The Hilton Kota Kinabalu is the latest upscale hotel to open in the capital of Sabah on Borneo. During previous visits, I stayed at the Hyatt KK and the Le Meridien, so I wanted to see how the Hilton compares – and the low Hilton Honors rate of only 10,000 points/night made it easy! It’s a very stylish property, much nicer than most Hiltons you’ll find in the US – and I wouldn’t mind coming back!
Location: The Hilton is located on the edge of downtown Kota Kinabalu, about 20-30 minutes from the airport by taxi and a 10 minute walk from the waterfront with its modern mall and many restaurants. The location isn’t as central as the Hyatt KK or Le Meridien and it doesn’t help that it’s next to the run-down Star City Mall with boarded up shops, budget street food stalls and an abandoned ruin of a multi-story building. While you can safely walk around downtown, uber is readily available and cheap to take you anywhere in downtown for less than $2!
Service: The impression changes drastically upon entering the luxurious lobby with the impressive chandelier – it’s beautiful and very upscale. The hotel just recently opened and staff seemed to be still new. The bell staff was friendly, but seemed unfamiliar with rules. As a Hilton Honors Diamond member, I’m able to check in at the lounge, but instead they directed me to the front desk and I fell in line. After waiting a while for the single staff, it was my turn and she immediately told me that I could check in at the lounge. Given that I had already waited in line, I asked her to continue with the check-in. She seemed to also be new, unfamiliar with the assigned room, available upgrades and handling the deposit by credit card. Once we made it through the check-in process, she called bell staff to escort me to my room. He was nice enough, but just showed me to the elevator and left me there.
Service improved significantly, once I arrived in the lounge – staff was friendly and knowledgeable. Throughout my stay they were attentive and very proactive in ensuring that I had everything I needed. They constantly followed up during breakfast or happy hour, were available to assist me when I worked from the lounge during the day and provided all the information and help I needed. Overall, this was some of the best lounge staff I have experienced at a Hilton Hotel, creating a luxurious experience that would make a Conrad Hotel proud – indeed, the Conrad Manila could learn a lot from them!
Housekeeping was very observant and would go into the room as soon as I left and turned off the “do-not-disturb” light and have it cleaned quickly. They were very thorough, leaving a squeaky clean room each day, with all supplies properly refilled. While they often are almost invisible, they were friendly as well, greeting me every day I would pass them in the hallway.
The restaurant staff was less on the ball – they were nowhere to be found in the restaurant, nobody checked guest coming into the restaurant for breakfast, they had trouble keeping the tables cleared and it was difficult to get a hold of them to get a coffee or anything else.
Rewards: The Hilton KK is a category 2 hotel, available for only 10,000 points/night – there are very few in that category and it’s great value. As a Hilton Honors Diamond member, I had access to the executive lounge – which was spectacular, including free breakfast in the lounge or restaurant and a happy hour, and all-day soft drinks and snacks. I also found a welcome amenity of fresh fruit in my room. The standard room I booked was upgraded to a Premier Executive room – it’s slightly larger and located on the Executive Lounge floor and technically a 2-category upgrade, although I’d prefered the standard Executive room. Given that the hotel was new and empty, I had hoped for an upgrade to a suite – but no such luck. To accommodate my evening flight, the lounge staff offered me a 6:00pm check-out – probably the latest I’ve ever had.
Room: The Premiere Executive Room is large, slightly wider than a Standard Room. It’s held in beige and brown tones, with some bright yellow in the carpets adding a splash of color for a contemporary feel. The king-size bed is very comfortable with high-quality sheets, pillows and comforter. There is a leather bench at the foot of the bed. A stylish couch with a wavy back has a prime spot in the curved window alcove – it gives the room a stylish look and is comfortable, too. A chair and small table complete the sitting area. Against the wall is a looooooong desk with a task chair, as well as a large wall-mounted TV and a luggage bench. The wardrobe is spacious, with a laptop-size safe, bathrobe and slippers provided. It has a door-activated light, which wasn’t installed properly, keeping it on at all times, so I pulled the plug in the first night!
In the entrance way is a well-organized wet-bar with tea/coffee facilities, a mini-bar, cups and glasses. It’s well presented with glass drawers, so you don’t have to hunt around for one thing or the other.
The bathroom is also very big, with a toilet cubicle on the left side. The glass door is not frosted, and odd choice that defeats the purpose of privacy of a separate toilet cubicle. The shower also has a clear glass door and a rainfall shower head as well as a hand-held showerhead. The latter wasn’t working properly due to the cheap plastic hose used – it wouldn’t stay in position. The right side has a marble countertop with a single sink and lots of space for your toiletries. The whole bathroom is held in white/light beige marble and looks very elegant. The toiletries provided are standard Hilton Roth. The dental and shaving kit also have Roth printed on it, but are cheap and of poor quality. The towels are thick, plush and brilliant white.
