Old Meets New: A Review of the InterContinental Shanghai Ruijin
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To The Point
While InterContinentals are often incredibly luxurious, if a bit generic, the InterContinental Shanghai Ruijin is truly one of a kind. Pros: Well preserved historic facade with modern interiors, unbeatable location in the heart of the French concession. Cons: Limited benefits for IHG elite members, a few small but noticeable service misses.
On a typical day, I’m a Marriott Bonvoy elite who doesn’t pay much attention to other brands, but like many readers, I was drawn to the old IHG Select credit card that offered one free night at any property in the IHG portfolio. This has since been capped at 40,000 points a night, and while that’s still a good value, it’s not enough to break my loyalty to Marriott. So I’ve been looking for a good way to spend the last of my IHG points and wind down my ties to this program.
The InterContinental Shanghai Ruijin, one of four InterContinentals in China’s largest city, has been on my radar ever since I moved to Shanghai. The hotel is housed in the former state guest house of Shanghai, a historically important building that once served as the Shanghai headquarters of the Communist Party. My biggest complaint about InterContinental hotels is that I often find them to be cookie-cutter luxury: Once you step inside the doors, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where you are. I was hoping that the InterContinental Ruijin would be able to buck that trend and give me one last hurrah with IHG.
While I have one unrestricted IHG free-night award left to use, I also had about 36,000 points I was looking to spend in a meaningful way. Just my luck, the InterContinental Ruijin cost 35,000 points for a free night.
Award availability is sporadic, and I’ve never seen more than two consecutive nights available at this hotel, but I was able to find a day that worked for me for a short staycation from my home in the city. IHG also lets you mix points and cash on an award night, but since I was actively trying to use up my points, I decided to keep my stay 100% free.
The InterContinental Ruijin has one of the best locations in all of Shanghai, to the point that I’m actually considering moving to this area next year.
The sprawling gardens are equidistant from the food and shopping hubs in Xintiandi, Jing’an and Tianzifang. If the weather is nice, it’s no more than a 20-to-25-minute walk from the hotel to any of these locations, or about 15 minutes by car. If you’re coming from the airport, you’d be best off taking a taxi or using the DiDi ride-hailing app, because, though there are two metro stops near the hotel (about 15 minutes by foot), you need to change lines at least once.
Since I’d only booked a one-night stay, I wanted to get in as much time as possible at the hotel to maximize the experience. The morning of check-in, I called to ask about early check-in and was told that though the hotel was booked to capacity, they would have a room ready for my girlfriend and me at 2pm.
I hit a bit of traffic on the way over, so I ended up arriving closer to 2:30pm. The lobby had a classy feel to it, but once I stepped inside, it looked just like every other high-end InterContinental I’d ever stayed at.
I waited in the IHG elite line to check in, though it ended up moving more slowly than the general line next to it. Instead of calling members from the elite line first, there was one dedicated agent serving elite customers and three or four helping everyone else.
Despite what I’d been told on the phone, my room ended up not being ready until closer to 3pm. I was given a drink voucher as compensation, and the agent at the desk profusely apologized. (It ended up being the same person I’d spoken to on the phone, and you could tell he really felt bad about it.)
I have IHG Platinum elite status from my IHG Select credit card, and while this entitles me to a space-available room upgrade, it specifically excludes suites. The agent said he upgraded me, but the only difference in my standard room seemed to be the location. I was also able to confirm a late checkout, at 2pm.
There was no explanation of the hotel’s on-site amenities or restaurants. The agent did offer to have one of the hotel buggies drive me to the building I was staying in, and though I politely declined, I wish I’d gotten a map of the property or at least clearer directions.
I ended up wandering the grounds for a good 20 minutes or so before I found my building.
The grounds were absolutely massive, and I was happy that Shanghai was experiencing a rare day of breathable air so I could enjoy the walk outside.
One thing that felt out of place, both for a high-end hotel and a historic building, was the Vans stickers plastered every 10 or so feet along the roads.
