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Big-business bravado with a hint of Asian influence
The garden at the Mandarin Oriental
Opened in 2004, the 400-room, nine-story Mandarin Oriental feels a bit less intimate than some of D.C.'s other leading hotels. But like its sister hotels in Boston, Miami, New York, and San Francisco, and a select few other cities worldwide, the hotel comes with some amazing features. Its magnificent spa, fitness center, and indoor lap pool are all considered the best and most beautiful in D.C.
But downsides do exist. Guest rooms, though large, are notably "blah." In-room Wi-Fi costs an additional fee. And, despite its proximity to the Tidal Basin's cherry blossoms, the hotel's uncommon location on southwest D.C.'s remote waterfront is a big strike against it -- the nearest off-site food options are at least a five-minute cab ride away and Amtrak trains are audible day and night.
While such flaws don't seem to deter the international elite -- past guests of the hotel and the private ninth-floor Tai Pan Club ($100 access if you don't book a suite) include, among others, Beyonce, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Barbra Streisand, the president of South Africa, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown -- they might come as a disappointment to the average guest paying a premium to stay here. For more dazzling and more comfortable guests rooms (but no pool), consider the W hotel downtown. But for the best overall high-end experience in town, head to the Park Hyatt, a pinnacle of understated luxury in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood.
Attentive and attractive pros all around
Service is one of the Mandarin's highlights; the staff takes care of guest requests in a timely and cordial fashion. However, unlike other top-tier hotels, no one here addressed me by name, which one might expect of a hotel of this caliber.
- No overnight room service, but late night is available
- Dedicated concierge available daily
- Free drop-off service within D.C. city limits (not airports or Union Station) in a chauffeured Mercedes sedan
- Private yoga and personal-training sessions available through spa
- Turndown service (maid rings bell) with free bottled water
- Same-day laundry/dry cleaning
- Free newspaper delivery (USA Today, others by request)
- Free overnight shoeshine
- Valet parking is pricey.
Irritatingly isolated and inconvenient, on the Southwest waterfront
At the far end of a cut-off cul-de-sac adjacent to outdoor Amtrak train tracks (rumbling can be an issue), the hotel occupies an essentially lifeless part of Southwest's waterfront overlooking the scenic Tidal Basin, Potomac River, I-395, and the bridges to Northern Virginia. Convenient for springtime cherry-blossom gazing, the hotel's proximity to those famous arbors doesn't make up for its inaccessible location. From here it's a 10-minute trek to the Smithsonian Metro station, as well as L'Enfant Plaza, a drab 1970s office park that's home to a Metro station, government agencies (HUD, Energy, NTSB), and one of the more outdated malls around. The Smithsonian Institution, the National Mall, and its museums are a long, 15-minute walk away (or a short cab ride).
- 10-minute walk to the Smithsonian staton Blue and Orange Lines on the Metro (D.C.'s subway system)
- 10-minute walk to L'Enfant Plaza Metro station (transfer point, Blue, Orange, Yellow, and Green Lines)
- Long, 15-minute walk (or a five-minute cab ride) to the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian Institution, and other attrations on the National Mall, like the Lincoln, Korean War Veterans, and Vietnam Veterans memorials
- 15- to 20-minute walk to the Tidal Basin
- 10-minute cab ride to the White House and the U.S. Capitol
- 10-minute, cab ride to Union Station, D.C.'s main train station that services Amtrak, the Metro, and commuter railways
- 10- to 15-minute cab ride or 15-minute Metro trip from L'Enfant Plaza, to Reagan National Airport
- 45-minute cab ride in traffic to Dulles International Airport
Respectably comfortable, but not ultra-luxurious
A City View Deluxe Room
City View Deluxe Rooms are open and pleasantly spacious (starting at 395 square feet and topping out at an impressive 558 square feet) but they fall a bit flat by luxury hotel standards -- semi-comfortable beds and lackluster interiors. Since my stay, all rooms have been upgraded with flat-screen TVs. If you prefer room designs that really pop, check out the W, the Donovan Hotel, or the Jefferson -- all of which are centrally located in downtown, and are considerably less expensive than the Mandarin.
- 28-inch Samsung HD TV with HBO, HBO Family, HBO Comedy, Showtime, and on-demand movies -- now, all rooms have flat-screen TVs
- In-room Wi-Fi and hard-wired Internet costs extra. (Also, the front desk might not mention the fees when it gives you the access code at check-in.)
- Simmons Beautyrest pillow-top mattress is fairly comfy, but nothing spectacular; Spa at Mandarin Oriental sheets; lightweight down duvet; Corinelli duvet cover; only two down pillows on each double bed.
