We stayed at the Westin Harbour Castle whilst on a visit to see friends in Toronto and really enjoyed our stay there. We enjoyed it all the more as we had got a great deal on the hotel of just $79.00 per night last minute through the website Hotwire.com, which sells off last minute hotelrooms!
This hotel is in a great location on the Toronto skyline by the Toronto harbour and overlooks the Toronto Islands in Lake Ontario. It is only a short walk from the CN Tower and from the shops on Yonge Street. It boasts an amazing restaurant/bar on the top floor of the building which offers a spectacular view of the city.
The best thing about all Westin Hotels is the beds and bedding which they themselves call 'Heavenly'. The beds are the biggest and most confortable I have ever slept in, and they are so good that you can actually buy one for your home from Westin the company! The showers are also fab with double heads on them and great massage functionality.
Below the hotel is the Ferry Terminal offering quick trips across to the Islands, which as worth a visit as no cars are allowed on these islands and so you see lots of the residents who live on them cycling to get provisions with special trailers on the back!
Overall the Westin is a great hotel and even better if you get a deal like we did!!!!
Choosing a hotel for our trip to Toronto certainly was not easy for me. Having lived in the city for an entire year, I was keen on having a nice location, a good deal and a clean hotel room - and naturally I did not mind a little bit of luxury in the process. I was torn between various two and three star hotel, when it suddenly occurred to me that the price for the Westin Harbour Castle, a four to five star hotel (depending which rating site you visit), would cost very little extra money. Having seen the spectacular lobby of this hotel before, I took the liberty of incurring the extra cost and booked us into this establishment, located right on Lake Ontario.
***Arrival and checking in***
There is a distinct advantage to choosing the Westin Harbour Castle over other hotels, especially when coming from overseas and choosing the downtown bus service as a mode of transportation into the city. The bus will always drop off passengers at the Westin Harbour Castle first - and by the same token, it is the last place where the driver picks up any passengers returning to the airport. This avoids an annoying 20-30 minutes of being chauffeured across downtown Toronto and waiting for other passengers to get to their destinations before reaching your own.
Although the hotel does not have a doorman or porter greeting you upon arrival, the feel of luxury becomes immediately apparent as you enter the humongous lobby with its beautiful marble floors. You'd be forgiven to feel a little lost at first - the check-in desk is definitely not the first thing you see. Instead, you will see a lot of comfortable chairs and sofas, huge glass windows which look out on some trees and, behind that part of the lake. To the right, you will find a coffee bar, the Toula bar and the concierge desk. To reach the check-in desk, you turn left. Because the hotel is rather large, consisting of almost 1000 rooms located in two towers, you will find an army of staff at the counter trying to check you in as speedily as possible. And if you are a member of the Westin "special club", you will actually be checked in per express.
We did not have to wait long to be checked in - and here is where we had our first pleasant surprise. The lady announced that we had been upgraded to one of their superior and renovated rooms, as we were staying for 12 nights. I really could not quibble with that - and was even more excited when I was told that we were staying on the 25th floor - in other words, a guaranteed avoidance of street noise.
We were given the choice of whether we wanted two double beds of a king sized bed - and we opted for the king sized bed. As we entered the room, I knew I had just struck gold. The room was bigger than our 1-bedroom flat - nicely furnished with a sofa, an armchair, a table, the king-sized bed and a huge flat-screen television located right opposite of the bed. Along with our room keys we were also given a key to access the minibar, which was impressively stocked with little bottled of alcohol and soft drinks - and less impressively with some uninteresting chocolate bars. There was also a coffee machine and complimentary Starbucks coffee and teabags on offer. That is just about the only thing that came for free in this room, however, as the small bottles of Vittel water on offer cost about CAD$ 6 (approximately £3).
Depending on where you are staying at the Westin Harbour Castle, your views will differ considerably. Some guests will have a view of the downtown Toronto city skyline, others will have views of Lake Ontario. We kind of had a mix - stretching your neck to the left, we could see Lake Ontario - and to the right we had a nice view of the CN Tower.
The king-sized bed comes with three layers of blankets and four lovely pillows and is rightly dubbed "heavenly". The mattress is very firm, but not too hard, and the pillows make you feel like you are sinking into a bed of clouds. To aid your sleeping experience, the four massive windows in the room are covered with curtains that take away any light in the room, which seriously puts you at risk of sleeping for half a day rather than exploring the city.
The bathroom was massive as well - nicely done up in black and brown marble stone and fully equipped with massive mirrors, beauty products, a hairdryer and towels of various sizes. The only real downsides to the bathroom were the size of the tub (we do like to have baths with Lush bath products on vacation) and the water temperature - which even at the hottest level merely felt lukewarm.
***Cleanliness of the room***
Upon arrival at the hotel, our room was really spotless. While the room was never really left filthy by the cleaning staff, it sometimes did look like they completed a rush job (which is probably due to the fact that we stayed 12 nights). As the Westin Harbour Castle prides itself to be environmentally friendly, your bed sheets and towels will only be changed upon request. We requested a couple of changes of the bed sheets during our stay - and on one occasion my "fresh" pillows definitely had some chocolate stains on them. Dusting and vacuum cleaning definitely did not take place on a daily basis. It should definitely be noted, though, that the cleaning staff does give you privacy and if you are in the room until noon they will not knock on the door but return for cleaning later in the afternoon.
