As temps hovered near zero in Big Sky, Montana we decided to take a quick trip to California for a dose of sunshine. The photo below encapsulates the gray mood in Bozeman.
With the Covid crisis looming large, we were mindful of picking a hotel where we could easily socially distance from other guests, ultimately settling on The Hotel Bel-Air. We had stayed at the Bel-Air about 15 years ago, but not since they did a full overhaul in 2009-11.
We decided to book a room through American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts, and settled on a Villa (which is called a Bel-Air Suite in the Hotel’s description). Booking through American Express comes with several benefits- early check-in, late check-out, daily breakfast credit, a resort credit of $100 and a room upgrade when available. We picked a Villa because we wanted a separate entrance, no hallway, and a full patio which would ensure privacy and fresh air.
Our direct flight from Bozeman to LAX was on-time, and quite empty. Jet Blue is still booking every other seat, which is reassuring. Even with Jet Blue’s precautions, we were prepared with our face masks and shields. I am willing to do whatever it takes in order to be able to travel.
American Express booked our car rental for us, and rather than Hertz, who we usually rent from, we went with Enterprise because the rates were so much better. We had reserved a Mercedes Sedan, but when we arrived we were shown to a BMW. Not to be difficult but we don’t particularly like BMWs, so we inquired as to what else might be available. “How about a Maserati, Boss Man”? “Why not?” we replied! And so we headed off to the Bel-Air in our Levante.
We were greeted at the Valet/Bellman station by an attendant with gloves and a mask. He reassured us that any contact with our vehicle would be followed with a thorough wipe down. In addition, there were sanitizer dispensers prominently displayed, so we felt comfortable handing over our car. In addition, there was a large sign informing guests that in order to be enter the property, everyone had to be masked.
Making our way to reception, we were happy to see the iconic swans welcoming us back.
As we approached the reception desk we noticed a very inviting lounge area off to the left.
Unfortunately guests are encouraged not to linger inside, but rather to find special places outdoors.
The staff at reception who greeted us were safely ensconced behind plexiglass barriers, and we went over to the gentleman who was free. He gave us a cursory run-down of the amenities included in our room rate but was sorry to tell us there was no upgrade available. When pressed he conceded that there may be a room opening up the last night of our stay, and that he would keep us posted. He didn’t hesitate to tell us that he was confident we would love our room.
We set off towards our Villa with our chatty Bellman, who pointed out all the improvements that had been made since we last visited.
I couldn’t help jump off the walkway and capture an additional shot of the swans.
We entered the Villa, and were momentarily distracted by the Champagne and chocolate welcome gifts (I made no mention of my birthday, but I guess they saw on my profile I celebrated it recently). After acknowledging the gifts we noticed a very strong and unpleasant musty odor. I mentioned to the Bellman that we may need to change rooms, but he said the odor was likely due to the fireplace in the room.
The Villa did have a small kitchen, but this did not sway me in any way.
The enormous chaise at the foot of the bed didn’t do much to convince me either.
As you can see, we opened all the doors to see if the offending smell might dissipate.
The last straw in deciding that the Villa was not for us, was the patio. Our confirmation clearly stated our accommodation would have a large garden facing patio- this sad space did not meet that description.
I called down to the fellow who had checked us in, and said that the room did not match out confirmation, and that it had a very unpleasant odor. He begrudgingly conceded that the Patio was not as described, and he would work on finding another room. The Bellman set off (as did my husband to have a drink) and I waited. After 15 minutes I set off towards reception. They did find us a new room, a Grand Suite, which was indeed an upgrade, and had a large patio as I had requested.
The Bellman proceeded to bring me to the new room. I apologized for inconveniencing him, while he acknowledged that I would be much happier in the new Suite. He was correct. The room was pristine, with no smell at all.
The bedroom was light and airy.
A nice spacious closet.
A convenient spot to charge phones.
A well appointed bathroom (there was a powder room as well).
Last but not least, there was a lovely outdoor patio.
I called my husband back from his cocktail, and we settled in. Ultimately we were happy, but the process annoys me to no end. The receptionist clearly had a better room available, so why play games and waste everyone’s time? The moral of the story- have confirmations available, and make sure you are getting what you requested and paid for. Do not be pressured to settle for the first room they show you. Inevitably there is always something better. I feel this to be even more imperative during Covid when our travels are so infrequent- we want every moment (and dollar spent) to count.
We continued to explore the grounds throughout our stay and found numerous romantic spots to linger.
We enjoyed breakfast each morning in the outside dining area. The food and service was excellent, with the staff keeping the appropriate social distance, and wearing gloves, masks and face shields. We felt very confident that all precautions were being taken.
We did not have dinner at the Wolfgang Puck Restaurant in the hotel, but may people did, the tables were filled each night (all dining in California must be outside, and the restaurant was set up perfectly with many separate areas).
Stay tuned for my next post which will focus on the diverse (and delicious) dining experiences we enjoyed.