Saturday, July 7, 2018

Five Irish Castle Hotel Reviews

We recently took a 9 day/8 night vacation in Ireland through Great Value Vacations. It was the Ireland Castle Experience Upgrade. The upgrade means we paid additional to get breakfast at every hotel and for tickets to the Guiness Storehouse (which we didn't use because we spent the day in the Wicklow Mountains and at Glendalough).

I thought I would review the castles we stayed in and rate them. You can find details of what we did during the day in this post.


Here are the castles in the order we stayed in them:

We mostly used the hotels as a place to sleep and eat in the morning. We did explore the hotel grounds (if they had any). Our days were filled with other activities, so we did not participate in using the pools or spas (all hotels had a spa, except Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel).

We enjoyed reading the history of the castles and seeing photos of their previous state. Many of the castle hotels have been added on to, and you don't stay in the "original" castle. Some of the hotels look like castles, while others don't. Basically, they were homes to someone with a lot of money. Also, we had the cheapest room you could get at every hotel. I'm assuming the suites and more expensive rooms are even fancier than what we stayed in. And for reference...we usually stay in Choice Hotels, like an EconoLodge, so we were expecting a 4 or 5 star hotel to be nicer than those (most were, not all...read on to find out which one didn't live up to expectations).

Also, one note. I'm allergic to peanuts and I was very impressed with all the food allergen signs in Ireland. I didn't have one reaction at all (and I react to eating traces of peanuts).

Here's our review of the hotels in order of our favorite to our least favorite.

1) Lough Eske Castle

County Donegal
Donegal Town

This 5-star hotel was hands-down our favorite. Both of us agreed on this, it's far superior to all the rest. (Yes, even better than Dromoland, but that's probably because County Donegal was also our favorite). From the service to the room - everything was friendly, charming, and accommodating. The employees were some of the friendliest ones we met. We aren't particularly accustomed to having people serve us and that's what happens at a 5-star hotel, but even with people carrying our bags and waiting on us, it felt more friendly than something they have to do.



We always parked our car at the hotels and we didn't even get anywhere near the front door of Lough Eske when a friendly gentleman welcomed us, took our bags, and took us to the check-in desk. From the check-in desk another gentleman took our bags and showed us to our room. He explained the hotel on the way and showed us through our room and how everything worked.


At every hotel we arrived to breakfast at the opening time (we like to get an early start on our day and breakfast is usually less crowded when it opens). We stayed at Lough Eske on a Friday and Saturday night and it never seemed busy or crowded. We arrived for breakfast on Saturday morning and were greeted by a smiling face and shown to a private table next to a window. The breakfast room was large, bright, and spacious with the tables separated enough for private conversations. There were never more than 4 tables of guests when we were at breakfast and we all had our own areas. Breakfast had the usual Irish offerings (sausage, puddings, bacon, potatoes, tomatoes, fruit, pastries), along with a chef making pancakes and to order omelettes. There was also a selection of cheeses, meats, and smoked salmon. Coffee was always brought to us in a small pitcher to pour. The first morning I had an omelette made and enjoyed a great conversation with the friendly chef. He recommended driving a tour of County Donegal and stopping at the Slieve League Cliffs. He told us to go through the sheep gate and drive to the top (we were very thankful for that tip, because we arrived in the evening and it saved us a lot of time. Many tourists parked below the sheep gate because they didn't know you could drive through it.). In between the few guests in the restaurant, the chef drew me a personal map of the area and hand-delivered it to my husband and I. That just goes to show you how the employees of Lough Eske go above and beyond normal service. The second morning I had pancakes and thanked the chef for his recommendations. 

The grounds around the hotel were beautiful, with colorful flower gardens. We enjoyed a walk on a board lined path next to Lough Eske.







