Hotel Q&A with… Sam Stewart Etc

When I put a shout out on Twitter asking for people to take part in my new hotel questions and answers series Sam was one of the people who got in touch. And I’m so glad she did because when it comes to hotels Sam knows her stuff and through travelling for both business and leisure has experienced what works and what doesn’t. Sam has stayed in a huge variety of hotels all over the world and today it’s her turn to share her hotel loves, likes and loathes.

What’s your must have hotel amenity?

For me, a good gym is key — on the road I dine out a lot, so it is nice to be able to achieve some balance. I love the one at the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong as it has a great view and natural light plus the equipment is state of the art.

What’s the most creative or quirky hotel amenity you’ve come across?

137 Pillar House in Chiang Mai had a little museum of Thai artifacts at the hotel; it was a lovely touch (creative and fun) and gave you a feel for Thai culture.

137 pillar house, hotel, bedroom

137 Pillar House

Sonoma’s Farmhouse Inn offered up our choice of handmade, craft soap and bath salts at check-in and also had house-made marshmallows and graham crackers to toast your own s’mores out at the roaring fire pit. That place is a perfect spot for romantic weekend getaways — go for the ground floor barn room with indoor/outdoor fireplace. They also have unique touches like a thin water mattress on massage tables and heated floors in the bathrooms.

At the Six Senses Yao Noi they have outdoors movies with popcorn every night, the most amazing breakfast with over 50 types of jams and also a free ice cream room where we stopped by every day for a mid-afternoon snack, sometimes twice…

breakfast, hotel, Thailand, Yao Noi, six senses, food

Breakfast at Six Senses Yao Noi

What hotel could you happily return to again and again?

Hard question. For business, top of the list would be the Upper House in Hong Kong as the rooms are stunning, service is impeccable, views are breathtaking and the mini bar and snacks are gratis. Plus their 10 grain warm cereal with berries compote for breakfast is to die for.

I go to New York often and the NoMad is my go-to hotel. The rooms are lovely, the bar is spectacular, and the location is a bit funny when you first arrive but then you realise how perfect it is — easy access to uptown and downtown and a block away from delicious coffee at the Ace Hotel’s Stumptown.

In San Francisco, I always stay at the Mandarin Oriental. They recently renovated the lobby, restaurant and spa and the hotel has the most stunning views. Plus, it is close to the Ferry Building where I go for delicious blue bottle coffee and the great farmers market on Saturdays. I love how last time I was there the bellman remembered me and commented how he had not seen me in a while (I used to go more often when I lived in Vegas, harder to do a weekend trip from London…)

For you, what makes a great hotel?

Attention to detail in every aspect, from the way you are greeted at the door, to where the plugs are located in the room and of course, an amazing bed that makes you sleep better even than in your own bed.

What is your welcome amenity of choice? 

I love chocolates always but some hotels bring tea when you get to the room, such as at the Mandarin, which can also be lovely. And a bottle of champagne never hurts — especially when I’m travelling with my hubby!

At the Washington School Hotel in Park City they left a little gift in the room with turndown each night  – from a note book with hand cut pencils one night for scribbles and sketches, to Easter cookies the other night. Very special and memorable.

Do you interact with hotels on social media before arrival?

I don’t usually.

What are your basic expectations for every hotel?

Cleanliness above all or I’m gone. There is nothing worse than arriving at a hotel and feeling like it hasn’t been cleaned properly.

Which hotel has the wow factor for you?

That’s a long list…

137 Pillar House in Chiang Mai

Six Senses Yao Noi

Upper House Hong Kong

Washington School House Park City

Txai Bahia Brazil

Das Stue Berlin

137 Pillar House in Chiang Mai , pool, hotel, swimming pool, outside, loungers

The pool at 137 Pillar House in Chiang Mai

Private pool at Six Senses Yao Noi, hotel, Thailand, swimming pool

Private pool at Six Senses Yao Noi

Hotel wifi – do you ever pay for it?

I do if I have to for business but find it very annoying.  It’s really a staple of travellers, so include it for all.

What is your hotel pet peeve?

Resort fees are absurd, just include it in the rate and don’t tag me with that additional “surprise” afterwards. It’s the opposite of complimentary treats in your room — I had a lovely stay and now you want to spoil my memories on the way out the door? I also think breakfast prices have gotten out of control and it annoys me when they over charge for simple things – $20 for mixed fruits or porridge? Come on!

Is there a maximum you’ll spend per night on a hotel?

That is a hard question, I think we’ve topped at around $1,000 or so on an extra special occasion. But not a common occurrence…  A four-handle starts my eyes watering and gets me comparison shopping.

What’s an absolute hotel no no?

Maids trying to clean your room and knocking early in the morning, rooms not getting cleaned at all, and expensive wifi.

Do you use hotel minibars or avoid them like the plague?

Sometimes it is hard to resist that good looking chocolate bar when you get back to the room. I do try to avoid buying waters and think hotels should always leave a couple of bottles of complimentary for guests. I loved how Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur had free mini bar and the same at Upper House in Hong Kong.  I’ll never remember what we paid at Post Ranch but I tell everyone about the wines and bubbly we sampled because they were complimentary!

Luxury to one person may not be luxury to another. How do you define it in relation to hotels?

Luxury is seamless service, comfort and design without being over the top or intrusive.

Do you generally stay in budget, design, standard or luxury hotels?

Depends on the occasion and reason for travel. I probably do all of the above. Sometimes you can find lovely budget hotels that have great rooms and amenities (like the Silken across from the Guggenheim in Bilbao) and sometimes you want to splurge and indulge. Variety is good and makes you appreciate different elements of the experience.

Do you prefer boutique or chain properties?

Boutique hotels! I don’t like big hotels and most chains have 100+ rooms. I have concluded over time that my favourite hotels have between 20-100 rooms. When they are too tiny, they don’t have amenities like a gym or restaurant and when they are too big, they lose their identity.  The Fairmont Whistler is a fair example — we expected it to be a lovely old dame of a classic but instead we wanted out straight away.

When staying in a hotel is it important to you that staff use your name or do you prefer a more anonymous stay?

I think the name is a nice touch. And extra special when they look at your baggage tags and start using your name immediately — very sneaky and such a nice touch (I’m thinking of you Rosewood Vancouver).

Do you ask for an upgrade upon arrival?

Sometimes I ask when we are on vacation and want to make it extra special. It depends on the type of room we get to start with and how nice or not they are. For romantic getaways with hubby, we definitely size up the desk staff and strategize who’s doing the talking.

If/when something goes wrong during your stay, do you complain or grin and bear it?

Definitely complain. If I had a hotel I would like to hear from the guests to constantly try to improve, so I like to imagine most General Managers or employees feel the same.

Which hotel is on your wish list?

It’s a long list… but most will be for a special occasion.

Special occasions:

Aman Montenegro, Venice (for very special occasions) and Tokyo

Dunton Hot Springs in Colorado

Any Six Senses hotel around the world since we fell in love with the brand in Thailand

The main pool at Six Senses Yao Noi, hotel, Thailand, swimming pool, private reserve

The main pool at Six Senses Yao Noi

Some other spots:

Uxua in Trancoso Brazil

Ham Yard London

The Wild rabbit in the Cotswolds

Pig on the Beach

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