My room was in building No. 3, a smaller structure detached from the main building that was about 10 stories.
The layout was intimate, with four floors in this building with only seven rooms each. The building lobby was ornate and well-decorated, though it felt a bit much for such a small number of rooms.
All seven rooms on my floor were along a single hallway, so we ended up hearing a decent amount of foot traffic throughout the day.
The door opened to a short hallway, with the bathroom on the right and a bench and closet on the left.
The area around the sink was a small, especially if you opened the box containing toothbrushes, combs and extra amenities. As is the norm at InterContinental hotels, toiletries were provided by Agraria and featured a lovely lemon scent.
To the left of the sink was the toilet and shower, which had a waterfall shower head as well as a regular shower head.
On the opposite side was the bathtub. One of the legs had some paper shoved under it, presumably to stabilize it, which didn’t exactly scream high-class.
The bedroom featured a massive and comfortable bed. I always find InterContinental beds to be wider than normal, and this was no exception. You could have comfortably fit three of me in here, no questions asked.
The room had a small minibar, as well as a few drawers below it with additional snack items for purchase. There was an espresso machine as well, but the cups were a little too convex, so the coffee splattered all around them.
I appreciated that the corner of the room featured an actual desk, as opposed to the many hotels that just have long tables running the length of the wall. There were plenty of outlets within arm’s reach, and I ended up getting a good bit of work done here.
There was a small chair by the side of the bed that seemed a little out of place. I sat down shortly after arriving to check out the views from the window (all I could see were trees) and nearly toppled the chair. Before checkout, I put my heavy backpack down on the chair and it fell over backward. If you’re sitting still and watching TV, I’m sure it would be fine, but otherwise beware!
Technologically, the room had a few big wins and a few even bigger letdowns. I love a hotel that puts outlets on both sides of the bed, so the InterContinental gets major points in my book, but I had trouble maintaining connection to the Wi-Fi and had to restart my browser and computer once or twice.
Perhaps the most annoying feature was the bathroom lights, which couldn’t be turned on unless the master light was on as well. This meant that my girlfriend had to turn on all the lights in the room when she woke up to leave for school at 6:15am, about two hours before my alarm was set to go off.
Food and Beverage
Armed with the almighty power of a free drink ticket, we went to scope out the lobby bar before dinner. We each ordered a gin and tonic to start, which was 95% Sprite (definitely not tonic water) and maybe a splash of gin hidden at the bottom. The drink tickets were limited to wine, beer and soft drinks, so after we finished our first round, I went up to the bar to try and redeem it, only to find that all the bartenders had disappeared. It was at least 10 minutes before anyone returned to serve me and the other impatient customers.
The hotel had two on-site restaurants, La Rue, which served a Western buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner (as well as an a la carte menu for dinner), and Xin Yuan Lou, a Cantonese restaurant. Of course, we wanted to try the Chinese food, so we went to Xin Yuan Lou for dinner. Even though most of the guests staying at the hotel appeared to be Westerners (in town for an Abbott conference), Xin Yuan Lou was entirely booked up on a Monday night, and we were told it would be at least an hour until we could be seated. We had plans that night, so we tried La Rue instead.
Located at the back of the lobby, La Rue featured a truly uninspiring buffet setup for dinner.
I’m not kidding when I say that I’ve seen Courtyards that put out a more impressive spread. There were maybe four hot options, mostly pasta, a salad bar and some cold cuts. Hard. Pass.
Instead, we ordered from the a la carte menu, partly because we noticed a sign on our table that said “40% off food items if you present your room card.”
I ordered the pumpkin soup to start, which was creamy without being too rich and heavy, while my girlfriend had the mixed seafood soup, which was spicy and delicious.
Right before our soup arrived, we watched the waitress go up to the buffet and select a few rolls to make us a breadbasket. Needless to say, the bread was room-temperature and could’ve used a warmup.
