What does it take to have a great hotel experience? Comfy beds, quiet rooms, a decent shower, a spot to sit and relax and perhaps enjoy a cocktail or three?
We thought we would tick all the boxes when we were working out where to stay for a recent visit to Singapore. A coupon deal for the Marriott Tang Plaza gave us an ‘upgraded’ executive floor room with ‘sensational’ Singapore city views, lounge access and a host of other benefits.
Reviews on TripAdvisor were overwhelmingly positive, especially for the executive lounge. All good.
There is always a little nagging doubt when booking a coupon deal; would we be treated like second-class citizens? Our pre-stay communication was very cordial, so we had high hopes.
We travel to Singapore a lot. Until recently, when we started visiting Bangkok instead, we’d go three or four times a year to eat, relax and have a break. For Australians, even those living in the south-east, it’s a relatively short flight, around seven hours from Melbourne.
But this was our first visit back in 18 months; previously we were loyal to a particular hotel, taking an executive room floor there each time. We got to know the staff, welcomed back as old friends and we were very content. But, over time, things change. People move on, the level of amenity is reduced and there’s no discernible investment to improve the facility. We decided to move on and the Luxury Escapes website voucher deal sealed the deal.
Luxury Escapes markets discounted rates (compared to the hotel’s ‘rack rate’) and throws in a number of perks; this offer included a three-course dinner at the hotel’s Pool Grill. You can read about that experience here.
A flight delay out of Melbourne meant our projected arrival time at the hotel of around 5.30 stretched to 7pm. The executive lounge serves food up until that time each night and we were both keen to be able to relax, have a drink and a couple of snacks after sitting on our moneymakers for a rather long time.
The hotel entrance to the Marriott Tang Plaza (which is on the corner of Orchard and Scotts Roads) is not immediately obvious. There’s a ground floor open air cafe, popular with smokers (particularly those who like to puff away on cigars) and the doors leading into the Tang Plaza department store are easy to spot. The hotel entrance is up a slight ramp but the only interior feature visible from here is escalators going to function floors. You walk down the entranceway and turn left to see the hotel lobby.
This is kept in a dark and moody state all hours of the day. It’s also very heavily perfumed and not just from the large floral arrangements dotted throughout. We managed to locate our way to the reception desk and asked if we would be able to check in at the executive lounge – as we’d done pretty much in every other hotel where we had lounge access.
A supervisor at the reception desk said that wasn’t possible. We needed to check in at the lobby. It should be noted that Marriott does have an online check-in system; this is only available a couple of hours before the regular check-in time and not very helpful if you’re flying long haul and don’t have internet access on your phone (we disable global roaming when we travel because of the ridiculous costs). The supervisor, having told us ‘what’s what’, then disappeared.
Handing over our voucher, which stated our benefits, we were then presented with a check-in document that advised our ‘nightly rate’. This was exceptionally puzzling, as the voucher advised the room was clearly pre-paid. When we pointed this out, the reception agent just stood there; eventually the supervisor came back and explained the other agent was ‘in training’. Well perhaps she should be given ‘some training’ then …
Eventually getting things sorted, our bags were taken to the room, while we headed to the lounge. And that was another shock. It was absolutely jam-packed, incredibly noisy and had very little food left. Access is by swiping your room key on a reader at the door; there’s no staff at the ‘welcome’ desk and no greeting of any kind. We needed to find somewhere to sit, ask for a table to be cleaned, go and order our own drinks and fossick under the heat lamps and in the bain maries to find a couple of things to eat.
While the staff bustled about, they didn’t seem particularly willing to engage; generally we’re pretty low-maintenance travellers – we don’t like a fuss and try not to bother staff unless there’s something we need. We tried to login to the wi-fi. This was supposed to be free, but we were asked to sign up for a plan that was a minimum of S$10 per day. Querying this with the staff, when we finally got some attention, was met with the assurance that ‘things would be sorted out’ on departure. Having already been asked to pay for a room that was pre-paid was starting to make us very nervous.
But, we pressed on; having had one gin and tonic in the uncomfortable lounge, we decided to head for our room and the sight that awaited us was a pleasant surprise.
The room was perfectly good. The bed was large and comfy, the bathroom well-appointed with a walk-in rain shower and little vanity table which included a power outlet for the hairdryer. Singapore’s heritage as a British outpost is evident with the lack of power points in bathrooms; presumably this was far enough away from the water sources to be legal. At any rate, being able to dry one’s hair in the actual bathroom was a huge bonus.
The closet also had hanging space that was tall enough that the hem of long dresses doesn’t crumple and enough drawers to put away all the clothing we’d brought. The mini-bar (which we didn’t use) had a variety of products including, most unusually, socks for S$8. Never had the option of buying socks as part of a mini-bar before …
Importantly for Singapore, the air-conditioning worked well and wasn’t too loud. The ‘sensational city view’ promised from our rooms as part of the voucher was actually directly into the Scotts Square apartment building next door.
The next morning, given we were on Melbourne time (three hours’ difference during the summer) we awoke very early and found ourselves in an almost-deserted executive lounge for breakfast. The spread was small but perfectly decent. We thoroughly enjoyed the fresh berries available, while the chef our first morning was the delightful Ms Kim who took enormous care over the omelette preparation, and the taste really showed.
But sadly, she was not on duty every morning of our stay and other chefs were not as committed to quality. It was also hard to get any consistency of offering. Many times we asked for grain bread – the initial answer was ‘none available’ but when we insisted, a member of staff would look for some behind the scenes.
And so the stay continued; we tried the swimming pool and the gym after a couple of hours’ digesting our breakfast. The pool was blissfully deserted but surrounded by a number of rooms; noise from the pool or the restaurant in the evening could be tricky here. We were glad to be on a high and reasonably quiet floor.
The gym was well-equipped but the use of air-freshener in there was just too strong; the irritation caused an almost instant headache. We decided to go for long walks for the rest of our stay.
The executive lounge, between breakfast and evening cocktails (starting at 5.30pm) was virtually deserted. It remained open for coffee and tea but there wasn’t so much as a cookie to have with your cuppa. A request to the staff (if you could find one of them) elicited a blunt ‘no, we don’t have those’ for the most part. One team member did take pity on us one afternoon to come up with a few almond cookies.
Evening happy hour remained crowded and underwhelming for the duration. The quality of cocktails was inconsistent, although for the most part the Singapore gin slings were OK.
For the most part, the quality of the snacks during happy hour were also nothing special – a significant contrast from other Marriott hotels we’d experienced.
As our stay progressed, we made a number of small requests to the executive lounge staff. The first response to them all started with the word: ‘No.’ It was very disappointing.
Our final day approached. Given our flight wasn’t until 8pm we asked if we could have a slight extension to our check-out time. Grudgingly, we were given an extra hour but that didn’t filter through to any of the hotel’s other systems. Ten minutes after the advertised check-out time, while we were still in our room showering and packing, the phone rang and a reception staff member asked why we hadn’t checked out. That sort of thing is totally aggravating and completely unnecessary.
Then, we were ready to vacate the room. We rang reception to ask for a porter to collect our bags while we went to the lounge to check out. We were told we had to stay in the room for our bags to be fetched. We immediately headed for the lounge for the staff there to sort it out. There we were asked about our stay – and we provided the same feedback as is contained in this blog. It felt like we were second-class citizens and the lack of training or aptitude from the staff was very disappointing.
We left feeling there had been no real hospitality, apart from a couple of staff members who were exceptionally pleasant. Where to stay Singapore? This won’t be top of our list for future visits.