Monthly Archives: September 2017

Hotel Review: Parc 55 San Francisco


Location

I’d planned to stay a few nights (four, to optimise the Citi Prestige 4th night free benefit) and was looking for a central location to base myself for the duration – it turned out that Hilton had not just one, but two properties in the Union Square area which fit my needs – Parc 55 and Hilton San Francisco Union Square.

The two properties seem to be under the same management, even, since their websites actually cross-referenced each other (referring potential customers over should one property be full, I imagine).

FlyerTalk seemed to lack consensus over which was superior so I ended up choosing the one with the fancier name. It’s also right across the street from a BART station which made it really easy to take the train directly from the airport.

FlyerTalk also made much about the number of homeless in the area (especially if you walk the wrong way), which could make staying here rather unpleasant – I found this to be somewhat true, but found this to be rather true of the city in general. All in all, it was centrally located and very well-situated for exploring the city.

The Room

I was given a corner room on level 25, which seemed to be slightly larger than the typical room (though still smaller than a suite).

On entering the room you’re greeted to a narrow corridor (toilet to the left, with a high window on the right).

The room’s relatively spacious; plenty of room to lay out multiple pieces of luggage.

I did rather like the large windows all around the room, offering a good semi-panoramic view of the city around the building.

I found it rather pleasant to be able to sit at the desk with views of the city right in front of me; if you happen to be trying to get some work done in the afternoon the brightness would be rather annoying, though.

The toilet was clean, a little old, but generally unremarkable.

Breakfast

Unfortunately, Parc 55 gets flak for offering really sucky breakfast options for Gold members. It seems that all you get is a coffee and a pastry at a cafe. As a Diamond you get it slightly better, since you get access to continental breakfast at the restaurant, with the option to top up US$10 per person to enjoy the hot food.

I thought the continental offerings were adequate,  especially since they had prosciutto wraps in that section.

 

I also enjoyed the range of fruit available – I particularly enjoyed having access to copious amounts of strawberries.

All in all, I found breakfast serviceable but rather lacklustre, especially if you’re used to what’s usually on offer at Asian Hilton properties.

Conclusion

A San Francisco property with a great central location, Parc 55’s breakfast offerings are rather disappointing for the Gold/Diamond Hilton guest. If I were to do this again I think I might opt for the Hilton San Francisco Financial District instead – it’s a little further off, but still central enough with better complimentary breakfast offerings (or so I’ve read). In the worst case, it’s right at the doorstep of Chinatown, so affordable breakfast options would be just a short walk away…

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California Dreamin’: Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-SFO / SFO-SIN

  • California Dreamin’: A Tale of Going West
  • Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-SFO / SFO-SIN (A350)
  • Parc 55 San Francisco – A Hilton Hotel
  • Big Trees Lodge
  • The Majestic Yosemite Hotel
  • Hampton Inn & Suites Merced, or Just About Any Hampton in the States
  • Hilton San Diego Airport Harbor Island Hotel
  • The Comic-Con Experience
  • Virgin Airlines Business Class SAN-SFO (A319)

SilverKris Lounge SIN T3

You would think that I’d have spent more time cataloguing the T3 business class lounge – however, perhaps because it’s my home city, I’m usually not too excited about using the lounges in Changi Airport. There’re also plenty of excellent reviews already out there, like this one on the Shutterwhale.

That said, I’m not too good for some free laksa. The one offered in the SilverKris lounge is pretty good – the ability to vary the ratio of ingredients is always welcome.

Overall, though, I find the food offerings to be rather lacklustre (sacrilege, I know!). Again, this might be a home city thing – why settle for dry, rubbery chwee kueh when I can get it cheaply at the coffee shops near home?

When situated in a foodie paradise, I think the lounge could afford to up its game when offering dining options to well-heeled premium travellers (also, by extension, undeserving travel hackers like myself). Case in point – why stock maple flavoured syrup? Is genuine maple syrup too pricey?

I’m not particularly bothered by it myself, but given SIA’s image and price point, I’d have thought there’d be greater investment into maintaining an image of using the very best.

The Hardware

Perhaps some of my disenchantment with the lounge came from my excitement to get onboard the aircraft. Having previously sat in (and been impressed by) economy class on an SQ A350, I was pretty eager to get in the air and enjoy business class on the 15h journey to SFO.

Welcome drinks were served shortly after boarding. I opted for champagne; since I know next to nothing about alcohol (oh hey I like fizzy drinks let’s get this expensive-sounding drink) I can’t comment too much beyond… err, it was nice, I guess. I assume it’s the same Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve that was listed in their menu.

