Hotel Review: Deluxe Sea View With Balcony at the InterContinental Carlton Cannes
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I hadn't planned to visit Cannes when I'd booked my flight to Nice (NCE) for a winter visit, choosing instead to stay with friends in nearby Villefranche-sur-Mer. But while I was doing research for another piece, I found myself on the IHG.com site and curious about which properties had moved to their newest highest-tier redemption category, Category 11. It turned out that one of them was in Cannes! (Since then, more properties have been added to the highest level.)
This is how I did it, and how I liked it.
I wasn't eager to spend 60,000 of my precious points (especially when some terrific properties can be booked for just 5,000 points), but then I remembered that as a holder of the IHG® Rewards Club Select credit card, I was entitled to an annual bonus: one free night at an IHG property anywhere around the world. Was it possible a night was available at such a fancy property between Christmas and New Year's? Could it really be free? Would it be worth a detour?
Booking a free night on IHG.com was a lot like any other points redemption, but with a couple critical extra steps. Clicking on the button to use a free night led me to the usual booking page, but now when I selected drop-down rates menu, I could see a new option checked: Chase Anniversary Free Night.
Lo and behold, a choice of rooms came up for my preferred dates, including a standard room accompanied by the most beautiful word in travel: FREE. I could see the cash price for the room crossed out: 300 euros (a little over $350). Considering the annual fee for the card was $49, this lined up to be a terrific value.
I put in all my details and clicked through to finalize the booking. And then ... I got an error message saying, "Offer code is required to book Special Nights." Did that mean I was blacked out after all? I couldn't figure it out, so I called IHG, but a representative couldn't figure it out either. Fortunately, she was able to complete the booking for me, and within a few minutes I received my email confirmation.
I took the train in from Villefranche-sur-Mer through Nice, which would have been about $8, but since I put it on my Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, it was free with my annual $300 travel credit. After an hour or so on the train, I was happy to walk the 12 minutes to the hotel, passing a store for every ultra-expensive brand I could think of. ("Walk toward the water, take a left at Prada, past Harry Winston, and when you see Hermés you're almost there.") Had I come in from the Nice airport, a shuttle bus could have taken me to a nearby stop for 22 euros; a private taxi quoted me 80 euros.
This hotel is iconic for a reason. Close your eyes and imagine a luxury hotel in Cannes and you'll probably picture the Carlton. Actually, you've probably seen it already in movies like To Catch a Thief, in the papers as the host for a G20 summit and on TV as a hotspot for the Cannes Film Festival. Regal, elegant, and bold — and that was just the exterior.
Inside, 343 rooms and suites, restaurants, bars, meeting rooms and even more fancy stores, all of it situated on the Boulevard de la Croisette and complete with its own boat dock on the bay. I guessed more guests arrive by boat than walk in from the train station, as no one was at the pedestrian entrance to open the door or offer to help with luggage.
I checked in at 3:10pm, was welcomed as a Spire Elite member (free in-room Wi-Fi! Free New York Times!), and was told that my room was not ready. Actually, the room I'd booked was ready, but I was promised a "big upgrade" if I'd come back after 4:00pm. I could get my promised standard room facing the street now or wait an hour and get a Deluxe Sea View With Balcony. The desk staff urged me to wait, but to be back before 5:00pm so I could watch the sunset from my balcony. I took their advice. I also took the advice of the concierge, who booked a table on the beach at a restaurant across the street.
I returned around 4:30pm and was happy to see that my room was ready and my luggage had already been delivered there.
I was excited for my "big upgrade" and a little disappointed when I saw the room. While comfy and cozy, with muted tones and soft surfaces, it felt overstuffed for its size. It's nice to have an extra chair, but not nice to have to move it to open the closet or one of the balcony doors. There was barely enough room to roll my suitcase between the end of the bed and open doors of the TV/bar console.
I also found some damage to the room that wasn't trip-ruining, but certainly tarnished the five-star image: peeling paint, chipped glass countertops and a bathroom door handle that fell to the floor as soon as I turned it. (A technician came to fix it less than five minutes after I called.)
What worked wonderfully was the view from the balcony, and being there as the sun set was indeed worth the wait. A small metal cafe table with two chairs proved to be a fantastic workspace — until the floodlights came on to illuminate the facade and eliminate the dusky vibe I'd been enjoying.
Back in the room, I took in the layout. The bed dominated the room, with a small desk tucked in a corner. Mirrored doors covered a small TV, minibar (with ridiculously overpriced offerings), coffeemaker, shelves and drawers. Another door opened to a small closet with ironing board and iron and slippers. The nightstands offered magazines.
The Wi-Fi worked well throughout the hotel, though I had to enter my credentials every time I returned to the hotel. Speeds were decent uploading and downloading.
