Having not been to Johor Bahru for a while, I decided to get away for a weekend to the southernmost city of Malaysia as what most Singaporeans love to do. This time round, my hotel of choice was Renaissance Johor Bahru Hotel, a Marriott property about 15 minutes away from the Causeway (the bridge link to Singapore).
You can spot the hotel as you drive down the highway towards Permas Jaya, given its unlikely existence in an industrial estate. The hotel is a two-wing, 17-storey building that is set in a V-shape if you view from the top. The building, while only five years old, is fairly weathered: external walls are showing signs of peeling and browning.
The hotel is a standalone property complete with its own car park set as part of the building. The car park is classically basic as with most Malaysian car parks: dimly lit, narrow in most places and looking a little terrifying.
However, that impression changes when you first enter the lobby. Rather immaculately decorated, the lobby is voluminous, with a high ceiling and ample space for large crowds to gather if necessary.
Arriving in the evening after an agonising three hours at the Singapore-Malaysia border, check-in was very smooth as there was no one else waiting to check in. In a couple of minutes after explaining the club lounge service hours, we were packed off to our room.
The hotel consist of 325 rooms and 20 suites, along with plenty of meeting rooms that can be combined to form a ballroom, which is perfect for weddings.
The entry level room is the Deluxe Room, sitting at 34-36 square metres in size, depending on which room you get. For a premium you will get a bay view room, or you could also opt for a room on the 6th floor that gets direct access to the swimming pool (tip: not great). The pool terrace rooms, as well as the Club rooms, do get access to the Executive Lounge on 16th floor along with Club benefits.
There are also two types of suites in the hotel: a junior suite which is about 69 square metres, and a Presidential Suite spanning 153 square metres that comes with a separate living room, lavish bedroom and spacious bathroom on the topmost floor of the property.
I booked myself into a Club Deluxe room this time, and I was given a room on one of the Club floors on 15th floor. There didn’t seem to be any material difference between a club and non-club room, apart from the floor.
The room was fairly standard, with a king-sized bed coupled with a couch at the foot of the bed facing the TV screen. The room overlooks an industrial area with a mall, Permas Jaya Aeon, not too far away, but overall not a great view.
Disappointingly, the bathroom didn’t have a bathtub. Modestly sized, the bathroom had a walk-in rain shower, a simple vanity and a segregated toilet. While it’s not my dream setup, of course I’m also concious I’m not exactly at Capella.
While only a Rewards Category 2 hotel under Marriott’s new charts, Renaissance Johor Bahru Hotel do offer club rooms with access to the Club Lounge.
The Club Lounge is located on the 16th floor and is open from 6am to 10.30pm daily, offering breakfast in the morning, light snacks in the afternoon and evening cocktails and refreshments from 5.30pm to 7.30pm daily with drinks available for another hour until 8.30pm. Confusing, yes I know.
The layout however baffled me a little. Most hotels that I’ve been to have the Club Lounge close to the lift lobby, or tucked away from most of the guest rooms, if not both.
In Renaissance JB’s case, given the unique layout of the hotel, the Club Lounge was located on one end of the building. While this is not entirely strange, what is strange is that the entrance to the Club Lounge faces a guest room — I would hate to be in that room.
Having said that, having arrived at the hotel only at about 7pm, I immediately dashed to the Club Lounge to check out what’s on offer. To my dismay, most of the snacks have emptied out, even though there was still half an hour to go. When I checked with the staff if they were still refilling the dishes, they initially said no, but I think enough people asked them so they eventually did so about 20 minutes later.
What was on offer that evening was a chicken wrap, salted fish fried rice, a mushroom fritter and a mutton rendang. On the other side, there were some vegetable sticks and dips, as well as cakes. The food was actually quite palatable, even though the selection wasn’t wide. Perhaps I was running a little hungry, I actually went for a second serving of the fried rice.
The evening cocktail hours were also structured in a very confusing manner. Refreshments were available from 5.30pm to 7.30pm, while alcholic beverages were served from 5.30pm till 8.30pm, and non-alcoholic beverages for the rest of the evening until 10.30pm. It would have been heaps easier if they have aligned the food and alcoholic beverage service timings.
