Hyatt Regency Sofia Review
Sofia, a city of 1.2 million, is the capitol city of Bulgaria. The new Hyatt Regency Sofia opened in September 2020 in the middle of the COVID pandemic. It is a brand new build with over 180 rooms and is a Category 1 property meaning rooms can be booked for 5,000 points per night. Bulgaria is a relatively inexpensive country and the Regency is one of the nicest hotels. There is a large movie studio near Sofia and I ran into a few Americans staying at the property that were working on films.
Overall the hard product (actual facility) is fantastic. It is quite a luxurious Regency; similar to some of the other new builds like Amsterdam or Istanbul. The soft product (service) is struggling right now. I am sure it has been difficult for the property to open during the pandemic but they have a long way to go.
The Hyatt Regency is located just east (behind) the Cathedral Saint Aleksander Nevski and the National Gallery.
The closest metro station is SU Sv. Kliment Ohridski which is serviced by the M1 and M4 lines. The M4 line goes to the Sofia Airport. Once you get off the metro, the hotel is about three long blocks north.
The location is a bit outside the heart of the city. It is a 15 minute walk to the city center but it is a pretty flat and easy walk and you can go through a number of parks. It’s not like trying to walk places from the Grand Hyatt Athens which is miserable.
I arrived around 4:30pm and was notified that I had been upgraded to a Regency Suite as a Globalist. The staff talked up the room I was assigned as extra large with lots of natural light.
However, my room was not yet ready. The Director of Rooms made a point to sit down and chat with me while they got my room prepared. She explained breakfast was in the restaurant (Regency Club had not yet opened) and that as a Globalist I would receive a 30lev ($18 USD) daily credit to use for food and beverage. The credit did not roll over if unspent during the day.
After about 15 minutes of (awkwardly) making conversation, the director went and switched me to a different suite that was ready to go. A bit of a let down considering the first suite was supposed to be so lovely.
The lobby is clean and modern with a good amount of seating. There is a small cafe (that wasn’t open during my stay) off to one side and a cigar shop front and center.
I was assigned to Room 251, a corner suite at the end of the hallway on the 2nd floor. There are a total of 7 floors at the property with the lobby on Floor 0.
As you enter the room, to the immediate left is a 1/2 bathroom. To the right is a closet, mini fridge, coffee maker and safe.
The living room has a large wall mounted TV, couch, chair and a small table.
Down a little side nook is a desk and door for a connecting room (if you had access to it). I liked that the connecting door was down a little hall as it made noise a non-issue.
On the table was a box with six fresh macaroons.
The bedroom is down a short hallway and can be completely closed off from the rest of the room.
As you first enter, a large closet is on the left. The king bed is against the far wall facing another large wall mounted TV in addition to a small table and chair.
In addition to overhead lights, there are sconces on each side of the bed and a small LED reading light for each side of the bed. There are plenty of plugs and USB ports. I did find the lighting confusing throughout the room; I think they are on motion sensors but sometimes they would go on and I couldn’t figure out how to turn them off.
The curtains do a good job of keeping the light out. There isn’t much of a view from the suite; just a parking lot and another building.
There is a small 1/2 bath just off the entry with a toilet and tiny sink. The mirror has a clock in it that scrolls through the time and date.
The main bathroom is in the bedroom. A sliding barn style door separates it from the bedroom. Inside there is a double vanity with another mirror that displays the time and date.
Directly opposite the sinks is a bathtub.
The toilet and shower are in separate fogged-glass enclosures.
The shower has both a rain shower and hand held shower head.
All of the bath products are the standard Pharmacopia brand that you find in most Regency properties, though the bottles were slightly larger than normal.
The towels were all large and felt luxurious. Slippers and robes were also provided.
Pool, Spa and Gym
The spa is on the Mezzanine level and is open to guests. In addition to treatments, there is a 24 hour gym, pool and spa area. The pool is indoor and set up for hydrotherapy. At one end is a section with two jets that you can use for “lap” swimming — basically you just swim into the jet and stay in one spot. The rest of the pool is a bit of a maze with areas for water massage. I loved the set up, however it would not be very suitable for kids or those that wanted a true lap swim experience.
