Arriving in Melbourne after my epic journey Philadelphia – Chicago – Seoul – Singapore, I just wanted to get to the hotel, it was my finish line and would signal that my vacation had begun. The Melbourne airport has a shuttle bus for $16 AUS that would take me to the train station where I would switch to a van to drop me at the hotel (alternative was a $70AUS taxi so I was ok with the transfer). I always love the dichotomy of my travels – award ticket in business class to the airport shuttle to the 5 star hotel, the Sofitel Melbourne at Collins Place. Traveling with my two bag combo (summer in Sydney clothes and winter in Paris), I navigated the bus fine, throwing my bags to the storage area (the smaller van was a bit more work).
The hotel is located at the end of Collins Street (the Paris end) and occupies floors 34-50 of an office building, Collins Place. The hotel private entrance brings you to a circular driveway covered with an I.M Pei canopy for a chic arrival. The shops, restaurants and small movie theatre are on the lower level of the building. All I needed to know was that the French cafe had macaroons/pastries. A tram stop for multiple lines was located across the street (you need to buy a Myki card and reload it if using public transit). The free Melbourne tourist tram was a short walk away. It was an ideal location to explore from as most of the city – Flanders Street with the street art, Federation Square, restaurants aplenty and high end shopping near the hotel and laneways of shops, cafes, malls were only a ten minute walk.
The bellman quickly greeted me and took my bags from the shuttle van, directing me to the lobby up one level for check-in. The front desk staff quickly welcomed me with the standard Sofitel “Bon Jour” which made me smile knowing that in two weeks I’d be in Paris where “Bon Jour” was more appropriate. As it was 11 am before the standard check-in, I was apprehensive if a room would be ready or if I would need to wander the streets. Luckily, a room was available on the 36th floor. I had no points for this stay and sadly accrued no points as my travel agent found a consolidater deal for the rooms (generally points are not accrued when booking via a third party). The entry level room, a King Classic, had city views and was spacious at 390 sq ft. The rates vary but a general starting point is greater than $300 AUS + tax/per night.
Before I went to my room, the front desk girl said, “Good news, your breakfast is discounted to $30 a day”. I was taken aback that the $30 AUS was the discounted price, of course I would ask “what is the normal price” and without skipping a beat or thinking it was expensive she said “Only $47”. Yes, $47 AUS for breakfast buffet – at that price I would want to steal lunch and a bit of dinner from the buffet. In addition, the lobby provided 30 mins of free internet per day otherwise the in-room charge was “only $39AUS”. At this point, I was giddy with sarcasm as the “only” was funny – I said “would you pay that if not on an expense account?” We all know the answer to that.
With a bank of six elevators, I quickly found my room on 36. The gym was also on my floor and the hotel had an inner atrium with the restaurants on 34 and atrium bar on 35 right outside and below my room (surprisingly it was quiet despite the noisy crowds during my stay).
One of the biggest complaints about business (and personal) travel to Australia is the lack of free internet in the hotels. The Sofitel Melbourne provides 30 minutes complimentary internet in the lobby and charges $39 per day for internet in the room. This is outrageous but on par with other hotels. Heck, even Starbucks required a purchase to get 20 minutes (I had to order a cupcake, it was torture :-). I tipped the bellman $5AUS when he delivered my bags. He asked if I had any questions. I said “where can I find free internet”, he said “downstairs in Collins Place food court” – this was the best tip ever! I would then test the strength of the Collins Place internet and found that the Sofitel lobby sofas nearest the windows were able to hop on the free internet at Collins Place so I spent a few hours at the end of the day (time differences) on Twitter chats, social media and online check-in.
As I entered the room, I was happy to see the classic clean lines of the contemporary design. It had a very good welcoming feel as the King “So” bed was the feathery soft bed that I love at Sofitel – it’s like falling into a pile of soft pillows. It SO wonderful, SO comfortable, SO soft, SO much better than an airline seat and SO many other things. The bed had a tray of welcome materials. I quickly went to the windows to open the wooden doors shutters (a nice touch) and looked out at my view of the buildings and beyond.
The room was quick spacious with an entry closet (yeah slippers! and an umbrella I would use a lot), mini bar/coffee area, entertainment area, two chairs to relax, a desk and full length mirror. It was definitely a room that you didn’t want to leave – you can easily stay here, order room service, watch a movie and be happy.
Without turning on a light, the bathroom had a motion sensor that turned the soft shadow of lights on underneath the mirror (very cool feature at night). The marble tub and vanity were just as expected, that is to say soothing and pleasant. The toiletries were not the standard L’Occitane but luxury Lanvin.
Room Service is offered 24 hours a day and after my very long tour of the Great Ocean Road, I was happy that I could order food at 10 pm without issue. The food was quick to arrive and very good (I didn’t care about the price as I was famished but let’s say I wish I had the breakfast discount!).
I rarely ever use the hotel laundry service but given that I was not wearing my summer Sydney clothes due to the unusually cold and rainy weather, I needed to launder a few items. I filled out the slip and when I returned later that day, my clothes were returned in a gorgeous brown leather box wrapped in tissue paper (I think the box and paper cost more than the clothes being laundered). It was really a luxury service and presentation.
The discounted $30 Breakfast Buffet
The views of the city are incredible from the 34th floor – I could see Federation Square, the waterfront and park from most windows which were floor to ceiling.
I had to wait each morning to be seated (not sure why I couldn’t just find my own seat as it wasn’t crowded when I visited but oh well, everyone has their procedures).
The buffet offered four long tables of food, a bread table, hot stations as well as the cooked to order area of the kitchen. The bread table was tempting but this being a French hotel chain, I opted for the croissants (many, many croissants) with a side of peanut butter (let’s pretend this was the healthy protein part of breakfast) and was hoping for good bananas (most were old spotted – they got better during the week). The servers offered coffee/tea and would bring juice but despite an empty restaurant were not that attentive after the first go round. Given that my tours would leave early most days (before local cafes would open), I ended up with the early morning breakfast a few days. A highlight of the Sofitel breakfast buffet is the pastry table – cake for breakfast is a wonderful thing especially if you follow my “no calorie on vacation” mantra.
Prior to arrival, the concierge team was fantastic to provide recommendation for the city. As I was unable to book either the walking or bike tour (due to being solo) for the next day (Sunday), the concierge was able to book a wine tour for me just under the 5pm wire. He gave me two brochures of the Yarra Valley wine tours he had done – when I asked the difference, he said one winery and $80. Which should I do? He said go with the cheaper tour for $120 as four wineries and lunch was sufficient and use the savings to buy some wine or have a nice dinner. Perfect reasoning.
On a second day of rain, the concierge gave me a free admission pass (the hotel was a sponsor of the fashion exhibit) at the National Gallery of Victoria. The restaurant recommendations were also spot on good. I was very happy with the Concierge team at the Sofitel Melbourne.
The Sofitel Melbourne is a wonderful, luxury, city property. It was definitely carefree luxury from start to finish and succeeded in making me feel welcome at all times (except the spotty bananas which were disappointing). As the rates start at $300AUS, I would recommend you look for deal online with Sofitel/Accor or ask your travel agent if there are consolidator options available. It is a hotel that I loved and hope that you do too.