Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Prince of Wales Hotel

 The following is a TripAdvisor comment left by Richard R. from Westminster, Colorado.

We enjoyed reading it so much that we couldn't help but share.
Glacier National Park and Waterton National Park are the crown jewel National Parks of the Rocky Mountains. The scenery is beyond description. You must see it in person. Photographs and narratives will whet your appetite, but only being there in person will allow you to experience the true beauty of the area. This area is unique because it was developed through the efforts of the railroads at the turn of the last century. The railroad companies saw the area as a place to make a profit by catering to visitors.

So while you are here you will need a place to stay. There are four national park hotel and lodge choices in Montana and one national park hotel choice in Canada. In Canada it is, of course, the iconic and world famous Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton National Park. If you make the journey to this part of the Rocky Mountains, then you must stay in this hotel. The hotel is both historic and a really fun place to experience.
Prince of Wales, 1920's

I mention historic because the hotel was started during 1926 and completed in 1927. The builder wanted a French or Swiss style chalet and that desire was met. This beautiful hotel is not quite 100 years old, but the hotel and grounds are maintained with tender loving care, keeping them in the same pristine condition today as when the hotel opened to the public in 1927. I enjoyed my stay here because I wanted to go on a vacation where I could experience what it was like to travel this part of the Rocky Mountain Range in an earlier era, before all the modern amenities we rely on (and are held prisoner by!) today. I wanted to go back to a simpler time. I was successful and pleased by the results. If you are expecting in room Wi-Fi and flat screen televisions and all the social media amenities with instant access, then this probably is not the destination for you.

Road to Prince of Wales Hotel

When you arrive at the hotel you drive up the hill on a narrow two lane road. Soon you see the hotel perched on the flat hilltop with the parking lot to the left. Stay right and pull under the portico at the front doors. A bellman or two will greet you and provide assistance removing your luggage from the car and placing it in the baggage area of the hotel lobby. Our service was prompt and very friendly. These boys were enjoying their jobs and you could sense that right away. They were the first ambassadors for the hotel that we met and they made us feel welcome.

About staff attire. Most of the staff wears a kilt made from the Royal Stewart plaid. The Clan motto is ”Courage grows strong at a wound”. The wearing of the tartan is a very nice visual touch, clothing the staff in such a traditional manner of Scottish dress. I wish I had brought my kilt!!

Prince Lobby, Picture by Richard R.

Once inside the hotel we went to the right and met the registrars. They pulled up our reservations and had us checked in very quickly and easily. We had our keys in no time and they summoned the bellman once again. There is a small elevator on the east side of the lobby and they use it to get the luggage to floors 2 through 4. I may be wrong, but I believe that the hotel staff is required to run the elevator for you. Above the fourth floor the only option is the stairs. Our room was on the fifth floor, west side and lake side. There is a narrow stair case to get you up to the fifth floor. The bellman was very adept at getting up and down with the heavy loads.

Veiw out of a Guest Room Window

If you don’t like to or can’t use stairs, you probably want to get a room on the lower floors. Our fifth floor room was small and cozy and comfortable. There was plenty of room for the luggage. The bathroom was small, but not cramped by any means. The window in our room offered a beautiful view of the lake and mountains as well as the little town of Waterton. The window opened for fresh air. Make sure the window is securely latched to eliminate wind noise through the frame during a wind event. Our room had a single queen and the bed was very comfortable providing restful sleep. There were some old photographs to decorate the walls, but the room was basically very simple and efficient. There was no television or Wi-Fi. Again, I think the idea in 1927 was to use the room for changing, bathing, and sleeping. The rest of your time was to be spent out and about exploring and enjoying yourself.

Double Bed Room

There are other room floor plans throughout the hotel. One of our fellow travelers had a queen with a large sitting area. Another couple had two doubles. Everyone in our group were able to reserve the floor plan that best served their needs. Reserving what you want is, of course, a matter of good planning and foresight. The hotel has a short operating season. The hotel is a major destination for Waterton Park. The hotel books up quickly and early. We made our reservations 9 months in advance and one of the rooms was the last room of that desired floor plan. If you wait you may have to settle for a room that does not meet your needs. Or there may not be any rooms at all! Poor advanced planning should not reflect on the hotel’s ability to meet your needs. The staff will bend over backwards and try to move mountains, but the best plans take time. Give yourself plenty of time while planning. You really want to enjoy this place.

High Tea

Now that you have your room, call the restaurant and make a reservation for dinner. You don’t want to show up unannounced because there may be a long wait before you can get seated.
After settling in to our rooms we went downstairs to the great room. We wanted to relax in front of the huge windows and soak in the view. What better way to do that than by enjoying high tea. We were seated right at the windows and were treated to wonderful tea, pastries and finger sandwiches. Of course the scenery took center stage, but the staff was a close second. Our waitress was from England so she gave us a first person explanation of the history of high tea and how it is done in different parts of the world. I could tell she really enjoyed her position with the staff as well as visiting with us. She was very efficient attending to all her tables, making sure everyone had just the right amount of attention. She made the high tea a very special moment for us.

