A Review of the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald
The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
The Hotel MacDonald opened it’s doors in July of 1915. The design was inspired by 16th Century French Castles and the Chateau look was in line with other railway hotels in Canada. Owned and operated for a while by the Railroad Companies, the Hotel was named after Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald. In 1953 an addition was built providing an additional 300 rooms. By 1986 the hotel was facing demolition due to disrepair and the 1953 addition was removed. Thankfully, the city designated the hotel as a Municipal Heritage Resource, saving the building that is an iconic Edmonton Skyline landmark. The hotel was purchased in 1988 by Canadian Pacific Hotels and they began work on restoration, reopening the hotel in 1991. In 1999 Canadian Pacific Hotels merged with the Fairmont brand.
This was my second time staying at the property and my third time at a Fairmont Property. The first time I stayed at the Mac was about a year and a half ago during the month of July. During that visit I stayed in their Signature Room Category and had a River Valley View from the 6th floor. This visit, likely thanks to some cookies and tea and I brought for the hotel staff, I received a free upgrade and I stayed in their Standard King room that had a City View from the 3rd floor.
Upon entering the hotel I was greeted with Christmas Magic. The lobby was dominated by a gorgeous Christmas Tree that was 2 stories high. Behind it, the entrance to the Confederation Lounge was built like a castle wall guarded by Nutcracker Soldiers. When I checked in, the gentleman at the Front Desk told me it was made out of real gingerbread and that I should go up to it and smell it. The hotel’s dog, Smudge, was nowhere to be seen, which made me sad - he wasn’t around the last time I stayed either. Perhaps the Hotel Ambassador gets weekends off.
Exiting off the elevator after checking in, I saw a door that says 309 and 310 on it. The door is open and it’s a short hallway down and in fact, two rooms are there. While not connecting the additional privacy might be good for a family or friends traveling together. As I left my room for supper I made note that the door facing the hallway has a lock and my room key opens it.
I go downstairs to meet my friend. When she arrives I tell her the construction she sees is Gingerbread and she should go smell it. After a sniff test we head to The Harvest Room for dinner. After dinner we depart ways and I head back up to the room to relax and watch some Netflix before falling asleep in a nest of pillows.
There is a lot of good going on at the Hotel Mac.
Above all else, one of the most luxurious and top notch things the MacDonald does well is service. Staff are incredibly helpful, professional and willing to go above and beyond to make sure your visit is as luxurious as it should be.
The first time I stayed I had a meal that wasn’t quite what I had expected. I had ordered a steak sandwich while dining in the Confederation Lounge that came on a thin slice of bread and there was a sauce that accompanied the dish. The bread was unable to handle the sauce and turned to mush. I had also found the sauce salty. When I checked out of the hotel there was a survey I could complete, and I wrote about the meal. While it wasn’t terrible, and nothing was bad enough to send back, I wanted to provide feedback. Not too long after I had a phone call from the Food Manager stating they had tested the meal based on my feedback and I had been right. To thank me for my feedback and bringing their attention to the matter (and as an apology for the food not being to expectation) they offered me a complimentary meal to return to make things right. Friends, that’s some excellent service.
So I used my voucher for a meal in the Harvest Room the night of my stay. My friend and I each ordered the three course meal, and it was absolutely stunning. I started with the mushroom soup, chose the Beef Tenderloin as my main and I finished with the Chocolate Crunch Cake. The highlight was definitely the Tenderloin (I'm still drooling) and it wasn’t until I finished that I thought I should have taken a photo for you to see. But it was so tender and flavourful and cooked to absolute perfection. The Mashed Potatoes were about two whisks away from melting into liquid they were so smooth. And I don’t know what the vegetables were on my plate, but despite being a picky eater, I devoured them too.
On my previous stay, breakfast was included in my room rate, so I was able to go down for a meal in The Harvest Room. The Breakfast Buffet was delicious and there was a decent variety of hot foods to choose from, including Eggs Benedict, so I was happy. During this stay, I ate off site.
After dinner, my friend departed and I decided to stop on the second floor to get a different view of the lobby and while walking around, noticed the historical photos of the property on the walls. I enjoyed viewing them and later realized there were historical photos in my room as well. It was a nice added touch to the atmosphere and I enjoyed seeing how Edmonton’s downtown had changed from when the hotel was first built. The Hotel MacDonald, I believe, is very proud of it’s history and heritage and works to honour it.
I returned to my room and thanks to my Club Accor Membership, enjoyed complimentary WiFi to watch Netflix with. Completely free to join, Le Club Accor replaced the previous loyalty program. Members not only receive free WiFi (which normally costs $15/night at the Mac) but also can save 5-10% off published rates. The program also allows guests to earn points, like many loyalty programs. One unfortunate blip in the attention to detail related to the WiFi, is that the landing page is outdated information. The copy text was speaking to the Gold Room Renovations to be completed in 2016, so over 2 years out of date.
There’s not much “bad” to be said about the Hotel MacDonald. It’s a beautiful property with old world charm. But there have been some notes I’ve come away with.
The first, as a plus size person, the seating is not terribly comfortable. The Harvest Room is primarily tables and not fixed booths, which for any plus sized person is a God send. But the arms on chairs does hinder comfortability. Last summer I had a date on the patio outside and was grateful for when it got too cold and we had to go inside the Confederation Lounge where we sat on a couch. If you are plus sized, take note.
