Understated luxury: A review of the newly renovated 5-star Park Hyatt Aviara
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
While the pandemic has ravaged the hotel industry, several properties have used the steep drop-off in travel to their advantage.
Nestled north of San Diego in the coastal community of Carlsbad, the Park Hyatt Aviara completed a renovation project in October of last year. But this wasn't just a nip-and-tuck operation. The sprawling resort property shuttered its doors for six months near the onset of the pandemic for a full-scale $50 million remodel — all without a single guest.
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I was in Southern California just weeks after the property's reopening, so I took the opportunity for a weekend stay. Resort life might look different now, but from top-notch service to impressive amenities, it was the small touches that truly made this five-star hotel still five-star-worthy in the midst of the pandemic. Best of all, the hotel is an excellent use of World of Hyatt points.
If you want to stay at a family- and adult-friendly resort for a momentary escape from the world, here's what you need to know about the fully remodeled Park Hyatt Aviara.
Park Hyatts are considered to be Hyatt's most luxurious brand with properties that reflect a "residential-inspired luxury experience." Those are Hyatt's words, but after my experience at the Aviara, I'd tend to agree.
I'm currently a World of Hyatt elite member (thanks to a fast-track Globalist offer by way of my American Airlines status), but this was my first stay at a Park Hyatt property. Needless to say, I was excited.
Most Park Hyatts don't come cheap, as you might expect for five-star opulence. Average nightly rates at the Park Hyatt Aviara regularly exceed $550 per night before taxes and a $44-per-night resort fee. With everything included, you're encroaching on $700-per-night territory for a base room.
Thankfully, the Park Hyatt Aviara can be a pretty great value when you use World of Hyatt points. Surprisingly, the hotel is listed as a Category 5 property, meaning you'll need just 20,000 points per night for a base King Garden View room. However, note that on March 25, 2021, this will become a Category 6 property (25,000 points) per night.
All Hyatt resort fees are waived on award stays, too.
It's easy to get at least 3 cents to 3.5 cents per point in value, easily exceeding TPG's valuation of World of Hyatt points at 1.7 cents apiece.
At the time I stayed, the deal was even sweeter with 25% of redeemed World of Hyatt points back with the World of Hyatt Credit Card (15% of your points back if you don’t have the Hyatt credit card). Note, that this promotion is no longer available.
Throughout the last half of 2020, I took advantage of this promotion several times, including a stay at the Andaz West Hollywood.
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Now, let's crunch the numbers for the Park Hyatt Aviara.
For a two-night stay, after the 25% rebate, I redeemed just 30,000 Hyatt points for a stay that would've cost me over $1,500 in cash (I was upgraded to a more expensive King Coastal View room by way of my status). That's an incredible value of 5 cents per World of Hyatt point. And as mentioned, I saved $80 in parking over the course of the weekend. We're already off to a fantastic start.
If you don’t yet have Hyatt points, remember you can transfer points instantly to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio from your eligible Chase Ultimate Rewards cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Related: Why I went all-in on the World of Hyatt credit card during the pandemic
The Park Hyatt Aviara is about a 40-minute drive from downtown San Diego or about a 90-minute drive from Los Angeles. The best way to get here is definitely by car, although an Uber isn't out of the realm of possibility either.
The property is set a mile inland from the Pacific Ocean, atop a hill with stellar views of the coastal Carlsbad area. Both Legoland and the main strip of Carlsbad with shops and restaurants are several miles away. But neither feels particularly close since the hotel is located in a quiet (and residential) part of town, near the shores of the Batiquitos Lagoon.
That's a good thing if you're looking for some tranquility.
In a past life, this property used to be a Four Seasons hotel and in fact, the Four Seasons Residences are still around, sharing the same land down the road.
The Park Hyatt Aviara is a massive 200-acre resort, but the footprint actually feels a lot smaller than it really is. There's only one main building that houses all 327 guest rooms, including 43 suites, and 83,000 square feet of indoor restaurant, bar, meeting and event space.
Farther afield (less than a mile or so away) are the six tennis courts and the Aviara Golf Club, both of which require ride on the complimentary shuttle to reach.
Related: 5 ways I use my hotel card benefits to travel in luxury
Upon driving up to the main reception area, I was promptly greeted by a valet attendant who assisted with my bags. Remember, all guests — not just Hyatt Globalist members — who use points for a stay through Feb. 28, 2021, get complimentary valet or self-parking.
The first thing that you'll probably notice inside is a classic, brilliantly illuminated lobby and lounge area with recessed lighting and daylight pouring in. Your eyes are drawn to the ceiling above where a stunning, reflective art piece hangs.
Since I was visiting right before the holidays, the hotel was also decorated appropriately with poinsettias, wreaths, garlands and a towering tree at the center of the space.
Immediately to the left of the entryway are the check-in desks, all with shields in place as an extra measure to protect hotel staff.
