As hotels in British Columbia open up with new procedures and policies geared toward preventing the spread of COVID-19, I longed to return to the luxury travel experience… Several other travel advisors and I decided to spend the weekend at the Fairmont Whistler to see what this changing landscape resembles. Could a hotel experience be as unpleasant and awkward as purchasing groceries or clothes in our post pandemic world? Or can luxury hotels still be safe, and even more important, fun..?
The Fairmont Whistler, located in Whistler’s upper village, is one of the largest luxury hotels in the area. The property, like several others in Whistler, reopened during the first week of June after remaining shuttered since March, when the coronavirus pandemic spread across Canada. Our stay spanned the dates of June 18th – 21st, once restaurants, the pool and spa were open.
Arrival and Check n –
Upon arrival at the hotel's entrance, valet staff wearing a mask were there to greet us. We had multiple cars and wanted to save money on parking (since none of us are actually pulling an income right now) and the valet kindly advised us that parking was free in Lot 5 until July 1st. It was only a short walk from the hotel and we were given very specific directions. We left our keys with them and went to check in. A great start!
Upon entering the building we were met by Duncan, our delightful “Health and Safety Ambassador”. Staff undergo health screenings daily, and Duncan was definitely full of energy. He checked our temperature, gave us “Temperature Checkpoint” cards which we were to carry with us during our stay as proof of good health. Duncan then took the time to make us laugh, memorize our names, then directed us to check in. The lobby was spotless, empty and all Fairmont staff were wearing masks.
Check in was efficient as usual. We were given a personalized letter which answered all of our questions on what changes we could expect during our stay, all of us very familiar with Fairmont properties. They did not require us to scan our credit cards, there was no physical contact at check in. Staff were protected behind plexiglass barriers both at the front desk and in front of the concierge, even still the staff were wearing masks. At each step of the way staff navigated us through the hotel in Fairmont’s usual fun and friendly way. We had a few deep breath’s of the properties signature scent, squealed with delight over the lobby bouquet and headed up to our rooms. We were completely at ease and it felt like home.
We didn’t wear masks upon arrival, since social distancing was easy, however masks were required in private hotel cars and hotel shuttle services. By the end of the weekend, the lobby was significantly busier and social distancing was a bit trickier. I was glad I packed my mask, which I bejeweled with Swarovski Crystals.
Hand sanitizers were everywhere, situated at every turn, including outside every elevator car, inside every hotel entrance / exit point, as well as every food and beverage outlet. Hand sanitizer was so bountiful I didn’t pull mine out of my purse at any point while at the property.
Our Room –
As we expected, our rooms were immaculately spotless. We stayed in a Fairmont Room with two queen beds.
The minibar wasn’t stocked, magazines and tourism literature had been removed from the desks, and in their place was a Wellness amenity bag which included a mask, gloves, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes. I didn’t use any of these things while at the hotel, but was happy to stuff them in my purse for escapades into Whistler Village.
The television remote control was wrapped in sealed bag and had been sanitized prior to our arrival. You could also download an app to use your personal device as a television remote, and PressReader app was available to download for magazine and newspapers on your personal device.
Glasses were still provided, and our tea and coffeemaker were still in the room. Coffee pods, tea bags, sugar, creamer, etc was in a sealed bag so staff could see what had been touched. Additional items such as a mini bar items, an alarm clock, and paper and pens could be requested through room service but had been removed from the room for guest safety.
One major difference during our hotel stay: housekeeping staff did not enter our rooms for the duration of our stay. Housekeeping service is performed while you are out of your room every third day of your stay. Daily cleaning was available, but had to be arranged with the front desk. Rooms remain unoccupied for a minimum of 48 hours prior to each guests arrival, with a final cleaning done before you check in. Again, we felt very safe and well taken care of, we didn’t mind making the bed.
Public Spaces -
Due to BC’s low cases, we had the luxury of most food and beverage outlets, as well as other services and amenities open and available for us.
Portobello was open for breakfast from 7am to 2pm (or 9pm Friday and Saturday). Temperatures were taken in order to enter and social distancing measurements were in place. The coffee was fabulous, the hearty breakfast bowls shattered any chance a hangover might have of setting in. We sat outside in the sun and Duncan stopped to say hi while on his morning jog. We were delighted he took a few minutes of his personal time to ask us about our stay and remind us that he still remembered our names. Well beyond the call of duty.
The Mallard Lounge was open from 11am to 11pm with safety measures and social distancing in place. We didn’t make it to the Golf Clubhouse or the Wildflower but both were open during peak hours which social distancing measures in place. In Room dining was available from 6am to 11pm and was served with contactless delivery and pick up.
Gone are the days you walk into a bar and sit where you want… We had no issues getting a table, but guests were carefully spread out with no loss to ambiance. If anything, we enjoyed the exclusivity and space.
Instead of menus, digital QR codes were offered to allow patrons to quickly pull up digital menus from the hotel's website on their personal device. Room service menu’s were still in the room, but I noticed they are now disposable (recyclable) and changed when new guests arrive.
The Health Club was open although there was limited seating capacity on the pool deck so reservations were required. We were advised at check in so we immediately booked pool time with the concierge. We paid for a cabana, which gave us all afternoon at the pool in a private space, as well as water service and a beautiful fruit platter. Otherwise, guests are entitled to book pool chairs for two hours each day of their stay (including departure day) on a complimentary basis. Chairs were well spaced out at the pool deck, which made it more enjoyable than pre-Covid days. In the family pool and hot tub social distancing was a challenge since excited children don’t socially distance, even when reminded over and over. There was plenty of space for social distancing since the number of occupants were limited. The adult pool and hot tubs only had one or two people in them at any given time, it was really just the family pool that was busy.
Check out –
Checkout was contactless and available via email, text message, telephone and television. Keys could be left in the room or put in a box in the lobby for sanitization. An invoice is left under the door, or emailed if you prefer.
Overall experience –
Having fewer people in public areas resulted in more personal space, which is a luxury on it’s own. Safety measures were well communicated so there was no confusion and the property is undoubtably clean. I enjoyed this Fairmont stay as much as any other Fairmont stay, if not more due to the extra care and attention given to us.
Fairmont is working with Bureau Veritas, a world leader in testing, inspections and certifications; Dr. Amesh Adalja, Senior Scholar at the John Hopkins University Center for Health and Security & fellow with the Infectious Diseases Society of America: and Ruth Petran, Ph.D., CFS, Senior Corporate Scientist, Food Safety and Public Health, as well as Ecolab (global leaders in cleaning and hygiene), and trusted advisors of the CDC. The measures were extensive to protect the health of guests and employees.
Whistler Village itself on the other hand was very hit and miss. Many retailers and restaurants the staff didn’t wear masks and didn’t bother to social distance. While I was delighted to be out in Whistler Village again, I recommend bringing a mask if you venture too far away from the luxury properties.