Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The mother of all upgrades

Often when I tell people outside of the travel industry that I am a travel writer, they almost scoff as they invariably get around to coming out and saying, in one way or another, "Oh, you get paid to go on vacation!"

Of course, any full-time, professional working travel writer worth his or her salt knows it's not all cold Mai-Tais on the beach or five-course dinners served on board a yacht.

That's not to say the job doesn't have its perks, mind you ...

Fountain in front of the hotel.
 If you're not a travel writer (or maybe, even if you are!) you might want to get up and walk away from the computer before reading this post any could end up being a tad envious (and rightly so, this time!) or even developing a serious case of jealously by the time you finished read about this particular experience.

So I'm in Malaysia, at the end of a 16-day media trip hosted by Tourism Malaysia. We start our day by waking up at 5 a.m. in the jungle in Sabah, at the tip of the northeast corner of the island of Borneo. We spend the morning on a wildlife river cruise, then boat back downriver from our jungle lodge, the Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge to visit some more tourist sites in the city. We then fly out, through two connections, to Kuala Lumpur. We're boarding a plane at noon the next day to fly back from the Malaysian capital to Vancouver, via Taipei.
 In other words, it's a typical travel writer's day on the road: very long - with lots of ground covered, and lots of travel miles piled up.

We arrive at our hotel for the night, the gorgeous and glorious Shangri-La Putrajaya Hotel, 30 minutes outside of the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. It's 9 p.m., so we've been on the go for 16 hours. We're tired, grubby, hungry and definitely in need of a drink.

Welcome to my humble abode.

Our city guide, Aliza, makes sure we get the registration process started, then, since she's local, she bids us good night and heads home, telling us she'll be back at 11:30 the next morning to make sure we get to the airport on time.

So I get up to the desk a few minutes later, give them my name and the man starts looking at his computer screen for the information about my room.

Then he says, "I'm very sorry, Mr. Geary, but the room we had hoped to make available to you is no longer available."


My heart jumps a beat. My guide is gone. I've just been told I don't have a room. For half-a-second, I'm feeling, "Whoa, what the heck am I to do?"

I don't know if he was doing it for dramatic effect, but before I've recovered from that mini-shock, before I have a chance to catch my breath, before I have a chance to say anything, he continues.

"However, we can provide you with an upgrade to the Presidential Suite, if that would be acceptable."

Double whoa!

Except this time, my heart went pit-a-pat with a happy beat rather than an alarmed one.

Keeping my cool as best I could, I simply replied in my best "quiet-and-reserved" tone, "Yes, that would be fine, thank you."

Let's get clean - one more time!
Meanwhile, inside, I'm doing a happy dance. "Yes-yes-yes!" (Picture the dance Wesley Snipes - a.k.a., Willie Mays Hayes - does in Major League when he finds out he's made the club - that's how excited I was!)

The Presidential Suite. It deserves to be capitalized.

I'd never stayed in anything that even sounded so luxurious, so palatial.

Well, it was all that ...

And more.

There must be something about even being a resident of that suite that bestows special status upon you. The bellhop carrying my bags up showed me in, and was very nervous as he toured me around the room, showing me where everything was. Then someone else came in with a bowl of fresh fruit as gift, and he was nervous, too. Hey, for all they knew, if I was staying in the Presidential Suite, maybe I was president of something ...

The tour was quick, but I found myself wandering around again, afterward, trying to find my way around. The room was bigger than my house! No exaggeration: My house in Vancouver is 1500 square feet; this suite was 2255 square feet.

The master bedroom was as big as my living room/dining room at home, complete with king size bed, office, big screen TV on the wall and a large sofa with a coffee table.

The suite also came with another bedroom with two queen-size beds each with their own TV, as well. All the bedrooms featured en suite bathrooms. There was also a common bathroom accessible from the hallway.

Between the three bathrooms, I had three showers and two jacuzzi tubs.

View of the main living room, from the main office desk.
Rounding out the suite was a small but fully equipped kitchen (no beer in the fridge, though, damn it!); a large living room area, complete with a bar; a dining room and an office area separate from the one in the master bedroom.

I thought, "Man, I've died and gone to Hotel Heaven!"

Two minutes after that, I thought, "Holy crap! I organized a last night final-drink-together party in the bar downstairs! But I don't wanna leave...but I gotta show up, it's my party!"

So, down I went. Duty called, after all.

I didn't say anything when my colleagues asked me how my room was, other than, "Oh, it's great!"

After all, I didn't want the "riff-raff" invading my sanctuary, did I? (Snickers, tongue-in-cheek).

After drinks, I went back up to the room and took a bath in one of the suite's bathroom Jacuzzis.

I had a hard time sleeping...I knew I had to leave in about 12 hours and why would I want to waste it, sleeping in this wonderful suite? I wanted to enjoy it!

In the morning, I took a shower in another bathroom (as a travel writer, I'm obligated professionally to test everything out, right?)

I'd booked a massage with the hotel spa the previous night, but, since I really didn't want to leave the suite, I had the masseuse come up for an in-room massage. Because how often can you get a massage in the Presidential Suite - any presidential suite?

So, after a very good breakfast, and another bath (I swear I was the cleanest guy in the hotel by the time I left!), I lounged on the sofa for a while before answering the knock on the door when my massage therapist showed up.

It was a great massage, befitting a setting like this. Very elegant room, very elegantly dressed masseuse, and a very relaxing, elegant massage (I blogged about this a few months ago). All-in-all, a great way to finish off my stay at the hotel. Well, after just one more shower, that is. Have to wash off those excess massage oils!

All too soon, it was time to call for help with my bags. As much as I was looking forward to getting home after 16 days on the road, I really could have stayed one more night here...

As I walked down to meet our group in the lobby, I reflected on what a contrast I'd experienced in 12 short hours during my final full day in Malaysia: starting my day in a very Spartan cabin at a jungle lodge to finishing it in the most luxurious accommodation I'd ever stayed in.

I glanced back one final time at the door to the suite.

What a room. To quote Bogart from The Maltese Falcon, it was "the stuff that dreams are made of."

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