We tried a pair of Waldorf-Astoria Key West properties and the two couldn’t have been more different. One had great grounds but terrible rooms, the other excellent rooms but none of the history. It was the most bizarre tale of two Waldorfs and they were just a five-minute walk apart.
Casa Marina Hotel – Key West, FL
I have never been so excited by a hotel lobby to be so very let down by the hotel room. In a previous post I commented on how late we had to wait to be checked in. Then the room that we received still hadn’t been cleaned, was not up to standard for the brand and certainly not worth the amount we paid in points nor had we paid cash.
I had compared it to a Holiday Inn, but that room wasn’t fair to Holiday Inns. They may not have the Salvatore Ferragamo shower gels but I have never stepped into an outright dirty one and that includes a cinder block nightmare in Strongsville, OH. It wasn’t great but at least it was clean.
It’s such a terrible disappointment and we actually debated the decision for more than 20 minutes while we waited for our things to arrive from the Bell service. We looked at other area properties including the nearby The Reach, another Waldorf-Astoria under the same management group.
The hotel food was excellent, they gave us a $75 credit while we waited for the room to be prepared. And while we enjoyed the food and beverage credit and it was a thoughtful gesture from the property to accommodate us while we waited for the room to be prepared, we had a long drive in and just wanted to take a shower. In a clean room.
It was also a piss-poor experience for a Diamond. In order to be a Hilton Diamond, you have to spend a lot of time in their properties and I have. I know that lesser properties have done far better for fewer points or dollars per night. The reason that Waldorf-Astoria, Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis and Park Hyatt hotels can charge so much for their rooms is that the experience is exemplary.
Casa Marina left an awful lot to be desired. The hotel built by Henry Flagler in 1920, Casa Marina captures a period of United States history and is part of the National Trust for Historic Hotels of America, but its rooms leave a lot to be desired. The Trust of Historic Preservation may call the hotel a landmark, but the guest rooms are more like a relic.
My wife and I determined that even if we weren’t paying a dime for the stay out of pocket (we cashed in 80,000 points per night) we weren’t staying in that room. I started back to the front desk after waiting about 20 minutes in the room for our things to arrive. About halfway back to the front desk, I found the Bell staff bringing our luggage cart to our room. I stopped him on the way and told him we wouldn’t be staying. Ricky was alarmed but friendly and remained professional. He didn’t let it phase him, though I probably told him something he didn’t hear very often – that we were leaving before he could even deliver the bags due to the condition of the room. That being said, he didn’t act entirely surprised either, so what does that say?
I returned to the desk where my original agent was checking in another guest. She quickly looked at me and asked if I was there to return the keys (she believed she had given us two pairs though she hadn’t). I explained that no, we would instead be checking out in a polite but direct tone. She smiled nervously and returned to the guests in front of her, I waited for another agent to check us out and issue the refund.
I had waited about five minutes by the time Taj, an Assistant Manager had approached me from behind the desk. He asked if I had been helped and I said no, told him the issue and he took it on to solve our issue. As the two Waldorf-Astoria properties are just a block or two away and share the same management team, he could access their system and called over to The Reach to hold a room for us. He wanted to show me the room before committing us to the switch which I really appreciated.
Once we agreed, he had us book a new room at The Reach (he opened award space up for us) and then indicated he would refund the unused room at Casa Marina Key West a Waldorf-Astoria.
The Reach, a Waldorf-Astoria hotel was unimpressive in the lobby but saved it all for the guest rooms. Spacious rooms, tall ceilings, and welcoming staff were part of the difference. It’s not that Casa Marina’s staff wasn’t pleasant, they were, but they couldn’t clean a very basic room in seven hours including at least one hour where management would have highlighted that the room needed attention. They couldn’t call us back when the room was purportedly ready, despite the generous credit at the restaurant.
The Reach’s staff (which may be cross-utilized at Casa Marina) were helpful and delivered. The room was spotless, everyone was on their game. We were given a junior suite that had both ocean views from the balcony and views of the oceanfront pool.
Here’s the room:
Here’s the rest of the grounds:
Breakfast at The Reach
As they do not offer a policy-compliant Continental Breakfast, Diamonds are permitted to order up to $15/person/day from the menu at Spencer’s restaurant. Below is a menu and some breakfast samplings. The portions are Tapas-style so my daughter’s order of scrambled eggs and sausage was the largest portion at the table and cost $12. The contents I will include for two adults and one four-year-old exceeded the allowance by 50% before tax and tip.
This Room in That Architecture
Without changing the size of the rooms, just the updated features and cleanliness of The Reach in the storied architecture of Casa Marina would substantially support higher rates at Casa. It wouldn’t be hard to improve either. Adding some luxury to the bathroom, some design on the walls, a headboard maybe?
The Reach’s facilities were ok, but it seemed to be a boutique hotel similar to the Southernmost properties (a local chain that spans several buildings over several blocks) that border the hotel. It reminded my wife and me of the type of property we would have stayed in when we lived in Europe before we got into the hotel loyalty game. The lobby was disappointing, downright basic. It could have been any hotel and nothing about it was reminiscent of a Waldorf-Astoria.
Casa Marina, however, was quintessential Waldorf-Astoria material. The Reach was built in 1985 while Casa Marina pre-dates World War II and was constructed to give upscale guests of the Overseas Railway a place to stay in Key West. Stunning and opulent in a classic Key West, pre-Hemingway style, Casa Marina’s grounds are exactly where you would want to place a Waldorf. Just with the rooms, updates, and cleanliness of The Reach.
It’s a classic case of this room in that hotel.
In The End The One, I’d Return To Was…
The facilities at the Casa Marina coupled with the history of the property and a certain je ne sais quoi that makes it a Waldorf-Astoria makes it really hard to deny. But I don’t sleep in the lobby, I don’t shower in the pool.
Both properties had plenty of sun, sun alone, however, was not enough to make up the difference at Casa Marina. They both were very close to Duval Street, both offered beach access so guests could slip their toes in the sand or participate in water sports. They share access to the Spa Al Mare.
I think I should note that both hotel checkout policies are in compliance with a strict Waldorf-Astoria Honors exemption of a hard checkout at 11AM for most guests, 12 noon for Diamonds. They were entirely inflexible on this amenity which for all other Hilton properties is up to 4PM for Diamond guests. If a hotel is truly sold out then I don’t expect them to accommodate a late checkout. I was told by management this was the case. But within 30 minutes from checkout they were still selling all room types and it’s clear they simply didn’t want to accommodate my late departure.
I’ll have to ask Alanis Morissette if it’s ironic, coincidental or exploitative that I was unable to checkin within three hours of standard checkin time, but had to beg and plead for a one-hour extension on my checkout.
In the end, it has to be The Reach. The room was excellent even if it wasn’t as stately as the Casa Marina and that’s where my family lived, we played Monopoly, we watched TV and I wrote this post. While Casa Marina is one to be favored by the Instagram celebrities like my daughter, I just can’t get behind what amounted to a worse experience than I have had at most Holiday Inns. In defense of Holiday Inn properties, I can’t remember the last one I was in that had a dead bug visible or an unflushed toilet, let alone the clear stains and security straps to a throw pillow.
No, it’s The Reach all day. Make the same choice for yourself if you’re visiting the Southernmost point in the Continental US.
Have you ever seen such a stark contrast between properties of the same brand in the same market? Are there other examples of this? What do you think about the two properties?