Mandarin Oriental, Marrakech
Room type: Oriental Pool Villa, Villa #50
Duration: 9th > 12th June, 2016
Booked with: Ourisman Travel / Virtuoso
The hype machine was in overdrive. Every publication from Conde Nast to Haerromoids Weekly had been saying how great the Mandarin Oriental, Marrakech was. It was hard not to suddenly find myself caught in the hype, even more so when their customer service team would respond so promptly to my enquiries with such quality information. Then just a few days prior to arrival, I sent my standard stay list and received a hugely detailed response back to every single point – something that should not be taken for granted, as it’s rarer than a homeless banker. At this point I already praised them on their exemplary service. Yet it seemed not for the first time in my life I was premature; I had prematurely congratulated. What an embarrassment.
A friend did not help in the hype, when they told me that during their stay to the Mandarin Oriental, Marrakech, that the Mandarin picked them up from the airport, then upon leaving and going to another hotel, the MO took them to that hotel, then upon leaving that hotel and going to the airport, the MO came and picked them up again. If that doesn’t come under the classification of heroes, I don’t know what does.
After landing, seeing the Mandarin Oriental sign and my surname (strangely it was my dad’s first name, or at least an attempt at it), we went through fast track and had someone meet us outside the airport to take us on the 20 minute journey to the hotel. The entire process took only a few minutes and once again I was reborn, knowing that SE Asian hospitality can be found closer to home.
20 minutes later, you’ll be greeted not only by the wonderful setting of the resort, but also the best welcome drink and pastries I’ve ever had. If only they were intended for me.
At times it feels like no expense was spared. The drive way, with the stunning lush green surroundings, trees, water features and stunning reception room await you on arrival. It instantly makes you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, when you’re not even 10 minutes from the town center. You are however regularly reminded that you’re 20 minutes from the airport, as the glorious tranquillity is aided by the sound of planes taking off, something not quite as relaxing as the sounds of whales singing or humping or whatever it is they’re doing.
Through the reception, the wow factor continues, with the incredible water works that spread out and absorb the views from the main restaurant and on the way to the villas. It very much reminded me of Amanzoe. They say first impressions last, but in this case they only lasted about 10 minutes, as ultimately the water features felt like a waste and failed to add anything to the resort, especially as it seemed quite dirty and not greatly maintained. The real beauty actually came from the gardens.
I give this a lowly 2/10 on my newly trademarked Mosquito Scale of Misery. I only have 7 bites, although one of them is large enough to look like I may have a new disease named after me. Ahhh, fame at last.
It’s not unusual to find myself staying in a resort and never leaving it. What is unusual is almost never leaving the room. Between arriving and leaving, breakfast was the only thing that could tempt me away. That and surprising the security team by setting up a tripod everywhere and taking photos.
The room is astonishing. At 423sqm, space is not exactly an issue. You walk in through huge double doors that could be used to house an elephant, before you are greeted with the massive pool, to which all the other areas are looking in on. Then, as if it couldn’t get any better, the Jacuzzi actually works. No more false promises of a Jacuzzi, only to receive the equivalent of a cold bath with bubbles. This was the real deal.
Around the pool you’ll find a kitchen, living room with fire place, day beds, a much welcomed alcove to escape the heat, outdoor shower and enough chairs to keep many an England football fan rioting throughout the night.
The master bedroom has a stunning bathroom, with a huge bathtub, shower which doubles as a steam room, twin vanities and walk-in wardrobe. As you walk into the main bedroom, you’ll have a view through the double doors that look out into a small courtyard that then looks onto the pool. Alternatively you can raise the TV and watch as much French TV to your hearts content. The double doors, that slide open just by opening one door, are a display of some of the fine touches they’ve added.
Next to that you have the living room, a room where no one could ever have sat before, as if they did I would have still smelt their anger from all of the cushions having feathers sticking out of them. It made being on the sofa as comfortable as a late night hangout with Max Mosley.
The guest room is designed for people you don’t really like much. Whilst it has its own bathroom and walk-in wardrobe and is entirely pleasant, it is the ugly step child to the master bedroom. With no living room, you better hope your ugly face means you spend your time alone; that way if you wake up early, you don’t have to wake anyone else if you spend time here during the dark, cold winter months.
