'Let Us See if the House Car is Available': Hotel Transport on Tap
Photo courtesy of Peninsula Hotels
During a recent stay at the Fairmont Olympic Seattle, I mentioned to the staff I was running a bit late for a dining reservation. “Let us see if the house car is available” was the gracious response. A few minutes later, I was seated comfortably in the posh black leather back seat of a black Cadillac CTS, on my way to the restaurant, earlier than originally anticipated.
It reminded me of the scenes from the film “Pretty Woman” in which Julia Roberts’ character is departing the then-Regent Beverly Wilshire, and the hotel manager tells the hotel’s limousine driver to “Please take Miss Vivian anywhere she wishes to go.”
It’s a rather charming concept, the house car — that high-end hotels will maintain a luxury vehicle for their guests’ convenience. Fairmont Hotels, for their part, partners with Cadillac in the United States and BMW in Canada to furnish their properties with house cars, use of which is subject to availability upon application to the concierge for short trips to destinations near the hotel. Most hotels will provide drop-offs only, although others will use their house cars to provide city tours and airport transfers to VIP guests or those booking suites.
Peninsula Sets the Pace
Perhaps the most iconic hotel house car fleet in the world is that of the Peninsula Hong Kong, which maintains a fleet of 14 Rolls-Royce Extended Wheelbase Phantoms in the hotel’s signature green for guest convenience, as well as a vintage 1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom II. The luxury chain was in fact so enamored with the 1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom II that the company purchased all four remaining editions of this vehicle and uses them as house cars in Paris, Shanghai and Tokyo, in addition to Hong Kong.
Local flair colors the choice of vehicles at some locations, with a customized three-wheeled tuk-tuk in Bangkok and jeepneys (a local conversion of surplus U.S. Army jeeps) in Manila. In the United States, the Peninsula Chicago maintains a BMW house car, and offers suite guests a three-hour chauffeur-driven tour of the city in a custom MINI Cooper S Clubman as a complimentary amenity.
St. Regis: Bentley Inside and Out
St. Regis Hotels & Resorts partners with Bentley Motors, which provides house cars at eight of the company’s properties in the United States, Italy, Abu Dhabi, and Singapore. Policies vary by location but the cars are generally available for drop-offs within a set radius of the hotel, for hire for private touring, or for complimentary airport transfers for guests booking suites.
Speaking of suites, St. Regis hotels in New York City, Istanbul, and Dubai each offer Bentley Suites, which are designed in collaboration with the automaker, using design elements such as diamond-pattern leather stitching in homage to the vehicles’ Mulsanne interior detailing, and decorative touches such as vintage Bentley photos throughout the rooms.
Tesla Motors has been a popular new source for hotels wanting to offer a luxury house car without carbon emissions. In February of 2016 the Mandarin Oriental, Atlanta welcomed a black Tesla Model S on property, which features a 17-inch touch screen for passengers to control the glass panoramic roof, temperature or radio stations while riding onboard. Tesla also provides house cars at Four Seasons properties in Atlanta, Maui and Miami.
On Your Own
As an alternative to chauffeur-driven vehicles, some luxury hotels will give their guests the chance to drive a rare or iconic vehicle, sometimes particularly suited to the destination. The Four Seasons Milano gives guests the keys to a 1961 Giulietta Spider for touring Lake Como. The sporty Italian model was produced by Alfa Romeo for only a decade during the 20th Century.
On Nantucket, guests who book three-bedroom suites at White Elephant Village or the White Elephant Loft on Easy Street will receive the keys to the hybrid BMW X5, while guests booking the Penthouse at White Elephant Village receive the all-electric BMW i3 for touring around the island.
Remember to Ask
A common thread with house cars is that they’re typically not well-advertised, so it pays to strike up a conversation about your travel plans with the concierge or a doorman who can share information about if and when a house car might be available, and what the specific limits on use might be. Whatever the function, house cars add an extra degree of panache to an already over-the-top luxury hotel stay.
And at the Beverly Wilshire (now managed by Four Seasons), they’ve done away with the stretch limousine enjoyed by Julia Roberts in 1991, but today’s guests will enjoy either a Mercedes or a Rolls-Royce. Not a bad choice.
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