My two weeks in China were spent mostly in Beijing, but I popped down to Shanghai for the weekend in between. My plan was to stay at the Westin Beijing Chaoyang for five nights, stay at the Renaissance Zhongshan Park when in Shanghai, and then return to Beijing for six more nights. I knew I wanted to stay at a Starwood property for my second stint in Beijing, but I wasn’t sure which to pick. After my first stay at the Westin Chaoyang, there was no doubt that I would be returning to the same property.
As those of you who have been to China might know, telling a cab driver the name of your hotel isn’t exactly a surefire way to get there, even if they’re picking you up at the airport. Planning ahead, I printed out directions, the address of the hotel, and a google map of it, planning on giving it to the driver so he would find my hotel. Silly me for thinking this would solve the problem! He had no idea where to go so I had to call the hotel and put the cab driver on the phone. This is not an uncommon way to go in Beijing cabs! I really recommend using the Airport Express train + subway to get to the hotel, but I’ll post about that at a later date.
Arriving at the hotel is a fairly grand experience. The building is one of the tallest in the area, and the lobby is three floors tall. I appreciate the height of the lobby not only because of how it looks, but also because there is a lot of smoking in China. Giving the lobby such a high ceiling helps to keep the main area well ventilated. It was never stuffy, which I cannot say for some of the other Chinese hotels I’ve stayed at.
Checking in the first week was a bit funny. I booked a "renewal room" which is a large corner room. I asked her if there were any upgrades available (I’m an SPG Gold – almost there to Platinum!), and she apologized that there were not. As a consolation, she said she would knock a bit off my room rate. Haha okay cool! As far as what an upgraded room might be, there’s a Westin Executive Floor, which I believe has a lounge. Would have been nice to get that or to get a suite, but besides a suite, I think the renewal rooms are the largest in the hotel. As soon as I stepped into my room, I was no longer worried about my lack of upgrade. It was huge!
I put my bags down and went to check out the bathroom. The bathroom was very nice with two sinks and mirrors, a tub on the right, and a toilet / shower on the left. There were four bottles of water in the bathroom, and the shower was another rain-style shower that most Westins seem to have.
Moving onto the rest of the room, it was a quite big corner room with floor to ceiling windows on two sides. There were motorized curtains, and the view was not astonishing, but it was still nice. The desk had a US 110V power port, which was appreciated, but that was the only 110V port in the room. The Renaissance in Shanghai and the Marriott Northeast Beijing had special combo outlets scattered throughout the room. It didn’t matter much for me, as the only electronic devices I had were my laptop and phone, and the phone charged via the laptop.
The bed was the typical Westin Heavenly Bed that I have come to know and love. I slept like a baby every night. The mini-bar was quite nice as well, with a good assortment of sodas and alcoholic beverages, but was not quite as extravagant as that of the Hilton Beijing Wanfujing, which I found to be one of the nicest hotels I have ever stayed at. Actually, that was one thing I thought about a lot while at the Westin: Is this a better hotel than the Hilton Beijing Wanfujing? I’ll do a head-to-head post later!
I loved the location of the Westin Chaoyang (FYI there is another Westin in the financial district – this is different than the Chaoyang property I’m reviewing). The only thing about the location I didn’t like is that there isn’t a great assortment of non-hotel food within walking distance. There’s a mall next door and across the street, and these places have some restaurants, and the Hard Rock is only a couple blocks away, but other hotels might have more dining options nearby. I just ended up working pretty late most evenings, and it would have been nice if there were some places a bit closer. However, if you don’t mind a twenty minute walk, the Westin is within walking distance to Sanlitun, one of the top restaurant / bar areas in Beijing, primarily targeted at Westerners. I had been once before to the area, but i wandered over there one night for dinner. I ate at a place called Let’s Burger, which is supposed to be the best burger in Beijing (skip it – their burger tasted weird – the burger at the Hard Rock was way better). The best part about the location is the proximity to the Lianmaqiao subway stop on line 10. The entrance is practically on the hotel property. The above picture is taken from the Westin property. I can’t stress how great the Beijing subway is to use everyday. It can get VERY crowded, but you can go as far as you want for only 2 RMB (about 30 cents), and it is much cleaner than the NY subways. I used it pretty much every day to get to work.
