the toilets, which are now very posh with expanses of of marble and mirrors. However this was let down by a lack of hooks in the four women’s cubicles, and the fact that one had a broken lock while another was out of toilet paper. There seemed to be some gender confusion among passengers over the signs, too.

Previously there were convenient shower facilities in the lounge. These are currently listed as 'temporarily unavailable' so hopefully showers will be reinstated when the refurbishment is complete.

The lounge is now divided artfully into zones, including the winter garden, and some working areas. When I visited most of the seating was quite close packed in the 'old' lounge area, with views over the runway. This main seating area was definitely a bit too cramped for comfort, but there is apparently another seating area which I was told would open soon after my visit. There is a 'cocoon' area to hide out in - possibly. Its purpose was unclear though it looked stylish.

'Cocoon'
Food was presented on long narrow shelves and hasn’t changed since the refurbishment: small pizza squares, half rolls with cheese, tomato and aubergine, halal snacks, croissants, miniature desserts, fresh fruit. There were self-service drinks and also waiters to serve. Available drinks include water, fruit juice, hot drinks, soft drinks, beer, wine, Prosecco.
Lounge refreshments



As well as a bank of charging points by the reception desk, there were more scattered around the seating areas, though not accessible from every seat.



I found the lounge a pleasant place to site before a flight, with enough food to tide you over a mealtime if you're not too hungry. The changes are an impressive improvement, on the whole, with a few teething difficulties (the toilets) to overcome and another area to open up. The public areas airside are actually not too bad, but in summer when the airport gets very busy the lounge is a good refuge from the crowds. British Airways passengers should note that BA flights tend to start boarding a bit early, sometimes by bus, and there is still a passport security check to pass through on the way to the gate.
Main seating area


Lounge access


British Airways Club Europe passengers and Silver and Gold status BAEC members are entitled to use the Marco Polo Club Lounge. The lounge is also open to Priority Pass holders, and to anyone prepared to pay the current admission fee, a not-really-worth-it €28.


Finding your way around the airport

The lounge is airside, on the upper floor. After clearing security, take the escalators near the windows (the right-hand escalators) and follow the signs. Note that BA's lounge-entitled customers are also able to use the priority lane at security – to the left of the main security queue, close to the BA check in desks.



> Marco Polo Club Lounge (official airport website)




Outdoor terrace



2 May 2017

BLOC Hotel at Gatwick Airport - Review


Before an early flight from Gatwick Airport last year I stayed in the Yotel at Gatwick South Terminal, where I spent the night in a very clever little cabin which nevertheless left me slightly claustrophobic. This time I tried the BLOC Hotel which has a range of room and cabin types, some with windows and slightly larger, and some designed for families. I booked a standard double room without a window for £72, which was about £10 more expensive than a Yotel cabin for the same night.

The BLOC Hotel is located within Gatwick's South Terminal, the terminal which is used by British Airways and the site of the Gatwick railway station. Access from the railway station is easy - head into the concourse, straight ahead following signs to BLOC Hotel and Departures, then take a lift up to the 3rd floor reception. Reception is literally right next to the entrance to security for departures. Staff were friendly and efficient, and equipped with a card key I headed back to the lift and up to the 8th floor. I was very fortunate and had been upgraded to a room with a window.
Smaller than a normal hotel room but a good size for a cabin, the room had a big window in the wall above the long double bed. With a wide view of green woods and hills, and closer at hand the airport buildings (I couldn't see the runway), I could watch the transit rail shuttle heading off to the North Terminal, and I enjoyed a very fine sunset.

The room's minimal fittings included a cube stool under a bedside table which doubled as a small desk, hooks and a couple of clothes hangers. There was a big mirror, a TV screen over the foot of the bed and a touchscreen to control lights, air conditioning and shutters. There were several electricity sockets, though no USB charging points. Two free bottles of water were provided, and a booklet of discounts for food and drink outlets on either side of security, including 10% off in the M&S food shop.

The bathroom was decent - or so I thought, till I discovered that the toilet seat had not been thoroughly cleaned (hopefully a one-off error, as everywhere else the cleaning seemed good). Soap and shower gel were provided, and a hair drier. To make full use of the limited space, there was a huge overhead shower turning the bathroom into a wetroom, with the option of a smaller handheld shower head. Of course, this design had the consequence of leaving everything in the bathroom wet, with pools of water over the floor, which is inconvenient if you or a companion want to re-enter the bathroom. There were tinted glass panels between the bedroom and bathroom and although they'd added a kind of modesty band, it wouldn't guarantee complete privacy.

The bed was very comfortable and my room remarkably quiet, apart from a faint constant hum from extractors or machinery outside. I used earplugs, though I don't think most people would bother, and I slept very well.


I thought the BLOC Hotel was an excellent solution to an early departure or late arrival. Its position within the terminal removes any extra hassle when you're tired. If I were travelling hand-luggage-only or had checked in the night before, I could have stepped directly from the hotel entrance into the departures security lane. My upgraded room was more comfortable than the Yotel cabin I'd previously stayed in - but more expensive too. I'd have appreciated the default provision of USB chargers, a shower cap (given the ceiling-mounted shower) and an alarm feature via the touchscreen. But overall the facilities were practical and suited to purpose. Providing free water was a nice touch and the staff were friendly.

Although staying in a hotel before or after a flight does add to the cost of a journey, it saves stress and sleeplessness, can help you get the most from your time away, and may be an economic option depending on flight times and prices, and the cost of hotels in your destination. On this occasion I was up shortly after 5am, showered, checked in, headed through security, had breakfast in the lounge, took off at 7.30am and was in Venice with plenty of energy to enjoy most of a lovely sunny Sunday. I'd book either the Yotel or the BLOC Hotel again, choosing between them based on availability and budget. The range of room types at the BLOC Hotel can suit either no-nonsense budget travellers, or those looking for something closer to a traditional hotel room - many will think it's worth paying a bit more to have a window and a little more space. I quite enjoyed my short stay.

> Gatwick BLOC Hotel
> BA flights to Italy 2017