Review: Fairmont Olympic Hotel Seattle

Last time I ventured up to Seattle, I had a bit of a hard time using my free Chase Hyatt Visa award night at the Hyatt Olive 8. I actually ended up staying at the Grand Hyatt Seattle, which I thought was surprisingly luxurious — especially since a “typical” domestic Grand Hyatt tends to read as a boring, cookie-cutter convention hotel to me.

I had an unexpected business trip to Seattle last week that put me up at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel downtown. The Olympic is famously Seattle’s grande dame hotel, and was in fact refurbished by and branded a Four Seasons from 1981 through 2003, when Fairmont took over the hotel’s management contract.

Though it was just for a quick one-night stay, I was excited to try the hotel given its pedigree, even if the photos of the hotel’s guestrooms on Trip Advisor showed that the decor was a bit on the fuddy-duddy side.

Fairmont Olympic Hotel Seattle
Fairmont Olympic Hotel Seattle

Built in 1924, the hotel has a grand porte-cochère entrance off of University Street, which is in fact one floor below the lobby. From the valet drop-off area, you take an escalator up to the reception area.

Overhead view of lobby from Mezzanine
Overhead view of lobby from Mezzanine

The lobby is pretty breathtaking, actually, and reads as very old-world and elegant. You could also call it “fussy,” but in a historic luxury hotel from 1924, sometimes classic, timeless “luxury hotel decor” fits the bill so much better than, say, modern white leather sofas and sleek “modern” accents. Trends die out and look dated. (This was my primary complaint about the decor at the Park Hyatt Palacio Duhau Buenos Aires, which I felt was “trendy” — at least trendy as of 2006, when it was designed — but did no service to the gorgeous history behind the structure itself.)

Anyway, the lobby is an atrium of sorts that spans the length of the entire hotel. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Overhead view of lobby from Mezzanine
Overhead view of lobby from Mezzanine
Overhead view of lobby from Mezzanine
Overhead view of lobby from Mezzanine

I was fairly struck by the elevator bank, with its heavy brass-plated doors and white marble trim — it’s just not something you see every day.

Elevator bank at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel
Elevator bank at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel

Check-in was rapid, efficient and friendly and I was given keys to a room on the second floor, which appears to have been a Fairmont ADA King.

I found the carpeted and wainscoted guestroom floor hallways to be charming, even though I might find them ostentatious in a cookie-cutter Ritz-Carlton. Again, it’s all about the context for me.

Carpet pattern at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel
Carpet pattern at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel
Hallways at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel
Hallways at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel

The Room

My room was certainly spacious. For a standard room, indeed, it was huge.

Fairmont Olympic Hotel guestroom
Fairmont Olympic Hotel guestroom

There was a desk with a mirror on one side of the room. Opposite the bed was a coffee station set up with a Keurig machine and complimentary coffee pods, as well as some snacks and drinks for purchase.

Coffee station and snacks
Coffee station and snacks

The bed itself was a roomy king-sized affair, and it was terrifically comfortable.

Fairmont Olympic Hotel guestroom
Fairmont Olympic Hotel guestroom

On the other side of the bed was an armchair, ottoman and side table with reading materials.

Fairmont Olympic Hotel guestroom
Fairmont Olympic Hotel guestroom

Now let’s talk about the decor.

First, the hotel will be undergoing a $25 million room and corridor renovation beginning in just a few weeks, on December 9, 2015 — with full completion expected by July 2016 and renovated rooms available as soon as February 2016. So it’s clear that the rooms could use an update, and I’m curious as to whether the Fairmont keeps the timeless look in place or goes with a more modern, Hyatt- and Westin- brand standard look.

Second, I thoroughly skewered the Park Hyatt Tokyo for its dated decor, and rightfully so. In that case the mid-1990’s furniture, fixtures and technology were intended to be cutting edge and modern, which makes the passage of time all the more sad. 1990’s design has not aged well. (And the Park Hyatt has not announced any forthcoming renovations, either.)

The Fairmont Olympic guestrooms, on the other hand, are not “of a certain area” so much as they feel very “traditional,” almost strikingly so. I mean, it’s hard to argue the technology feels dated (as it does at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, when once it felt cutting edge) when it’s clear technology was never part of the room design to begin with.

I mean, are these temperature controls analog as f@% or what?

Vintage thermostats
Vintage thermostats and fan controls

And again, while I love a set of tech-heavy bedside controls for curtains, lights and air conditioning, there’s something sort of simple I appreciate about a fan switch from the 1960’s that still works perfectly.

In any event, the discussion is somewhat academic, as I expect Fairmont to introduce more technology into the guestrooms in the upcoming refresh, since that’s really one of the more disappointing aspects of the room. While there were a set of outlets by the desk, for example, there weren’t any convenient electrical outlets for either of the bedside tables — a necessity in 2015 when everyone uses their smart phones as an alarm.

