They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. At least, I always believed that long-standing maxim…before my stay at Domes of Elounda last week.
The truth is, on arrival, I thought it seemed really nice…but not amazing. In fact, knowing that Greg had been disappointed about needing to cancel his reservation here, I said to him that my first impression was that he shouldn’t regret it too much. By the end of the week, I was singing a different tune: Crete is gorgeous, the location of this property is amazing, and customer service was everything you could hope for at a property of this caliber. It didn’t hurt that I ended up spending my last two nights there in a villa with both a private outdoor pool with the view below and a private indoor pool, which was probably the best upgrade I’ve ever gotten. In fairness, the Domes of Elounda isn’t perfect, but if my experience is any indication, the people there are willing to go above and beyond to make sure that your stay is. Furthermore, while you wouldn’t book it the same way that I did, this property is still worth it if you play the game differently — more on how awesome it was and how to book it now to follow.
Domes of Elounda, Autograph Collection, basic info
- Location: Crete, Greece
- Hotel chain: Marriott
- Point price: 85K per night standard. Category 8 hotel (85K standard, 70K off-peak, 100K peak). Book 5 nights for the price of 4.
- Platinum Elite perks: Free dinner for 2 at the buffet one time (excluding drinks). Free Spa Thermae experience (not a treatment but rather more like use of the facilities for a sauna / cool shower / relaxation experience). Note that I believe breakfast is free for everyone.
- Resort fee: None
- Closest airport: Heraklion (HER), Crete. The resort is a little over an hour by car from the airport (A rental car is worth considering; the Domes of Elounda has free valet parking).
- Notable because: The location across from Spinalonga is stunning.
Previous posts about the Domes of Elounda
Because this property represented a particular value due to a perfect storm of devaluations, both to Marriott Travel Packages and to this property itself (it went way up in points price). To read more background about how and I why I booked it, see these posts (and for more on how to book it today, see the “hot to book it” section near the bottom of this post):
- Book these now: Top properties going UP in August 2018
- Banking travel certificates for future luxury
While I spent my last two nights in a pretty out-of-control private villa, the first five nights of my stay were spent in a standard room — which is still a far cry from a “standard” hotel room. The Domes of Elounda is all suites and villas, so at minimum you’ll have a separate bedroom and living room along with a bathroom with whirlpool tub and a patio area. I believe each suite also has its own outdoor hot tub as well. Since it was 80+ degrees every day and full sun, we never even took the top off of the hot tub.
Oddly enough, I managed to somehow fail to get any pictures of the living room. However, it looked exactly like the picture on the website (only we had a coffee machine on the corner table instead of a lamp).
Every suite also has an outdoor sitting area. This was the view from ours.
As you can see, the standard room was certainly nice and not at all a bad place to spend a week. If I’m being completely fair, I didn’t think that everything about the room matched my expectations for a top-tier Marriott/Starwood/Ritz property. With brands like St. Regis and Ritz-Carlton all under the same umbrella these days, I think my main hang-up with the Domes of Elounda at first impression is that I was comparing it to those brands (and then to top-tier properties in other brands like Park Hyatt and Conrad). Specifically, we had been comparing it to the Park Hyatt Mallorca, probably because of the geography (both are built into a hillside that requires transport around the resort by golf cart) and because of the fact that we had used a Globalist Suite Upgrade at the Park Hyatt Mallorca to upgrade a 20K points/night standard room at that hotel to a massive suite that ordinarily sells for around $2K per night.
Considering the cash rate price point of the standard rooms at Domes of Elounda, that just wasn’t a fair comparison at all. Still, there were small things that seemed both easily fixable and a little off-brand for a top-tier property like a little plastic chipping from the edges of the whirlpool tub or the hook for the hand-held shower that was too loose and therefore couldn’t be adjusted, etc. The drawbacks were certainly minor — they just didn’t match in my mind with what I’d expect if I had paid 85,000 points per night (though I didn’t — and neither should you when you read “how to book it” below).
