I chose this hotel to celebrate my beau's birthday in his beloved city - New Orleans. Admittedly, I had tried to get a room at the W in the French Quarter and Hotel Le Marais, but neither of them had availability for our dates. Hotel St. Helene is part of the French Quarter Hotel Group (Melrose Mansion and Hotel Royal are a part of their group). In looking at their properties I really liked the design aesthetic - old Parisian meets modern contemporary. Upon entering the St. Helene, I was not disappointed. The hotel was clean - well lit, and charming. I generally prefer to stay in boutique hotels and was prepared to be impressed. Donald, who greeted us at the door grabbed our bags from the taxi and waited for us while we checked in. The people in front of us were being moved to another property (for what, I don't know) and the front desk clerk (Valerie) was very apologetic. I booked and pre-paid for a room with a balcony overlooking the street. At the time of my booking, the only other room available was a standard room - but I decided to pay extra for the balcony and the view. Check in was smooth until we got to our room, and someone else was already in there (we observed during our stay that communication with and amongst front desk staff is abysmal for reasons we didn't have time or energy to investigate, more on that later). We waited 10-15 minutes to get moved into a different room, an interior room with a very loud ventilator fan that could not be shut off. Left without options, we checked into the standard room and were told that we would be discounted the difference in rates and we would be moved the next day. Not the best way to start the visit - but handled relatively well. I was more dismayed than my beau, b/c the room and the hotel were part of the surprise (the entire trip was a surprise).
The next morning I had coffee and chatted with the guests who were in the balcony room that I was supposed to check into. It turns out they had already been moved twice and were not aware that they were going to be asked to move again. The situation made me very uncomfortable so I asked to speak to the manager. She asked if I would be OK moving to a balcony over the courtyard since no other street balconies would be available unless we displaced the other guest. I took the courtyard (which at the end of the day, was really, really quite lovely and I think the room to get because it's quieter). The manager (Gina?) righted just about everything that was wrong, including refunding 50% of my first night stay and waiving the amenity fee - fantastic. We moved (as in, we packed and when we returned after breakfast, Donald had moved our belongings into the new room) no one else had to move - we were all smiles for the rest of the visit (dun, dun, dun).
Our room was minimalist perfection - right down to the faux Corbusier couch, the black and white decor was thorough, all the way down to the black iron and ironing board – pictures of jazz legends on the wall. Floors black, sheets and duvets a crisp white. And just out the balcony of our room and down the stairs outside our door was a gorgeous courtyard with a magazine cover-worthy pool. In the mornings, coffee and pastries were placed poolside. My only complaint about the room was that I could not get the AC temp to go above 68 (so it was usually too cold). But this is minor - and corrected by simply turning the AC off, turning the ceiling fan on - and opening the courtyard doors and letting in some hot Louisiana air now and again. The rooms are well sized - but the bathrooms are small, if you travel often to NYC and San Francisco, this should not bother you one bit. Like most old buildings - there is noise. Street noise, interior noise - just noise, and you will hear it. I would say that the courtyard rooms are quieter, but I can't say with absolute certainty. You can certainly hear what goes on in the hallways and in the courtyard. I always travel with ear plugs - if you aren't a seasoned traveler and don't expect that old buildings will have noise, you are better off in a high-rise hotel in New Orleans (like the Marriott off Canal - I stayed there for work last year and it's pretty quiet in the rooms). But you should expect some level of noise in most boutique hotels in the French Quarter and this should not be held against the hotel - just bring/buy ear plugs :). A note on the building - there are 3 floors and no elevators (that I am aware of) - so if you don't like stairs, consider this. I thought the main stairwell was gorgeous - and when you are at the bottom of the stairs, in front of the fountain - do yourself a favor and look up at the skylight, the architecture and design of the building is really stunning, this building has nice bones.
The location of the hotel cannot be beat and I really love the revitalized Chartres Street - the St. Helene is in the middle of it, with great proximity to the French Market (and my fave - Cafe Du Monde). Sylvain was likely one of the best restaurants we ate at during our trip (we fancy ourselves foodies and on this trip checked out Cochon, Herb Sainte, Tivoli & Lee as well as the vendors at the French market - great pho and bahn mi there) - anyway, Sylvain is just across the street, W hotel has a bar called SoBou - great for grabbing some snacks and drinks and it's only 2 blocks away. The hotel itself does not have a restaurant and bar - but it doesn't need one, especially with Napoleon House a few steps to the left and a diner a few steps to the right. One night, we grabbed some drinks from Napoleon House and enjoyed them poolside (we also ventured into the cold water), it's nice that the courtyard and pool are open all day every day.
The only front desk person who interacted with us was Valerie - the desk was otherwise empty and the other person who was there would barely look up to say hello. So, with that I will just say that the one interactive desk person was always asking how our day was going and inquiring whether we needed any recommendations for the day or the evening. When we mentioned we were going to the Bayou Bugaboo festival - she mapped out a route for taking a bike, and circled locations to rent bikes. Top notch - she helped to make the pleasant parts of our stay much more pleasant.