The seat isn’t too different from any other recent SQ business class seat, which isn’t a bad thing. Plenty of space, pretty comfortable.

I’m not a big fan of the design of the foot rest (most likely requiring you to lie/sit diagonally), but it wasn’t too bad; still plenty comfy.

Plenty of storage space for your miscellaneous items throughout the flight. TV screen is great.

The SQ app now allows you to pair your mobile device to your in-flight entertainment system for use as an additional controller – it’s an interesting feature, though hardly necessary, I think.

What I found more impressive/useful was the ability to plug in your personal devices via HDMI and view media on the screen. Yes, the airline’s invested in building up a library of relatively current TV shows and movies for you to browse; but if you’ve got other stuff on hand you’d rather watch, why not do so in style? (particularly useful since it’s quite possible to get tired of the SQ library after 2x 15h flights.)

The seat is relatively easily converted into the lie-flat bed mode – I did struggle for awhile, but once I figured out the unlatching mechanism (which I’ve since forgotten, unfortunately) it was easy enough to handle on my own, which is great since I’m not really a fan of relying on (and waiting for) cabin crew to assist with setup, as is the case on Suites.

Amenities

I actually received one of those 70th anniversary amenity kits with Laundress products (mine was the black version) when flying out of Singapore. I thought it was an interesting concept, though it’s still not really stuff I’d really use. Make a nice gift, though.

Other than that, you do get the usual slippers, socks and eye mask as well.

The Food

The menu cover was branded for the 70th anniversary – despite the branding, I didn’t see all that much local fare like chicken rice that they were supposed to be offering (think the only item offered char siew rice on my outbound trip, which I didn’t get in the end).

I’ll be showcasing the meals from the return journey as well, so this section will probably just make me look like a glutton. We begin with cauliflower and smoked gouda soup, lobster thermidor (via Book the Cook) and a Meneghina doughnut.

For the mid-flight meal I tried the spice coated smoked egg (not a fan) and pan-seared salmon fillet.

Somewhere along the way (I can’t remember when) I got this prawn skewer. It was surprisingly large, although I did wonder why I was never offered the signature satay on both legs of the flight.

From SFO-SIN my first meal comprised the smoke duck, lamb biryani and two desserts (because YOLO) – Gotham “pineapple” (why the quote marks, SQ menu?) and petite patisserie.

Because I thought I should try out their mid-flight snack as well, I requested for chicken kway teow as well. It was surprisingly good.

Salt baked chicken for my final meal on the return flight – thought this one was rather meh.

Generally, I found the worst meal to be merely mediocre (as opposed to actually bad) but generally I was pleased with the offerings and didn’t feel like too much stomach space was being wasted on undeserving calories. That might not sound like much, but we’re talking airline food here and I think SQ offers pretty good in-flight catering on business class (at least, for the Singaporean palate).

Conclusion

As air travellers, we live in a rather privileged era – it was an absolutely surreal experience being able to step onto a plane in Singapore and alight at San Francisco just 15 hours later (and vice versa). It’s still a long flight (aside – I was reminded of a YouTube video I’d watched explaining why air travel hasn’t been getting any faster – essentially, lowering cost has been a bigger priority than increasing speed), and when you want to grab some shut-eye along the way you might start feeling grateful to be in a lie-flat business class seat (flying SQ, no less) and infinitely thankful that strategic credit card spend allows you to access such luxuries relatively affordably.

In my opinion, if you are interested in taking a trip to the US (non-stop flights to LA and NYC are supposed to be on the cards for 2018) this is possibly one of the best uses of airlines miles available, allowing you to simultaneously minimise travel time while enjoying a luxurious experience, enabling you to arrive at your destination fresh and ready to embark on your vacation.

Hotel Review: Conrad Bali (Conrad Suite Twin)

A brief interruption before resuming with that mega trip report I’ve got planned… (hopefully I can get that done before December rolls round!)

I recently had a short 2-night stay at Conrad Bali – recent posts at the FlyerTalk thread didn’t seem all that hot about the property, so my expectations were relatively low going in – this ended up perhaps a good thing, since the stay far exceeded my expectations and the property is now in the running for (my mental list of) best Conrad properties around – possibly the best if taking into account value, considering the relatively low cost of a stay there.

The property

Upon checking in, we were notified to some awesome news – we had been upgraded to the new(er) Conrad Suites wing. I got a welcome letter as a Diamond guest – I’m pretty sure the first three benefits listed would apply to any guest staying in a suite; I’m guessing that Diamond members would get to enjoy them (essentially lounge benefits) even if not upgraded.

