Monte Mar Palace Hotel

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Jun, 2013

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This was our first Saga holiday. We chose Madeira and were not disappointed with Saga or the island. However as we booked over six months in advance we were a little crestfallen that Saga’s quota of Manchester flights had already been booked. So we had to travel south and fly Monarch Scheduled from Gatwick. Both outward and return flights were punctual. Seating was adequate and in-flight service as expected from a budget airline. The landing at Funchal, a notoriously difficult airport, was superb. We awarded the Captain 10 out of 10 for a really smooth touchdown. We chose the Monte Mar Palace Hotel, on the north side of the island. The hotel was in a stunning location but not as quiet and peaceful as we had hoped. But first the good points: the hotel was spotless and its location allowed every guest room to have a balcony and sea view. The staff were universally pleased to serve us. The offer was an inclusive deal in which the food was good and varied and drink generously served. Four half-day tours were also within the inclusive deal; these were interesting and often fascinating, with one exception – Ribeira Brava is simply a tourist trap. The resident Saga representative, Brian, was knowledgeable and helpful without being intrusive. The local village, Ponta Delgada, although small had most facilities and offered many pleasant walks. Madeira itself is packed with breathtaking scenery. An evening excursion sold by the hotel took us to see fireworks over Funchal harbour. As part of the Atlantic Festival, four teams compete to provide the best display over four Fridays in June. We saw the Chinese team’s show. It was absolutely stunning. One factor which did not bother us is that the north side of Madeira often suffers from haar, especially in the morning. We were quite happy with variable weather. But if you are seeking wall to wall sunshine, Funchal is a better bet. Unfortunately it seems that the hotel is facing hard times. Some furniture in the public rooms is getting threadbare. The steam room in the spa is permanently out of use and the sauna is only turned on by appointment. But the worst feature of the hotel’s problems is that heavily discounted rates are being offered to certain tour groups. One French group with Club Magellan was a particular nuisance. A large proportion of group members were noisy, rude and crowded round the bar drinking free whisky as if it was about to run out. We enjoyed our holiday, despite the efforts of the French. We like Madeira and Madeirans. But we would not book the Monte Mar Hotel again. In our experience once any business starts offering its services at heavily discounted prices, it rarely recovers. More and more customers will demand big discounts. Those who have paid a fair price will go elsewhere.

Paul Ambler

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