By David Armstrong
Someone at Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts was listening when the old saw ”location, location, location” came up. It would be hard to find a better location than the one the Shangri-La Hotel, The Marina, Cairns, enjoys.
A city hotel with a resort feel, the 255-room, five-star property perches on the lip of Marlin Marina, with lovely Trinity Bay beyond. Two minutes’ walk from the front lobby is the Reef Fleet Terminal, bristling with fast boats to the Great Barrier Reef, an hour away in the Coral Sea.
Seen from the water, the hotel – a glassy, six-level structure, gleaming white – is a handsome sight, with green-clad mountains as a backdrop. Cairns, which has a population of 120,000, is the biggest city in the northern reaches of the state of Queensland – the tropical northeast shoulder of Australia.
As such, it is a jumping-off point not just for the unique Great Barrier Reef, but also for the Tablelands, in Queensland’s northern interior, a vibrant region of tropical rainforests, extraterrestrial-looking flora and fauna, surging waterfalls, singular small towns, quirky museums and parks, and back-country entrepreneurs who make and sell the likes of mango wine (loathsome) and crocodile sausage (very good) in their roadside enterprises.
I had visited Australia four times previously but had never ventured far beyond Sydney. I admire and enjoy Sydney, but Australia is a big, diverse country. Visiting Cairns gave me a chance to see a bit more of it. When I alighted in March 2011, Cairns was on the way to recovery from floods and tropical storms that pummeled the area a few weeks earlier.
Once in Australia, Cairns is easy to reach. The Aussie carrier Virgin Australia got me there from Sydney in two hours. Cairns International Airport is a 10-to-15-minute drive from the Shangri-La, an attractive outpost of the globalized Hong Kong hotel operator Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts.
My Deluxe Marina View room was well- appointed, with one of the most spacious bathrooms I have seen in years of international travel. It had both a spritzy, roomy shower stall and a deep, luxuriant bathtub and plenty of room for spreading out toiletries and changes of clothes.
The bedroom, too, was roomy, with a sizable desk well-suited for business travelers and free broadband Internet service. The all-important bed promoted good sleep.
My room came with an outdoor terrace, as do others throughout the hotel. From the terrace, I could see the bobbing masts of boats in the marina and watch the morning fog swathe nearby mountains as joggers sweated off last night’s party favors. The property also comes equipped with a large work-out and fitness center for pumping yourself up and a soothing Shambhala Spa for calming yourself down.
The executive Horizon Club level sports a comfortable lounge, complete with breakfast buffet and beer and wine and nibbles for evening happy hours. The 36-room Horizon Club level also has a business center, unstaffed when I was there, to complement the hotel’s full-service main business center. Horizon Club guests can check in and check out on the Horizon Club floor.
The Shangri-La boasts a purpose-built Events Centre, honeycombed with meeting rooms and a ballroom that holds nearly 400 conferees. Adjoining the hotel is the nondescript The Pier shopping mall, which can be given a miss. The hotel lobby’s floor-to-ceiling windows occasionally steam up when outdoor heat and indoor air-conditioning meet, reminding the visitor that, yes, this is the hot and humid tropics.
No self-respecting modern hotel would be without a trendy bar graced with pretty young things of both genders; the Shangri-La’s Aqua Marina Bar fits the bill. One can graze the food offerings there, as well as sip spirits, cocktails and bold, fruit-forward Aussie wines.
The best dining in the hotel is on the covered outdoor terrace, in Tides Seafood & Grill, a full-service restaurant popular with hotel guests and locals. The fresh, locally sourced cuisine is favorful and fine, as is the people-watching on a weekend evening when locals and visitors stroll along the marina and take the night air.
I found the Shangri-la staff to be uniformly friendly and helpful, eager to talk about the hotel, Cairns and Queensland. Room rates vary by season, from A$230 to A$330 (US$233 to US$334).
Shangri-la Hotel, The Marina, Cairns, is located in Pierpoint Road, Cairns, QLD 4870, Australia. For more information and to book, visit www.shangri-la.com/cairns. Alternatively, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call +61 7 4031 1411.
David Armstrong is a San Francisco Bay Area journalist specializing in features, news and reviews about travel destinations, airports, airlines, hotels and resorts. He is the former tourism, aviation and international trade reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and covered tourism, movies, media and theater for the Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner. He is the author of five books and numerous travel articles for TheStreet.com, Travel + Leisure, Global Traveler, Napa Sonoma Magazine, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), Toronto Star, Chicago Sun-Times, Aviation.com and many others. He blogs at http://davidarmstrongontravel.blogspot.com.