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One of the first things I do when I visit Hong Kong is take the Star Ferry back and forth between Kowloon and Central. I might even do it several times in a row. I like the idea of getting close to the water and looking up at the fabulous skyline. Besides, it’s just lot of fun.
The other thing I do, whether I’m staying there or not, is go to afternoon tea in the lobby of The Peninsula Hong Kong. There is something to be said for the sense of tradition and colonial glamour that the lobby exudes. It was once said that the British, before the hand-over of 1997, would sit on the right side of the lobby and all others on the left. That is no longer true, or course, but things are changing in other ways at The Pen.
To celebrate the hotel’s 85th anniversary this year, it has undergone a massive $58 million renovation of all 300 rooms in both the original building and in the 30-story tower, which was built in 1994.
Peninsula tries hard to blend its glamorous past with the fast-moving future, and its guestrooms are a good example of this philosophy. New interiors were inspired by the custom-built interiors of luxury yachts, private jets and bespoke motorcars, perhaps even taking a few hints from the hotel’s fleet of Rolls Royces that sits out in front. Guestrooms also feature custom furniture in lacquered woods and chests of drawers that recall steamer trunks with their leather handles.
But the main changes are in the technology, which is now state of the art. Every room has been equipped with at least three electronic control tablets that guests can carry around with them. They can be used to control the room’s light, curtains and other electronics, as well as for ordering different hotel services.
Room controls can also be preset before check-in, with everything displayed in one of five languages: English, French, Japanese and simplified or traditional Chinese. Guests can even pre-program the espresso machine to their desired settings. For regular guests, the hotel can remember their language of choice and have the room’s technology set to it before they arrive.
The bedside panel is a wireless touch screen tablet that can be used throughout the room, giving guests the ability to do everything from checking the weather to ordering room service and housekeeping. There is now a custom LCD touch-screen wireless guest phone with user language pre-programmed and free international calls via VoIP.
For entertainment, guestrooms offer Blue-ray LED televisions with 90 international television channels, 450 Internet radio stations and complimentary HD movies and iPod/iPad docking stations.
“We believe that right now, these are the most personalized guestrooms in the world,” Peter Borer, Peninsula COO said as the renovation neared completion. “We have all the latest technology and accessories that a modern traveler may need, but without screaming ‘high tech’.”
But in its rush to modernize, The Pen hasn’t lost touch with its glamorous past. The hotel opened in 1928, and it has weathered the changes in Hong Kong from life as a British colony to the Japanese occupation during World War II and finally the handover to China in 1997. In the 1950s, the Lobby served as an impromptu waiting room for passengers of the Pan Am Clipper and other airlines.
To help mark this anniversary, The Pen has brought back the afternoon tea dance in the lobby every first Sunday of the month with music by a 10-piece big band orchestra. Guests can also order classic cocktails such as “Johnny’s Legendary Screwdriver” at the bar.
In the old days, white-uniformed bellboys with pillbox hats would circulate through the lobby ringing small bells and holding up signs with the names of guests who had a phone call waiting. It’s nice to see that they still do it, even though they don’t really need to. After all, even at The Pen, this is the era of the mobile phone.