While occupancy was low throughout the weekend, I arrived at the same time as three other guests who were also checking in. With only one staff member doing check-in and another at the concierge desk, things moved a bit slowly.
In general, during the pandemic, expect a slightly slower pace of service at not only this property but and hotels and resorts everywhere.
Once it was my turn, however, I was greeted by an exceptionally friendly staff member who confirmed my upgrade to a coastal-view room. With no one else in line behind me, the agent even walked me to the elevator as she continued to explain the amenities of the hotel.
I was also surprised that the hotel had not only emailed guests ahead of time to let them know about pandemic-related amenity changes and closures but also confirmed my upgrade several days before arrival.
At check-in, you'll also be given a booklet with information about all on-site services, operating hours and a daily schedule of resort activities.
As I walked over to the three main elevators, I got a better sense of the aesthetic of the interior of the hotel.
Overall, the decor of the lobby lounge is what I would describe as California classic with a bit of modern flair. There was a good blend of marble and hardwood floors and carpeting, a color palette of gray and white tones and plenty of natural lighting. It was inviting without feeling too over-the-top ostentatious.
There are numerous seating areas just past the check-in area and extending into the lobby bar and terrace. The furniture, accents and vibe just felt new.
One thing to note: Because the Park Hyatt Aviara sits on a hill, you actually enter the hotel on the third floor. I was given a room on the fourth floor, just one level above the lobby. However, purely out of habit, I would press "1" in the elevator whenever I needed to get to the lobby. The first floor houses the spa and some guest rooms, as well as access to the pool areas and courtyard.
I would sheepishly realize my mistake, get back in the elevator and press "3." This happened multiple times. (Yes, the third floor is labeled "lobby" level in the elevator but old habits die hard.)
The Park Hyatt Aviara's main building consists of five stories, with guest rooms on all levels except for the third-floor lobby level. A five-story structure may sound small, but the building really expands outward as opposed to upward.
The hallways twist and turn and it may sometimes feel like they go on forever. I had a room at the far end of one of those hallways, and I certainly got my steps in each time walking to and from the elevators. Not that I minded after everything I ate. (More on that below.)
The corridors have very plush carpeting so if you're rolling your own bags, expect to get a bit of an arm workout too.
Once you make it to the room, you are welcomed into an inviting, homey space with more of the same neutral tones from the lobby. One thing I immediately noticed was you could actually smell how new the room was. I would describe it as a high-end furniture showroom-esque scent.
Immediately to the right behind a pocket door was a large marble bathroom with a soaking tub, separate shower and double sinks. All of the bath amenities were Le Labo-branded — no bulk toiletries here.
To the left upon entering was the closet and storage area. Interestingly, while everything in the hotel seemed to be updated, one item that didn't get a revamp was the still functional but ancient-looking in-room safe.
Farther into the room were the main attractions: a fluffy king-sized bed, a couch adorned with a few decorative pillows and an ottoman and a coffee table.
Across from the couch was another round table with two chairs that was great for in-room dining but not so good as a workspace. Unfortunately, there is no proper desk in the room, which isn't entirely surprising considering this is a resort.
The decor wasn't exactly minimalist, but it was fairly modern, clean and simple. There were tasteful pieces of artwork and pottery scattered throughout the living space, too. I could feel the "residential-inspired luxury experience" that the Park Hyatt is going for.
It's not my personal favorite style but it worked and was cohesive.
Every room and suite at the Park Hyatt Aviara has a private outdoor space. My upgraded 500-square-foot king room had a smallish balcony with two chairs, a table and views of the property and lagoon in the distance. Oddly, the outdoor area had no lighting.
One thing that stood out to me was that all of the in-room amenities that you expect in a five-star hotel were available — without even having to request an item.
During the course of the pandemic, I've stayed at various higher-end properties that have not provided items or services such as a coffee maker, ice bucket or in-room dining. Then, there are some hotels that have stripped items such as bathrobes, glassware or hair dryers, only supplying them upon request. This is done for the sake of safety — but also doubles as a cost-cutting measure.
Not so at the Park Hyatt Aviara. Everything you'd expect from a luxury hotel was available in the room. There is an Illy coffee machine and kettle, real glasses and dishware, a wine opener, plush bathrobes and slippers, full in-room dining, shoeshine and laundry service, a sewing kit and yes, even a notepad and pen.
These aren't noteworthy items by themselves, but I was impressed by the fact that everything was available for guests should they need them. Perhaps the only thing missing was a fully stocked minibar. The fridge — devoid of any items except for chilled creamer — is still in the room, however.
Daily housekeeping and turndown service are still available if you want that, too.
The Park Hyatt Aviara has a full stack of amenities on offer. After all, this is a resort property.