Although having opened in October ’15, it is still a pleasant surprise to see technology well integrated into the villas: great lighting system, electric curtains, Bose sound system, Apple TV, a rising TV in front of the bed, electronic locks and phone system for letting in room service. It did get slightly annoying that the intercom system is connected to the villa phone system. Between housekeeping, room service, engineers and Jehovah’s Witnesses, the number of people asking to enter felt never ending and the phone never seemed to stop ringing. You were never sure if the phone was ringing from reception or if someone is at the villa door. It rung so much I was getting prepared to be offered PPI. Interestingly, the technology didn’t go as far to having room numbers visible from the walkway, which gives me the opportunity to apologise to villa 49 for constantly walking up to their door.
It’s rare I ever care for a room introduction, but Mandarin Oriental, Marrakech, needed one. There’s a lot going on here and instead of having a full tour, it became an abbreviated process down to: “here’s your room” followed by a finger point. It was a rather limp affair.
- My eyesight is so perfect that sometimes I can look at the back of my head without any mirrors nearby, but even I struggled with the light switches. They blend in so well with the environment that you will sometimes miss them, but when you do see them it’s nearly impossible to read them. Just like the Armani Hotel Dubai, sometimes design trumps common sense. There are also random, almost invisible, steps everywhere that will make you trip up. There is one by the main restaurant that even when someone pointed at it and said “watch out for that”, I still had to squint to see it, as it was black on black.
- They went to so much trouble to make the bedrooms doors padded and so quiet to open, only to make the toilet door so loud when you close it. It’s like giving a ninja a machine gun.
- For all the space, there’s actually only 2 chairs in most places to sit – a strange decision for a villa that is designed for up to 5 people.
- There was still the feeling of some teething issues, such as the front door not locking and the Jacuzzi not being warm. All points that I’m hoping Bob Geldof will raise money for to highlight this tragedy.
- The workmanship is just not on the level I would expect. Even after only 8 months there was considerable wear and tear, meaning that it will need some considerable work. My dad is a builder and spent time at Amanzoe admiring the work (yes, he’s a fun guy), yet spend his time here laughing at some of the shoddy work.
- The blackout blinds – something I always request in our stay lists – only managed to fulfill being blinds; so a glass half full situation, if I’m being cheerful about it. In the master bedroom you have windows either side of you, as well as the main doors in front. The main doors are blackout, but the side curtains let in a lot of light. The guest bedroom does not have this issue.
- 2 restaurant
- Main pool + Pool Garden restaurant
The gym was truly impressive, with separate areas for fitness and cardio. Being more of a McDonalds fan than a gym person, the facilities were too good even for me to consider not using. After about 15 minutes I had done my annual workout and felt like Hercules.
A truly impressive area that offers so much more than I expected. The initial smell when you enter the spa area is mesmerising. To your right is the yoga studio, to the left the gym, but the real joy lays ahead where a (strangely) non-heated pool, within a heated area awaits you. With beyond comfortable lounging areas, my dad set it upon himself to test the sleep quality and rated it highly. It was very much in line with what I love in my favourite London hotel, The Connaught – a peaceful, relaxing warm area to spend time doing nothing.
At this stage I would have liked to show you more photos of the spa, but I was told I would need to get permission from corporate to do that. This is about 3x the effort I’m prepared to put in. Without a photo, I’m left with words and the only words I can use to describe it is “massive”. I hope that fills you in with all the knowledge you need.
As a city hotel – albeit one most comprised of villas – the focus is more on leaving the resort if you want to do something, rather than the resort itself offering much. Once again I could feel the desire to offer true excellence, as within the spa area they advertised free daily activities, such as an aqua workout or morning yoga.
As the group pressure started to build that we should do something, my solitary vote of sitting in a jacuzzi for 36 hours non-stop was not enough to keep me there, so we enquired with the concierge about a tour guide to go into Marrakech. 1 hour later and £160 lighter, we had the Mandarin take us into town, drop us off with a tour guide and then come pick us up later.
Perhaps even my memory of Aman are deluded, but I cannot feel that they this would have offered a better experience here. The tour was enjoyable and our tour guide’s English was perfect, but it’s always the little things that make a difference. The driver asked us if we wanted to be picked up by him or take a taxi back after our activity, our tour guide had no water or snacks on him and at the end of the tour decided to drag us along to a rug shop that spent time trying to convince us to buy some overpriced rubbish. Perhaps this is the norm in Morocco, but if it is, the hotels need to improve it.
Breakfast: phenomenal. Everything else: acceptable. To their credit, my girlfriend and dad were very keen on their food, but I write the reviews so you’ll just have to take my word as gospel.
The breakfast buffet is small but very high-quality. A great selection of cheese and fresh fruit, wonderful pastries and possibly the best hot chocolate known to man. All the more delicious that it was included in the room rate, so it started to become an all-you-can-eat buffet. Most hotels, knowing that breakfast is free, will divert you to only their buffet, but here made-to-order is available and even encouraged. Their generosity was not matched by their quality, as I didn’t enjoy any of them.
