In the intro post for my Russia trip, I had mentioned that we’d be staying at a small Airbnb during our time in St. Petersburg.
And yet here we are, about to delve into a review of the upscale Renaissance property in the heart of the city. So, what’s the story here?
Well, suffice it to say that the Airbnb was far below acceptable standards. Don’t get me wrong – we had pored over the photos of the place and knew we’d be living in a very cozy space in a residential area.
But we weren’t prepared for the weird smells, the ramshackle floorboards, the mattress that was so thin we could feel the springs on our backs, and – as a dealbreaker – the bathroom that flooded completely every time we showered.
Seriously, if the Airbnb owner had only installed a shower curtain that was a few inches longer, we might’ve been content to put up with the conditions for our four-night stay. But by the time we woke up on the third morning, beleaguered by another miserable night’s sleep and faced with the prospect of negotiating our hot mess of a bathroom, we decided we had had enough of this place.
The sunk cost of the Airbnb be damned, I pulled up my Marriott app and looked for a hotel for the next two nights. Thankfully, the Renaissance St. Petersburg Baltic Hotel had space, and I quickly secured a room there for 30,000 Marriott Rewards points a night. The nightly cash rate had been quite high since the World Cup was in town, so the hotel represented a decent value for my points, but to be honest I didn’t really care at the time – I just didn’t want our subpar choice of lodging to dampen our experience in the wonderful St. Petersburg any further.
And so we quickly packed our bags – I’ve honestly never seen us pack up our stuff so quickly – and called an Uber to help us make our escape away from the nightmarish Airbnb and towards the sanctuary of a trustworthy upscale hotel.
(Tell me this isn’t the perfect demonstration of the duality of Miles & Points: it bails us out in tight situations, but it also spoils us rotten.)
The Renaissance is the best Marriott property in town (the other two are Courtyard hotels), and as part of the new Marriott loyalty program, a free night here goes for only 25,000 points. However, since the cash rates seem to hover around $100 when it’s no major event taking place, you might find paying cash to be a better value.
Location-wise, the Renaissance is pretty unbeatable, since it’s situated right on the doorstep of St. Isaac’s Cathedral and within walking distance of Nevsky Prospekt, the main tourist drag.
We breathed a sigh of relief upon being dropped up at the hotel’s modest exterior, which consists of a wrought-iron awning emblazoned with the words “Renaissance Hotel”.
Stepping into the lobby, one takes note of the small lounge area and the spiral staircase leading up to the second level. There’s also a small souvenir shop near the front entrance with calendars, magnets, and a host of matryoshka for all your doll-stacking needs.
The reception desk is to the right of the spiral staircase. A friendly associate checked us in for our two-night stay, and I was delighted that a room was already available even though we were checking in around 9am (and had just made the booking less than an hour ago).
The associate informed us that our Gold Elite breakfast would be served in the hotel restaurant until 10am each morning, and that we could also enjoy the hotel’s Gold Elite amenity of daily complimentary drinks at the bar. That was a nice surprise, since I don’t think it’s something that Marriott hotels are required to offer.
The hotel has two sets of elevators, located opposite each other. We took one up to the fourth floor, where we had been assigned Room 414.
As far as I understand, the Renaissance brand is supposed to encompass full-service premium hotels with a “lifestyle” twist – think of it as the classic Marriott brand with a splash of stylishness or funkiness. In that regard, the Renaissance St. Petersburg is looking a little dated these days and could certainly do with a bit of a refresh, since the hallways and interiors were pretty bland and seemed to harken back to a bygone era.
We’re in the heart of European Russia after all – a touch of ostentatiousness certainly wouldn’t hurt!
The uninspiring decor continued into the room itself. On the bright side, the room was very spacious, and the king bed was gigantic.
The armchair in the corner gave the room a much-needed pop of colour. Meanwhile, I was pleased to see a coffee-and-tea kit placed on the desk, which I consider to be an essential in-room amenity.
