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.
‘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.
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 ~
Experience a legendary weekend in the lap of luxury at Raffles Hotel Singapore starting from $795 with the following inclusions:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The staff were warm and friendly, despite the obvious difficulties presented by the safe re-opening measures.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
According to the staff there these have been quite popular, so Raffles seems to have struck the right balance here.
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.
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.
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 establishments across Singapore must not allow alcohol to be consumed after 10.30pm, however you are free to continue drinking in your own guest room after this time, including room service orders.
On the second night, we enjoyed evening cocktails in Raffles Courtyard (having experienced their excellent new brunch menu a few weekends before) and then headed up to Butchers Block. This is one of the most recently opened restaurants in Raffles.
Unfortunately, their free-flow wine and multiple course chef’s tasting events, dubbed “The Oak Table”, has been suspended temporarily due to COVID-19. Nonetheless they recognised us from our last experience and seated us on the grand table again.
We chose “Carte Blanche” which is a sampling of all the best, freshest and sometimes off-menu options that the chef has. It’s an expensive option at S$188++pp, but happily, until 31st September, the 4th diner eats for free (effectively reducing it to S$141++pp).
We were served 7 excellent courses and we will be back. If you are intending to visit – arrive hungry.
Note: BBR by Alain Ducasse and Writers Bar (both excellent) are sadly still closed until further notice during Phase 2. BBR is a large venue that requires a high guest volume to sustain. Writers bar is a small and intimate space, and with social distancing measures in place it would probably be unable to accommodate sufficient guest to cover costs.
The Long Bar is also currently closed, with the Singapore Sling experience transferred to the nearby Raffles Courtyard.
In the following map of Raffles’ dining options, numbers 1, 4 and 7 are not currently open. All other venues are operating under Safe Management Measures.
Breakfast is still served at the Tiffin Room, or on your verandah if you prefer by pre-arranging the day before with your butler.
On both mornings of our stay we chose to have breakfast at the Tiffin Room.
Booking is not required, with breakfast served between 7am and 10.30am, however the hotel does advise in the welcome letter that there is “high traffic” after 9.00am, so an early breakfast is encouraged.
The most noticeable difference is that the buffet is no longer offered. Quite simply the new COVID-19 measures make buffets almost impossible to provide, therefore only the à la carte options are now available.
In addition, in order to cater for social distancing requirements, breakfast seating is now spread out across the courtyard (for al fresco breakfast) and across The Grand Lobby.
The menu is accessed via QR code. A selection of both western and local options are available. As before, there is no limit to the number of items you can order in the ‘free-flow breakfast’ concept.
The breakfast menu has been slightly simplified from our previous visit, an understandable change due to the added pressure of providing à la carte service to all. We noticed that the following items are temporarily not being offered:
- Crab Cakes
- Japanese Bento
- Vegetable Dhal Curry
- Wonton Soup
Despite the omissions, the selection was still extensive and there should be something for everyone on the menu shown above.
Breakfast service was attentive, however as we chose to dine at around 9.45am each morning, some of the hot dishes did take quite a long time to arrive.
It is worth noting though that every dish was excellent and immaculately plated despite the obvious pressure of now serving every single one of the many guests in an à la carte fashion.
This can easily be attributed to the dramatically increased number of tables, across a much wider area, and the lack of a buffet. The overall experience was pleasant but the staff were clearly rushed off their feet both mornings.
If you’re an early riser, you’ll probably appreciate prompter service in the 7am-9am window.
We took the opportunity to have lunch in our suite, with the Mainly Miles favourite Club Sandwich being the dish of choice for most of our hotel stays.
Why change the habit of a lifetime? It was just as good as the one we had by the swimming pool during our August 2019 review.
We also ordered some light dishes on our verandah one afternoon while having drinks with our friends. These were also promptly served and great quality.
Pool and fitness centre
As mentioned above in the arrival preparations, you are encouraged to reserve your swimming pool and fitness centre slots in advance. The slots certainly filled up on both the days we were staying over the weekend, so we recommend doing this as soon as possible.