Our room wasn't small, nor was it large, but it was very comfortable. It wasn't overly styled, but had a simple elegance to it, which I liked. The bathroom was extremely large. I think you can tell how many stars a hotel gets by the bathroom! I joked with my husband that this was the first time he took me to hotels that had separate bathtubs and showers. The bathroom at Lough Eske was enormous. It had a separate toilet room, shower room with a rainfall shower and normal shower head, a large bathtub, a large sink area with double sinks, a towel warmer, and a dressing area. The single king bed was large and comfortable. (We preferred rooms where we got to share a bed. It was our twentieth anniversary and we still like being together!) There was a TV area and even an Nespresso coffee machine. A bump out with french doors held a table and chairs, which we enjoyed. It was lovely to be able to open the doors and let in some fresh air. There were glass bottles of sparkling and still water for us to have each day.






Our room was in a back building, behind the main castle. We could access the building without having to walk through the main castle building. There was also another back parking area and door in which to easily access the building our room was in.

There was no debate between us, this was our favorite hotel. We both highly recommend it if you stay in County Donegal.

2) Dromoland Castle

County Clare
Newmarket-on-Fergus

This was the other 5 star hotel we stayed in. It is quite elegant and has lots to do, but it didn't quite beat out Lough Eske for first place, in our opinion. It did make second for the fact that it lived up to its 5 stars.





Dromoland was busier, even on a weekday stay. Perhaps it was the golf course or the tour bus pulling up to let groups take photos in front of the castle, but it was definitely busier than Lough Eske. We did manage to find some quiet places around the grounds, such as the lily pond. We even took a row boat ride (lots of work to go nowhere!) and enjoyed a walk in the walled garden. There are plenty of activities offered: spa, pool, golf, archery, falconry, carriage rides, and more.










When we arrived at the hotel we carried our luggage up the flight of stairs to the check-in desk. We had to wait for someone to check us in and then we had to wait for someone to come and get our bags and show us to our room. A gentleman, clearly older than us, hefted our two bags up on to his shoulders. We both said we could carry our bags, but no, he clenched our bags with all his might and carried them down the flight of stairs. I'm not kidding when I say that my husband was ready to catch the man in case he fell. It felt slightly awkward having him take our bags. He was a very nice gentleman and he showed us around our room with brisk efficiency. I kinda felt like I had to give him a nice tip for carrying our bags, poor guy. Our bags have wheels, but it's hard to wheel them on stairs.


We did enjoy a late meal in The Gallery. It felt strange to sit in an open area and have people wait on us, but that seems normal at these hotels. Our waiter took our order, but I knew they forgot about us. (It was an ongoing joke between us that we had a hard time finding food in Ireland...either because we wouldn't be served, places were closed, or people forgot about us. Grocery stores were our saving grace.) Eventually, someone brought us a tray of "snacks," which I noticed no one else had gotten. And this was after a larger table was served and they ordered a good 15 minutes after us. The wait staff realized they forgot us (we never mentioned it) and it was kind of them to bring us snacks. We noticed on the bill later that our order said, "ASAP!!" Yep, they forgot about us. We had an expensive dinner of crab and Irish steak sandwiches, with a side order of vegetables (again, they forgot this and had to bring it later when we asked).

Breakfast was served at 7:30, a little later than other places. There was a line to get into the breakfast dining room when we arrived and the dining room was crowded. We had a table close to others and could hear everyone's conversations. To get to the buffet food, you had to leave the dining room and serve yourself from the hallway (where people were standing in line to get into the dining room). That didn't quite feel 5-star. The service and attention in the dining room were fabulous though. There was a high ratio of people working to people eating and everyone was every kind and attentive.


The room was the largest one we stayed in. It was slightly disappointing to have two double beds, but I guess that was the room in our package. The "wood" on the walls is only wallpaper, so don't let it fool you! The room had a fancy "country" look to it. There was a desk, sitting chairs, entertainment unit, and nepresso coffee maker. The bathroom had double sinks, a bathtub, shower, toilet, and towel warmer. You can see the fan in the corner of the room below. Most of our hotels didn't have air conditioning, which normally isn't a problem. We happened to travel during a warm/dry spell and opened our windows for fresh air. Dromoland was the only hotel (if I remember correctly) that had one standard American outlet. The rest of the hotels and outlets at Dromoland had the usual European outlets. Pack your adapters. There were glass bottles of still water for each of us to have.







