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Hotel Review: The Majestic Yosemite Hotel


Majestic

I was pretty excited at the prospect of staying at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel – formerly known as the Ahwahnee Hotel, yet another National Historic Landmark. Located within Yosemite Valley itself, the place is far better situated than Big Trees Lodge for accessing the main attractions within the park.

It’s also a lot nicer – a (very brief) overview of the history of the place is that the first US Director of the National Parks Service, a businessman turned tree-hugger named Stephen Mather, thought up the idea of building a luxury hotel within the park to attract rich city folk over and fall in love with nature like he had, thus impressing upon these influential people the wonders of nature. Cue fund-raising.

I’m not quite the target audience he probably had in mind, but I was indeed impressed. The place is so iconic that the park rangers conduct (free) guided tours of the public areas. The Overlook Hotel from The Shining was also based on this property – it’s great knowing you’re staying at the hotel that inspired  the visual aesthetic of “Here’s Johnny!”.

A not-so-Majestic Entrance

When you first get to the vicinity of the hotel, you might start wondering where exactly the place is – it’s not particularly visible from the carpark (which is also near where the complimentary shuttle bus stops). As it turns out, the main entrance of the hotel was originally designed to be the side entrance – when siting the original main entrance, they hadn’t considered the pollution created by idling vehicles as passengers unloaded.

This design flaw was highlighted rather late, just days before the hotel opened, and thus a quick solution was effected by converting the existing side entrance and adding a long covered walkway to distance the rooms from vehicle-generated pollution.

The original main entrance thus opens instead to the property’s lawn, which is where the more impressive facade of the property can be viewed from.

Inside the Property

The heritage of the property is clearly a large part of its identity – old-looking plaques abound (even if they’re dated to the late 20th century, which isn’t really all that long ago…)

Upon reaching the property you step up to a really old-school lobby, decked with chandeliers (albeit electric ones) and all.

To the left, ye olde sweet shop for weary travellers to purchase sweet sugary pick-me-ups.

To the right, ye olde gift shop for refreshed travellers to part ways with more cash before heading home.

Somewhere behind the check-in counter is a dining reservations booth – I assume it’s manned at some part of the day, though I never noticed that happening during my stay. Apparently, this area was converted from old school bank counters – I’m guessing they once provided on-site banking services, before the day of the ATM?

Ye olde school post box, just opposite the dining reservations booth.

A large fireplace along the way… Not too sure if it’s still used during winter.

And a large indoor area where afternoon tea was served (we arrived too late to really enjoy it, unfortunately).

The (architectural) highlight for me was the magnificent dining room, with its intricate roof and grand scale. It’s what you might imagine an American (wild west) version of Harry Potter might look like, as opposed to the New York version that’s made it to the cinemas.

The Room

I was assigned to Room 601, one of the smallest rooms on the top floor of the property. Having booked the cheapest available class of room, that sounded about right.

The rooms on the sixth floor were all named – 601 was named after the property’s founder himself, and was a pretty nice room with a good view – wonder if it’s nicer than the average basic room? That’s the delusion I’m happy living with, anyway.

The king bed was large, clean and comfortable. No complaints from me.

It also came with a plush black bear, though unfortunately it cost extra to take home. Mine remained in the hotel room…

The room was equipped with a flat screen TV and all the technological wonders of the 20th century (read: crappy wifi).

Walk-in closet? Storeroom? Blurred lines.

The bathroom was, though a little on the small side, clean and functional.

I really enjoyed the provided Tarocco Sicilian Red Orange amenities, with its strong pleasant scent.

In one corner of the room was a small sitting area, right beside the room’s sole window. That window offered what was possibly the room’s best feature – the view.

It wasn’t perfect, but there was an almost-direct view of Half Dome – it was pretty awesome watching it turn orange around dusk right from the comfort of our own room. Too bad it was still partially obstructed!

 

Breakfast

Breakfast was, unfortunately, not included with the room rate. I was pretty keen to spend some time actually dining in the dining hall, so I made a reservation for breakfast (you can do this using OpenTable).

Breakfast was a full buffet affair, though it seemed somewhat unclassy to take pictures of the spread in a place like this, so I didn’t.

…or perhaps I simply forgot to document the full spread.

I’ve got some shots of sample plated offerings, though. The offerings aren’t too different from any typical western hotel buffet breakfast, but I did think the quality of the food was really good.

Ultimately, it’s still rather pricey, and ultimately you’re paying for the ambience; the delicious food serves as a pretty good consolation prize.