Of course, during the pandemic, things are naturally going to be more limited. For instance, during my stay, the fitness center was closed but the hotel came up with a nifty solution. Workout equipment — including an elliptical, bike, free weights and a treadmill — was placed in the patio area of several blocked-off guest rooms on the ground floor.
Since the area was covered, guests could use the equipment outside rain or shine. Thankfully, it was sunny and bright during the course of my stay.
Weights and yoga mats can also be delivered to your room free of charge.
Courtyard, pool and spa
The property has some stunningly gorgeous outdoor spaces including a massive courtyard and an outdoor terrace on the lobby level. In fact, each night I caught the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean from the terrace.
There are two pools on the property that are completely redesigned. First, there's an adult pool nestled away to the side of the hotel that offers private luxury cabanas and has sweeping views of the Batiquitos Lagoon in the distance.
Then, there's a much larger family pool complete with a waterslide tower with two slides and a tide pool splash pad. During my stay, there were no more than a few other guests using the adult pool while the family pool was slightly more crowded.
Both pools share the same poolside restaurant and bar, Water's Edge.
While I didn't splurge on any services, the Aviara Spa is a massive space located on the ground level, taking up 15,000 square feet. There are a total of 20 individual treatment rooms with an indoor solarium lounge area, whirlpools, saunas, steam rooms and locker and dressing areas. A 50-minute massage starts at a cool $180.
Like with everything else on property, check with the hotel to see what amenities are available before making any spa plans.
Golf, tennis and lagoon
Away from the main areas of the property are the Arnold Palmer-designed golf course, six tennis courts and a jogging trail at the Batiquitos Lagoon. The tennis courts are located about halfway to the lagoon and golf course, which are adjacent to each other.
In order to get to these parts of the hotel grounds, a shuttle in the form of a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van is provided.
As a runner, I appreciated the jogging recommendations that the hotel provides in the booklet at check-in. There's even a website and app that list various paths surrounding the property for all skill levels.
If working on your golf swing indoors is more your style, the hotel also offers two Topgolf Swing Suites near the main lobby. The floor-to-ceiling screen has a selection of virtual games and can be rented out for a group function (whenever that becomes a thing again).
At check-in, you'll get a full list of daily resort offerings that range from workout classes to family activities by the pool. During the pandemic, the list of options will be a bit scaled back since there are fewer guests. And for safety reasons, everything takes place outdoors.
I was the only guest who took the "Restore and Rejuvenate" yoga class on Saturday morning. The setting was ideal in the courtyard and both the instructor and I were wearing masks.
Food and beverage
Once operating at full steam again, the Park Hyatt Aviara will have no shortage of food and beverage options. Currently, there are four options open — with two more restaurants to come later in 2021.
First, there's Water's Edge with poolside casual food and drinks and the Aviara Market, a to-go cafe.
At the time of my stay, there were also two options for sit-down dining.
Pacific Point encompasses the bar and outdoor terrace in the main lobby and served breakfast, lunch and dinner. Note that the current menu (as of this writing) is much more limited now than it was during my visit.
From early morning to late evening, the food at Pacific Point was fresh, tasty and not outrageously priced for a Park Hyatt.
I particularly enjoyed my dinner of seared steak and cauliflower along with creme brulee (that had a perfect caramelized top) for dessert.
Meanwhile, the Argyle Steakhouse is located on the grounds of the golf course and was only open for dinner. As mentioned, be sure to check the hotel's website for the latest information on sit-down dining availability during the pandemic.
For both Pacific Point and the Argyle Steakhouse, there are heat lamps available which were appreciated for chilly California nights.
During my stay, the seating areas were also well spaced for all of the meals — except for dinner on Friday night. Many non-hotel guests (local Carlsbad-area residents) dine at Pacific Point and there were several larger groups that night. Thankfully, I was seated in a section of the terrace that was removed from the action.
While servers and waitstaff across the board were excellent and very personable — from Water's Edge to Pacific Point to the Argyle Steakhouse — the actual service itself was also very slow. For instance, the food at Pacific Point took over an hour to arrive at my table on my first night.
In contrast, though, in-room dining was very prompt when we ordered breakfast for our final morning. Items were individually wrapped and plated and the patio seating in the room was a perfect setting.
If you're staying at a hotel now, you have to manage expectations. Amenities may not be available. Service may be slow. You may even have to leave the property.
But with the exception of slower-than-usual service, the totally remodeled Park Hyatt Aviara really impressed me. Aesthetically, the property is gorgeous. And the hotel was able to mostly execute on five-star niceties — even in the midst of a pandemic.
From top-notch food to personable service and in-room amenities, I enjoyed my first-ever Park Hyatt stay. And it was a downright steal at 30,000 World of Hyatt points for two nights (40,000 points now and 50,000 points after March 25, 2021). If a resort stay is what you need for a moment of peace amid the madness, the Park Hyatt Aviara is certainly not a bad choice.