Review: Hotel Del Coronado, San Diego

As I was wrapping up my parental leave this summer, I asked my wife if we could take a trip with our son, Alex. We had been cooped up inside due to Austin’s oppressive heat. A quick trip to San Diego would let us visit his uncle and enjoy the cool marine layer.

The Hotel Del Coronado, seen from the beach.

It was pretty obvious that I would book our long weekend at the historic Hotel Del Coronado, located on the Coronado peninsula across from San Diego. I had wanted to stay there since I was a child and saw the photo in a AAA hotel guide. Now it is a Hilton property, part of its Curio Collection, and I happen to be a Diamond member with an awful lot of points to redeem.

Unfortunately, the trip didn’t turn out the way I had hoped. The worst part, by far, was the hotel.

I’d like to make clear that few of the issues we faced at this hotel were specific to traveling with a baby. Well, almost. We might have slept through the neighbor’s antics if Alex hadn’t been awakened.

The point is that what bothered me wasn’t that these events took place. It was the hotel’s lackluster response. Even this is something I normally brush off. Travel isn’t as glamorous as it seems on Instagram, and we all shuffle through the ordinary unpleasantness of life.

Sometimes you just need a place of your own to go back and eat a pizza.

But the issues at the Hotel Del Coronado kept piling up. Even the most minor infractions seemed in my mind to blow up out of proportion because they tie back to a bigger theme. More than once I thought about packing up and leaving for a different hotel. I’ve never, ever done that before.

Del Resort Membership

It started before we even arrived. Management makes a big push for you to join their Del Resort Membership. This is a $3,500 charge for five years of benefits including such perks as a complimentary night each year, other rate discounts, $10 off valet parking (normally $50), complimentary beach chairs, and further discounts throughout the resort.

I’m not saying it isn’t worth it. I think it could be for repeat guests. But it’s the biggest upcharge I have ever been offered, and some of these lesser discounts should really be provided to all guests who pay the daily resort fee of $35. Would it really hurt to offer 10% off beach chairs?

If I have one piece of advice, it’s that you should stay across the street or downtown. You can still use the Del beach, rent the Del umbrellas, and eat at the Del restaurants. There is zero value to being an actual hotel guest unless you get this $3,500 membership or pay $1,000 a night for one of their luxury villas.

Well, I guess you do get to use the pool.

Reservations and Reception

I called six times (SIX TIMES!) to confirm our reservation with the Del. I did this because we had multiple reservations for consecutive nights and wanted to alert them in advance so we could avoid moving rooms. I found myself struggling through phone trees and transferred to agents who would only read off a script. My connection was frequently cut off.

When we arrived, the check-in situation was a bit chaotic. There are no ropes to establish a line. Instead there is an illuminated sign on the floor. Most guests overlooked it. My sister arrived partway through our stay and commented that as she waited to check in one guest went over to complain to the manager about the disorder. She merely asked if he was a Diamond member and told him he was in the wrong line. Complaints were not her department.

Things are a lot more mellow if you arrive after dinner.
The hotel’s historic “gold” elevator is still in operation with a real elevator operator.

Restaurants

The Gold and Diamond breakfast amenity here is not much to look forward to. You’ll get $30 a day, which will cover a couple coffees and pastries at the café. There’s also a breakfast sandwich on the room service menu for $15. To be fair, I didn’t really expect to be comped a full meal.

But the breakfast buffet at Sheerwater is the only option if you want to sit down, and that costs $50 per person including tax and tip. We ate some dry scrambled eggs and waited 15 minutes for a coffee refill. Not expecting much better for dinner, I decided to cancel our reservation for later that evening.

Similarly, we met my brother at the bar of the new seafood restaurant, Serea. Despite zero tables occupied at 5 PM, we were not allowed to sit down with an infant. I understand the need to save tables for reservations, but this did not appear to be an issue. Again, we finished our drinks and cancelled the reservation we had made for the next day.

The only restaurants I recommend are ENO Pizza, which will let you order to-go, and the taco shack. The shrimp tacos are especially good. But don’t worry, there are plenty of delicious — and cheaper! — restaurants if you walk 10 minutes into town. Check out Clayton’s diner for breakfast.

