This is the eighth in a series of posts chronicling my January 2018 trip to Colombia. You can read an overview/preview here.
After my disappointing Intercontinental Medellin stay, overall, I was generally pleased with my stay at the Intercontinental Cartagena, which was more in line with what I expect from Intercontinentals. On the plus side, the hotel is beautiful, my room was great, and all of the Ambassador benefits I was supposed to get were provided without me having to ask – and then some. On the other hand, there were some definite service issues and one very odd feature I will get to in a bit. Of the two hotels I stayed in in Cartagena, I probably had a slight preference for the Hyatt Regency.
The Intercontinental is towards the southern end of Bocagrande, which means its farther away from the Old City. It’s a fairly new, gleaming glass building that stands out. Pulling up, there was some weird construction, and it was hit and miss whether there was anyone to greet me. There’s a small lobby with bellmen on the ground floor, but you then have to ride up to the 6th Floor to the main lobby and check-in.
I literally waited a full 15 minutes to check in. Standing with my suitcase and a backpack.
What made this particularly unacceptable was that there seemed to be no shortage of hotel staff standing in an office behind the check-in desk schmoozing loudly, and then more at the “Concierge” area 25 feet away doing the same thing. And although there was only one guest ahead of me on line, several people came down and cut the line saying they “Just had a question” which somehow were 5-minute questions.
So that wasn’t a good start. And there was no apology for the wait when I was finally helped. I was, though, told I’d been upgraded to a suite – more than the category upgrade required – and given lounge access, which is not an Ambassador benefit or typically given along with an upgraded room. I was also asked if I’d want points or a drink as my IHG Rewards Club amenity, and then was escorted upstairs to my room.
One thing that struck me about the hotel was that even if the hallways were beautiful. On the way to my room from the elevators was an atrium with a mural depicting the old city and an actual canoe. It was a nice mix of the modern design with local character.
The room itself was gorgeous, and massive. Compared to the “suite” at the Intercontinental Medellin, which was a regular room with a small living room attached, this was a true suite. In the first room there was a half-bath/powder room, a sitting area around a television, a dining table, and a wet-bar setup.
There was a coffee pot and four bottles of water on the wet bar, and then a welcome letter and welcome amenity – a leather wallet with multi-colored lining — were laid out on the dining table.
The second room was a large bedroom, complete with a king-size bed, sofa, desk, and dresser, a walk-in closet, and an insanely huge bathroom. The bathroom had a free standing soaking tub and a walk-in spa shower, double sinks, and a separate W/C. It also was fully stocked with toiletries, including shaving and dental kits, which were absent in the Intercontinental Medellin.
Both the living room and bedroom had floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the pool, beach and Caribbean Sea. There were hardwood floors throughout, and the design was grey and blue, very appropriate of a modern oceanfront hotel.
After check-in I headed back down to the sixth floor, hoping to talk to the concierge and get some information about taxis and dinner, but alas I went into the “Concierge Café” and there was a woman there on the phone. She hung up the phone….and proceeded to walk right past me and not return. The pool area was nice, though not that large. It was too cool my first day, but my second day I did use it and it’s nice to be able to swim right up to the edge of the building.
The Club Intercontinental lounge on the 15th Floor was perhaps the highlight of the property, but also where I saw some of the weirdest stuff. The staff there was incredible, remembering my name and going out of their way to make sure everything was great. The views were actually better from my room, but there is a section with restaurant-style seating on one side, and then what I’d call “living room”-style seating on the other. In the evening, the hors d’ouevres were more than sufficient to make a dinner- and indeed that’s what I did on day one. On night one, there were short rib arepas, potato cakes, and a variety of canapes, snacks, and desserts. On night two, there were some wraps, sausage and a yummy fried vegetable thing. Liquor and soft drinks were self-serve, and the attendants served wine.
The welcome letter had said there was a dress code in the lounge – no shorts or flip-flops – which I abided by the first night. But it didn’t seem enforced as there was a British couple wearing just that, so I didn’t worry about it. Now the weird thing was at breakfast. So, Cartagena is one of the prostitution capitals of the world, unfortunately. As one way to deal with this, hotels require registration of “overnight guests.” And indeed, at one point when I was waiting at the front desk to deal with something, a man did check in his “overnight guest” who seemed to know the drill well. Well, at breakfast on my first morning, there were a total of five people in the lounge- me, and two men each with their overnight guests. You could tell by the age differential, the language differential, and the outfits of the women. It was weird, as the men were not quiet talkers, so I heard the entire conversations. I guess it means that these sex workers were being treated relatively well and safe, which I guess is good. (I should note I am actually not opposed to sex work in general, but in situations like this, there are concerns of economic and other coercion.)
As for the food, it was okay – I had to help myself to coffee from a machine that could only do one cup at a time, so there was a wait. The buffet on day one had scrambled eggs, bacon, cereal, breads, cheese, meat, and fruit. On day two, there was no eggs (but maybe that was because it was earlyish?).
Some other random stuff: the power went out one morning for about 30 minutes while I was getting ready, and then again while I was in the elevator, which, um, was fun? After being out all day until 2pm on my second day, the room still hadn’t been serviced, which is too late. My welcome fruit and mineral water also did not come on my first day, and I had to ask for it at about 2:45pm on Day 2 – it didn’t come until 5:30pm. And then checkout was ridiculous. I had to wait about five minutes, and then they only had a bellhop handling it – so I didn’t feel comfortable expressing my concerns about some of the service stuff to him. They also then made me wait while they sent someone up to the room to check the minibar, which took a full five minutes, which is stupid.
Overall the Intercontinental Cartagena was fine, just not great, despite the beautiful room. My next post will review the Hyatt Regency Cartagena up the beach, where I had just a regular room and no lounge access, but just had a warmer feeling.