Off the radar for most US travellers, China’s “Red Hawai’i” offered us an incredible opportunity in Sanya, China. I wanted to review the exquisite Park Hyatt Sanya Sunny Bay and was not disappointed.
Searching out new corners of Asia to explore during the holidays brought us to Sanya, China. For those who may be unfamiliar (I was until we did some research), Sanya is located on the island of Hainan and is considered part of mainland China for the purposes of passport control, currency, and public policy unlike other Chinese islands: Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan all of which exercise their own independent policies. This makes Sanya a tropical haven for mainlanders and due to the expansion of resort areas, also for globetrotters.
The Park Hyatt Sanya Sunny Bay is a massive compound at the end of a winding road near Yalong Bay. After looking over the property online and speaking with some other travellers in the know, our expectations for luxury in China’s “Red Hawaii” were high both of the area and the resort. We weren’t let down.
On a direct flight from Beijing, we landed in Sanya a quarter after 7 pm, just in time to see a setting sun over the wings and tails of Airbus aircraft. After waiting about 30 minutes for our luggage we collected our things and headed to the taxi queue. While we always have a written copy of our address in mandarin to provide Chinese taxi drivers, we had misplaced our itinerary and tried winging it with the driver. That was unsuccessful so we tried our first task for the hotel concierge – get us to the hotel. We called the front desk from the cab and they provided directions to our driver. The drive was about 40 minutes from the terminal to the property.
We were greeted in the customary Southeast Asian tradition of cold towels, chilled flavored fruit tea, and warm staff. While our bags were moved from the cab to the trolly and then to the room, one of the butler staff walked us through the corridors to our room. The property is stunning, the hallways enchanting – yes, like Disneyland, enchanting. Everything seemed to be put in place after careful thought and consideration, it felt more like walking in a museum than a hotel; the epitome of luxury from start to finish.
Upon touching our key to the keypad and pushing down the door handle, lights in the room came on and the blinds opened. It sounds like an electrical functionality when I type it here, but it was impressive after a long trip to be greeted by our very room itself. Once in our room, our butler gave us a calendar of activities for the next week for both sunny days and rainy if we so chose to participate. Waiting for us in our suite was a huge bowl of fresh fruit and three snack jars along with a Nespresso machine and half a dozen bottles of water.
Diamond Suite Upgrade
I value my Diamond Suite Upgrades (DIAX) like precious gems. Perhaps I value them too highly (I have left some unspent in years past because the stay simply wasn’t worthy of using a DIAX), but for those who were wondering, yes this is worth one of your four upgrades per year as a diamond member. Our suite was on the ninth floor overlooking some of the property swimming pools and Lotus building but also featured a stunning view of Sunny Bay. Diamond Suite Upgrades are available on cash bookings, cash plus points but not on pure award stays nor credit card free night certificates.
A long conference table with five chairs doubled as both a dining room table and desk. At one end were four chairs and nothing else on the table while the other end featured a fifth chair, a desk lamp, and phone. This ten-foot-long table allowed me to work on one side while my wife and daughter snacked on the other side neither of us disturbing the other.
The living room was spacious, perfect for celebrating Christmas morning with our daughter. Typical accoutrements for the space included a large flat-screen TV, couch, easy chair, kitchenette with minibar and a guest bathroom. But those standard items downplay the two main attractions of the room.
The first is the artwork, beautiful and tall along the walls and on the table behind the couch. Clearly, several thousand dollars worth of paintings and sculptures adorn the room (making for nervous parents with our two-year-old running around) and make for a truly luxurious experience wherever your eyes roam.
The second main attraction is gorgeous wall-to-wall windows, providing a panoramic view of both white sand beaches and crashing waves on rock formations and cliffs not far from the property. It’s mesmerizing and makes the rest of the room fade away when standing in front of an endless view of the beautiful South China Sea at dawn, daylight or dusk. It’s worth booking the property solely for this view.
