Some of you may remember my friend Nick, who reviewed JetBlue’s A321 Mint Class last August. He’s back with another trip report, this time from his recent trip to South America. Nick is possibly the
biggest Delta/SkyTeam apologist funniest person I know, and despite the fact that he toned it down a bit for the trip report, I hope you still find it interesting/amusing. 😉
Unfortunately due to a seat mishap his phone disappeared, so half of his pictures are gone. Or to quote Nick: “can you add an editors note that United ate my phone – to be discussed in UA post – so like half my photos were lost forever hence back off bitchy commenters?”
We used a combination of points and cash, and outright points, for our trip to Buenos Aires, which was broken up by four days and nights at the beach in Uruguay – so we ended up with a one-night stay on the heels of our flight from Panama City, followed by a five-night stay at the end of our trip.
A couple of weeks before our first night at the Park Hyatt, I received a warm email from Matias, who introduced himself to us as our personal butler. In the email, Matias asked if we had any special requests.
Having seen a number of trip reports showing the modern tower of the Park Hyatt (where the majority of the rooms at the hotel are located), I figured on a whim I’d ask Matias if there was any way we could request a king room in the historic Palacio Duhau wing. Based on photos of the suites in the wing, the rooms looked a bit more regal than the modern wing, with a nod to the tradition and elegance of the Recoleta neighborhood.
I assumed that the wing had a mix of suites and basic rooms, and within a few days Matias emailed me to let me know that we had been confirmed into a king room in the Palacio Duhau wing for our first night. We were excited! For our first night, we paid 10,000 points + $150, and for the remaining nights we paid 20,000 points per night. (It’s worth noting that the $150 is actually charged as around 1300 Argentine pesos at the official exchange rate, and if you are flush with Argentine cash you procured at the “Blue Rate” – at the time of our visit, around 14 pesos per dollar – you could pay that portion in cash and you would effectively spend 10,000 points + $95 for the room.)
As it turns out, the historic wing and the modern tower each have their own lobbies, facing two different streets (the modern tower fronts Calle Posadas, which has cafes, pharmacies, restaurants and shopping malls, while the historic building fronts the grand Avenida Alvear, a lovely residential boulevard reminiscent of Park Avenue), and the two buildings are connected by an art-lined underground passageway. The taxi dropped us off on the Posadas side where we checked in (and subsequently walked all the way across the hotel to get to our room on the Alvear side). Check-in was warm, efficient, and touched off by a wonderful sentence, “you are in a Park Executive Suite in the historic building.” The charming bellboy led us to the historic wing, where we took the elevator to the fourth floor and our jaws were agape at the grandeur of the public areas. When he opened the door to the suite, our jaws finished dropping all the way to the floor. We cursed the fact we had to check out the next morning to catch our flight to Uruguay.
The executive suite was just enormous, with incredibly high ceilings and the sort of historical touches you’d expect from a grand hotel of the era – beautiful tall windows, parquet wooden floors, grand chandeliers. In the living room was a tray of macarons, a bowl of fruit and a special note from Matias. There was a large closet and a powder room off the entry hall leading to the living room, and, beyond the living room, double doors that swung open to a massive bedroom and an impressively large master bathroom that boasted a chandelier of its own.
As in many Park Hyatts, the lighting controls in the room were designed by sadists whose personal understanding of the word “intuitive” jibes not at all with how most human beings’ intuition works, and we found ourselves, maddeningly, accidentally turning off all the lights to the bathroom from the entryway 30 feet away, or turning on bright reading lamps over the bed while trying to find a bathroom light in the middle of the night. Nonetheless, lighting aside, we woke up in the morning to exquisite views from the suite: from the bedroom, a view over a picturesque but tattered neighboring historic mansion, and from the living room, a view across a series of stepped gardens to the ivy-covered modern tower.
