- No overnight room service
- Fee for in-room Wi-Fi
- Isolated location; limited dining within walking distance
- Pricey valet parking
Big-business bravado with a hint of Asian influence
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.
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).
Respectably comfortable, but not ultra-luxurious
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.
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.
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.
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.
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