Due to some rather crappy confluences of circumstances, we ended up having absolutely nothing to do for Christmas, in a house that was filled with packed boxes and severely lacking in any ‘holiday cheer’ (no tree, no decorations, minimal presents). We were originally supposed to be in Dubai (again with the, WE WEREN’T SUPPOSED TO BE HERE!!) the timeline got pushed, so we were then supposed to be in the UK for a few days, the timeline got pushed again, so we were then supposed to be in DC getting documentation accredited and then the move got postponed for at least six months, so we decided to make the best of a bad situation, and go somewhere, ANYWHERE, that wasn’t here.
We originally looked at going to Iowa (Amber had kindly invited us for Christmas ages ago!) but considering the stress we’d been under of late, we concluded that not going through the hassle of airports, security etc during one of the busiest flying times of the year, probably wasn’t the best idea.
So we moved to a road-trip, we looked at Atlanta or Mississippi, but, again, considering the stress-factor, we decided that an 18+ hour road-trip wasn’t the best option either.
Finally, we settled on heading back up to good old reliable San Antonio, a short drive away, yet far enough from home to be considered a getaway and somewhere that had a sufficient amount of holiday cheer. We decided to pay over the odds, stay on the River-walk itself and enjoy not driving, just strolling to and from the River-walk from the hotel.
This wasn’t our first Christmas ‘alone’, we’ve spent four out of our five Christmases in Texas, ‘just us’, and we tend to love it. This *was*, however, our first Christmas travelling somewhere and spending it at the mercy of the hotel and restaurant industry. In context, it was exactly what we needed, a few days down-time from all the insanity, somewhere where you didn’t even have to make your own bed, or pick up towels from the floor.
For Texas, it was as Christmassy as you can probably get, the River-walk was covered in Christmas lights, mariachi bands were singing Christmas carols table-side, the hotels had been decorated with exterior lights and huge trees and for once, the weather was proper Christmassy (in that it was cold enough for snow, but we never saw any).
We didn’t do much, walked the River-walk quite a lot, just dandered to and from the hotel, watched lots of cheesy 80’s movies and bad TV (we watched a lot of housing renovation programmes) and relaxed – which we needed. It was truly blissful and I may have even burst in to tears when the insane world stopped and we found ourselves just spending an afternoon in bed, watching TV.
As Christmases go, it was pretty classy, we enjoyed getting some glad-rags on and taking in a posh dinner in a beautiful hotel – and I must admit, having someone else cook, even if it wasn’t what I, myself would have cooked for Christmas day? Was pretty damn nice indeed!
I’m definitely no longer averse to going away for Christmas, like I once was, and San Antonio really has a lot to offer during the season – it’s a pretty good place to give some consideration to, should you find yourself needing somewhere to go for the holidays!
Here’s my ‘review’ on the place we stayed, the place we ate Christmas dinner, and somewhere you should try when you’re on the River-walk, whether it’s Christmas, or not!
The Hotel: Hotel Contessa
After doing some extensive researching and price comparing, we settled on the Hotel Contessa, for three nights – which was a good deal for that hotel, don’t get me wrong, it’s just a lot more than WE would usually pay for a hotel, we are bargain travellers. I’m not sure what I expected from a 4 Star hotel in the USA. We normally stay in Holiday Inns or “lower priced” 2.5 stars – 3 star hotels that we Price-line, get for great prices and, more often than not, they are exactly what we need them to be. Personally, I feel, for $200 a night that you should come away feeling that if you were to come back to the River-walk that you couldn’t possibly stay anywhere else on that river, other than Contessa cause it was so awesome. I’m sorry, but I just didn’t feel that!
Perhaps if housekeeping had treated my teddy lion better, I’d have enjoyed it more? Lol! It’s actually become quite the accurate barometer of a hotel, some housekeeping staffs put him in bed when they are done making it, some have him peeking out from behind the pillows, some have him on the floor or tossed on the bedside table – Contessa falls into the later.
For those money conscious reading this (my couponer self, loves getting a deal, I love making my money stretch further than just what somewhere charges for something). We had read the reviews before leaving Houston (thanks yelpers!) and parked in the garage (not even a block away) for $12 per day, as opposed to the mandatory hotel valet parking for $30 – saving of more than 50% a day on parking before we’d even started. We spent $6 more for three days parking across the street, than ONE day of parking at Contessa (plus, Contessa probably would have added tax etc) – score!
Check-in is later than any hotel I’ve been to, 4pm. You can pay (!!!!) $40 to check-in early. What a ridiculous policy!! We actually didn’t know this ahead of turning up at the hotel, so I guess we got lucky that our room was ready at 2.35pm when we rolled up to the check-in desk, as we didn’t have a problem.
