My wife, 16 year old son, and I spent three nights at the Hotel Bel-Air in March, 2014. I highly recommend the hotel.
This won’t be my usual review, however. This was our first stay at the Bel-Air since its 2009-2011 renovation (and replacement of the overwhelming portion of the staff). The old Bel-Air was one of my favorite hotels in the world, and engendered many stories of the polished, thoughtful and imaginative service that I still tell when I talk about wonderful hotels. Some examples are included in my prior review from July 28, 2008. I had no doubt the updated facilities would be terrific (the old Bel-Air was ready for an update). The question for this stay was: how would the service compare?
First, some basics. I elected to stay in the new “Canyon” portion of the hotel. In part, I was curious. But I also didn’t want to have any feelings about the changes in décor in the older portion influence my evaluation of the service.
We had a one bedroom Canyon Suite (upgraded from a “Premier Canyon Guestroom”). Our son had a “Premier Canyon Guestroom” (upgraded from a “Canyon Guestroom”). The rooms were fabulous. Comfortable seating areas, great lighting and HVAC, spacious patios (with hot tubs). Our suite had a ½ bath to go with the full bathroom. I was more than satisfied with the rooms, and applaud the design. Maybe my only comment would be that it is not clear to me that a Canyon Suite is necessarily preferred to a Premier Canyon Guestroom. Space-wise, they were about the same. The main distinction was that a Canyon Suite had a separate living room, while the Premier Canyon Guestroom was simply a very large room. The views from the Premier Canyon Guestroom, however, were fabulous and made me somewhat ambivalent about our upgrade.
I’ll share a quibble or two about the rooms later on.
Now, to the service, by category:
Reception and Departure: (Grade: B+)
I count here not only the front desk at check-in and check-out, but also how we were received in general
When I made the reservations, I told the travel agent that we were coming back for a return visit (our first since the renovation) and that we were visiting LA as part of our son’s college search process – I asked her to make sure she told the hotel. She assured me she relayed my message. I repeated this to the Bel-Air concierge when I had dealings to make dinner reservations. The idea was: would the hotel pick up on the college visit point, and leave a note (or make some other gesture) for our son? This was a bonus service opportunity – I’d only expect something to be done at places with service like the old Bel-Air, The Carlyle, or the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong.
As it happens, no one picked up on the college visit point. More surprisingly, there was never any indication – at check in, in the room, or otherwise – that we had stayed at the hotel before (5 times, in fact). All we received was a generic “welcome” note. It was almost as if Dorchester inherited an empty previous guest list.
Our check-in went smoothly. The staff was very friendly and engaging. However, no one mentioned that we had been upgraded. It took me a while to figure out why our son had the better view since I had made the original booking looking forward to a view from a Premier Canyon Guestroom.
Check-out was also smooth, although there was what I would call a service faux pas. I had decided to offer a tip to the concierge that had helped us with multiple dinner reservations. Sitting at the concierge desk while we were checking out was another concierge who had been friendly and helpful, but in the normal kind of way that I don’t normally tip. I opted to hand the envelope with the other concierge’s name on it to the desk clerk, since I was a bit sensitive about letting the concierge at the desk know I wasn’t tipping him. No matter – the reception clerk marched right over and handed the envelope to him. That gets a demerit, in my view.
Valet Parking/Bell Staff: A+
All valet staffs dream of being the Bel-Air’s valet staff. Not only are you glad to hand off your car to them, you also hope they marry your daughter. Before and after the renovation, the valet staff has been welcoming, gracious, and sensitive to their guests’ needs. It doesn’t matter if you driving up in a rented Dodge Avenger (as we were) or a Ferrari, you get the same first class treatment. The bell staff whisked our bags away on arrival, and they arrived rapidly to our rooms after check-in.
Everything went smoothly across all three nights. The main reason for a mark down here was that evening turn down seemed to arrive between 6pm to 6:30pm (that’s way too early, in my view. I’m normally getting ready for dinner then).
