Come tour Vancouver's sweetest hotel suites
When Catherine Zeta-Jones stayed in Vancouver recently, she made the Loden hotel's penthouse her home—a suite with a soaker tub large enough to sink a Smart car in. When Céline Dion stayed in the Fairmont Waterfront hotel's top suite, white roses were placed in every room, at her request. But when Bill Clinton and his entourage took over the entire Hyatt during his 1993 summit at UBC with Boris Yeltsin, Clinton didn't stay in a suite at all.
“That would have been too obvious,” said Manuel Sousa, head of sales and marketing for the Hyatt Regency Vancouver (655 Burrard Street). He explained to the Straight that although hotel staff knew Clinton was staying on the premises, for security reasons they didn't know which room he was in.
As the Olympics approach, Vancouver hotels are gearing up for maximum occupancy and an onslaught of VIPs. That means the city's top hotel suites, which ordinarily run from $1,500 to over $5,000 per night, will likely be filled. The Straight toured four of the city's sweetest suites to see how the jet set will live when they touch down.
The Hyatt has been renovated from top to bottom since Clinton's visit 16 years ago. Sousa showed the Straight its most impressive suite, a 1,600-square-foot two-bedroom with a spiral staircase that leads to a loft. The expansive bar area and vaulted living room ceiling give it a high-roller feel. Also on the 33rd floor, two one-bedroom Signature suites, each with a dining area and kitchen nook, provide a more intimate experience. One is furnished with everything you'd expect to find in a Yaletown condo, such as lipstick-red modernist chairs. The other is done up more conservatively in soft greens and browns, with a soothing glass waterfall wall and a fireplace.
According to Sousa, the three suites are booked by luxury travellers as well as businesspeople, who use them for corporate entertaining. The loft suite is often included in a conference or trade-show package, or as part of a wedding package. It often does double duty, sleeping a CEO at night and hosting the firm's business functions by day. Some hire a bartender and transform it into a cocktail venue for up to 30 people.
Lest grad partiers get the wrong idea, you can't reserve these suites on-line, only by phone. “You want to make sure they're not being rented out for all the wrong reasons,” Sousa said. In the 34 years he's been with the hotel, he's never seen a suite trashed. “Somebody maybe gets carried away and breaks a lamp, but that's all.”
Sousa said the hotel is fully booked during the Olympics because, like many hotels, it committed most of its inventory to Vanoc during the bid. Vanoc, in turn, has allocated the Hyatt's rooms to a single corporation. (Sousa won't say which one.)
So does that mean there won't be room at the inn if Barack Obama decides to pay a visit during the Olympics? The U.S. president hasn't said he'll be attending, but his hometown, Chicago, is bidding for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Hyatt is an American hotel chain owned by the Pritzker family of Chicago, and Penny Pritzker was the national finance chair for Obama's presidential campaign. So the Hyatt would seem like a logical place to bunk if he comes.
The hotel already has a commitment to Vanoc, Sousa reiterated, but he added that “we would love if he [Obama] came to Vancouver during the Olympics if he would stay at our hotel.”¦I think if the president of the United States was coming, we could call Vanoc and work something out.”
Security is, of course, top priority for certain hotel guests. Francis Parkinson, general manager of the Fairmont Waterfront (900 Canada Place Way), reckons that's one reason celebrities and politicos choose his hotel. “It's very easy to secure,” he said, since it only has two access points, unlike properties that fill city blocks. (Parkinson noted that the Westin Bayshore's location also offers it “great security, and that's why the IOC [the International Olympic Committee] is staying there”.) Fairmont PR rep Brenda Meikle adds that VIPs can easily slip into the Fairmont Waterfront unnoticed via the underground loading dock entrance. “You would not know when there is a lineup of limos with tinted windows out there.”
Queen Elizabeth II chose the hotel's Royal Suite when she visited Vancouver in 2002. Located on the seventh floor, the 2,000-square-foot suite includes a dining room that seats six and a kitchen with a separate service entrance. (The Queen brought her own china.) A staircase leads up to two modest bedrooms. The suite's pastel décor is tasteful but slightly dated, and it's slated for a make-over in November.
The suite's ocean view is partially obstructed by the new convention centre, but an expansive terrace overlooks the pool and the rooftop herb garden. According to Meikle, the Queen is one in a long list of VIPs who have booked in over the years, including Nicole Kidman, Colin Powell, and “all the prime ministers”.
Often, she said, celebrities stay under a pseudonym. Yet the hotel recently received a booking under the name Shakira. “We thought it was a prank reservation,” Meikle said, recalling how her jaw dropped when the singer showed up to check in. Meikle reported that Shakira requested that her room always be stocked with crackers and jam.
The Jonas Brothers might seem to be unlikely patrons of the ultra-sophisticated Shangri-La Hotel (1128 West Georgia Street), but that's where they stayed during their recent Vancouver tour stop. The Shangri-La, which opened in January, is a showcase for the latest in hotel swank. Walls are panelled in a gorgeous swirled rosewood veneer, and earth tones give the rooms an understated, masculine feel. Everything is designed for high-tech ease; the curtains, for example, can be opened and closed from bed with the touch of a button.
Because the 1,395-square-foot Orchid Suite was occupied, the Straight toured one of the smaller but similar 825-square-foot one-bedroom suites. Surprisingly, the view wasn't stellar: the suites look down onto the stagnant Ritz-Carlton construction site and West Georgia traffic. But oh, the bathrooms! These boast twin sinks, granite countertops, and an eight-inch TV built into the mirror. There are separate toilet and shower areas, a huge soaker tub set into white marble next to a window, and white marble floors. And of course, those fluffy white towels and robes that Bo Derek and Zac Efron may have swathed themselves in. (They stayed there separately, not together.)
But for my $2,999 per night, I'd pick the Halo penthouse at the Loden Vancouver, which opened at 1177 Melville Street a year ago. Taking up the entire 15th floor, the 1,600-square-foot suite is decked out like a chic Hollywood home. Creams and tans dominate, and there are stylish touches like seashells and driftwood, a sunburst mirror, a marble dining table, a full-sized stainless-steel fridge, and a burnished-metal chandelier. A full patio set with chaise longues graces the wraparound balcony, which can hold 30 people and gives glimpses of Coal Harbour between neighbouring condos. A high-tech sound system pumps through the two-bedroom suite, and there are four flat-screen TVs to choose from, including one that can be watched from the luxuriously oversized tub.
“There's been a lot of interest from the celebrity and entertainment world, particularly A-list stars who want the privacy,” said Loden general manager Edel Forristal by phone, adding that Hugh Jackman has stayed there. She said that celebrities like having the whole floor to themselves and having easy access to their entourage of trainers and chefs, who can stay on the floor below.
Still, Forristal noted that to date, the suite has been booked more often for entertaining purposes than for overnight stays.
Like all the showpiece suites we saw, the Loden's is already spoken for during the Olympics, when an unnamed party will rent it for about $10,000 per night.
All bets are off as to whether that's Zeta-Jones.