We were thoroughly wowed by the unexpected and lavish upgrade that Matias secured for us and left the Park Hyatt that morning with a fabulous impression, looking forward to returning after Uruguay for a longer stay in an exciting city. That all being said, we did not necessarily find the decor in the historic wing – either in the suite or in the public areas – to be quite our taste. The decor attempted to infuse modern design with historic elements, and in doing so it felt ever so slightly dated – the spare angular leather and wood designs sprinkled throughout felt mismatched rather than understated, and just something about it felt as if it were about ten years too late on the design front. The hotel opened in 2006, and it doesn’t feel like it has received a refresh since then. It could probably use one. On the Alvear side, the architecture and grandeur of the building are lavish, but not well served by the cold, understated decor.
I love the modern sensibility of the Park Hyatt brand, but there are ways to fuse clean and modern lines with luxurious opulence (for instance, the Park Hyatt Vendome in Paris and the Park Hyatt in Washington, D.C. do that extraordinarily) – but the Park Hyatt Buenos Aires falls short in that regard.
When we returned to the Park Hyatt the following week, we were given a Park King room on the 11th floor of the modern wing, where, interestingly, the spare decor from circa-2006 still works rather well given the clean architectural lines of the building. The room was obviously much smaller, but was smartly designed, although the view from our room was a rather dismal, depressing view across some crumbling rooftops to the industrial Rio de la Plata. It was clearly the entry-level room (in my experience as a Platinum Gold Passport member, even on points I’m usually upgraded), but given the massive upgrade we received on our first night, we were not in a position to complain and were perfectly satisfied with the incredibly comfortable bed. The bathroom was a bit more strangely laid out, with a shower door that neither easily swung out or in, leading to fairly frequent flooding in the mornings while showering.
With a few exceptions, service remained thoughtful throughout our stay, with the women of the concierge desk doing a fabulous job of finding us on-point places to eat and drink. However, starting on our second night in the Park King room, when we woke up sweating multiple times despite the air conditioner being on its lowest setting, we realized that our room was sweltering.
On the third day, we called down to the front desk and told them our air conditioner was broken. Within minutes, a technician came up, took a look at the console for maybe thirty seconds, shrugged and left without saying anything. Hours later, on returning to the room, we were dismayed that the air conditioning was still seemingly broken, so I called down again. The front desk told me that the technician declared the a/c working perfectly, but that they’d send someone else up: this time, another technician was joined by a female front desk employee who acted as the translator. She told us that since it was hot outside (it was maybe 82 or 83 degrees) that our room was simply not going to get any colder and that we should sleep in light clothing.
Now, I realize that America has a particular love affair with the air conditioner, but I have been at luxury hotels all over the world and I can assure you that if you want your room to be frigid and blowing ice cold air on you, you can get that anywhere. I certainly do not doubt that at a Park Hyatt, the air conditioning does not operate on a “eh, maybe it’ll work better if it cools down outside” basis.
So this time I walked down to the front desk and explained the situation. The gentleman at the front desk seemed alarmed by this series of events, although he – in what I think we can agree is behavior we can chalk up to “cultural differences” rather than “outright misogyny” – told me that the hotel’s mistake was in sending a woman up to the room to diagnose the issue, since, as he leaned in to tell me conspiratorially, women do not know what they’re talking about with mechanical problems and anyway, women are always so cold (amiright, fellas?!), so she would have no way of telling if the a/c was working properly.
I bit my tongue, but he assured me that while we were out at dinner that night, he would send a team up, and he promised me with utmost sincerity that when we returned to the room, the room would be as frigid as we wanted it to be. I took him for his word and taped a little note in Spanish to the a/c control console, suggesting that the problem seemed likely to be the fan, which was not blowing air at all.
We returned to the room after dinner around 1:45am (it is Argentina, after all) to a sweltering mess of a room that hadn’t even had turndown service, much less a technician come up to look at the a/c – in fact, the note was still taped on the console. I walked down, again, to the front desk and explained the situation to a clearly horrified agent who immediately got the manager, Nicolas, to help with the situation. Nicolas joined us in the room and agreed that the air conditioner was broken (only 14 hours after we first told the hotel of this problem), and apologetically offered to move us to another room on the 11th floor, which we confirmed had a well-operating air conditioning system in place.