Interestingly, the hotel’s wifi required you to enter a mobile phone number and receive an SMS confirmation code in order to connect, whereas at every other Marriott-branded hotel I’ve stayed at, you simply enter your room number and last name. Since we were travelling with KnowRoaming’s data-enabled SIM cards which don’t have SMS functionality, I had to call the hotel’s IT help desk and have them manually add my devices to the network.
There was a small TV screen perched on the central cabinet. I must say, I quite like seeing my name on the welcome message upon arriving in a hotel room.
The bathroom was sizeable, though rather basic. The water pressure was also on the soft side, which was disappointing. The one redeeming factor about the bathroom was the retractable clothesline, which came in handy since we had a big load of laundry to deal with by this point on our trip.
The views from the room were nothing special, since the hotel is designed in such a way that the majority of rooms face an interior atrium. Given the haste with which I had made the booking, I hadn’t had time to email the hotel in advance to request a room with a decent view; however, I’ve since heard from others that you should do your best to secure one of the rooms facing the street, since they come with a commanding view of the nearby St. Isaac’s Cathedral.
Incidentally, square-shaped hotel buildings with a central atrium seem to be much more common than I realized, since my last three hotels at this point – the JW Marriott in Rio, the Marriott Moscow Tverskaya, and this one – were all designed this way.
It’s clear that this wasn’t close to being the nicest hotel room ever, but despite its shortcomings, we couldn’t have been more ecstatic to spread out among the spacious surroundings, relax on the massive king bed, and brush our teeth in a bathroom that didn’t resemble a wading pool. Sometimes, perspective is everything – in fact, we spent the entire first morning lounging around in the room and revelling in the sheer sense of relief at having a proper place to rest our heads.
As a welcome amenity, the hotel treated us to a delightful dessert platter consisting of cookies, macarons, and whipped cream, which was delivered to our room on the first night of our stay. Indeed, one of the things I liked the most about our time here was the excellent treatment we received as elite members.
The hotel’s bar and restaurant are located on the ground floor, past the reception desk. Since the Renaissance doesn’t have an executive lounge, elite members are treated to breakfast in the restaurant.
While the buffet isn’t huge, its contents were presented beautifully. For example, the cheese plate had decorative garnishes sprinkled all over, while the donuts were perched on a stand that resembled tree branches.
Meanwhile, the hot items consisted of typical breakfast foods like eggs, sausages, tomatoes, and baked beans, as well as Russian specialties such as blinis and syrniki – fried cheese fritters often served with jam.
There was an omelette station as well, although Jessica and I agreed that the guy manning the station could not compare with our favourite Omelette Dude back at the Marriott Moscow Tverskaya. In addition to freshly-prepared eggs on the cooking surface, you could also order poached eggs or Eggs Benedict from the waiters, who would bring it to your table.
Cold cuts, cereal, and fruit rounded off the breakfast items.
We made full use of our daily complimentary drinks at the bar throughout our stay. On the first night, we brought a few glasses of wine back up to our room, while on the second night we entertained a local friend of mine at the bar.
As for the hotel’s other features, there’s a small bar and lounge on the top floor known as the R Terrace. It was raining when I went up to have a peek, but it looks like an awesome place to spend time if the weather were nicer and the awnings were drawn – I’d expect the views of St. Isaac’s to be particularly stunning.
Lastly, there’s a fitness centre on the basement level, which is only accessible by one of the two elevators. I came down for a workout and found it to be quite well-equipped given its limited size.
My feelings on the Renaissance St. Petersburg Baltic Hotel are moderately positive. It’s true that the property has fallen behind the times a bit in terms of decor and could certainly benefit from a refresh. However, based on how surprised my friend was when he found out I was staying here, it does feel like the Renaissance is one of the best hotels in town, and its excellent elite recognition and hearty breakfast make it the best option if you’re a Marriott loyalist like myself. Throw in its unbeatable location in the vicinity of several important St. Petersburg attractions, and I can definitely see myself returning to the Renaissance the next time I’m in town.