HOTEL REVIEW: Hotel Realm, Canberra
Let’s not beat around the bush. It’s a good hotel if you are an ex-SAS officer, wishing to be accused of beating up your girlfriend, while you are still married. Too soon?
Content of this Post:
For me, this is a bit of a simulacrum of a good hotel. It’s the kind of hotel that seems designed by someone who had heard about exceptional 5-star boutique hotels, but had never actually visited one. It has the things you need in a 5-star hotel, while little of the quality and service.
Booking & Price
Stay: 16 to 18 April 2022
Room: E43 Realm Room – on ‘E’ Executive Floor
Size: 37 sqm (398 sqf)
Per Night Average: ~AU$318 (including breakfast for 2)
Address: 18 National Circuit, Barton Australian Capital Territory 2600, Australia
Phone: +61 2 6163 1888
This 163 room hotel is located in Barton, next to the Parliamentary Triangle, it is within walking distance of Parliament House, the National Gallery of Australia, and the National Library. It has a restaurant/ bar, conference facilities and a spa.
Location & Arrival
The Hotel Realm is located about a 10 killometres from Canberra Airport, and has an off-street drop off point on the National Circuit and is a stone’s throw from the National Press Club.
Hotel Realm is one of only two 5-star hotels in Canberra, the other being the Grand Hyatt. Realm opened in 2008, and has a decidedly ‘business hotel’ vibe about it. When opened people complained about its minimalism, but I would tend to call it more ‘unfussy’. The strips of red suspended around the atrium to the building, forming a central sculpture are a cheap and effective distinctive and dramatic signature look for the hotel. It’s true there is no central expensive artwork, sculpture or lighting fixture, nor is the foyer wreathed in armfulls of expensive blooms, but the interior, full of grey and ecru faux suede and deep piled deep rust coloured covered furniture, edged with steel and dark wood is comforting enough.
We had headed straight from the airport to Corella Cafe for lunch, (highly recommended) knowing that our 11am arrival time would be too early for our hotel room room to be available. Check-out time is 11am, and check-in is from 2pm to 8pm. There only seemed to be one staff member on duty at reception after 8, if at all. If you do plan to arrive after 8, then contact the hotel and they will arrange to have you met on arrival. Not really 5 star service in my view.
Check-in is performed at a central circular ‘desk’ in the foyer. As we checked-in there were two attendants on duty serving duel roles as reception and concierge staff. Our wait was short. The process was fairly efficient, but perhaps a little peremptory. It was noted that our room was on the ‘E’ for Executive or top floor, but there was no explanation of what this signified, or any benefits it might come with. I like a high floor so I was happy.
Our room E43 was on the Executive or top floor, with 2 windows into the atrium. It was announced as some kind of advantage when we checked in, but I’m not sure what the difference is with a non-‘E’ floor room. The entrance is recessed back from the corridor, and was close to the bank of lifts – furthest from the entrance. The mirrored facings on the entrance are a nice touch.
On entry, there was a small space with wardrobe and sink to the right, with a door to the toilet and shower. Straight ahead was a television with console below on the left hand wall, with a king size bed to the right flanked by an elaborate headboard containing bed side tables and soft mood lighting. Further along past the bed is a desk/table, and seating area to the right, with a minibar and foldaway luggage rack to the left. At the end of the room were 2 floor to ceiling windows facing into the hotel Atrium, providing a view of the red ‘ticker tape’ atrium sculpture. Curtains were electronic with an adjacent switch. No bedside control for these drapes.
With just 2 windows into the atrium, instead of one window right across made for a dim room without artificial light. The overwhelming impression of the room is long and thin, which makes it seem far less than its large 37 square metres footprint.
Room controls like airconditioning and lighting could be controlled by a bedside iPad. This is also used for ordering food and beverage and even your preferred room servicing time. I am in two minds about this sort of facility, which is becoming much more common. They are convenient, and seem to be more reliable especially for suggesting a preferred cleaning time. The downside is what they exclude – human interaction with the staff, or as I like to think of it – the opportunity for the hotel to demonstrate hospitality.
A small thing, I know, but the air-conditioning controls look like something out of the 1980s. I exaggerate, but they look the same as those in an office I used to rent, installed circa 1999. This is symptomatic of the hotel I think – its a bit dated and neglected for premises that are only 15 years old.
