Monday, December 3, 2012

SAN DIEGO: Hotel del Coronado

After visiting the Hotel del Coronado many times over the years, my wife and I decided to spend two nights at the historic property to celebrate our 20th anniversary just after U.S. Thanksgiving. There is a lot to recommend about the Hotel Del but there are also some caveats, including prices that I found very expensive - even by resort standards.

The Hotel del Coronado is a fixture on Coronado Island, across the bay from San Diego. Although technically the end of a peninsula, Coronado Island was chosen by Elisha Babcock and Hampton Story in 1885 as the location for the destination hotel they had envisioned. They chose the site because they believed the railroad would choose San Diego as its western terminus, thereby virtually ensuring a steady flow of tourists. Read more about The Del's history here.

Today, nearly a century and a quarter after its opening in 1888, The Del’s red roofs have become an iconic symbol of the hotel and the area that surrounds it.

Courtyard of Victorian building
The grand lobby of the hotel is quite impressive, with high ceilings, dark woods, and an elevator operated with the requisite elevator operator. The grassy courtyard of the Victorian building, the main historical structure, is just off the lobby. The pounding surf of the Pacific Ocean is only steps away, providing guests easy access to sand and sea. During the holiday season, the hotel erects an ice rink, allowing guests to ice skate while looking at the beach and the ocean – a unique combination indeed.

The Del offers a spa, salon, fitness center, several swimming pools, and dining venues including 1500 Ocean, Sheerwater Grill, the Babcock & Story Bar, the Crown Room, ENO, and the Sun Deck Bar & Grill. 

While my wife and I appreciate in principle the preserving of historic hotels and especially love the fact that they keep alive the charm of bygone eras, we prefer to stay in more modern surroundings. Fortunately, The Del has both.

Guest rooms run the gamut from rooms, lanais, and suites in the hotel’s original historic Victorian building to more modern accommodations in the Ocean Towers, California Cabanas, and luxury cottages and villas at the Beach Village.

Room in historic building
The gentleman at the front desk who greeted us upon our arrival offered to show us a room in the historic building – a room that was actually situated in one of the hotel’s red turrets. While it had been recently updated with all the modern amenities, its size was limited by its location. Preferring less cozy accommodations, we opted for the room we’d originally been offered: a corner room located in the Ocean Towers.

Completed in 1973, the Ocean Towers have many west-facing rooms that offer stunning views of the historical structure and the beach beyond while providing more contemporary and spacious accommodations.

Room 6711
We selected a package that offered our Resort King guest room at the rate of $425 for the first night and a 50% discount for the second night. Obviously, prices will vary by season and availability.

Our room, 6711, was on the top floor and was quite generous at about 325 square feet. Ceilings were easily 10’ tall. The room included a sitting area with a couch and coffee table, a desk/work station, large flat-screen TV, mini-fridge, a balcony, bathrobes waiting in the closet, a hairdryer, iron and ironing board, and what is called a “partial ocean view,” as shown below.

View from room 6711 at dusk
Service at The Del was very good, with almost every staffer bidding us a “Good morning!” or other greeting. On our first morning, we asked to have the room made up as we left for breakfast. We returned a short while later to find our request fulfilled.

Service in the various on-site shops was also generally quite attentive, and prices were reasonable enough that we picked up some souvenirs for ourselves and some gifts for the grandchildren.

Part of the attraction of a resort like The Del is the convenience of having everything on site so guests needn’t go off-property unless they choose to do so. For that convenience, experienced travelers realize and accept that meals and other services are going to come at a premium.

However, there is a point beyond which one starts to feel taken advantage of. In my estimation, there were areas where The Del pushed beyond that point.

Resort charge provides little value

In addition to the room rate, The Del levies a $25 per night resort charge which The Del’s key folder says includes complimentary local and toll-free phones calls, high-speed Internet access, daily newspaper, in-room coffee, and access to the fitness center. It also includes a $20 discount on green fees at the nearby La Costa Golf Course and discount tickets to many of San Diego’s attractions.

While charges for daily newspapers and local calls are fairly common, most hotels provide most of the other items covered by The Del’s resort fee without any additional charge. Travelers who neither golf nor take advantage of the discount tickets, therefore, receive very little value for the fee.

By comparison, the resort fee at a property I recently visited in San Antonio’s Hill Country was $28 per day. It covered high-speed Internet access in both the guest room and common areas,  access to the hotel’s extensive water park and basketball courts, tennis court access with racket rental, two “welcome” cocktails, discounts at the hotel’s shops and some restaurants, and was largely offset by a $50 dining credit for my two-night stay.

Poor connectivity

We’re well into the 21st century; there’s simply no excuse for slow internet connections, especially at properties located in major metropolitan areas.

The “high-speed” Internet access covered by The Del’s resort charge wasn’t high speed at all; it was an anemic 0.75 Mbps. For comparison, access at my in-home office is 25 Mbps. When guests initially log on, they are offered the option of buying faster access for $9.95 per day, but considering that high-speed Internet access is already supposed to be included in the resort fee, that should not have been necessary.

Food prices beyond ‘resort expensive’

Visiting the Babcock & Story Bar one evening for happy hour, we ordered wine and nachos from what I considered an extremely limited happy hour menu. The nachos were not at all well-prepared, which is especially unfortunate considering we were in Southern California where Mexican food is practically a staple.

When time came for more substantial meals our experience, coupled with high menu prices, dissuaded us from trying The Del’s other dining venues. For example, I thought the lunch prices of $24.50 for fish and chips and $18 for two sliders at the Sheerwater Grill were far too high. Dinner prices at 1500 Ocean were commensurately more expensive.

The area around The Del has literally dozens of restaurants, from fast food to fine dining, so we had many options within easy walking distance. However, being forced off-site detracted from the resort experience we’d gone there to enjoy. In my opinion, The Del needs to pay closer attention to its competition when setting prices for its dining venues.

Parking

Self-parking in The Del’s open parking lot is $30 per night, quite a bit higher than the daily rate of $12 at a municipal garage literally across the street. Granted, that does not include “in and out privileges,” but $20 per night would have been more in line, especially considering that some other nearby hotels offer free parking, including at least one that offers parking in an underground garage.

The Hotel del Coronado is definitely charming and worth visiting to see the history, browse the shops, and perhaps have a glass of wine and a nibble. However, a healthy budget will be a prerequisite for those who choose to spend the night.

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.



Photos by Carl Dombek
Click on photos to view larger images

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