Amenity-Free: A Review of the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem
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I finally made it to Israel, a destination I’ve been wanting to visit for years. I had 10 full days to explore the country, so naturally we decided to spend a few of those in Jerusalem. Israel, as a whole, has plenty of luxury hotels, but there aren't a ton of points options, especially in Jerusalem.
There is, of course, the Waldorf Astoria, though. TPG’s Global News Editor Emily McNutt reviewed the property last year, and after reading her review, I was looking forward to staying at this hotel but was also curious to see if the hotel had added in any new amenities and if the quirks such as the "Jekyll and Hyde staff" had been worked out.
The 226-room hotel was part of the Hilton portfolio and designed by Turkish architect Sinan Kafadar. The property has been open since 2014 but it changed owners in 2017, still retaining its status as part of the Hilton portfolio.
The hotel has the ideal location for visiting Jerusalem as a tourist. It's close to a number of shops, galleries, restaurants and bars. Getting to the walled part of the city is best done on foot, though you can drive through the Jaffa Gate to enter. I flew into Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport (TLV) and was at the hotel in under an hour.
This hotel is pricey, so booking requires a bit of strategy to get to the most out of your spend. During my dates, regular rooms cost almost $800 per night and suites were $980. Since a suite wasn’t much more than the most basic king room, I ended up booking that. Points rates started at a very Waldorf-typical 95,000 points per night. That wouldn't have been a bad deal at all, as I would have gotten a value of 1.03 cents per point (TPG values them at 0.6 cents per point), but there wasn't any points availability on my dates.
If you want to earn a lot of Hilton points, the best way to book is to do so directly on Hilton.com using your Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express so you can earn 14 points per dollar spent on Hilton purchases. The card also gives you automatic Hilton Diamond status, which scores you benefits like free breakfast. Diamond status also earns you a 100% points bonus (or 20 points per dollar at most Hilton properties), you’ll be earning 34 points per dollar on most Hilton stays as a cardholder.
Another option if you plan to pay cash and are staying four nights is to use your Citi Prestige card where you’ll get the fourth night free, though that benefit is going to be devalued greatly come September.
But my preferred way of booking was through Amex FHR, which gave me key benefits like daily breakfast for two, a room upgrade at check-in when available, a guaranteed 4pm checkout, complimentary Wi-Fi and a unique amenity like a spa or beverage credit. And if you happen to have an Amex Centurion card, you get a $300 credit instead of $100. It couldn't be used on room service, and I was already getting free breakfast, but it did cover a dinner one evening at the hotel. Even if rates are more expensive, the benefits you get may outweigh the price difference. If you have Hilton elite status, it's typically recognized when booking through FHR, too. While many of the benefits overlap, it's always nice to have my status recognized.
The reception desks were directly to the right after entering.
Upon arrival, I was immediately greeted by a friendly staff member. As I walked into the lobby, I immediately noticed that it was stunning. The high, glass ceiling was the centerpiece of an atrium flanked by Mediterranean arches, a soothing fountain and relaxed sitting area.
At certain times of day, the lobby also had snacks and drinks for guests.
I was able to access my suite right away, even though I arrived a little before noon. It did take a few tries to get the staff to bring my bags up to the room, though.
The elevators had a special touch system where I selected my floor outside of the elevator first. Keep in mind that if you enter an elevator marked "Shabbat" between Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, the elevator will stop on every floor.
I entered Suite 621 (I had been upgraded at check-in since I booked through FHR) to fresh fruit, a bottle of wine and macarons, thanks to my Hilton Diamond status.
I stepped into the large living room of the suite, first noticing the floor-to-ceiling windows, which allowed the daylight to stream into the space.
The style was definitely classic, and while the aesthetics of the room were nice, I noticed a bit of wear and tear like scuffed furniture. The room also had a lot of wasted space.
It was big but only had a small loveseat that wasn’t very comfortable. The hotel really should update the furniture, especially in the living room.
The bedroom had four floor-to-ceiling windows, which allowed sunlight to pour in there, as well. The view wasn’t that great, though, overlooking a busy street and a building under construction. Heavy drapes lined the windows -- perfect for a good night of sleep. I did hear some street noise at night, but no noise from the other guests or the hallway.
The king bed wasn’t actually a king bed but two twins pushed together, which I found annoying. But having outlets on either side of the bed was nice. One side of the bed had an alarm clock radio/iPhone dock that would fit a newer iPhone.
I was surprised to see an iPhone 4 dock in the living room, though -- too bad I forgot my original iPod at home.
But the lights were modern, and the room didn't have a single light switch. Instead, all the lights were operated by touchscreen panels on the wall (including the "Do Not Disturb" and "Make Up the Room" buttons).
I called down to the front desk to have them unlock the minibar, which contained soft drinks and beer.
The closet contained a safe and slippers.
