Suzhou is a major city in the Yangtze River Delta region of China, an hour or so outside of Shanghai. Jessica has family there, so we planned a four-night stay in the city to visit them before heading on to Japan as part of our side-trip around Asia.
Hotels in China are generally cheap both in points and cash. I’ve never stayed at a W before, and the W Suzhou had the benefit of being more reasonably-priced than your average W thanks to being in a secondary market like Suzhou.
This was before the great Marriott/Starwood merger of August 2018, and a free night here had cost 10,000 Starpoints at the time. I went ahead and booked five nights at a cost of 40,000 Starpoints even though I’d only be staying for four, taking advantage of the Fifth Night Free benefit to earn an extra elite night credit.
Nowadays, a free night at the hotel costs 25,000 Marriott points per night, which is even cheaper than before given that Starpoints were converted to Marriott points at a 1:3 ratio during the merger.
Anyway, the hotel is part of Suzhou Center, one of the city’s newest developments, and it’s situated adjacent to the site’s gorgeous mall complex. It’s a few blocks east is the glimmering Jinji Lake, of which you can enjoy spectacular views from the hotel’s higher floors.
After catching the high-speed train into town and having dinner with Jessica’s family, we arrived at the hotel late at night. The exterior facade is simply stunning, and the glittering W signage is instantly recognizable.
The driveway and entrance to the hotel is housed under a huge alcove of sorts. A spaceship-shaped water fountain occupies the centre of this space, setting the sleek and futuristic tone of the hotel.
Entry is granted through a grand set of revolving doors. There’s also a separate entrance to the elevators that bring you straight up to the hotel’s fine-dining restaurants located on the upper floors, designed for restaurant patrons who aren’t staying on the property.
The lobby is glitzy and glamorous in the extreme. The strobe lighting and luminescent decor make it feel more like a nightclub than a hotel lobby, which is exactly the sort of vibe that the W is renowned for.
Tiny polyhedral sculptures dangle from the soaring ceilings, reflecting the colourful lights all over the place. Trendy music – Chinese, English, and often a remix of both – blared from the DJ booth adjacent to the bar, up on the raised platform that occupies much of the lobby. You almost can’t help but do a little happy dance to the music as you enter the hotel.
For their part, the check-in counters are encased in a series of metal wires and tiles descending from the ceiling, forming a small makeshift enclosure for guests to complete their formalities in (relative) peace. Tiny luminescent globes serve as the light fixtures.
We were welcomed to the hotel as SPG Gold Elite members. This would be my very last stay under the legacy SPG program, since we’d be leaving the hotel on the fateful day of the merger, August 18. As a Gold Elite member, I wasn’t entitled to breakfast, but was given a complimentary drink voucher at the Woobar and an upgrade to a Spectacular Room, a higher room category than the Wonderful Room I had originally booked.
(One of the things that the W chain is most known for is using the letter W whenever possible. The bar at a W hotel is always the “Woobar”, the swimming pool is called “Wet”, there’s Wonderful Rooms and WOW Suites, etc.)
I grabbed a few daytime shots of the lobby as well, which highlight both the spaciousness of the lobby and how saturated it is with outlandish decor.
Stepping into the elevator, you are greeted with a friendly but attention-grabbing message emblazoned on the carpet, which varies depending on the time of day. W hotels are basically trying to make you go “Wow!” at every turn, so you gotta keep up!
We were assigned Room 3118 on the 31st floor. The hallways are pitch-black, with only thin slivers of mood lighting shining through. This would be a highly questionable design choice at any other hotel brand, but here at the W it helps build the atmosphere of stylishness and exclusivity.
I didn’t get to check out any of the other floors of guest rooms, but I get the feeling that each floor has a different “colour” to it. Here on 31st, ours was a bright lime green, which is quite possibly my least favourite colour – bleh.
Anyway, the thin strips of mood lighting mark out the signage for each room. See that tiny circle at the intersection of the lines? It turns red when you’ve got your Do Not Disturb on!
We opened the door to our room, and wow… as first-time guests at a W hotel, where do we even begin?
No doubt the first thing you notice upon entering is the huge circular light fixture attached to the wall. It’s known as the “Moon”, and it casts the entire room in a harsh lime-green neon light when it’s lit.
The king bed sits beneath the Moon, adorned with a cute mini-guitar pillow. The bed was absolutely five-star in its quality, although I found it to be surprisingly soft for an Asian hotel (we tend to like our mattresses very firm!)
There are useful light controls and a power outlet embedded in the walls on either side of the bed, while the bedside table features a telephone, a notepad, bottled water, and mints. All the decor in the hotel was designed to be a little on the wacky side, as can be seen by the spider-shaped card holder and the cubic paperweight.
Beyond the bed is a small sitting area, where you’ll find a lounge chair that’s so spacious it could easily act as an extra twin bed.
Opposite this, the television was mounted within the series of “tubes” that made up the design of the walls. In keeping with the hotel, the room’s decor was clearly trying to push boundaries, making you go “Hmm…” pretty much wherever you looked.
Beneath the television, the tremendous amount of countertop space running along the length of the room was something I really loved. The countertop mainly housed the minibar (or “Mixbar”), which is arranged in a set of pull-out drawers incorporating – you guessed it – the letter W as a major part of the design.
The other drawers consisted of a pull-out fridge and the coffee and tea set.