After tea we strolled over to the gift shop. It is well stocked with a variety of unique gifts as well as refreshments and snacks. So we were able to find all the gifts we could possibly want as well as enjoy the unique local wares they also carried. Enjoy browsing. You are sure to find something that will remind yourself of the experience at the hotel. Make sure to grab some post cards and stamps for quiet time later in the evening.

Prince of Wales Lobby, Picture by Richard R.

Take a moment to actually look at the interior of the hotel. It is very obvious that talented craftsmen created a beautiful hotel through the use of rich, dark woods and European designs. The light paint on the walls adds to that airy and open feeling. The chandeliers are simple with the main chandelier being massive. While talking to a couple of the staff I learned that the old chandelier was dusted by lowering a member of the staff through a door in the ceiling. That must have been exciting. Now they simply lower the chandelier to the floor for cleaning. The wood paneling gives a comfortable and warm feel to the great room. There are plush chairs and couches for relaxing and writing a post card or two. There is also a piano if you are so skilled. It is obvious the interior was designed to be warm, comfortable and inviting while offering the visitor a bit of unexpected elegance.

The Royal Stewart Dining Room, Picture by Richard R.

The dining room is located off the west side of the great room. It is light and airy with more windows through which to enjoy the magnificent scenery. We had dinner there and the menu choices were good for us. The food was expertly prepared and met every expectation. The wait staff were very knowledgeable, attentive and helpful. Even though there was a waiting list to get seated in the restaurant, we were not hurried to leave for the next seating. The staff made sure we enjoyed our dining experience. The wine list also complimented the dishes we chose. My desert was excellent and enjoyed by everyone else at the table.

On the other side of the great room is the lounge. After a day of hiking about and sightseeing we settled in to relax, have some refreshments and play some card games. Our waitress let us re-arrange the furniture to accommodate our activities. She paid the right amount of attention to us to make sure we had access to snacks and refreshments as needed. She was not the least bit pesky, but was always just a wave of the hand away. The bar tender made an excellent martini, so I was told.

A Snowy Prince of Wales

The exterior of the hotel needs to be explored both up close and at a distance. There are many places to see the hotel from afar. So enjoy the drives and the walks as you seek out different angles for beautiful backdrops for the hotel. Up close on the south side of the hotel is a great place to spend some time. Beware the wind! The winds are legendary on this hill top. Construction of the hotel had to be stopped and started twice because the wind actually moved the structure. An ingenious cable system now stabilizes and secures the hotel in place. So, while you see the sights from the south side of the hotel, enjoy that legendary wind, should it be blowing. It will give you many funny stories to tell in the future, and I am sure the velocity and intensity of the wind will increase with the passage of each year.

A View of Waterton

There are many activities to enjoy while visiting the hotel in Waterton National Park. You may drive the roads and see the mountains, waterfalls, forests, wild flowers and abundant wildlife. Go into Waterton for shopping and dining and take a lake tour on one of the many scheduled boat tours. You can go hiking and climbing. You can get a guide, or strike out on your own for fishing and rafting and the like. Whatever you choose to do, the hotel will make a wonderful base of operations for your adventures.

At the end of the day you may want to sit and relax in the great room enjoying the setting sun while reflecting on the day’s activities, engaging in conversation with other visitors or writing post cards to friends and family. The great room has comfortable couches in leather and fabric. There are comfortable chairs with ottomans. There are tables next to or in front of most everything. We found the staff willing to help us move things about to facilitate our activities. Of course we put things back when we were done.

Now for the tech stuff. No television. The great room is where you will find the Wi-Fi, such as it is. Connectivity may be slow, downloading may be slow, uploading and messaging may be slow……….hmmmm……..everything may be slow. That’s just that way it is in these 100 year old hotels and lodges. It didn’t bother us because we were trying to escape the shackles of the computers, cell phones and social media. We didn’t care if anybody knew what we had for lunch. If instant technical gratification is what you require, this may not be the place you want to be.

Prince of Wales Front, Picture by Richard R.

For us, we wanted to experience vacationing as it was 100 years ago. A simpler time with simpler expectations. A time when you stepped off the steam train or bus and were greeted by elegance and comfort in the middle of the wilderness, surrounded by lakes and forests and high mountains. The Prince of Wales Hotel let us do that. The hotel was built for a 1930’s type elegance. It is a sought after destination because over the decades it continues to provide that experience for those who want to step back from the maelstrom of living in early 2010’s and step into a simpler more relaxed time from 100 years earlier. If that is something you want to try, the Prince of Wales Hotel is the perfect place to try it at.

Thank you Richard, for getting caught up in the same vision we have for this Hotel, and being able to capture this grand old lodge in such a splendid light.

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