We decided to extend our visit a few hours and take a later flight, so the day before we left we asked Valerie if it was possible to do a late checkout. She said she would check and have an answer for us by the time we returned from dinner. We got back from dinner and were told with a smile, you have until 3PM with a late checkout fee – perfect! The next day we went about our business as usual, we placed the do not disturb sign on the door and each time we returned to our room, the maid cart was parked outside our door – we didn’t think anything of it, just we were the last room to clean (with the late checkout) so the maid left the car there. We got back to our room just after 2PM and at 2:10 someone banged – not knocked, but banged on our door. Apparently, it was time for us to go. My beau explained that we were told that we had until 3PM. The person left – the phone rang, it was the front desk girl saying and I quote “ You have to get out now.” Not, “I am not sure what happened, but late checkout is 2PM, when do you think you will be leaving.” My beau once again said we were told 3PM and we really weren’t prepared to leave until then, front desk girl then said “if you don’t leave I my calling my GM.” My beau at that point, flustered by this woman’s rudeness then demanded to speak to the GM – that conversation (with the GM) never materialized. So I went downstairs and was informed of the hotel policy, I then informed this girl that this is the 2nd run around at this property and asked if she ever stopped to consider there was yet ANOTHER miscommunication with/by the front desk instead of basically accusing me of trying to get away with something – she just wanted to argue with me and tell me how accommodating the hotel had been to me, she wanted to dictate policy – as though guests have policy manuals in their rooms (we don’t). Apparently the one thing that was communicated was the 50% of my first night and waived amenity fee because this was thrown into my face as though I somehow owed someone a favor or someone had done me some great favor when the HOTEL CAUSED THE INCONVENIENCE IN THE FIRST PLACE. Did she even stop do realize had my RSV not been screwed up in the first place – there would have been nothing to fix? What benefit did she find in throwing this in my face – what kind of customer service is this????
At the end of the day, the hotel and the property are lovely – but at this price point, I can stay at the W for $100 more/night and far less aggravation and a desk staff that isn’t going to call my room to argue with me and completely sour what was otherwise a great trip. We started our adventure into the St. Helene on a bad foot and management handled it tactfully and perfectly – we left the St. Helene (at 2:42PM) with a front desk girl literally handing me a piece of paper when I walked up to the desk– without any words, silence. No “thank you for staying with us, sorry about the mix ups and any aggravation” – no “sorry, this isn’t typical”. I asked if I needed to sign anything, response “no.” No other words – although I felt like she was saying “don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” The excuse I heard again and again was that “we are at capacity.” Well, I have stayed at Comfort Inn’s that were running at capacity and the service was far superior – hotels should expect to be able to run at full capacity with grace and competence. In the grand scheme of things none of the problems we faced were huge issues, but the staff wasn't prepared to handle what had to have been obviously predictable situations with competence or grace. I am still stunned that one person has the capacity for such capriciousness and rudeness and she is the first person guests see and unfortunately, she was our last bitter, sour impression of this otherwise lovely property.
Would I stay here again? When I booked the balcony rooms were $335/weekend night – a room at the W would have been $449/weekend night (and they don’t charge an amenity fee for wifi and the safe). The pool and courtyard was so nice that during the hot summer months, it may be worth it to stay there just for that. Otherwise, you don't get a lot for your money - bare essentials without many perks, but New Orleans, more than most other towns, is not one where you'll be spending time indulging yourself in your hotel room. But for me, at this price point – with this level of service “no.” I might consider giving the St. Helene another chance during off peak season when rates are substantially less – I am very sorry to say it, but based on my last experience, this hotel is not worth the higher price point. Life is short, avoid aggravation.
Booking tips – I found the best rate on Orbitz. Orbitz also honors the promo codes that they distribute (for airfare bookings, hotel reviews, and the ones they send out occasionally to listserve subscribers) – so another way to get a better rate.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Hotel St. Helene is located on Chartres Street, right next door to the Napoleon House, a favorite among locals and tourists alike. The hotel’s location offers access to an abundance of popular attractions and world famous entertainment that the French Quarter has to offer, such as Café du Monde, the French Market, House of Blues, and Pat O’ Brien’s, which are all located within only one-half mile of this French Quarter gem! This beautifully restored hotel, just recently renovated and reopened in January 2012, is located in the heart of the French Quarter, only 2 blocks away from Bourbon Street, steps away from Jackson Square and the mighty Mississippi River. Our contemporary guest rooms and suites are complete with:-LCD flat screen TVs-Ebony stained hardwood floors-Wireless internet in guest rooms and public areas-300 thread-count linens & duvet covers-IPOD docking stations-All-marble bathrooms with standing showersOur French Quarter and Courtyard suites feature balconies which overlook the pool in the courtyard area or the historic French Quarter. All guest rooms are nicely equipped to give a feeling of being home away from home in one of the most historic cities in the world! ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Ste Helene Hotel
- Hotel Ste Helene