Overall, the room follows the latest Hilton design guides and is very nice, but suffers from some bad design decision. The bathroom is large enough for a separate shower and tub, but lacks the tub and the clear glass doors defeat the purpose of separate shower and toilet rooms! The bedroom space is equally unused as an empty space between bed and desk! I would have preferred a standard room – they have a glass window between bathroom and bedroom, a modern design I really like – and otherwise look the same.
The free WiFi internet in the room was fast at an average speed of 5.3Mbps, enough to do work and streem movies, but sometimes unreliable. I liked the touch panels at the door to control the “do not disturb” / “maid service” lights outside, and next to the bed for the room lighting and air conditioning. I wish all hotels had a “master switch” to kill all the lights at night, rather than running around the room to find every switch. If you are sensitive to light during sleep, the panels do give off some light at night, so it’s not pitch-dark. There is also an alarm clock with USB outlets, as well as universal power outlets next to the bed to charge all your devices. Additional universal power outlets and USB ports are above the work desk for your connected, gadget-laden lifestyle!
Amenities: The Hilton has a nice rooftop pool, with a restaurant and bar next door. You have views over Kota Kinabalu and even a sliver of an ocean view from the very edge. Greenery planted around the roof-deck gives it a friendly feel and the colorful mood-lighting at night works great for the bar and restaurant. There are plenty of loungers with umbrellas and towels provided. Just as high-tech as the rooms, there are electronic call buttons for the restaurant staff to take your orders.
The gym is just as nice – there is a complete set of cardio and weight equipment and free weights for a full workout. The locker rooms at the gym have showers and a sauna, so you can relax your muscles after a workout. I liked that it was turned on, so you could use them immediately and didn’t have to wait an hour to get hot!
What made my stay much, much better was the fantastic executive lounge. It is a large, well designed space, accessible from the two top floor via a staircase.
There are distinct areas, with a bar-style communal table near the entrance, the buffet and kitchen to the right with bistro style seating behind it and living room style seating to the left.
You also have access to a conference room and business services from the lounge staff. This is probably the largest lounge I’ve seen at any hotel with plenty of seating and it never felt busy.
The lounge serves breakfast in the morning, with a small selection of bread, pastries, fresh fruit and yogurt, as well as made-to-order eggs and some meats as well as a local hot dish. I loved the high-end espresso coffee maker with touch screen – I could have my coffee just the way I wanted and it tasted great! There were few guests and only little of each item, but the staff was on top of their game and refilled everything constantly, so you didn’t run out.
The happy hour included cold cuts, cheese, chips & nuts, three Western and Asian hot dishes, as well as fruit, dessert and local sweets. While they were designed as hors d’oeuvres, they could make a meal in a pinch. Soft drinks were available at the buffet and staff served wine and beer at your table. They were attentive and frequently asked for refills or other needs.
This was the best lounge experience at an upscale hotel I’ve had anywhere, and even some luxury hotels would look bad in comparison. The only issues were no fault of the hotel – but other – inconsiderate guests. Businessmen talking loudly on the phone, parents bringing their kids (despite a lounge policy that sets a happy hour period for kids and one for adults only) and leaving them running around unsupervised and one greedy lady who would each night take all the desserts (I’m not kidding!) to her table!
The Diamond breakfast benefit at the Hilton KK included the choice of having breakfast at the main restaurant on the ground floor. It’s a very nice space with lots of white/grey marble, a large buffet and kitchen area, but what seemed like limited seating for this large a hotel.
Similar to other upscale hotels in Asia, the selection was huge – lots of different fruits and cereals, fresh yogurt presented in individual glasses, the same excellent espresso machines as well as a variety of teas. You have a selection of breads and pastries, as well as cold cuts and cheeses. There are two open kitchen areas, one for made-to-order egg dishes, pancakes and waffles, also offering a selection of breakfast meats, and one for hot Asian dishes, with heavy Chinese influence.
The quality of the (Western) food was ok – the eggs were made with too much of an odd tasting fat – it took till the last day to get them well done and with minimal fat for a better taste. The meats also had some odd taste, but the fruits, yogurt and pastries were good.
Overall, I prefered the lounge for the quieter atmosphere and the much better service, despite the smaller selection of food, but it’s a good restaurant to start your day!
Bottomline: The fantastic executive lounge would be reason enough alone to stay at the Hilton – it made for a very good stay and it would be worth to pay for, if you don’t have access as an elite benefit. Both the facilities and service stand out from other upscale hotels! You also get a contemporary room with the latest tech features – and the standard (Executive) rooms are a great choice. (And at a price of 10,000 Hilton Honors points per night, it was a bargain. The cash price of $106 is competitive with the Hyatt and Le Meridien, but is less good value. The Hilton just opened and still suffers from some teething problems – front desk staff, small design and construction issues in the room and the bar is still not open.
If you are a Hilton Honors member, this is an easy choice and I’d recommend it for your stay, especially on points. As a cash-paying guest, the older Hyatt is tough competition and the Le Meridien is currently undergoing renovation, giving you some similar alternatives!