Over on the desk, our welcome amenity had been prepared. We were treated to a popcorn box full of brownie bites (a bit strange, as I would’ve preferred popcorn), along with a fruit punch in a mason jar.
I guess this was supposed to be some kind of movie-going snack, since it was served on top of a clapperboard with my name listed as the “Director”. Nice.
Then in the far corner of the room was a vanity with not one but two lighted LED mirrors, and Jessica naturally set up shop there for her daily makeup routine.
The bathroom is accessed from the hallway near the entrance, and it ticks pretty much every single checkbox for hotel bathrooms.
Lots of space, check. Double sinks, check. Lighted LED mirrors, check. A separate shower and bathtub, check.
But of course, the W wouldn’t be content to simply meet expectations, it had to exceed them in an over-the-top fashion. And so naturally we had a faux tree branch on which to hang towels and bathrobes, as well as electronic frosted glass walls that could – quite incredibly – toggle between translucent and opaque.
(Don’t worry, the switch is only available from inside the bathroom!)
Another favourite feature of mine was the full-length mirror that stood opposite the bathroom entrance, which was great for a last-minute outfit check before you head out.
The mirror is flanked by a set of two spacious closets.
Soon after arriving, we quickly found the harsh light coming from the Moon to be rather off-putting and turned it off. That gave the room a much more comfortable ambience (and also made it much easier to photograph!)
The floor-to-ceiling windows granted us sweeping views of the surrounding area, although as is commonplace in China, there wasn’t much to look at besides miles upon miles of buildings stretching into the distance. The Jinji Lake to our east was the only distraction.
Now, this summer was especially hot in Asia, and temperatures in Suzhou reached a scorching 36˚C during our visit. Naturally, then, we spent large portions of time at the hotel, making full use of the relaxation facilities. The hotel’s gym (“FIT”) and swimming pool (“WET”) are located on the 23rd floor.
The gym is exceedingly well-equipped with high-end fitness equipment. In addition to a row of treadmills overlooking Jinji Lake and the usual exercise equipment and free weights, there was also a punching bag and a boxing machine.
At first glance, the decor in the gym looks like the usual W extravaganza, but it actually serves a purpose as well: the plastic tubes set into this pillar act as water bottle holders!
After our workouts, Jessica and I headed to the pool for a few laps as well. The pool is fancy enough for the W Suzhou, but isn’t quite as glamorous as the outdoor pools at W hotels around the world where you see those famous W pool parties being held. (In fact, outdoor pools tend to be pretty rare in China because of the air pollution.)
At one end of the pool is a raised platform where you’ll find a smaller whirlpool together with some lounge chairs shaped like loop-de-loops.
The changing rooms were very well-appointed as well. There was another heated whirlpool, as well as showers, lockers, and vanity mirrors.
On our third evening at the hotel, Jessica and I decided to head down to the Woobar for some complimentary drinks. We sat down right next to the DJ booth and enjoyed the lively atmosphere.
We were allowed to order anything off the cocktail menu up to RMB 90 ($18), and the rest we’d have to pay for. The presentation of the drinks was incredible – check out that Japanese sake-inspired concoction!
The Woobar and the lobby lounge sort of blended into one another, with many of the seating arrangements looking like they wouldn’t be out of place in a posh Shanghai nightclub.
Now, since I would’ve had to pay obscene hotel prices for the daily breakfast, I decided not to partake, and instead we headed out to the nearby mall for breakfast sandwiches at the Starbucks.
Nevertheless, I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of ordering room service breakfast by hanging the little menu outside of the door the previous night, so I figured now would be as good a time to try out that service as any.
I placed an order for an omelette with hash browns, plus a bowl of congee with youtiao, a golden-brown fried breadstick (or as the hotel called it, “Chinese churros”), for about 150 RMB ($30) in total. It was filling enough, although as I had expected, the portion size wasn’t quite in line with the hotel’s elevated prices.
I’ll also take this opportunity to mention a few of the things we did in Suzhou. The sweltering heat kept us indoors for much of the trip, but we did get a chance to wander along the shops and stalls of Pingjiang Road, the picturesque arterial route through Suzhou’s Old Town along its famous canals.
We also visited the Humble Administrator’s Garden, the city’s largest and one of its foremost and most beautiful classical Chinese gardens. The numerous pools and gardens are connected by a series of footbridges and pavilions, and if it weren’t for the suffocating temperature, we would’ve easily spent a few hours here enjoying a very pleasant stroll.
Jessica’s uncle told us that the other famous gardens in Suzhou looked pretty much identical and weren’t worth braving the heat this time around – we could save them for next time. And so, after a few hours of sweaty sightseeing each day, we’d retreat to her family’s house to pass the rest of the time over delicious home-cooked food instead.
The W hotel brand is extravagant, ostentatious, over-the-top, and a lot of fun. In that regard, I thought the Suzhou property did a fantastic job of introducing me to the brand. The off-putting Moon light aside, I loved our Spectacular Room, and I thought the hotel’s relaxation facilities were top-notch as well. I would most definitely stay here again the next time we’re in Suzhou.
Truthfully, if you’re mainly staying at a hotel for the peace and quiet and to unwind after a long day of travelling, then the W could easily be “too much” with the way it seeks to dazzle you at every juncture throughout your stay. I definitely get the appeal of the W, but I’m not sure how often I’d seek it out along my future travels – I guess it’d depend on the destination and what I’m looking to get out of the trip.