Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
One of the first things you see when entering the 400-room Royal Sonesta Hotel is a life-size cutout of a man with what appears to be a phone number written across his body, dangling from the ceiling above you. Elsewhere, near the concierge desk, two featureless wooden faces silently converse. These are just two of the art installations you'll find scattered throughout the hotel, part of the Royal Sonesta chain, which aims to display the works of emerging and established contemporary artists on its properties. It's an unusual twist to a hotel that's otherwise pretty conventional in terms of its offerings. The location on the banks of the Charles River is great, and the hotel delivers just fine in the most important ways -- comfortable rooms, good food, a nice pool -- but overall it's your basic big city hotel.
The Sonesta is made up of two towers connected by a huge lobby that branches off to its restaurants, business center, fitness center, and lovely indoor/outdoor pool. The West Tower -- which was built in 1984 and is therefore about 20 years newer -- has sofas and telephones in its hallways, but otherwise the two towers are pretty similar. The rooms, many of which have spectacular views of the Charles, are lifted by quality electronics and comfortable beds but set back by bathrooms in need of an upgrade. One of the towers was completely renovated in 2011, bring new furniture, carpeting, linens, and more to the space. The vibe is bright and airy.
There are two good on-site restaurants, including one that was voted one of the city's best Italian eateries by Boston magazine, and the pool is great for families. Add in reasonable rates and the Royal Sonesta is an attractive option compared to more expensive, stylish Cambridge hotels like the Hotel Marlowe, right across the street, and Le Meridien, which is closer to Cambridge's shopping and restaurant district.
Competent and friendly service, but nothing spectacular
The Sonesta provides the standard array of services. The staff was unfailingly polite and helpful, but it's not the sort of place where they go out of their way to carry your bags.
Just across the Charles River from Boston proper, Cambridge seems at once part of and distinct from the city. Cambridge provides much of the classic and academic imagery for which Boston is known: stately red brick townhouses; the sight of rowers launching from ancient boathouses on the banks of the Charles; the elite atmosphere of Harvard, the nation's oldest university. And yet Cambridge virtually buzzes with energy; biotech companies, countless startups, and the studious whir of college-town activity combine to make it one of the country's most vibrant intellectual centers. Cambridge is also home to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and just as Harvard exudes a musty air of Yankee establishment, MIT proudly embraces its own brand of nerdiness: Where else do you find a street named Galileo Galilei Way?
The Royal Sonesta is located on the banks of the Charles River -- a scenic but somewhat dull location, without much activity nearby. That said, it's actually quite central; Boston and Cambridge are equally accessible. On the same block as the hotel is the Cambridgeside Galleria Shopping Center, a large mall with stores, coffee shops, and restaurants including Macy's, Starbucks, Cheesecake Factory, and Borders.
The Royal Sonesta's standard rooms are 250 square feet, a little on the small side for Boston, with either two double beds or one king bed. The most spectacular thing about my room was the view: the Charles River below, the Boston skyline, boats docked in the harbor. Not all rooms have that view, of course, but make sure to ask for one when making your reservation. Other than that, the room was comfortable and nicely furnished. My comfortable double bed had a hypoallergenic down blanket; there was a small bench next to a glass-topped writing desk and two mesh executive chairs. Alas, the bathroom didn't quite measure up to the rest -- the shower faucet was so worn that I couldn't make out the markings on it, and I had a hard time figuring out how to turn it on. The bottom of the bathroom door was covered in scrapes and pretty badly beaten up. In 2011, one tower was renovated and now offers new furniture, carpeting, paint, and linens. However, the hotel chose to retain certain decor elements, making the rooms feel clean and new without seeming unfamiliar. Returning customers are sure to appreciate both the changes and the continuity.
The most immediately evident of the Sonesta's features is the proliferation of contemporary art -- a colorful, occasionally odd mix of decades and styles. The hotel's standout feature, though, is its atrium-style pool with a retractable roof, poolside tables and chairs, and a hot tub. There's also an on-site spa, an ample fitness center, and a small business center attached to the lobby.
Rooms aren't huge, but the hotel's features make up for it.
The 250-square-foot standard rooms aren't especially large, and they accommodate rollaway beds, whether your room has two doubles or a king. Kids will love the pool area, set under a retractable roof.
Rooms were either renovated in 2011 or 2005, depending on which tower you stay in. Both sets are clean, but the newer ones obviously feel cleaner and the rest of the hotel is generally spotless.
Two fine restaurants anchor the Sonesta.
The Sonesta has two well-regarded restaurants, both located off its sprawling lobby. In 2009, the Boston Phoenix called ArtBar, the more casual of the two, "an entirely delightful New American Bistro." Restaurant Dante, which serves classic Italian food in an atmosphere of cozy leather banquettes, was voted one of Boston's best Italian restaurants by Boston magazine in 2008. Its outdoor patio overlooking the Charles River is open to diners when weather permits, and the hotel plans to install a patio bar next year in its next round of renovations.
Though it lacks any Boston flavor -- despite its location on the banks of the Charles River -- the 400-room Royal Sonesta is one of the best deals going in Cambridge. A renowned Italian restaurant, skyline and river views, and comfortable rooms easily make up for the odd design that dresses up an outdated shell with avant-garde art installations.