One mile south of downtown, this Laguna Beach property is even more wonderful than longtime fans remember. On an exquisite stretch of beach with thundering waves and gorgeous rocks, this is a getaway for those who want a boutique hotel experience without all the formalities. Expect elegant beige-and-white decor in the rooms, private balconies, slumber-worthy beds within earshot of the ocean, and a small full-service spa—all within walking distance of downtown Laguna.
The seasonal California cuisine at Splashes is top notch; sunset at the outdoor 15FiftyFive is just about perfect.
Aug 26, 2010
We stayed for two weeks at Surf and Sand, from July 24 to August 7, 2010, and had ample time to observe the staff, operations and culture of the Resort. I hope that you find this feedback, although lengthy, valuable. I would first like to chronicle some circumstances and situations unique to us before I share with you some concerns we had for the general population of hotel guests. To begin, my husband and I were married at Surf and Sand Resort
in July of 2009. After our wedding day, we shared with Lora W. and Nick B. (the formal general manager no longer working with Surf and Sand) feedback about our wedding day, both positives and negatives. After sharing our feedback, Lora and Nick invited us to stay at the Surf and Sand, offering us two complimentary nights and a rate of $99 a night for any additional nights, so that we may experience the quality service Surf and Sand had to offer. We accepted their offer and booked our two-week stay to celebrate our one year anniversary at the Surf and Sand Resort. And, so began two weeks of disappointment after disappointment. First, we checked in on July 24, 2010 and went up to our room, which we were surprised to see was not facing the ocean. When one searches accommodations or for a reservation on the Surf and Sand’s website, all of the rooms that appear are all ocean-facing rooms. So, while we knew we wouldn’t be staying in the best suite at a discounted rate, we had no idea that we would be in a room that looked out onto the parking lot and that instead of being lulled to sleep by the sound of the ocean’s waves, we would be kept awake by the sounds of sirens on PCH and car horns / car alarms in the parking lot. At this point, we knew a few things. We knew that our upcoming complimentary nights were in an Oceanfront Towers King room. We knew that we were offered (by Nick and Lora) the opportunity to stay in that room for the duration of our stay (beyond the complimentary two nights), if there was availability. And, we knew there was availability, based on reservation searches on the website and phone calls to the reservations desk. With this knowledge, I contacted Pamela Hopkins (assistant to the VP of Hotel Operations), with whom I communicated prior to our stay, once I discovered Nick was no longer working for the Surf and Sand, and I copied Joanna Bear (assistant manager). I shared with both our frustrations with the room type and the noise that was keeping us awake at night. I also shared with both my knowledge that the Oceanfront Towers rooms were available beyond our two night complimentary stay. I asked if we would be able to, as we were originally offered, stay in our room in the Oceanfront Towers for the duration of our stay, since it was available. My first email went ignored, without a response from either Pam or Joanna. I wrote a few days later (and please remember that we were on vacation and didn’t much appreciate having to follow up again), again requesting the opportunity to stay in the Towers room rather than move back to the non-ocean room. I received a reply from Pam saying that during high capacity, she would look at the opportunity the morning we were expected to move to the Towers room, which was to be the morning of July 30. Throughout the next few days, I continued to check the availability of rooms online. Through the evening of July 29, when I searched for availability from August 1-August 7, four different room types showed up – Oceanfront Towers King, Oceanfront Towers Double Queen, Oceanview (Seaview) King, and Surfside King. On our way out to dinner on the night of July 29, we decided to stop at the front desk, to inquire about our “check out” process the next day, moving from one room to the other and accounting for the gap between 12:00 and 4:00 (the typical check out and check in times). While there, we inquired about notes in our file to indicate that the front desk staff should/could look into keeping us in that Oceanfront Towers King room from July 30 to August 7 (the two complimentary nights and the rest of our stay). When we heard there were no notes, we asked about availability, and we were told that rooms were still available and it should not be a problem. Lisa Silva, who we thought was a front desk manager but later discovered has the title