Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Shangri-la Hotel, The Marina, Cairns

You know what they say about what you need to make it in retail: location, location, location. The same holds true for hotels. Of course, top customer service, impressive physical facilities and a wide range of options like restaurants and a professional business center don't hurt.

The Shangri-la Hotel, located at the water's edge by the Marlin Marina, in Cairns, Australia, has all those things going. Only a few minutes walk from the passenger terminal for boats to the Great Barrier Reef, and with views of Trinity Bay and the mountains beyond, this resort-like city hotel has what is probably the best hotel location in Cairns - the biggest city in the tropical north of Queensland (pop. 150,000). Unlike most resorts, the Shangri-la ( also has a sizable cluster of PCs for guest use on the ground floor, plus a serviced business center - er, centre - on the Horizon Club executive floor - up one from the ground floor on level one. Just across the hallway is the Horizon Club Lounge, where drinks and light meals are served at no extra charge.

Another handy aspect of the hotel's location is the shopping complex of which it is a part. You can enter the mall right off the lobby. Although I did notice how early the shops - not the pubs and restaurants - in the mall closed on a recent Friday evening when I was there. The locals were already out of the office, bypassing the shops, to start their weekend drinking, I was told. Australia, you know? Of course, many visitors were doing the same thing, so there you go.

The Shangri-la, Cairns and Queensland generally are anxious to get out the word that they are open for business. The January cyclone that was seen on TV around the world slammed the southern parts of the state hard, including Brisbane, the state capital. In the northwest coastal regions, where Cairns is, practically everything is operating normally. They'd love to see you.

A few more words about the hotel, a 5-star, luxury property with 255 guest rooms and suites: The staff is what I call anticipatory - that is, they don't wait to be asked for something; they see you and move pro-actively. Rooms are spacious and most have views of the water. My room facing the marina had a sizable roofed terrace, making the room seem bigger than it was; ditto, the window at the head of the bed that allowed light to seep into the expansive bathroom. The shower - strong, with plenty of hot water - came in handy after a long, hot day of touring.

The conceirge and other staff are helpful, with tips about what to do and where to go - though I should say that I had an extra benefit, being part of a small group that was shown around by the hotel's affable and knowledgable director of sales and marketing, Gavin Weightman. With Gavin guiding, I got to see a wide range of cool places on my short (three days) jam-packed visit.

Among them: the Tarzali Lakes Smokehouse, with Aussie specialities that include tasty crocodile sausage (, and Paranella Park, a long-abandoned upscale retreat built in 1930 and only recently dug out of the rainforest. Paranella Park is not luxurious anymore - there is a caravan camp, not guest rooms, on site, although it has a good, casual eatery. However, it has an abundance of nooks and crannies to explore on the hilly grounds, comes complete with a waterfall, and comes enveloped in a strangely romantic bare-ruined-choir meets-the-mosquito-coast ambiance. These days, it's mostly a museum.

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