The Crowne Plaza Melbourne perches on the banks of the bustling Yarra – closer, we are assured, than any other Melbourne hotel. And the views of the river we gawk at as we enter our rooms attest to that. Much as the Yarra and the riverfront have been transformed over the past few years, so has this hotel, with the recent unveiling of a 12-month $25 million refurbishment of its 402 guestrooms.
The hotel is a short walk to Crown Casino and Southbank restaurants, and the free City Circle Tram Stop is out the front. But the real drawcard is the river. Once the butt of jokes because of its brownish waters, locals and visitors alike are now keen to walk across the Yarra (on various bridges), drink on it (Ponyfish Island) and race each other on it. Kayaks, canoes and other small boats are everywhere and the shores are teeming with walkers, joggers and cyclists. There is also a new "beach" – bathing boxes, deckchairs and even sand on the riverbank in the nearby Wharf Hotel.
A pleasant yet subtle fragrance hits you as you walk into the Crowne Plaza's lobby. The scent (a secret) hints at an opulence and refinement that is now very evident in the hotel's refurbished rooms, but is perhaps lacking in the yet-to-be-transformed public areas. The lobby with double escalators looks tired but the good news is that Phase Two of the refurbishment is set for mid-next year, when this area and the hotel's outdoor heated pool, bar, restaurant and gym will be redesigned. Meanwhile, business guests can enjoy work hubs and meeting rooms and take advantage of the hotel's proximity to Melbourne's Convention and Exhibition Centre. Tip: Don't get caught by the whizz-bang views outside the elevators: we miss our lift twice as we watch helicopters buzz to and from a river heli-pad.
As mentioned, our luxury suites have views which can't help but take centre stage. But there is much more to be happy about. The generous rooms are in muted grey but are light-filled and highlighted by a pop of electric blue from a designer chair, and some shimmering wall art by Australian photographer Judith Martinez. My lounge area has a sofa, large desk, fridge, pod coffee machine, kettle and assorted teas. The bedroom offers an equally spectacular river view plus a king-sized bed blessed with premium bedding, clever lighting, a large wardrobe with towelling robes, a safe and ironing board. But the star of the show is the bathroom, with a seriously deep tub with its own view to the river, a walk-in shower and separate toilet. The vanity is simply beautiful, with a large, gold-coloured mirror above a bowl basin. The hotel's City View rooms have big workstations and walk-in wardrobes
The in-house restaurant, the Clarendon St Grill, is also in line for the 2019 revamp. The menu has all the good standards: salmon, salt-grass lamb, smoked pork belly and Gippsland steaks. But it is a vast and dark space and we spot just one other diner in a far corner. And this is Melbourne, the sun is shining and we are keen to sample what the city does best: feed people. We take a short cab ride to Hardware Lane for a bowl of pasta but there are many, many options nearby, including Southbank. This is a city where you cannot have a bad meal so jump on a tram and explore. Meanwhile, back at the Crowne, the in-house restaurant is more attractive the next day as a breakfast option, offering a buffet, with a good selection including pancakes, fresh omelettes and congee.
Take advantage of the free Melbourne city tram which is at your door to seek out some of what Melbourne does best: food, bars, cafes, fashion and art. Ethiad Stadium, Melbourne Aquarium, Docklands and the Queen Victoria and South Melbourne markets are all nearby. But if you want to take advantage of the hotel's river location in summer, pull up a deck chair at the Yarra Beach Bar at the nearby Wharf Hotel for a taste of Melbourne quirk.
This hotel has been caught mid-transformation. Judging by the bedrooms that have already been refitted, the upgrade will be something special and fitting for a landmark property that sits in such a vibrant and convenient location.
Those large windows framing spectacular views of the Yarra and the city skyline.
A slip-up in the new bathroom: the basin has no soap holder.
Rooms from $265 per night.
Jane Richards travelled to Melbourne at her own expense and was a guest of Crowne Plaza, Melbourne.