On the other hand, the location here is amazing. While you could only see a sliver of Spinalonga from our room, the resort has an incredible view of the former Venetian fortress-turned-leper colony (abandoned in the 1960’s). The full resort is quite big and customer service was consistently on point. I think those other factors contribute to its placement as a top-tier property.
I believe that breakfast is free for everyone at this property (provided you book directly, anyway). There were a wide assortment of breakfast items available on the buffet as well as smoothies and sparkling wine in addition to coffee and juice. It would be hard to walk away hungry. I definitely didn’t take pictures of everything, but this will give you an idea:
total cheapskate relatively frugal guy, I tend to take full advantage of a free breakfast on vacation and load up on calories to sustain me through the day, with one late lunch / early dinner usually all I need in terms of eating out. That strategy worked here as there was a lot of food on hand, but after 7 days the buffet started to feel pretty old. If I were to do it again, especially considering how reasonably-priced restaurants are in the surrounding area, I’d probably go a bit lighter on breakfast and choose something a bit different each day rather than a plate of everything every day. That’s probably a well-known strategy amongst those who often spend 7 nights in one place, but as this was the first time I’d ever spent 7 nights in one hotel, it was a lesson learned for me.
Ahead of arrival, I had received an email from Michael Katenidis, the Rooms Control Manager at Domes of Elounda. It was the typical email that higher-end places send during the week before arrival asking if they can help you make any spa appointments or book any excursions for you, take care of any special requests, etc. I responded to that email to explain that we would need a crib for the baby and to say that we’d love a room with a great sea view if possible since we’ll be in the room while our son naps every afternoon and would love to enjoy the scenery while we’re there. I had a couple of other simple questions as well.
Mike wrote back promptly confirming that they would have a crib ready and answering my questions. Regarding the room, he basically politely said that it didn’t look like they had anything available but would do the best they could. I knew he was right — I was staying Wednesday to Wednesday and the property appeared to be completely sold out on the weekend, with no room types bookable for several days of my stay. I figured there was no harm in asking, but I didn’t have high hopes.
And of course as you saw from the pics above, we got the standard room we booked and it was fine. However, after the weekend passed, and we found ourselves totally in love with looking at the scenery, I figured there was no harm in asking one more time if it were possible to move to something with a more direct sea view. I had run into Mike a few times during our stay and he had been terrific each time, remembering our names and asking how things were going, etc, so I felt comfortable reaching out again. I sent him an email explaining that we were having a great time and didn’t really want to leave. The room had been fine, but I wanted to see if there was any possibility of moving to something with a slightly more direct sea view for our last two nights. He wrote me back a little while later and said he had an excellent option for us to check out.
That was an understatement.
When Mike brought us to the room, we were amazed. We’ve been fortunate to use rewards to stay in some very nice properties around the world. We have never had a room like this. Here’s a video that shows the whole thing:
But if you don’t have the patience to watch the whole video, here’s the quick summary of this Domes of Elounda “Luxury Villa”:
- Full private 2-story villa
- Upstairs included a huge living room, dining room, full kitchen with dishwasher, fridge, stove, microwave, etc
- Huge outdoor wrap-around patio
- Outdoor private swimming pool with full view of Spinalonga
- 2 bedrooms downstairs, each with its own full bathroom with separate jetted soaking tub and standalone shower
- Outdoor patio downstairs
- Private indoor swimming pool with view of the Mediterranean and a heated lounge chair
I’ve seen videos of various crazy suites before — certainly some with larger outdoor swimming pools (though ours was plenty large enough to swim around and the view was incredible). I’ve never seen a room with its own indoor swimming pool. The indoor pool was quite small — but our son didn’t mind one bit.
Here are some pics of the room:
I actually didn’t get a great pic of the indoor pool and heated lounge chair, so if you want to check that out you can skip to the 2:20 mark in the video above. The indoor pool was small, but fun!
We definitely didn’t want to leave that room. While Platinum status ordinarily includes a guaranteed 4pm late checkout, I didn’t expect all that on top of the incredible upgrade. Still, we wanted to enjoy the room as long as possible — which was one of the motivations behind eventually booking that Ryanair flight that I mentioned a couple of days ago (it didn’t leave until 6:50pm). The hotel was gracious enough to offer us a 2:30pm checkout with use of the hotel facilities as long as we needed. That ended up being perfect for us.
