By: Dave Grossman
HotelMagician.com, January 2010
This was one of my best experiences at a hotel. Ever.
I booked in to the W South Beach for a 5 night stay at the end of January so I could attend a 3 day conference and tack on a couple of R&R days. With rates at this hotel averaging north of $500 for the cheapest room category, I was hoping the hotel (which just opened in 2009) would live up to my lofty expectations. I’ve stayed in more than my fair share of hotels over the years and I’m the first to admit I have a problem with being easily disappointed by them – especially when the room rates are high. But from check-in to check-out, this hotel met and exceeded my expectations time and time again. Sure, I found a few flaws – and I’ll mention them – but after 5 nights here I really wanted to just move in. Incidentally, you can – the W sells residences that are part of the hotel (the condos are scattered throughout the hotel without any separation and you can then rent them out through the hotel if you choose).
So what made this such a great experience?
1) The staff. Management at the W South Beach clearly knows that welcoming staff can make or break the guests’ opinion of a hotel. I was greeted with a warm smile, upgraded from a Wonderful Room to a Spectacular Room (Same room type, higher floor and better view), and while there were no further upgrades available, Vanessa called me twice after I got upstairs with updates on possible other room availabilities (for a fee, of course) and had an Ambassador show me one. She then immediately called after the viewing to ask what I thought. The attention to detail would continue throughout the hotel all week – from the extremely polite workers at the pool who arrange the towels and “towel pillow” on the chaise loungers for you, to the bartender (Richie) who offered to infuse a vodka for me on the spot. The doormen always smiled at me and made me feel welcome.
2) The facilities. You can see the pictures of my room. And that is the smallest kind they have! It’s 570 sq ft not including the balcony. Everything just looks great and they are clearly trying their best to keep everything looking new. Housekeeping was excellent every day and left some complimentary water and chocolates at the evening turndown service. The gym had all brand new equipment and TV on the cardio. The Spa, while not opening until Feb 2010, will likely be fantastic based on the rest of the property.
3) The location. Located at 21st Street and Collins, you are about a 10 minute walk from touristy Lincoln Road and Espanola Way. You are steps from the beach. The Acura car (that is currently complimentary, but I caution may go away at any time) can whisk you anywhere in SoBe from 11am to 7pm and cabs are plentiful.
The “Spectacular” room I was given was at the southeast corner of the hotel, with a perfect angled view of the beach and ocean. There was no balcony above mine so I had unfiltered sunlight (which was perfect for me; if you want a balcony that has one above it for shade, just ask). The room had a sleek and modern tropical feel to it (lots of white). The flat panel TV on the wall was, at first glance, at an odd angle to view from the bed but it turns out you can swivel it! There was a refrigerator/mini-bar that you are free to use to keep your own drinks cold as well as a coffee maker. A selection of alcohol is also available (at a cost, of course) if you are too thirsty to leave your room… There was not one but two iPod docking stations – one on the Bose setup attached to the TV and another on the nightstand. The spacious bathroom, pictured, included a shower with 3 shower heads in addition to a hand-held stream. Be warned, though – the nozzles are powerful!
The blinds are a bit tough to use. Housekeeping will open them during the day and draw them for you at evening turndown, which is nice because they are a real chore to operate. You need to turn the handle into a crank and then crank and crank and crank until you get them to the desired position.
The pool / beach:
The pool area, like most in South Beach, doubles as a bar/club at night. Perhaps this is why it was designed the way it is. In what I found to be one of the hotel’s only shortcomings, the pool area is decidedly too small for the size of the hotel. There are 130 day beds for a hotel with 400 rooms (assuming 2-3 guests a room would be 800-1200 on a full day). I was told that on sunny weekend days, people need to get down by 9am to get a chair. In addition, the beds are squeezed so tightly together that you can’t help but feel you are imposing on whomever you are sandwiched between. On the plus side, the pool itself is nice, designed as an “infinity pool” with overflowing edges and kept between 80 and 85 degrees. You can also get a full breakfast or lunch menu as well as drinks from the many waitresses at the pool. The W also has it’s own section on the beach, which if more people used would probably help the overcrowding at the pool! I went to the beach on my last day and had tons of room as well as access to nearly the same menu from the beach waiters.
There is a basketball court and a tennis court available. I was also told that Whatever/Whenever can arrange for tennis lessons.
Food and drink:
The W South Beach caters to the crowd that can afford their rates with a top “name” restaurant in Mr. Chow. It’s one of the “see and be seen” places of South Beach and if that is your scene, you will enjoy it. Solea is their Spanish themed restaurant with tapas and is the only breakfast option. They do have free coffee at the entrance to Solea. One thing missing from the W, though, is a grab and go option. A Starbucks would probably have fit in perfectly here. If you don’t want to sit down for a fancy breakfast, you’ll have to leave the hotel. I found a Cafe Bustelo 1.5 blocks north which did the trick. As for drinks, the bar in the Living Room has a very extensive menu of mixed drinks and the bartenders are keen to make you whatever you want provided they have the ingredients. They are definitely in the class of bartenders you would refer to as “mixologists” and that suits the atmosphere of the W South Beach perfectly.
I also toured the Fantastic Suite (the lowest category of Suite) which has more space, a “plunge tub” (which seemed cool to look at but perhaps a bit impractical to use), and a larger outdoor area with day beds. Here are pictures of the Fantastic Suite:
As of January 31st, 2010, the spa had not yet opened.
Starwood Preferred Guest Benefits:
A side note for members of SPG. The 4pm late checkout benefit for elite members is not always honored here as the hotel is considered a resort and that makes this benefit at their discretion. If they are not too busy, you should be able to get a 1pm checkout. Also, for SPG Platinum members, all suites are considered Specialty – so an upgrade from Wonderful to Spectacular or Fabulous studio is all you should expect. They will sometimes upgrade higher if, for example, they are out of Spectacular and Fabulous but have a Fantastic or Oasis suite available – however, those are not considered standard Platinum upgrades.
The W South Beach is like a home away from home. The property and the staff are all top notch. If you like the South Beach “scene”, you will feel right at home here as well. If you’ve stayed here, please add your comments below!