Is the Hard Rock Hotel Penang Overrated? (A Review)
As an extremely frugal solo traveler, my usual choice of accommodation is… anything that doesn’t cost me a cent — like Couchsurfing, or the airport bench. If those are not available, my next pick would be hostels. Rarely would I consider private hotel rooms, even cheap ones, let alone five-star hotels.
But someone had taken me out on a date at the Hard Rock Cafe in Kuala Lumpur once, almost a decade ago, and I kinda liked the concept. Besides, the Hard Rock brand has become a bit of a cult. I’ve known a few people who would constantly hound me for Hard Rock merchandise whenever I went to a city that had a Hard Rock Cafe or Hotel in it.
And so, I got curious to find out what all the fuss was about. Yes, even if it cost me nearly half of my salary.
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The Hard Rock Hotel, Penang
Established in 2009, the Hard Rock Hotel Penang is the first Hard Rock Hotel in Malaysia. It is located along the Batu Ferringhi Beach in Penang, together with a number of other resorts and hotels in the area.
For those who are not too familiar with this hotel chain, there are now over 30 Hard Rock hotels around the world (9 in Asia). They are well known for their 80’s rock-and-roll theme, which is featured prominently in their hotel designs and the many exciting activities for everyone. No matter your age, Hard Rock Hotel promises to make you feel like a rock star throughout your stay!
How to Get to Hard Rock Hotel Penang
Hard Rock Hotel Penang is a 30-minute drive from the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Georgetown and a 45-minute drive from Penang International Airport. The most convenient way to get to the hotel, is of course by car, as all hotel guests get free private parking.
However, if you don’t have your own transport, you can get there by Grab from anywhere in Penang, or the Rapid Penang bus No. 101 from Pengkalan Weld / jetty or No. 102 from the airport.
The adult fare is RM1.40 for the first 7 km, RM2.00 for journeys between 7 – 14 km, and RM2.70 for journeys between 14 – 21 km. Please check the Rapid Penang website for the latest fares and timetables.
Upon arrival at Hard Rock Hotel Penang, you’ll be greeted by a giant guitar monument. So, put on your best rock-star look and strike a pose here with the iconic purple-and-yellow Hard Rock logo in the background.
At the entrance, look above you, and you’ll see this cool dangling ceiling fixture — not quite a chandelier, but more like a crystal rain shower. During the day, it may not look all that interesting, but come evening time, it lights up and changes color every few seconds, reflecting the hotel logo on the ground.
The check-in counter is on the ground floor, next to a bar — right where all the action is. If you’re not as broke as I was, you could choose to stay at one of the Suites. That entitles you to a more private check-in counter on the 6th floor, as well as access to the exclusive Rock Royalty Lounge.
The lounge offers its own television room, a living room with an electric fireplace, and complimentary beer and sodas all day long! It also serves ala-carte breakfast in the morning, afternoon tea in the afternoon, and canapes in the evening. You can sit at the spacious balcony to watch sunset while taking slow sips of your refreshing sundowner.
The exclusivity of the lounge makes it a great spot for some quiet moments away from the crowd. It’s highly recommended to upgrade to one of the Rock Royalty Suites, especially if you go during the holiday seasons. Guests at the non-suite rooms are still able to gain access to the lounge with a fee, paid either upon booking, or at the hotel on a daily basis.
Hard Rock Hotel Penang boasts a total of 250 guest rooms, with 11 room types, including the Seaview Deluxe Room on the top floor, the Lagoon Deluxe Room with direct access to the pool, and the Roxity Kids Suite with its own TV, Playstation, soft toys, kids’ books, and kid-friendly minibar.
I chose the Deluxe Double Room with Hill View, the *cough* cheapest of the bunch. Still, it cost me RM513, including 6% tax, 10% service charge, and RM3 local city tax. I think the room was probably assigned at random, as long as it was the same price, because although I booked the hill-view room, I ended up with a pool view. Or maybe it was an upgrade, who knows.
