It’s been almost half a year since anyone in Singapore had a staycation, so when STB announced that staycations were allowed once again in Phase 2, many people made a beeline to make a booking at their favourite hotel, to make up for the lack of a overseas holiday.
I was no exception. I made my searches, and the Mandarin Orchard deal caught my eye: A club room, breakfast and late check-out for under S$250 nett? Let’s check it out.
Let’s face it: pre Covid-19, with the option of going overseas for a short getaway, plus the allure of many hotels in Singapore, the chances of choosing Mandarin Orchard for a staycation was hardly in order.
During the times when tourists are flocking to Singapore, Mandarin Orchard typically commands a premium for its excellent location, despite its dated features. With over 1,200 rooms, this hotel was popular with Indonesian visitors, given it’s prime location in the heart of Orchard Road.
I booked the ‘Club Indulgence Staycation’ offer some time back in July for this stay. At the point of booking, none of the Saturday dates in August were available, so I chose a Sunday for my stay.
The entitlements of the offer included:
- Access to Meritus Club Lounge at Top of the M, featuring 360-degree views of Singapore
- Personalised express check-in and check-out
- Daily breakfast for two
- 50% discount at Triple Three (food bill only)
- Complimentary early check-in and late check-out until 6pm, subject to availability
However, this same offer was later simplified, with perks such as the 50% off food bill at Triple Three and early check-in/late check-out entitlements removed.
So I thought I scored a good one, and I was honestly hoping to be able to work in the room on Monday till practically the end of the day.
A few days after I booked the stay, the hotel sent the following email asking me to select a time band to check in. The options began from 2pm – which is their standard check in time – with no mention of any possibility of early check-in.
I meekly complied and chose 3pm as my preferred check-in time.
On the day of my stay, I went forth to the hotel at my allotted time: 3pm. Obviously there wasn’t any crowd, in fact, at the time I was checking in, I was the only one checking in.
Note that the hotel has closed its ground floor check-in desks, so all check-in has to be done at Level 5 instead.
At Level 5, there were hardly anyone at the check-in desks, so I guess the staggered check-in timing worked.
Check in was relatively fuss free. After going through the formalities, including filling up a health declaration form that asked if I had visited China in the last fourteen days (China honestly is probably one of the safest places to be in right now with respect to Covid-19), the agent asked me to download the Meritus app so I could use the mobile key. After what semed like an eternity to download the app and for her to set it up, she passed me two physical key cards as well.
What the heck.
“So anything else I can help you with, sir?”
I then asked about a late check out.
“Let me check on that for a moment sir.” A few seconds later… “Sir, the usual check-out time is 11am, so we will be able to extend your stay until 12 noon.”
What about my 6pm late check-out?!
I thought to myself, never mind, I’ll sort this out later at the Club Lounge.
Mandarin Orchard is a massive hotel, with over 1,000 rooms across two wings in the heart of Orchard Road. The property offers 6 room types and 3 suite types, ranging from 28 square metres up to the Presidential Suite running at a spacious 154 square metres, larger than most apartments in Singapore.
The room I was given was a Club Meritus Room. This is equivalent to a Deluxe Room, which is an entry level room at the hotel, except that my stay came with the Meritus Club access.
At 28 square metres, the room is spacious by local standards as newer hotel rooms are smaller in size.
The room came with a King-sized bed, along with a glass-top work desk. For day-lounging, there’s a side armchair, although some other rooms may feature a couch or day-bed instead.
The TV was of a modest size, mounted on the wall just above a cabinet that houses a mini-fridge. As with STB’s recommendations, the fridge is now empty, and any mini-bar item that you may need has to be requested from the in-room dining menu.
The writing desk is ample in terms of size, with a handful of power sockets enough to set up a work-from-room setup if you wish. One thing to note however is that there is also two USB ports and a HDMI port meant for you to connect your devices to the TV, and these are not equipped to charge your devices.
On the bed-side table, there were also ample sockets and USB charging ports, so you shouldn’t have a shortage of charging points for your devices.
The bathroom was sort of a blast to the past. There was a single vanity, along with a bathtub to the side. On the other side of the bathroom was the toilet, as well as a shower cubicle.
Mandarin Orchard uses ETRO, an Italian fashion brand, better known for apparel rather than amenities. But in any case, this is somewhat a step up from the previous in-house branded amenities that the hotel uses. The hotel also provides other bathroom necessities, including toothbrush kits, a shower cap, sanitary bag, sewing kit, emery board, shaving kit and comb.