There was also a Nespresso machine with six capsules that were replaced daily. Large, glass bottles of water were also replaced daily.
The bathroom was a little dated and boxy, with a double vanity, a tub and two separate small rooms for the shower and toilet.
The shower easily passed the TPG shower test (I’m 6 feet, 7 inches), though, and had great water pressure and very hot water.
The amenities were Salvatore Ferragamo, and then one soap was Ahava.
One of my employees who had stayed in a regular room at the hotel mentioned that all her amenities were Ahava. As much as I like Ferragamo, I would have preferred all Ahava amenities -- I was in Israel, after all, not Italy. But they all smelled nice.
Just off the foyer was a small powder room with a toilet and sink, complete with an Ahava soap bar.
TPG Senior Writer Lori Zaino stayed in a regular king deluxe room.
The room was beautiful and slightly more modern than my suite. It actually had a balcony and better views of a quieter area away from the busy main road.
Although it was smaller than the suite, it actually seemed a bit more updated, with a newer, more spacious bathroom with windows you could open to enjoy the view while you soaked in the tub.
There was also a double vanity, a shower and toilet, plus many Ahava products to try: shampoo, conditioner, lotion, soap and shower gel.
Food and Beverage
Unfortunately for me, a non-Jewish guest, it was Shabbat when I first tried to have breakfast at the hotel, which meant the offering was meager, as the property is religiously observant. Basically, all the items were prepared Friday before sundown, so the selection was very limited. I ended up having to go elsewhere for breakfast. I also later found out that the hotel had one of the strictest kosher kitchens of all the hotels in Jerusalem.
When another TPG employee put the sign outside the door for her breakfast order, she awoke Saturday morning to find they hadn’t picked it up -- they didn’t pick up the signs Friday after sundown, and she couldn’t find this specified anywhere, though the hotel insisted it was written on the page somewhere.
When I was finally able to sample the breakfast (Sunday), it was fantastic. The spread was expansive, though it was kosher with no meat and only cheese.
The buffet offered delicious Middle Eastern specialties like shakshuka, an egg dish baked with tomatoes, as well as things like mint salad, fettuccine, hummus and even pretzels.
Of course, the usual breakfast fare was also available, like eggs, pastries, baked goods and fresh fruit. The breakfast cost 155 shekels (about $43), so having Hilton Diamond status or Amex FHR benefits really helped bring down the cost, especially with two people in the room.
I had a light dinner in the hotel’s restaurant one evening, and the food was fairly average, though, oddly enough, what I liked most was the spicy, flavorful Thai soup and the sea bass, which was light and fresh.
I actually found the menu to be pretty limited and was surprised to see there were so many international offerings but not many local foods. I also thought the desserts were particularly yummy, and my Hilton Diamond status was recognized in a unique way on my plate.
Service at the bar was also very good, though they couldn’t make some of the drinks I requested Friday evening, as using a shaker for a cocktail would compromise the bar’s kosher status. But the bar staff was friendly and attentive, especially Feivel the bartender.
The hotel was seriously lacking on the amenities front. The high point with amenities was the speedy Wi-Fi, which was also easy to connect to. With the beautiful sunshine and warm temperatures, I would have loved a dip in the pool, but there wasn’t one. When I needed a massage, the concierge had to arrange an in-room massage, since the hotel didn’t have a spa.
An indoor pool and spa were under construction and will hopefully be ready by the end of the year. Staff members were vague when asked about when the new amenities would be ready for use, each giving a slightly different answer.
The fitness center was also under construction, so one guest suite on the first floor had been turned into a temporary workout space. The current space was very small, with only a few cardio machines and some weights, but it was fine for the two times I went. You had to get a special key from reception, as the general key didn’t work.
When I went to check out the garden terrace on the fourth floor, the door was locked, and it looked very neglected, with no tables out. This was sad, because the space would have been beautiful for an outdoor drink or meal. I later found out this area wouldn’t be open until June.
Emily mentioned in her previous Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem review that she found the service to be “all over the map.” I had the same experience. When we actually spoke with the staff, they were quite friendly and helpful -- but it seemed like there was never anyone at the reception desk or answering the phone in reception, housekeeping or room service.
For a premium hotel with high rates, having practically no amenities was a little frustrating, though I did enjoy the comfortable suite. For the outrageous rate I paid, I think having a pool and proper gym is fair. In fact, I was surprised the rate wasn't lower, considering the lack of extras.
I’d consider staying here again, but after the outdoor terrace is open and the pool and gym are ready. I think the staff, while friendly, needs to better explain to international guests the limitations in place to keep the hotel kosher so they aren’t caught off guard. And for an $800-per-night hotel, someone should be answering the phone.
Stay tuned for further Israel hotel reviews and destination content coming soon, such as a review of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel by TPG UK's Director of Content Nicky Kelvin.
All photos by Nicky Kelvin.
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