Boutique on a reasonable budget: A review of the Voco Melbourne Central
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IHG’s classy Voco brand of hotels launched in 2018 and now numbers over 40 hotels, with locations from Singapore to New York City, and 30-plus to come.
The Voco Melbourne Central is one of the brand’s four properties in Australia (joining the Gold Coast, Hunter Valley and Brisbane) and is a great choice for IHG loyalists and those with a penchant for luxury travel.
Recently, while visiting family in Australia’s second-largest city, I checked out all the hotel has to offer on a two-night stay.
Here’s what I found at the Voco Melbourne Central and my take on whether it’s worth a stay yourself.
Adult travellers and those with older children would enjoy this upscale, boutique-like property in the centre of Melbourne. If you’re the kind of traveller who enjoys a well-appointed room and high-end design without an exorbitant price tag, this hotel is a great choice.
Imagine yourself sipping on a fresh summery cocktail on the patio and then dipping into the infinity pool, watching the sun go down over the city. However, do be aware that there are some drawbacks.
Rideshare is the most convenient way to get from Melbourne Airport (MEL) to the hotel. It should take 25-30 minutes without traffic and cost under AU$50 (£28). (There is no train service to/from the airport.)
If you want to save money, you can take the Skybus to Southern Cross Station for AU$22 (£12) one-way. However, if you are going to and from the airport, a round-trip ticket is less than the cost of two one-ways, so that’s the way to go.
If you’re arriving by train to either Southern Cross Station or Finders Street Station, the hotel is a 15-minute walk, or about the same time by tram, which is free within Melbourne’s Central Business District, or CBD, as Aussies call it.
The entrance to the hotel is located down a narrow laneway. For rideshares, it’s best to drop the pin on Lonsdale Street so that the driver can let you out at the end of the laneway and avoid driving in and having to awkwardly reverse out.
Prices average £208 with taxes and fees, or 36,000 to 40,000 IHG One Rewards points per night for a base-level room featuring one king or two single beds in a 250-square-foot space. In low season, prices start around £166 per night with taxes and fees, or 32,000 points. In peak periods, rooms can surpass £332 or 50,000 points per night.
This property does not have suites; the top room you can get is a King Bed Premium Bath High Floor.
I booked my two-night stay for around £160 per night including taxes and fees for the most basic room, a King Bed Standard. I used my no-annual-fee IHG® Rewards Traveler Credit Card, earning 5 points per dollar spent. This netted me 1,910 points, worth just under £8, according to our valuations.
Standout features/Things we loved
- Convenient location close to some of Melbourne’s best restaurants, attractions and shopping.
- Beautiful views of the city skyline from the infinity pool.
- Modern, upscale design akin to a members’ club.
- Excellent blackout curtains for jet lag.
- Slow internet speeds make it hard to stream video and work.
- Cramped gym lacking variety in workout machines.
- Communication issues with staff.
This hotel gives the impression of a modern, upscale and exclusive club, with high ceilings and plush furniture. You’ll find the hotel guests to be mostly adults and couples. With the lack of kid-friendly amenities like a kids club or a large pool, it is not well-suited to families. When I visited, most visitors were fellow Aussies, but there were many foreigners, too.
When you arrive at the hotel entrance, a small sign directs you to the sixth floor, where you’ll find an inviting, upscale lobby. There is a lot of comfortable seating in this area, which can be helpful if you have to wait to check in or spend some time there after checking out and heading on your way.
As a Diamond Elite member, I was upgraded to a 300-square-foot King Bed Premium High Floor Room with views to the city’s west.
Walking in, I found a cosy and plush room with a calming wood- and velvet-forward design theme. Whilst there wasn’t much space to spread out, the high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows helped to open up the space, and the blackout curtains helped beat jet lag.
Venturing further into the room, I found a helpful full-length mirror to showcase each day’s outfit. Next to that was the TV, offering the ability to stream through Chromecast. And tucked underneath the TV was a small table with two armchairs, which I did not find conducive to working, so you may want to go to the restaurant, lobby or a nearby cafe to do that more comfortably.
One of the same armchairs was set up with a comfy ottoman in the corner, which was the perfect place to read a book or have a drink watching the sunrise or sunset.
The main attraction — the king-sized bed — was snug and homey and the pillows soft and plentiful.
Moving through a sliding barn-style door, there was a long but narrow bathroom, with the toilet, vanity and shower all next to one another, making it hard for multiple people to get ready simultaneously. Having said that, the bathroom was attractively-designed and well thought-out, with the blue-grey colour scheme extending to the tiles. In there, I found a nifty close-up mirror, a large shower with ample hot water but average water pressure and bath products from Antipodes, a company from New Zealand.
Crossing to the opposite side of the room was an unstocked fridge and a fyllo coffee machine, which did not work properly for me. A nice touch was the tasting notes explaining the flavours of the regular and decaf coffee pods (even though I didn’t get to enjoy them).
