A tired brand reborn: 7 things I learned from my stay at the Sheraton Denver Downtown

Feb 27, 2022

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What’s old is new again for Marriott. After much anticipation, the refreshed Sheraton brand is starting to become more of a reality.

Marriott has been teasing the revitalization of the 85-year-old brand since it acquired Starwood in 2016, citing it as a “top priority” for the company. However, it wasn’t until last year that Marriott actually began taking the wraps off hotels that embody the new standards.

The new branding emphasizes aesthetics, productivity and community. Guest rooms are lighter in color, desks are replaced by adjustable tables and public spaces are transforming into gathering places. It ticks all the right boxes on paper, and the initial marketing photos looked promising. But I needed to experience it firsthand before I could make any judgments.

Only a handful of properties have been brought up to the new brand standard thus far so my options were limited, but I settled on the Sheraton Denver Downtown, one of the brand’s flagships. Then, after my incognito stay, I caught up with Amanda Nichols, senior director and global brand leader of Sheraton Hotels, to get some more insight into the refresh.

Here’s how my stay went and some of my top takeaways.

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In This Post

The lobby is everything

The lobby is the heart of the new Sheraton. Dubbed a modern-day “Public Square,” it was designed to be a jack-of-all-trades space for guests and locals alike.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

The focal point here wasn’t the row of check-in desks, which was tucked away into a corner.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Rather it was the swanky Coffee Bar Bar, which served as a coffee shop by day and a bar by night — hence the name. It’s the first thing guests see when entering and will be a staple of all transformed hotels.

The rest of the lobby resembled what you’d expect from a WeWork or other coworking space. Guests could choose from a variety of seating arrangements, including the signature “Community Table,” a long, communal table for working, eating or socializing.

Other seating options included lounge-style sofas, bistro-style tables, comfortable chairs and padded benches. The varied styles, materials and colors made the lobby much more inviting than your drab, run-of-the-mill Sheraton lobby. I especially liked the extensive use of wood to give the space some more flair.

Surrounding the lobby were glass-enclosed, soundproof “studios” that can be rented ad hoc. Each space was purpose-built, able to accommodate everything from intimate board meetings and casual brainstorming sessions by day to private dining experiences in the evening.

They offered the privacy and tech features of a traditional meeting room, but with the convenience of being right in the lobby. Rates started around $30 for 30 minutes, depending on the size of the studio.

There were also noise-isolating booths scattered around, available on a first-come, first-served basis at no charge — perfect for taking a call or doing work in private.

Nichols explained that the goal was to draw people that would normally work in coffee shops, offices or even their homes to set up shop in the lobbies instead and then also meet friends in those spaces recreationally. And it seems to be working. Day and night, I saw people congregating in the lobby and utilizing the various amenities. The background music made for a lively atmosphere with just the right level of loudness.

Eventually, there will be a dedicated “community manager” who will roam the lobby and act as a concierge of sorts, but the pandemic put a pause on this.

Now, it’s important to point out that this idea of treating the lobby as a social hub is by no means new. Even within the Marriott portfolio, brands like Moxy and Element offer a similar concept. However, it’s far less common at big convention hotels like this one.

Think the new vision shares a lot of similarities with Renaissance? You’re not alone. Nichols pointed out one key difference — Renaissance encourages guests to go out and explore the surrounding area, while Sheraton wants guests to stay in and to act as a hub for the community, bringing people together.

Related: Your complete guide to Marriott hotel brands

Guest rooms are stylish

Though much emphasis has been placed on the lobby, Sheraton did not skimp on the guest rooms.

I was upgraded to a one-bedroom executive corner suite, but the decor was similar to the standard rooms. Like the lobby, it was bright and inviting with modern finishes and warm tones. While not as vibrant as some of Marriott’s newer brands, the room had a lot more color than the bleak, beige, cookie-cutter Sheratons I was accustomed to.

The artwork was contemporary and offered subtle nods to the hotel’s location in Colorado.

My only complaint was that the living room lamp wasn’t bright enough to light up the entire room at night. Sheraton did promise “well-lit” rooms with the refresh so hopefully this was an isolated issue with this suite type.

Related: The best new hotels of 2021

The bedroom scored on more than just looks. The signature Sheraton Sleep Experience bed was the perfect balance of plush and supportive. It had built-in retractable reading lights and was flanked on each side by a nightstand with built-in charging stations.

To boost productivity and offer a more comfortable place to dine, Sheraton is swapping desks for height-adjustable round tables with built-in power outlets and USB ports. However, my suite had just an ordinary table.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

The bathroom got a face-lift as well. In addition to updated fixtures, Sheraton is pushing for more walk-in showers.

Food is important

Improving the culinary experience was another focus area for the brand. Sheraton wants to shy away from heavy entrees in favor of smaller plates, which are easier to consume while working and customizable to accommodate all tastes and schedules. As Nichols explained, it’s essentially taking a page from the fast-casual playbook, where you choose a base, customize what goes on top and can then eat it anywhere.

Guests could enjoy their food three ways: in a traditional restaurant setting with a waiter, delivered to their rooms or delivered anywhere in the lobby.

Regardless of which option you went with, the menu was the same. The only exception was that the restaurant also offered a buffet for breakfast.

Eligible Marriott Bonvoy elite members and those with breakfast included in their rates could choose between the buffet or an a la carte menu. I went a la carte both mornings, ordering the avocado toast one day ($16) and a custom omelet the next ($18). Both were tasty, though I would’ve preferred the toast to come with fresh avocado rather than an avocado spread.