After one of our walks, we found our room had been turned down. There was even a box of chocolates. There was no allergy information with the chocolates, but I risked it, assuming they would say if they contained peanuts (I could have asked). I'm happy to report they were peanut free!




We enjoyed our one night at Dromoland. If want to enjoy all the hotel offers, you'd be best staying a couple of nights! Dromoland is a destination all on its own.

3) Kilronan Castle Estate & Spa

County Roscommon
Ballfarnon

To be honest, it's a toss up between Kilronan and Dunboyne for third. We gave Kilronan third because we enjoyed the location more and we did stay two nights there. It also looked more castle-like than Dunboyne. But we'll consider them a tie.





Kilronan is a 4-star hotel. Our room looked out to the back, to another building. It was a standard hotel room, and not very large. There were two single beds that were pushed together (and rolled apart if you happen to fall in the crack...fun times). There was a desk and a wardrobe. The bathroom had a separate shower that was the tiniest thing in the world, it reminded us of a shower in a RV, and you couldn't fit two people in it. There was a sink and toilet. Plus a bathtub, which we discovered had glowing lights under it at night. That was a fun effect my children would have loved. There was a glass container of water that could be refilled for our use.






There are some walking paths around the castle that are marked with colors. You can ask for printed directions at the front desk. We walked the path by the lake and found an old boat house. There weren't any colorful gardens like the first two hotels, but the grounds were well-kept and very green. We also enjoyed exploring parts of the castle and reading the history.

Breakfast was in the dining room and we were seated in a separate small room from the buffet. Guests were seated with enough room to be by themselves (especially if you arrived when it opened). The servers were very kind and pleasant.


Outside the entrance to the hotel you could view the old entrance to the castle and the gatehouse. They were made to look old when they were new, and they're old now!



If you're wanting to stay in Roscommon, I would recommend the Kilronan. It was a pleasant stay and we enjoyed it. It wasn't our favorite room, but it was clean and well-kept up.

4) Dunboyne Castle Hotel & Spa

County Meath
Dunboyne

As I mentioned, this one is a close tie to Kilronan. We liked the location and look of Kilronan a little more, but the room at Dunboyne beats out Kilronan. Dunboyne is also a 4-star hotel.



We walked the grounds a little bit, they weren't as extensive as the other hotels I have mentioned so far. There was what appeared to be an old wall with a window and a door and a few gardens structures scattered around. We did walk to the town of Dunboyne, which wasn't far, and enjoyed supper there.




The room was almost identical in size and shape to the one at Kilronan, but we far preferred the look of this one. We enjoyed the king sized bed (no rolling apart). The finish of the room felt more elegant and upscale. The bathroom was nearly identical to Kilronan, it had different fixtures and the sink and toilet swapped places. Though, this shower was a wee bit larger than the one at Kilronan. There were also plastic bottles of still water.




The breakfast was lovely and in an open dining room. Once again, we got there at opening time and there weren't many people. We had a lovely table by a window and the servers were very attentive and kind. My husband even ordered grilled kippers from the menu and the buffet contained the usual Irish breakfast items.

This hotel wasn't too far out of Dublin and would make a good choice if you don't want to stay in Dublin. We enjoyed our one night here.


5) Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel

Dublin
Killiney Hill Road

This was the last hotel we stayed in and as my husband said, "It makes you want to go home." It was a disappointing hotel compared to the rest. It was supposed to be a 4-star hotel, but that's pushing it. We're use to staying in EconoLodges or Comfort Inns (which we don't mind, but they're not expensive hotels and you know what you're getting)...and Fitzpatrick is right along the lines of a budget hotel. The only thing that is 4-star about this hotel is the service. I don't want to knock the service, because that was wonderful. We had to leave early the last morning and were going to miss breakfast and the hotel staff had to-go bags of food and coffee waiting for us when we checked out. (We did request that and they remembered and accommodated us.) It's just when we were expecting a nice room, we were sorely disappointed to have a room that needed some updating (or it looked like the updating was just makeup applied to an old room).