So I loved the location. I loved the room. What else did I love? The gym. I work out a lot, and I do my best to not let my business travel interrupt that schedule. Crappy hotel gyms are a pet peeve of mine, and I think this is an area that Starwood typically exceeds the competition. Starwood has their own branding of hotel gyms, with the Westin Workout (Westin) and sWeat (W) line of facilities. The Westin Chaoyang did not disappoint. A row of treadmills and elliptical machines lined the window, and the rest of the room was filled with a pretty good selection of weight machines. There was also a nice selection of free weights. There was actually a second room of gym equipment, mostly filled with cable based machines. Running / lifting weights not your thing? This resort has you covered with a Yoga studio. It looked quite nice, but I never tried it out myself. I know they had scheduled classes. They also had jogging groups with a guide so if you wanted to jog through the city of Beijing, you could do that. Overall, it was a top notch gym facility.
What about the pool? I must lament the fact that I never got to use it! I brought a swimsuit and was hoping to be able to take a dip, but work got in the way, and I never had a free evening or afternoon to go for a swim! I did pop over there to snap some pictures, though, and I can tell you that the pool looked awesome! It’s maybe the coolest indoor pool I have ever seen. It’s up on the fifth floor, and it has a really neat slanted roof that is visible from far away. They also light up the pool during the evening with a bunch of blue lights, and it gives the large room an awesome blue glow that is visible from the street. It looked so neat! Furthermore, it’s really well ventilated. No "indoor pool stink."
There are a few restaurants in the Westin. There are two lounges downstairs, and both serve light appetizers. There is a steakhouse called Grange, a Chinese food restaurant called Zenses, and their standard restaurant, Bistro. I thought all were pretty good, but the breakfast (which was included in my rate during the second week) at Bistro was fantastic! This has got to be one of the best breakfast buffets I have ever seen at an international property. There was a bakery section with freshly baked muffins, all of which were warm and gooey. There was a fruit section. Custom eggs? No problem? Want a stir-fry? The chef’s there to make it for you. Yogurt? Cereal? Indian food? You’re covered. The service was also outstanding.
In fact, it’s worth talking about the service at the hotel, in general. The concierge was always extremely helpful, writing directions for me in Chinese, explaining how to get places. I had to do some printing at FedEx Office, and they were able to help call in the order and explain how to get there. Room Service was also excellent. Every time I called in the order, they would repeat it back to me, making sure they got all the details right, and in a couple instances, if they were confused, they would actually call back and say, "Hello Mr. Hanson, I just spoke to the chef and he informed me…" Turn-down service happened every night, and they left a bottle of water and slippers by my bed and put down all the curtains. Even calling for a wakeup call was a pleasant experience, they would always repeat the time back to me, address me by name, and then ask if I would like a follow-up call 5 or 15 minutes after to make sure I was up. Elevator attendants were there to keep me from ever pushing the button to call the car. In the morning, they wished me "Good Morning" or "Ni Hao" every day. The service at the hotel helped make it an even better experience.
When I finally had to leave, I was sad to say goodbye, but I know this hotel will definitely get my business again next time I’m in Beijing for work. The only thing that was missing was lounge access, which as an SPG Gold, I’m not guaranteed. The Hilton Beijing Wanfujing is an outstanding hotel as well, and lounge access for Golds there is included. I’ll do a comparison post in the near future. In any case, I can wholeheartedly recommend this property to anyone. You don’t need to be an elite member to reap the benefits – this hotel is outstanding on all levels, and they went quite far to make everyone’s stay a special one. As I said, I’ll be back!