Carlton Antananarivo, Madagascar Review
The Carlton Hotel in Antananarivo, Madagascar is the city's sole five-star hotel. The hotel used to carry the Hilton Franchise brand until a few years ago when it likely got a surprise letter from the franchise audit that too many complaints had been submitted and the franchise license was withdrawn (or it was just too expensive to pay.)
Adding to the theme of usually good value - the Carlton can be booked most of the time for just $100 when you search through the main hotel search engines with just a bit of effort. Agoda wouldn't accept my credit card so I went with booking.com.
The hotel is located just next to Lac D'Anosy, a calm oasis in busy (and often stinky) Antananarivo. As with other hotels in the city, there is no security check - the guards were friendly but couldn't be more bored.
I arrived at the hotel at 2 PM and lined up at the front desk. The sole front desk agent was busy handling phone calls and managing the line. To her credit, she was rather good at multi-tasking but given the workload, the check-in was everything but friendly and can only be described as indifferent. You may say that's what you get booking through an OTA, but a little bit of effort would have gone a long way. The agent spoke only a few words of English - a language that is considered literally from another planet in Madagascar.
I had gotten a room on the seventh floor - there are two main views - one is towards the scenic 'Haute Ville' and one away from it (it still is quite scenic) - mine was the latter.
The room had new flooring and a brand new bathroom. However, it felt old but not necessarily in a bad way. It was quite small, but again, remember I had no status and was booked through an OTA. The afternoon sun gave it a warm, fresh glow and the AC worked well enough to cool it down properly. Important for a Malaria zone - there were no mosquitoes in it.
The Internet kept fluctuating a lot and went from being super fast to a crawl in just seconds. I couldn't find a real pattern besides that this was true in other areas of the hotel too.
I went down to the pool to enjoy the warm (but never overly or humid) sun rays of Antananarivo. My biggest issues were to get a two- you would need to line up at the cashier - sign a full passport application and receive ONE towel. I later discovered that the policing was due to the fact that the hotel sells cheap day passes for the pool for just MGA 20k ($5).
The pool is old and so were the benches, but they were in great shape - a full Olympic-sized pool with a 7 feet water depth. Oddly enough, a fight between two seemingly locals erupted later that had just been watched - no security ever showed up and it all calmed down eventually.
After this uplifting experience, I went to the gym with low expectations - that wouldn't have been required - the workout machines were brand new and even had my favorite rowing machine. The whole gym area is small, but it was well sorted and super clean.
My room turned out to be a quiet one and the noise of the city was drowned out well (life in 'Tana shuts down at sunset almost completely anyways).
My reservation included no breakfast so I made my way to the bakery downstairs. It has a number of fresh and yummy pastry items (apparently baked in-house) and decent espresso from a machine. The best part was my breakfast, which was just $1.50 (not a mistake) and it was yummy. I felt like I was in Addis Abeba.
The front desk had no trouble giving me a late checkout at 1 PM (again I had no status and the hotel had to pay the OTA 25%). Checkout was as indifferent as check-in, but it was quick and I was able to pay with a credit card (an incredible rarity in Madagascar.)
So what to make of this hotel?
I liked the location (though it is too far from best eateries in town). The facade is in bad shape and some parts of the hotel are dilapidated. However, the outdoor area is gorgeous and the gym is hyper-modern and fully functional. The hotel never felt crowded, despite the front desk giving me the 'fully booked' talk. The coffee shop is fantastic and everything is a good value. Now, if they could rain in on the indifferent front desk, give everyone a few English lessons, and invest in a few renovations, this could become a great property easily (again.)