Accommodation

We booked a standard room with a king bed in the original Victorian building and were upgraded to a room with a balcony in the inner courtyard. Most rooms have one of these balconies, so I think your odds of getting a complimentary upgrade as an elite member are pretty good.

You can already see the depressions in the bed, and I’ve only just walked in the room when taking this photo. It got worse as we slept.

I was generally pleased with the room upon arrival. The carpet was loose in a few areas, and the bathroom could have used some new paint. There was also no hand lotion in the room and only a single bottle of water. Fortunately, housekeeping on subsequent days was better.

They did mention they were in the process of a big renovation. The original walls were also pretty thin so you could hear everything next door, on the balcony, and in the hallway.

Even so, I tend to like historic hotels and wasn’t disappointed. I sleep with earplugs anyway. Alex was being particularly fussy around that time but still managed to get some rest in his new bed.

What I didn’t like was our own bed, which sagged so badly it was like sleeping in the curves of a “W”. I woke up grumpy, asked the front desk for a new room, was told there weren’t any, and decided at least I had tried. I could still enjoy a cup of coffee on the balcony with Alex in the morning.

Neighbors and other Nuisances

On the second night, Alex woke up screaming because of some loud music next door. The neighbor had set up his phone like a little stereo on the balcony and appeared to be enjoying a smoke. My wife called security, but I figured this could be handled more easily and went out to ask him to turn it down. He immediately did so. Problem solved.

Fifteen minutes later there’s a new commotion. He’s outside again, this time chatting with two topless women wearing nothing but thong underwear. One appeared to be holding his belt in her hand. Again, I asked them to be quiet, and they immediately went inside. You can guess what happened next.

I decided not much could be done at this point. We had already called security earlier, no one responded, and there was nothing to complain about now except for some people having sex in their hotel room. That is their right. The hotel is not really at fault for their guest’s poor choices at a family beach resort.

But at 4 AM we were awakened again by a fire alarm. We exited, waited for the all clear, and headed back to find our door lock was broken. The battery on the electronic lock expired so an engineer needed to be called out to repair it. It was at this point I started complaining to the front desk. I would have waited until I was rested or at least caffeinated, but I was so tired of all these disruptions.

And then, at 4:15, shortly after we were let back into the room, some gardener decided to start cleaning up the inner courtyard (and its lovely Astroturf lawn) with a leaf blower…

On the third night we were “upgraded” to a nearly identical room one floor above so we didn’t have to share a wall with the same neighbor. The bed was noticeably better, but I was so tired I would have slept on the floor.

On the fourth and final night, the fire alarm went off again.

Conclusion

This is an expensive hotel. Rates for the cheapest rooms varied from $450 to $550 during our stay in late August. I redeemed three weekend night awards from my Hilton credit cards and paid cash for a fourth night. Award rates are typically 95,000 points per night, at the top end of Hilton’s award chart.

Despite that mirage of luxury, I felt this was anything but. Everywhere I looked the staff seemed to be overwhelmed and barely making it through. We had help from one lovely front desk agent, but otherwise I started to make an effort to avoid interacting with employees.

There were other issues I felt too minor to bring up here. Like I said in the introduction they just began to accumulate and create a general sense of disappointment and even anger. However, I think it goes to show just how important service recovery is, perhaps more important than getting things right the first time.

Remember that I was resigned to putting up with my lumpy bed. It was the noisy neighbor, his midnight escapades, and the fire alarm that set me off. But really, the bed was the only thing within the hotel’s control. That and the manager’s response the next morning. She was completely dismissive of my complaint and blamed me for not calling security. (Remember, we already did because of the noise.)

There was one front desk agent during our stay who was much more supportive. She didn’t have the power to move me to a new room, but she did give us a $200 credit without asking. I spoke to another manager after returning home. She listened to my complaints, responded to each one in detail, and offered another 95,000 bonus points. She also promised to replace the mattress in our room.

That’s all I wanted in the first place. I didn’t need the money or the points. I just wanted someone to listen and fix the problems within their control.

This article was originally published on Travel Codex. Read it at Review: Hotel Del Coronado, San Diego.