Another note that I come away with was a mix up at the Harvest Room. I had called on the Wednesday prior to my stay direct to the restaurant to make my reservation for Friday the 21st at 6pm. When I showed up there was no sign of my reservation on the books, which baffled me. Thankfully the restaurant was not full and we were seated promptly. The following Friday, the 28th, I received a phone call from the Harvest Room at about 6:45pm asking if I would still be attending my reservation that evening. Somehow my reservation was entered for the wrong date. Mistakes happen and human error is forgivable, but I when premium rates are set, mistakes do become more noticeable.
If you can afford to pay for a River View Room, I would highly encourage you to do so. My first stay was in a River View Room (the bottom picture below) and while Edmonton’s Construction in the River Valley wasn’t the best view ever (I knew what I was getting into view wise when I booked - it was still lovely despite the crane) it was better than the street noise coming into my room from the City View Room I stayed in this time around. I was placed in a room overlooking the bus stop at the Telus Building. I didn’t overly mind the view and if I turned my head I could still see the Walterdale Bridge, but...what I wasn’t prepared for was the constant stream of buses whose melodious air brakes wafted up through the original windows as if a Public Transit Symphony was being played, just for me.
My final bad, that I’m sure comes to no one’s surprise, is the price tag. However, I have found with travel that you get what you pay for. While there are some elements I’ll cover in The Ugly below that can impact perceived value, a number of qualities shine through that warrant the price as worth it. That said, as it is a luxury property, you’re not just paying a premium for your room - spa services, food (including breakfast - it is not automatically included for most rooms), drinks, mini bar, the $5 small bottle of water waiting for you in your room and as I talk about below, parking...unfortunately a stay at the Hotel MacDonald is going to end up costing you more than just the rate you see when you book your room.
While I talk about parking alternatives below, if the price of the food or the look of the menu are not to your liking and you choose to eat off property, I highly recommend The Underground, Craft Beer Market, Sherlock Holmes and De Dutch. The latter is excellent if you are like me and have an unhealthy obsession with breakfast foods. And if the food served at the Hotel Mac isn’t fancy enough for you, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse is just across the street.
Have you ever seen Clueless? The 1995 film stars Alicia Silverstone (if anyone remembers her) as the ditzy and loveable Cher and Brittany Murphay as Tai - a non Beverly Hills newbie just trying to fit in. At a dance, Tai is sad a girl is dancing with the boy she likes.
Tai: Do you think she's pretty?
Cher: No, she's a full-on Monet.
Tai: What's a monet?
Cher: It's like a painting, see? From far away, it's OK, but up close, it's a big old mess.
The Hotel MacDonald has done a lot of renovations the past few years on some of it’s more expensive rooms. The Gold Rooms are gorgeous in photos (I’ve yet to be in one but #lifegoal). But the rooms that haven’t been renovated - they’re a bit of a Monet.
And to be fair to the Mac, it’s a historic building, and any historical building is going to have quirks. When I walked into my room I was at first taken in by the size and spaciousness of the room (about 300 sq ft) but the longer I stayed in my room, the more I noticed that the ol’ gal was looking rather rough around the edges. The glass top protecting the desk had obviously received a few hard hits in it’s day because there was damage to the wall behind. The grout in the ceiling of the bathroom looked like it needed to be redone. The ceiling in my room had some rips in it and the chair and ottoman had some noticeable stains. My previous stay I loved the bed, but this time, I wasn’t sure if it was me, or if the mattress was different than the one I’d had in the Signature Room. It just didn’t quite feel as life altering, so it’s possible renovated rooms have different furniture as well, though I’ve not confirmed this. It was a great sleep and the bed was lovely, but just not quite what I remembered.
Picture one is the damage from the glass top on the writing desk. Picture two shows the peeling ceiling. Picture three is the in room sprinkler system and the dry wall hole next to it and Picture four is the chair from my room with a handful of stains on the back and the seat.
Another ugly bit is Downtown Parking. Fees to park on site, per night, are incredibly high, though if splurging in luxury is your goal, then perhaps Valet Parking at $45 per night (or visits over 4 hours) is worth it. For self-parking it’s $35. There is some street parking available around the area, if you’re willing to walk. For my stay I opted for paid street parking (free between 6pm Saturday to 9am Sunday) a couple blocks away. On Sunday I was able to go online and pay for parking in the zone I parked in from the comfort of the bed, since I wasn’t checking out until noon. So while it was a little bit of a walk, I was able to park overnight for less than $10. Please make sure to check for signs, as some spots that are open for parking at night are no parking zones during rush hour. I also recommend checking if there are any events at Roger’s Place the nights of your stay, because that can impact rules and fares on both street parking and the cost of parking in Impark Lots. A block from the hotel is the Chateau Lacombe - if you’re looking for covered parking, rates start at $20/night for self parking.
Fairmont Properties across the world are synonymous with luxury. Catering to clients seeking upscale experiences, the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald delivers. Despite some of the flaws, it’s a gorgeous building inside and out and the staff are Top Shelf. While I do highlight a bit about the street noise and the cosmetic issues in the room, and do believe Standard Rooms are long overdue for a renovation, I would happily stay in the exact same room I had in a heartbeat.
Sometimes you just can’t put a price tag on an experience.