Travel writer: Melissa Foo
During this humbling pandemic, we have certainly relied on domestic tourism to satiate our urge for wanderlust and one of the more recently talked about beach vacation spots is Desaru, Johor. Although not new to many of us Malaysians, Desaru has become popular again with tourists hoping to have a fuss-free beach holiday without the typical crowds.
We were recently invited to spend 3 days/ 2 nights at Hard Rock Hotel Desaru Coast. This marks our first experience at a Hard Rock Hotel accommodation as well as our first visit to Desaru Coast. We departed our home on a Friday at 7:30AM and fought our way through peak morning traffic to get to the North-South Expressway.
The journey thereafter was smooth, and we managed to arrive within 4 hours, as estimated on their website. Do be wary of speed traps and highway patrol police – it is highly recommended to turn on your Waze app for any reported incidents along the way. If you have time to kill before checking in, a pit-stop to the Johor Premium Outlets for an hour or two might fit in nicely as part of your journey there (or not).
Upon arrival, we managed to check in quickly and smoothly at the Rock Royalty Lounge. Guests who have booked any of the Rock Royalty Rooms/Suites are provided exclusive access to the Lounge which offers:
• Complimentary refreshments served throughout the day
• Evening Cocktails from 5:00PM – 7:00PM
• Continental Breakfast from 7:00AM – 10:30AM
• Complimentary Sound of Your Stay programme amenities
Our room, the Studio Suite Gold (Duplex) is a comfortable two-bedroom family suite, equipped with a King bed in the main room (lower level) and a bunk bed on the upper level. There are two private bathrooms in this Suite, on each level. This kid-friendly suite also comes with an in-room plunge pool which is fairly private from neighbouring units and surrounding areas.
After settling in, we were treated to a leisurely tour of Hard Rock Hotel’s Memorabilia Collection. The showcase highlights various rock-and-roll memorabilia ranging from costumes from legendary artists like Elvis Presley and Madonna, snippets of handwritten lyrics and set lists from 90s rock band Oasis and even the neon yellow latex dress worn by Beyonce in the music video ‘Telephone’, performed in collaboration with Lady Gaga.
As part of the memorabilia tour, our guide Mr. Shahrol showed us around the Rock Star Suite which also houses several memorabilia items from the hotel’s collection.
Being a pop-culture and music fan myself, it was amazing to see how Hard Rock stays true to the spirit of music that all began with a guitar donated by rock legend Eric Clapton to London’s original Hard Rock Café in Hyde Park. Guests at the Hotel can also enjoy the dazzling memorabilia on display by registering at the Concierge to join the daily tour.
Continuing the musical element of our stay, we decided to experience The Sound of Your Stay feature which allows Rock Royalty guests to have a mini jam session in the comfort of their room, complete with headphones and an amplifier.
From over 20 Fender guitar models to choose from, we settled on the Fender Telecaster Thinline which was promptly delivered to our room within 20 minutes. Guests can also request for a Record Player with vinyl records to listen in your room as part of the SOS experience.
In terms of F&B options, there are 4 main outlets that guests can choose to dine in. Sessions is a casual all-day dining restaurant which features local and international selections. The Elephant & The Butterfly is a poolside restaurant with some Mexican-themed noteworthy classics to choose from their extensive menu. Constant Grind is a resort style café and coffee bar for quick and easy bites or to get your caffeine fix.
GMT+8 is a bar situated at the hotel lobby and mostly caters to the evening crowds that gather to watch the nightly live band performance, another signature offering from Hard Rock.
We dined at The Elephant & The Butterfly on both evenings and were pleasantly surprised at the Chef’s rendition of the various dishes we ordered from the menu, notably the pan-seared cod fish and salmon medley on a bed of perfectly charred broccolini and seasonal vegetables, served with lobster bisque sauce, pumpkin puree and Mexican black beans.
We also enjoyed the Frappuccino mushroom soup with truffle foam – it was light yet flavourful and had the consistency of a latte. The desserts were rich and hearty, especially the Mexican Chocolate Pots de Crème which uses dark chocolate as a base for this creamy custard. We were delighted to sample the banana fritter (pisang goreng) served with vanilla gelato and salted caramel drizzle, a sure-fire way to end a meal on a high note.
The prices for the entrees range between RM24-42, mains between RM58-160 and desserts are priced at RM35. Classic and crafted cocktails with a Mexican twist are also available and reasonably priced between RM35-42. On a side note, it is best to reserve a spot for your dinner after 7:00 PM as the pool usually gets quite crowded before that.
Breakfast at the Rock Lounge was a relaxed affair, the continental spread is a smaller version of the daily buffet breakfast at Sessions but guests can also request for ala carte items or the Chef’s special from the kitchen.
On our second full day, we allocated about half a day at the Adventure Waterpark which is directly accessible from the hotel at Level 1. A one-day ticket to the Waterpark is priced at RM65 per person, however if you are booking a package from the hotel, tickets may be complimentary depending on any current promotions that Hard Rock Hotel Desaru is offering.
In terms of attire, appropriate swimwear is recommended, and visitors can store their belonging at the lockers for RM20 or you could simply bring your items with you and store them at a designated space before each ride – this is based on a trust system or at your own risk.
With 20 wet and dry attractions to choose from, major highlights of the waterpark for us were the water coaster (Kraken’s Revenge) and the water slides (The Tempest & Riptide). Kraken’s Revenge is a combination roller coaster and splashing flume ride goes up to 30 metres before spinning through a full 360º horizontal loop, followed by a diving 27-metre drop to a pool of water below. Both The Tempest and Riptide will sweep you away at high speeds, leaving adrenaline lovers pumped and going back for more. Do check the Waterpark’s website for any maintenance or closure information if you plan to include this in your Desaru itinerary.
We adjourned to Desaru Beach, which is 3-minute walking distance from the hotel (through the Westin Hotel Lobby) and found the perfect recipe for a lazy afternoon by the beach – sun loungers, towel service, and cold drinks. Food and beverages can be ordered at the nearby Beach Bar operated by Westin hotel. It was refreshing for us to find the beach in pristine condition, overlooking the South China Sea – its waters calm and clear, with the white sandy coast stretching as far as the eye can see.
Although we didn’t get a chance to explore the entire coastline (Desaru Beach is about 17km long!), we did trek roughly 1 km and towards the Els Club Desaru Coast – Ocean Course Golf Club and found the rest of the beach to be extremely quiet as we were the only ones on the beach at that point. Then again, it was 3.30 PM and most Malaysians would prefer to be under the comfort of ‘shade’ than to be walking barefoot on hot sand. We distracted ourselves by picking up seashells as a memento of our visit.
The following day (Sunday), we checked out and had a leisurely lunch at Sessions Restaurant. We left at 2.30 PM and halfway through our journey, regretted not leaving earlier as the traffic heading back to the Klang Valley built up with a vengeance. Our journey home took us 2 hours longer than our journey there on Friday morning. Looks like everyone’s advice was right – if you don’t want to get caught in the post-pandemic revenge traffic, leave before lunch!
Here’s to willfully wishing for stress-free holidays to make a comeback, soon.
Melissa Foo is a glorified Quality Assurance Manager with a not-so-enviable 9-5 job, who still dreams of being an urbanite once in a while. She kills her time experimenting in the kitchen, inconsistently practicing yoga, and discovering obscure movies. Occasionally, she and her husband travel for leisure to make up for lost time in the future (when life gets more serious and you wish you had travelled more).
P/S: She is also a walking Shazam.
Find her on Instagram @mellymellyfoo