The Jekyll and Hyde of Service: A Review of the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem
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Jerusalem is a stunning city rich with history. But even though there’s plenty to see, there aren’t many points hotels to go along with the sights. On a recent trip to the city, I wanted to check out one of the only points options and one of the most luxurious properties in Israel: the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem.
The 226-room hotel opened in 2014, after an estimated $150 million project that renovated the historic Palace Hotel. In December 2017, the property was sold for $160 million to a French businessman, Michel Ohayon. The property will be operated by the new owner, though it will continue to be a part of the Hilton portfolio.
The Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem is a member of the Hilton Honors program. As one of the luxury brands in the Honors portfolio, Waldorf Astoria offers travelers a premium experience, but you’ll need to fork over more in the form of cash or points.
If you’re looking to redeem points to stay at the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem, it’ll cost you 95,000 Honors points per night. Based on TPG’s most recent valuations, if I were to have paid entirely with points — as opposed to Hilton’s Points & Money option —the 95,000 points per night would’ve been equivalent to $570 per night.
Rather than pay with points, I decided to pay with cash for my stay at a rate of $524 per night plus tax. I paid for my stay with Chase Sapphire Preferred Card to earn 2x points on travel — plus no foreign-transaction fees. Because I don’t yet have its sister card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Preferred is my go-to for non-airfare travel purchases. In all, the $1,227 stay earned me 2,453 points, worth $52.
If you’re looking to get more out of your stay, the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem is also part of the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts program, available as a benefit with the Platinum Card® from American Express, its Business Platinum® Card from American Express and the Centurion Card. By booking through the FHR portal, you’re entitled to benefits such as guaranteed late checkout, a room upgrade when available, daily breakfast for two people, and more.
I arrived at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport (TLV) around 6:45am, and after a short and painless immigration process, I headed outside to find transportation to Jerusalem. Because I took a shared taxi to the city and was one of the last passengers dropped off (it took about 90 minutes, but it would’ve been an hour in my own cab), I got to the Waldorf Astoria around 9:30am.
The hotel sat in central Jerusalem, within walking distance of the Old City; the Jaffa Gate was less than 10 minutes away by foot. Also close by were Mamilla Mall, the Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem and Dormition Abbey.
Upon walking into the front door of the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem, I was immediately greeted by a bright, open lobby. If a bellhop hadn’t directed me to the front desk, I could’ve easily gotten lost. The front desk was relatively small, especially compared to the more extravagant lighting fixtures and arched entryways, and tucked away in the corner of the room.
Knowing I was a bit early to check in, I tried it anyway. The friendly front-desk agent informed me that my room wasn’t ready yet. However, thanks to my Hilton Honors Gold status, which I had as a complimentary benefit of the Amex Platinum Card, he told me that I was getting a room upgrade. The upgrade moved me from one of the lowest-tier rooms the hotel offers, a king superior room, to one of the best non-suite rooms, a king deluxe room with a balcony. The agent said it would be worth the wait.
He let me know that I likely wouldn’t get access to my room until around 1:00pm, then escorted me from the front desk to the hotel’s Palace Restaurant, where breakfast was still being served. While I wasn’t granted a complimentary breakfast, the staff did allow me to have coffee while I worked on my laptop in the restaurant before my room was ready.
At check-in, I was given two drink vouchers for being a Gold member. I ended up using both of them during my stay in the King’s Court restaurant on a fantastic ginger-infused drink. The Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem definitely started off on a good note, service-wise.
As part of its renovation and opening in 2014, Israeli architect Yehuda Feigin highlighted the Roman, Moorish and Arab architecture, which came through strikingly in the lobby. From just a few steps inside, you could see the attention to detail from the renovation: Plenty of natural light illuminated the lobby and the large atrium, large chandeliers hung overhead and light colors made it a warm, welcoming space.
The open-air concept with four-story ceilings and glass panels gave the lobby a light and airy feel. It had plenty of seating, a fountain and great acoustics. You could tell that every aspect of the public space was well-thought-out. Lighting fixtures, plants and the light stone walls made for a luxurious feel. At the rear end of the lobby was a restroom with open sinks. The highlight of the lobby was the beautiful mosaic-tiled floors.
The lobby of the Waldorf Astoria itself was something to see — worth a visit even if you’re only visiting Jerusalem and not staying at the property.
The Waldorf Astoria had elevators where the system assigned you one of four elevators. My room, 405, was on the fourth floor. A glass mezuzah guarded the door.
The small entry hall gave way to the bedroom on one end and the bathroom on the other. Both rooms were suffused with natural light.
The bedroom was on the smaller side. The king-sized bed took up a majority of the room, with a chair and the glass sliding door that gave way to the balcony on one side. At the foot of the bed was a small couch, which I mostly used for storage.
Opposite the bed were the basics on a single vanity — TV, work space and drawers next to the mini-fridge. There was also an iPad to order room service and contact hotel staff.
Although the hotel opened about three years ago, I found parts of it to be noticeably worn. For example, there were stains on the carpet, and some of the fabric — either on the chair, the sofa or elsewhere — had rips. I was pretty surprised, given the recent construction and the rest of the hotel, which looked well-kept.
The sliding door gave way to a nice balcony. Though the desk clerk had told me the view would be worth the wait, it was nothing spectacular — a few red-roofed buildings and not much else. That being said, a balcony is a balcony, and it was a great perk of the room — especially for stays longer than two nights.
There were no traditional light switches in the room. Instead, the entire room was operated by consoles. A nice option on the bedside panels was the do-not-disturb notification for housekeeping: There was no need to get up and place the paper hanger on your door when you could press the button right next to your head. Apparently, the lighting and temperature settings on the consoles could be preset so that the observant wouldn’t have to violate their religious traditions on the sabbath.