For our main course, we ordered steak, which came with a side of mashed potatoes and sautéed mushrooms. The portions were large, and the steak was well-cooked. We barely made a dent in the food and ended up bringing most of it home to eat as leftovers the next night.
While the steak was reasonably priced to begin with, after the 40% discount it was almost comically cheap. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy. Clearly when the ad asked to present our “room card,” something was lost in translation, as our waitress explained we needed to bring a coupon of sorts that was supposed to be in our room. We hadn’t seen any such coupon, and our room was a 10-minute walk away from the main building, so after a few rounds of back and forth, she got the front desk to print her a new coupon and issued our discount.
Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Marriott with some of the free breakfasts I’ve received recently, but it was disappointing to wake up on Tuesday and remember that being an IHG Platinum elite means absolutely nothing in terms of free breakfast.
I ended up ordering an omelet from the room-service menu, which was a strenuous process. I realized quickly that ordering by name wouldn’t work, and I needed to use the individual menu number for each item (i.e., “B112”), including each topping I wanted in the omelet.
The food arrived within about 30 minutes, and the omelet was delicious, though not exactly as advertised on the menu. I ended up getting baked beans and a side of bacon instead of toast, even though the woman on the phone confirmed my selection of whole-wheat toast. I have respect for hotels that can execute room service well, and despite that small menu swap, I was even happier to enjoy my breakfast when I thought about how far it must have traveled from the kitchen in the main building.
The hotel was relatively light on amenities, though it did have a spa (and there was about a $45 discount coupon waiting in the bathroom) and a small gym. As I mentioned before, none of this was conveyed to me at check-in, so I was on my own to figure out what the hotel had to offer.
By far the biggest highlight of this property, and the thing that sets it apart from almost every hotel in this megacity, is the pristine gardens on which it’s located.
Gym or no gym, I’d pick a jog around the property (weather permitting) over an indoor workout any day.
The amount of greenery was a welcome escape from the big city life, but this property also highlighted one of my favorite things about Shanghai: the effortless juxtaposition between the old and the new, with towering skyscrapers rising up in the background.
It almost goes without saying that the property was equally beautiful at night, though equally hard to navigate.
There are actually several different entrances to the property, and if you plan on taking a DiDi or taxi back to the hotel, it would help to know which entrance is closer to your room.
One thing that disappointed me was the number of public spaces at the hotel that reeked of cigarettes. I’ve grown accustomed to bathrooms in malls and movie theaters across China smelling less than desirable, but there’s no excuse for that in a high-end hotel when you can just as easily walk outside for a smoke break. And this isn’t just a smell wafting down from rooms that are designated as smoking rooms — this was an abrupt smack in the face the minute you opened the door to the bathrooms in the lobby.
Service was also a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the hotel started off on a bad note by confirming a 2pm check-in time and then not having my room ready for almost an hour after that. Still, the apology I got was so sincere and the free drink and late checkout made up for that. I was a bit confused by the disappearing-bartender act, but that’s a pretty minor complaint. When we got back to the hotel at night, I called housekeeping to ask for extra shampoo and a few bottles of water. They brought it up relatively quickly, so I showered and went to bed. I don’t know how long I’d been asleep when I woke up to the phone ringing (despite the “Do not disturb” sign being on). It was housekeeping, saying they were outside with my water and shampoo. Filling my request twice is better than not at all, but there is absolutely no reason to call a guest late at night when their “Do not disturb” sign is on.
I’ve been driving by the InterContinental at least once a week in Shanghai and was so happy to finally see the inside of it. In many ways, this stay cemented what I already felt about InterContinental and IHG as a whole: The property was absolutely stunning, but the interior design could’ve been a bit more locally inspired and less generic. The food was good enough (I’ll have to go back and try the Chinese restaurant later), and, for 35,000 points, this property is a great value in a program that’s otherwise expensive.
Still, with the IHG Select card capping its free night and no meaningful benefits to IHG Platinum elite status, I’m ready to wrap up this two-year experiment and head back to Marriott.
All photos by the author.
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