Of course, being Raffles, the butler will do their utmost to accommodate you with other slots and if you haven’t booked and instead simply walk in, access will be allowed if they have availability.
The swimming pool area is limited to 20 guests at a time. This does not include the adjacent pool bar area.
The ‘check-in’ process involves temperature screening, SafeEntry and checking your booking.
Given that 90-minute slots are allocated, don’t be surprised to find a ‘socially distanced queue’ if you arrive on the minute, with guests eager to maximise their pool time especially when the sun is shining.
The process doesn’t take long even if there are a few others waiting.
You are escorted to your sun lounger, which has a towel cover provided with an additional towel and iced water. In-between guests the sunbeds and tables were wiped down and sanitised.
It is a little hard to attract service from the sun loungers but the staff were generally very attentive. Do expect to pay high-end hotel prices, however, you will get a 15% discount thanks to ‘The Suite Life’ offer.
This is an incredibly relaxing space to lie back and pretend for a moment that everything is normal under (hopefully) blue skies, wrapped in fluffy towels and enjoying one of the most exclusive pools in the world.
In the fitness centre, certain equipment is blocked to ensure social distancing, such as alternate treadmills, but it still remains a well-equipped space.
The Raffles Spa is open but operating at reduced capacity to ensure social distancing and deep cleaning of facilities between treatments, in accordance with new STB requirements.
Given the limited capacity, it’s advisable to book well in advance of your stay to avoid disappointment. We tried it during our last stay and the treatment was excellent, but expect to pay top-level prices (minus ‘The Suite Life‘ 15% discount).
Check out and departure
All good things come to and end and our latest stay at Raffles was sadly no exception.
On departure day the hotel provides a letter outlining the revised check out procedure. In view of the social distancing measures, this happens in-suite rather than at the hotel’s small reception area.
Throughout our stay, service was nearly as good as when we first reviewed last year. It’s clear that the combination of the overwhelmingly popular staycation package and the raft of new safety measures has put some strain on the system. Frankly, this is understandable and it didn’t adversely affect the enjoyment of our stay.
Despite some minor delays in service, when the staff arrived they were always exceptionally friendly. All of those we encountered were happy and chatty which must be no mean-feat given, for example, they are providing five-star pool service to a rotating chain of customers whilst wearing a mask in 30-degree heat!
The relatively long wait time at breakfast on both mornings was really the only issue we had during our stay, though in our subsequent staycation at the W Singapore Sentosa Cove it was the same story.
Clearly à la carte breakfast at hotels more used to operating an extensive buffet selection is putting a big strain on the staff across the board.
Pre-COVID, Raffles Hotel could hardly ever of been described as a scruffy or unclean place. In fact, a cursory glance through TripAdvisor reviews – not a single mention of anything negative regarding cleaning. Instead, you will find glowing reports of sparkling clean rooms and crisp linens.
So, post/mid-COVID with the additional safety measures in place, it’s difficult to notice a difference. What is more noticeable is the frequency and dedication of the cleaning – but that could easily be attributed to an increased consciousness due to the global pandemic.
Noteworthy is the attention that has been paid to complying with the new restrictions whilst attempting to avoid ruining the style and ambience. As an example: forget the garish hazard warning tape, chaotically stuck to the floor to indicate socially distanced queuing positions. Instead, custom decorated signs at eye-height act as markers.
Custom made and branded hand sanitising stations are dotted around the hotel; a welcome relief from the usual clinical appearance of these now fundamental devices.
Much more is being done behind the scenes too. Other than merely being SG Clean certified they have also implemented a stringent set of cleaning standards developed by Accor group and vetted by Burea Veritas, called “ALLSAFE”.
Staff are being provided with nutrient-rich meals that are taken in a socially distanced environment so they don’t need to leave the premises. In-room mini-bars are being disinfected and resealed daily.
Finally, in what is perhaps the most remarkable and bold step forward, suites are being kept vacant for a 24-hour window after departures to ensure optimum cleanliness and sanitisation procedures are completed.
