Frequent travelers usually know where—and how—to get the best service.
But when you add a toddler into the mix, not every hotel can satisfy a demanding traveler’s needs.
Margot Black set out on a short family getaway and put the hotel’s concierges to the test to see how they measured up.
San Diego Bay has never looked quite as inviting as the day I checked into the Loews Coronado Bay Resort ready for a weekend of R&R. Never an easy task with a husband and toddler in tow.
Loews has long been considered one of the more family-oriented hotels, and the front-desk staff at the hotel started off on the right foot by handing my toddler a complimentary Etch-a-Sketch. Still, all those family-friendly accolades are quite a reputation to live up to, so along with my ever-so-demanding family (all well trained by yours truly, of course), I was determined to put the hotel—and its concierge staff—to the test.
This particular hotels sits on a 15-acre peninsula, a short walk from Silver Strand beach and offering a tsunami of activities that we couldn’t possibly hope to do in one weekend —although we were determined to give it a try.
There’s pizza making, family movie screenings, bayside marshmallow roasts, an “Adopt-A-Tomato” healthy children’s menu, swimming lessons and a kids club, which organizes scavenger hunts. For the grown ups there are gondola rides, tennis courts, and 80-slip private marina, a surfing academy, and a bevvy of outdoor activities.
For those able to muster the energy to leave the grounds, the hotel is within easy driving distance of many family favorites like SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo and Legoland.
Who mans the desk?
One word: Gordie. This fabulous, larger-than-life concierge is so invested in his job that he one time took a guest’s urine sample to the local hospital. Now that’s what I call dedication above and beyond the call of duty.
Gordie has been at the Loews for almost three years and was partnered during my stay by Jason, an extremely competent concierge who gives out great advice, and new girl Violeta, who had been at the job for three weeks (I didn’t test her because that wouldn’t have been fair).
Between the three of them all bases were covered although it was the well-groomed Jason who did most of the organizing for me.
I bombarded him with questions ranging from “Can you help me rent a sailboat” to “Would you change our dinner reservation time?” and “How do we book swimming lessons?”
He took everything in stride. The boat question was the perfect example of how to be a good concierge. After seeing the ocean, my 2-year-old son, Jett, kept repeating, “Boat, boat, boat,” prompting my inquiry about renting a sailboat.
But Jason summed up the situation and said, “Too many moving parts.”
So we ended up booking, and enjoying, a gondola ride session. I asked Jason later what he thought made a good concierge and he responded, “Customer service, but you also really have to learn to listen.” He did just that and was spot on.
Sitters, pizzas and marshmallow roasts
We settled into the hotel the first evening with a game of family Bingo (might sound cheesy but was really fun). The next morning we were up early and Jason had reserved us a bike ride on a surrey, so helmets firmly in place, we went for a tour around the peninsula.
No time to stop, it was on to pizza-making, hands down the most fun I’ve ever had at a hotel activity, followed by our gondola ride.
Later, at the marshmallow roast (Jett loved holding his marshmallows over the open flame—closely supervised, of course), we met our sitter, Maureen.
I had specifically requested an older woman and Jason came up trumps as she was an experienced mother of two, with three grandchildren. She also turned up with a suitcase full of toys. Gold stars all round.
Maureen works for Marion’s Childcare which specializes in nanny care for hotels around San Diego. By booking her services, starting from $17 an hour, my husband and I were able to take advantage of the resort’s restaurant, Mistral.
Though exhausted, there was no way I was going to miss out on a meal from Michelin-starred chef Patrick Ponsaty, nor was I going to bring my young son into that environment. Instead, he had fun with the sitter (after coming down from his s’mores overload) and the next morning was happy and rested enough to test the hotel’s breakfast buffet in the Market Café with his parents.
Prada shoes and helicopter pads
The life of a concierge is never dull. Gordie, who was happy to play with our son as we talked, told me about the time he’d lent his Prada shoes to a groom, who realized at the last minute that his footwear didn’t match his suit. Test over!
Gordie, who has been in guest services for more than 13 years, has seen a lot of his people return time and time again and particularly likes organizing romantic events, and he’s even there for the proposals that don’t go so well, making sure to call up to whoever has been on the receiving end of the wrong answer. He’s also been shopping with clients and notes that the secret of a good concierge is being approachable and having plenty of sleep.
Jason’s most out-there request was from a guest who wanted to know where to land his helicopter. Newer to the industry but equally enthusiastic, Jason was a corpsman in the navy, and then became a nurse, he left his last healthcare job to work in the hotel industry; he has a warmth and a compassion that makes him a natural at the job, and I was particularly impressed by his constant sense of tranquility and common sense.
Next time I go back, I would like to put concierge Violeta to the test … I’m hoping she’ll have a pair of Prada shoes I could borrow.
By Margot Black for PeterGreenberg.com. Visit Margot on the Web at www.blackinktravelwriting.com.
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