Le Meridien Tampa Soft Opening Review

I’m having a bit of a whirlwind travel week, which is a polite way of saying that I planned my week very poorly.

Living in hotels has its advantages in theory, though this probably isn’t one of those weeks, as I’m literally planning my stays day-by-day.

Why? Because if I actually flew the flights I had booked over the course of eight days, it would look like this (and that’s all due to legitimate commitments and not mileage runs):

Flying-Map

I woke up yesterday morning at the Grand Hyatt Tampa, which is sort of my home hotel. The staff there are top notch and slowly becoming like family, and while it might just be a really nice airport hotel, it sorta feels like home to me.

I was looking at hotel options for last night and noticed the new Le Meridien Tampa. It had its soft opening yesterday, June 16, 2014. At a rate of $119 it seemed like a great option.

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Le Meridien Tampa rate

I took to Twitter to ask if anyone had stayed at a hotel during a soft opening, and several people responded saying to avoid it as it tends to be pretty chaotic.

Tweet

But I didn’t listen.

Not that I didn’t trust the advice, but rather thanks to the blog I don’t have any “skin in the game” — a comically bad stay is probably more interesting to you guys than a flawless stay. I mean, of trip reports in the past few months, which did you enjoy more — my billionth Lufthansa review, or my “one of a kind” China Southern first class experience?

To be honest I came into the stay expecting I’d basically be “taking one for the team” for the purposes of entertaining you guys.

My gosh, was I wrong.

I’m still at the hotel, but this hotel has quite possibly exceeded my expectations more than any hotel I’ve stayed at in a long time. I’m not sure why, but I came in with low expectations, and couldn’t have been more wrong.

Let me take this in sections.

Le Merdien Tampa is a transformed federal courthouse

I live in chain hotels… which is ironic, because I hate “cookie cutter” hotels.

On one hand it’s comforting to have a similar environment no matter where in the world you are, but nothing beats a property with a bit of a kick.

Tampa is on the whole a pretty crappy hotel market, but my gosh, the Le Meridien Tampa is one of the coolest hotel concepts I’ve seen anywhere. It’s a converted federal courthouse which is over a century old. From the outside it just looks so unique, unlike any other chain hotel you’d find in the US.

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Le Meridien Tampa exterior

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Le Meridien Tampa exterior

They manage to mix the historic exterior with a really awesome, modern interior.

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Le Meridien Tampa lobby

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Le Meridien Tampa lobby

And the coolest part of it all is that they manage to make the interior modern while still keeping some “original” touches. Like seriously, check out how awesome the bathroom door is in the restaurant.

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Le Meridien Tampa preserved bathroom door

Then check out the hotel hallways, which are also original.

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Le Meridien Tampa preserved hallways

Seriously, how awesome is that?!?!

We’ll get into the rooms below, but I just can’t say enough how much I love this concept. I wish more chain hotels were this unique, because it’s great to get the benefits and consistent experience you’re used to, while being in such unique surroundings.

Le Meridien Tampa rooms

This is a very soft opening, so not that many of the rooms are finished yet. I was assigned an executive room with a nice view.

The room was just perfect.

I love the mix of old and new in this hotel, because from the inside of the rooms you’d never guess what the exterior of the hotel or hallways look like.

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Le Meridien Tampa executive room

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Le Meridien Tampa executive room

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Le Meridien Tampa executive room

Le Meridien Tampa soft opening experience

So what’s it like being the first guest to ever check into a hotel?

I arrived at the hotel at around 1PM, and was immediately greeted by the front office manager. He was super nice, and apologized that they weren’t quite “handed over the keys from Starwood yet,” but assured me the system would be “live” by 3PM.

He introduced himself, explained a bit about the hotel, offered me a drink, and invited me to take a seat. He also said there would be goodies for staying the first night, like bonus Starpoints — woohoo! I asked if the restaurant was open yet, and he explained that it was open and on the second floor, so I headed up there for lunch.

While the lobby was more or less empty, the restaurant was happening, with dozens of diners, presumably all non-hotel guests.

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Le Meridien Tampa restaurant

Lunch was great, but best of all had to be that it was free for everyone!

When the meal was done the manager came by each table to explain that it was their soft opening and thanked everyone for checking out the restaurant, and just asked that we “take care of his servers.”

Who said there’s no such thing as a free lunch? ;)

I had a salmon flatbread with salad, and per the server’s insistence, the blueberry cheesecake as well.

I might not be an expert on fine dining, but I’d like to think I know a thing or two about desserts, and this was hands down the best cheesecake I’ve had. Ever.