Apart from the usual amenities you would expect in a 5-star hotel room, such as a minibar, tea and coffee-making facilities, ironing facilities, and a plush bed with fluffy pillows, my glamorous 26m² room also came with a few extra features: a BOSE sound system, an all-you-can-read digital newsstand, a handy smartphone that lets you make calls to six countries, a DVD/CD player, and complimentary streaming music channels.
The 50-inch LED TV comes with complimentary in-room blockbuster movies on demand. It also displays your room bill, as well as the dining options along with the menus. When I first entered the room, it had a personalized welcome message with my name on it. Although they misgendered me, it still made me feel special.
The floor was covered with the signature Hard Rock purple carpeting, while the wall above the bed displayed a large psychedelic photo of Madonna, made all the more trippy by the purple light illuminating it from below.
You get either John Lennon or Madonna, and I was happy to get the latter — not so much because I dig her music, but because we share the same birth date (not birth year though).
I also liked how almost every item in the room stayed true to the theme. For example, the pillowcases each had a tiny embroidered guitar in one corner, and the bedside lamp had its own fingerboard and real guitar strings.
In the bathroom, you will find a rain shower, free toiletries, slippers, bathrobes, and a hairdryer. The bathroom mirror can be slid open to reveal a picture of the King of Rock and Roll — the one and only Elvis Presley.
During my 2D1N stay at Hard Rock Penang, I actually didn’t use any of the shared facilities. Instead, I spent most of my time in my room because the blockbuster movies kept me occupied. Not having a TV at home, this was a real treat! When I wasn’t watching TV, I put on some music on the BOSE sound system and pretended I was at a concert.
Besides, the pool was pretty crowded with families on a Sunday and I really didn’t feel like joining them. If you don’t like being cooped up in your room, these are the facilities that Hard Rock Hotel Penang has to offer:
The Hard Rock Hotel Penang has the largest free-form pool in Northern Malaysia that’s three times bigger than an Olympic pool! And because this is a hotel for music lovers, there is underwater music at certain parts of the pool.
For children (and for those who are children at heart), there are three water slides. Strategically placed around the pool are lounge chairs and private cabanas for rent. Or you can put your sunglasses on, rent a tube, and let yourself be lulled to sleep while floating around in the pool.
If you get thirsty from all the swimming and soaking under the sun, you can grab a cocktail at “The Shack” and enjoy it on the half-submerged bar stools.
Health & Wellness
For a full rejuvenation of your body, mind, and spirit, be sure to take advantage of Sound Body®, the hotel’s holistic approach to healthy living through the power of music. Because at Hard Rock, “wellness has a rhythm, a melody, and a beat”.
The Rock Spa®
Situated in a more secluded corner of the hotel, this award-winning spa offers a boutique-style spa bungalow and outdoor private villas hidden amidst tropical gardens. At an additional charge, you can even book a private spa session in your own room.
There is a diverse selection of services including massages, facials, body wraps, scrubs, pedicures and manicures, as well as some yummy treatments for the little ones. But if you have to choose one, don’t skip their signature Hard Rock Rhythm and Motion treatments that use amplified vibrations, pressures, and patterns synchronized to your favorite soundtrack!
Body Rock® Gym
For fitness buffs, remember to pack your gym gear because you will want to try the innovative rockstar training system at the Body Rock® Gym , with an extensive range of equipment and stunning poolside views.
Combining yoga and music, Rock Om® allows you to relax and refresh to original tracks by visionary producer and yogi, DJ Drez. Experience Rock Om® around the hotel property or in your room with on-demand yoga videos, accessible on your TV or personal device.
Whether you want a calming breathing exercise, or some fat-busting moves, there will be something for you. And don’t worry if you didn’t bring your yoga gear — the Rock Om® yoga kit comes complete with a Manduka PROlite yoga mat and convenient Go Play carrier, delivered for free to your room.
For the Young Ones
There are three kids’ club at Hard Rock Hotel Penang, designed for different age groups:
- Lil’ Rockers Infants Club (0-3 y.o.) – an indoor play area with educational toys and games, a mini playhouse, and mini slide.
- Roxity Kids Club (4-12 y.o) – offers various activities and exciting games, including art and craft, hand painting, and pizza making.
