From Vancouver, I’d continue my cross-country trip with a two-day visit to Saskatoon, taking advantage of Aeroplan’s soon-to-be-discontinued ability to add a stopover on a round-trip flight within North America.
When I showed up at around 7pm, Vancouver International Airport was even quieter than the other Canadian airports I had passed through during the era of COVID-19. I noticed that YVR took the “hygiene theatre” a little less seriously than their counterparts in Toronto and Montreal – there were no efforts to seal off the majority of the airport’s doors or temperature screening stations upon entry.
However, the airport did offer the key cleanliness measures, such as touch-free bag drop stations, plexiglass screens at the check-in counters, social distancing markers, etc.
Upon passing through a desolate security queue, I spent some time in the recently-reopened Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge. Our contributor T.J. has already reported on the “reimagined” domestic Maple Leaf Lounge experience at YVR in this new era, so check out that post for all the details of the physically distanced seating arrangement, mobile-order meals, and bartender service.
The flight to Saskatoon itself was mostly uneventful, except for my genuine surprise at the fact that I was flying on one of Air Canada’s brand-new CRJ-900 planes with refreshed seats and a much larger galley – apparently one of nine new CRJ-900s that were meant to be delivered in 2020.
I of course sat in one of the single seats on the left side of the aisle for optimal social distancing, although there was only one other passenger in business class anyway. You can never be too careful… or something like that.
Anyway, since my flight landed in Saskatoon at the late hour of 11:30pm, I spent the night at the Courtyard Saskatoon Airport before heading downtown in the morning and checking in to the subject of today’s review: the Delta Bessborough, one of Saskatoon’s major landmarks and another one of Canada’s historic grand railway hotels.
Delta Bessborough – Location & Arrival
Having opened in 1935 as the Bessborough Hotel and known affectionately among locals as the “Bess”, the Delta Bessborough is ideally situated for any visitor to Saskatoon.
It occupies a prime spot amidst the greenery on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River, sitting pretty as the palatial centrepiece of Saskatoon’s skyline while offering convenient walking routes to Saskatoon’s best attractions in all four directions.
The Delta was therefore always going to be the natural choice of hotel for my visit to Saskatoon. Yes, there are a few other hotels with more modern living quarters (in particular, the nearby James Hotel was another property that was recommended to me), but none could compare to the wow-factor of staying in what’s effectively the city’s castle.
I had no hesitation in booking a one-night stay here, especially as I had booked using only 12,000 Marriott Bonvoy points – the cheapest possible price for a Category 3 hotel, thanks to the rare coincidence of a PointSavers rate falling on an off-peak date. In comparison, the cash rate was $181 plus taxes for this evening, so I was confident I was getting very good value for my points.
It was only a $21 Uber ride from the airport area over to the Delta’s doorstep. Arriving at 10am in the morning, I spent a few moments on the opposite side of the street to admire the Delta Bessborough’s grandiose exterior, before heading inside and checking in.
Delta Bessborough – Check-in
Prior to my arrival, I had of course chatted up the front desk at the Delta Bessborough and asked if I could be upgraded to their top-tier Whirlpool Suite as a Titanium Elite member.
I don’t imagine there are too many elite members passing through Saskatoon during these pandemic-stricken times, so my request was very swiftly granted, and I saw my room type being updated well before I arrived at the hotel.
(Or at least, I had thought the Whirlpool Suite was the top-tier suite category. A local friend of mine would later explain that the Delta Bessborough actually has a much larger Royal Suite which it does not offer for sale, and is bookable only through private channels. It’s where the top brass stay when they’re in town, such as the Prime Minister whenever he passes through, or indeed Queen Elizabeth the last time she dropped by Saskatoon in 1993.)
Anyway, I was delighted to learn that my Whirlpool Suite was already available even though I had arrived at the very early hour of 10am. I requested a late checkout the following day for 4pm, too, which meant that I’d have access to the room for about 30 hours – not bad for a one-night stay!
The front desk staff also confirmed that the Delta’s Club Lounge on the mezzanine level, which I’d normally have access to, was closed due to the COVID-19 situation; as a result, I was given a breakfast voucher to order anything I wanted off the à la carte breakfast menu the following day.
With the formalities complete, I took my keys and headed up to the fourth floor.
Delta Bessborough – Whirlpool Suite
As you’d expect from one of Canada’s grand railway hotels, the Delta Bessborough’s interior hallways definitely have an old-school charm to them, although I didn’t feel like they were too far past their prime.
(It was recently announced that the hotel’s interiors would undergo a $20 million round of renovations, and the Bessborough would ditch the Delta brand and join Marriott’s Autograph Collection as a result. That was supposed to happen sometime in 2020, but it seems like the pandemic has put those plans on hold for a little while.)
I had been assigned Room 457 at the end of the hallway. The front door leads into a small foyer, with the wardrobe and bathroom on either side of you, and the rest of the suite opening up straight ahead and wrapping around the corner of the building.
The suite’s sitting area consists of an elongated couch, along with two upholstered chairs and a small table between them. One of the curtain shades had been mysteriously detached from its window and left sitting on the chair here – I didn’t care too much to complain about it, but if I had known about the Royal Suite at the time, I might just have asked for a compensatory upgrade. 😉
The king bed occupies most of the space in the suite. I ended up getting a decent night of sleep, but I did feel that the bed was slightly less comfortable than what I’m normally used to from Marriott hotels.
In the opposite corner of the room was a desk, which was positioned smartly with a nice view of the city through the windows, as well as a solitary chair, which was… not positioned smartly at all. It looked totally out of place, as though someone was moving furniture from the suite and forgot about this chair in the middle of the space.
