Your face on fondant, rose petal–covered beds, and personalized gold-embossed stationary. As a globe-trotting travel writer, I am truly privileged to be frequently treated like a famous person when I am most definitely not. Like an A-lister, it seems like everywhere I go in hotels or resorts of a certain echelon I’m recognized and called by name. I’m treated to certain amenities that I know are reserved for the most valued of guests. And that's my access to understanding how the most valued of A-list guests — say, celebrities, key executives, and the biggest of spenders — experience hotel stays. Here's what it entails.
1. Everyone knows you.
When I'm flagged in the hotel’s system as being a VIP, it can lead to an avalanche of special treats and attention. (Of course, when I’m not staying at a hotel in an official capacity I go back to being a regular guest, putting me in my place and affording me the opportunity to remember I’m not actually deserving of anything special.) At this point, it’s not a huge surprise to see Champagne on ice upon walking into my room. And that’s after being whisked to my room or suite immediately and called by name upon first entering the hotel. When you’re a VIP, or disguised as one, your arrival is preempted and there’s no standing at the reception desk or waiting to check in.
Also, when you’re a VIP at any Four Seasons property, for instance, your photo is pasted up on a wall in the behind-the-scenes staff area so that everyone (and I mean everyone) on staff knows exactly who you are and that you are special. It’s why everyone, from the housekeeper to the waiter to the beach attendant will call you by name.
It’s a little unsettling or embarrassing at first to be so widely recognized, but you quickly get used to it and it actually enhances the warm feeling of being part of a family or community as opposed to just another sterile room number in a sea of faceless guests. On that tip, feel free to forget your room number or sign bills, because when they know your name and face it’s all automatically charged to your room.
That’s when you’re paying for things. But what about all the complimentary perks that come with being a VIP at the world’s top hotels? They’re generally quite thoughtful.
2. The perks are personal.
When staying at the paradisiacal Rosewood Mayakoba with my best friend, we crawled into the giant, fluffy bed to find the pillowcases had been embroidered with our initials. (There, too, my welcome drink was served on a monogrammed napkin.) When honeymooners stay at the One&Only Reethi Rah, they have custom-embroidered kaftans and pillowcases for them.
The bed is also a place you might find treats left during turndown service: When I stayed at Indonesia’s idyllic Nihiwatu (now Nihi Sumba Island) over my birthday, the fact I was solo didn’t stop them from covering my king-size bed with pink rose petals in the shape of a heart, with my name inside, and leaving me a cute local woven-straw purse as a gift. (A friend was gifted a cashmere scarf upon arrival at Amansara in Cambodia.) When calling Marrakech’s Royal Mansour my temporary home recently, the desk of my personal riad bore a gift of stationary with my name embossed in gold leaf.
Customized in-room amenities can be a way for the resort to show off its staff’s creativity and skill — not to mention the property’s generosity. At The Peninsula Manila, I found not only a jaw-droppingly tall and towering display of desserts in my suite, but a small typewriter with chocolates and macarons that had been personalized with a sheet of fondant “paper” with my face on it. They’d immortalized the contributors page of a magazine for which I’d written onto sugar, which I promptly bit into.
A friend who’s as well traveled has had several occasions — at Four Seasons Resort Sayan at Bali and The Beverly Hills Hotel — where the name or logo of her company was emblazoned on vegan desserts. (Having dietary restrictions can elicit even more special treatment, like a seven-course vegan dim sum dinner the Four Seasons Hong Kong prepared just for her in their three-Michelin-star restaurant.)
3. Your comfort is attended in over-the-top fashion.
The best hotels in the world pride themselves on having service that is anticipatory. And I learned that firsthand at Nihi Sumba Island — two years in a row voted by Travel + Leisure readers the No. 1 hotel in the world — when trekking to its Nihi Oka spa for what would be a blissful full day of pampering treatments during a Spa Safari. Not only did our hiking guide, Tiger, carry one woman’s designer handbag for the hour-and-a-half morning walk, but when the sun began blazing and he kindly suggested I should protect myself with sunscreen, he actually applied it for me, slathering the SPF across my sweaty arms and back without hesitation. He also scrambled up a 50-foot palm tree in mere seconds to chop down the freshest coconuts I’ve ever had once we arrived at our destination.
4. Your preferences are widely known, and carefully attended.
When at a true five-star hotel, it’s not just your movements that are tracked, it’s your preferences. At the best properties, expect that if you ask for ice with your sparkling water once, they’ll automatically bring it to you each time you sit down. At the Four Seasons Nam Hai recently, I loved the lychee-like rambutan that were in my villa’s fruit bowl, and at breakfast my first morning asked the sweet waitress—who, of course, addressed me by name as I entered — if there were any at the buffet. They were out, and I promptly forgot about it, but several days later as I was departing, I was asked to wait just a minute before getting in the car. A few seconds later I knew why, as a large pink and green shopping bag was handed to me, full of the spiky fruit, bought from a market just for me. It doesn’t get sweeter than that.
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