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Le Meridien Tampa lunch

Service throughout the meal was comically good. It was more attentive than I’ve even ever had in Singapore Airlines first class. I’d have a sip of water and a server would be by to top off my glass. I’d have another sip and the same would happen again.

It was just hilarious.

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Le Meridien Tampa lunch

After lunch I headed back down to the lobby, where I met another front desk associate, Evanlee, who said the computers should be up any minute.

Secretly I figured I might as well make an effort to be the first person to check-in (why not?) so stuck around the front desk. Sure enough, at around 2:40PM she processed my check-in.

And it was one of the most amusing and by the book check-in experiences I’ve had. It was so funny because there were two people watching over her shoulder as she did it, and I had a hard time keeping a straight face. She processed the check-in as “by the book” as a flight attendant would do a safety demonstration. She was awesome.

A few minutes after I got to the room I got a call from the general manager welcoming me, and then a few minutes after that I got a call from the front office manager asking how the room was.

Then a few minutes after that the front office associate that had checked me in came to my room to “personally deliver” a welcome amenity.

At check-in she had asked me how lunch was, and I said it was excellent, especially the cheesecake. I also mentioned that all the pastries looked ridiculously amazing. So while I sure as hell wasn’t going to touch any more sweets for the day (I had already more than met my quota), I thought it was such amazing attention to detail that she’d bring me some as a welcome amenity.

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Le Meridien Tampa welcome amenity

Bottom line

I’m blown away by the Le Meridien Tampa.

The hotel itself is gorgeous — I just love how unique it is, and that they managed to convert a historic landmark into something so modern yet authentic.

And the service really impressed me.

There were some hiccups. Not everyone knew everything, as you’d expect the opening day.

But they all just seemed so damn excited to be at the hotel, and despite it being the first day, really went above and beyond to make the handful of guests feel at home. And for avoidance of doubt regarding getting special treatment due to being a blogger, I made this booking 30 minutes before I arrived.

If I’m being honest, my only complaint is that the hotel is in downtown Tampa. I know this appeals to some business travelers, but having lived in Tampa for over a decade I can say that downtown Tampa is about as exciting as downtown Cleveland…

Comments

  1. Deby says

    Makes me want to drive over from Orlando to check it out but I do have trouble staying anywhere but the grand Hyatt there. They do know how to treat you right.

  2. Peter says

    Wow, cool to be the first guest they registered. You’ll remember that! Nice touches with the pastries, free lunch and welcoming phone calls.

    Try the Liberty Hotel in Boston which was once a jail and has cool remnants of its prior use.

  3. Joe says

    Sounds really neat. Marriott has been converting several old banks to hotels. Stayed in a really impressive Courtyard in San Diego, and apparently a new Renaissance in Denver was originally an old bank.

  4. Tyler says

    I’m guessing you’ve never had a ‘real’ job in your life before right? From this article it sounds like it. Yes, the service was probably amazing because for all employees they are starting a new job and are excited and nervous. Give it 3 months and the service will go down to be on par with other Le Meridiens.

  5. says

    @ Tyler — There’s a difference between excitement and being polished. Given that many of the employees literally started working yesterday, the service isn’t just excited (as I’d expect), but also polished.

  6. Ben says

    Thanks Ben.

    As I pointed out on Instagram – I’ve changed my stay for taking the FL Bar from the Westin to this hotel.

    Maybe sleeping in a courthouse will help me pass ;)

  7. Tyler says

    @Lucky- It sounds like they were simply excited to have a new job and were doing their jobs well. I worked in a new restaurant in college where the same happened. Give it 3 months where everyone becomes more comfortable, the hotel occupancy increases to a normal level and they get more busy and I doubt you’ll see the same.

  8. tiffany l says

    have you stayed at the liberty in boston? if you like this type of thing, it’s a former jail.

  9. Brady says

    @Lucky,

    Thank you for the review, since I wanted to walk over to the hotel last night but didn’t get a chance. After living in downtown Tampa (channelside) for the past year, you couldn’t possibly be more wrong about downtown being boring. If you haven’t noticed, the entire East side is undergoing an re-urbanization. New condos, bars, restaurants and entertainment are popping up consistently. Don’t just go on past assumptions….

  10. Charlie says

    Starwood has some pretty amazing brands out there that deliver amazingly modern interiors in an old (sometimes drab :( ) exteriors.

