I confess: Staying at a Hard Rock Hotel had not been in any of my top ten beachside resort ‘bucket-lists’.
Images of intoxicated tourists filled my nightmares; budget travellers (in search of a cheap luxe stay) clad in fluro-bikinis and borat-style trunks sipping cheap cocktails whilst ‘rocking-on’ in the lobby, elevator, bar, pool…everywhere (think Kuta).
Or, even worse, what if I were to find a giant Elvis statue lurking in the shadows of my room? (Shudder)
You can imagine, then, when I received my invitation to visit the Hard Rock Hotel in Penang, Malaysia, I didn't quite take to jumping around my office jamming out “We Will Rock You” on my legendary air guitar.
No, instead I was jamming “Hard Rock Hotel Penang Reviews” on my keyboard, and watched as the World Wide Web replaced my mental images of banana-Brazilian hi-cuts with images of a chic white beachside resort dressed with contemporary flair; and a luring lagoon-style pool decked out with waterslides, and, to my excitement, private pool deck rooms.
I was still wary about going to bed with Elvis, but the idea of lounging around a private pool deck was too good to refuse.
The Hotel Lobby
Arriving at night is impressive: a purple glow illuminates the building’s modest architecture while the trademark logo beams down from overhead. Aside from the larger-than-life guitar parked outside the entrance, you would be forgiven for believing you had just pulled up at a tame summer resort.
The subtle glitter continues as we step through the front doors; an impressive colour-changing drop-light glass chandelier is suspended from the roof, so dazzling I lie down right there on the lobby entrance's floor to take a photo.
As my gaze wanders from roof to wall, it meets the eyes of the heads of a few guys I know – sculptured Beatles.
Jumping back onto my feet, rock-paraphernalia begins to creep up on me from all angles, but in a surprisingly comfortable, almost stylish way. There are floor-to-ceiling glass cabinets displaying a collection of fabulous vintage guitars and outfits previously worn by the likes of Jon Bon Jovi, Elton John and even Vince Neil from Motley Crue; a flamboyant pink rocker's bed promoting Breast Cancer Week; and staff wishing guests a "rocking good stay."
The check-in counter doubles as a bar, with an enormous adjacent lobby lounge area great for kicking back with a complimentary welcome drink cocktail whilst the staff checks you in – the pool and sea views are impressive.
Tip: Try one of the hotel’s ‘flavour of the month’ cocktails; the Apple and Lychee Martini was a sweet welcome.
Lagoon Deluxe Room
Stumbling into my dimly lit Lagoon Deluxe room well after midnight, I am ready to fall onto the bundle of fluffy white pillows when I remember my Elvis fears and suddenly spring back into red-alert status…he could come leaping out of the darkness any minute now and I need to be ready.
I take a look around the very simple room and am a little under impressed; I was expecting a whole lot more VIP glamour. Instead, the décor is quite reserved and a little weary for a hotel that's only been open a couple of years. The pale timber luggage shelf and TV cabinet with giant flat screen TV take up most of the wall, leaving just enough space for a small white glass-topped desk in the corner where I set-up my office for the next few days.
Drawing the thick mustard curtains, my jaw drops to the view of a shimmering lagoon pool - the same one that had flashed all over my desktop screen back home - now it's lapping gently against my private deck.
Refraining from taking the midnight plunge, I retreat inside to scope out the rest of the smallish room.
Tame interior décor places second to the signature pool deck: vanilla and ruby matching drawers and lamp stands shoulder the bed on each side; a simple grey sitting chair with red trim next to the pool-deck’s sliding doors; and a large canvas print of the Beatles enjoying a splash at the beach hangs above the king bed.
Relaxing after I pull back the guitar-embedded white bedspread and jump in for a little quilt cuddle, and still with no sign of Elvis, I decide to wander into the bathroom to nose through the toiletries and run a bubble bath, or not…there is no bath. A giant shower cubicle encompasses the entire grey-tiled wall, the dark colour scheme giving off a solemn mood heightened only by the spotless raised porcelain hand basin and an oversized mirror fringed with vintage gold framing.
As I reach to touch the frame I notice the mirror slides. Intrigued, I push it gently aside, then really wish I hadn't.
Gasping in shock I jump back and knock my head against the shower's glass exterior. There he is, The King, staring down at me with creepy dark eyes. He'd been hiding in my mirror all this time.
I somehow push through my Elvis situation (it took numerous beers to get me to sleep that night, then making sure I never again opened the mirror), and grow accustomed to the contemporary room – starting by diving out of my door the next morning straight into the luscious lagoon pool.
