Fairmont Grand Del Mar: Is it as good as advertised?

Last week, my family of three spent 4 free nights in a suite at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar near San Diego.  If you’re interested in how or why we booked this resort, please see my previous post “Booking a luxury trip with points and deals.”

Prior to the trip, I had read this Forbes review in which author Larry Olmsted gushed on and on about the property.  He said that the Grand Del Mar was “just one of four resorts in the nation to accomplish the Forbes (formerly Mobil Guide) 5-Star sweep, winning the highest possible rating for lodging, dining and spa.”  As a result, my expectations were through-the-roof high.

Overall, we had a great time and would happily recommend the resort to anyone.  There’s no question that it’s an excellent, top-notch luxury property.  Service was great, our suite was awesome, and the grounds and buildings were gorgeous and well maintained.  For several reasons, though, we would not rank it as our favorite property in the world.  Partly that’s because we’d prefer striking views (like the ocean views at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands or mountain views in Switzerland).  Partly the issue was with our timing.  My wife and I like to participate in organized activities that offer a chance to get to know staff members and other guests, but very little of that sort of thing was available while we were there.  And the weather wasn’t great.  During our stay it was often a bit chilly and overcast.  That’s hardly the Fairmont’s fault, but it unquestionably affects our impression.

A few minor disappointments

When I had booked our stay, the Fairmont representative had asked if we were celebrating a special occasion.  Yes, we were.  Our son was graduating high school and this was to be his graduation present from us.  When I called later to ask a few questions about the upcoming stay, the phone agent made a point of congratulating us on the upcoming graduation.  And then, upon check-in, we were congratulated again.  In the past, we’ve celebrated special occasions at many lesser properties, and every now and then we’ve been surprised with balloons and a cake or something similar.  Based on the Grand Del Mar’s reputation and the way they repeatedly mentioned this special occasion, I was sure they had something very nice in store for us.  I was wrong.  After check-in, our special occasion was never mentioned again.  The funny thing is that I wouldn’t have noticed this except for the way they eagerly and repeatedly congratulated us for the occasion during the touch-points leading up to our stay.

The next minor disappointment was with the lack of on-site guided activities during the week.  The Forbes article set expectations high:

The activity roster here is so long it is divided into subcategories such as “Canyon Adventures,” “Coastal Adventures,” and “Games.” There are guided cliff top hikes to the Pacific, hikes to waterfalls, excellent biking, and tons of watersports options, from the resort’s white glove private beach club to surfing lessons, sea kayaking, diving, sunset sails, and much more.

We checked in on Sunday afternoon and checked out on Thursday.  We quickly learned that most on-site guided activities were only available on weekends (this may have been due to us visiting during shoulder season — I’m not sure).  Plus, I had planned to surprise my wife by booking their highly regarded afternoon tea, but it wasn’t available on the days we were there.  Bummer.

A related issue was with the lack of information at check-in.  No one bothered to tell us about the many services and activities that were available to us.  I knew that a courtesy car would take us to nearby attractions only because I had read about it.  Similarly, George (of TravelBloggerBuzz) had told me about their bicycles and bike paths.  Tennis was obviously available since we could see the courts, but no one had told us how to go about getting equipment.  The resort has a wealth of amenities available to all guests, but we had to practically pry the information out of the concierge desk.  The resort would do well to be considerably more proactive with this information.

The worst issue for us was the king bed itself.  Those who like very firm mattresses will be happy with it, but my wife and I found it to be painfully firm.  I asked if they had mattress toppers available and they responded by making up the bed with a plush duvet under the sheets.  This solved the firmness problem, but added another: we awoke repeatedly from being overly hot.  I suspect that the duvet kept our body heat from dissipating.  Meanwhile, our son slept comfortably all four nights on the pull-out sofa.

