Review: voco St David’s hotel, Cardiff
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This is our review of IHG’s voco St David’s Hotel in Cardiff.
The hotel website is here.
voco is the newest hotel brand from IHG to launch in the UK. voco St David’s in Cardiff is one of the first voco in the world, but IHG has big plans for the brand and you will soon be seeing it everywhere.
We wanted to take a look at what sort of quality you should expect when you visit a voco and asked IHG for a free night. HfP paid all other expenses. Here is my review.
voco has been set up by IHG as a “conversion brand”, aiming squarely at Hilton’s DoubleTree or Marriott’s Delta brands. It is designed to make it easier for existing hotels to join IHG since there are no firm specifications for voco hotels. Unlike, say, Holiday Inn or Crowne Plaza hotels you are not guaranteed anything apart from a relatively premium experience.
As an example, as Rob found out when he visited Kimpton Fitzroy recently, all of IHG’s Kimpton hotels have to have flavoured water in the gym as well as plain water. The level of standardisation runs that high.
There is no such list of requirements to become a voco. You can read more about voco and what it means to be a conversion brand in Rob’s helpful article here.
I think I’ve heard of the St David’s Hotel?
Formerly one of the Principal Hotels properties that IHG recently acquired, the St David’s Hotel sits on the Cardiff Bay waterfront. It was originally built by Rocco Forte Hotels in 1999 but was sold to Principal in 2007.
The acquisition increases IHG’s presence in Cardiff to five – there are three Holiday Inns, including an Express, and an Indigo, IHG’s slightly more boutiquey 4* leisure offering. The voco St David’s is now IHG’s most premium hotel in the area with a five star rating.
The hotel itself is a little out of the way on Cardiff Bay. It is slightly further around the bay than the Millennium Centre, the Welsh Assembly and the other key attractions in the area. It is a five minute taxi from Cardiff Central station or a 20-30 minute walk if, like me, you enjoy stretching your legs on sunny days!
Inside voco St David’s
The architects allegedly modelled the hotel on a cruise ship in port, and you certainly get that impression in the atrium. It stretches the full height of the building – here is the view from the fourth floor down to reception:
My room was not ready when I arrived so I was given a free drink voucher to use at The Admiral, the restaurant bar in the hotel:
The rooms at voco St David’s
I was given a premium room, with a larger bed and slightly nicer furniture than the entry level ones. The room comes with a very large desk which is a rare sight these days. With floor to ceiling windows facing either the Penarth Marina or Cardiff Bay, the room was extremely light and airy which I loved. You also have access to a balcony, which is nice for some fresh air.
There is also a stocked mini-fridge which is free for use – and comes with some soft-drinks, beer, cider and a Kit-Kat.
However, both standard and premium rooms have the same floor space overall – here is a standard room:
Premium rooms come with a bidet but otherwise the bathrooms are roughly similar, with a shower / tub configuration:
IHG has gone eco-friendly with the toiletries and offers large bottles rather than single-use minis. On the whole this is a good idea since the minis are very wasteful. To combat theft, the bottles have been priced and would presumably be charged to your room if taken …
Toiletries are Aveda-branded Rosemary and Mint scented and can be found in both premium and standard rooms. Using it to wash my face was a bad idea since the strong mint wasn’t so gentle on my eczema! Whilst the bathroom was very smart, the Aveda packaging and product didn’t feel quite as premium.
Dinner at voco St David’s
The restaurant offers its own menu as well as a smaller bar menu if you are looking for something more casual. I have to say the service here was excellent, with very attentive staff. The main menu is Asian-fusion, with a focus on local Welsh ingredients – an interesting combination! I went for the Satay Chicken starter (I accidentally started eating before I took a photo as I was so hungry!):
When in Wales, you get the Welsh lamb shank:
Finally the ‘take’ on apple crumble, which isn’t really apple crumble at all:
I was warned by the waiting staff that this was ‘inspired’ by apple crumble but I thought I’d try it anyway. It appears to be a hold-over from the Christmas menu and I have to say it’s a bit of a gimmick. It’s hard to top a real homely apple crumble …..
voco St David’s spa
The spa is open to hotel guests from 5pm until 10pm, so I made my way down there after dinner. Just to be clear – you cannot use the spa for free before 5pm because the hotel runs it as a dedicated facility for locals.
These photos were from when it was still light during the day:
There is a sauna concealed behind these showers:
I tried it out in the evening and whilst it must have been during the peak time for hotel guests, it certainly wasn’t crowded. The spa also comes with treatment rooms at an extra cost as well as a lounge and gym:
The spa offers a pleasant way to relax in the evenings but the interior design is a little plain. It’s a shame they don’t really make use of the view since this is on the ground floor.
Breakfast is hosted in The Admiral, with both a continental and hot breakfast served. All the standard items, of course, though unfortunately no smoked salmon. Is that odd for a five star hotel?
I suspect one of the reasons that St Davids Hotel joined the voco brand, as opposed to InterContinental or Crowne Plaza, is its unique proposition. I can imagine that the Welsh Assembly is a little disappointed not to get a more flagship brand into the city, as this is theoretically the highest rated city hotel in Wales.
The voco feels like a cross between a business and leisure hotel. Its location and proximity to the waterfront make this a good choice if you’re staying in the area but there are more central hotels if you are here to shop or catch the rugby, including IHG’s Hotel Indigo.
The hotel does have some conference facilities and I was told it was possible to book the entire property for an event. It certainly feels a little more ‘conferency’ than leisure despite its location on the waterfront. That said, if you are looking to spend some time in Cardiff then this is a very smart hotel with great views.
As voco is a conversion brand, there is nothing specific about this hotel which you can rely on seeing at any other voco. There wasn’t even much yellow around, which I had thought from the voco brand website – see here – was going to be a common feature. What I can say is that, if the quality of hotels continues to be as high as this, you can be assured of a premium experience.
A weeknight stay in March at voco St David’s can be had for around £90 for a standard room, which seems very good value for money. The same room can be redeemed for 50,000 IHG Rewards Club points which I can’t recommend. Given Rob’s valuation of 0.4p for an IHG Rewards Club point, it makes little sense unless cash rates are nearer to £200.
Thanks to IHG and the voco St David’s team for letting me stay and showing me around the hotel. You can find out more, and book, here on the official website.
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