Of note, when comparing to other Sunny Bay/Yalong Bay five-star properties like the Ritz Carlton, St. Regis, or Signature, no other property has the height of the Park Hyatt Sanya Sunny Bay. An oceanfront view at any of those properties may be a couple of stories high, but don’t offer the full scope of the sea and sense of grandeur in the same way that the Park Hyatt can from their oceanfront monolithic towers.
A king-size bed awaited us along with the same stunning view from another wall-to-wall panoramic window. At the end of the bed was a half wall containing the TV and concealing duelling powder tables to either side of the large, graphite soaking tub.
From the bedroom, two elaborate pocket doors are opened to reveal the bathroom – a suite unto itself. To the left is a very large walk-in closet with small valuables safe, wooden hangers, and an impressive resort kit that includes throw blankets, beach bag, and parasols for purchase, robes and cushy slippers for your comfort while in residence. Call me a sucker, but I love those huge hotel shopping bags for some reason too. Upon checking in I promptly fold one away in our suitcase and hope that the housekeeper replaces it for our use while around the hotel. The Park Hyatt Sanya accommodated my unspoken request.
Lining the back wall of the bathroom is a wide double vanity with built-in TV placed within the mirror. To the back right is a closed-door Asian toilet with heated seat, built-in bidet, and a proximity sensing lid that opens as a guest approaches. My daughter found this particularly traumatizing, but then again, she’s still not a huge fan of toilets in general so her opinion is of little value in this regard.
Lastly was the large glassed-in shower. After a day at the beach, covered in pesky fine sand that gets everywhere, a family of three could easily shower at the same time and would not even have to use the same spouts. The shower features a bench and both a handheld showerhead (can be placed on a stand at head height) as well as a rain shower above and in the middle of the 5’x5′ room.
Spread across several acres and the only property in Sunny Bay (with the exception of some new residential villas both for rent and sale by Hyatt), the hotel feels exclusive and private. Six large, gray, flat stone towers slide between each other connected by the fifth and second floors in any building. At night, the front of these buildings can be seen from miles away as the entire front facades glow bright yellow.
To the east are restaurants for the hotel like the Dining Room (also used for breakfast) and Tea House (traditional Cantonese cuisine). The Library, both a large room full of books for quiet studying and a hotel bar keeps things interesting and sociable. The Library also opens directly into The Terrace Lounge which offers stunning views of Sunny Bay from a couple of stories up and seating around infinity pools. Between the buildings which rise to different heights (the tallest building is the sixth and most western building) are tranquillity ponds affixed with plants and soft lighting that reflects off the water at night.
Artwork around the property includes sculptures and paintings many of which are quite exclusive. One such piece, a twenty-foot tall textured painting from a Korean artist is so impressive that a guest of the hotel offered a staggering 30 million Yuan for the piece. The hotel owners declined the generous offer. An ongoing theme of circles flows throughout the property and can be seen in every room of the hotel suite (toilet room, bathroom, bedroom, living room) and on the lawn and through the halls. Each of the circles captures a special and unique view on the grounds if looking only through the center.
The hotel has secured its own private, white sand beach and placed wooden decks throughout the sand with chaise lounge beach chairs for their guests with a table in between. Unlike other properties, we had no trouble securing one by simply walking up and placing our towels down despite the hotel being full for the holidays. The beach is so full of seashells that wading in for a quick swim can be treacherous as waves wash them on to shore and over your feet; once in the water, all is forgiven.
The Bath House in the eastern building (building one) houses a small lukewarm square pool with jets that our daughter and many other children enjoyed. Following this jet pool was a long pool ideal for families with a depth shallow enough for adults to touch. On either side of the pool were large, two-person chairs with menus for food and beverage service and towels for guests.