This room lacked storage space, especially for people travelling with a companion. Furthermore, the lighting was hard to customize, and the annoyingly bright housekeeping service light stayed on all night even when I tried turning it off, leading me to cover it with a hand towel, so it didn’t shine in my face.
There were Australia-style power outlets with USB sockets by the table and on both sides of the bed, so make sure to bring a power adaptor.
Food and drink
This property has one dining establishment called the Blacksmith Bar & Grill. It offers a buffet breakfast daily and is open for a la carte lunch and dinner from midweek through Saturday only (check the hours here). A highlight is a bottomless brunch for AU$75 (£42) per person on Saturdays from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. There is also an all-day snack menu at the bar.
You’ll get access to an ample breakfast buffet if you book a package that includes it or if you hold IHG One Rewards Diamond Elite status. Along with the standard continental and hot options such as pastries, toast, cereals, bacon and baked beans, there are some interesting rotating dishes like miso soup and dumplings. There is also a made-to-order egg station if you want an omelet or scramble.
On the all-day bar menu, you’ll find a varied assortment of drinks ranging from local and imported beers and wines to craft cocktails. When I visited, there was a focus on light, summery drinks with ingredients like Aperol, ginger and elderflower, but I imagine they rotate this in the winter with some cosy classic cocktails to warm you up on those chilly Melbourne nights. The local cheese board was generously portioned and delicious.
Amenities and service
One of my favourite aspects of this hotel was the beautiful outdoor heated infinity pool. It’s best for floating around in but is not large enough for swimming laps or for children to play in. It’s gorgeous at sunset, with views to the north and west. Note that this pool closes in the (southern) winter mid-year as Melbourne’s temperatures can get quite cold.
The gym was disappointing, with a small selection of (albeit modern) machines and one weights rack.
What frustrated me the most were the consistently slow internet speeds, never topping 5 Mbps during my stay. On video calls with my colleagues, there were noticeable lags.
While I could connect my phone, iPad and personal laptop without an issue, the security settings on my work computer had problems connecting to an unsecured network. I asked the front desk for help — the first time, the employee said they would be right up to my room but didn’t show up in a 30-minute window; the second time, a different employee said they would have their internet service provider call me and they didn’t do that for another 30 minutes. In the end, I reset my security settings and worked it out myself.
Overall, I found the service to be warm, friendly and well-intentioned but poorly executed at times. I appreciated details like the staff wishing me a happy belated birthday after celebrating it two weeks earlier. They also came around the desk to stand side-by-side when presenting room keys and the bill, which was a nice touch.
However, I did have communication difficulties with some staff on other occasions. I asked the cook at the made-to-order egg station to prepare a vegetarian omelet for me, repeating vegetarian twice — it came out with ham in it. I also ordered a pizza from the all-day bar menu and asked twice for it to be boxed up so I could eat it in my room — it came out on a plate. Perhaps training is still being ironed out as the property only opened in April 2022, but it’s frustrating nonetheless.
One unique feature I’m on the fence about was the water station located on the same level as the lobby. On the one hand, it’s convenient to fill water bottles with still or sparkling water, or pick up one of the reusable glass bottles they have in a fridge below. But that’s only if you remember to actually grab the water from that level, which you won’t visit very often unless you go to the gym on that floor. (The dining area and pool are on the level above, and the elevator can take you straight to street level from your room floor without having to pass through the lobby.) Needless to say, I forgot to pick up water at the end of the day a couple of times and was frustrated that there wasn’t any available in my room.
Out and about
This hotel is perfectly located within a 15-minute walk to almost anywhere downtown and is especially close to Queen Victoria Market, the State Library of Victoria and Chinatown. Located in one itself, it’s easy to explore Melbourne’s famous laneways and coffee culture and enjoy shopping in the central business district. (A laneway in Melbourne is a narrow street popular for its cafes, bars and boutiques. They are often closed to cars and only accessible by foot.)
If you’re headed to a sporting event like a cricket game or the Australian Open for tennis, you can get there in a 10-minute rideshare or within half an hour by taking advantage of Melbourne’s free trams running downtown.
It’s also a 20-minute walk to the Yarra River and, crossing over, to the Southbank area, where you’ll find many tourist attractions, the casino and the exhibition centre.
On the plus side, this hotel has large elevators, step-free access to the hotel lobby and all public areas, mid-height light switches and power outlets, and lever-type door handles.
The property has accessible rooms (seemingly only at the base level, a King Bed Standard Accessible Room) with walk-in and seating in showers as well as wheelchair-accessible parking.
However, this property lacks braille signs, and the pool is not wheelchair-accessible.
If I were sitting on a stash of IHG One Rewards points or the price were right, I would not hesitate to stay at this conveniently-located and well-appointed property. I would just go in with low expectations of polished customer service and internet speeds.
If I had extra points, I would also consider the higher-rated InterContinental Melbourne The Rialto, but knowing that would mean switching the upscale, boutique vibe of the Voco for the more stately, stuffier atmosphere at the InterContinental.
But for the value for money, convenient location and beautiful design, I still had an enjoyable stay at a newer brand that is expanding to popular cities around the world.
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