Anyway, the bottom line is that the room decor is certainly traditional to the point of being fuddy-duddy, but it at least fits the general timelessly elegant vibe of the property, so while an update appears to be welcome, the rooms are not jarringly dated.

The bathroom was extremely spacious, with luxurious white marble tiled floors.

ADA bathroom
ADA bathroom

Because it appeared to be an ADA-certified bathroom, the shower was a bit on the quirkier side, and I can’t say that I wouldn’t have preferred something less exposed.

ADA shower
ADA shower

There was plenty of counter space, though I found my biggest frustration with the bathroom to be the sink, which was not only small, but automatic. It’s one thing to have a public bathroom sink be sensor-activated, but I found it to be endlessly annoying for typical bathroom tasks such as brushing teeth.

The faucetless sink
The automatic sink

I certainly hope there is room in the $25 million renovation budget for hot and cold faucets.

The “soft” details in the bathroom were marvelous, though, with fluffy robes hanging on the back of the door, incredibly soft bath sheet towels, and Le Labo-branded rose-scented toiletries.

Robes in the bathroom
Robes in the bathroom
Fairmont Olympic Hotel toiletries
Fairmont Olympic Hotel toiletries
Fairmont Olympic Hotel toiletries
Fairmont Olympic Hotel toiletries

I — much like Ben — judge hotels by their toiletries. Le Labo is certainly a top-end brand, but more importantly it’s a product I really enjoy, so I really have to give Fairmont credit for implementing Le Labo as their brand standard. (By comparison, Le Labo is the house scent at a few select Park Hyatts, a hotel brand that I think is considered a half-step above Fairmont.) It’s certainly nicer than that June Jacobs crap Hyatt gives its guests at even the most luxurious Grand Hyatts.

Fairmont Olympic Hotel toiletries
Fairmont Olympic Hotel toiletries

So overall, the guestroom decor is overly traditional but comfortable — and a bit of a moot point since it’s due for a refresh in the near future anyway. On the “soft product” side of things, though, the sumptuous bed and the nice touches like the Le Labo toiletries and Keurig coffee maker left me with a good, solid impression.

Food and Drink

I was only at the hotel for one night, so my experiences were rather limited, but on the first evening I went down to the hotel’s lobby bar, called the Terraces Bar, for a drink and a bite to eat.

The bar itself was essentially part of the lobby, surrounded by brass accents and greenery. There was a piano player doing his thing and it all felt very much like something out of Arthur Hailey’s “Hotel.”

My glass of wine was good and relatively reasonably priced. The hotel tries to focus on Pacific Northwest wines and food, at least at the bar.

Terraces Bar at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel
Terraces Bar at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel

I ordered a snack described as “Salmon Bites,” and it was… interesting.

"Salmon bites"
“Salmon bites”

It was basically nuggets of candied hot smoked salmon served french fry-style in a cone. It was tasty, but so pungent and salty that it would have been a better appetizer to share among a few people.

The hotel’s main restaurant, the Georgian Room, was already closed for the evening when I was there, but I took a peek through the glass French doors and the room looked, again, very elegant and breathtaking in a totally traditional, classic way — the kind of place you do an afternoon tea or take your mom to Mother’s Day brunch, not the kind of place you go on a first date.

The Georgian Room
The Georgian Room

I also ordered room service breakfast, which was quickly and efficiently served the next morning. While I didn’t order anything special — two poached eggs and an English muffin — it was served with a banana chocolate chip mini-muffin as well as a sinfully delicious patty of hash browns so buttery that it probably came from Paula Deen’s personal recipe book.

Fairmont Olympic Hotel Seattle Bottom Line

I had a quick stay, so I can’t really speak (at least on an in-depth level) to the consistency of the food and drinks at the hotel or the service beyond the few polite, efficient interactions I had.

However, the reason I’m writing this review in the first place (since I don’t necessarily review every hotel I stay at for OMAAT) is that I was struck by something truly special at the Fairmont Olympic.

I’ve only stayed at one other Fairmont before, quite some time ago in Chicago, which I remembered as being nice but fairly unmemorable. However, my experience with and understanding of Fairmont is that they are a solid luxury hotel brand that values historic properties a great deal. Prior to my stay in Seattle, I might have written off the Fairmont brand as something most equivalent to an Intercontinental — sometimes luxurious, mostly very nice, few of them truly remarkable. Now I would go out of my way to stay in a Fairmont, particularly a historic Fairmont, again.

