In the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by British author James Hilton, Shangri-La is an earthly paradise, a mythical, mystical utopia. The people who live in Shangri-La are seemingly permanently happy.
Inspiration for the Shangri-La hotel group to build a portfolio of luxury hotels and resorts around the world. Their motto is "from timeless luxury comes endless memories".
Sydney's very own Shangri-La hotel describes itself as an "elegant sanctuary".
And so Ms Pam and I took up an offer of a last minute Deluxe Opera House City View Room and decided to test Shangri-La's sweeping statements. The promise of "timeless luxury" in an "elegant sanctuary" sounded the perfect cure to the chaos of Christmas.
Arriving at the towering hotel after a steep climb up Essex Street, to be frank, we're both very underwhelmed. The main entrance is on Cumberland Street, opposite the approaches of the harbour bridge and apart from some parked taxi's, it's a fairly dead and dull part of the world. But not as dead as the rear entrance on Gloucester Street. There's nothing happening here at all apart from a café worker puffing on a cigarette.
The hotel is just down the road from the massively popular Australian Hotel with its hoard of noisy outdoor diners and the Rocks YHA. The heart of the Rocks is a little under a 10 minute downhill walk away.
Entering the lobby, I find myself disappointed again. It's modest, fairly small and unspectacular. It's not 5 star. Check-in staff are reasonably efficient but I can't help feel its just unconvincing, cold, rehearsed professional prattle.
As usual, we're not asked what level or position we'd like our room, it's just allocated. This is a pet hate of mine. Why hotels think that customers don't care where their room is and might actually prefer to select their rooms, much like you can self select seats on flights, astounds me. We ask to get the highest level for the price we are paying. We are offered higher levels at higher prices but resist. We take the only room available on the ninth floor.
Reception forgets to hand back my driver's licence which is later delivered to my room. One of the two key-cards doesn't work, but I can't be bothered taking it back.
We finally get up to room 918 and we're greeted with a view of the Quay West apartments opposite. We walk closer to the window and yes, a sharp look to the left and there she is. The Sydney Opera House. There's the busy ferry traffic at Circular Quay and the harbour beyond looks spectacular. Quintessential Sydney. The huge Celebrity Solstice is berthed in the cruise ship terminal and blots out some views. Oh well, can't complain too much, the view is fantastic.
Thankfully, the room is all class and very well appointed. Stylish furnishings, large flat screen TV. There's a pair of slippers and bathrobes to make us feel special. The bathroom is a highlight. It's large with separate shower and bath.
The mini bar is well stocked but ridiculously expensive. $6.00 for a can of coke. I try the instant coffee and it's frankly, un-drinkable. What's worse, there are no complimentary biscuits. Luxury? Even a $50.00 a night flop house has two bickies to dunk into a cuppa tea.
We head down to the health club on level two to test the waters of the indoor heated pool and check out the gym. The pool space is dull and is in desperate need of a colour scheme change. With five kids splashing and yelling, it's a noisy and unpleasant place and so we don't linger. "Elegant Sanctuary"? Mmmmm.
Up on the top level with spectacular views is the well renowned Altitude Restaurant and the Blu Bar on 36.
Sure, we would have had a different experience staying in a suite on the 30th floor. But our "elegant experience" and "timeless luxury" shouldn't be defined by a floor level.
We certainly don't feel like we had a 5 star experience at the Shangri-La. It didn't make me feel special. An earthy paradise it is not. There are just too many aspects of the Sydney Shangri-La that don't live up to the promotion propaganda.
We had our honeymoon at this hotel, paid expensive $650 a night for 3 nights. I agree about the dull entrance and robot like check in. No special attention with my new bride in her wedding dress. The view made up for the disappointment. Don't book for special occasions, cheers Ian