Nicolas and his team insisted that we wait down in the lobby with a complimentary bottle of water while they moved our personal effects from one room to the other, and about a half hour later, we returned to our new room (which seemed to be a Park Deluxe King, since the view was far nicer and faced a park) where Nicolas offered us a bottle of complimentary Chandon sparkling wine. (I can only imagine the horror that would grip Ben’s eyes at the sight of someone trying to pass of Chandon as an amenity.) Nicolas’ sincere efforts to try to rectify the situation were appreciated, though, and he suggested that he would try to think of some other way to compensate us. The next day, Nicolas offered to credit 20,000 Gold Passport points to my account and, a few days later on checkout, another manager came out specially to thank us for our patronage despite the snafus, about which she said she was personally embarrassed.
We found our stay at the Park Hyatt to be a mix of some incredible service and some well-intentioned but not well-executed service.
For instance, Nicolas was professional and proactive, however, the two other individuals I spoke with about the air conditioning unit feigned concern, but clearly figured I didn’t know what I was talking about. We found the food and beverage service at the hotel to be painfully slow: one night we gave ourselves 45 minutes before leaving for dinner to have a drink on the terrace overlooking the gardens, but – despite the terrace being far from full – it took the staff 10 minutes to seat us, another 10 minutes to take our order, and 15 minutes after that the server came by to tell us that unfortunately the glass of wine I’d requested was out – at which point I simply asked for the check, since things were too glacial for our tastes.
Housekeeping service was incredibly thorough – all of our electrical cords were neatly tied together in an almost-Japanese level of OCD packaging frenzy – but also incredibly time consuming, with service calls exceeding a half hour. We were surprised that the hotel gym was so small and so easily overwhelmed with guests.
And speaking of guests, we were somewhat dismayed to find that the hotel was almost exclusively patronized by Americans, almost all of whom were from the greater New York metro area and almost all of whom could be overheard complaining that 9:00pm was simply unheard of! for a restaurant reservation and they would prefer to eat at 7:30pm (when most Argentines are napping). While that’s not uncommon for a luxury hotel in a major tourist city, I would contrast the Park Hyatt to the Four Seasons Hotel two blocks away, which is fresh off a stylish renovation. Surprisingly, the Four Seasons conveyed a sense of modernity, hipness and freshness – and a trendy, young, artsy and international crowd – that was markedly absent from the Park Hyatt. I’m used to Four Seasons being the standard bearer for fussy service and floral-printed rooms, but we found the public spaces to be stunning and the food and beverage service to be exquisite, and the hotel seemed to mercifully lack the throngs of loud, well-heeled, spoiled American families that seemed to be the Park Hyatt’s bread and butter.
All in all, the Park Hyatt Buenos Aires is still an excellent property and a wonderful use of Hyatt points. It has a terrific location in Recoleta, admirable and winning service, a fantastic concierge team, and boasts one of the most historic buildings in the entire city, the Palacio Duhau. The gardens between the modern tower and the palace are breathtakingly beautiful, and the service was always smiling and courteous (which is not necessarily a given in South America). I don’t fault the hotel at all for the a/c snafu, though I wish it had been addressed sooner and didn’t result in us waiting in the lobby at 2:30am while they moved our belongings to a new room (and, frankly, at that point I was a bit surprised they didn’t move us into some sort of suite for our troubles, but we really just wanted a bed and working air conditioning by that time).
But all things being equal, I no longer think that the Park Hyatt is the single best luxury hotel in Buenos Aires, as it often has been said. Its decor could use an update and even in the public spaces some of the furniture was noticeably chipped and suffered from wear and tear. While of course we didn’t stay there and can’t speak to the service or the guestrooms (though photos of the rooms look spectacular), I do think that following its refresh the Four Seasons is the top contender in town, and were I paying cash for a hotel room I would probably stay there next time instead.