As for the Seattle Olympic property itself, I thought it was stunning and gorgeous and gave out a real “sense of place” that most of the more modern chain options in Seattle — Hyatt, I’m looking directly at you — lack. The rooms could use, and are getting, an update, but their current decor did not really take away from my favorable overall impression of the property.

There are very few “grande dame” hotels left in their original, opulent state, and I have to say it’s kind of refreshing to have that “old school” luxury experience in an era when every new Park Hyatt, Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton is in a race to outdo itself with sleek, contemporary decor.

I’d stay again in a heartbeat, especially after a guestroom refresh, and I hope that the renovations don’t take away the soul of the hotel, which is palpable. I do hope the renovations add at least some basic technological advances — as well as a real working bathroom sink.

Fairmont, color me impressed.

Enjoy this review? Check out hundreds of other reports on airlines, hotels, and airport lounges worldwide!

Comments

  1. How ’bout give some context on room rates, points accrued or spent, and whether it is part of any Virtuoso or Amex Fine Hotels program?

  2. Visit the Banff Springs, Chateau Lake Louise, Chateau Frontenac in Canada and really experience some historic Canadian properties.

  3. I stayed at the Fairmont San Francisco in August, and I had a nearly identical experience. A very classic, historic hotel right in downtown SF (top of Nob Hill). The rooms are very large, I had a 1BR king suite, and it was *gigantic*, with a view of Mason & California. I ended up using two free nights from the Chase Fairmont card, and a suite upgrade (from status that came with the card). $0 out of pocket, would have otherwise been about $600/nt.

    After my stay there, I’m also definitely keeping Fairmont on my radar. They don’t have a lot of properties, but I was very impressed.

    @Michael
    Their rewards program is… lacking. But they are generally on FHR, I don’t know about Virtuoso (I don’t use it). Or you can use the Citi 4th night free.

  4. I’ve stayed there several times for work. I prefer the Four Seasons for both location and style but there is an old world elegance to the Fairmont. For me, I imagine it must be somewhat like being on the Titanic (in decor).

  5. I live in Seattle so I’ve never stayed at the Fairmont but from childhood, it has been a place I’ve gone to many, many times – a drink with my best friend every December (tradition!), afternoon tea with grandmother, dinner during restaurant week in The Georgian with mom, events in the ballroom as a kid and another one (5th Avenue Theatre gala) a few years back…and I’ve always loved it.

    I did see a standard (you’re right, huge!) room on one of the saddest night of my life; when a dear friend who was terminally ill was treated to a stay there by his mom. He invited me to collect him from the room and have dinner with him, just before Christmas, when the lobby was amazing with its decorations. Although that memory is sorrowful, it still cheers me to know he got a little luxury before he died about two months later (at 28).

    Was most recently there when its lovely in-house spa had a Groupon special last winter and both my mom and I did the massage/facial package.

    Expensive in some ways, the place just exceeds expectations to the point that I consider my splurges completely worth it, always.

  6. I shared this review with my friend who has worked with at that Fairmont and he said that the reason for the automatic sink is that it’s a mobility feature for ADA rooms. The non-ADA rooms have regular controls for both hot and cold. He’s glad you liked the hotel generally.

  7. First time commenter – great to see the Fairmont brand get some love!

    Never had any desire to go to Seattle, but might consider a trip just to stay here. Exactly my kind of trip.

  8. I Live in Seattle and the Fairmont Olympic’s reputation is very good, and like @Chrissyliz, my experience with it has been events and drinks at the bar. Service is impeccable.

    I have stayed at other Fairmont properties and have always had great service, but for one notable exception, the Fairmont Empress in Victoria BC. We went there for 2 nights this summer with friends visiting form the east coast and found the hote to be a giant tourist trap.

    The Empress is supposedly famed for it’s high tea, which was underwhelming at best if not actively bad. The tea was bags not loose leaf, served in stainless steel not China teapots, loose leaf was a supplemental cost and served in industrial looking French presses. Scones were served with whipped not clotted cream and the finger sandwiches were more bread than filling. The cost was $100 US per person.

    The room we booked was a standard no-view two double room for ~CA$250/nt. The room was on the smaller side but has all the basics it should have, decor was very much an old world luxury hotel look. The room did have ample plugs for charging multiple devices and reasonable fast wifi. The bathroom was TINY! For expample when seated on the commode my left and right arms were brushing up against the toilet paper roll and shower curtain respectively.

    The only bright spot was the Bengal Lounge, which had a very Victorian British Empire feel in keeping with the era of the property, the drinks were the excellent and the bar snacks and food were top notch.

    Now one hotel doesn’t make or break a brand but, with Fairmont, if you need to go to Victoria BC, stay somewhere else, skip the high tea and go have drinks and food at the Bengal Lounge.

    Michael

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *