Grand Cayman is a great place for a long weekend visit. Unfortunately, there are few great hotel options and even fewer that are available by redeeming points. Among the large hotel chains: SPG has only the Westin and Marriott has its Grand Cayman resort and a Ritz Carlton property. Priority Club, Hyatt, Wyndham, Carlson/Radisson are all notably absent from this market. The result of this surprisingly low-level of competition is a less than stellar set of lodging choices and relatively high prices.
We just completed a very enjoyable 5-night stay at the Westin Casuarina Resort & Spa. However, we discovered that there are many flaws in the hotel that take a bit of the joy out of the lodging experience.
The Westin GC may be in the perfect location on the island. If you’re looking for a getaway where you can enjoy sun and sand, this might be the spot for you. Upon our arrival at the hotel, we entered the lobby and were greeted by a dazzling sunset shining through a two-story wall of windows that open towards the beach. There are several oversized couches and a piano in the lobby, but the sun and the beach through the rear doors are so tantalizing that there seems to be little reason to stay indoors. Passing through the back doors of the hotel, there is a large patio area and an adequately sized swimming pool that is bridged by a short walkway that ends at the beach. And it’s not just any beach; it’s an entrancing stretch of powder-soft white sand that slopes into crystal blue warm water. The beach is the best thing the Westin has going for it, and that’s saying a lot.
Of course, at some point guests will need to eat. In addition to the two on-site restaurants and café, there are a couple solid restaurants just across the street: Eats Café, Yoshi Sushi, and The Sunshine Grill (in the Sunshine Suites). You can also book your trip to Stingray City across the street at Captain Marvin’s (we did this and had a great time). A taxi to and from the airport was subject to a fixed rate of US$23.10 as of January 2012. Also just outside the hotel is the primary bus route where you can jump in a van and quickly get about anywhere you want to go for CI$2. Overall, I don’t imagine there is a resort/hotel with a better location. Diving purists who don’t plan to spend much time at the hotel might not want to stay here, since much of the cost pays for proximity to the beach. However, if you plan to settle in for a relaxing couple of days and don’t want to trek to a nice beach, this is your spot.
I haven’t been able to find information about when the Westin GC was built or renovated last, but much of the hotel feels quite tired and overdue for remodeling. The hallways are relatively dark and the color schemes give an indication that the hotel was probably at its peak more than a decade ago and hasn’t done much to keep up with the times. Nearly every fixed surface – the walls, the carpeting, the bathroom flooring – show a certain amount of aging. Although the Heavenly Beds are just that (at least, in my opinion), few other things inside the hotel are as nice.
The pool area doesn’t exactly amaze, but it is adequate. Despite being there on a holiday weekend with full occupancy, the pool area never felt overrun or too crowded. It did seem to be at capacity, but still civilized. Even when we arrived late in the morning there were still empty lounge chairs to be found, which is a lot more than can be said for other resort hotels where the beach and pool are the main attraction. The pool itself was brisk and refreshing, even cold at times. The design of the pool accommodates children, without really being a fun place for them to play. There are no fountains, slides to add to the enjoyment. Although kids are certainly welcome, the pool seems as though it was intended to be a place for adults to cool off and have a drink.
For a hotel that has been in operation as long as this one, you would expect the service to be consistently good. However, over the course of our five-night stay, we had various ups and downs with the service we received. It is worth pointing out that we visited the hotel over a holiday weekend and it was at peak capacity. This should provide a good test of how well the staff is able to meet the demands imposed on a highly sought-after property.
I don’t think a day went by without some puzzling behavior from the housekeeping staff. Sometimes our room was freshened-up before lunchtime and other times not until nearly 5pm. Sometimes we would get a full set of towels and wash cloths, other times not. Those tasty rum cakes, which I hoped to get each night, only showed up twice during our stay. Over five days, we placed several calls to the concierge, front desk, and on-site car rental office with various questions. Our phone calls were only answered about 20% of the time. All the others we either got a voicemail box or a phone that rang indefinitely. We almost found it easier to walk to the lobby to have our questions answered.
We only ordered room-service once: one of the meals was to be a shrimp and linguine dish. When it arrived, there was no shrimp. I’m not sure how the kitchen overlooked that little detail. It only took a quick phone call to have a new plate of food brought up, but it was a nuisance. Our lack of confidence in the kitchen staff probably led us to look a little further for other options.
I should point out that the Westin makes a good effort to be a family friendly hotel. Many services are available including complimentary Diaper Genie, cribs, toys, games, and diapers in case you run short. We actually availed ourselves of the diapers on offer, which were greatly appreciated since it saved us a trip to the grocery store on our last day on the island. In addition, when the hotel staff learned that our flight didn’t leave until nearly 6pm on the day we checked out, they offered to provide us a room in which we could freshen up. This was a much appreciated gesture as we were struggling a bit with how to fill our time, store our luggage, and change out of wet swimsuits.
Since I may consider coming back to this hotel, I asked to look into a couple different room types. As it turns out, the size and layout of the vast majority of the rooms is the same. The Island View, the Pool/Ocean View, and the Deluxe Ocean View rooms all share the same floor plan, which includes a balcony. The differentiating factor is that the Deluxe Ocean View Rooms are on the ground floor and have a door that leads directly to a patio facing the beach. These rooms also have wood (laminate) flooring since more sand gets tracked in. We were in a Partial Ocean View room, which had a decent view of the ocean. I have read other reviews where guests in Ocean View rooms complained of not being able to see the ocean due to the presence of large trees between the hotel and the beach. Having visited the property, I’m inclined to think this is not just nit-picking. Some of the trees are, in fact, very large and would certainly obstruct any sunset views. I also looked at a One Bedroom Suite, which is actually two adjoining rooms in which the bedroom area of one room has been converted to a living room space and the flooring replaced with wood.
Starwood Preferred Guest program Participation
This Westin has Limited Participation in the Starwood Preferred Guest program, which has a couple important implications. The reason it has limited participation is because its cancellation policy does not comply with the corporate standards. As you might expect, a short-term cancellation for a booking in a hotel on an island where flights are limited will almost certainly result in a room remaining vacant. The Westin Grand Cayman deals with this uncertainty by requiring that reservations be cancelled 7 days in advance of a stay in order to receive a refund. The other drawback of Westin GC’s limited participation in the SPG program is that elite members are not consistently offered the benefits typically afforded by their status. It seems the hotel is a bit inconsistent in their treatment of elite level guests. This hotel is considered a Category 5, which means redeeming points will require 12,000 to 16,000 points per night. Also, a room upgrade is available for 1,500 to 2,750 points per night.
Prior to arriving at the Westin, I had read dozens of reviews, so I had a pretty good idea what to expect. Overall we enjoyed our stay, we found the room to be sufficiently clean and comfortable, and the service shortcomings weren’t a huge inconvenience. That being said, it seems like a stretch to call this a 4-star hotel, or a Category 5 hotel. Both the physical condition of the hotel and the consistency of service are in need of some work. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from staying here. The location is excellent and many of the flaws can be overlooked. However, anyone who pays full price expecting a luxurious experience is bound to be disappointed.
A few more photos:
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