- Gilchrist & Soames spa therapy toiletries; extra-large Platinum Collection robes (no slippers)
- Big bathrooms feature beautiful and deep Kaldewei tubs; separate and luxurious glassed-in showers; makeup mirrors, Taylor lithium scales, and phones.
- Minibar and snack drawer
- Thoughtful doorbell outside the room -- much nicer to hear than an abrasive knock
- Some rooms have balconies, but those without have windows that don't open.
D.C.'s most striking pool and spa; better features than any other hotel in Washington D.C.
The spa's steam room
The Mandarin Oriental boasts one of the most exhaustive lists of amenities in town, and no other D.C. hotel comes close to rivaling its top-notch spa, fitness center, and indoor heated pool -- not even the Fairmont's comprehensive, 17,000-square-foot health club, or the Park Hyatt's lovely pool, whirlpool, and fitness center.
- Attractive, 1,400-square-foot fitness center (within the spa area); TechnoGym cardio machines (with personal TV screens) and circuit-weight training equipment, free weights, yoga mats and blocks, balance balls, medicine balls, aerobic steppers, jump ropes, plus fruit, filtered water, and magazines
- Heated 50-foot, indoor lap pool (also within the spa area) surrounded by windows, circular cushioned loungers, and an outdoor sundeck
- Ultra-tony Spa at Mandarin Oriental offers massages, body treatments, facials, and nail care grounded in Asian philosophies
- Free access to the spa's heated vitality pool with jets, amethyst steam room, circular shower with different pressure/color settings, locker rooms, and lounge areas
- Spacious business center with an attendant, open Monday through Friday; offers two desktop PCs, a copier, and a fax machine (plus a flat-screen TV); free Internet access for the first 15 minutes; free airline/train boarding pass printing. In addition, there are four free Internet terminals on same level, but no printing.
- Exclusive, membership-only Tai Pan Club includes free in-room Wi-Fi, dedicated concierge services, use of 9th floor Tai Pan Lounge with bar, terrace, and evening canapés; spa priority; and free Sou'Wester breakfast buffet
- Outdoor garden and patio
Pets cordially invited -- for a fee
Dogs and cats are welcome, but there is a fee for each animal, plus an additional charge per day for each pet; hotel provides dog beds, food and water bowls, and treats at no extra charge.
Moms, dads, and the kids take over on weekends.
Though the Mandarin Oriental's heated, indoor pool is of the 50-foot lap variety (in a striking space with lots of natural light), it's still a fine place to take the youngsters. One on-site restaurant, Sou'Wester, is particularly informal and kid-friendly.
- Guest rooms start at 395 square feet, with plenty of space for families; connecting rooms available
- Kids' menu options in Sou'Wester restaurant and with room service
- Indoor, heated 50-foot swimming pool
- Free cribs; rollaways for per night fee
- Babysitting referrals
- Hotel gives each child a free stuffed animal, a snack from the pastry chef, and a package that includes a rubber ducky, body lotion, body wash, and wet wipes.
Neat, polished, and well tended
The hotel is almost faultlessly clean, except for a used, crumpled tissue that was on the floor next to the TV cabinet when I arrived.
Two choices on-site, but not many options nearby
Hungry diners in this no-man's land should consider themselves lucky; the Mandarin Oriental has two good, but pricey restaurants: Sou'Wester and CityZen. Sou'Wester serves casual American fare for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, while CityZen is a high-end Asian eatery for power-playing politicos, where it's tough to secure a dinner reservation on weekend evenings -- even for hotel guests.
- Popular CityZen has a James-Beard-Award-winning chef, sleek interiors, and fancy cocktails; reservations are tough on weekends.
- Sou'Wester, a less formal restaurant that overlooks the water, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- Empress Lounge and bar just off lobby also serves afternoon tea.
- Room service available throughout the day and late night
Opened in 2004, the 400-room Mandarin Oriental has the best spa, pool, and fitness center in the city. The guest rooms are large, but the hotel's beautiful location on D.C.'s remote waterfront has its trade-offs -- nothing to do or eat nearby; noise from the Amtrak trains, day and night.
Things You Should Know About Mandarin Oriental Washington DC
- 1330 Maryland Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20024
Hotel Is Also Known As...
- Mandarin Oriental Hotel Washington Dc
- Mandarin Oriental Washington Dc
- Mandarin Oriental, Washington D.C.
- Mandarin Washington Dc
- Washington Dc Mandarin
- Washington Dc Mandarin Oriental
- Ambassador Suite
- Deluxe City View Room
- Deluxe Water View Room
- Diplomatic Suite
- Executive City View Suite
- Executive Water View Suite
- Mandarin Suite
- Oriental Suite
- Premier Water View Room
- Presidential Suite
- Tai Pan Club City View Room
- Tai Pan Club Premier Water View Room
- Tai Pan Club Water View Room