It wasn’t all perfect – I’d originally booked a basic king room, but the upgraded room came with twin beds. Having said that, these are two queen beds we’re talking about – I wasn’t about to reject a suite upgrade just because of that.

Part of the welcome package includes a map of the property (it says a lot when you need one to help navigate yourself around the grounds). The Conrad Suites wing is at the top right of the map (IV), pretty much the opposite end from the main entrance (1). If this is your first time at the property, it probably makes sense to just let a porter help you with directions and your luggage – they don’t seem to necessarily expect tips, but given the exchange rate even tips of <$1 would probably be plenty.

Walking towards the Conrad Suites wing at night, we were led past the Conrad Suites pool area – it’s a rather stunning view; one that my mobile phone camera really fails to do justice to. Thankfully, the internet offers superior alternatives.


(Image from pic-travel.com.tw)

The room

(Floor plan from the Conrad Bali website – my room was essentially a mirror image of this with twin beds)

When you first step into the suite, you really only see about half of it. Already that’s pretty huge. At an advertised 110 sq. m./1184 sq. ft., the entire area is probably bigger than many homes in Singapore (keeping in mind that there are no bay windows, planters or bomb shelters in here)…

A welcome platter of fruit on the dining table near the entrance. This was changed daily – I felt pretty bad since I didn’t really touch any of it (little space left after stuffing myself at other parts of the property). Hopefully the staff get to feast on untouched items, rather than just disposing of it…

Power sockets at the dining table cleverly hidden away – this hiding thing is pretty common throughout the room. Given that there’s no dedicated work desk (who works while staying at a resort? Probably lots of people, sadly) this allows the area to function as one.

Just behind the dining table lies the kitchenette area, equipped with a sink and Nespresso-compatible (counterfeit?) coffee machine.

Complimentary Nespresso-compatible coffee pods and TWG teabags. They replenished these while tidying in the morning as well as during evening turndown service, so you know what to do if you’re aiming to maximise your souvenirs from a stay…

Tucked away from view are two mini-fridges (mini-bar plus an extra one with some extra bottles of water), the bin, cutlery, crockery, a kettle, a toaster, and even a juicer. I guess that was one thing I could have done with some of that complimentary fruit.

Adjoining the dining area is the living area, with plenty of sitting space and a flat screen TV. There’s a ceiling fan here for air circulation, in addition to the air-conditioning. This was the only TV with easy access to HDMI ports, and though they seemed to have disabled the input button on the remote, it was possible to switch to HDMI input using the physical button on the TV set.

Just outside the living area was a little balcony. Not pictured – a day bed. I was on the ground floor, though, so the balcony lacked privacy. It allowed quick access towards the pool, but since there’s no way to lock the door if you exit that way, it ended up not being used very much during the stay.

At this point we’re only halfway through the suite – here’s a quick video to give an idea of the scale of the place, unfortunately taken in that annoying vertical format that works better for mobile viewing (yes, it was meant for Instagram use).

The bedroom area is also equipped with a ceiling fan. When checking in, the front desk officer had offered to push the twin beds closer to each other to form a mega (faux super-king?) bed. We’d declined the offer, but given the default positioning of the twin beds, I’m not sure how much this would have changed anything!

(Not pictured – another flat screen TV for your in-bed viewing pleasure. This one is recessed more deeply in a fixture and doesn’t offer easy connectivity to personal devices.)

Conrad Bali offers a free monkey toy (presumably a reference to the Monkey Forest near Ubud). We initially thought it was a female monkey wearing a dress, but now we think that’s actually a sarong.

More stuff hidden at the bedside tables – apparently, a simple bottle of water is too unsightly to go uncovered.

The bedside radio offers support for mobile device connectivity, but it’s older equipment supporting older iOS devices. Better than nothing, I suppose?

Moving on towards the dressing area, there’s a dressing table opposite the closet.

Yet another hidden object – this time, a hairdryer.

Also a hidden power plug (presumably for the said hairdryer) and various miscellaneous kits.

Closet. Open; functional. There are nice, fluffy bathrobes provided – also more fanciful-looking (traditional?) robes.

 

It’s probably a worrying sign when a hotel provides bug spray in your room – I think you get mosquitos at the balcony area, but if you keep the doors closed you should be fine. They also provide a straw bag that comes in handy when going to the pool.

Finally, there’s the bathroom. Two sinks, a bathtub accompanied by a small TV, a toilet and shower. There’s a gigantic ottoman in the middle of the bathroom that looks pretty comfortable… but also rather unnecessary?