Contessa charge $20 extra per day for the River-walk view, is it worth it? Who knows? We opted to stay on the quieter side of the hotel, though we also ended up with a partial view of the river which was a nice surprise.
We were woken up on our first morning in the hotel at 7am by some dudes clock radio alarm playing the Red Hot Chili Peppers, someone running a shower above us and cleaning crews going door to door. I dunno, call me fussy, but with a 4-star hotel, I expect the walls to be a little thicker than paper and more sound proof than those in the Holiday Inn or Best Western! I expected better quality of sleep, a quieter night, and, should I have wanted it (and we did!!) a lie-in!
We ordered room service once and my main problem with it lies with the fact that the guy delivering our food, left the food and took the silver warmer cloches off and left the room with them. WTF???? I wasn’t ready for it just yet and it was COLD when I got to it. Who the heck takes the cloches off and leaves with them???!?!? The menu is also pretentious to the utmost degree. I asked for their posh fish and chips and expected some king of the ocean to appear, not chewy fish nuggets, bland aioli and cold fries (though the cold could have been because HE TOOK MY CLOCHE!)
No condiments to go with the in-room tea or coffee? Seriously? Even the cheap-@ss hotels have sugar, sweetener, half and half and stirrers!!!!! The mini bar costs are extortionate (moreso than other hotels I’ve been in) – if you didn’t bring provisions, just walk the two blocks go to the CVS on the River-walk, which is more expensive than a ‘regular’ CVS, but much cheaper than the minibar!
Aside from the suite being fairly nice and spacious, (though no room in the fridge, no in-room microwave, not even a free bottle of water!) and considering that it was CHRISTMAS and the best “treat” we got for spending our Christmas in Contessa was a $5 off a movie on the in-room system. Thanks :-/ Again, I wouldn’t be encouraged to pick this hotel for next Christmas, especially considering how amazing the Hyatt’s Christmas buffet was and how fab their staff were.
And while i’m on the rampage, their website is terrible, spa packages have basic information (they don’t tell you the extent of services), no prices, the restaurant didn’t have a menu up, they also didn’t have their Christmas menu online. Everyone lives online, it’s the age of technology, just give me everything I need to know BEFORE I get to the hotel please!
Check out is early enough (at 11am), DO NOT have housekeeping hound me (by banging the crap out of the door) from 9.30am (and again at 10.30am!!) to be granted access to a room I’ve paid for til 11am!! Classless. Absolutely classless!
I can’t quite figure out what the price per night “up-charge” is for, other than the fact that it’s on the River-walk and even then, there are some cheaper 4 star hotels with better reviews out there, but we opted for Contessa for something a little more plush and luxurious than the others.
Maybe it’s *because* we are used to finding fantastic hotels at rock-bottom prices that I left feeling short-changed? For example, we stayed at an EPIC Sheraton a few months ago, for $57 a night, and while there was really nothing badly wrong with Contessa, I just can’t, in good conscience, rate it on the same level as previous hotels we have stayed in, for much cheaper. I feel like the “River-walk factor” gets away with way too much, and it just doesn’t cut it! (end rant!)
Christmas dinner: Q on the Riverwalk
Col lookin’ VERY excited to have seen the buffet on his way in!
Google is your friend, though it took us a while to investigate which restaurants were open, if they had a specific Christmas menu, if so, what was ON their Christmas menu. It’s like it’s some underground network of nods and winks to find Christmas dinner on the River-walk. Be warned, Irish/British expats, finding a traditional Christmas dinner, is nigh on impossible – even from the British and Irish bars along the River-walk, which was highly disappointing. Can you imagine the influx of expats if they offered even a carvery dinner for Christmas? I’d be first in line!
Make a reservation, we used open table. I think they quietly allocate an hour for your table, but we weren’t rushed out of our spot – we tried to savour each plate and enjoy our experience, instead of hitting it hard like the Tasmanian devil and being stuffed after the first course! Lol! It was busier than I anticipated it would be, but not so crowded that you were all up in your neighbours business.
Per person cost was $46 + tax and 18% gratuity (or there abouts) it worked out at around $116 for the two of us – this is a bargain, even at twice the price (which is more what you’d expect for a Christmas dinner). It was an EPIC feed!! The price includes all the food in all the land (buffet), free champagne, mimosas, fruit juices, sodas, tea and coffee – which we didn’t know ahead of time, but we were very happy to discover.
I counted 5 courses, but you could probably count more or less depending on how many plates you use and how highly they are stacked 😉
All of this is recalled from my food-coma memory, so bare with me – thankfully I took pictures to aid my memory recall! Lol!
Salad bar: 3 types of lettuce, 4 kinds of dressing, and about 7-8 pots of “toppings”, cucumber, onion, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, bacon and croutons.