    Lucky, maybe you’ll get a plaque on the wall that says “opened on ___th day of June by Mr Ben Schlappig”! Haha :P

  11. Brady says

    Did you notice that the hostess stand for the restaurant is one of the salvaged witness stands? :)

  12. MrLincoln says

    The LM in Philadelphia is also a converted property — it’s formerly a YMCA. It, too, mixes continental modern with a classic downtown building.

    Similarly for the Grand Hotel in Melbourne, which Accor converted from a railway office building in the late 90s. Come to think of it, Accor is French, too. Maybe they have a thing for re-doing old things.

  13. Matt says

    Lucky, has anyone gone through your reviews and counted how many times some food was the best you’ve ever had?
    I’m tempted, but have to go to work. Maybe on my next flight…

  14. jen says

    Downtown Tampa is trying to have more nightlife. There’s a few good bars that have opened up (Fly bar isn’t far from the old courthouse), but you’re right, it’s not a thriving nightlife kinda downtown

  15. Levy Flight says

    You got s better deal thsn me. Looking in zjily being offered $164 per night.

  16. Matt says

    @lucky Have you even been to Cleveland? Probably not since LH doesn’t fly there and there’s no St. Regis. Just a little bit insulting. Also note, there’s a LM opening in Cleveland later this year in the nation’s second biggest theater district, though I’m sure you won’t review it.

  17. says

    @ Matt — No matter what I say, someone will be offended, and I’m fine with that. The Cleveland tourism video went viral and I thought it was amusing (regardless of whether Cleveland is awesome or not). Sorry if you don’t see it that way.

  18. D Wondermeant says

    sounds fantastic for now but after the opening wears off lets see where they are in 2 years like the majority of SPG hotels
    Expensive/overpriced, stingy and one fights for their upgrade

  19. CathN says

    Hey Lucky, I (like Matt) am a proud Clevelander. We’re trying to recover from “mistake on the lake” status, and in the process some of us seem to have misplaced our sense of humor. But anyway, maybe (pretty please) don’t kick us while we’re down?

    Looks like a great hotel. If I’m ever in Tampa…

  20. says

    @ CathN — Heh, I’ll do what I can to visit Cleveland soon. How many days should I plan to see all the sites? :D

  21. Stuart Falk says

    How great that the Tampa St. Petersburg market finally has a fine hotel. I have stayed at the Vinoy® Renaissance St. Petersburg and found it to be very overrated as my experience there, including the restaurant, was at best mediocre.

  22. Steven L. says

    @Robbie Plafker: OAK is completely overrun by LCCs; there’s a grand total of three legacy routes. Why would you expect there to be any lounges?

  23. Susan says

    If you get back to the NW, visit the McMenamins restaurants/hotels. They convert old schools, mental institutions (yes, really) and other funky venues in bars, live music venues and hotels. The Kennedy School in Portland is an old elementary school and the bathrooms are still original in the restaurant areas, rooms have chalkboards in them, etc…sounds like something you would like.

  24. Eric says

    Ben, I’m glad it was you at that free lunch and not some of your readers (knowing that you’re not a begrudging tipper), the ones who declared that they don’t tip for comped services.

  25. Bostonwalker says

    Re the racial giraffe thing: how racist is it to mention the similarity of downtown of Cleveland with Tampa??? Lol…

  26. Giovanni says

    Cool experience and concept as well! Thanks Ben. It’s always funny to read or hear that a building is “over 100 years old”, but it’s just about me coming from Florence, Italy :)

  27. Ivan Y says

    @ Lucky – how did you find out about the soft opening – social media? I dig the design but don’t you think dark gray walls are kind of dreary? Anyhow, it’s pretty cool you were the first guest :D

  28. Amy Martz says

    Wow! What an excellent review! I am the featured artist at LM Tampa and can say without a doubt every statement that you said is true. I did training on all of my art pieces with everyone from the management to the housekeeping and they were all so excited they now want an architectural and history training as well! And just wait….LM Tampa is the cornerstone for Tampa’s new art district! Lots of big things happening in Tampa! It’s very exciting!

  29. Evan says

    Hey, Lucky:

    More savvy writers have stopped peddling cliche Cleveland jokes. With a LeMeridian and Kimpton soon to be added to a Ritz-Carlton and a couple of InterContinentals, downtown Cleveland is now listed as on of the most emerging city centers in the country (Forbes). Even the downtown residential population doubled in the last decade. You also might want to forgo old joke Youtube videos for a cheap laugh and actually read what the mainstream media folks are doing:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/04/us/cleveland-ohio-2016-election-republican-democratic-conventions.html?_r=0

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