The showstopper was a room a few steps up in the bathhouse from these family-focused pools. Separated by a pair of large curtains was a room full of seven sunrooms each with their own four-person, stone hot tub. Each of these private rooms had space for robing and de-robing, storing towels and utilized soft lighting and of course more artwork, this time in the form of a series of sculpted figurines. While used by families during the day, they were particularly popular at night filling up quickly.
The longest pool in Sanya is at this property with a length of 130 meters or just shy of 400′ from end to end. With a deeper section for Olympic swimming tryouts (early morning hours seemed to draw the swimming cap and speedo types), and a shallow portion that ran the length of the immense pool for the magazine and tanning types. There were chairs set in the shallow water to offer an enjoyable and picturesque experience.
Two other outdoor pools featured a dark gray graphite bottom as opposed to a traditional tile or blue finish leading some guests to question whether or not the pools are clean – they are of course pristine. Almost all of the pools featured a gradual ramp or step down to deeper water allowing timid swimmers to wade in, and children to swim near their parents without being cordoned off to a baby pool. There was a child-focused pool that was relatively shallow and offered two baby-sized powered motorboats, one of which was occupied by an adult reading a book one day while our two-year-old looked on longingly.
Perfect. Just perfect. While for some this might seem unsettling, trust me it’s to your benefit – the property is sandwiched between a naval base and a new submarine center. The government won’t allow any further development around the property save for Hyatt’s current plans for an Andaz which is in development, the Park Hyatt’s new villas (now open) and some private sale residential properties on the grounds.
The Park is located about an hour drive from the airport (43 minutes on the day we left) and about 40-50 minutes into town depending on where you want to go. Usually, this would be a little farther than we would prefer to stray, however, the seclusion even from other Yalong Bay area hotels (10 minutes drive) was worth the extra drive.
Here is a link to the location pin on Google Maps (note: A VPN is required to access Google from within China).
The Breakfast Buffet (included as a Gold Passport Diamond amenity) was substantial and at times overwhelming. The pastry section alone included more than 20 items which rotated on a daily basis. Pancakes, waffles and french toast are made to order at your request. There is a fruit station, cereal, and yogurt section and charcuterie table all before the truly expansive hot food sections.
For Chinese food a daily selection of buns or rolls (barbecue pork or sweet yolk were two examples) and dim sum dumplings. A noodle station featuring local pork noodles as well as traditional wonton or plain noodle soup, followed by congee were custom and made-to-order by a chef. There was also a dozen prepared Chinese dishes on the buffet ranging from thousand year eggs to seafood fried rice and egg rolls.
Western selections included made-to-order omelettes, ham on a carving table, two or three kinds of sausage as well as breakfast vegetables and potatoes. One really strong point of this hotel’s breakfast was that the western menu didn’t solely cater to a Full English Breakfast. While my wife and I lived in England for several years and we love a Full English from time to time, it’s frustrating when properties only supply fried eggs, soggy grilled mushrooms, and baked beans for breakfast on the western side of the menu. This hotel, of course, offered items for either a Full English or an American style breakfast down to offering two different kinds of bacon (streaky or crispy bacon for the Americans and rashers of back bacon for the Brits).
Other on-site restaurants included the Pool House (the international cuisine that was excellent), room service of course (we had the best cheeseburgers we have ever had from room service cooked to medium as requested). The Tea House is a traditional Cantonese restaurant and we, unfortunately, ran out of time and could not try their food but it looked and smelled exceptional. It’s a shame that we were unable to try the Tea House for a couple of reasons. First, the restaurant decor was captivating – walking in the doors we were transported to a Hong Kong restaurant just waiting for Jackie Chan to pop around a corner. Tea is sold as fine wine with an elaborate process and list by the person (glass) or pot (bottle). While expensive for tea at $8-12/person or $20-50/pot, the price seemed reasonable for the experience and the setting, it could be justifiable if lavish expense. Dim sums and hot pots were placed at every table and most dishes were reasonably priced, another reason it was an unfortunate miss.
