Reviewed by Sian Manning
As a mummy with two young boys, getting chosen to review an overnight hotel stay with a gourmet dinner included was amazing!
The Smartbox was sent through the post, via Parcelforce and required a signature on delivery. It came in a small brown box, inside was a little covering letter with the details of what was included and also a discount code for a future purchase. The main Smartbox is a white box, perfectly designed for gifting, it is wrapped in cellophane so that you know someone else has not previously opened it. The box itself has the image of a luxury hotel dining room and gives some inkling of what you have in store for you. Stating that there are over 200 experiences to choose from for your overnight stay with a delightful dinner. Upon opening the box you get your voucher code with instructions of what to do next, behind this is a glossy booklet with the details of the majority of the hotels that you can enjoy your experience in. The hotels are laid out in areas so it is very easy to find the hotel in the location of your choice, I was looking for somewhere local so I turned straight to the pages for Dorset. There were 3 hotels listed in the booklet each with a lovely picture and a brief write up of what you can look forward to if you choose them. Also written is that there may be more choice on the website as hotels are constantly being added (so do make sure to check) for Dorset there was 1 extra online.
Next up you log into the Buyagift website to redeem your voucher and choose which of the fabulous hotels you would like to stay in for the night. Be sure to check what each offer as I found that some offer 2 courses for dinner, some 3, some have pools and spas which can be used and some offer a full English breakfast too! Definitely worth checking what they offer and seeing what suits you best.
There is a small section of additional information for each hotel which is also a must to read through as some hotels stipulate the dates that the vouchers can be redeemed with them, for example only during Oct-May for one I looked at (not a massive problem as the voucher is valid for 10 months from the purchase date). Some also include an additional parking charge so be sure to check if you are driving.
Once you have chosen your desired stay it is a “simple” matter of calling the hotel of your choice, the number is on the Buyagift website in the hotel information. The hotel will require the details on the voucher included in the box, however as this is a fairly new voucher to Buyagift the hotel I was trying to book with did not like the format of the voucher code and were insistent that I must be reading them the wrong one. After numerous phone calls and speaking to a number of different people in different departments I finally got through to someone who took my code and it worked! The stay was booked and I was sent an email confirmation from the hotel. After 3 days of trying to book a stay, I sat back and looked forward to my very well earned and deserved rest!
Upon arrival at the hotel – The Hallmark Hotel Bournemouth, Westcliff – there are two carparks, one to the front left and one to the right behind the main entrance, both clearly signposted. The hotel looks very nice, the signage is all cleaned and looking fresh, there is no litter and the carpark is well maintained. The front of the hotel is very pretty with its flower borders and drop off point under a canopy. The hotel is very fresh and modern looking with the Hallmark signature signs and branding. The hotel itself looks like it could do with a little bit of tlc especially as you move your eye upwards and look towards the top.
Going into the hotel it is all very fresh and inviting, a nice large reception desk with friendly staff ready to get you checked in, the process was fairly straight forward, expect for the fact that once again they didn’t recognise the voucher, once they saw that it had already been redeemed on the system they were happy to accept it. We were given the details of the room, its location and directions, details of breakfast, dinner and asked what time we would like to dine. We were also given details of the hotel facilities including the swimming pool and gym and told that if we would like to use the spa it would be an additional charge each.
Up to our room, upon exiting the lift we could see that the inside of the hotel was the same as the outside, fresh and well-kept at eye and entrance level but as you look higher or venture further in a little bit of tlc, paint and fresh carpets would make a whole world of difference. The room itself was similar, really lovely fixtures and fittings, a very comfy double bed, well made and looking inviting. A large TV wall mounted at the foot of the bed, a wardrobe and chest of drawers and a dressing table with large mirror. As it was a very hot day there was also a fan ready to be used.
The doors to the rooms were all very close together and very heavy, which meant that every time someone entered or exited their room you could hear the bang of the door closing behind them, which was a little annoying.
The bathroom was a decent size and again lovely but could do with a little tlc. The whole room would benefit from a fresh lick of paint and a little spruce up.
There was a tea tray, with tea, coffee, sugar, milk and biscuits on the chest of drawers, on the dressing table there was a selection of local guides, leaflets and suggestions of things to do in the local area as well as details of room service and other amenities available at the hotel.
Dinner was booked for 7pm and we had quite an appetite so were very much looking forward to it.
The restaurant was well laid out and had a nice quiet, intimate feel, the tables were nicely spaced out, and a good size. Again however the walls could have done with a fresh lick of paint and a clean carpet.
The meal included was a 3 course meal, drinks were extra, a few of the menu choices had a small extra charge if you decided to go for them. The menu was really varied and good for all sorts of different tastes and catered well for vegetarians and other varied diets.
We asked for some water with our meal, this was bought out very quickly and topped up multiple times as and when needed.
The starters we ordered were lovely, very well presented and delicious, they came out in a timely manner and were devoured nearly as quickly.
Once the plates were taken away the main course again came out quickly, again delicious and looking almost too good to eat. The portions looked small, but were very filling. The waitress was happy to alter our meals to our preferences and we added a side of onion rings to go with it too. These were amazing and have got to be the biggest onion rings I have ever seen, more the size of a small melon and about 8 of them, definitely a sharing portion and not one each!
Extra sauces were bought to the table at request.
The dessert was ordered, we were told there would be a short wait as there was a wedding buffet being catered for at the same time, this wasn’t a problem as we needed the time for the mains to go down and us to have room. After a very short wait the desserts were with us, unfortunately mine was wrong so it was sent back to the kitchen for a replacement. Again the food was delightful, beautifully presented and very filling.
The food was served in a variety of ways, on wooden boards, slates, chips in a little basket and some on more normal plates and bowls. While being very pretty, it made some of the food a little difficult to eat and ever so slightly impractical.
We both slept well on very full stomachs, and woke up ready to tackle breakfast. The breakfast was in the restaurant, self-service full English and continental, full tea and coffee facilities and plenty to choose from.
There were multiple different juices, about 15-20 different teas, water and coffee. The food choice was just as great, fruit, yoghurts, pastries, cereal, bread, jams, cheeses, bacon, sausages, eggs, tomatoes, beans, mushrooms, black pudding, hash browns, etc. The selection was ample for the hungriest of breakfast goers. There were other things available on request too such as different eggs cooked how you like them and cold meats.
The food was all delicious and we left once again feeling very full.
Although we didn’t use the pool or gym we did have a look to see what was on offer the pool looked very inviting and well-kept and also not too busy which is always a bonus.
Although there was a wedding on at the same time as our stay we didn’t notice, there was no noise keeping us awake or disruption to our stay at all.
The time came to check out, we were charged for the carparking and left feeling well rested.
On the way home I received an email from the hotel to let me know that they forgot to charge for the extras for the dinner the night before, this was charged to the card details I had left at check in, not a problem as I was expecting this but just one to watch out for.
All in all we had a lovely night away with some delicious food both for dinner and breakfast, the hotel was clean and tidy and the staff were all lovely, professional and welcoming. Everything you would hope for when getting away and would make a lovely gift for anyone that enjoys some time away from home
I just felt a little let down by the whole booking experience and the issues with the voucher and it being accepted.
RRP: £119.99 (for 2 people)
The Buyagift Smartbox Gourmet Getaway and other Smartbox vouchers (starting from £29.99) are available to buy from Buyagift here.