Shani Hartley tests the five star experience Swiss style and finds it isn’t as swish as she expected it to be.
Standing in the middle of my hotel room I hoped the doors banging down the corridor were a sign that my breakfast was arriving. It was over half an hour late and I was basically pacing with hunger, a lion circling a meal that wasn’t there. Then suddenly, whoosh, there was a hotel attendant in my room, looking as surprised to see me as I her. Swinging on the handle of the door she held open, was the breakfast order I left out the night before. The attendant apologised for her sudden unannounced entry and advised me to phone room service. Twenty minutes later my hot breakfast arrived, the scrambled eggs a little undercooked, but otherwise a very satisfactory meal.
I love the five star hotel experience. I relish it. I crave the peace and quiet for researching and writing away from domestic demands. I adore the luxury of holidaying in my own locality, just to escape domestic responsibilities for a while. With my feet planted firmly in the aspirational class I am completely sucked into the ‘you deserve it’ ideology marketing has instilled. I believe that for a day or two I am allowed to live like the rich and famous.
Earlier in the week I had trawled through www.wotif.com and found Sydney Swissotel to be the best five star deal on offer, at $188 per night, including lunch. It was even better value on the actual Swissotel website ($167 per night). I booked the minimum two nights.
It was raining on the Friday afternoon as I swerved my way through the traffic on Market Street, passing by Pitt Street Mall, seeking Swissotel’s parking. I pulled into a tight spot on the street, right out the front of the hotel but with the back of my car sticking out. I cringed at my efforts. Then I noticed I had pulled into a No Parking zone and was trying to remember the difference between No Parking and No Standing, when the valet loomed in the window. He helped me gather my bags and then scooted off with them. My keys were still in the car so I hovered, warding off imagined would-be thieves. He returned, looking confused, so I followed him faithfully, fretfully, worrying my car would disappear in the hour or so before my husband came to collect it. The parking receipt said $42 for 24 hours of parking. It turned out on payment of the bill that one hour was also $42.
The valet station was the only part of the hotel at street level. A lift took you to the giant foyer cavity with reception, conference rooms, restaurant and bar. Above the bar, on the mezzanine level, there was a row of climate controlled cabinets with a holy blue glow surrounding the precious wine within. I recovered from my flustering over the parking and adopted some composure to check-in. As I was handed the voucher for lunch I realised that I couldn’t pretend to be a celebrity when I accept such cheap deals.
After several attempts at slotting the key and turning the handle, I stumbled into my twelfth floor room, quickly looking around to ensure nobody had noticed my clumsy efforts. It was a corner room with views into buildings where at 4.55pm the city workers were still hard at it. I phoned my husband at his office in the cheaper end of the CBD to confirm his arrival time, visited the gleaming bathroom and looked out the windows again. The workers were gone.
Swissotel has 28 hotels around the world with two currently being constructed. Switzerland, Turkey, China and soon Germany, have four each. The USA has only one, in Chicago. Sydney hosts the only Swissotel in Australia. It is opposite Sydney Tower and across from the State Theatre on Market Street. It is very convenient for shopping.
I met my husband in the foyer, handed him the parking receipt and he drove the car home. I was free for my weekend of solitary indulgence!
Back in my beige room bathed in beige lamp light and with its king size bed inviting me in, I found the bedcover was just a thin doona, no top sheet and no spare blankets. I had three pillows and two spare in the wardrobe, plus a pillow menu on the bedside should I desire a different style. Yet it was warmth I desired, not the planet killing, coal chomping, central heating style but in a comforting, wrap-around and snuggle fashion. I didn’t pick up the phone and make the request but merely turned on the heat, illustrating another flaw in my rich and famous act.
There were other attempts to save the planet. For instance, there was a little green card beside the bed to give you the environmental choice to not have the linen changed and another little green card in the bathroom gave you the option of reusing your towels. Flipping through the compendium I found at the back a tab titled Go Green but there was nothing behind it.
After the belated breakfast the next morning I switched on the Do Not Disturb light and set to work at the glass top desk, readily supplied with pencils and little notepads. I plugged in my lap top, winced at the $24.95 fee but ploughed on. I was not disturbed again.
At lunch I presented my voucher and was informed I’d be having steak for lunch with chips, salad or potato gratin. Conscious of my health I selected salad. I was told to sit at a table without a tablecloth; it seems the voucher made me a second-class diner. The meal was more than adequate and a $5 orange juice rounded off the experience.
Overly self-conscious about dining alone again, I resisted the urge to experience fondue Chinoise (seafood and meats dipped in hot broth) in the Jpb restaurant . Instead I opted for a room service dinner that arrived within the specified 30 minutes. The salmon was moist and tender, the salad and vegetables fresh, the dessert scrumptious (choice of ice creams and sorbets – I had raspberry, mango and vanilla).
Overall my stay was peaceful and productive. However, the little oversights detract from what should have been a heavenly experience. AAA Tourism, Australia’s most respected hotel assessor says on its website that five stars signify “Outstanding establishments characterised by luxury appointments offering an exceptional standard of facilities, furnishings and guest services.” Valet parking is a luxury service, but being charged $42 for one hour’s parking is excessive. A pillow menu is a luxury service but a mere thin doona is not. Room service is a luxury service but breakfast orders need to be collected and processed for it to occur. Finally, room attendants should never, ever, enter a room without knocking. Swissotel Sydney was a disappointment.