The bathroom (now that I could open and close the door) was quite impressive. While not massive, the bathtub was solid and roomy, and the water temperature and pressure of the shower were downright luxurious (as were the provided bathrobes and oversized towels). All the marble and mirrors added to the sense of elegance.
The illuminated magnifying makeup/shaving mirror would have been great if it hadn't been missing a lightbulb — certainly not a tragedy but a detail a world-class hotel shouldn't miss. The room had extras like hair dryers, mood lighting, fancy bath accessories and complimentary shoeshine.
After a night of fine French cuisine (and just enough French wine), I was delighted to find that the bed was incredibly comfortable, and happily the heavy curtains blocked out all the light, whether sun or flood. Before dozing off, I checked the hotel website to see what the cash price for the room was. When I saw 841.50 euros ($989), I had two reactions: 1) I am incredibly lucky to get this for free, and 2) I'd be furious if I'd paid that much for this place.
While I recognize that a five-star hotel in Cannes is not the place to seek out bargains, some of the prices were so high as to be comical. Once I saw the 10-euro ($11.75) price for a Coke from the minibar, I knew I'd be snacking elsewhere. Add in what non-IHG member guests had to pay for in-room Wi-Fi (25 to 200 euros, or $29 to $235 per day!), and you could imagine a very robust expense report for those here on business. Fortunately, I was able to avoid all of it, and I was pleased to find no additional fees or charges (especially the dreaded resort fee) on my bill at check-out, save for the 1.80 euros (about $2) in mandatory city tax.
If you're going to charge like that, though, the product should deliver. The TV shouldn't be blurry with ghosted images burned into the screen, the light switches should all work, the balcony table shouldn't have oil stains on it. (And these were in addition to the imperfections I've already mentioned.) I would expect this kind of thing at a Motel 6, not at an InterContinental — and especially not for more than $800 a night. How much is a view worth, really?
Food and Beverage
The hotel hosted a popular bar, a restaurant and (in season) a beach restaurant, offering all sorts of local cuisine in pretty settings. With a DJ booth at night and a breakfast bar in the morning, the Carlton Restaurant adapted to diners' needs. Both the bar and restaurant seemed at capacity on a Friday night. The bar was lovely, but people were paying over $14 for a soda. My wallet thanked me when I decided not to indulge in food or drink inside the hotel. Instead, like I mentioned, the concierge booked a table for me at a nearby restaurant.
Make no mistake, this was an exceptionally well-appointed hotel in its public spaces. Turn a corner and see suites named for Michael Douglas, Cary Grant and Greta Garbo. Walk down a hall and find sofas and side tables that wouldn't be out of place in a French chateau.
Look down the staircases and marvel at the marble steps and brass railings. Wait for a restaurant host next to a shiny grand piano. Sip your cocktail next to an aquarium. And all over: fresh flowers, divine chandeliers and subtle lighting and colors. It was not uncommon to see people snapping photos with the facade or the lobby as a background (maybe they couldn't fit in their rooms).
Even the fitness center (with adjoining spa) was pretty. Complimentary for guests, it was among the nicest facilities I'd seen in any hotel. The equipment was clean or brand-new: treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes, yoga mats and exercise balls, full weight sets. Whatever your workout, you could do it here with the aid of free fruit, towels and water, and it was open 24 hours a day.
Off the lobby, a small business center sported two computers and the usual array of printers, copiers and the like. (They charged you to print out your boarding pass.) Down a hall of the bar, meeting rooms and ballrooms buzzed with activity.
What you ultimately got for the money (or for the free-night redemption) was a place where they took service seriously. Every bellboy and maid greeted me with a "Bonsoir, Monsieur." Minutes after the door handle was repaired, I received a call to make sure it was done right. When I rated my check-in and arrival a three out of five (room not ready, no help with luggage, broken door), I got a call from the manager apologizing and asking if there were anything they could do for me. When I arrived at the restaurant the concierge had booked, I was greeted by name and given the best table in the place. The shoes I sent for a complimentary shine were picked up and returned before I had time to put on new socks.
With all the glamour of a Hollywood movie set in the South of France, this hotel should have wowed, but instead came up short almost everywhere besides the service and the view. Yes, the balcony afforded amazing sights, and the staff was top-notch, but the furniture and fixtures were shopworn, the room was cramped, and the prices were ridiculously inflated even by the norms of the French Riviera.
Despite my initial reaction and experience with the room, the place did grow on me. Seeing the pretty view in the morning, I didn't want to leave. It's undoubtedly a nice place to visit; I just wouldn't want to pay to live there.
Images by the author.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Chase Sapphire Preferred card offers a $300 annual travel credit. In fact, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card does. The story has been amended.