This is likely one of the reasons that the early check-in / late check out benefit on the staycation package has had to be curtailed.
Accor Live Limitless and Raffles
Raffles Hotel Singapore is operated by the AccorHotels under a long-term management contact. That means Accor Live Limitless (ALL) members can accrue points for their spending in the hotel.
When the hotel first reopened in 2019 however, guests were not able to redeem ALL points to offset their bill or room charge at Raffles.
However, in good news for loyal Accor members, points can now also be redeemed against the value of purchases. We have heard from our readers a handful of success stories in booking this staycation offer with points instead of cash, by asking to settle the final charges including the room rate with your ALL points on check out.
The Accor ALL points system is purely revenue-based. 2,000 ALL points are worth €40 (around S$65), so in order to redeem ‘The Suite Life’ staycation offer you will need to part with around 28,000 ALL points.
Earlier this year Standard Chartered ran a 100% bonus deal for transferring credit card points into the ALL programme, which would provide good value in this example, however it’s generally not an attractive rate outside such an offer.
After our stay, Mainly Miles arranged an interview with Christian Westbeld, General Manager, Raffles Hotel Singapore.
We asked Christian about the hotel’s recent STB approval, the reopening experience and the newly implemented COVID-19 safeguards.
It must be a relief to be accredited and re-opened following circuit breaker. What was the process like to obtain the MTI/STB accreditation?
Raffles Singapore has been certified by the Singapore Tourism Board through its third-party auditors as having hygiene and cleanliness protocols adhered to the highest local standards and achieved the SG Clean certification across all facilities in April 2020. This is an ever-evolving audit which takes place at regular intervals to ensure compliance.
At the same time, we have worked closely with Accor on their ALLSafe measures that consist of safe and secure guidelines to steer the group through these tumultuous times. In addition, we also looked beyond our industry and learned what else can be done to create the highest perceived level of safety and hygiene security for our colleagues and guests. Through this, we have created our own individualised hygiene program and a promise to our colleagues and guests that we will always use the highest standards amongst the various advisories that we receive.
We have embraced the best practices in cleaning standards including increased sanitisation, audited regularly by our hotel's safety committee, in partnership with international hygiene specialists. We received the approval from STB to welcome guests for staycations on 14 July.
How has demand/occupancy been since re-opening? Do you expect these levels to continue or for the novelty of staycations to dwindle?
It has been encouraging and heartening to have the support of the local community and we are humbled by our guests’ warm reception, with full capacity on weekends. While we are cautiously optimistic that the local community will continue to seek a well-deserved respite through staycations, it is expected that local demand may taper off eventually.
We understand that guests will be looking for new experiences and opportunities to create memories and will continue to offer exciting staycation packages for guests to enjoy new concepts.
We’ve seen the additional measures front-of-house for social distancing, temperature screening, safe entry and the hand sanitiser stations. What additional measures have been implemented behind the scenes?
Besides the above measures, we have also implemented the following:
- Digitalised menus are now available for all restaurants featuring a-la-carte and made-to-order options
- Option to request for disposable cutlery
- Adherence to HACCP principles for food preparation and hygiene
Our suite was already immaculately clean when we stayed in August 2019, just as it is now. Are there any additional cleaning/sanitising steps taken in rooms between guests stays?
Specific to staycations, the following measures have been taken:
- Suites will be kept vacant for a 24-hour window between departures to ensure optimum cleanliness and sanitisation procedures are applied.
- Increased sanitisation of high-touch points using medical-grade disinfectants and a daily disinfection process of the in-suite minibar with hygiene seal.
- Air filters will also undergo cleaning at an increased frequency.
- Guests are empowered with contactless check-in and checkout procedures, cashless payments, contactless in-suite dining and housekeeping services with safe distancing, to further ease any discomfort.
“The Suite Life” staycation offer is really brilliant value. It’s currently set to expire in September. Do you anticipate an extension to this offer?