of concierge (more on that later), overheard our conversation and immediately told us that if we are inquiring about a room for August 1 through August 7, the Resort was full and no rooms were available; we could check back in the morning, though, because they might have a better idea. We shared with her that we saw rooms available online and that a staff member just informed us of availability, and she simply repeated that we could check back in the morning because nothing was available. I am sure you can understand how frustrating it is to hear a staff member, again, someone we thought to be a manager, lie to us about availability, when it was clear rooms were available. That was our first indication that, while rooms were available, they were not going to be available to us. Oddly enough, after our conversation with Lisa and our dinner that evening, we came back to our room, and I decided to check availability once more. At this point, no more than a couple hours after I just heard and saw multiple rooms were available, suddenly, the online reservation system indicated that only Towers Double Queen and Seaview rooms were available. I thought it an odd coincidence, so I asked a friend of mine to call reservations the next morning, the morning of July 30, before we stopped down to speak to someone about the room extension, and ask for room availability. My friend spoke with Heather. After being asked four times to share her name (I am guessing to check that her name was not my name, so she could speak honestly), Heather checked availability for the same dates I had been requesting, and she shared with my friend that an Oceanfront Towers King room was available. My friend then asked if more than one of those rooms was available, in case other friends wanted to join her, and Heather told her “yes.” Heather then asked if my friend wanted to book or place a hold on the room, and my friend kindly declined and then shared this information about availability with me. A mere fifteen minutes later, my husband went down to the front desk to inquire about staying in our Oceanfront Towers room beyond our complimentary two night stay. He spoke with Tami, who shared with him that NO Oceanfront Towers rooms were available. When he asked her why Heather would tell someone who called for a reservation for an Oceanfront Towers room fifteen minutes prior that multiple rooms were available if they were not available, she had no explanation. You might be thinking what I’m thinking – that Heather was telling the truth (multiple Oceanfront Towers rooms were, indeed available) and Tami was lying to my husband (saying that NO Oceanfront Towers rooms were available). I am not sure why the staff would be dishonest or would choose to not be accommodating, but I find it extremely disheartening. Tami told my husband that she would be speaking with Pam later that day to see if they might be able to offer a Seaview room to us. She said that one room was available for all but one day for August 1-7, and she and Pam were going to see what they could do. Interestingly enough, a Seaview room came up on the online reservations system without trouble or restrictions for the entire August 1-7 range, and that is without anyone needing to speak to Pam or anyone else at the Resort for that matter. By end of day, we still had not heard from Tami, so we followed up with a phone call and were told that once we checked out of the Oceanfront Towers King room on August 1, we could check into a Seaview room for the duration of our stay. I was still confused why the Towers King room was so suddenly unavailable when I checked online on the night of July 29 and why multiple Towers King rooms were available to my friend when she called on the morning of July 30, so once we checked into our Towers King room for the two nights we were comp’ed, I once more checked availability for August 1-7, and sure enough, Oceanfront Towers King, Oceanfront Towers Double Queen, Surfside King, and Seaview rooms were all available once more. I find it very strange. August 1 came, and we received a phone call from Elaine from the front desk. She wanted to make sure knew we were checking out of the Oceanfront Towers King room that day. We said we were aware and that we were waiting for our Seaview King room to become available. A couple of hours later, we received another phone call from a member of the front desk staff, telling us our Seaview room was available. We walked from the pool to the front desk to pick up the keys and move our belongings, and when we arrived, the keys were not available, so we waited a bit while they were being made (that is what we were told, at least). After some time, Elaine emerged from the back and for a good, full minute simply stared at me. She didn’t acknowledge or greet me. She didn’t ask if I was ______ or if she could help me. She didn’t offer to