Fairmont Banff Springs

Discussion in 'Fairmont | President's Club' started by RCyyz, Aug 4, 2011.

  1. RCyyz
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    RCyyz Silver Member

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    Recently I went to Banff on a whim and stayed at the legendary Banff Springs. This was my 3rd time in the hotel but my first stay on the Gold floor. My stay was booked using Aeroplan points.

    I drove up from YYC in the morning and arrived at the Banff Springs around 10h30. The bellman was quite cheerful and happily took my bags to storage. He indicated that it was unlikely my room was available at that hour but I was more than welcome to check with front desk just in case. At front desk I experienced another cheerful employee who told me it didn't seem my room was available but that I was free to head on up to the 5th floor and make use of the lounge if I wanted to. Onwards then ...

    The entire 5th floor is the Gold floor. A separate check-in area was manned by 2 (cheerful) ladies. Anna Lisa told me she would put a rush on getting my room ready. I told her there was really no rush but she gently insisted in that cheerful way of hers. She gave me a quick tour of the lounge and left me to my own devices.

    The lounge was switching from breakfast mode to mid-day so there wasn't much to see in terms of food. The fridge was well-stocked with standard non-alcoholic drinks and several types of beer as well. Coffee and tea was always there as well. Later in the day (not sure when) the good stuff came out and stayed out until 22h00 when the lounge closed. I was surprised to learn that alcohol is charged to your room. On an honour basis you're supposed to fill out a bar chit. (The Starwood lounges I’ve been to have all included alcohol, but it’s possible this is an unfair comparison as I’ve only been to Starwood lounges in Europe.)

    Spirits - $8 per 1 oz
    White Rum
    Hennesy Cognac
    Grand Marnier

    Patron XO Cafe - $8 per 1 oz
    Patron Silver - $15 per 1oz

    Glenfiddich 12 years - $12 per 1 oz

    Domestic Beer - $5.75 per bottle
    Premium Beer - $625 per bottle (Sleeman's, Banff Springs Ale)
    Imported Beer - $6.75 per bottle (Corona, Heineken)

    White Wine - $11 (5oz)
    Kendall Jackson Chardonnay
    Vineland Sauvignon Blanc

    Red Wine (5oz)
    Kandal Jackson Cabernet Sauvignon - $11
    Mission Hill Merlot - $12

    Moet & Chandon Brut (375 mL) - $70
    Nino Franco Proseco (5oz) - $10.50

    There was no way to measure your pours, so approximate (generous) pours were certainly possible. Personally I didn't partake since I generally don't drink & climb when I'm in mountain country. :)

    Anyway, I enjoyed some sparkling water in the lounge then headed out to enjoy the magnificent scenery that is Banff National Park.

    When I came back later in the day, my room was ready. Anna Lisa noted my arrival back on the floor so she quickly (and cheerfully of course) got my paperwork out then took me to the room where she pointed out the relevant features. My room faced the "back" of the hotel so I had a great view of the Bow River (I could hear the falls when I opened the window) and the Banff Springs Golf Course off to my right.

    It was appetizer time in lounge so I went off to investigate. I recall lobster in Phyllo rolls, salmon on some kind of curried rice, beef on risotto, antipasto, veggie sticks and mini sandwiches. The lounge itself was large and quite comfortable and easily held the people that were in there without feeling crowded or overly busy. The four big leather chairs by the fireplace were almost always occupied so they were the only seats which were hard to get.

    Dinner was at the Bow Valley Grill which is the main restaurant at the Banff Springs. It features a variety of buffet and a la carte choices. Since I was in Alberta my main goal on the first night was to have a decent steak which I knew I could get at the Grill. I was not disappointed. :) Oddly there was a spelling mistake on the wine menu (the Malbec came from "Agentina") but that did not detract from the quality of the grape juice.

    One of the joys of staying at the Banff Springs is to wander the building and marvel at the grandeur of the place. I'm fortunate to have been taken around there previously with a Calgary local who grew up hearing all the stories (some tall, most not) of the Banff Springs so I've developed a greater appreciation for the history of the place. The hotel was built in 1888 and rates were $3.50 per day. Up until the early 1940s, guests would come armed with $50,000 letters of credit which would allow them to enjoy their 3 to 4 month long stays. As a result, the Banff Springs was geared as a home away from home and therefore featured many sitting rooms, writing rooms, smoking rooms ...

    WWII left no corner of the world unaffected. The Banff Springs closed in 1943 only to re-open again after the War was over. Times had changed though and the hotel struggled to regain its former glory. Guests would no longer stay for months at a time and with the rise of the middle class, the hotel found itself dealing with short vacation stays and eventually tour groups. From the 1950s until now, I think the Banff Springs has only had 3 or 4 GMs at the helm which certainly says something about this particular property.

    The Banff Springs is a massive hotel with 800+ rooms. Despite being there in peak season though, it never felt crowded. Many times I would walk into a room (writing room for example) and I would be the only person there. It was never a problem to find a seat at a bar or a patio either. The only challenge I had was once finding a parking space but there were at least 4 weddings going on that night.

    I've neglected to describe much about my room. It was a standard king room with a decent sized desk that had lots of plugs (thank you!! lack of plugs is a pet peeve). A nice Bose radio was always playing some light jazz when I came back at night. The TV was a 43" LG which I never used. A DVD player is attached to the TV. There was no minibar (save for a kettle and a coffee press along with requisite coffee and tea) but the lounge was just a few steps down the hallway where you were free to help yourself. The lounge always had a few trays so you could take stuff back to your room.

