Veteran traveler and admitted service snob Margot Black recently jetted off to the Four Seasons Maui with her husband and toddler in tow. Can this demanding mom get the service she thinks she deserves as she puts the hotel concierge to the test?
I like to know that my needs are not just accommodated, but anticipated.
Admittedly, I can be demanding, but that’s because I don’t want to spend my precious travel time dealing with details.
When I travel I want the best advice, the best deals and to feel as you’re my best friend—all right now, and with a genuine smile, please.
Almost comatose from work-related exhaustion, I packed up my husband and energetic 21-month-old son, and headed—gulp—without my “momtourage” (no nanny, no sippy cup social gatherings, and no helpful neighbor) to Maui.
Having stayed at every type of accommodation from a Motel 6 to a seven-star resort, I was curious to see how the exalted Four Seasons resort in Maui, a flagship white-sand resort with an army of concierges, would handle my needs. Anyone can make dinner reservations but after that, what happens?
The Four Seasons resort in Maui is an exclusive vacation destination—the local saying, “Maui No Ka Oi” translates as “Maui is the best” and as such, guests expect a superlative level of service for the price they’re paying. Many of the concierges at the Four Seasons wear the cross key Clef d’Or (“gold key”) badge, the international concierge call sign for quality and professionalism.
According to Concierge Karen, a Clef d’Or member and concierge of 14 years, the most common requests are for dinner reservations, directions, diapers/formula, surf lessons, helicopter tours, and surprise arrangements for marriage proposals, birthdays and anniversary celebrations.
And then here are some unusual requests such as the man who called to ask, “I heard this really great song on the radio, can you tell me what it is?” They did.
Or there was the woman who wanted a boat escort while she swam between the islands of Maui and Lanai. And don’t forget the celebrity who turned up for a month with her children who needed home-schooling: The concierge organized their event schedule and was rewarded with a Gucci purse and wallet.
One of my favorites was the romantic who asked the concierge to paint a bunch of coconuts with the words ‘Will you marry me?’ and arrange them in the sand, so he could fly and propose to his fiancé. They did that, too.
As Karen says, “We’ll do anything that’s asked of us, as long as it’s legal!”
So when I needed to locate a Sesame Street or Barney sing-a-long DVD for my son, Karen was able to find three in a bargain bin at a local store and sent their driver to pick it up for me, saving me all manner of travel stress. Mission accomplished in under two hours, all for a mere $18!
So here’s how I put the concierge to the test:
I needed an off site family-friendly diner. I wanted a place my husband and I could enjoy (scenic would be nice, but at a reasonable price) and that my son Jett could run around and maybe even scream a bit. I didn’t want cheeseburgers or chicken fingers and I didn’t want to pay $12 for a kid’s meal. Karen pointed me in the direction of a restaurant that was so popular with families they’d run out of high chairs.
The place overlooked a golf course and had open-terrace seating. As a pizza cynic from New York, I was so impressed with their pizza that I took the last slice home to put in the mini fridge. Top marks!
I was very specific. I didn’t want a teenager or an immobile grandmother, but a woman between 35-50 who ideally had experience looking after her own children, and was prepared to chase after Jett, play in the pool and run around without complaint.
Karen came up trumps with Roberta, a gorgeous 42-year-old mother of four and grand-mother of two. Roberta was also a camp counselor at a posh nearby resort and turned up with her bathing suit and armed with a bag of toys and plenty of ideas to keep Jett amused, such as taking him to look for crabs in the moonlight.
She forgot her cell phone, which wasn’t great, so I lent her mine. Just as we were about to leave, Roberta asked to hear the ring tone, so she’d know what to listen for if we called. For most calls it’s the T-Mobile ring, but when my husband test-called her, the assigned ring tone was our song, “Let’s Get It On,” so kudos to Roberta for asking. We sent them away with a bag of prepared snacks and although she forgot to pass by later to pick up our son’s dinner, she was so good I hired her again for the next night (two dinner dates with my husband in one week? I must be on vacation!).
The Flight Home
I’d spent a couple of days on the phone trying to get our seats assigned for the return journey but without much success, and I was panicking. It was the day before our flight so Concierge Dee offered to check me in. But this was 2 p.m. on Friday and the ticket desk was closed so she said she’d call on my behalf first thing in the morning.
I called Dee en route but she was on her break, which was annoying. However, when we got to the airport our seats were assigned by the gate agent. We were seated in the back of the plane, next to the toilet. Crappy seats, but I was happy not to get bumped. Although “no-gold-key” Dee didn’t solve my problem, she did her best.
Despite that minor glitch, we left the Four Seasons Maui a relaxed and happy family. Even when Jett did his best toddler impression, such as the time he lay wailing on the floor of the reception area and wouldn’t move until I walked him around the fountain, I looked up to see the concierge smiling.
Later she told me that she had a now grown-up son but vividly remembered those sticky moments, which only added to that important welcome feeling. Most boxes were ticked and one very happy toddler sang along with Barney all the way home …
The Keys to Good Service
The Four Seasons Resort Maui generally has two to four concierges on call at the front desk to serve the guests, plus staff in the back room answering emails and phone calls. They have more than 20 different concierges (that includes the exclusive club lounge floor), who have an average of three-plus years experience. There are concierges on staff seven days a week, from 6 a.m. – 11 p.m., and at the highest occupancy have 10-18 shifts a day.
Some are picked for “concierge school,” in which they take a 15-page test which puts them in various situations to see how well they cope under pressure. (At one point while I was at the desk, they also dealt gracefully with three honeymooning couples, a complaining couple, and an elderly couple.) Those who pass, get to wear the prestigious Clef d’Or badge as a sign of their high standard of service. To qualify for the test they must have worked for five years as a lobby concierge, be sponsored by two members of the association and be supported by the general manager.
Traveling with kids? Get advice in our Family Travel section.
For family travel ideas, try Taking the Kids: Family Voluntourism.
And don’t miss a Traveling Mom’s Tips on Easy, Family-Friendly Vacations.
By Margot Black for PeterGreenberg.com.