The default Aromatherapy Associates bath amenities, as with other Conrad properties, can be swapped upon request – I usually prefer the Shanghai Tang ones, but I think the default ones are fine too.

The grounds

The lagoon and main pool in the resort are less exclusive than the suites area (and thus more crowded), but still pretty nifty. I thought the lagoon in particular was pretty interesting since it sloped into sandy beach-like areas at certain parts, offering an area for kids to safely play with sand.


I saw some floats being used in the main pool, so I guess it’s cool to use them there. Plenty of opportunities for fun for kids, which is great since they’re not allowed at the Conrad Suites pool.

There’s a gym on the property – other than acknowledging its existence and providing these two pictures, I can’t really say much more about it.

There’s a general lounge area called Reflections that has some seating and a pool table. It was unattended when we walked past at night, but we were able to help ourselves to the pool equipment on our own. Unfortunately, there was only one proper cue stick, and the table was also in pretty poor state.

Near the Conrad Suites wing is a chapel – it seems like the property handles numerous weddings.

Beyond the chapel is the beach. It seems to be a public access area, since there were some hawkers walking around trying to sell their wares. Regardless, a very nice area. There are cabanas along the beach maintained by the property, though you’ll need to pay a fee to make use of them. No such charge for the beach chairs.

The beach faces east, making it a great place to enjoy the sunrise.

Once you get back to the Conrad Suites wing, you’ll see a sign reminding you that children are not allowed at the pool. It helps to maintain an exclusive feel, but given that the suits are so huge (and thus great for families), it can seem rather  counter-intuitive to make families travel further to the main pool and lagoon.

The (restricted) poolside cabanas here are free to use, unlike the beach-side ones around the rest of the property. They’re great for just spending a lazy afternoon, with the option of easily going in and out of the pool.

Hotel staff send you wet towels and ice water when using the cabanas, with a menu to make additional orders. They’re not pushy about it – we didn’t order any additional items, though they looked relatively affordable as far as resorts go.

Breakfast (RIN)

The Japanese restaurant at the Conrad Suites wing serves as a possible venue for breakfast. It’s the one recommended for Suites (and Diamond) guests. I also suspect that the quality of food is better here than at the other restaurants.

When having breakfast there, you can order a number of items off their a la carte menu. A special shout out to their French toast in particular – it’s done with thick-cut French loaf, which was remarkably soft and really quite delightful.

You could also head into the restaurant to help yourself to the buffet spread. Various options including hot food, pastries, cereal, salad and fruit. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

   

I was particularly impressed by the stir-fried (Japanese style) beef they had on offer. The chicken katsu was pretty good too (a little tough, but very tasty).

Breakfast (Suku)

On our second morning we tried out breakfast at the largest on-site restaurant.

You also get to order from an a la carte menu.

The spread here was even larger, at least partially by virtue of being a larger space catering to more people. Again, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

I particularly enjoyed the wider range of fruit available (including mangosteens and passionfruit).

All in all, despite the larger spread available, I thought the quality of food was better at RIN. That said, it was still a very enjoyable meal.

Afternoon tea (RIN)

Afternoon tea is served at RIN from 3-5pm. You get to order drinks off a menu and they serve a tray of snacks and pastries for tea. We generally found these all to be enjoyable.

 

Evening cocktails (Club lounge)

From 5-7pm you can go to the club lounge (just one storey above RIN) for evening cocktails. Again, you get to order off a menu – quite similar to the tea drinks menu, but with alcoholic options as well. We didn’t realise food would be provided as well; these were also quite enjoyable.

Conclusion

Given that it’s an Asian beach resort, an immediate comparison with Conrad Koh Samui jumps to mind. When I’d stayed there earlier this year, I was pretty much blown away by the experience. Conrad Bali hasn’t dethroned that experience, but given the price difference I’ll have to say this place offers a lot more bang for buck (I’d paid about S$180 per night including taxes for this; it was a sale rate, but if you manage to catch it a 50% flash sale it’ll be even cheaper). Imagine pairing this with the Citi Prestige 4th night free offer – 4 nights here at less than S$600 would be pretty sweet!

Even if you don’t get upgraded to a suite (I suspect it’s rare for Golds or lower), I’d say that there’s enough on the property to make for a very pleasant stay. The suite experience might be worth an additional investment, though it would severely erode the bang-for-buck advantage.

Conrad Koh Samui was kinda a bucket list item of sorts for me, but I personally find it too pricey (even if paid in points) to justify a return visit anytime soon. An affordable alternative, Conrad Bali has sufficiently impressed me to to displace it as the go-to option for a nearby beach resort.