give us the room key or any information about our new room. She glowered at me for a full minute. Then, turning her head to my husband said, “Mr. _____?” He said, “yes.” She then said, “we have your Seaview room,” paused, gave a smug smile and said, “it’s on the first floor.” Well, having spent a week at the Resort already, we understood that the first floor Seaview rooms had very little view of the ocean (due to the solid wall on the patio) and were perhaps the loudest because of its location directly next to the pool and Splashes. I suspect her smugness can be attributed to the fact that she knew the same to be true about the room as what I already realized. At this point, I want to remind you that an invitation to stay at the Surf and Sand was extended to us to rectify errors made during our wedding and to show us the great service at Surf and Sand. As my letter has so far chronicled for you, the service we were receiving, from members of management no less, was far below average and simply not good enough for anyone, let alone people who were staying at the Resort as a way to make up for previous errors. Moreover, putting us in the worst room of the Resort to begin with, a room that doesn’t show up on the Accommodations list and isn’t even considered suitable (we were told at one point that the Resort was 100% full – on July 30—, but when we spoke to a front desk staff member, he said only our room type was available – 100% full would mean all of the rooms are full, but I guess 100% full to Pam means that all suitable, oceanfront rooms are full), is not a way to showcase the Resort. Beyond that, having to work so hard to get the Seaview room does not show us any good service from the Surf and Sand, particularly because so many people lied to us in the process of securing that room. And, on top of that, once we get a Seaview room, to get one of four rooms with a wall that blocks the view when standing in the room, does not showcase the Resort or demonstrate any good service. Following sub-par service and below average rooms with more sub-par service and more below average rooms does not show us that the Surf and Sand Resort has staff who care about the happiness of all of their guests. Then, as if these problems (and more, as I’ll explain in a bit) were not enough, on the morning of our checkout, we noticed that the two nights that were supposed to be complimentary (July 30 and July 31) were charged to us and that we also had a charge for the Honor Bar, which we did not use. We went down to the front desk and again met with Lisa. We shared with her that the room was supposed to be complimentary for the two nights, and she told us there was nothing in her notes to indicate that it was supposed to be, so she was going to charge us for the nights and then IF she found out that it was, indeed, supposed to be complimentary, she would issue a refund. At this point, my husband said, “the complimentary nights were the whole reason behind being here,” to which she sarcastically replied, “if they were the whole reason for being here, then why isn’t it in the notes?” We were appalled! Is that how management at Surf and Sand are trained to speak to their guests?! I then indicated that I had email confirmation from Pam, and my husband asked if she wanted to see it, thinking that this front desk staff member (a manager with a business cared with the title of concierge?) would not expect a guest who is packed and about to leave to catch a flight to pull out the laptop, find the emails and PROVE that the complimentary nights were supposed to be complimentary. She raised her voice and said, “Absolutely, I would!” We were enraged! I had to unpack part of my bag to locate my laptop, boot it up, open my email and search for the emails from Nick and from Pam to prove to this woman that the room was supposed to be complimentary and we should not be charged for any reason. Can you fathom this situation? Remember, we were invited here, with the extension of complimentary nights to rectify other errors made by the Surf and Sand, and now, after weeks of poor service and lies, I have to prove to Lisa something that should have been in the notes and should in no way have been passed on as a burden to us. It is certainly not our fault that Pam and Joanna dropped the ball by not putting it in the notes, and we should not have had to deal with that situation, on top of everything else we experienced over our two-week stay. Lisa was, quite possibly, the rudest staff member we encountered, next to Elaine. I want to note, before I continue, that at no point did anyone issue an apology for anything. Not Pam. Not Joanna. Not Tami. Not Elaine. Not Lisa. No one has said, “I am sorry” to us for any reason along this journey. I can’t imagine that is how JC Resorts and the Surf and Sand want to be represented – by staff members who make mistakes, who