People who have been successful in real estate know the saying “location, location, location” rings very true. When it comes to hotels in Victoria the location of the Fairmont Empress is difficult to beat. It overlooks the beautiful inner harbour and parliament. If your room is higher up you can also see the mountains up the island and across the strait over Port Angeles.
Since we were travelling with another couple, at check-in the front desk agent made sure our rooms were close but not so close it would be awkward Both my girlfriend and I are platinum members with Fairmont. So I was able to use a suite upgrade certificate and she cashed in a free night. We were given the keys to a harbour view 1 bedroom suite on the top floor in the original section of the hotel.
When the hotel first opened, the lobby and entrance is where the Veranda and the room for afternoon tea currently are. The hotel wasn’t as wide back in those days and over the years many additions have been added.
Our room had 2 doors you could enter through. The size of the room was more than adequate and the guest bathroom had unusually shaped windows which added to the charm. I’ve stayed at many of the grand Fairmont properties across Canada and understand bathrooms were much smaller in hotels 100 years ago, even though people used to check-in for months at a time during those days.
Since our room was on the top floor our ceilings must have been 12 feet high. I had plenty of room to practice my full golf swing in the mornings before my golf outings. Since the parlour part of the room is meant to be switched to a Fairmont room to accommodate certain occupancy, the furniture is rather sparse so it worked out to be a great putting area.
The desk in the parlour was very old and something I might see on the Antiques Roadshow but I’m sure it has a lot of history. The couches in the parlour weren’t exactly new but comfortable. In our bedroom on the dresser was a stack of books and a few of them nearly 100 years old, this was unique.
Our view was limited; you basically had to look through a cement fence to see it. However there was about a 1.5 foot wide balcony I could get out to. I’m not sure if this is encouraged by the hotel but I had one of the best views from out there and damn well enjoyed it. I don’t know how many photos I ended up in from all the tourists walking by and taking pictures of the hotel but I could see 20 cameras pointing at this hotel at all times.
Some nice benefits at Fairmont hotels is their complimentary BMW bikes rentals, BMW car service within the downtown area and Taylor Made golf club rentals. You must be a Presidents Club member but signing up is free at Fairmont.com.
The last time I stayed here was in 2009 when the BMW bicycles were brand new; you could tell these bikes have been used over the years. We biked out to Fisherman’s Wharf and stopped for a few oysters. Then we continued to Dallas road and enjoyed the breath taking views along the seawall.
It’s never an issue to arrange the BMW car service to drop you off at a local restaurant or watering hole. The Taylormade golf clubs were in good shape and I guess they don’t clean out the bags because mine still had golf balls, tees and receipts from the previous person.
The Willowstream Spa at this hotel isn’t as grand as the Banff Springs but does have a nice Jacuzzi and a relaxing lounge with a fireplace. The one massage I had here was the best I’ve experienced at a Fairmont hotel. The pool and hottub are nothing special. It reminds me of the pool at the Chateau Lake Louise, some Holiday Inns have better pools compared to these. It’s unfortunate because the original pool at the Empress was spectacular and used to be the place to go in town.
The layout of this hotel is different to most since there is no lobby bar or restaurant as you walk in the main entrance. The dining options are located a floor above with a few stores and a Fairmont Tea shop. We did enjoy our table on the patio of The Veranda and you can read more about that here.
Housekeeping did a great job cleaning the room and the concierge delivered on the few services I asked of him. Checkout was a breeze and we grabbed a cab waiting outside to head to the airport.
Overall if you enjoy a classic setting and want to be right in the middle of the action the Fairmont Empress is a wonderful hotel to satisfy these needs. This hotel may be the most photographed building in Victoria. It has ivy growing along its walls and has rich history so most view it as the place to stay. Fifteen years ago it didn’t have much competition but with the recent arrival of new hotels the Empress will have to keep their service top notch and freshen up their rooms to keep the customers coming back.