Just off the pool is the spa area with various rooms — steam room, two types of sauna, salt room, and shower experiences. Unfortunately the area was understaffed and a lot of towels, robes and slippers were left laying around.
Since the Regency Club is currently closed, Globalists have breakfast in the The Revolutionary Dining Room and Bar, the main restaurant in the hotel. Egg dishes were made to order and a small buffet offered fruit, yogurt, veggies and baked goods. They only had one server taking egg orders. The first day my order got forgotten. When I re-ordered, it again got forgotten. Finally the third time I got it. The staff never apologized or seemed concerned.
In the evening it transformed into a true restaurant and apparently is well regarded in Sofia.
The prices are very high by Bulgaria standards, but in line with what you would expect from a restaurant in the US. With the credit as a Globalist, I was able to get a main dish, a mixed drink, and water for less than $20 USD including tip. The dinner service was spot on though the dish I had was not extraordinary.
The other option is The Social roof top bar. It is quite popular, when I tried to drop in on a Saturday evening the outdoor portion was all booked up. They are quite clear about their dress code — no shorts and no tank tops for men, no flip flops or work out gear. However, when I returned on Sunday with a reservation, I saw a lot of men in shorts but also saw some men being turned away.
The views are quite lovely.
The service, however, was severely lacking. They had one server for the entire rooftop. I would guess there were probably seats for 50+ people and most were taken. The nice part was that they didn’t make you feel rushed. But it took a very long to get any food or drinks (or the check).
The food was creative but a bit bland.
Deal Breaker: Service Issues
I get the feeling that the service industry is not central to the Bulgarian culture. Someone with much more knowledge than me could give context or correct me. It surprised me that with the exception of a few high level employees, most seemed very inexperienced in customer service.
One example was housekeeping. They didn’t seem to recognize guests as the customers. I got in an elevator with a staff member to go down the elevator. Instead, she beat me to the buttons and pressed an upper floor instead — even though the elevator was set to go down. It went to the higher floor since it was the first button pressed. She then pushed past me to exit the elevator without saying anything. Another time two housekeeping staff were coming around a corner, talking with each other, and almost bumped into me. Instead of saying “excuse me”, they acted surprised to see someone and then laughed. It just seems like these are simple ways that staff in hotels would know how to act with guests. Either they were untrained or hiring wasn’t done properly.
But there are also some issues with process. Housekeeping timing was unreliable, the first day they didn’t clean my room until about 4pm, the next day they came at about 10am. Twice I talked to someone at the front desk that said they would call me back and then never did. And many service errors and issues at the bar and restaurant.
The most frustrating experience though was with laundry. Being on a three week trip in Europe, I tend to have a few things cleaned between times when I can do self laundry. I made sure to have my laundry ready for pick up at 8am (before the 9am deadline for returning laundry by that day at 6pm). When I left for breakfast around 9am, the laundry had been picked up. However, by 10pm the laundry hadn’t returned. Knowing I had to check out the next morning for my flight, I called down and talked to two different people who couldn’t figure out the location of my clothing. The next morning it still hadn’t been delivered. After talking with a few more people, my clothes finally arrived about 10 minutes before I left for the airport. I’m not sure what would have happened if I had an earlier flight; I guess I’d have to pick up some new clothes.
I didn’t know if maybe I had misread something, and since it was a Sunday I was having my laundry done, perhaps they needed an extra day. I talked to one of the managers and she informed me that it was an issue on their end and that it doesn’t matter the day, things are still returned by 6pm. I was still charged the full amount for the laundry.
If any one of these issues had been isolated, I would have forgiven it as a one off. But with so many issues, it is clear that the property is still figuring itself out during its first year of being open in the midst of COVID. I feel for the management, I can’t imagine trying to open a hotel at this time. They are clearly understaffed. But assuming that they have a staffing shortage, then the management should block out rooms so that they can properly serve the guests at the property. If they have 180 rooms but only are staffed for 60 rooms, then they need to only rent out 60 rooms.
Instead, they are going to get guests that have bad experience and do not return. Bad reviews are going to start to hurt the reputation.
I hate writing a bad post about a property. If you look at my other hotel reviews, almost all of them are glowing. I love staying at hotels and consider myself an easy customer. I hope that the Hyatt Regency Sofia turns things around and manages to become a great property.