If you have followed my blog for a while, you know that I have visited Cal-a-Vie many times in the past and have raved about it (read about it here). This was my sixth visit, with a little break due to a scheduling snafu in 2020 and Covid. While I have waxed ecstatic about Cal-a-Vie in the past, I was sadly disappointed with this visit.
On the outside it doesn’t seem as though much has changed. Driving in, my friend and I were relieved to see everything looked in order after a tumultuous ride during Covid. There were shut downs and re-openings, and most significantly I believe, Debbie the long-time GM retired along with a large number of staff from all the various departments. One thing that was so comfortable about returning to Cal-a-Vie year after year was reuniting with familiar faces, whether in the fitness classes or in the Spa. This visit we were met with an almost entirely new staff. Sometimes change is good…but not in this case.
During each visit to Cal-a-Vie I have been assigned the same cottage, number 9. The accommodation hasn’t changed a bit, but the Housekeeping Staff has. There is still the daily laundry service (terrific) and the neutral decor (might need a bit of freshening up) but the level of the professionalism and training of the staff needs some work. Dirty towels were left in the sink after turndown service or not replaced at all. This seems minor, but when you look at the bigger picture it was frustrating.
It is hard to complain when the flowers and trees are blooming and the sun is shining, but a stay at Cal-a-Vie is quite pricy and expectations are high.
Currently there are no Covid restrictions at Cal-a-Vie aside from mandatory mask wearing while riding in a Spa vehicle. Most of the staff is masked while indoors although in some of the exercise classes if the doors are open and there is plenty of space they remove them. Lunch is still enjoyed outside, and breakfast and dinner inside. The dining room staff is masked at all times. It is the dining experience that has suffered the biggest decline both in service as well as food quality. Menus remain tailored to ones dietary restrictions, and that is a plus. The negative is that what once was a professional staff has devolved into something that can only be categorized as amateur. The servers are unfailingly polite and upbeat, so as people they were pleasant, but as far as training? Non-existent. At each and every meal there were service issues. Mix-ups, confusion, delays, more confusion. At the beginning we were patient, by the end we were not. Over the years each dish was explained as it was served, this time that never happened. In years past the quality of the produce (and proteins) were impeccable- this year they skewed towards Sysco quality. In years past every complicated coffee order was delivered with a smile, this year coffee came out, and then the milk 10 minutes later, unwanted Cappuccinos were brought to the table because they had been made in error. Specific breakfast orders were completely wrong. To say this was a disappointment is an understatement.
In keeping with the lackluster food service were the sad floral displays on each table. Historically the flowers were always gorgeous, this year it seemed as though they were picked up at the local supermarket. Much of these shortfalls can be attributed to Covid- loss of staff, no time to train properly; but the quality of food and flowers can only be due to budget cuts. I realize they are making up for lost business, but they also have raised prices in the new year. Each and every guest I spoke with who had visited before was disappointed.
The glorious early morning hikes have not changed (thankfully) but the coffee service before hand was a running joke. Very indulgently, Cal-a-Vie delivers coffee and a snack to the cottages before the 6:20 am hike. Most people request this service at 5:30 or 5:45. The first morning someone knocked on my door and left me with my friend’s Latte. By the time I noticed they had already left, so I delivered it next door and gave a call to the kitchen. I explained I had received the wrong order and asked for mine. They disagreed that I had received someone else’s order. A little arguing and they agreed to bring my decaf Americano and almond butter. Another knock on my door- and I was presented with a pot of decaf with no cup. “Do you have a cup for me” I asked? “Do you need a cup” they said? “Yes, I do, and please if you could bring the almond butter”? By this time 25 minutes had elapsed, and finally my cup and almond butter arrived. There was a variation of this exchange each day of my stay, it did not get any less aggravating.
I don’t mean to complain excessively, but because I had the perspective of many prior stays to compare this one to, the discrepancies were just too much to ignore.
There were plenty of gems I encountered in both the Spa and the fitness classes including Malwina, Crystal and Tomiko (an “old-timer” who has been the Yoga instructor for years) as well as Michelle,Tammy and Christina in the spa. By the end of the visit I was moved to have a chat with the new GM and voice some of our group’s concerns, as well as detail the reasons why none of us was planning to re-book for next year. She was not surprised by anything I shared with her, she had clearly heard it before. Much of the blame was laid on Covid. There was such a tremendous turn-over of staff, they have not been able to retain or properly train new staff, and they were very sorry. She wanted to be sure to tell me that they would reach out when they had a better handle on things; I am not sure if this will be the case, but I hope so.
In closing, if I had never been to Cal-a-Vie before and experienced the the property the way it used to be, I don’t think this review would be quite as critical (though there was no excuse for the dining staff’s unprofessionalism). Because I have recommended this spa experience so enthusiastically in the past, I want to clearly convey the hesitations I have in telling someone to splurge on a stay at Cal-a-Vie. If anyone has had a recent experience there that differs that mine, I would love to hear it. Additionally, if anyone has had a fabulous Spa experience somewhere else lately, please share that with me as well. At present we are in the market for new new destination for our girl’s trip.
As I set out for home I couldn’t resist a properly made Mocha and some peanut m & ms- my all time favorite travel meal.