I’m not posh – there are no two ways to say that. It’s not that I’m a complete Bogan (although that wouldn’t be that much of a stretch at times), I’m just not one to stand on ceremony and I prefer to call a spade a digging stick. So it may come as something of a surprise that I’m writing this from the recliner beside the pool bar of that Sheraton Noosa Resort and Spa in Queensland. That’s right, a five-star, luxury hotel. If only they knew who they’d let in! Obviously, I’ve never checked into this level of comfort before and, in a number of ways, it goes against my natural tendencies as a traveller. That said I’m not above a bit of pampering so long as it’s in pursuit of a new experience.
The situation that resulted in my reclining, resplendent beside the swim-up bar was the result of chance and a fortnight of frenetic exploration. After our Tasmanian adventure (more on that later, and in last week’s blog:https://einsteinsbarbershop.wordpress.com/2015/04/17/home-ground-disadvantage/) and a busy schedule of family and friend visits as required on any trip ‘home’, we really needed a day off to relax (apparently that’s what some people do when they are on holiday – go figure!). I have tried this before by spending a week at the four star (and particularly enjoyable) Warwick Fiji Resort and Spa, and I found that any more than three or four days ‘relaxation’ becomes more like incarceration and cabin fever sets in – well, I start looking for an escape from the escape at least. Two days in the sun on the Sunshine Coast, however should be doable, right? I grew up in the area anyway, and living by the unforgiving, shark-filled, jagged (but still brilliant) WA coastline, I was looking forward to some easy, fun waves. It also helped that I had some friends in Brisbane queued up to join us for a meal if boredom reared its head.
We flew in from Hobart and busied ourselves with family visits, a wedding and a few drop-ins on friends, all the while negotiating in hushed tones how we might escape that cycle and shirk our familial responsibilities. After a quick web search, we found ourselves at www.lastminute.com looking at varying levels of budget accommodation throughout the Sunshine Coast. There was no shortage, and we argued into the night about the balance between cost, location and luxury until I stumbled upon the secret hotels options. The deal ran thus; Pay for a five-star hotel, sight unseen in a particular area (in this case, the heart of Noosa) and be guaranteed a significantly discounted luxury experience. We Googled five-star hotels in the area and it seemed to check out… Not the 70% advertised as a maximum perhaps, but still well below the going rates in the area during an Easter school holiday period. Considering the cost of other, less starry locations, we took the risk and clicked the mouse. Minutes later (after an internet connection-based false start where the www.lastminute.com staff were more than accommodating) we received our confirmation along with the location for which we had so trustingly released our meagre funds.
Before going ahead we had narrowed the possibilities down to two and we were not disappointed with our allocation (although we were really in a win-win situation with the choices that Noosa, a favourite haunt of mine, has to offer). Regardless, I immediately found my way to Trip Advisor to troll through the reviews and I spent a fair period of time reading the responses of former guests (mostly positive and when otherwise, well fielded by the hotel’s managing director). Two days later we had escaped our traveller responsibilities and we found ourselves pulling into the entrance of our first ever five-star hotel.
My only frame of reference for accommodation of this sort is the stereotyped impression I have gleaned from years of watching Bond films and American television, so I wondered how my expectations really stacked up to reality. I was certainly most intrigued to find out what luxury actually felt like. The first thing I noticed was that we were offered choices. The concierge asked if we required our luggage ported (in the movies this is a given) – there was no charge, and we didn’t want to lug our bags around – so all was well. Next we were offered off street parking ($25) or valet service ($35), which was the first sign the my impression of five-star service from the silver screen was not as all-inclusive as Mr Bond had led me to believe. I assume that the parking cost (along with the internet being a paid option) allow lower room prices at a time when value for money is of paramount important to consumers, but it did feel a little like and extra dip into my hip pocket (another likely option is that Noosa is lacking in space, particularly on Hastings Street, so a parking fee helps keep the Sheraton car park available to those who would not even notice such a fee). We took the self parking option only in fear of incurring the wrath of the $5000 excess that applied to any damage to our hire car and move on to the check in desk.
Jamaica, who organised our room was polite, pleasant and helpful (and appeared to work all hours) and we sent on our way with a free upgrade to a level three river view suite and a free drink each to mark our arrival – the pittance for parking suddenly seemed less concerning (these little touches were, I understand, perks of the Starwood Preferred Guest Membership card mafia that we had joined the previous day). All in all the experience within the first hour was pleasant, but never flashy or invasive, which I imagine is the idea. There were a few touches that were lovely, such as a personalised message when we flicked on the TV and a letter outlining our membership privileges signed again by Jamaica. Other things we noticed however – a staff member subtly choosing not to enter the elevator with us (presumably to spare us the awkward silence) seemed pointless – partly because a smile can defuse almost any such situation, but mostly because the idea that staff should be invisible is not important to us (although I understand such a practice might be expected by some of the hotel’s clientele).
Purveyors of luxury must be in a tough spot these days as I’m sure they have to walk a fine line between appropriately pampering their clients with services and developing an image of corporate environmental responsibility. My investigations into the hotel suggested that sheets were only changed by request, and I assumed that cost or environmental awareness was the explanation. As it turned out, our towels were replaced, and bed was made without our request – again something that would not have concerned us either way. Foregoing the daily replacement of sheets is – to me – a fantastic idea in terms of saving water and labour, although it was bemoaned by some reviewers on Trip Advisor.
The top feature of the Sheraton in Noosa, however, had little to do with luxury or pampering (although the chain’s renowned sheets and bed comfort was gratefully noted). The location on Hastings Street between the river and Noosa Main Beach could hardly have been better, and Sheraton clearly knows this, situating the hotel’s main bar and restaurant on the street and choosing understated (yet stylish) décor for their recent refurbishment. The hotel was clearly designed to take advantage of the prime real estate on which it sits, facilitating excellent access to Noosa’s famed shopping and seaside vistas. I did have a few excellent beers and a pleasant chat to staff and guests at the swim up bar, but my memories of my first five-star experience will always be tied to our day surfing Noosa Heads, or the impromptu gig played outside Zachary’s Pizza by Sun Salute (on tour from the Whitsundays) and, of course, the brilliant view from our room. That should absolutely not be taken as a criticism of our stay because, after all – that’s why we were there!