Still an excellent hotel - pity about the airshow weekend events...
We returned to the Roker Hotel between Saturday 23rd and Monday 25th July. Basically for the airshow weekend. I wrote a review of this hotel almost a year ago as we go back a long way...and last year was the first time I’d been there for several years (we used to stay here two or three times a year at one point for family visits!).
I’m glad to see little has changed since our last visit because I think the latest refurbishment works have been superb. Lovely interiors and it hasn’t spoilt the unique feel and huge character of the place - it still feels like the hotel I fell in love with as a child. I like the feeling of familiarity and I wouldn’t change this place for the world... It’s exactly how I like a hotel. I judge the Roker as the ‘benchmark’ of all hotels I stay in. It has a lovely feel about the place and it's character is what has kept drawing us back for literally decades, now...!
We had Room 127 again, which is found up on the second floor. Barring the addition of a new, large TV (very nice!), it was more or less the same as last year. Very clean, a decent sized bathroom, enough toiletries/tea/coffee and comfortable beds. A few minor marks on one of the walls showing wear and tear but certainly well within the boundaries of acceptability. I had no trouble in sleeping and even though it was very warm outside, the sash window provided enough fresh air.
As it was the airshow weekend, things were a little different. The local radio station were out in the car park during both evenings we were there (I’d like to dub it ‘Concert In The Car Park’!). My father was a little worried about getting to sleep, but it was finished by 11pm on the Saturday evening and shortly before 10pm on the Sunday. Lots of people were outside enjoying themselves and the security staff on site done an excellent overall job from what I could see. It was a little irritating having to explain we were guests every time we tried to get back into the hotel’s reception area, but understandable given the events in the car park.
We had to have breakfast in the Italian Farmhouse on Sunday morning which felt a little odd, but there we no issues with general service and the food quality decent. I also liked the decor - although a bit dark for a breakfast setting. We were back in the ‘traditional’ dining room that’s Let There Be Crumbs for breakfast on Monday morning which we both preferred - plus table service for cooked breakfasts being a notable bonus. I’m not fond of self-service breakfasts considering the amount of money you pay to stay there...
Poetic License was as I remember it as I’m a huge fan of the decor - particularly the copper table-tops and button-backed leather bench seating. Everything was also more or less spotless. We ate in there last year and the food was first class. However, no food was being served in there over the airshow weekend, which I feel was a great omission. Just one point, we were told by the bar staff that they didn’t sell the bottles of gin they distill there...?! I’d have asked why but given it was a busy weekend with lots of people to serve, I didn’t want to ask as to why...
As for the service - considering it was very busy, I had no real complaints and the staff were warm, welcoming and friendly enough towards us. This was in all departments of the hotel.
Why have I dropped my opinion of the hotel from five stars (from last year) from to four? There’s two reasons:
My first point is that during this weekend, we couldn’t actually have an evening meal at the hotel. No food at all was being served in Poetic Licence and the only place available was the Italian Farmhouse. That’s all well and good, but what if you don’t like Italian food?! What are you supposed to do?! It was all academic really, because it turned out to be full when we walked down there... In the end, we had to walk a mile down the coast to a rival hotel (that we've also stayed in before) for a proper evening meal. Fortunately, they were accepting non-guests in their restaurant and as it turned out, we weren’t the only ones eating there from the Roker Hotel! On the second night (Sunday), we decided to stand with the gathering in the car park with a burger from the barbecue and watch some of the party that was going on. We weren’t prepared to make another two-mile round walk just to have a traditional evening meal.
It’s as if the Roker’s guests during this busy weekend are very much an ‘afterthought’ compared to those simply walking off the streets. It’s not what you expect when you’ve paid a lot of money and booked almost six months in advance to say where for that particular weekend. No reservations or provisions were made for those staying over - other than a presumption that everyone either liked Italian food or weren't bothered about eating. It was a case of be in the car park with barbecue food or go somewhere else (as I said, we don’t eat Italian food and the Italian Farmhouse was full).
My second point is that getting hold of a permit to get though the closed roads due to the airshow is more or less impossible, now. Years ago when we've been up for the airshow, we used to have the permit posted to us three weeks in advance to save any hassle - so we know 'the drill'. Now? It’s a different story, sadly. We phoned the hotel no less than four occasions up to a month before the event to try and secure a permit to be allowed through to the closed-off area ,but all we were told to simply park around the back and call nearer the time. This is only time where the staff weren’t helpful and didn't seem to have any information to hand. No effort was made to reserve permits for guests, it seemed. If it wasn’t for bringing our e-mailed booking confirmation and managing to find someone who finally let us though the barriers that closed the roads (even to the back of the hotel), we would have been absolutely stuffed to get anywhere near the hotel before the airshow finished - as it turns out they’d “run out” of permits anyway...! This was by 10am when we arrived! So, it seems the hotel are no longer allocated enough to cover the paying guests or they’re handing them out to non-guests. When you’re traveling in the region of 175 miles and have paid close to £400 to stay there, this isn’t what you’d expect to have to deal with. Again, it’s as if the hotel guests are very much an ‘afterthought’ compared to those simply walking off the streets. Completely the opposite to how they operated 20 years ago.
Luckily, knowing the hotel so well and over so many years, it was just a case of accepting the unusual circumstances, accepting it was a very busy weekend due to the airshow and bearing it. A new guest may not have been as accepting/understanding as we were, though. All I’ll say is that if we were to come up for the airshow again, I would have to consider staying at their rival down the coast road though - which was still operating as a normal hotel rather than an ‘entertainments venue with rooms’.
I don’t want anyone to take this the wrong way or in too much of a negative light - as I do adore the Roker Hotel and myself and my family have many decades worth of history there... It’s our ‘default’ choice whenever we’re up in the area and it still is. However during the airshow weekend, it’s certainly not the hotel it once was and for that reason alone, for that weekend only, I would consider staying elsewhere if you feel any of the above points would also irritate you. I want to put these points across as constructive criticism, rather than a ‘moan’. This is from someone who has personally been coming to the Roker since the back end of the 80’s and knows this hotel more or less as well as my own home. It obviously does a lot of things right...!
There’s no doubt I’ll be returning to the Roker Hotel in the future. As I said at the start of this review (and indeed in my one last year), it’s a place that means a lot to me and my family. It’s served us perfectly well for decades. However, now experiencing what they now do over the airshow weekend, I would have to think twice if I was to come up for this particular weekend again. At any other time of the year though - no problem, it’s still my ‘default’ hotel in Sunderland! less