Related: 5 ways to get your hotel breakfast for free

All-day options ranged from charcuterie boards ($24) and salads ($16-$18) to tacos ($6) and steak frites ($28).

For lunch one day, I ordered the Power Hour bowl ($18), which was fresh and light, consisting of spinach, kale, quinoa, blueberries, pistachios, tomatoes and avocado (fresh this time!). I loved that the menu featured many local ingredients, including the quinoa in my bowl, which was organically grown by a farm in the San Luis Valley in south-central Colorado.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

While not a brand requirement, hotels have the option of including a “veiled bar,” an upscale bar experience. In Denver, the bar was called Bezel. It was only open on weekends and seemed to be one of the chicest bars in the area — it gave me major W Hotel vibes.

Nichols explained that as a part of the revamped food and beverage program, Sheraton wants to offer a selection of options with low alcohol by volume, so business travelers can partake in drinks without feeling the inebriating effects.

The Denver hotel was also home to a Yard House and Zoup!, but these were just your typical chain restaurants.

Technology is everywhere

Technology was top of mind when designing the new Sheraton.

For starters, there were power outlets at every turn. Almost every seat in the lobby had access to an outlet, while the communal tables even had wireless charging stations. The same went for the guest room — there were power outlets everywhere.

Guests could use the Marriott Bonvoy app to check in and out, request services and amenities and unlock their room door. Contactless studio reservations and food orders could be made by scanning QR codes.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Sheraton club lounges are here to stay

While the pandemic put the fate of club lounges in jeopardy, Nichols doesn’t see them going away — at least not for this brand. “Sheratons have a lot of elite guests and elites will always expect to have an exclusive space,” she explained.

However, the way guests seek value in them may evolve. Nichols sees lounges as being less about the complimentary food and drink and more about the physical space.

In Denver, the new lounge was located on the street level and basically looked like a fancy coffee shop. Unfortunately, though, it was closed during my stay due to staffing issues.

To access the lounge, you must be a Marriott Bonvoy Platinum, Titanium or Ambassador, buy a day pass ($75-$125 for general members; discounted rates available for elite members) or book a club-level room outright as I did. The hotel made up for the closure by upgrading me to a suite and providing free breakfast vouchers.

There’s a balance of work and play

Sheratons will always attract more business travelers, but the brand is committed to catering to leisure travelers as well.

Although mainly a business and convention hotel, the Sheraton Denver Downtown offered an outdoor pool that is heated year-round, as well as a game room, though it looked like it hadn’t been used in a while. The hotel also had a massive 24-hour fitness center.

Of course, some Sheratons were built specifically as resorts, such as the Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort and Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa. That’s not changing — there will always be resorts geared more toward leisure travelers. Although we’ll have to wait to see how the transformation plays out at these properties, Nichols believes that it’s still very necessary for resorts to have spaces to work. When asked whether there will be phone booths and studios at resorts, Nichols responded, “People traveling with families may still have to take an important call.”

It’s a work in progress

It’s going to be a long time before the new Sheraton becomes the norm. After all, Sheraton is Marriott’s second-largest full-service brand (after the company’s namesake), with about 450 properties worldwide that need to be transformed, so this is a massive undertaking.

While the goal is obviously to roll out a consistent experience as fast as possible, Sheraton will not rush the process. Nichols explained that hotels will be refreshed based on their existing renovation cycles so owners don’t have any major unforeseen expenses and design teams can better manage ongoing projects. However, hotel owners will benefit from the upgrades as the new guest rooms cost about 20% less to build and food and beverage revenue is expected to increase.

All that being said, given the brand’s footprint, there are Sheratons due for renovations every year. Sheraton projects to have nearly 65 hotels exemplifying the new vision by end of 2023 — more than 10% of its portfolio. The next properties that will be unveiling their transformations include the Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, Sheraton Frankfurt Airport Hotel and Conference Center and Sheraton Paris Airport Hotel & Conference Centre.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

For now, Sheraton needs to focus on perfecting the new design based on the initial rollout. While Nichols said that no major issues have arisen thus far, there were a few small kinks with my stay.

Most notably, the hotel seemed to still have a bit of an identity crisis. For instance, when I pulled up to the hotel, I was greeted by a red Sheraton sign with the old font — I almost thought I booked the wrong hotel (there are two other, unrenovated Sheratons in Denver).

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

My concern grew when I entered an eerie, unrenovated lobby.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

However, I quickly learned that the hotel was split into two towers and check-in was across the street. Although both towers had new rooms, having to frequently schlep between the towers was annoying. 

Then, the bathroom had the biggest hodgepodge of toiletries I’ve seen. There was shampoo, conditioner and shaving cream by Sheraton’s signature Le Grand Bain, another bottle of shampoo from BeeKind, Pure by Gloss body lotion and a Gilchrist & Soames-branded bar of soap.

Although Nichols believed it was a fluke, there was also no safe in my room.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

Everyone knows that Westin is synonymous with wellness, Ritz-Carlton with luxury and W with lifestyle. However, the Sheraton brand has lost its identity over the last few decades. Marriott is trying to fix that with this brand transformation, and based on what I experienced so far, it’s definitely moving in the right direction.

The next time you stay at a Sheraton, you might not recognize where you are. Creating a consistent brand will take time, though, so don’t expect every property to look like this just yet.

Personally, I wouldn’t hesitate to stay at the Sheraton Denver Downtown or another revamped hotel again.

Featured photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy.

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