Service touches and other pluses
I noted a couple of times above the great service, though apart from the room upgrade I didn’t really touch on how that looked. First of all, people remembered us. In some luxury resorts these days, that seems kind of forced, with someone repeating your name again and again in a way that makes it seem like they just want you to know they haven’t forgotten it. At the Domes of Elounda, I was really impressed with how naturally friendly the staff members were.
Fantastic service started in the first 30 minutes. We arrived relatively late and were served a welcome drink right away as they made copies of our passports and explained the various resort amenities and Platinum benefits.
When that was done, they led us to a golf cart, where they had already unpacked our bags from our car and loaded them onto the cart — no need to even take out our own stuff.
As noted, we arrived fairly late and between a ~3hr plane ride, picking up the rental, and driving an hour plus to the hotel, it was getting late. We were hungry, so the first thing we did once we got settled was to call and order room service.
Less than 5 minutes after we called, there was a knock on the door. The front desk had sent us two plates full of wraps and sandwiches saying that we must be hungry.
There was no way we could also eat what we’d ordered from room service (they had sent a lot of sandwiches), so I called room service back. It was no problem at all to cancel our order. That kind of thing hasn’t happened to me anywhere else in my recollection.
I think the thing that stuck out the most to me on that was that it was from top to bottom. I mentioned above that this is a hillside property with golf carts to help you zip around from one place to the next (you can always pick up a buggy at reception or just call the desk and one is sent to your room promptly). I was surprised at how well the golf cart drivers remembered our room number. When we got upgraded to the villa, maybe it was easier to remember as it’s a room that really stands out. But the five previous nights in a standard room in the middle of the property, I was just surprised when we’d get in the cart and the driver would say our room number before we did. Even the guy who delivered room service to my room said hello by name when he saw me somewhere else on property. Small changes were seamless — when we switched rooms and then went back to the valet for our car later in the day, the room number on our car keys had already been switched for us. That seems simple, but not all hotels do those things well.
One employee in particular, a woman named Linda who was an assistant manager in the restaurant, was so good with our son every morning that he lit up when he saw her by the third or fourth day. On the last day when we left, he gave her a huge hug — and he’s at the stage where he doesn’t yet hug all family members, so I was impressed that he felt that comfortable in such a short period of time.
Speaking of kids, I was very surprised at how family-focused this property is. At breakfast one morning, there must have been at least a dozen tables around us all with high chairs. If you’re looking to get away from kids, that might sound like a drawback — though I actually think this property lends itself well to either group. There was a quiet zone at breakfast (and they mostly kept us seated far away from it). There were adults-only pools near reception and an adults-only restaurant. Because everyone has their own suite / villa, I really didn’t hear much noise around the resort. The family pool is obviously frequented by families and there is a children’s club where you can drop your child off for the day (for a fee), so there are plenty of options for families (and there is enough separation for those traveling without a family).
To give the flip side on that, this might not be the best property to visit with a kid as young as ours (about a year and a half old). I say that because everything seems to be made of stone. If you’ve got a little one that is still finding his/her legs and prone to falling, that can be a little nerve-wracking. If we were traveling without children, I’d have loved all of the marble-like surfaces, but it was less convenient with a baby. I actually had the good fortune to meet up with a couple of blog readers who recognized me at the Domes of Elounda — I really enjoyed the chance to meet a couple of readers and talk about their trips to the Dome as well. One of my newfound friends pointed out that there were also a number of slippery surfaces and sharp corners — small things that one doesn’t tend to notice as an adult but might stand out more with kids. I think this is a great place to bring the family, but I think it’s more ideal for those with kids who are old enough to not be totally reckless (so….maybe when they are 35?).
The property has lots of nice advantages. For example, you can enjoy a workout with quite a view.
And there is a “core” area where they had food trucks and a DJ several nights of our stay. That’s right near the family pool. Another small drawback is the fact that the core area with the family pool and events is a far away from the rooms — you’ll definitely want to take a golf cart and to make sure that you don’t forget anything either in your room or at the pool.
