Last week my wife and I took a short trip to Victoria, BC — a place we had long wanted to visit due to its proximity to our home in Seattle. We also got to try some new forms of transportation, traveling there on a Kenmore Air seaplane and returning on the Victoria Clipper. But now I’ll mention a little more about what we did there in case you’ve ever been interested in a similar trip.
Most people who visit Victoria think of staying at the Fairmont Empress, one of the Canadian chain’s imposing railroad hotels. That seems great, if you can afford it. I’ve never been hugely impressed by Fairmont and didn’t want to pay $400+ for a standard room, so instead we booked a one-bedroom suite at the DoubleTree Hotel & Suites a block behind it for roughly $220 per night. Many hotels in Victoria are clustered around the harbor, so there is no reason to think you need to stay at the Empress just to be close to tourist attractions.
Although this is not an all-suite hotel, many of the rooms are configured as one- and two-bedroom suites, complete with separate walls and doors. On our floor I believe there were eight one-bedroom suites in total, with a few smaller guest rooms sandwiched in between. I’m sure the layout varies from floor to floor.
As soon as we walked into the lobby, a second agent walked up to the desk so we wouldn’t have to wait in line. There were usually a few families milling about, waiting for the elevators. It isn’t a huge space since most of the floor is devoted to the restaurant.
We headed upstairs to the eighth floor and found our room right across from the elevator. The building has a square floor plan built around the elevator core, and any rooms with a view will be near the elevator. So keep that in mind. Despite this, we never encountered any significant noise from the hallways. Even the street noise was not an issue; the rumbling tour buses could be loud during the day but were blocked out when we closed the windows.
Upon entering the room we were both impressed. It was much better than I expected since I didn’t do a lot of research before booking. However, it appears that this is the former Executive House Hotel and was just renovated in 2015. I think they did a great job!
Our bathroom was certainly spotless. A large mirror sat over sink, along with a full set of toiletries by Aroma Actives. There was some art and wallpapered walls that helped avoid the “all white” look I find in more hotels these days. Even better, there were hooks for the hand towels and bath towels, features that are too often overlooked. (I don’t care if they get replaced eventually, I hate leaving them on the counter in between uses.)
The bedroom felt a little cramped. Perhaps there is a load-bearing wall between it and the living room, but I would have preferred at least an extra foot of space at the end of the bed. You can see how close it is to the television mounted on the wall. I’m not very large and even so I had trouble getting around it.
My other quibble is the narrow window. That’s fine if you like to keep it dark and sleep in, but it emphasizes that this is a room for designed for sleeping and not moving around or taking in the view.
Fortunately that narrow bedroom enabled them to create a very spacious living room. A chair and couch were on one end opposite the television and adjacent desk. On the wall between them was another small table with chairs if you wanted to order in-room dining. Or, you could store some snacks in the refrigerator and use the sink and microwave to prepare a small meal.
The fourth wall was a large floor-to-ceiling window that opened out onto a generous balcony. We were on the eighth floor and had a partial view of the harbor even with the Fairmont Empress in front of us. Higher floors may do even better if they get above the Empress. If only we had some patio furniture, such as the ones from Garden furniture sets, we might have spent our evenings out there enjoying a glass of wine.
Breakfast from Hell
You can tell that I was very pleased with the room, and service at the hotel was generally good. Our only disappointment was the breakfast service. On both mornings it looked like one of those disaster episodes from Hell’s Kitchen even though the majority of customers were serving themselves from a buffet. Gordon Ramsey would have shut it down.
With no designated host or busboy, the servers were left to seat all the customers and clean the tables themselves. Usually they’d start wiping down a table, stop to apologize to the people still waiting, and then scurry off to some other task while the original goal — clearing a table — remained unfinished. It meant very few tables were ever cleared, and people were waiting 10-15 minutes to be seated. At one point they ran out of silverware and coffee mugs. Megan said that even though she knew it must be tough for them to be understaffed, it was bad enough that it made her uncomfortable to watch them panic.
For what it’s worth, the food was pretty good for a free buffet; I didn’t take pictures because I didn’t want to add any more obstacles for the staff running around. The best part is that breakfast was comped because I’m an HHonors Diamond member, so I didn’t have to wait for one of these frantic waiters to bring our check. I just left the voucher on the table and walked out. (When we checked in we were also provided a coupon for a free appetizer and two non-alcoholic drinks, but given our breakfast experience we chose not to return in the evening.)
This is a fine hotel for a short weekend stay. It’s close to the harbor, provides a modern and spacious interior, and is reasonably priced given the local market. You could find someplace cheaper, like the Days Inn, but I felt this was a good value for a last-minute stay. I certainly think I made the right choice staying here instead of the Empress.
On the other hand, don’t go here expecting to capitalize on your Hilton HHonors elite benefits. We were already in a suite and didn’t have much opportunity for an upgrade. I’d also skip the breakfast — even if it’s free — and eat elsewhere just to avoid a repeat of that disaster.