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