Back to customer service, I think the way a property responds when something goes wrong speaks volumes. We ordered room service for lunch a number of times throughout the week (which I’ll note was very reasonable for hotel room service — apart from a couple of steaks, I think the most expensive dishes were 20 Euros, with plenty of appetizer and entree options in the 8-15 range). One day, there was a small problem with our order — a small piece of broken plastic that made its way onto a dish. It wasn’t a huge deal, but I wanted to make them aware in case there were other pieces of whatever broke. A few minutes after calling room service, the food and beverage manager called to apologize personally. He let me know that he had removed the charges for lunch (totally unnecessary, which I reiterated with him a couple of times) and asked what else he could send us to make up for it. I let him know it was totally unnecessary — that was a really nice gesture, but we were fine (indeed, we ate all of our food as it was really relatively minor). About 25 minutes later, a bottle of sparkling wine, large plate of fruit, and assorted desserts were sent to our room. That was totally unnecessary, but again showed the commitment to getting it right.
How to book it
I booked this hotel with a 7-night Marriott travel package certificate, which I purchased and reserved both before the travel packages devalued and before this property moved up in price from 45K points per night to 85K points per night. Let me be clear: this hotel is not worth 85K points per night. And that was my initial hang-up: neither the cash rates nor the hotel itself felt like what I’d expect at the very top tier of the combined Marriott / Starwood / Ritz echelon. If I went back to this property again, I would almost without question book a cash rate since cash rates are often available under $300 per night and I’d rather MS that than waste 85K points per night.
But the good news there is this: if you’re a manufactured spender, you’re better off MSing cash back for this place than points. As I said, cash rates for a standard room are often bookable for around $300 per night. That means if you’re using a 2% cash back card like the Citi Double Cash, you’re earning enough cash back to pay for a night with about $15K in spend. If you have a card like the Alliant Cash Back card or the Discover IT Miles card that each earn an effective 3% back for the first year, each $10K spent gives you enough cash back for a free night. If you were to MS the same amounts on a card earning a 5x category bonus, you’d only come up with 50K-75K points. It just makes more sense to earn cash back for this property than to use points. Further, you’ll earn points when paying the cash rate, swinging the pendulum further in favor of MSing for cash back and paying the nightly rate.
There are certainly times when demand is greater and cash rates are higher, though even on the most expensive dates, this property just doesn’t offer good value for Marriott points at 85K per night. I’ve pretty consistently found opportunities to get north of 1c per point in the new Marriott Bonvoy program, so I can’t see accepting well under that here.
Would I go back? Yes, I would. In fact, I’m near-certain that we’ll be back in the future. Crete is gorgeous and is for the most part quite inexpensive. We went off-property for meals just about every day and in prime locations directly on the sea, where you’d normally expect to be paying a premium for the view, we just couldn’t seem to spend $50 on an appetizer, two adult entrees, a kid’s meal, and wine. To be clear, I’m sure you could find a way to spend more than that, but we ate well and didn’t feel like we were trying to skimp and it was easy to keep it relatively cheap.
Note that there is also another Marriott property almost directly next door: the Blue Palace is a former-SPG hotel and part of the Luxury Collection. I drove past it several times and it also looks quite nice and also has a million-dollar view of Spinalonga, so you also have another option nearby.
The Domes of Elounda is a beautiful property. It’s built into a hillside, which might make it challenging for those with mobility issues, but the service is so good that I can’t imagine there is a problem that they can not surmount. This was not our first trip to Greece and it definitely will not be our last. We love the food, we love the scenery, we love the people, and we love the fact that most things aren’t terribly expensive. While rooms at the Domes of Elounda aren’t cheap per se, cash rates are certainly more than reasonable considering the prime location and all-suites nature of the resort. I’m the type of guy who typically looks to use points whenever the cash rate pops up over about $150 per night, but I’d come back and pay the cash rate here for a future vacation. And that’s not just because of the upgrade to the luxury villa — though it’ll certainly be hard to forget this place thanks to that.