Behind the soup/bread there were also 3 drawers of salads, broccoli salad, pasta salad and what looked like sweet potato salad but I could be wrong. Fresh, fresh, fresh! As salads go it was delicious. Start small though, you wanna build up to the meat!
Soup: butternut squash bisque – just a little cup, but dear LORD it was delicious. I could have enjoyed gallons of the stuff! Don’t overload on bread at this stage. DON’T DO IT. 1 or 2 slices, max. Save the bread for the cheese course, if you can manage it by the time you get there!
We left the cheese and antipasti station for the moment, but it’s right there – so you WILL be tempted.
Entrees: carving station (pork loin, prime rib) here you’ll find the mashed potatoes, apple sauce, mushroom demi-gravy, and – weirdly, bread pudding, which you *may* if you’re my husband, mistake for stuffing!
I tried the pork, it was great. It wasn’t dry, the dude can slice as much or as little as you’d like. Prime rib was wayyyyy too raw for me but hubby loved it. Mash potatoes were EPIC. Hubby who doesn’t tend to like potatoes, loved them. It was great to see brown jus-gravy and not thick creamy white gravy.
On the other side of the salad bar, you have the other entrees, carrots and asparagus, crab topped rainbow trout, braised short rib, sweet potato mallow gratin, stuffed chicken breast, wild game paella… I’m not kidding, ALL THE FOOD IN ALL THE WORLD!!!
I loved the veggies, the braised short ribs rocked my world, like freakin’ amazing. The trout was perfectly cooked too. Least fave was the chicken, I just didn’t care for the stuffing inside and it was a little dry and boring compared to the other treasures on offer.
Next it was the cheese, bread and antipasti/cold seafood. If you have room. The breads were fresh and delicious, the cheeses were just sitting right there – it was tempting to take an entire block, and hubby could have camped at the antipasti table all day….and night….and the next day!
If you’ve any room left, the dessert table is round the corner beside the bar. I had a small piece of cheesecake with raspberry coulis which was light and tasty. I thought the cake was chocolate cake, it wasn’t (unfortunately), it was the strongest coffee flavour EVER. Pass. Not my bag.
I also managed half a slice of the key lime pie – hands down the single best key lime pie I’ve ever eaten…and wished I could have taken the other half back to the hotel in a box to have eaten whenever I was eventually hungry again (around 10 or 11pm!!) Hubby also tried a swiss-roll type thing that he said was nice.
Things they need to improve this fab meal? A wee bit of stuffing (it’s CHRISTMAS dangit!!!!) custard and/or whipped cream and pleeeeease label each dish, you’d probably reduce waste if people know what they are picking up!! I ended up accidentally getting Caesar dressing instead of ranch, cause they all looked the same in unmarked jugs!
Service was really great, he was bubbly, friendly, attentive and didn’t rush us or treat us any different for not ordering any alcohol and when I asked for tea, he brought me like six kinds!
Notable mention: Waxy O’Connors
Ok, first of all this place should obviously be split into two sets of reviews. Bar vs food – if you read the Yelp reviews, the food gets rave reviews and the bar-service gets poor reviews. At first glance you could be tempted not to come here as there are places with better reviews around and 3.5 stars isn’t everyone’s bag. Don’t be. Give it a whirl.
Disclaimer: most of my readers know that I am IRISH, we’ve lived in TX for 4.5 years, but have a very high standard when someone brands their bar and food as an Irish pub, with traditional or authentic food. I am VERY fussy when it comes to “Irish fare”, but in spite of expecting disaster, we discovered that not only was this place great for food, but it was one of the best, complete meals we have had in a loooooong time!!
Upon reading yelp, I told Col (yes, he had no choice in the matter!) that he was having fish and chips and that i’d have the bangers and mash. We also ordered a side of the fresh brown bread cause I was curious.
The fish was delicious, flaky, lightly battered and plentiful. The chips are more akin to “Five guys fries” and not the “real” chips we were expecting, but they were yummy too – and yes, we even ate the peas, which was unusual enough that our server commented on it! (I ate most of them with my bangers and mash) lol! Bangers and mash was delicious, the gravy was excellent, best sausages we have tried this side of the atlantic and creamy, smooth mash potatoes.
The brown bread could have done with being warmed and a smidge less sugar, but it was as close to wheaten bread as i’ve found outside of home. Even the butter was room temp – which I can’t even find at home ! Lol!!
For dessert we shared apple pie with ice cream. The apple pie was delicious (hubby says I need to mention the crust being outstanding!) and the ice cream came in a separate wee bowl so it didn’t melt all over the pie – genius! And delicious – all they are missing is a lick of real custard!!
I can’t say enough good things about this place. Service was fast and very friendly, food was hot and delicious, great quality food across the board, but the best sampling of “Irish” food that we have found since crossing the Atlantic 4.5 years ago!