An upgrade’s always welcome when you’re travelling. I mean, there’s something lovely about an unexpected surprise that makes you more comfortable, whether it’s more legroom on the plane or a bit more space to swing your suitcase in your hotel room.
So I was pretty happy to find that I’d been upgraded to a suite when I checked into my room at Vibe Surfers Paradise on Friday night, ready for the annual gathering of the Australian Society of Travel Writers, this year on Australia’s Gold Coast. The conference is held somewhere different every year, and it’s always a tiny bit disappointing when it’s really close to home! But the advantage was I could drive – just an hour south of Brisbane, where I live.
Opening the door of my hotel room, I was surprised to find myself in a one-bedroom apartment. I’d paid a little bit extra for a river view, but hadn’t quite expected such an expansive space (kitchen, lounge and dining areas, two balconies plus the usual bedroom and bathroom).
But the real hoot was that I also had an in-room sauna, complete with slatted wooden door! That really made me laugh, because the temperature outside in the street was hovering above 30 degrees Celsius, so a sauna was the last thing I needed.
I’d stayed at this hotel before, so knew that what I was getting was good quality three star accommodation, in a great central location just a few minutes walk from the beach and close to all of Surfers Paradise’s shopping and restaurants. Not that I had much time for any of that, because much of the time I was holed up in a conference room discussing the future of the travel writing industry with about 100 of my colleagues.
The conference was held at one of Australia’s most opulent hotels, Palazzo Versace. Built in 2000 by fashion designer Donatella Versace as a tribute to her murdered brother Gianni, it is exclusively furnished with the Versace brand. Everything was imported from Italy, including the river stones with which the porte-cochere is paved (and reputedly the artisans who laid them) and the massive antique chandelier that dominates the marble-columned lobby (it once graced the State Library of Milan).
Ceilings are hand-painted with gold trims. The pool area is called the Water Salon, and all rooms and pools have jacuzzis. Room rates start at around $360 a night (double), or if you’re feeling flush, book the Imperial Suite for $2,160 a night.
It’s over-the-top but somehow mesmerising, and the service was faultless. The hotel hosted the ASTW’s annual Awards for Excellence in a wonderful ballroom, serving up a three course dinner that included wild-caught king prawns with black sticky rice, caramelised pork and Thai salad, a macadamia-encrusted lamb sirloin, and Bourbon vanilla creme brulee. Enough said.
After the excitement of the awards night – at which I was a finalist in the Best Use of Digital Media category – I was ready for a long relaxed breakfast. And that treat was provided by the Gold Coast’s iconic resort hotel, Sheraton Mirage. After a recent major refurbishment, the resort is sparkling…and we were glad we didn’t get there too late in the morning, as the queue for the buffet grew longer and longer. It’s a popular spot, not just for overnight guests, but for locals heading out for a leisurely Sunday brekkie treat.
With just the pool area between the restaurant and the beach, it’s a fabulous location on Main Beach and plenty of people were enjoying the perfect Spring day. For me, it was all about trying to walk off that breakfast! And because the hotels I often stay in are in cities, it was also a chance to remember how appealing a luxury resort can be.