Waldorf Astoria Chicago (formerly The Elysian) – Just OK, not Great

Overview: A luxury city hotel that is just OK, not great
Strengths: Service, location
Drawbacks: Suite felt boxy, connectivity issues in rooms, average dining, challenges with the doorman

I’ve been reading and hearing about this hotel since when it first opened as the Elysian in 2010.  Many early guests raved about the hotel and it was awarded a number of accolades by the travel press.  Opening in 2010 wasn’t the most fortuitous timing.  The property was in Virtuoso, then it dropped out as it clearly struggled with occupancy.  Less than two years after opening, ownership flagged the property as a Waldorf within the Hilton family, giving it access to much better distribution.  It eventually re-joined Virtuso.

Earlier this month, I finally had the chance to stay at the property.  Based on my stay, I’d rank this property as OK, but certainly not great.  I wouldn’t outright object to returning, but there were enough issues that I cannot recommend this property at present.  Let me share my experiences with you….

Waldorf Chicago Motor Court
Waldorf Chicago Motor Court

The hotel is located one block off of Michigan Avenue and it has its own well-sized motor court, allowing you to come and go in an off-street setting (most of the time – see below).  This is a great set up, similar to the Bloomberg building in New York.

I arrived via yellow cab a little after 9:30pm and hadn’t informed the hotel of my arrival time.  In addition to the doorman, there was someone in a customer service capacity waiting outside.  Both she and the doorman greeted us and assisted us with our limited luggage.

The lobby is small but comfortable, with reception to the right as you walk in.  There was a medium-sized sitting area off to the left in the lobby.

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Check-in was efficient.  Very polite and no useless chit-chat.  The agent proudly advised me about the Virtuoso benefits and said he was able to provide a two-category upgrade.  Considering I booked a suite, this would be putting me into a fairly high suite category.  That sounded great – but more on this below.  The extra amenity was a $100 hotel credit that could be used for any incidentals – minibar, liquor, etc.  Far more useful than a $100 spa credit on a one-night business stay!

I was not shown to the lifts nor did anyone offer to escort me to my suite.

Entry to the suite was though a small foyer, then through a sort of butler’s pantry.  A well-sized minibar was to the right and closets were to the left.  While well finished (with art), there was a lot of space wasted as part of the entry to the room.

Art in Foyer
Art in Foyer
Butler's Pantry?
Butler’s Pantry?

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Deluxe mini bar setup
Deluxe mini bar setup

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This opened into a small living room.  The living room was reasonably well appointed, but had a small, boxy feel to it.

Waldorf Suite Living Room
Waldorf Suite Living Room

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The living room did have a gas fireplace and a small, functioning balcony.  I turned on the fireplace for a few minutes, but the room quickly began to smell of gas so I turned it back off.

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The bedroom felt marginally more spacious, but still tight for what turned out to be a 900+ square foot suite.  The bed was reasonably comfortable – nothing like the SkySuites marshmallow bed, but also nowhere close to the bed at the Capella in DC.

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The bedroom was missing a number of small but important features.  Take a look at this photo below – what do you see as missing?

Waldorf Chicago - What is missing here?
Waldorf Chicago – What is missing here?

There are no reading lights for the bed.  There isn’t even a table lamp on the left side of the bed!  There is no telephone next to the bed.  There are no power outlets convenient to the bed.  Who designed a hotel in 2010 without a power solution next to the bed?  To plug in my phone within reach of the bed, I had to pull out the night table next to the bed to get access to a wall outlet behind the table.

While the quality of the furnishings were reasonably nice, what was missing is just as important.

To get to the bathroom, you walked through a corridor which had closets and a counter area (none of which had integrated lighting).

Wasted space
Wasted space

 

The bathroom itself was well sized and featured dual vanities, a tub and a step-in shower.  The water pressure was reasonable and the shower temperature was easy to regulate.  Having just spent a week at Castiglion del Bosco (report still to come!), it was a warm reminder of that wonderful stay to see the Ferragamo Tuscan Sun shampoo and soap here.

