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Showering Some Hotels With Deserving Praise

August 23, 1987|PETER S. GREENBERG | Greenberg is a Los Angeles free-lance writer

A great hotel is often defined by its quick room service, its large banquet facilities or its comfortable beds.

But to me, a hotel only can be great if it meets one other non-negotiable criterion--the bathroom has to have a great shower.

And there's no such thing as a great shower without good water pressure.

Nothing is more disappointing than spending money for a hotel room, then discovering--usually when you're the most vulnerable--that the shower barely works.

Either the water pressure isn't strong or your room is somehow connected to every toilet in the building. You know what I'm talking about--each time someone flushes, you alternately freeze and then burn.

Happy Surprises

A great many hotels run hot and cold with their showers. There are also some very pleasant surprises:

The Savoy Hotel in London features giant 10-inch-diameter, stainless-steel shower heads in its 200 bathrooms.

The shower heads are suspended from the ceiling (not mounted on the wall), so that guests are truly showered with water. And when the hotel was built, a special supplemental water pressure system was installed to pump water through narrow-gauge pipes. As a result, it comes pouring out at 68 pounds per inch. In fact, so many visitors like the shower heads that the hotel will, upon request, sell them.

Another refreshing shower surprise can be found at the Takaragaike Prince Hotel in Kyoto. The hotel boasts one of the more thoughtful approaches to shower design and innovation in Japan.

"As many people know, the concept of bathing in Japan is different," says Eiju Oshima, vice president and general manager of the 322-room hotel.

"The furo bath is a before-dinner ritual, a relaxing social session. So the showers in the hotel were installed for our Western friends."

Red-Lined Control

But the showers are more than just a small concession to American bathing habits.

For example, unless you're a confirmed masochist, a hot shower at this Japanese hotel is a distinct pleasure. To burn yourself in the shower at the Takaragaike Prince, you almost have to want to feel pain.

Shower heads are equipped with special temperature governors. You turn the faucet dial until it reaches a red line--the water temperature is normally hot and steamy, but bearable. If you want it hotter, you have to firmly depress a small red button on the faucet.

Perhaps most surprising for a Japanese hotel, the stand-up shower cubicle is three times as large as most other Western hotel showers, and features a light so you can see what you're doing.

Shower temperature regulators are also at Regent hotels around the world. (Former Regent hotels also have the devices--e.g., the Halekulani in Honolulu and the Grand in Washington, D.C.)

At the Park Hyatt in Washington the water has a mixing valve that prevents water from ever going above 130 degrees Fahrenheit. And the hot water constantly circulates.

At the Hyatt Regency in Honolulu a similar "balancing spool" keeps the water temperature below 130, and an anti-scalding device will prevent sudden temperature fluctuations if the bathroom toilet is flushed while someone is in the shower.

The showers at the new 527-room Oriental Hotel in Singapore not only feature high water pressure (and interior lights) but special shower heads. The high-pressure shower heads are so popular, in fact, that the hotel has installed them with special screws to prevent theft.

Many times, older hotels that have been recently renovated boast of the millions they've spent on the work. What they don't tell you is that, while they may have spent untold thousands on new carpeting and room furniture, there was nothing they could do about the shower because of an older plumbing system.

Water Pressure a Problem

In both the United States and Europe, older hotels still have a problem with water pressure. At the Inter-Continental in Paris, guests above the third floor often find themselves hot and cold during early morning showers.

The same thing often happens at the Drake and Mayfair Regent hotels in New York.

"Nothing can infuriate a hotel guest as much as when his shower produces three gallons or less per minute," says Wolfgang von Baumbach, general manager of the Plaza of the Americas Hotel in Dallas. At Von Baumbach's hotel, water pours out of the shower at 12 gallons a minute.

Until recently the 49-story Sheraton New Orleans had major water pressure problems. Each day when the hotel's giant washing machines were used, water pressure dropped dramatically. The problem has been fixed by regulating the times and the amount of water used by the laundry. Water temperature is maintained at 118 degrees (a Sheraton standard).

Old Biltmore Problem

One of the best examples of bad water pressure was at the old Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. It was the major complaint by guests at the hotel.

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