There are Park Hyatts (as with any chain) that do not live up to the name. How does the Park Hyatt Sanya Sunny Bay stack up? Brilliantly! Staff is positioned and trained to provide an experience where the guest needs are anticipated and exceeded. The quality of the food is superb, the grounds were constantly maintained – everything here is to a very high standard. And true to the motto of the brand, Luxury is Personal. Staff got to know our names by the second day we were on site, after three days, my coffee was waiting for me at my table to my preference.
Staff members were well-intentioned and most understood their role and their customer base. Our butler was happy to help and even gave us a tour of the maze that is the Park Hyatt Sanya, but other butlers were less involved and less available than at other properties. This seemed to be a short-staff situation more than an issue of enthusiasm. Our butlers were responsive, helpful and attentive, but I fear there simply are not enough of them for the large 188 room property and a demanding clientele.
In fact, the property seemed short-staffed in a couple of other aspects. There is a beautiful Lotus shaped bar and restaurant that was closed the entire five days of our visit (late December) well into the busy season and the hotel was quite full. There were also plenty of swimmers with expensive taste around the pools ready to spend money that found themselves walking up to the bar or restaurants to place an order. It would seem natural to have a waiter walking around delivering drinks and food and taking orders – menus were evenly distributed around two of the pool areas but only once did a staff member return to actually ask for an order – a key part in the process.
The beach was also full of guests, many of whom ended up packing bottles of water from their room and snacks they brought with them as there was no service there either. It certainly was not a five-star beach resort experience without a frosty drink and a little umbrella served to you while the waves crash in. I stress that this was not an issue of caring about the guest but I believe a simple matter of not having adequate staff numbers to equip the property fully.
The last issue was with English language speakers and comprehension. There were some fluent speakers certainly throughout the staff, however, many of the touchpoints where it would obviously require an English speaker were missed. Let me spare some of the commenters from wasting their time chiming in: Yes, I understand this resort is in China, and yes, I understand that it is incumbent on me to make an effort to speak their language and not the other way around.
With that out of the way, this is also an American brand with a heavy presence in English speaking countries and of course, English is a highly global language. I want to be clear that I do not expect everyone to speak English so my life is easier. However, if the person answering the phone at the front desk can’t converse with some percentage of your client base it can be problematic and was for us. My proposed solution, simply have some of your best English speakers given cell phones by the hotel and when a caller rings in asking to order room service in English, have them transferred over the English speaker. We intend to return so I hope this is something that is rectified on future visits.
Many come from other parts of the world like executive Chef Kyo Lin from Taiwan and Canada among other destinations before finding Sanya. Antony, the Assistant Manager of Butlers previously worked in Lhasa, Tibet at the St. Regis and was impressive throughout our stay along with butler manager Rainy. The General Manager Nicholas is Australian though he has been working in Asia for more than ten years now and has a wealth of experience managing properties of this size and quality. That worldly experience is helpful in understanding this particular customer base and helps provide an experience that exceeds the expectations of the guest.
This hotel is one of the best values we have found in the world. Guest Rooms are spacious and to a very high standard, the property is clean and well designed with beautiful artwork throughout. Yet room rates run from the mid $200s to $300s even in high season. For Gold Passport members, the property is a Tier 5 hotel (keep in mind that the very disappointing Hyatt Regency Aruba is a Tier 6 property) which prices the hotel at 20,000 points per night (transferable from Chase Ultimate Rewards) or 10,000 points per night plus $120 – a steal.
I’d also recommend considering the Chase Hyatt Visa credit card.
Will we be back? Absolutely – in fact, we are plotting our return for next year already. I would tell you when, but I don’t want you to book my Diamond Suite Upgrade space so I guess I will keep it to myself. We loved it so much we set up a vacation photographer, one of our favorite souvenirs.
Have you been to China’s Hawaii, Sanya Sunny Bay? How do you think this property compares to other Park Hyatts?