8 reasons New Zealand might have the best DoubleTree hotel in the world
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Hilton’s DoubleTree brand is known as a budget-friendly chain where travelers can count on decent-sized rooms, reliable Wi-Fi, a small fitness center, at least a basic in-house dining option — and not much else.
Apart from those famous complimentary check-in chocolate-chip cookies, that is.
With few exceptions (like the one in Amsterdam), not many of the label’s locations around the world seem to boast much individual identity. But for Hilton Honors members who want to know what they’re getting with each and every stay, DoubleTree is a solid, affordable choice.
I’ve stayed at a dozen or so DoubleTrees around the world over the years, including most frequently at the one in Del Mar, California, near my parents’ house. I tend to book over holidays like Thanksgiving thanks to the relatively low paid and points rates, friendly staff, and decent Hilton Honors Gold elite breakfast benefit (though now the hotel offers $15 per person, per day in food and beverage credits). Aside from my occasional DoubleTree dalliances, though, I tend to look to Hilton’s other brands for unique properties where I can earn and redeem points.
On my recent trip to cover New Zealand’s reopening to international travelers after two years of COVID-19 restrictions, however, I discovered that Wellington might just have the coolest DoubleTree hotel in the world. Here’s what made the hotel so special and why I’d stay again.
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It’s in a historic landmark
In my opinion, the most fascinating hotels, like the most fascinating people, have an interesting past. I also love seeing the clever ways contemporary architects and designers are able to restore, incorporate and even enhance original building features into their plans, especially when the structure was not originally intended as a hotel.
While many DoubleTrees I’ve encountered on my travels tend to be recent builds, the one in Wellington opened in 2018 in a historic, eight-story edifice dating back to 1928 when it was constructed as an office for the Australasian Temperance and General Mutual Life Assurance Society. After looking up the history, I learned that the T&G Building, as it’s called, was one of several such franchises commissioned by the company throughout Australia and New Zealand, but this one remains among the best preserved.
The Chicago School-style structure, (so named after the style of construction established by pioneering architects like Louis Sullivan in 19th-century Chicago, who used then-new materials like reinforced concrete and steel), has distinctive elements like slender, soaring columns with ornately stuccoed cornices and faux balconies along the top level. It was one of the city’s first modern office buildings, and though the capital certainly has many taller towers today, it still retains an aura of grandeur and gravitas.
The Art Deco interiors are gorgeous
Although the building’s current owner, developer Mark Dunajtschik, reportedly intended to demolish the building, New Zealand’s Environment Court rejected that proposal and he turned to restoration instead.
Hilton and the hotel’s owner kept many of the original art deco elements of the interiors as well as taking them as inspiration for décor in the public areas and the 106 guest rooms (including 14 suites).
Though small, the lobby is beguiling, with gleaming wall paneling of white and gray marble from Italy and Takaka on New Zealand’s South Island, and decorative molding on the ceiling and columns. The narrow space is anchored by the reception desk with a sculpted copper façade and lit by telescoping brass overhead chandeliers.
The elevators have copper doors with stylized geometric patterns, and you might just notice old-fashioned mail chutes in some places.
Most of the time, I took the central staircase, which runs up the core of the entire building and has little sitting areas on each landing.
On the second floor, where the hotel’s restaurant is located, the walls are decorated with original glazed tiles in cream, gray and green.
The rooms are anything but standard
In the guestrooms, the deco-inspired touches include rounded velvet chairs and love seats in deep, primary colors; dramatic headboards with upholstered squares and wooden borders; and globular lights hanging from chrome fixtures.
My room was located in one corner of the building along Lambton Quay, and for that reason, it had an interesting shape, sort of like a parallelogram, as it followed the structure’s exterior lines.
Though not huge, the window did take up much of one of the walls, and some of the specialty rooms and suites have even larger windows or those with arched tops, depending on the floor and where in the building they are.
Among the contemporary touches are plentiful USB ports and power plugs (Type I-shaped only, though, so don’t forget your adapter), easy-to-use light switches, a 49-inch flatscreen television and a small fridge set in the minibar area.
There was also an electric kettle for making tea, cocoa and instant coffee.
My two quibbles? The work desk next to the TV bureau was rather small and the closet was too little for me to fit my medium-size suitcase, let alone many clothes.
On the other hand, the bathroom was spacious and as nice as anything you’d find in one of Hilton’s more luxury-focused brands, like Conrad or Waldorf Astoria.
The floors were laid with large black and white marble tiles, while the walls gleamed with glazed white tiling reminiscent of the staircase near the restaurant. The single sink had a large stone countertop as well as a huge round mirror hanging above it that made the space feel even larger.
But my favorite part was probably the walk-in shower with a glass door, an overhead rainfall showerhead with fantastic pressure, and a wall-mounted handheld one. The Crabtree & Evelyn products were a nice touch, too.
Its restaurant has won awards
The DoubleTrees I’ve stayed at have had nice but unremarkable restaurants serving the usual suspects like bar-style appetizers, salads, burgers and maybe pasta or pizza dishes. Spring Kitchen at the DoubleTree Wellington is a far cry from that and even won a 2019 Cuisine Good Food Guide award in New Zealand (one of only 108 restaurants in the country to do so).