We had three breakfasts and one dinner at Wolfgang Puck at the Bel-Air. The normal service items – how we were served, greeted, assisted – were at a high level. I also chose to test the service with two special mentions: (1) first, we were celebrating my birthday and (2) second, I wanted gifts delivered to the table exactly at the moment we received our coffees after dinner.
The “gift with coffee” test was intended to see if the restaurant could repeat an experience from 14 years ago. It was my wife’s birthday, and so I delivered a gift to the maître d’ in the late afternoon, with the request: “Could you bring this to the table when we have our coffee?” Five hours later, the gift was delivered precisely as requested.
The restaurant passed the “gift with coffee” test with flying colors. When we received our coffee, the gifts appeared. Bravo.
The markdown is due to a failure of something that is normally the easy one – birthday celebrations. Granted, it was my birthday, and I had made the arrangements. That said, I specifically had a conversation with the restaurant maître d’ when I presented the gift for later delivery and mentioned it was my birthday. Nonetheless, when the desserts arrived, the candle was on my son’s dessert. The waiter recovered nicely, and shortly thereafter presented me with a small plate of mignardises with a candle.
Miscellaneous Requests: D
I wasn’t sure where to place this one, so I put it under “miscellaneous”. On the day we had dinner at the restaurant, our dinner guests were to arrive an hour or so before. I decided to pick up a bottle of champagne while we were out and about during the day. I called the Bel-Air reception, and asked that a bucket of ice (with five champagne flutes) be delivered to the room at 5:00pm. I mentioned that it was likely that no one would be in the room at the time. The request was noted, and the ice bucket and flutes promised. When we arrived back in the room at 5:15pm – no ice or flutes. I waited till 5:30pm just to see if something would show up late. Nope, nothing did. So, I placed a call to inquire – apologies were offered and the ice and flutes showed up very shortly thereafter. That said, the hotel really dropped the ball on this service request.
Overall Service: A-
So, how’d the Bel-Air do? Judged in isolation, this was a very fine stay, service wise. Compared to the pre-renovation Bel-Air, this service was less polished, and certainly not perfect (as we had experienced on most of our prior stays). The front desk faux pas and the ice bucket failure made the most difference, in my view. If you’ve not stayed at the Bel-Air before the renovation, you’ll likely find the service terrific. If you have, then I’m hoping that the current incarnation grows into the old level of service.
Some Room Comments
I’ve seem more and more new and newly renovated high end properties putting in electronic control systems for their rooms. In concept, I don’t mind the idea. The problem is, the ones I experienced so far – at the Peninsula Chicago, the Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas, and the Bel-Air – don’t work reliably. The Bel-Air system came the closest to working, but I still could never turn the lights in our living room on with the wall switches. I had to go to the iPad or the phone controls to do it. Ditto, from time to time, with the dressing area lights. The iPad also crashed on us the first day (and, at the same time, the phone handset quit working, almost driving me to distraction), and we had to get a technology person to the room to show us how re-boot it.
So, from my standpoint, the technology is something that detracts from the stay. If I need something, at this price point I want to talk to a person, and talk to them immediately. Maybe I’d do an electronic request at a Hyatt Place, but not at the Bel-Air.
My technology quibbles and the service critique aside, however, I’d be happy to return to the Bel-Air. It’s just lost a little bit of its magic right now – hopefully the magic will return as the staff settles in.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Nestled on 12 acres in the Bel-Air Estates neighborhood of Los Angeles, the iconic Hotel Bel-Air is one of the most beautiful, romantic, and exclusive hotels in the world. This Spanish mission-style urban oasis wins a never-ending stream of praise for its faultless service, luxurious accommodations, and magical ambiance. All rooms and suites feature a new generation of design aesthetic and is reflected through different design themes from the glamorous decades of the 1930s, 40s and 50s conveyed in a fresh, youthful and elegant manner. The famous restaurant, bar, catering and in-room dining services are managed by world-renowned Master Chef Wolfgang Puck with a menu featuring modern California cuisine with European and Mediterranean influences in a spectacular garden setting. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Hotel Bel Air