    The bathroom was nicely updated and featured a large shower (but no tub). The shower had a hand-held as well as 4 square, wall-mounted water tiles. Turning on all spouts was rather like taking a shower in a car wash; something I enjoyed immensely all the while feeling somewhat guilty at the quantity of water I was using.

    Bathroom amenities were Miller Harris cologne 1888. It's good "manly" smelling stuff. I wonder if ladies get different scents? I wouldn't be terribly surprised if they do. Anyhow, there was also a container of cotton balls, a comb, way too many towels and a small bottle of Scope mouthwash.

    If I have any complaint about the Banff Springs it's that the bedrooms are all fairly small. I'd estimate my room was no more than 25 square metres. But like I said, the hotel was built in an era where rooms were generally small and people spent their time lounging in writing rooms and smoking rooms only returning to their bed chambers to actually sleep. The small room is greatly mitigated by the high ceilings and the magnificent scenery outside.

    Aside from the lounge, there is a smallish “Reading Room” which has a large screen TV, a few comfy chairs and an internet terminal. Also available from the Gold desk are Kobo readers pre-loaded with a selection of books and iPads. I’m not sure what’s on the iPads as I have my own but I did see one guest borrowing one. I believe one can also borrow DVDs.

    Breakfast in the lounge featured hot oatmeal, scrambled eggs, hard boiled eggs, pork sausage, waffles, French Toast, bagels, various breads & breakfast pastries, fresh cut fruit, yoghurt, cereals and cold cuts. My request for Jasmine Tea was granted, though it was clear to me that I inadvertently caused the lovely Carolyn to go searching for a box of Jasmine. She actually apologized to me saying "We should have a box of everything on this floor. I don't know why we didn't have Jasmine Tea here already." I observed another guest request probiotic oatmeal (I'm not sure what the difference is). This too was granted (cheerfully). I was left with the distinct impression that I could have asked for pretty much anything and the staff would have done anything and everything to grant it.

    In fact, the next day at breakfast Max (another cheerful employee – I don’t think they have grumpy ones at the Banff Springs) saw me coming so he quickly went to the back room and grabbed a few bags to Jasmine Tea which he put in the main tea area and pointed out to me where he had put there. Talk about being proactive!

    I managed to sample 2 other restaurants in the hotel for dinner. The Grapes Wine Bar was a very small place (6 or 7 tables I think) that was also very dark inside. And for a place with that name, the wine selection by the glass was remarkably limited. Nonetheless, the food was quite good. The seafood chowder was a particularly good surprise. It tasted very good but when I dug a little deeper into the bowl I found huge chunks of salmon, mussels, clams etc. The mushroom ravioli was unfortunately in a heavy cream sauce; I would have preferred a lighter sauce but it was tasty and I quite enjoyed it.

    Castello restaurant is the Italian place. It too is small – 20 tables or so. The service was impeccable but the food failed to live up to my expectations. It wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t rate it as good either. I don’t feel ripped off given what I paid but I don’t think I’ll go back to that restaurant.

    I was very sad to leave the Banff Springs. The staff on the Gold floor were incredible. I felt very welcome by all of them and I was very well taken care of. The free shoe polish service yielded fantastic results and I was pleased that the final bill was presented perfectly. Anna Lisa told me at check-in that internet was free anywhere on the floor. When I tried it though, I was asked to log in and charge $14.95 to the room. I did so, figuring I could discuss at check-out. But when I got the final bill, true to her word there were no internet charges at all. Many other hotels I’ve had internet on the bill and had it immediately reversed upon dispute, or I’ve had the internet charge show up and automatically been reversed (showing +$14.95 on one line and -$14.95 on the next) but never to my recollection have I had something not show up in the first place. It’s a little thing but it’s typical of what the Gold floor was all about at the Banff Springs.

    Arguably the Rimrock Hotel is “better” in that it’s far more modern and the room sizes are what we are accustomed to these days at high-end hotels. But there is something quite magical about staying at the Banff Springs and becoming a part of its history. Staying on the Gold floor is just the icing on the cake.

    Banff National Park is a very special place and I’m pleased to say that the Banff Springs hotel only adds to that special feeling. I can’t wait to go back!
  2. uggboy
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    uggboy Gold Member

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    Awesome and very detailed review, thanks so much, a real pleasure to read and to think about such a great landmark hotel!:)
  3. dhammer53
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    dhammer53 Gold Member

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    Great report. Thanks.
    uggboy likes this.
  4. Tivoboy
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    Tivoboy Milepoint Guide

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    great report. I've been there several times, lastely as a platinum fpc (which for some reason didn't really do much, but I had used a suite upgrade cert for the stay)

    someone else I am sure will chime in, but as for the rooms. The higher up you go, where the suites are and the 1br suites in particular, the rooms FEEL smaller since the ceilings are lower or angled from the walls. they are a bit darker, less light and smaller windows. I THINK the gold floor rooms are all an updated sort of executive room, with higher ceilings and new finishings like the light gold wall coverings, lighter shades, bigger windows. A bit smaller than some, but better for more time spent in the rooms - but I don't think there are any gold level SUITES, not 100% certain though. You can't beat the location though, the landscape really makes it. There is another restaurant in the hotel, their top end place and quite frankly, I would skip it on any future visit. Ambiance was ok/nice, much smaller than the regular dinning room, but relatively overpriced and food not up to expectations. Service there was a bit on the weak side there too - which isn't what one should expect.
    uggboy likes this.
  5. RCyyz
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    RCyyz Silver Member

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    According to the Fairmont website there are indeed Junior Suites as well as 1 Bedroom and 2 Bedroom Suites on the Gold floor. Somehow I'll have to scam my way into one of these rooms at some point in life. :p

    Glad you guys enjoyed my report. Cheers!

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