The Club Lounge is also furnished in an incredibly uncomfortable manner. All the seating were in the form of dining tables, and there were no sofa seating save for a couple of armchairs with a coffee table in the library corner. This also means that even if I had arrived earlier, I would have been rather unlikely to spend my day in the lounge reading over a cup of coffee.
With a fairly uncomfortable seating for having a drink and reading a book, I lingered in the lounge up to about 9pm over a few more glasses of drinks, before heading back to my room for the night.
Beyond the club lounge, Renaissance Johor Bahru also has a swimming pool and a 24-hour fitness centre, both on the 6th floor. For those who fancy some pampering at a spa, unfortunately there isn’t any at the hotel. However, you will be spoiled for choice with an array of options for massages in Johor, so the lack of a in-hotel spa should not be a problem.
There are two pools, a larger rectangular pool that you can do laps in, and a small whirlpool that’s good enough for you to let your kids play in. Alongside the swimming pool are deck chairs for those who love a good tan, as well as cabanas to lie in if you fancy that instead.
The gym is rather well equipped and spacious, complete with a dumbbell rack, cardio machines and various machines. The gym can be accessed with your key card 24 hours daily, so regardless whether you are an early riser who wants to get a workout before breakfast, or a late night gym junkie, you can get your workout anytime you wish.
For those who love a good spa facility, there’s only a sauna that’s available within the changing rooms, but not a steam room. The sauna is also fairly small size, but usually unoccupied during the few times I used it.
The next morning, I had breakfast at the lobby restaurant. I typically love Malaysian hotel breakfasts as they have proven time and time again to have fantastic Asian offerings, such as the E&O in Penang which offered my favourites such as cooked-to-order roti canai.
As with most larger hotels, the breakfast restaurant is fairly large sized, with seating of over a hundred people from what I saw. Of course, the restaurants are fully halal, so don’t expect bak kut teh (pork ribs soup) here!
Just a sampling of what was available at the buffet: dim sum, roti canai, nasi lemak, congee, along with western options of eggs, sausages, waffles, pancakes, cereal, fruits, and more.
Given the glutton I am, I had to try a little of everything. The roti canai was not cooked-to-order, so there was only the plain ones on offer. However, there was thosai that could be ordered so that more than made up for it. The nasi lemak was pre-wrapped in a banana leaf, and offered the standard condiments including hard boiled eggs, sambal, ikan bilis and cucumber. The rice was on point: fragrant and not too soft, and when paired with the sambal, good enough on its own.
There was also dim sum available, although this was a little disappointing. There wasn’t the usual siew mai (dumplings) available, but instead there was many buns (not my favourites) and also some unidentifiable steamed items.
To top off breakfast, there was a soft serve machine too, serving up chocolate and vanilla soft serve, complete with toppings such as crushed peanuts, candy rice and more. This was certainly a great way to end the morning.
Overall, this is a fairly decent Marriott property, taking into consideration the price you pay for a club room.
The room itself was fairly comfortable, and I loved that couch at the feet of the bed, which allowed me a choice of either lounge on the couch or on the bed to watch TV. As with most hotel rooms, I couldn’t get the smart TV to cast my phone content so that was a pity.
The lounge was clearly a disappointment, since it wasn’t exactly designed for one to lounge in it, but rather built almost like a restaurant. Service was acceptable for the category, so I’m not going to lose much sleep over it. However, there are araes where the service can be tightened or simplified, for instance, ensuring that food is available right to the end of the evening cocktail hours.
The highlight of the stay would most likely be the breakfast. While it was great on its own, it’s certainly not the best I had in Malaysia before. In fact, DoubleTree by Hilton over at Johor Bahru city centre might offer a better breakfast, although it’s immensely crowded.
Despite the above, Renaissance Hotel Johor Bahru is certainly a great value for money especially if you need a cheap option to clock nights to qualify for the new Marriott Elite status!