Hotels News Reviews

Review: Raffles Hotel staycation during COVID-19

We revisited the iconic Raffles Hotel Singapore during the Phase 2 staycation period to check how the experience has changed, including an interview with General Manager Christian Westbeld

Check In 2

In August 2019, shortly after its grand reopening following a two-and-a-half-year renovation, we stayed at Raffles Hotel Singapore to comprehensively review the historic property. This year we decided to return, taking advantage of the hotel’s excellent staycation offer during Singapore’s ‘Phase 2’ reopening to see how the COVID-19 measures had changed the experience.

We also spoke with the hotel’s staff and general manager to get more details on the process of achieving MTI accreditation to accept leisure guests in the ‘Phase 2 (Safe Transition’ period, and the myriad of measures in place both front-of-house and behind the scenes.

August 2019 review

In case you missed it, we wrote a comprehensive review of this property last year when we visited during opening month.

This outlines our two-night stay in a Palm Court Suite, plus a sneak peek inside a Grand Hotel Suite and the (Michael Jackson-tenanted and Crazy Rich Asians featured) Sir Stamford Raffles Presidential Suite.

We also had dinner at La Dame de Pic and utilised the Spa facilities on that visit, both of which are available again in Phase 2, so do check it out for full details of the ‘regular’ Raffles offering.

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‘Phase 2 (Safe Transition)’

Like many of our readers, once Phase 2 was announced by the government, we trawled through the pages of details searching for information on staycations. Curiously, it was absent, but all was not lost. Most activities that were disallowed in Phase 2 were specifically mentioned.

This at least left a glimmer of hope that if the initiation of Phase 2 went well and the community cases remained under control, that hotel stays would hopefully be added at a later date.

The good news came on 3rd July 2020, with confirmation that hotels could secure approval to accept staycation guests following a specific application and inspection process.

There then followed a nervous wait to find out which hotels would be added to STB’s approval list.

Whilst hotels weren’t officially allowed to publicise staycation offers until approved by the MTI, this didn’t necessarily mean that hotels didn’t offer rooms for booking.

Some hotels exploited a loophole by offering staycation packages in the form of vouchers that could be used at a later date. Speculative but perfectly within the rules.

In fact, Andrew locked in our recent booking at W Singapore Sentosa Cove long before the staycation approval announcement, meaning we could take advantage of a very competitive deal since, despite being a ‘no change/no refund’ rate, that was superseded by Marriott’s fully flexible COVID-19 policy for all bookings at the time.

We made one change to the stay date and despite higher rates on the new dates, they were happy to change for no additional fee. Good service indeed.

Raffles Hotel was added to the STB list in the second tranche of hotel approvals, on 13th July 2020, becoming one of just 18 hotels in the country certified to accept leisure bookings at the time.

Raffles reopened

That exclusivity didn’t last of course – the approval list now boasts over 170 properties, including over 60 luxury, boutique and mid-range hotels.

Raffles Hotel Singapore – The Suite Life staycation deal

Following the ban on leisure travellers from overseas but prior to the implementation of circuit breaker measures, Raffles had already begun offering the ‘The Suite Life’ staycation package to attract bookings from local residents.

Once the hotel was ‘staycation approved’, it reignited the same offer and, whilst expensive, certainly offers one of the best value for money propositions currently available.

~ The Suite Life ~

Hotel Front Side Small

Experience a legendary weekend in the lap of luxury at Raffles Hotel Singapore starting from $795 with the following inclusions:

  • Complimentary upgrade, subject to availability
  • Daily breakfast for two at Tiffin Room
  • History tour with our Resident Historian
  • $100 nett Hotel Experiential credit to be used at Raffles-operated restaurants and bars, Raffles Spa and Raffles Boutique
  • Additional $50 nett credit per stay for stays between Sunday to Wednesday
  • An exclusive 15% off Raffles-operated restaurants and bars, Raffles Spa and Raffles Boutique
  • History tour with our Resident Historian
  • Complimentary parking for duration of stay

  Full Details

At this rate for two consecutive nights, it is effectively two nights for the price of one, without even considering the hotel credit and other discounts included.

Raffles Hotel Singapore is an all-suite property and so not surprisingly is unapologetically expensive.

When we stayed in August 2019 it was under the full rate of $935++ per night and we still found it represented good value for money versus our other hotel experiences in Singapore in the suite category. It’s worth putting that into the perspective of the class of hotel. This is no chain brand. This is an icon and you are paying for that privilege.

Therefore, ‘The Suite Life’ staycation package is really exceptional value and we think that once international tourism and business travel returns to Singapore, we are unlikely to ever see an offer quite like this again at this iconic property.

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Booking process and arrival preparations

The booking process was seamless as with our previous stay. A short email to the hotel was responded to almost immediately with confirmation of rate availability for the dates requested. We somewhat nervously booked over a weekend, knowing full well that every man and his dog would have the same idea!

Around 24 hours before check-in time we were sent an email with a link to ‘Online Check-In Before you Arrive at Raffles Singapore’. The linked website requires your basic details and images of an IC card or passport for each guest.

Raffles Pre arrival copy

It is a good idea to complete this promptly because the subsequent email reply from Raffles includes a link to the booking engine for the swimming pool sunbeds and the fitness centre, a new requirement due to COVID-19.

Screenshot 2020-07-27 at 12.00.52 PM

Pro Tip: Weekend availability fills up fast. If you haven’t received a pre-arrival registration link then bookings can also be made via email with the concierge. 90-minute windows are available from 7.00am to 7.00pm (e.g. 7.00am – 8.30am, 8.30am – 10.00am, etc.)

