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As part of our Seoul Hotel Series this week, we continue with TPG Managing Editor Eric’s review of the Grand Hyatt Seoul. Other posts include reviews of the Park Hyatt Seoul and the W Seoul Walkerhill.
I spent my first night in Seoul way out east in the Walkerhill district at the W. For my second night, I migrated back towards the center of the city to the Grand Hyatt in Yongsan, a popular choice among TPG readers thanks to its central location and great city views, perched, as it is, on the wooded slopes of Namsan Park above the busy streets of the Itaewon district.
The hotel is up a winding road that meanders through neighborhoods with mostly houses and a few shops, cafes and restaurants sprinkled here and there. The first impression is of the enormous lobby with floor to ceiling windows that overlook the buildings of Itaewon far below, the Han River and Gangnam in the distance.
While impressive, the lobby feels distinctly mid-1990’s in aesthetic – basically everything looks a little threadbare and tired at this point. There is a huge lounge where you can grab drinks, tea or a bite to eat and in the evenings there is live music.
The hotel is enormous with 601 rooms and suites, half of which have views of the city and the Han River, and the other half have park and mountain views. I had reserved a Grand King (there is one lower category of Grand Queen) room for the rate of 175,000 South Korean Won (about $160). When I checked in, my room was supposed to be a mountain view room on the 14th floor, but I asked if any river view ones – which are normally more expensive – available and was told that I could have one on the 11th floor, so I took it.
If I had reserved using Hyatt Gold Passport points, I would have needed 15,000 points since this is a category 4 property (like the Park Hyatt), but that would have netted me less than 1.6 cents per point in value, so I just paid instead.
Because the room was being credited to TPG’s Hyatt Diamond account, I was also given access to the Club Lounge (and free internet access as well as breakfast), though my room wasn’t on one of the club floors.
My Grand King room was 30 square meters (about 330 square feet), but it felt a bit cramped. The king bed took up a fairly big portion of the room, while along the panoramic windows, there was a narrow light oak desk with a weird round table attachment that protruded out into the room and took up a lot of space, and then a TV stand in the corner with a flatscreen and DVD player, with the wooden minibar with fridge and food drawer along the adjacent wall next to a charcoal-gray loveseat and a small round wooden coffee table.
The marble bathroom with frosted glass and mirrored walls was a study in space efficiency with just one sink in the glass countertop and a shower-tub combo on the other side of the toilet. I’m not a big guy, but if I spread my arms all the way out, I could have reached from one wall to the other in both directions.
My main issue was that the bed was surprisingly hard. The ones at the Park Hyatt felt like sandbags, but this one was pure bedrock. If you like a really stiff mattress, you’re in luck, but if you have any back issues, you probably want to avoid this hotel.
The other problem was that the air conditioning didn’t work properly, and it wasn’t just in my room since I heard other guests complaining about their rooms in the elevator as well. I turned the thermostat down to 20 degrees Celsius, but the room was almost stifling and the windows didn’t open, so I was stuck in a balmy setting.
The Club Lounge
Not that I spent much time in my room. In the evening, I took my computer with me and headed up to the Club Lounge on the 15th floor. There are actually two Club Lounges – the other is on the 17th floor. Both are comprised of a few separate rooms with tables and chairs or banquettes with a wall of windows overlooking the river. The one on the 15th floor has a small business center as well.
Guests with club access can come for breakfast, snacks and hot drinks throughout the day, and then canapés and cocktails in the evening from 5:30-7:30pm, and desserts after that. It was quite busy in the evening with very few free seats, and most folks seemed to stick around for hours at a time.
The breakfast in the morning was your usual smattering of continental offerings including yogurt and muesli, some cheeses, cold cuts and smoked salmon, and then the choice of 2 hot dishes including poached eggs with spinach and hollandaise.
The hotel has a total of eight restaurants and three bar-lounges. The lobby lounge was busy every time I walked through since it serves drinks and snacks all day. The hotel also has a European restaurant called The Paris Grill, Akasaka for sushi and teppanyaki and Tenkai for Japanese-style grilled meats and seafood, the Terrace restaurant for buffet breakfast, a poolside barbeque open in the summer times at the hotel’s outdoor pool, the sprawling JJ Mahoney’s pub-style steakhouse and restaurant, the JJ Deli for sandwiches, salads and pizzas, and then the Paris Bar for views of the city and cocktails, and Helicon, a small “song bar” karaoke lounge in the hotel.
Rather than eat at the hotel, I walked downhill for 10 minutes, passing several cozy-looking restaurants in the mostly residential neighborhood along the way, and ate at a Korean bbq place in Itaewon.
The hotel also has a pretty large spa with the usual array of treatments, though it’s often noted as one of the nicest Korean spas in the city, and a huge fitness center called Club Olympus that has outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, a gym, an aerobics room, an ice skating rink in winter (December-February), and large locker room facilities for both men and women with sauna and steam rooms.
While I really liked the location up on the hill of Namsan and all the city views the hotel boasted, being where it is, it’s actually a bit difficult to get to the Grand Hyatt. You pretty much have to take a taxi anywhere since there’s no nearby subway, and the roadways of Namsan Park can get congested at busy times of day, meaning it takes forever to get up to where the Hyatt is. That said, it was still way better than trekking out to the W, and it was easier to get to the city’s tourist sights than when staying at the Park Hyatt in the far reaches of Gangnam.
The surrounding area of Itaewon, though lively and with tons of restaurants and shops, is more of a commercial expat district than an authentic Korean neighborhood, so it feels a bit bland.
The hotel’s small rooms and outdated amenities including the furniture and those unbelievably hard beds all made my stay feel pretty unremarkable, though as with the other properties, the service was really sterling, with everyone I met bending over backwards to help me get whatever or wherever I needed – and the three different concierges I consulted each helped me plan out my days and evenings patiently and in great detail, which made my stay a lot more pleasant.
In the end, if you are looking to earn some Hyatt stays but don’t want to splurge on a room at the Park Hyatt, or you just want to be in a bit more central of a location and don’t mind a smaller room, then the Grand Hyatt might be the right choice for you.
Pros: Good central location, low room rate, great views of the city, excellent club lounge amenities.
Cons: Requires same amount of points as far-nicer Park Hyatt, hard beds, tiny bathrooms, malfunctioning climate control, no easy access to public transport. Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.
Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.