Around the Property

After breakfast we took a walk around the grounds. Just beside the lawn was the swimming pool – it’s rather small and not particularly conducive for swimming laps; probably better suited for families.

Walking further away from the main hotel towards the wooded areas brings you to the cottages, essentially the property’s private villas. They look pretty nice, but at an even higher price point I figured it made more sense to go for the cheaper option in the main (historical) building.

Still, looking at the beautiful scenery around the cottages, I kinda got the appeal.

After all, how often do you get to see wildlife scurrying around your backyard? It’s possibly quite a common for country-dwellers, but for the urbanites this property caters to, it’s a rather unique experience.

Conclusion

The Majestic Yosemite Hotel (née Ahwahnee Hotel) is undoubtably the swishest hotel located within Yosemite Park. Very frankly, you’re paying for the historicity and location – though it doesn’t quite match up to modern luxury hotels in many ways, it’s still pretty decent and offers a unique experience to be had in the midst of awesome natural beauty.

Penny-pinchers should consider staying somewhere cheaper and just doing the complimentary guided tour. Unfortunately, it’s owned by the U.S. Government and (I think) there’s pretty much no way to access it on cheap, but if you value such experiences it could make a worthwhile treat.

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Hotel Review: Big Trees Lodge


Staying in Yosemite

When planning trips many months in advance, sometimes you make decisions without having done the full extent of research necessary for a well-informed decision. In this instance, it was initially planning to stay for only night in Yosemite National Park, sandwiching that between stays at the nearest Hilton property (Hampton Merced).

What my Singaporean brain failed to process was that a ‘park’ could be massively gigantic and that it was a 2h drive from Merced to Yosemite Valley (probably the most central part in Yosemite).

So, sometime closer to the actual trip, I started looking for a property within the park to stay in, focusing my search on national park properties and basically looking for whatever was available. I’m not the camping sort, and any of the properties book out months in advance (especially since I was visiting in summer), so my options were rather limited – I was probably looking for rooms made available through others’ cancellations.

The search yielded Big Trees Lodge, a property with a rather uninspiring-sounding name (though it’s formerly Wawona Hotel, a National Historic Landmark) with some rooms available. Beggars can’t be choosers, so I decided to just take whatever was available. It had the bonus advantage of being more moderately priced than the other hotel within the park I’d be staying at the next night.

Arriving

It was nearly dusk by the time we arrived at the property – at that time, there was a fair amount of parking available, mostly around the loop around a central fountain that leads up to the lodge’s main building.

This main building is where you check in, and it’s also where the dining room (essentially the restaurant) is located. We arrived pretty late and checked out quite early the next morning, so we never ate there. The building is also the only place on the property equipped with WiFi.

Upon checking in, we were given a map of the property – most of the rooms were actually located in cottages around the main building. Happily, we were assigned a room just a short walk away.

The Room

I’d mentioned earlier that this place is a National Historic Landmark – this becomes quite apparent when you step into the room.

I’d opted for a room with an ensuite bathroom – there were cheaper options where you had to go to a common toilet/shower. The bathroom wasn’t particularly large, but I thought it was worth the additional investment.

There’s also a walk-in closet with plenty of space for your luggage, should you be hauling trunks of stuff through Yosemite. Mine felt very empty in my one night there.

There’s also a door leading to an adjoining room, so it’s probably possible for families to request for two connected rooms with direct access.

It had been a relatively long drive up from San Francisco, so most of the stay was really spent catching up on rest.

The Grounds

After dawn broke, we spent some time taking a look around the property. We finally got to see Clark Cottage (where our room was) in the light of day.

There’re some chairs and a table just outside each room (on the porch) – it’s pretty relaxing just sitting there looking out at the trees. For awhile, anyway.

A short walk away from our cottage (also visible in the above image, actually) was the ‘swimming tank’, which looked pretty much like a normal swimming pool to me.

We ended up not exploring the property all that much since we’d wanted to explore the park instead, but I imagine that if you wanted an inexpensive property within the park to relax at over a few days, this one would do rather nicely.

 

Conclusion

I’m not usually a fan of quaint and old hotels, but I suppose the location of the property changes that attitude somewhat. When staying in the middle of all that nature, quaint old lodging with minimal internet connectivity becomes rather… well, natural.

The location is still a little far (almost an hour’s drive) from Yosemite Valley, though – if I had a choice I might go for the more centrally-located Yosemite Valley Lodge instead, especially if not that much time will actually be spent indoors.