There are plenty of dining opportunities within the Westin Harbour Castle - the Mizzen Restaurant, the coffee bar, the Toula Bar and the Toula Restaurant. We only had breakfast at the hotel, which is served from at the Mizzen Restaurant. You can either order breakfast a la carte, which is a little expensive, or you can opt for a cold breakfast buffet or a warm breakfast buffet. The cold breakfast buffet is reasonably priced at CAD$14 (approximately £7) per person and includes orange juice, tea or coffee and a huge selection of fresh fruit, pastries, toast, mini bagels, cheese, bread, porridge or cereal. For CAD$23 (approximately £11.50), you will be able to have warm food as well, which includes bacon, eggs, French toast and omelets amongst other delicious items. I only ever had the cold breakfast - and enjoyed it immensely. I strongly advise that you try all the pastries on offer, as these are definitely the best items on display.
The breakfast menu does not change from day to day, so you may need to find other breakfast eateries if you crave a bit of variety.
The Westin Harbour Castle is equipped with a reasonably sized gym, a nice indoor heated swimming pool and a Jacuzzi. For those requiring true relaxation, there is also a beauty spa, where you can have a massage and truly unwind. There is also a tennis court available for those who truly have too much time on their hands.
Although we viewed the facilities, we did not have much time to use them. While the pool is rather large and lends itself to swimming in lanes, I would strongly advise to visit early in the morning or late at night for a true workout, as the pool is dominated by children during the day time.
***The concierge desk***
The concierge at the Westin Harbour Castle is truly exceptional in terms of service. It is usually staffed by two people who can provide you with all sorts of information such as directions, places to shop and dine and with all sorts of tickets for day tours, for example, the Toronto city bus tours or the tours to Niagara Falls.
***Telephone calls and e-mail access***
One thing you should definitely be made aware of is how expensive telephone calls are from the telephone in your hotel room. Although telephone calls within Toronto are free from residential lines, the Westin Harbour will charge you CAD$2 (approximate £1) for each local call up to 60 minutes and even for toll-free 1-800 calls. Although it might be a little bit of a pain, I strongly recommend you use the payphones in the lobby from which you can make a local call for 25 cents (12.5 pence) and 1-800 calls for free. As you can imagine, international calls come even more expensive, so I would recommend getting a calling card from a corner store and using this at a public payphone instead.
There is email access in the business centre, but at CAD$5 (approximately £2.50) for 15 minutes, I strongly recommend you look for an internet café outside the hotel to check your email. Alternatively, if you have a laptop, you are able to get internet access in your room for less money.
Although the location of the hotel is lovely, right by the water, it is rather removed from the rest of downtown Toronto. The Westin Harbour Castle does provide a free shuttle service to downtown, but you are of course dependent upon their departure times. Your nearest subway station is Union Station, which is about a 10-15 minute walk. If you are looking to have breakfast outside the hotel, allow for approximately 20- 30 minutes until you reach a nice eatery.
Your walk into downtown Toronto is not the most pretty walk - you will be passing underneath the Gardiner Express Way and meet a lot of Toronto's homeless people along the way. Although they are generally harmless, they may ask you for some change - and that of course takes away from the enjoyment of Toronto.
Incidentally, the walk back to the hotel from downtown Toronto will show you that although the Westin Harbour Castle is beautiful on the inside, it is a real eyesore on the outside. It's an ugly brown brick building with two ugly brown towers and an appended conference centre, that certainly is in dire need of renovation if Toronto is ever going to lose the prize of having the ugliest waterfront in North America.
The Westin Harbour Castle offers an express checkout service, in theory avoiding the need for you to actually visit the desk again. I strongly advise you, however, to check the bill they slip underneath your door very carefully. I found a phone call that I had not made on my bill. In addition, the hotel tried to charge me for the room again - although I had prepaid everything in September of last year and had given them my Thomas Cook voucher. Luckily, we managed to sort it out - and in the end, as a little compensation, they did not charge me for the one phone call I actually had made.
If you are planning to stay in the city for a few more hours before returning to the airport, you can leave your luggage in the hotel. The porters are very helpful and will even arrange for a taxi to pick you up later in the day if you know when you will be returning.
***Downsides during our stay***
The first few days passed without complaint, however, due to renovations taking place in the hotel, we did have a few unpleasant experiences, such as drilling noises after 9 a.m. in the morning and the occasional lack of water due to "emergency repairs". We also regularly saw ropes outside our windows, which are used during window cleaning.
We also had the misfortune of the New York Mets staying at our hotel (and in our tower) for a few nights, which led to the hotel being overrun by baseball fans trying to sneak to the penthouse. On our floor we had some children who kept the television on all night at a very high volume, making it impossible to sleep. However, this is hardly the fault of the hotel.
As a side note, I had read in numerous reviews that the Westin Harbour Castle is full of hookers that occasionally offer up their services on your way to your hotel room. I have to say that for 11 days we did not see a single hooker, but on our last night at the hotel we saw two such ladies leaving the hotel. On the whole, this is not a normal or disturbing occurrence, however.
Despite the downsides in terms of location, occasional noise and the errors made in relation to our bill, we did thoroughly enjoy our stay at the Westin Harbour Castle. It is truly a place where you can relax - especially with the comfortable beds and the dark room shielding you from the outside world and stresses. The staff is generally helpful and friendly and if you are intending to go on a number of tours, it is one of the few hotels from which all major tour companies pick up guests directly. And at the bargain price of about CAD$130 (approximately £65) per night for a room that is normally priced at CAD$449 (approximately £225) per night, I really cannot complain about anything. If you can get a room at this hotel for a bargain price, even if it is perhaps £10 per night more than the rate for a two or three star hotel in Toronto, I strongly recommend spending the extra money for a luxury pampering experience.
Westin Harbour Castle
1 Harbour Square
Tel: Phone (416) 869 1600
Fax: (416) 869 0573