The Fairmont Empress
What We Love
- Bengal Lounge’s signature cocktail, which features locally distilled Victoria gin
- Afternoon tea on the hotel’s veranda
- The hotel’s bike share program provides instant access to the famous Galloping Goose cycling trail
What To Know
- The hotel is a popular tourist attraction
- WiFi costs extra
- Pets are permitted, but fees apply
- While stately, the hotel feels a bit dated
- Kids Club
- Parking On Site
- Room Service
The Fairmont Empress rules Victoria’s majestic Inner Harbor as grandly as the adjacent British Columbia Parliament buildings. The interior decor is just as stately, with leather wingback chairs, heavy golden curtains and an exposed timber lattice etched on the high ceilings. Potted palms, wood paneling and a tiger pelt accent the clubby, British Empire ambience.
Bed and Bath
The 477 guestrooms offer plush rugs and chairs, vase-style lamps, walnut writing desks and neutral walls adorned with framed floral pictures, while a pastoral watercolor palette casts the bedrooms in a traditional motif. All rooms have views of the city, garden, courtyard or Inner Harbor. The bathrooms feature marble and porcelain touches.
Bengal Lounge executive chef Morgan Wilson creates dishes such as south Indian chicken biryani and cassoulet of seasonal vegetables. The Fairmont’s signature Willow Stream Spa pampers guests with more than 85 treatments. Sip an afternoon tea (such as Fairmont Earl Gray or Kea Lani orange pineapple) on the veranda and enjoy the vista of the Inner Harbor (the view is best during the late spring and summer). Elsewhere, there’s a fully equipped gym, a heated indoor swimming pool and a Jacuzzi.
In the Area
Victoria has grown out of its “wee bit o’Britain” reputation, adding local spirits, chic shopping districts and great culinary style to go with tearooms and brewpubs. Still Life, Addiction and North of Wednesday represent three of the brightest boutiques lining Johnson Street, in the trendy LoJo district. Tea lovers can relax along shopper-friendly Government Street at Silk Road, a local purveyor of interesting, organic green tea blends such as Moonlight on the Grove and Angelwater. The Empress’s apiary provides the honey for the popular Summer Haze Honey Hefe, crafted by Hoyne Brewing Company, one of four Victoria breweries.
How to Get There
We got an upgrade for our anniversary weekend & the service was exceptional. Their breakfast & high tea options are great. It was walk-able to most major attractions nearby & the clipper ferry terminal through which we arrived.
Spent a couple of nights there over the weekend. We had a junior suite on the fifth floor.
Check in was fine - our room wasn't ready (4 pm check in), but we received a text prior to 4 pm advising us it was ready which was fine. We were told as Platinum members, we would also have a 4 pm checkout. As we had an afternoon flight, I said we didn't need 4 pm, and would likely checkout closer to 3 pm.
Renovations have been extensive and are apparently largely complete. This is a very old, very grand hotel and remains so.
The major differences i notice post reservation are the iconic ivy has been removed from the exterior (probably wasn't great for the building), the Bengal lounge is sadly closed, the library is no longer and the check in and reception areas have been modernized.
The rooms are quite small, the junior suite had a small loveseat, a cpl of chairs and a bed, as well as a couple of windows with views of the harbour.
As platinum members we had a nice welcome note, chocolates and a drink voucher each.
The rooms are still quite dated with some of the furniture looking a bit beat up.
We both found the bed and the sheets incredibly uncomfortable and didn't sleep very well.
It was unseasonably cold and you could really feel the cold from the windows.
Part of the renovation is the removal of a full bath and replacement with a walk in shower. There's a decent rain shower head, only issue was it doesn't seem like the water is pressure balanced. As a result, the shower can quickly change from hot to cold, so keep on your toes so you don't get burned or freeze!
Turn down service includes a bottle of water each. I am somewhat curious why this property doesn't use Vivreau water, but instead plastic bottles. They seemed to have the Vivreau system common in other properties.
We made a reservation for tea on Sunday afternoon some time ago. We used OpenTable as I wasn't able to get through to the concierge when I tried several times previously.
Saturday early evening, we decided to take in cocktails at the QBar.
First we had an issue with our room key. I tried using their text system but no one responded (they are happy to ask for feedback, but doesn't seem to work when you have an issue). We got that sorted out and then headed to the bar on the upper lobby.
The bar was extremely busy. My wife and I spotted a couple sitting at the bar who were getting ready to depart and stepped in beside them to get a couple of bar stools.
About thirty seconds later, a server came by behind us and literally snapped something to the effect of "You can't just stand here in the way" and gave me a slight push.
Now, we have both worked in hospitality, and certainly understand the perspective, but that could have been handled a lot differently.
For some reason, management seems to have forgotten or not anticipated the volume of guests. It's a long weekend in both Canada and the US and it's immediately post Valentine's so not sure why they were so flustered and clearly under staffed.
The giant lobby bar is apparently only used for afternoon tea these days. Seems like that could be used on busy weekends.
The other issue and I have no great suggestions to resolve...judging by all the outer wear, virtually every guest was not a resident guest of the hotel. Ideally, it would be nice if registered guests had some sort of preference, especially when this is such a destination (Fairmont Pac Rim lobby bar has the same issue).
I flagged down someone whom appeared to me some sort of manager and recounted my displeasure at the treatment from another member of staff.
He immediately addressed the issue, and we had a great evening at the bar.