Also in the email reply from Raffles is a QR code you will use to scan outside the front entrance on your arrival to facilitate your check-in, minimising the need to provide documents and details a second time.

Check-in

The evening before our arrival, the concierge rang to confirm our expected arrival time. As part of “The Suite Life” staycation offer we took advantage of, check-in is available from 11am.

The concierge advised that they were expecting a significant volume of guests arriving at 11am and therefore it would be better to arrive earlier or later – implying the room would be ready even earlier. We opted for 10.30am which worked out well.

Note: The early check-in and late check-out benefit has subsequently been removed from “The Suite Life” offer, these will now be subject to availability.

We arrived at the front entrance of the hotel on Beach Road just after 10.30am. Our bags were collected and we proceeded to the podium, set up in front of the main entrance. This was the first noticeable change from our last visit, normally you would walk through the lobby, under the grand staircase and to the reception area at the back.

Check In
Welcome podium. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

Alongside this podium was the SafeEntry QR code, a Raffles-branded hand sanitiser station and the usual plush red carpet leading in to the hotel. There was no queue at our arrival time and after temperature screening, ID checks and scanning of the QR code sent in the pre-arrival email, we were taken to the suite for the remainder of the check-in formalities.

Temp Screening
Temperature screening. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

The staff were warm and friendly, despite the obvious difficulties presented by the safe re-opening measures.

Hand Sanitiser
Hand sanitiser. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

The State Room Suite

Despite not being explicitly mentioned in the offer, ‘The Suite Life’ package is for a State Room Suite as standard but includes a complimentary upgrade, subject to availability.

The State Room Suites (67 sq m) are located in the Bras Basah wing of the hotel (the most historic) overlooking The Fern Court and Bras Basah Road. Both of these are public areas so some privacy is sacrificed and it can be a little noisier.

The benefit to these rooms is the two separate entrances, one into a foyer alongside your bathroom and the other directly into your parlour for entertaining.

The Courtyard Suite

Happily, we were upgraded to a Courtyard Suite during our stay. Whilst a little smaller in size (58 sq m) they are tucked away in a more sedate section of the hotel (beneath the building containing the rooftop swimming pool), surrounded by greenery and close to the Grand Lobby.

Outside the room are two wicker armchairs and a coffee table perfect for enjoying the morning sun or evening cocktails.

Verandah
Verandah outside our Courtyard Suite. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

At the entrance to the room is the parlour, identical to the Palm Court Suite we had previously stayed in. This is appointed with a small dining table, chairs, a sofa, coffee table and a leather bureau containing the mini-bar items.

Parlour
Parlour. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

The bedroom features a king-sized bed, a dressing table (with built-in hairdryer), two wardrobes and an armchair.

The bathroom is clad with marble and features a free-standing roll-top bath, twin sinks, and separate shower and WC rooms. Various ‘Ormonde Jayne – London’ amenities are provided along with plenty of towels and fluffy “Raffles” bathrobes.

The room features are still controlled by the iPad: TV, air-conditioning, blinds and the contact with the butler.

iPad 3

With regard to dining, the device still doesn’t have the menus or the ability to order through the digital interface. These are hopefully things we can look forward to in future.

iPad 1

iPad 2

The room was immaculate, just as during our last stay. This is no mean feat given the abundance of high-touch polished silver surfaces that capture fingers prints so easily. In fact, all surfaces, glass wear and cutlery were pristine. The suite itself was devoid of even the slightest scuff on the marble or wood. It was almost as though we were the first guests to ever have stayed.

This is somewhat ironic given that our particular room was the first suite to reopen to guests after the renovations were completed last year, making it likely one of the most frequented in the hotel.

All of the new restrictions and procedures during the ‘Phase 2 reopening’ were carefully explained and documented in a double-sided A4 sheet (click to enlarge).

Amenities

The most notable inclusion to the amenities in the room was the brand new ‘Personal Care Kit’. Almost all hotels offering staycations are providing some form of personal protective amenity at check-in, however all we have seen so far is generic masks and hand sanitiser.

Raffles, true to form, has gone the extra mile and provided a bespoke Personal Care Kit in an attractive canvas pouch. It contains:

  • Cloversoft Antibacterial Bamboo Organic Wipes
  • A 30ml Raffles branded hand sanitiser
  • Two disposable 3-ply Surgical Masks, with the iconic Raffles palm logo in the bottom corner
Personal Care Kit
Raffles Personal Care Kit. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

This is found on the coffee table in your parlour, alongside your welcome letter. This sort of attention to detail is what continues to set Raffles apart from the crowd.

The Personal Care Kits are even on sale at the nearby Raffles Boutique, for S$15.90 each.

Care Kit Boutique
Raffles Care Kit on sale in the boutique. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

According to the staff there these have been quite popular, so Raffles seems to have struck the right balance here.

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Dining

The first port of call during our stay was afternoon tea in The Grand Lobby. Raffles is currently offering a special ‘New York Afternoon Tea’, including lobster rolls and an amazing Reuben sandwich.

High Tea
Afternoon tea. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

The first night we chose to enjoy a glass of champagne in the room before heading to the Tiffin Room for dinner. The benefit of having a parlour in each suite is that it’s an excellent space for drinks and entertaining – setting it apart from your average hotel room.

Friends of ours were also staying at the hotel over the same weekend, so this was a great advantage giving us the choice between the parlour and verandah for evening drinks.

Verandah 2
(Photo: MainlyMiles)

Dinner at the Tiffin Room was excellent as always (this was our third visit), but as we decided to dine at 8.30pm, we found the 10.30pm government limit for alcohol consumption snuck up on us all too quickly.

If you like to take your time then 7.30pm or 8pm may be a better option.

Pro Tip: Under the latest Phase 2 measures F&B est