are unaccommodating and who can’t muster an apology. Even after the audacious situation the morning of our check-out, when Lisa received confirmation from Joanna that the room should be complimentary and she called to let us know that, she STILL did not apologize for anything that happened. I am baffled. I would also like to offer some additional feedback, separate from the frustrations our two weeks dealing with management brought us, in the hopes that the feedback will help you see where the flaws of the Resort really lie. In the same conversation when we overheard Blaise (the VP of Hotel Operations) tell another hotel guest that numbers are still down from 2007-2008, we overhead him say that the Surf and Sand is putting $20,000 into each new room they are renovating at the Surf and Sand. Unfortunately, if improvements to the personnel aren’t made, I’m afraid improvements to the room won’t make much difference. Allow me to explain some concrete examples, in no particular order. I can appreciate having to keep public spaces of the Resort clean, but I am sure you can agree that providing a tranquil environment for guests to relax and sleep is also important. That is why particular attention should be paid to when maintenance is completed in the pool area, directly outside of the Seaview rooms, as noise in the pool area is sure to disturb the guests, particularly because most guests will have their doors open to enjoy the sound of the surf outside. Five out of the six mornings we had had in the Seaview rooms brought noise disturbances earlier than 7:30 a.m. One morning, someone was hammering something on the patio at Splashes at 7:15 a.m. The next morning, two staff members were chiseling tile at 7:00 a.m., and the morning after that, staff members brought out power tools to begin breaking up the tile and removing it, all at 7:20 a.m. Another morning brought us the sound of an air compressor running the power washer to clean the canopies, at 7:15 a.m. And, the final morning was simply the laughter and loud chatter of staff members, but at 6:30 a.m. Guests are on vacation, and rest, relaxation and sleep are all a part of vacation. Having disturbances outside of guest rooms so early in the morning does not contribute to a peaceful environment. We also have some concerns regarding guests smoking on their balconies. While we were in the Seaview rooms, multiple guests around us were smoking on the patio, and the smell was obviously blowing into our room. The smell was so strong, we had to close our door, shutting out the beautiful sounds of the Pacific. We noticed online there were similar complaints, and we heard some other guests speak of this issue while we were at the Resort as well. I would also like to share some feedback with you regarding Splashes, which we noticed received only two stars in the most recent publication of a magazine left in the guest rooms. Our issue is not with the quality of the food (although, it is simply average, for the price). Our issue was, again, with the staff. My husband and I made reservations for dinner on the night of our anniversary. Toward the end of our meal, we were offered dessert, and my husband asked if he could get a Chai tea. Our server (I apologize; I did not catch his name, but we dined on the night of July 31) laughed outright at him. Then, in the awkward silence that followed (while we wondered why the man laughed at us), he simply said, “I wish,” and walked away (before even giving me the chance to order anything). We found the encounter strange, and rude, but more shocking was what followed. A few moments later, he was speaking with a couple next to us about the new menu. He said to them: “None of these desserts are worth having. I am not sure why they don’t just keep it simple and offer some chocolate cake, but none of these desserts are good.” When the couple said, “Really? Thank you for your honesty” and passed on ordering dessert, he then said, “And, really, the only entrees that are decent are the two beef offerings, and maybe the halibut, but the rest of the entrees do not taste very good.” We noticed another couple nearby left shortly after, without ordering. Perhaps his comment led to their early leave. It shocked us, though, and made us wonder why someone who works for Splashes and Surf and Sand would say negative things about the menu. It was enough to make us decide not to go to Splashes again. I would like to share with you an issue with the pool as well. We arrived at the pool one morning and eight of the front row chairs (the ones up against the glass facing the ocean) were claimed, with towels and magazines on them. Four hours later, two girls show up, ushered by Matt, one of the head pool guys. One girl seems to know Matt, as she hugs him upon arrival. They take their seats, and he asks, “so where are you staying?” to which they reply, “we are staying