Mostly excellent

Now that the minor gripes are out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff:

  • The Prado Suite:  It was awesome.  Even though the Prado suite is the resort’s lowest level suite, it included two huge bathrooms, separate entrances to the living and bedroom sections, etc.
  • Bath Robes: They were super plush and comfy.  I almost considered buying one for $100 in the hotel gift shop. Almost.
  • Turndown Service: Every evening they brought extra bottles of water and, best of all, chocolate covered Oreos.  Yum!  One night they delivered yogurt covered Oreos, though — I was not a fan of those.
  • Housekeeping:  Honestly, I don’t usually notice whether or not housekeeping does a good job, but in this case their attention to detail was noticeable.  They kept the suite spotless and in perfect order.
  • Resort Facilities: Indoors and out, the resort is beautiful and perfectly maintained.  The resort has multiple pools, perfect tennis courts, and many great places to relax.  I’m not a golfer, but I’m sure their course is top notch.
  • Poolside Service: I loved that a pool attendant was usually available to cover the padded chairs with a special chair cover towel and then set down glasses of ice water for each of us before asking if we wanted to order from the menu.
  • Multiple Restaurant Options: At one extreme there’s a grab and go sandwich & coffee shop.  At the other extreme is Addison, their 5 star restaurant.  In between there’s the casual poolside dining, excellent but casual Clubhouse Grill, and the very nice (but not 5 star nice) Amaya Mediterranean restaurant.
  • Complimentary car service: You have to reserve this in advance, and it’s not always available.  This is a great way to get to and from nearby towns such as Del Mar and La Jolla.
  • Free BMW loaner bikes: A short distance away from the property is a long paved off-road bike path.  Biking back up the hill to the resort is painful though!

Photos

The rest of this review will be presented through photos and captions…

One of two entryways to our Prado suite

Prado Suite bedroom

Prado Suite Living Room

Prado Suite Bathroom (the suite has two mirror-image bathrooms)

Prado Suite Bathroom View 2

Turndown service: chocolate covered Oreo. Yum!

View from our room. From here you can see the adult-only pool and hot tub.

Tennis court entryway

We enjoyed playing tennis on these picture perfect courts

Poolside Dining

Poolside Menu

Multiple family pools are available

This fire pit was awesome when the weather turned a bit chilly

Lobby

Lobby bar

BMW Bike

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. I crashed my bike going down the hill on the road leading out from the resort. A car going into the resort honked at me as I must have looked like an idiot falling clumsily. And then I heard them laughing…so embarrassing.

    I noticed some service issues as well. The property is new into the Fairmont program so they are still getting up to speed with the levels of service. I think it was the first Fairmont property that did NOT have a Platinum amenity waiting for me!

    I loved the bed!

  2. Were the tennis rackets/balls complimentary? I’m visiting this property in July and had read that they offer lessons for a price but I couldn’t find any info about just using the equipment. Thanks for the review!

    • Yes, one of the great things here is that they don’t charge a resort fee yet they provide the following for free (I’m probably missing some extras):

      Tennis: Balls and rackets.
      Workout clothes and shoes: Must be enrolled in Fairmont’s loyalty program
      Bikes
      Car service within 14 miles or so: Reserve in advance. Can’t go to/from airport FYI
      Internet
      Pools, gym
      Water bottles in room
      Robes and slippers

    • I was going to mention the same thing. I think most people have the impression that San Diego has sun year round. Unfortunately May and June are the worst time of year for sun, especially near the coast. If you go inland several miles, the marine layer sometimes burns off later in the day. Starting in late June this phenomenon stops and it’s nearly 100% sun.

    • Yep, grew up in San Diego and I was going to say the same thing. I don’t live there anymore, but my mom mentioned a couple days ago that they were a couple weeks into the gray. From my memory, even later in summer you often have the marine layer in the early am, it just reliably burns off by the time the beach parking lots are full 🙂

  3. After staying 4 nights in the Prado Suite last month, here’s my updated top 5 hotel list:

    1. Fairmont Banff Springs
    2. Fairmont Lake Louise
    3. Fairmont Grand Del Mar
    4. Park Hyatt Paris Vendome
    5. Park Hyatt Milan

    Let the discussion begin!

  4. Hahaha guess we all came here to say avoid May Gray and June Gloom in San Diego! Our summer starts in July and goes a bit later than other cities…in fact, September can be one of the hottest months.

    As far as the property goes, I have to say it was much better before it became a Fairmont. Everything has dropped a bit – the service level, the food (except Addison), etc. It’s a shame because the property itself is amazing. I really hope they work out the kinks!

  5. Wife and I were deciding between this property and the Kea Lani in Maui for our Fairmont certs in August. Decided on the Kea Lani since we’ve never been to Hawaii and it looks amazing as well. Looks like it was a great trip!

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