First, it doesn't look like a castle. Not a problem, I guess. It's supposed to be the only hotel castle in Dublin. It's just slightly underwhelming looking compared to the ones we stayed at previously. Maybe if we had stayed here first it would have made more of an impression.




The room looks good in photos, but it was not that nice in person. The wallpaper might have been added recently, but it was peeling off in places. The door to the bathroom was cheap looking and may have been recently painted, but it was a horrible paint job. They just painted over the hinges and anything in the way. You could tell the room was dated, but they were trying to do a quick job to fix it up and make it more "modern" or 4-star looking. There was a nice coffee maker, but for the life of me...I couldn't figure out how to use it and I really wanted to because the coffee at breakfast was awful. I instead ate the butter shortbread cookies with the coffee maker. There was a refillable glass container of water also.




You'd think a 4-star hotel would replace its guest information book if it looked like it had been in the toilet. But no...



Our room looked out...to a roof and windows. My husband joked the window was barred from being opened wide so you didn't jump out.


The bathroom was tiny. I said 4 and 5 star hotels could be judged by their bathrooms because they were usually large and had a separate tub from the shower. Not here. My husband and I could barely fit in the bathroom together and there was not a separate tub. The shower was nice, but we weren't impressed. The floor looked like a cheap hotel, but you could tell that they had replaced the counter-top and did some other tile work. Oh, and we got a kick out of where the hand towel holder was placed...real useful! They could have just put a towel on the counter.





A young guy came around to do turn-down service while I was in the room. I declined the turn-down service, but he gave me some chocolates! There was no turn-down service the second night, perhaps because I turned it down the first night.

Breakfast was...meh. We got there when it opened and it wasn't open. There were a bunch of business people and another couple waiting. The restaurant opened late and it was severely understaffed. I felt bad for the three people working because the line of people to eat got longer. The servers were constantly running to get coffee/tea, refill food, and serve others. I was astonished to find that you cut your own bread from a loaf at the buffet. I decided to avoid the bread as I watched people hold the bread with their hands and it kind of grossed me out. The coffee was horrible tasting and neither my husband or I drank it after one sip. Some of the hot food was also not very warm, it was rather a disappointing breakfast. We had the go-to breakfast the next morning and that was decent. The coffee was better and we had a muffin, apple, banana, and yogurt.

Overall, we both agreed that it's barely a 3-star hotel for rooms and looks. The people were nice and service was great, but it wasn't quite up to par with the other 4-star hotels and that may be because they seemed understaffed. I think they have staff turn around at that hotel, due to being so close to Dublin. There were quite a few college aged people working and we knew one of the staff checking us in had just started. College students aren't bound to be long-term workers, when they're working a summer job.

We did enjoy walking to Killiney Hill Park and to the village of Dalkey. We ate in Dalkey for supper both nights. If you want to stay in the area, I suppose this would be a fine hotel to stay at as long as you don't pay too much. It's not worth 4-star prices. Maybe the more expensive rooms are fine, but our room was not worth 4-star prices. We were very underwhelmed and disappointed that this hotel was even included in our Great Values Castle Getaway. We read reviews online while we were there...and we aren't the only Great Value customers to be disappointed in the Fitzpatrick. The lobby area that we walked through to our rooms looked disorganized and messy most of the time. It wouldn't be a place that I would enjoy having a meal or tea. There were a lot of "funky" smells in different places. The hallway to our room was not pleasant, maybe even moldy smelling. If you get a good deal to stay here, then go for it. Otherwise, we don't recommend it...especially if you're expecting a nice 4-star hotel.

There's my long-winded review of castle hotels we stayed in. Here's a recap of how we placed them:

1) Lough Eske
2) Dromoland
3) Kilronan (tie)
3) Dunboyne (tie)
5) Fitzpatrick

Have you ever stayed at a castle hotel? Thoughts?

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