For lunch and dinner we only ever used room service, including ordering from Le Salon Berbere, as why would you consider leaving that room? Of all 6 meals, I enjoyed only the first one: steak and chips, with portions akin to a famine. After mentioning the size of the small portions, I then got indigestion not only from how large the new portions were, but also from the humble pie I had to eat from not being able to finish any of them. Is there anything worse than knowing you failed and then having to look your tormenter (room service) in the eye, as they come collect your half-finished meal?
There are definitely some rough edges here, but there is so much good intention and desire to excel. Maybe they knew I was a world famous blogger (in my defence, at least 3 people have read my trip reports, and they were all in different countries).
Take my Stay List; they were superb in responding and detailing what they would offer. Yet on arrival, it appeared that almost all of it was missing. As nothing was present, I asked the receptionist whom had given us the room tour if the mini bar was free and told it was not, so now I was wondering if the MO was simply saying “we can provide this” rather than “you will get this”, i.e. money money. Yet what kept bothering me was the chocolates with other people’s names on. I even went to Google them, in case I was being stupid and the names were in fact the local company who made them or it was something that I wasn’t able to see. Upon deciding that in fact I was not being a moron, a moment I quickly celebrated with a David Brent dance, I decided to respond to the Stay List email to ask if I was in fact mistaken about what was being promised. Less than 5 minutes later the Front Office Manager and Head of Room Service are knocking on the villa door to resolve the situation. Within 30 minutes all the drinks I requested are provided for free for the entire stay. I’ve never experienced service recovery like that before, especially as I wasn’t even complaining in my email, I was actually just enquiring what the situation was.
With the stay list and room setup how we wanted, things were still not perfect. The kitchen fridge would not get refilled without asking, even though the beers were being charged for. The extra thought of including a beer opener passed them by, so we had to ask for this too.
The quibbles unfortunately continued though, but again all to the point where they are minor issues, rather than all-our-panic complaints. We asked for an engineer about the heat of the water and no one came; we called about being unable to lock the door and no one came, or at least if they did, they never told us; we phoned room service to enquire about modifying the noodle soup to include more vegetables and was told it was too hard to do.
What was concerning was that the Head of Room Service (HoRS) asked us to contact him directly for everything. The sentiment was greatly appreciated, but it made me worry if he was doing that due to knowing the other staff were not up to standard or whether he wanted to offer a truly excellent service. For example, on arrival to the room we have 2 welcome drinks offered to us; when my dad asks if he can have one, the villa attendant says of course and goes off to get one. Over an hour later and nothing has arrived. Someone else is now in the villa organising something, so we ask again and it arrives 15 minutes later. After being told we should always call HoRS, we decided just to call the main line to ask for the resort menus, as we did not want to disturb him over every single point. 40 minutes later and we still have no menus, so we call back and ask for him, only to be told one of the restaurants is closed now and the other they will send the menu for – it arrived 5 minutes later.
The main thing I did not like was the requirement to sign for everything. As time goes by, this has become less and less of a requirement at resorts. Yet here it felt like it was all designed to solicit tips, as why else would I sign for a breakfast that they know is free? Why bother signing for room service, when they know which room it’s to? I would guess they were running around 20% occupancy, if that, based on seeing the exact same faces at breakfast every single day, so I struggle to understand why they cannot personalise the service better. On arrival we were asked where we came from, even though they had our flight details; one morning they did not tidy the room until nearly 12, even though we had breakfast at 8am; the welcome sign was addressed to my dad, but the welcome note was addressed to me; not even the Front Office Manager knew on the day of our departure that we were leaving.
As with everything in life, it’s how you say it and how you do it. Were any of the staff rude to me? No. Did they exceed my expectations? No, but it never felt like they were not trying. I felt like there’s a true understanding here that they have something special and they will achieve get it right, they are just not currently able to truly anticipate the needs of their clients.
Get to the airport as late as possible, as the lounge had no drinks, a few scraps of food and wifi that didn’t work.
- Fantastic value for money
- Easy to get to
- Service could clearly do with some work, but I cannot ignore how much they cared to put things right on what was ultimately a trivial matter.
- Incredible villas
- Superb spa area and gym
As usual, I’m able to find a lot of flaws, but the good points far, far outweigh the negative. For the price point, it’s hard to find anything even remotely close to what Mandarin Oriental, Marrakech offers within easy reach of Europe. I will return.