All in all, the room is definitely dated, but comfortable enough. It is definitely in need of a refresh (badly), but at least the condition of most of the fittings are still fairly decent, with no visible signs of wear and tear.
Top of the M – Mandarin Orchard Club Lounge
Having checked in only at 3pm, I decided to head directly to the Top of the M for my afternoon tea before heading to the room.
The Top of the M, as Mandarin Orchard has decided to call its club lounge, is located on the Orchard Wing, perched right at the top on levels 38 & 39.
As a summary, these are the entitlements for guests with Club lounge access:
- Daily breakfast at Meritus Club Lounge from 6.30am to 10am on weekdays, and 7am to 10.30am on weekends and public holidays
- Daily afternoon tea from 3pm to 5pm
- All-day refreshments and cookies
- Daily evening cocktails and hors d’oeuvres from 6pm to 8pm
- Exclusive check-in and check-out at the Meritus Club Lounge
- Complimentary internet access in guestroom and Meritus Club Lounge
- Complimentary use of meeting room for 1 hour per day, subject to availability
- Complimentary local telephone calls
Note that only lifts 6 & 7 at the Orchard Wing will get you to the lounge. The lift will only bring you to level 38, and after registering at the front desk and doing your SafeEntry check-in, you can take a hike up a flight of stairs to level 39.
A bit more about the space: the lower floor comprises the front desk who will assist you with any requests you may have, including late check-outs, turn down service, and even parking coupons. There’s also a business corner for those who need to get some work done, or print anything.
Mandarin Orchard has limited the maximum capacity of the lounge to 40 people at any point in time, and in the welcome note they did encourage you to make a reservation if you intend to visit.
Also, the lounge is only open to guests above 18 years old, so if you have kids you may have to reconsider visiting the hotel.
So, it’s time for afternoon tea. When I headed up to the main lounge area on level 39, there were barely a handful of guests. Momentarily I was expecting to see the usual buffet spread of pastries and sandwiches a la pre-Covid-19, but when I went to the counter I saw nothing. I was a little surprised, but I was quickly attended by a staff who explained to me what was available for the day and that it will be served to the table.
Before we talk about the food, one thing for sure, the view is amazing.
After gawking at the view, I quickly ordered a decaf coffee, and found a seat at a sofa. Then I took a look at the table. While the utensils are laid out, there’s also some new items in this Covid-19 age: a sanistising wipe and a ziplock bag for your face masks.
The staff came by with two sets of afternoon tea, and I had to decline one set as I was alone.
Afternoon tea on this beautiful day was a pair of sandwiches (egg and tuna), one plain and one chocolate scone, a brownie, a cheesecake and a white chocolate praline.
Unfortunately, the items were all served cold. I generally prefer my scones warm, because cold scones tend to be too hard and crumbly, just like what happened with the scones on offer today.
The sandwiches were pretty disappointing too, somewhat reminiscent of those you buy at a petrol kiosk, that has all the filling only at the edge of the sandwich and hollow within.
The saving grace was actually the brownie, although again, it would have been excellent if it was warm.
Needless to say, I didn’t bother with seconds.
Coffee was out of a Nespresso machine, so that’s pretty standard fare.
The entire time I was having my afternoon tea, not a single staff came by to offer a refill of my water, nor asked if I needed another helping. I personally thought this was a missed opportunity, as this is a detail that the hotel could leave an impression on by offering tip-top service even if the fare was lacking. Each time I needed a refill, I would have to don my mask, walk up to the main counter, and asked for what I need.
Evening cocktails are served daily to Club room guests, from 6pm to 8pm at Top of the M. As the Club Lounge was limited to 40 guests at any one point in time, I made it a point to make a reservation for the evening just to be safe.
At 6pm sharp, I made my way to the lounge, only to find that I was one of the first groups to arrive. Even with the next half hour or so, there was only at best 20 people in the lounge.
As with the afternoon tea, Mandarin Orchard has stopped serving a buffet spread for its evening cocktails, but instead shifted to a table service system. A staff came by with a drinks list to take our drinks order, while another came by with the first of our fare for the evening: a plate of cheese and nuts, and one with cold cuts.
Shortly after, there was another plate of hot snacks, as well as a platter of cakes. I have a preference for hot food, so the hot plate hit the spot although some items tasted better than they looked.
To finish off, there was another platter of desserts, rather similar to what was on offer during the afternoon tea.