Tip: The Lagoon Deluxe room is THE room – do not settle for anything less. The hotel has a policy that discourages guests with small children to stay in the Lagoon Deluxe room, but if you are willing to sign a waiver they will allow families to book the room.
It is epic. But being the largest free-form pool in Penang, how could it not be? I dive out of bed (literally) into the lukewarm water and glide underwater for a few kicks before popping up at the pool bar and ordering a cocktail. The Beatles are watching over from above and behind the bartender who is working his magic with the shaker. I'm served a frozen Margarita - it's fabulous.
The pool area really makes up the best part of the resort. Aside from the lagoon-style waters that fringe the direct access rooms, there is a family pool area complete with colourful waterslides and funky water canons. I'm a little disappointed I'm travelling solo this time, without the kids what excuse do I have to go run-a-muck on those slides?
At the far end of the resort the pool meanders into a quiet zone favoured by retirees and honeymooners. The first floor suites all have direct pool access and are tucked away from the family area enough to ensure a more peaceful resort experience.
The pool areas all flow into each other, with some sections filled with real sand. Even though the beach hugs the resort, it's nice to have the choice to hang by the pool-bar without losing that seaside vibe. Private poolside cabanas are available for hire for those guests staying in rooms without direct access, and the huts come with lockers so you can keep your gear safe yet still be free to move around the resort.
At certain times of the day the staff even come out to put on a dance show.
Although Penang is famed for its local food, the hotel favours many of the brand’s iconic dishes, with few Malay options. The portions are massive, so order with mindset that two dishes can easily feed three adults. My dining hot picks are:
Hard Rock Café
You simply can not stay at a Hard Rock Hotel without dining at the famed cafe at least once. Situated adjacent to the hotel, the café attracts diners off the street as well as hotel guests. The mood is very basement ‘rock n roll’: memorabilia lining the walls around American-style dining booths and a stage fully equipped and waiting for each evening live show. Here you’ll find American cuisine on plates bigger than your head; exotic cocktails served with cute signature guitar swivel sticks; and the one-and-only Malaysian ‘Bob Marley’. The nachos are amazing but could feed a small army.
Pizzas are made from fresh, local ingredients and flipped right before your eyes, then left to cook in a wood-fire oven. Enjoy the Italian-inspired fare from the open-air style covered restaurant, with views overlooking the Andaman Sea, or from the poolside or the rustic ‘Sandbar’ - the best location to take in the dazzling sunset.
Dishing up a massive mix of Asian and International cuisine, Starz Diner is my pick for a buffet breakfast, although it is also open for dinner. Seating 150 people inside and out, there is something for everyone at this comfortable restaurant. For a quieter start to the morning, those who have paid extra for Kings Club privileges can enjoy a more intimate dining experience up at the Kings Club Lounge – a hideaway where you are treated like a VIP whilst taking in extended ocean views.
For Kids? Yes! The pool, water slides, the beach...and there are two dedicated kids' rooms. Lil' Rock Club is for 4-12 year olds, and is decked out with a full range of toys and activities and staff trained to care for children. Another club for teens aged 13-18 years old comes complete with foozeball and pool tables, video games and PCs. Babysitting services are available at reasonable rates - great for families with infants and toddlers as you can book the babysitter who can take them to the kid's club where there are loads of toys for babies. The Lil' Rock Suites are popular with families, but they are hill facing - I recommend you sign the waiver and get the pool room, asking for extra beds for the kids.
The Rock Spa: Book a Spa Cabana. The combination of the sultry ocean air, the harmonizing whispers from gently breaking waves, and a one-hour Hard Rock Massage will have you floating on Cloud Nine. The menu is extensive, and the spa provides luxurious indoor treatment rooms for those who prefer the quiet.
If You Go
Around the Hotel: While there is so much to do just at the resort, and plenty of water activities for hire (try the paragliding), Penang has so much to offer every kind of traveller.
Take a half-day rickshaw tour around Penang's Heritage Listed historic capital George Town; try a jungle walking tour with a stop-off at the Turtle Conservation Centre at Kerachut Beach; enjoy lunch at Monkey Beach (yes there are real monkeys) accessible only on foot or by boat; or seek out some of the best local food Asia has to offer at one of Penang's many food stalls and outlets. If you are keen for a spot of evening shopping, ask the hotel's shuttle to drop you about a kilometre down the road and then walk back through the market stalls tat set up at night.
Take a virtual tour on the hotel's official website: http://penang.hardrockhotels.net/
Visit Malaysia Tourism at: http://www.tourism.gov.my/en/au
- The writer was a guest of Hard Rock Hotel Penang