at Pacific Edge.” Clearly, they are not hotel guests, and there are many notifications posted around the pool that the pool is for hotel guests only. Why are these girls allowed into the pool area, and why is the pool staff catering to them by saving them (premium) chairs? The pool gets busier as they day goes on, and hotel guests want a chair, but they are all taken. There are six chairs left that Matt saved for these girls that are still not being used. When asked if the chairs were open, the two girls lie and say they are taken but empty because the other girls are having spa treatments done. Not true. We heard them on the phone with these other girls who were late, stuck in traffic, etc., and we heard them explain as much to Matt, who did nothing to accommodate the hotel guests while catering to these girls who were staying at the Pacific Edge! At two o’clock, two more girls arrive… By four o’clock, seven of the eight chairs were finally full. All day, these premium chairs are blocked for people who aren’t even resort guests, denying resort guests the opportunity to enjoy their pool. Why were the rules broken for these girls, and why didn’t the hotel guests’ needs get addressed over the needs of visitors? Another issue with the pool has to do with inconsistencies enforcing rules and children. I am sure families with young children appreciate the nice gestures made by the Surf and Sand, like the cookie decorating and the pool movie night. The kids certainly enjoy the pool area, too. However, it’s important to realize that not all of your guests have children, and these guests would like to enjoy your facilities as well. The pool area was beyond rowdy a good majority of the time, and the behavior is due, mostly, to the fact that parents are nowhere to be found. It seemed to us that the pool area became a glorified baby-sitting area, where parents would drop off their kids and then head to the beach or the spa or simply to rest in their room. Without parents, the kids are throwing each other in the pool, splashing to no avail and causing discomfort to others. I saw an elderly woman getting splashed, on purpose, by a boy who thought it was funny to take the drinking cups and scoop water from the pool onto her. She tried politely to move away, but he followed after her. She then asked him to stop, and he didn’t. She then asked where his parents were, and he said, “not here.” She was drenched, and did not seem to want to be, and she got out of the pool. I didn’t see her in there again for the entire two-week period we were there. On another day, I was hit in the eye by a tennis ball being thrown from the pool to people sitting in the pool chairs (and I wasn’t even close to or facing the pool). We were also hit with basketballs and balloons, again, because parents aren’t there to do anything, and the pool staff is not ensuring the safety or comfort of all of the guests. On cooler days or chillier mornings, when the water was too brisk for the kids, the hot tub became the kiddie pool, so packed with young children jumping into it, swimming under water, splashing, etc., that no adults could even get in. There were straws floating, cups left in the hot tub, sand mounded on the stairs from not washing off first… And, no pool staff enforced the posting that said all children under 14 needed to be accompanied by an adult. If the direction the Surf and Sand wants to go is to become a children’s resort, one often plagued by untidy conditions and noise, nothing would need to change. But, if they are interested in (also) appealing to guests without children, some attention should be paid to the pool area. We also saw the pool staff put drinks people had gotten from the bar in glasses into plastic cups, but when a family with six children brought glasses and plates from the manager’s reception INTO the hot tub, a pool staff member asked Kyle (I believe was his name – the other blue-shirted pool staff member, not Matt) if he should get a box and plastic cups, and he said, “nah, forget about it.” The inconsistencies of enforcing rules are frustrating, and if the rules are in place for the safety and comfort of all guests, I would hope they would always be enforced. If they are frivolous rules, however, that can only sometimes be enforced, it seems silly to me to have them in the first place. Another inconsistency we noticed was with respect to the poolside sea amenities, which were supposed to be offered everyday at 2 p.m. At least seven of the fourteen days we were there, no poolside sea amenities were offered, and for the days that were, it was often much later than 2 p.m., often times at 3 or even 3:30. We probably wouldn’t have noticed, but since it’s published in the flier each day, it seems to me it should be a consistent offering. The Housekeeping staff was kind. We appreciated being asked at check-in what time we would