Located one level up from the lobby, the small restaurant is decorated to look like an indoor garden with a green carved wooden screen, and there’s a surprisingly upscale cocktail bar backed by a wall mural in soothing green and blue tones toward the front.
The more formal dining area has some banquettes and freestanding tables taking up the rest of the space.
The sophistication of the space is undercut by the fixtures that remain in place for breakfast service, such as an espresso machine and a small buffet area. But if you focus instead on the activity in the semi-open kitchen, as well as on the creative cocktail menu and cuisine, it feels like much more of a fine-dining experience.
I tried a libation called the Akaroa Tiki (named after a famous partially submerged volcano on New Zealand’s South Island), which was a tropical punch made with a trio of rums, Cointreau, absinthe, lime, pineapple and orange juices, orgeat syrup and Angostura bitters and served in a ceramic tiki cup ($14). As you might infer, it was very strong but delicious, so I only ordered one. (For those interested, the wine list was also extensive, with bottles from regions all over New Zealand as well as a few international choices.)
The food menu featured a fusion of New Zealand ingredients, Asian flavors and European techniques, and there aren’t too many dishes to choose from (though it appears this might be due to the pandemic and more dishes might soon appear).
The restaurant is known for its grilled meats, including grass-fed tenderloin ($32) and lamb rump ($31). But one of the other specialties is a sort of deconstructed chicken laksa ($19), with a spice-rubbed breast that’s grilled, then crusted with crunchy amaranth and set over masala orzo with dried goji berries and kiwi-mango chutney. The mix of bold flavors and textures was delicious and I was glad I’d chosen it instead of the more mundane meats or fish and chips.
Many of these dishes were available via room service as well.
The location is perfect
The hotel is located right in the center of Wellington and I was able to walk to most of the major sights, though Uber rides would have been quick and cheap, too.
One of the city’s most loved attractions, the Wellington Cable Car, is just across Lambton Quay from the hotel, and takes you on the short ride up Mount Victoria for great views of the city as well as strolls through sculpture and botanical gardens.
In the other direction, the harborfront is just two blocks away, along with the Wellington Museum and its exhibits on the region’s history and a few waterside restaurants like Bin44, Dockside and Rosie’s Red Hot Cantina and Taco Joint. You can also go on guided kayak tours from here or rent an electric bike for exploring the city by road.
About a 10-minute walk to the north brings you to New Zealand’s distinctive, hive-shaped Parliament building. Walking 15 minutes south instead, you will arrive at the Te Papa museum, which covers all things Aotearoa (Maori for New Zealand) from prehistory to the present, and is a must-visit on any trip to the city.
The second evening of my stay, I also walked in that direction to lively, restaurant-packed Cuba Street where I enjoyed dinner at a gourmet venuue called Liberty and then drinks a few blocks over at a rooftop bar, Dirty Little Secret.
In short, no matter what you’re in Wellington to do, the hotel’s location is pretty much perfect.
They still have those chocolate-chip cookies
I’m always curious what brand standards are upheld in multinational chains. For instance, you can always count on Remede Spa products in your St. Regis bathroom and a Heavenly Bed at Westins. But I was downright delighted (and let’s be honest, probably a little delirious after a full day of travel from Los Angeles to Wellington via San Francisco and Sydney) to be offered a warm walnut-chocolate-chip cookie as I checked in.
I often forget about this particular DoubleTree perk between stays, but it always brings a smile to my face taking one and saving it for a treat after settling in.
I like these cookies so much, I even attempted (mostly successfully) to make the recipe DoubleTree disseminated during the pandemic, bringing a little of the joy of travel (and that fresh-baked cookie smell) back to my life when few planes were flying and many hotels remained shuttered.
The room rates are affordable
Because I happened to be in Wellington right around a school holiday, the room rates during my stay were around twice what they normally are and I was only able to book a room with twin beds rather than a queen or king.
However, you can usually find rooms starting at around $120, or 25,000 to 30,000 points, which means this can be an exceptionally affordable stay for a full-service hotel, whether you’re redeeming points or paying cash.
Other DoubleTree touches abound
As a Hilton Gold elite, I appreciated not only the ability to earn more points and credit toward status, but also the free breakfast benefit at this hotel. I was entitled to a hot beverage including espresso drinks, along with the cold buffet of pastries, cereal and fruit. I could have ordered a hot dish, like a made-to-order omelet for only about $9 more, but I wasn’t too hungry, so I just stuck with what was complimentary.
Though tiny, the gym still had enough weights and cardio machines for a decent workout. The Wi-Fi was speedy and free. And the chain’s signature Sweet Dreams bed was fluffy and comfortable.
I feel like I’ve discovered a whole new side to DoubleTree after my stay at the one in Wellington, and I’m going to keep an eye out for other exciting properties sprinkled around the globe that might project more than the brand’s standard identity while still providing its standard benefits.
Featured photo by Eric Rosen / The Points Guy.
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