In fact, the entire suite’s layout was definitely kind of strange, and it was clear that this was a 1935 hotel that was doing its best to adapt to modern interior design sensibilities (the baby-blue curtains and carpet didn’t help, either).
Nothing encapsulated this more than the whirlpool itself, which was housed in a linoleum alcove built unceremoniously into the very corner of the suite.
There was a spacious hot tub and a towel rack, and I did end up indulging in a nice warm bath, but there’s no denying that it looked somewhat out of place, and the suite’s overall arrangement was odd at best.
Let’s just say that while the W Dubai The Palm can pull off a bathtub in the bedroom pretty well, that doesn’t mean that an aging castle hotel from 1935 would see the same results.
(Interestingly, I had similar thoughts from the Jacuzzi Suite back at the Delta St. John’s, where there was also a big open-concept whirlpool that seemed like it was plonked there without much thought for the suite’s overall design. There must be something about Delta hotels in mid-sized Canadian cities…)
Indeed, when I had first heard about the Whirlpool Suite, I had envisioned that the whirlpool would be part of a large and luxurious bathroom or something like that.
Nope, the bathroom was definitely on the smaller side, although it did feature a bathtub of its own, and I did feel that it was slightly nicer and more well-appointed than the rest of the room itself (I wouldn’t go so far as to call it modern, but everything was neatly arranged and it was a visually pleasing space to be in, despite its small size).
Opposite the bathroom was the pantry and closet. I would’ve appreciated a proper coffee machine, but in keeping with the hotel’s age, a regular drip coffee maker would have to suffice.
Despite noticing some odd things about the suite, I couldn’t really fault the Delta Bessborough for them, and I didn’t have any regrets about staying here during my visit to Saskatoon.
These quirks very much come with the territory when you’re staying at a historic hotel like this, and I’d say that the experience is very much about getting a first-hand experience of that historical charm more than anything else – a respect in which the Delta Bessborough very much delivered.
Delta Bessborough – Breakfast
The next morning, I headed downstairs for breakfast at the Garden Court Cafe.
Since the hotel was nearly empty, I didn’t have any competition for snagging the best seat in the restaurant: overlooking the gardens around the back of the castle.
Breakfast began with a full pot of coffee being brought to my table, which is something I really appreciate, as it saves me the trouble of asking for refills. Then, the lovely restaurant staff informed me that my breakfast voucher was good for “anything I wanted” from the breakfast menu.
As tempted as I was to order the Eggs Benedict, the breakfast sandwich, and the buttermilk pancakes, I had already learned my lesson from a few generous breakfast sittings on my earlier hotel-hopping journey in Vancouver, so I restricted myself to the Canadian breakfast.
It was delicious and just the right level of greasy, and I washed it down with a few mugs of coffee to get my day in Saskatoon started on the right note.
For what it’s worth, opposite the Garden Court Cafe on the mezzanine level is the Delta Bessborough’s Club Lounge, which I’d normally have access to as a Titanium Elite member if it were open. From the outside, it looked like a pretty standard Delta hotel lounge with some seating, some computer workstations, and a kitchen area.
Delta Bessborough – Other Facilities
The Delta Bessborough has a bar and lounge on the ground floor, known as Stovin’s Lounge. While room service wasn’t being offered during my stay, I did order a butter chicken from Stovin’s in the evening when I was busy catching up on work, which tasted pretty good.
Otherwise, Stovin’s also seemed to be a popular spot for locals to pop in for a drink, although there probably weren’t as many locals doing that as usual at this time.
Until the end of last year, the hotel also played host to one of Saskatoon’s longest-running dining establishments: Samurai, a Japanese fine-dining restaurant that served teppanyaki. However, as part of the hotel’s $20 million renovations to bring it under the Autograph Collection portfolio, it was decided that a new restaurant would open in the future that would swap out expensive teppanyaki for a more approachable dining concept, the details of which are yet to be revealed.
On the opposite side of the lobby from Stovin’s Lounge is Damara, the hotel’s day spa, where hotel guests and visitors alike can indulge in a spa treatment.
The hotel also has a gym and an indoor pool, although the latter was still closed during my stay due to the COVID-19 situation. Since I didn’t have the chance to go for a workout, the front desk was reluctant to let me take a peek at the gym because of the strict cleaning procedures they’d have to follow, which is of course understandable.
So here’s a photo of the gym taken from outside the glass walls; as you can see, it’s got most of the basic equipment that’s required, along with plenty of space to accommodate your workout.
Finally, my favourite feature of the Delta Bessborough was the private courtyard and green space in the back of the building, where you could catch some awe-inspiring views of the hotel itself. It’s not hard to see why this building is considered the pride and joy of Saskatoon.
The building is even more picturesque when admired from across the South Saskatchewan River, and I’ll share those pictures with you in the next installment, in which I’ll bring you along my city tour of Saskatoon and all of the things I did during my short stay in town.
I was very much satisfied with my choice of the Delta Bessborough for my one-night stay in Saskatoon. Dating back to 1935, it doesn’t have the most modern rooms or the best amenities, but I had fully expected that going in.
Instead, I very much appreciated the chance to get to know Saskatchewan’s largest city through staying at one of its finest addresses, while also checking off another one of Canada’s grand railway hotels off my list. And getting good value for my Marriott Bonvoy points at this Category 3 hotel was just the icing on the cake.
Now that I’ve spent a couple of days in the Paris of the Prairies, I’ve been advised by my local friend that “there’s no need to rush back”; nevertheless, if I return to Saskatoon in the future, I do think I would return to the Delta Bessborough (or perhaps it’ll be known as “The Bessborough, Autograph Collection” by then) for another stay.