like our room serviced and when we would like turn-down; we thought that was a nice, personalized touch. However, our room was not serviced anywhere near our preferred time any of the nights we were there, even after repeating our request at least three times. We asked for 11:00 a.m., and for the first half of our stay, the room was serviced between 3:00 and 4:00, and for the second half of our stay, Housekeeping was knocking on our door at 8:00 a.m. to service the room. For turn-down, we requested 6:00, and for the first half of our stay, they were coming at 8:45 p.m. If we weren’t asked for our preferences, we probably would not have been annoyed by these times, but since we were asked, we were frustrated that our preferences were not taken into account or observed during our stay. We wanted to point out that we have also seen online that people believe they can’t get quality service unless they continue to feed money to people like the pool staff, the concierge, front desk staff, etc. We began to observe this clear delineation of treatment during our stay as well. It seemed the bigger the tipper and/or the bigger the drinker, the better the service. During our two-week stay, we noticed Blaise asking various people in the pool area all around us for feedback about their stay. One afternoon, I actually saw him enjoying lunch with a family in pool area. Although he seemed to speak to everyone around us, he never spoke to us. We think it’s great that Blaise interacted with guests, but we found it surprising that after two weeks sitting there, we never caught his eye. It’s certainly a great opportunity for feedback, but it seems like he might have a particular profile of guest to seek out. Given that we are in our 30’s with many years of traveling ahead of us, I would like to think he’d want our feedback to ensure we’d find our way back to the Surf and Sand. We were saddened that we were not considered guests with valuable feedback. We do want to point out that, sadly, the lower down the totem pole, the nicer the staff was. The baristas at Pacific Perk were kind and helpful. The valets were courteous, particularly the one who assisted us on the morning of our check-out. The front desk staff (not the front desk managers!) were generally helpful and kind, with a smile on their face. Chris in particular was a very polite, responsive man, with whom we enjoyed speaking. It’s too bad the management staff with whom we spoke isn’t as kind and responsive as people like Chris. He was a gem. We heard “no” and “we can’t” way more often throughout our stay than “yes” and “how can I help you?” At Surf and Sand we felt it was more “NO” than “no problem,” and that resonates strongly with us. When we share our experiences, it will be this point with which we will lead. Yes, the Pacific Ocean is beautiful, but it’s clear that the Surf and Sand doesn’t own the Pacific Ocean. While they might have the most amount of oceanfront rooms when compared to local competitors (the Montage, the Ritz, the St. Regis), the competitors still have oceanfront rooms. And, if the competitors’ staff members are more accommodating, more respectful, more polite than the staff members at Surf and Sand, no matter how beautiful the Pacific Ocean is from the property, no matter how much beach space is available, no matter how gorgeous the guest rooms or spacious the suites, guests will go to the place where the staff members treat them the best, and Surf and Sand will simply (continue to) lose out to the competitors. From what we encountered from the staff members and the management during our two-week stay, we won’t recommend Surf and Sand Resort to our friends, we won’t encourage our family to stay at Surf and Sand, and we won’t return to the establishment. When we shared our feedback with the president of JC Resorts (Paul Reed) and the VP of Hotel Operations (Blaise Bartell), we received a reply, through the VP’s assistant (Pam Hopkins), after telling her that I was going to post the feedback online. The letter was justification for all of the above rather than a sincere apology. We were not contacted directly, and we were told that if we wanted to speak with management directly, we should call a phone number provided. We did not hear from the president of JC Resorts at all. Bottom line… try the Montage, St. Regis or the Ritz, but stay away from Surf and Sand.
Jul 21, 2003
Yes I agree that this is a nice hotel and has a graet view but it has no aircon. This meant that if you wanted to shut the ocean front door to cut down on the roar, and I do mean roar of the ocean at night you had a humid hot and uncomfortable night. We have stayed at the Inn at Laguna which is nearly as nice but gives you the option to shut the noise out. We cut our stay short because of the noise problem. A good hotel spoilt by a problem which others
must have encountered.
Jul 26, 2001