Helping the separation of the bedroom from the rest of the room is the ‘u’ shaped bedhead surrounding the bed and bedside tables. Overhead was a light fitting that contained both soft mood lighting, and overhead reading lights. This was a very comfortable setup with a couple of bedside power outlets on both sides of the bed. House keeping hadn’t touched the top of that lightfitting since the hotel opened, judging by the amount of dust that had accumulated. Management needs an eye for detail!
Sheets and pillows were hotel standard, and good. We had requested 5 feather/down pillows, and we got some, probably more like 3. The other pillows were that kind of foam that seems to turn hard and firm quickly. I cannot say too little about that long thin for-decoration-only ‘sham’ pillow.
This is conveniently placed opposite the seating area, but also strangely situated as it partially obscures one of the windows. The unit contains the fridge, kettle, coffee machine, glassware etc. In fact its mainly empty. The coffee machine is pod based and much appreciated.
In COVID times its not guaranteed that you get any mini-bar type items, or even a stocked fridge. Here we have all the usuals, nuts, trail mix, essential Pringles, Kit Kat, fruit juices, wine, beer, mineral water and Coke in several varieties.
What is unusual is that the fridge comes with both actual milk, and soy milk.
It’s a 4 door size wardrobe with all the usual inclusions: safe, Ironing board and hanging space, spare towel, toilet paper and hair dryer. Remember that this is adjacent to the sink, so appropriate to have a hairdryer here.
The other side of the wardrobe was the hanging space. To put it politely, there is nothing that says cheap downmarket 3 star hotel more than these ‘theft-proof’ coat hangers. The next time I stay in a hotel with these, I will be trashing all the coat hangers, even though they are useless to me, just on principle! Have you ever tried to hang a coat with these after a night on the tiles?
The bathroom is slightly odd. The sink is in the dressing room/wardrobe area, with a door to the actual bathroom housing shower and toilet – on the right of the image above. The bench is made of a stone composite, with a porcelain sink. Amenities are by Marickville, NSW based Appelles
This bathroom was rather airless, and you can see in the corners of the shower and around the floor grate, either difficult to clean, or just not cleaned. This level of visible grime does not a lux experience make. Kind of made you want to wear thongs in the shower – like in a caravan park or a boys dormitory!
The shower had both an overhead and hand held shower head. Again, not adequate thought about arrangements for guest convenience. With this set-up you need to step into the shower to retrieve an amenity from the shelf. The hand held was at the cheap end with no head variability.
Really annoying if you want to retrieve the soap for use in the hand basin back outside in the dressing room.
Public Areas – Bars, Restaurants & Gyms
The Realm appears to have 2 restaurant/bar spaces and a gym and spa. I won’t comment on the gym and spa, since I didn’t visit them. We walked briefly into the Ostany bar, before walking out again. It kinda felt like an internal beer garden, except with no outdoors, and cocktails instead of beer. Very young crowd, I suspect mainly not hotel guests. It was loud, and busy and had a sticky carpet pub vibe. Not what we were looking for at the time.
Buvette Bistro and Wine Bar also on the ground floor, is where breakfast is served. It’s a nice space with a couple of sections framed by shelves and banquettes and an outdoor area. Breakfast was great. Service was fine, and the space pleasant. There were some folks dining outside, but I think you need to be a hardened Canberra resident to do that in autumn.
I’m just going to say it. I wouldn’t stay here again. The service is de-personalised and feels a bit meagre. The room we stayed in is ill-designed from its long, thin floorplan through to its Atrium view and awfully designed and maintained bathroom. The anti-theft coat hangers in the Ikea inspired wardrobe sums up the guest experience: ‘It’s all about our convenience, not your comfort.’
Having said that, if you have a look over on tripadvisor – not my favourite recommendation machine by a long shot – most commenters are glowing about their stay. Each to their own.
Admittedly we stayed on a busy Easter weekend, for a high room rate, so maybe that also influences my opinion. However, if this is the only other true 5 star hotel in Canberra then I’m heading to the Grand Hyatt. If I’m by myself, then take me to the QT.
Summary Dated business hotel. Charm-free but serviceable. Beautiful public spaces