As for drinks, Mandarin Orchard’s club lounge offer a pretty standard fare, offering a choice of sparkling, red and white wines; Tiger beer; a selection of soft drinks; coffee, tea and sparkling water.
I didn’t stay for the entire duration of evening cocktails, and left for dinner after one round of drinks. To be completely honest, I wasn’t really quite blown away with the quality of food and drinks, so I was pretty glad that I had dinner planned elsewhere.
Guests with club lounge access will have an option of where to go for breakfast: either at the club lounge Top of the M, or at Chatterbox.
I decided to check out Chatterbox’s offering of breakfast, which is located closer to the mall side of the hotel at the Orchard Wing. Breakfast hours are between 6am to 10am on weekdays, and 6am to 10.30am on weekends, which is a tad early for weekends if you ask me.
Once again, SafeEntry is a must before you enter the breakfast area.
At Chatterbox, the hotel has cordoned off half the restaurant as a breakfast area. There were only about 15 tables, mostly four seaters and only two tables able to take the maximum of 5 guests permitted by law.
When I arrived at about 9.30am in the morning for breakfast, there were only about five groups of guests, although another three groups stepped in shortly after I did.
A big change post-coronavirus is the absence of the ubiquitous buffet spread. Breakfast is now served a la carte, with a digital menu accessible by scanning a QR code.
Breakfast menu was rather limited and came with an a la carte pricing for walk-in guests without breakfast entitlements. They are rather pricey and definitely not recommended if you don’t have a free breakfast with your room.
Pro-tip: I found out from the staff that I could order parts of a meal, such as an a la carte egg dish if I didn’t want the full American breakfast.
I started off with some coffee and a yogurt, before ordering an American breakfast for myself.
Service was far less than ideal again, with no one coming around to check if I needed a refill for my coffee or anything else. The only time someone came around to ask if I needed anything else was for a last order at 9.45am.
Given that the brew wasn’t fantastic, I later decided to finish up quickly, and head up to the lounge for the better option of Nespresso coffee.
Up at the lounge, the breakfast service has just concluded, and staff was busy clearing the tables. I took a quick glance at the menu, which is slightly different from what is being offered downstairs:
Maybe I should have come up here for a better view instead.
Mandarin Orchard also boasts of a tiny pool and a gym, for those who needs to get a workout done during their stay.
The pool is an outdoor pool located on Level 5, the same floor as the reception area. Note that the pool is limited to five people at any point in time, and you are recommended to reserve a slot before heading to the pool.
Five people isn’t a whole lot of quota for a hotel of this size, so if you really need the pool, please book. In fact, the swimming pool is tiny for a hotel of this size, but then again, a hotel in the middle of Orchard Road isn’t really where you want to spend time lazing at a pool, if you are visiting from abroad.
Mandarin Orchard’s fitness centre is accessible 24 hours, but again limited to five people at any one point in time.
The fitness centre is located on level 37 on the Main Tower, and you will have to register at the reception desk, get your temperature taken and get a different access card to enter the gym.
Getting to the gym is an interesting journey by itself: the lifts at the Main Tower will only get you to 36th floor, and you will have to hunt for the stairs to get you up to the fitness centre. That’s pretty much a warm up.
Once up at level 37, you should have no problems looking for the gym.
The gym is fairly well equipped, with barbells, weights training machines and cardio machines available for a good workout. Note that there’s no shower facilities in the fitness centre, although a restroom is available.
Note that some machines are ‘closed off’ for social distancing purposes.
The hotel is not great, and mediocre at best.
Putting aside the late check-out gaffe, I felt like this wasn’t really the idyllic ‘city holiday’ hotel, even though the price point at S$244 nett was really not bad at all for a club room.
Service was a complete miss, if you asked me. While most the guest services agents are polite, most of the service staff across various touchpoints seemed to lack energy. I’m not sure if this was because of the ‘new normal’ where they are instructed to minimise interaction with guests, or was it the dearth of foreign visitors that made it all too dreary for the morale of the team, but I definitely didn’t feel like it was a place that I’d return to for another stay.
The mandatory table service as opposed to a buffet-style service is the perfect opportunity for staff to interact with guests, but this was a missed opportunity by the team. Simple things such as introducing what’s on the plate were not done, and I would imagine this may frustrate those who has dietary restrictions.
Food and beverage offerings were also lacklustre, with most of the items from afternoon tea, evening cocktails and even breakfast unmemorable and not worth stuffing yourself with.
The rooms, fittings and facilities are all looking very tired and I’m definitely looking forward to what Hilton will do with the refresh after 2022.