There was a large open space in the middle of the bathroom.  This, coupled with the unused space at the end of the corridor leading to the bathroom, added up to a fair bit of wasted space.  A more efficient design would have put some of this space back to the bedroom.

Waldorf Bathroom
Waldorf Bathroom

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We're not at Castiglion del Bosco any more!  :(
We’re not at Castiglion del Bosco any more! 🙁

After taking some photos of the room, I went to turn off the lights in the entry foyer and to get a beer from the minibar (recall the $100 credit covered all incidentals!).  I noticed that the door to the room was stuck in a slightly open position.  I had to give the door a good shove to get it closed.  I re-opened and let the door shut naturally and the same thing happened again.  This shouldn’t be allowed to persist and clearly housekeeping would have noticed this problem – but it seems to have been ignored.

Recall when I checked in, I was told of my two category upgrade.  It turns out I actually wasn’t given an upgrade at all.  I thought the suite was a little too small to be the third level of suite in the hotel so  I went back to the hotel’s website.  It turns out the suite I was assigned was the suite category I reserved and paid for.

While I know Virtuoso upgrades aren’t guaranteed, to proudly announce I’ve been moved up two categories when in fact I’ve not been upgraded at all is far from ideal.  I suspect the front desk agent simply thought I booked a lower category and had been pre-upgraded – but his suspicions were incorrect and clearly shows a lack of diligence on his part.  This sort of error does leave a sour taste in my mouth – far more so than when no upgrade is mentioned at all.

In the morning, I went for a run along Lake Michigan.  It was a beautiful morning and the hotel is but a few blocks from the lake.  Upon my return, however, the entry to the hotel was un-manned.  This should not happen at a luxury hotel and is indicative of understaffing.

My shoes were returned to my room exactly at the requested time.

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I only had the opportunity to eat breakfast at the hotel.  While the quality of the food and service was better than at a Hilton, it was well below what you would expect at a Four Seasons.  Several times, I had to ask for my coffee to be re-filled and decaf versus regular was mixed up on more than one occasion.  The breakfast credit ($60) did not cover breakfast for two people, though the excess was applied to the $100 hotel credit.

Waldorf Restaurant
Waldorf Restaurant

At checkout, they properly processed all of the Virtuoso credits without the need to negotiate.  My office arranged a driver from Carey to look after me for the day and I received the email advising that my driver was on location.

When I went outside, there were two black Town Cars, but neither were mine.

There was also the house Mercedes S550 in the Motor Court.  Their house car will take you up to two miles.  This is a nice feature, but like the FS Park Lane, it cannot be booked – so it cannot be relied upon.

Waldorf House Car
Waldorf House Car

Shortly thereafter, a doorman appeared and offered help.  He said he hadn’t seen a Carey car.  On a whim, I looked out of their motor court on to the street and indeed the Carey driver was there with a sign.  I motioned for my driver to drive in, but he advised me that the hotel did not allow cars (except those arranged by the hotel) into the motor court.  I found this hard to believe considering the size of the motor court – and considering the level of service the hotel is trying to provide.  At a minimum, the doorman should be aware of what cars are waiting, even if they felt they couldn’t provide the space (which wasn’t the case this morning).  In any scenario, guest should be able to be picked up by whatever transportation they desire.  I ended up carrying my bags to the car out on the street.  This too was disappointing.

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Re-reading this report, there were too many issues with my simple one-night stay to recommend this property.  There is definitely potential at this property, but I suspect it was once very good and has been trending in the wrong direction.

Notably, last month (June 2015), ownership of the hotel changed hands.  Sam Zell was the original money behind the property, investing $505k per room back in 2010.  The property was sold to a group led by Laurence Geller for $592k per room, with Zell’s group keeping a minority stake.  Their plans include breaking up some of the hotel’s largest suites into more traditional rooms.  Hopefully Mr. Geller can help turn the ship.

 

Details

Waldorf Astoria Chicago
Telephone: +1 (312) 646-1300
Website: http://www.waldorfastoriachicagohotel.com/
Twitter: @waldorf_chicago

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