St Regis Bal Harbour: Love hate Relationship

I have to say at the beginning of this blog that I am not a big fan of Miami.

Even though the weather is fabulous, it is really a little bit run-down for a US state.
The airport is probably one of the worst in the world for international flights. My anecdotal evidence is that I missed a flight to London last year as the airport staff decided to be socialistic and to take away the fast track security line for business class travellers. The immigration check process was also a total shambles. So trying to get on an international flight to your home country from this airport is a total NIGHTMARE. I have learned from this bad experience and I now always fly to Miami domestically via Boston or New York to make sure that I don’t have to go through the Miami customs any more.

So you may ask yourself why do I still go to Miami? The only reason I have returned to Miami over the last three years is because of the St Regis in Bal Harbour – a hotel that I have a love hate relationship with. I can think of a lot of positives, but also negatives at the same time.

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On arrival at St Regis Bal Harbour my first impressions are that the decor of the lobby is very ostentatious and almost immaculate. I feel like I am not in Miami any longer, but I could be in the Middle East or Asia. Looking at the wall at the entrance of the hotel I see a plaque in honour of the Qatari family. Then it all made sense why the hotel looked so fabulous and why I feel reminded of the 5 star luxury hotels in the wealthy parts of the Middle East. When checking into the hotel the butler always greets us at the reception desk with  a glass of champagne to lighten up the check in process. In general, Platinum guests are treated very well with regards to upgrades at this Starwood hotel. We have always been upgraded to a beautiful two-bedroom ocean front suite. I have to say that this is probably one of the best suites I have ever stayed in. The room has three toilets, two bathrooms, two kitchens three balconies – in summary, it is truly great.

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The hotel itself is located in Bal Harbour – the high end district of Miami – which is directly located on the beach with fabulous views of the ocean. It has two swimming pools (one for adults only and the other for families) as well as a great beach and three restaurants.

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This hotel could be paradise on earth, but my big problem is and has always been the staff, especially in the restaurants and bars. Many members of the staff seem frustrated and they expect a 20% tip for everything. Even if they are doing a bad job. Most of the time you don’t even get a smile. Let me give you some examples: at breakfast there is a buffet so the waiters do very little other than just clearing up the plates or serving you a pot of coffee. Nevertheless, the waiters keep presenting you with a final bill including a $25 service charge — which I can’t justify as I did not even receive a smile not to mention  service. The same holds true for the service around the beach and the pools of the hotel. The hotels staff get really unfriendly and may even refuse to help you set up your sun lounger if you do not tip them on “day one” of your hotel stay. In my view, they are forgetting that the cheapest room in the resort is $700 +++ (including taxes etc). So the reason we are paying these prices is to receive excellent service and  the best of everything. More importantly to be made to feel special. Why do they think we are paying these prices?! I am simply not willing to pay “tips++++++” to get the basics that would happen in any hotel of this standard around the world. I know that the minimum wage is not great in America. Hence the staff rely on tips, but it is not the customer’s fault as we are paying very high prices to the hotel already. The government should require the employers to pay a higher minimum wage as in Europe. As this can give the wrong incentive to the staff if they expect the tips as standard. The US citizens seem to generally pay tips – even if the service is bad – only because it is socially expected of them.
Another drawback of the hotel is housekeeping which is not consistent. Even though the rooms are very clean upon arrival, house keeping try to stop vacuum cleaning or mopping the room during the stay. House keeping also quite often

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don’t even turn up to offer the turn down service and – on more that one occasion – the bins were not emptied. I always think  that it is great to get the upgrade, but if they don’t maintain the rooms what is the point. Another thing to note is that in ALL the St Regis hotels the hair dryers they give you in the room  are a joke and they don’t have adapters, I always have to buy a new hair dryer when staying in their hotels. They should provide a good hair dryer as it is a 5 star hotel.

On the positive side, the hotel management has recently brought in young Indonesian staff members who are in training at the St. Regis for a year. This has made a really positive difference. In fact, these Indonesian staff members are the biggest asset of the hotel as they are the only happy staff that will go that extra mile to do their job well. Not just for a tip. Meanwhile their bosses sit watching doing nothing.
Another positive thing I saw on my most recent stay was more of a global presence of staff. I liked this as when all the different cultures come together it generally works better as they can learn from each other.
I was disappointed on my most recent visit that they had also moved the breakfast to the Greek restaurant and the selection at the breakfast buffet was not that good anymore. We used to love the breakfast at this hotel. They have taken away the great fruit stations and egg station with eggs Benedict etc and now offer Greek salads, humous, Greek cheese, olives etc.. Even in Greece they don’t offer this much Greek food for breakfast! It is also the same food every day as no one eats it. I got bored of the breakfast after 3 days as it was always the same, which was a first for a St Regis hotel.

Finally this year I decided that I probably will not return again. Although I love the room and the upgrades received, I resent eating and drinking in the hotel as I can’t stand the staff so don’t want to support their ignorance and incompetence. Which is a shame. Also I always have to argue with housekeeping to get the basic service done.

It is such a shame as this hotel could be one of the best in the world, but they miss the attention to finer detail which makes all the difference.

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