The next phase of stays at Raffles will be focused on new experiences that promises unique experiences for guests to create treasured memories at the hotel and rediscover what makes Raffles Hotel Singapore so special.
Currently, we have similar packages completed with a plethora of privileges including: Retreat at Raffles and the Royal Raffles Experience, as well as specially curated heritage experiences that they can book during their stays with us. For more information on the staycation packages and the heritage experiences available, please refer to the press release here.
A number of our readers noticed there was a recent curtailment of the early check-in and late check-out benefit. Can you elaborate on the reasons for this and confirm the times have now reverted to 2pm/12pm?
The Suite Life is packaged with a minimum 2-night stay, offering guests the optimal time to enjoy the different experiences and facilities available at Raffles Hotel Singapore. We are humbled by the overwhelming support of our local community and have observed the high demand for the same check-in and check-out timings from our guests in the past month.
Given the enhanced measures including leaving a 24-hour window for each suite between guest stays as well as having to adhere to staggered arrivals, we have had to adjust accordingly to ensure that the guest experience is not compromised. Early check-in and late check-out timings will be subjected to availability.
As we navigate through the ongoing pandemic, Raffles Hotel Singapore is committed to adjusting our policies to safeguard the health and wellbeing of all our guests as a priority and providing the unique Raffles experience that our guests are looking for.
Yes, we have observed that local guests have preferred to stay within hotel grounds during staycations to fully enjoy the hotel grounds and discover Raffles Hotel Singapore as a one-stop destination for dining, pampering and retail experiences in the past month.
They have dined at our F&B spaces, enjoyed our luxurious spa facilities, shopped at Raffles Arcade, or simply relaxed in our gardens, taking photos and enjoying the tranquillity and distinct architecture of Raffles Hotel Singapore.
BBR by Alain Ducasse is a Mainly Miles favourite, especially the newly revived Champagne brunch. When can we expect to see it reopened?
BBR by Alain Ducasse occupies one of the oldest buildings in Raffles Hotel Singapore and has always been a social space in the city for more than a hundred years. I assure you that this social space will return once business returns to a healthy range.
Our swimming pool and gymnasium facilities are all resuming operations as well as the Raffles Spa. Advance reservations are required prior to use, due to safe distancing measures, appointments will be staggered to set aside ample time for deep cleaning of facilities in-between treatments and subject to a maximum usage allowance of 90 minutes per guest.
Obviously, weekends are in high demand for Singapore Staycations. For those looking for a quieter stay, which days would you recommend?
Sundays to Wednesdays would be recommended for those looking for a quieter stay. With lesser crowd, reservation bookings will be easier to make, and guests can enjoy more flexibility when making reservations to enjoy our swimming pool and gymnasium facilities.
In addition, guests will be given an additional S$50 nett hotel experiential credit to be used at Raffles-operated restaurants and bars, Raffles Spa and Raffles Boutique, on top of the S$100 nett credit included in The Suite Life package.
The most obvious questions are, “Have the new Safety Measures detracted from the Raffles experience?” and “Is it still worth it?”
The new safety measures are the elephant in every room at the moment, however what is clear from this stay is that execution is everything. If enough thoughtful time and effort are dedicated to compliance then they can be easily implemented without significantly tarnishing the experience.
Wearing a mask is unavoidable but only whilst in transit to your next glass of champagne or back to the safe cocoon of your suite. The other measures are inevitable but didn’t feel like a burden during this stay and were largely expected.
To answer the second question, a stay at Raffles is an aspirational experience for most. After our stay last year we didn’t expect to get another opportunity to experience it for at least a few years.
However when the ‘The Suite Life’ staycation package was offered, we decided it was too good to say no to.
Yes, it’s very much still worth it and we doubt we’ll ever see a rate like this again – so if you can find some available dates, jump on them. You won’t regret it.
For our comprehensive review of the full Raffles experience, including different room types, dining at La Dame de Pic restaurant and an overview of the hotel’s Spa facilities, click here.
(Cover Photo: Raffles Singapore)