Promising new Marriott Hotel on the waterfront of Kota Kinabalu, Borneo

The Kota Kinabalu Marriott is a new hotel on the city’s waterfront, with contemporary rooms, a very good executive lounge and a nice infinity pool overlooking the ocean. Marriott Rewards high-level elites receive great treatment and the hotel is good value on points. Some service issues left me with mixed feelings about the hotel, so read my detailed review to see if it is right for you!

Location: The Marriott Kota Kinabalu is located in the center of town on the waterfront, next to the Oceanus Mall. While the mall was lively during a visit last year, due to management issues, many stores have been abandoned and the mall had an abandoned feel. But many other stores and restaurants in downtown Kota Kinabalu are in walking distance, so you’ll have plenty of choices.
The waterfront location offers great views over the sea and islands, but there is no beach in front of the hotel.
Kota Kinabalu International Airport is only 15 minutes by taxi/grab, making it easy to reach and the Marriott a good base to explore Sabah, including Sepilok or the Danum Valley that require flights!

Service: My stay at the Marriott Kota Kinabalu started off on the wrong foot: While I was in transit to the hotel on the morning of my stay, I received an email that the road in front of the hotel would be closed every morning during my stay, with no taxis able to access the hotel and requiring a long walk to the hotel! This was caused by celebrations for Malaysia’s independence day, so it wasn’t exactly a surprise for the hotel and they failed to inform guests in a timely manner. I arrived after the road closure without issues, but departed during it and needed to walk for 10-15 minutes in the heat with my luggage and subsequently had trouble getting airport transportation. I only had carry on luggage and managed, but elderly people or anybody with big luggage would have been challenged. The hotel offered no assistance or alternatives. Given that they knew about this for a while, they should have notified guests early, allowing them to either accept the issue or arrange for alternative accommodations. If a hotel lies about their amenities or hides issues like construction or road closures, it’s usually a management decision, and they loose my trust – if they lie about small things as a matter of management policy, what else will they cheat me on? I’m very unlikely to return to a hotel with management that isn’t honest!
After a short wait at the front desk on arrival, the staff started to process my check-in and realized halfway through that I had been upgraded to the Executive Lounge floor as a Marriott Rewards Platinum member, stopped the check-in and had me escorted to the lounge for the completion of the check-in. While I appreciate the check-in option at the lounge, it’s only a plus if I know about it ahead of time and are guided to the lounge immediately, not after being half-way done and wasting time with the transfer and starting over. 
Once I reached the lounge, service got a lot better. The lounge staff was exceptionally friendly and attentive, genuinely trying to make my stay as pleasant as possible. My check in was completed quickly and I was informed about the lounge amenities and times, as well as other features of the hotel. The lounge staff was equally friendly and attentive during the happy hour in the evening and the breakfast. They created a very warm and welcoming atmosphere, making the lounge a delightful place to be! 
Housekeeping did a thorough job cleaning my room and replacing towels and toiletries each day. As I worked from my room each day, I especially appreciated that they quickly made the  room when I left and requested service. 
The staff at the restaurant also was on top of their job, quickly cleaned tables and restocked the buffet during breakfast and brought any items ordered to the table. 
While this full-service Marriott does have bell staff, they seemed to be missing in action most of the time – the hotel is new and wasn’t busy, so they might have been short-staffed or otherwise assigned, but that doesn’t help arriving guests who need assistance with their luggage.
There was limited staff at the pool and gym as well. They were friendly and attentive when they were there, but not always available. 
The Marriott Kota Kinabalu had opened only two months prior to my arrival and while it had some small teething issues, the staff had been well selected and trained, delivering very professional and friendly service throughout. I’d consider their performance above average for a newly opened property. The lounge staff was excellent and the main reason I didn’t switch to another hotel after my first night. My main issue with the service is the management decision to hide the access issue from guests and do nothing about it.

Room: I was upgraded from an Oceanview King Room to an Oceanview King Suite and it’s a fantastic room. You enter through the living room that has a half guest bathroom near the entrance, making it easy to entertain guests at your suite, without them needing to go through the bedroom to the main bathroom.

The hallway opens up the living area, with a dining area in the corner:

It’s open to the large living area with a sofa, padded chairs, a couch table and large TV near the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the ocean. The furniture and floors are held in light beige/brown, which is contemporary, if a little bland.

An office chair is added to the dining table, allowing you to use it as a desk. While that works well enough as a plan B, there would have been plenty of space in the large living area to install a regular desk (instead of the useless sideboard). Marriott seems to be on a quest to eliminate all desks from their hotels because millennials supposedly don’t need them – but it makes absolutely no sense in a large suite like this.
The dining area features a small mini-bar as well as coffee & tea facilities.

