by guest contributor, Roderick Eime
Now that the era of cruise ships, indeed heavy shipping in general, will soon be a thing of the past in Darling Harbour, that’s no reason to discount any of the great hotels that offer top notch accommodation in this alternative to the sometimes pricey, often fully-booked CBD properties. In fact, with the opening of White Bay terminal this year, the Western located Darling Harbour hotels, which include Accor’s Ibis, will be at a distinct geographic advantage for cruise passengers.
The Novotel Sydney on Darling Harbour dates back to the opening of Darling Harbour itself, following its radical transformation from ramshackle railyard to entertainment and leisure precinct in the late 1980s. The hotel was opened in 1991 and underwent a major redecoration and refurbishment in 2006.
With 525 (all smoke-free) rooms, it is one of the largest in Sydney, hence there is better availability. But that may change when cruise traffic starts flowing through nearby White Bay.
Dining at The Novotel Sydney Darling Harbour
While it may not be on Sydney’s to-die-for restaurant list, there is no reason to shun the in-house restaurant, the oddly named Dish, a Restaurant. Two of us ate a Saturday night dinner with a most magnificent city view. Starters, mains, dessert and wine cost AUD$170 for a perfectly satisfactory meal. Because the main dining arena is located within the hotel lobby, it might lack a bit of intimacy, but the view is more than adequate compensation.
At breakfast, the whole place comes alive, especially on the weekend and Novotel’s brand-wide ‘fresh start’ option means plenty of healthy alternatives. As a minimum standard, all Novotel breakfast buffets include organic options such as organic banana bread, organic fruit compotes, organic toasted muesli and organic jams. Coffee is dispensed in auto-grinder machines which make a top shot. At $25/head, breakfast is great value. For after hours, there’s Liquid, a Bar, offering casual snacks with extensive cocktail and wine list. 24hr room service too.
Facilities at The Novotel Sydney Darling Harbour
As a large city hotel, there are the expected conference and meeting facilities if you and your 150 delegates need these, but for cruise passengers and tourists, there’s a gym, outdoor swimming pool with city views, a gaming room, full-size floodlit tennis court, fully equipped business centre and a Dolfi kids’ corner for young children. In fact Novotel love kids (under 16), so ask about the special deals for families. Undercover parking is available right at the hotel at $45/24hrs, on par for Sydney.
Rooms at The Novotel Sydney Darling Harbour
As you’ve already gathered, there are lots of rooms, but not all face the harbour, which is the preferred, eastern-facing side. Although not huge, the massive windows add an open feeling that gives space and plenty of light. If you’re staying on a Saturday, you might be lucky to see one of the regular fireworks shows in the harbour. The rooms have everything you’d expect in this 4.5 star category including free and paid internet options with both wired and wireless. There’s flat screen TV (with cable and free-to-air channels), safe, min-bar (one liter water is $9, so watch out) and ample sized work desk. There are 58 rooms with extra easy access and 92 fancier suites. Unfortunately none of the rooms have balconies, but there are outdoor areas to enjoy the view.
The lash-out option for this property is definitely the much newer, top-floor Loft Suites available in split-level one- or two-bedroom layout. There are six of these, all with spa bath of course.
Access, The Novotel Sydney Darling Harbour
The hotel is just 1 kilometre from the CBD and a pleasant, flat stroll across the old Glebe Island Bridge. It’s not really walkable for passengers with luggage embarking at Circular Quay OPT (Overseas Passenger Terminal), which is about 3kms by shortest route. Cab is the best option.
White Bay, in the opposite direction, is between 3 and 4kms, making the Novotel one of the closest large hotels. Depending on your berth and if you get the traffic in your favour, travelling time could be just 5 minutes in a cab. Weekday morning rush hour (7-9am) could be a hassle, so have a Plan B.
While the modern light rail is right on the doorstep (Harbourside) and heads both to the city and toward White Bay, its practicality for cruise passengers is untested. While the Rozelle Bay stop is geographically near the new cruise terminal, it is not clear if special consideration for cruise passengers is being offered as part of the terminal development. (We will update this post as information becomes available). See Sydney Light Rail website. The light rail journey between Rozelle Bay and Harbourside stops would be between 15-20 minutes.
From the airport (9km), Darling Harbour is no better or worse for access than the CBD and, while public transport (train to Central, light rail to Harbourside) is technically possible, cab presents the most practical option for 2-4 people with luggage.
The iconic Sydney Monorail is also located right at the hotel, but it is planned for demolition in mid-2013. So if you are a fan of such things, you’d better get in quick.
Roderick Eime is perhaps best known for his adventure and expedition cruise contributions, but is also an avid hotel and resort reviewer.