- TABU Teens Club (13-19 y.o.) – provides a pool table, foosball, Xbox, as well as some Fender guitars, floor amplifiers, and headphones for rent (which you can use in the privacy of your room).
The Rock Shop
Would your stay be complete without bringing home some Hard Rock merchandise? Perhaps not, if you’re an avid collector (or if someone has guilt-tripped you into buying them a souvenir).
So, don’t forget to drop by at the Rock Shop to get your collectible pins, T-shirts, baseball hats, shot glasses, and more. Hard Rock Hotel Penang has three Rock shops — in the hotel, at the cafe, and a standalone building.
The Memorabilia Tour
The Hard Rock Hotels worldwide are renowned for showcasing music memorabilia from past and present A-list music celebrities, including Elvis Presley, Madonna, and Taylor Swift. Showcased in over 223 locations in 76 countries, it is the world’s largest music memorabilia collection.
Hard Rock Hotel Penang alone has more than 500 authentic memorabilia, displayed all over the hotel. You probably won’t be able to spot them all on your own, which is why the hotel came up with a complimentary tour. It runs every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday at 11 a.m., and takes less than an hour. Too bad it didn’t coincide with my stay. I would have enjoyed anything complimentary.
Direct Beach Access
Being a beachfront property, the Hard Rock Hotel Penang is only steps away from the Batu Ferringhi beach. Although I didn’t use any of the hotel facilities mentioned above, I did find some time to watch sunset at the beach.
As I stepped out of the hotel property, I immediately saw someone leading a horse along the water’s edge. Of course I had to go and say hi (to the horse). The handler offered me a 30-minute riding lesson, plus photos and videos, for RM50.
And I really got my money’s worth. I’m still a terrible rider but the guy was very good with the camera.
At Hard Rock Penang, you really don’t have to leave the hotel to find food. There are six F&B outlets on-site:
- Hard Rock Cafe Penang – catch some live performances while you have a late dinner of classic American cuisine, including their 24-Karat Gold Leaf Steak Burger.
- Starz Diner – an all-day diner, where the daily buffet breakfast is served.
- Pizzeria – a casual Italian restaurant by the poolside, featuring an extensive menu of appetizers, soups, salads, pastas, desserts, and of course pizzas, cooked in wood-fired ovens. You can also arrange for a private dinner at one of the cabanas and have your food prepared by their executive chef.
- Sand Bar – located right next to the Pizzeria, serving drinks and light snacks.
- The Shack – the swim-up pool bar, where you can enjoy cocktails without getting out of the pool.
- Lobby Bar – connected to the reception desk to get the party started as soon you arrive.
And of course, if you’re a Rock Royalty guest who don’t wish to mix with us ‘commoners’, you can always dine in the privacy of your Rock Royalty Lounge.
My stay was too short to allow me to try all the different dining options here (not that I could afford to anyway), but I did manage to go to the Hard Rock Cafe for some drinks and late-night snacks, and the Starz Diner for my breakfast.
My Rating: 4.5/5
Duration of Stay: 2D1N (28 – 29 April 2019)
One of the reasons I don’t like five-star hotels (apart from the price tag) is that they look and feel almost identical to one another. You know exactly what to expect — clean comfy rooms, a gym, a swimming pool, some restaurants and bars, a business lounge, and perhaps a spa.
There are not many that could come up with something truly unique. Which is why I prefer boutique hotels, themed guesthouses, or anything with a bit more character.
But once in a while, you come across one that does a little extra to stand out from the rest. Hard Rock Penang is one such hotel. Although I’m not a hardcore music lover, I can totally see why the Hard Rock brand is such a craze for so many people. I don’t think there has been or ever will be a better music-themed hotel in the world.
That said, I think the energetic, lively vibe here is most suitable for bigger groups, families with kids, die-hard rock fans, and active people who simply love being in the middle of the action. It’s probably not the best choice for introverted solo travelers who enjoy peace and quiet. Unless of course, you could afford the spa treatments and the private Rock Royalty suites.
Have you ever stayed at a Hard Rock Hotel? What did you like most about it? Share your experience in the comment section below.