Down the small hallway was a narrow closet. Although on the smaller side, inside were all the basics — extra bedding, hangers, a luggage rack, slippers and a safe.
The bathroom was the highlight of the room. The two doors gave way to a luxurious soaking tub.
The bathroom itself was extremely well-lit, thanks to the large windows. Thankfully, not only were there curtains, but the windows were fogged to afford privacy while still allowing plenty of light in. The vanity had small his-and-her sinks, and there was a mirror-embedded TV screen.
TPG has his shower test (he’s 6 feet, 7 inches), but I have a hotel test of my own — the hair dryer. As someone with longer hair, I hate when nice hotels offer cheap and weak hair dryers. The Waldorf Astoria passed my hair-dryer test with flying colors — it was plenty powerful and got the job done.
Inside the bathroom were two stalls, one for just the toilet and the other for the shower. The shower was one of the nicer I’d experienced in a hotel — right up there with the Ritz-Carlton in Barcelona. There were two settings, the overhead shower head that definitely passed the TPG shower test, and the handheld shower head.
Overall, the room was very comfortable. Though it was not incredibly spacious, the balcony and the nice shower helped make up for any disappointments.
Food and Beverage
The food at the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem was a huge highlight, and my breakfast came free with my upgrade. (As of Jan. 1, 2018, Hilton offers complimentary breakfast as a choice for Honors Gold and Diamond members at Waldorf Astoria properties.) They put out among the best spreads I’d ever seen in a hotel.
If I hadn’t gotten breakfast comped, it would’ve cost me 155 Israeli shekels (about $44). On the two mornings I was at the properties, I chose the buffet as opposed to a la carte, and I was happy with that decision both times. The spread was extensive, from breads to fresh fruit and nuts and fresh juices.
My favorite, though, was the breakfast spread.
I wanted to compare room service to the buffet. The in-room iPad offered 24/7 access to in-room dining. I had no trouble scanning the menu but did run into trouble adding the items. After about 10 minutes of playing around with it, I opted to just call.
I ordered cauliflower tempura and vegetable pizza with artichokes, eggplant and tomatoes. I found the food to be generally tasty, but one thing that threw me off was the beautiful presentation of the cauliflower next to the cardboard-boxed pizza.
All in all, food was another hit-or-miss aspect of the hotel. The breakfast buffet was the best I’d seen in a hotel — and it was complimentary — but the boxed pizza threw me off.
My room was stocked with plenty of amenities for my stay. When I first got in the room, there was a complimentary bottle of an Israeli blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot. The wine was specially bottled for the Waldorf Astoria and served with a WA-branded corkscrew. It was a nice touch.
There was also a bottle of still water. I finished the first bottle on my first night, and it was restocked the next morning. I always appreciate when a hotel pays attention to details like refilling water when it’s empty.
Also in my room was a bowl of semi-fresh fruit. I ended up not trying any of it, as it didn’t look especially appetizing and like it’d been sitting around for a while. I like a welcome fruit basket, but freshness is a detail you can’t skimp on.
Like with most hotel rooms, there was a mini-fridge, in the cabinet underneath the TV. There was a pretty wide selection of options, including soda, mango juice, Perrier, beer and liquor.
Inside the closet were the standard offerings — laundry basket, shoe amenities and two sets of slippers. For the Waldorf Astoria, I think the slippers were on the flimsy and cheap side.
Bathroom amenities were made by Salvatore Ferragamo, and I found them to be plentiful and useful. Amenities were restocked daily.
Overall, the amenities offered in the room were nice but nothing over the top. The highlight was the complimentary bottle of wine, but the hotel skimped elsewhere, like with the old fruit.
Plus, service throughout the hotel was all over the map. As I mentioned, my check-in experience started my stay off on a good note with a friendly front desk agent. But the first night of my stay, I heard live music outside my door that was so loud that it sounded like the band could have been on the balcony itself. When I approached the concierge the following night to ask where the music was coming from, since I was considering going there as a patron, he rudely brushed off my question. He said that he was unsure if there were any venue of that sort nearby and made no kind of effort to help me find something like it. For a luxury property like the Waldorf, I expected to receive better service.
On the other hand, a different concierge was on hand when I was checking out and headed back to Tel Aviv. This one saw me carrying my stuff and immediately offered assistance, asking if I had transportation already planned. Because I didn’t, he arranged to have a taxi pick me up promptly. The experience was worlds better than what I had to deal with just the night prior.
The biggest service mishap came on my final morning at the property. At about 6:50am, I was startled awake by the hotel’s emergency alarm system: 15 minutes of loud bursts followed by an announcement that there was an emergency in the building. It was a false alarm. When I got back to my room after some time exploring Jerusalem, an apologetic note from the hotel was waiting in my room.
Overall, the service was just average, and the good experiences I had were offset by the negative ones. I hope that, in the future, the property can work on making the experience more consistent for travelers. Now that the property’s under new ownership, this seems like an easy fix.
To the Point
The Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem is a great option in the city, with a fresh look and amenities and a wonderful breakfast spread. There are caveats, such as service one-offs. But, overall, if you’re looking for a comfortable stay in Jerusalem, the Waldorf Astoria is a great option.
Now that the property is under new ownership, it’ll be interesting to see how it changes — if at all. As part of the deal, it will remain part of the Hilton portfolio but the daily operations fall into the new owners’ lap, which could be either a positive or negative. As far as a hard product is concerned, the property as is has plenty going for it, and where it needs the most work — in its service — it’s easily fixable.
Images courtesy of the author.
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