Through two sliding wood doors you access the very large bedroom with a comfortable king bed with very high quality sheets, pillows and comforter for wonderful sleep. An extra sofa and couch table are placed by the window also overlooking the bay and another large TV is facing the bed. 

Next to the bed are universal power outlets and USB ports to charge all your devices within reach.

The bathroom is an open concept and a spectacular feature: A free-standing, oval deep soaking tub is placed at the entrance to the huge bathroom.

Behind the bathtub are a sink and vanity in the center and separate cubicles for a shower on the right and the toilet on the left.

A large wardrobe with a laptop size safe, iron & iron board and bathrobes fills the wall to the right.

Several sliding  wooden doors allow you to close the complete bathroom area for privacy, or leave it open! It’s a stunning design, very functional and works for lovers of open bathrooms (like me) and haters of the glass panels found more frequently!

The Oceanview King Suite at the Marriott Kota Kinabalu is fantastic and one of the nicest suites I’ve stayed in. The generous upgrade certainly improved my sour mood upon arrival and I was sad to leave the room!

Restaurant & Amenities: The Marriott allows guests with lounge access to choose between breakfast at the restaurant or the lounge, a generous option. I tried both and preferred the restaurant. Because the hotel is still new and not very busy, the restaurant was relatively quiet and a nice place to have a meal. The breakfast buffet was humongous, as you’ll find at many Asian upscale hotels, offering a wide variety of fruits and juices, yogurt and cereals, pastries and breads, as well as an overwhelming choice of hot Western and Asian dishes as well as made to order eggs. The quality of the food presented was as good as the selection.

The Executive Lounge offers the same quality of food in a smaller selection. It’s still much better than what you’ll find at any US Marriott lounge and should be sufficient for most people. You’ll be able to eat in privacy, which will become more of a differentiator as the hotel gets busier. 
The lounge offers a conference room by reservation, lounge seating near the entrance and bistro style seating near the windows. As it is located on top of the hotel, you get sweeping views over the ocean and islands fronting Kota Kinabalu!

The lounge also offers snacks, coffee and tea during the day and a happy hour in the evening. The first hour of the evening happy hour is dedicated to families, when kids are allowed and no alcohol is served. After that alcohol is served and the lounge is a very quiet place. It’s a great place to watch the sunset over the ocean with the best views in town! Throughout the happy hour, hot and cold appetizers are served. The quality of the food was just as good as during breakfast and it was very well presented – congratulations to the chef!
The large pool with an infinity edge also faces the ocean, making it a beautiful spot to hang out, even though there is no beach in front of the hotel. There are loungers and umbrellas around the pool. Towels and cold water are available. 

There is also a shallow kiddie pool, making this functional for families with small kids.

Behind the pool is a large gym with plenty of cardio and weight equipment for a full workout. 

The spa wasn’t open yet during my stay and there was no opening date available yet.
The Marriott Kota Kinabalu is located next to a large and relatively new mall. They appear to have management issues and while the mall was busy last year, most of the stores had shut down and it felt abandoned during this visit. I like the ability to shop and eat at a conveniently located mall during a trip, so I was a little disappointed by this state of affair. 

Value & Rewards: I booked the Marriott Kota Kinabalu as a reward stay for 10,000 points/night, offering good points value at a cash rate of $120 during my stay. The points rate has increased since to 12,500 points/night, still offering better points value than the (also very good) Le Merdien Kota Kinabalu at 17,500 p/n.
The Kota Kinabalu Marriott offered me as a Marriott Rewards Platinum member a generous upgrade to a full suite, a small welcome amenity and lounge access with a choice of breakfast at the restaurant. That is very good elite treatment and better than the program promises! This makes the Marriott Kota Kinabalu a great choice and excellent value for elite members of Platinum level or above!
For non-elite members, the competition in Kota Kinabalu is tough, with the Le Meridien, Hyatt and Hilton all offering comparable accommodations at similar prices. The Le Meridien  was recently renovated and also has a nice lounge overlooking the ocean. The Hyatt has beautiful rooms in an oceanfront location and the Hilton has an even nicer lounge, but is not oceanfront. I’d recommend to compare current prices in Kota Kinabalu!

Bottomline: The Kota Kinabalu Marriott is a very nice addition to the city, with a great ocean front location, beautiful rooms, a nice executive lounge and very good elite treatment. The service was mixed, from the questionable handling of the road closure and occasional hick-ups at the new hotel to the excellent service at the lounge. The Marriott Kota Kinabalu is a great choice for high-level Marriott Rewards elite members and good value on points. For non-elites, the service issues give me pause and the tough competition in town provides great value alternatives, making it likely that I’ll skip the Marriott on my next visit to Kota Kinabalu!

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