Aside from the setting and harbour view, the cocktails were among the very best I've experienced anywhere in the world.
Our bartender was the consummate professional and worked very quickly to try and keep everyone happy. She went well above and beyond and had clearly been advised of the previous issue.
We enjoyed a very good margherita pizza that seems like it came from a wood burning pizza oven.
While we are the bar, I received a text message from the front desk that they could no longer offer us late checkout.
My irritation that had faded from the amazing service, food and cocktails quickly returned. I asked for someone to come and meet with me at the bar to discuss. I was told no one was available, and subsequently told that a manager had been to the bar and was unable to locate me (I find this hard to believe as I mentioned to our great bartender and manager that I had asked someone from front office to meet with me).
They then said we could have our late checkout.
We had afternoon tea the next day. Be forewarned that there is a significant queue just to check in with the hostess. A lot of this delay seemed to be walk in guests asking for a table. Again, I'm not sure of a solution here, but perhaps a well placed sign indicating there are no more available bookings for the day would help.
The tea room is grand, the service was great. The presentation, the sterling silver, the live piano all contribute to the experience. Yes, it's expensive. Are there better afternoon teas out there? Yes, but this is a carefully curated experience. Our service was very good, although again, they seemed woefully understaffed. We don't care, but had to time and pour our own tea, and our champagne from our bottle. At those prices, you should have sufficient staffing. Our waiter had way too many tables to service all of them appropriately even though he was literally running at times.
It took a long time to get our food - 45 minutes, although we weren't in a rush.
The tea selection is extensive and they will make recommendations. Some are a surcharge (from $4 to $15) but there is lots of choice. I am not bothered by being offered more expensive options as a choice. To me it's no different than being presented with a list of premium spirits when ordering a cocktail in case you don't want the rail/house brand.
We ended up checking out around 2 pm to catch an earlier flight, and checkout was fine.
Would we choose to stay here again? It's highly unlikely, there are lots of great properties to choose from in the Harbour and beyond.
A lot of people come to "tour" the property which as a guest is also kind of irritating, but I understand it. I know a lot of premium properties in other geographies don't permit non guests into the non public areas of the hotel so you don't have random people walking through the room hallways taking photographs.
All in all, a few misses, our backs are killing us from the bed, and great service from staff who genuinely care (with the one exception noted). The F&B was all quite good, albeit expensive.
We will see what continues to change with new ownership and new management to Accor.
Simply excellent, beautiful, every restaurant it’s an experience.
It is not how ellegant or nice it is... an entire experience. Loved every corner, been at much more rated hotels... but this one it’s one os a kind!!!
My family and I have tried to have high tea at the Empress on three occasions - it is, after all, what one does in Victoria as I understand it. Perhaps it is that the war waged by the Colonists remains fresh in management's mind.
The first time, I presumed jacket and tie would be necessary. I called ahead and was told that not only was there not a dress code, but reservations were not necessary. When we arrived (I in collared shirt and khakis, my wife and her mother in nice clothes) we were told there was a dress code and we were offered seats in the bar. We decided against it and went elsewhere.
The second time, we did arrive in jacket and tie knowing that there was a dress code, at least informally if not formally. After walking the shopping gallery and making a few purchases, we entered the dining room for tea. We were informed that reservations were required. Looking around the room, I could not for the life of me determine why as a full 3/4 of the tables were empty and there was no line waiting for seating. I asked why reservations were required as they hadn't been before, and was informed that it was to ensure sufficient food. It was early in the service (~1:00p.m.) and I certainly didn't see anyone clamoring for entry. We asked if it was possible to just have tea on the porch of the dining room and, again, the answer was a firm "No" even though other people were on the porch drinking something. We were, again, offered a seat in the bar, but declined and went elsewhere. Strike Two!
Then came Christmas 2018. We again traveled to Victoria for a short vacation and thought, again, we would try to have tea at the Empress. Again, I inquired about dress and was assured, after relaying our prior experiences, that collared shirt and khakis were acceptable. I ended up in collared shirt with a sweater, slacks, and dress shoes; my wife was likewise dressed very nicely for the season.
After shopping the gallery again and the excellent jewelry store on the promenade, we approached the dining room. The hostess asked if we were "looking for the pub?" We said no, that we were hoping to have high tea. We were told that there were no more seats available (the dining room had approximately 14 people in it) and we were again asked to check with the bar. We informed the woman that we were not there for the bar, but wanted to have high tea in the tea room. Without explanation, we were simply instructed that "it would not be appropriate, but that we would be welcome in the bar."
That was the last straw. Strike Three!
We ended up having tea in the tea room a Butchart Gardens that time and what an event that was! It was a much better experience than we had even been led to believe was possible at the Empress.
I don't know what it takes to gain entrance to this bastion of colonialism located on Victoria's Inner Harbor, but I remain curious to learn from others who have had successful entry. If you do gain entry, congratulations! But I would suggest that you will have a much better experience at the Butchart tea room. Reservations are recommended there, but it is worth the effort!
I treated my sister to a trip to Victoria and decided for the Empress Hotel. I love the Fairmont hotels, and again, we enjoyed the experience. The people are very kind, helpful and professional. The rooms met our high expectations, and the service was impeccable. I wish that I had been informed of the Fairmont Gold status, which is not the same as the Accor Gold status, but nevertheless, everything was perfect....;)