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Maya in Long Beach: Hot Latin colors, cool ocean views

The luxury boutique waterfront hotel is designed to the nines, but room and restaurant service is lacking.

September 13, 2009|Valli Herman

Boutique hotels show up in all kinds of places these days. Even Long Beach, a city known for its dockworkers and busy commercial port, now can boast that it has its own hip hotel, complete with a lively restaurant and bar, jazzy design and lots of water views. Though the hotel is long on looks, it can sometimes run short on service.

In early July, the former Coast Long Beach Hotel reopened as the Hotel Maya, one of four new high-design hotels that operator Joie de Vivre plans to debut this year in Southern California.

The 199 guest-room hotel is a clever and contemporary fusion of Mediterranean and Latin themes, delivered with a mix of hot colors, rich textures and inviting public spaces. The exterior partitions of the free-standing hotel buildings are painted bougainvillea magenta, and hand-carved wooden doors and metal-mesh lampshades provide texture and drama to what was once a blah decor.

My bay-view room with two queen beds cost $249 a night on a Saturday, much less than most boutique waterfront hotels charge but a jump above the starting rate of $159 weekdays. Sitting in the vivid yellow deck chair on my room's balcony, I could look out to downtown Long Beach or over to the nearby Queen Mary, arriving cruise ships and the enormous cranes at the Port of Long Beach.

The Maya aims to be a lot of things, including the city's first full-service, luxury boutique hotel -- one with a waterfront ballroom too. During my one-night stay in early August, however, the service was far less than "full," and my experience was compromised by airheaded oversights. Service in the rooms and restaurant was slow and awkward. And my ground-floor room had ants.

Still, the place has loads of potential, and not just for the ants.

"We wanted to create something that felt like a cool, modern Latin American resort," said Long Beach native Chip Conley, the founder of Joie de Vivre Hotels. The ever-upbeat Conley sees the recession as an opportunity for his new property to attract budget-minded travelers who crave a local getaway with an exotic, foreign feel.

To achieve that goal, the hotel's restaurant, Fuego, offers a nice array of contemporary Latin food and a new Sunday brunch. Best of all, it opens to the water, offering stellar views. At night, the property is transformed into a sensual party spot, illuminated by fire pits and colored spotlights that splash onto exterior walls.

The lushly landscaped 11-acre grounds feature 400 palm trees, grassy lawns and cozy seating areas that are catnip to late-night revelers. The pool's curtained cabanas are elevated within a moat that makes them appear to float. An enormous 35-foot umbrella shades an esplanade where guests gather for twilight cocktails or quiet morning contemplation.

The two-year renovation by the Arya Group of Los Angeles injected personality into seemingly every nook and cranny. Elevator doors are burnished steel, a crystal chandelier hangs in the garden and rusty buoys were cut in half to create oversized fire bowls.

The designers weren't shy with color. The guest rooms have lime-green shutters, patterned orange wallpaper and carpeting, and potted succulents positioned like artwork on the walls. The springy beds overflow with pillows and sapphire blue coverlets. The bathrooms are fun, with black granite tile and orange wallpaper, but the standard-size tubs and pedestal sinks aren't the stuff of luxury.

Business travelers will appreciate that the flat-screen TV can be used as a monitor for a laptop and that the wide desk is rigged with plugs and task lighting. Even with these amenities, I couldn't imagine what pre-recession fantasy warranted the daily room rate of $500 posted on my door.

Nearly 70% of the guest rooms have views of the water, skyline or bay; the rest overlook the grounds. Even the meeting rooms received special attention, with floor-to-ceiling erasable white boards and lots of natural light.

A sense of humor pervades the design. Oversized felt "pebble" chairs populate the lobby, which has a dumbwaiter that delivers shots of tequila from the bar one level above.

The renovation project will add another unique element, probably next year, when a barge is converted into a floating swimming pool and deck that will dock within sight of the restaurant.

The hotel is well situated to become a popular destination for families visiting Long Beach attractions. Kids can roam the grounds or ride the easily accessible AquaBus water taxi to Shoreline Village (a touristy collection of shops and restaurants) and the Aquarium of the Pacific.

But the hotel will have to address many service issues if it's to succeed. Ironically, I happened to visit during a press junket for other travel writers. I was recognized and approached by a representative of the hotel's public relations firm. I declined her invitation to join the other reporters (it's a Times policy). She understood that I needed to have an experience that any visitor would have.

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