Blaring music. Rock memorabilia everywhere. Carpets, walls and lighting a deep shade of purple. Yeah, not really my thing either. Add wet kids running around everywhere straight out of the pool and it seems like damp, technicoloured mayhem. Take me down the street to the Shangri-La, please!
But wait, give it a chance!
Sure, this hotel isn’t my usual style, but it’s going for something completely different. It’s not aiming for luxury, or sophistication; it’s aiming for FUN.
Wait, what’s that word again? FUN? Fun when traveling with kids? Seems kinda suspicious to me.
But the Hard Rock Penang is just that. Sure, it’s not going to win any awards over at Conde Nast but I promise the kids will love it. And honestly, if you stop being such a goddamn snob for a second, you will too. Here’s my Hard Rock Penang review.
Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links. If you click and make a booking, I earn a small commission. This does not affect the price you pay and all opinions here are honest and my own.
Here’s a quick video for those who aren’t big readers. But please bear in mind, I’m a MUCH better wordsmith than I am a photographer/videographer
It’s a typical Hard Rock Hotel… I think?
It’s not quiet by any means. From the DJ spinning tunes at the pool to the cover band that plays at 11pm every night, be aware of the noise factor. But you’re on holiday, remember? There’s no reason to be up at dawn every day (ha, ha, forgot about the kids).
And these days, what counts as “Hard Rock”? I’ve always thought my dad, who likes to play the likes of Frank Zappa and Rolling Stones very loudly on original vinyl from the 70s, would love the Hard Rock. But on display are outfits worn by Avril Lavigne, Christina Aguilera and Lady Gaga for things like perfume ads soooo…. Guess they’re trying to cater to a broader range of tastes?
But that said, my dad is a loveable dag. And Beatles fan or no, he’s not really the Hard Rock’s target audience these days (he is – gasp! – pushing 60). Let’s face it, modern families are less The Doors and more Drake (shut up, I love Drake). It’s a generational thing. I’m not heading out to enjoy the beach with my friend Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Most of my peers wouldn’t even get that reference (shout out to my hippy parents, hi!)
There’s a lot I could say here. Some critical, some raving.
Firstly, the usual “don’t order Western food in Asia” trope really doesn’t apply at the Hard Rock. And nor should it – it’s an international brand known for American cuisine (you know, the super tasty, “looking at this makes me put on five kilos” stuff, like buffalo wings with blue cheese dipping sauce). If you can’t get a good, consistent buffalo wing at the Hard Rock Café, where can you? The whole appeal of the Hard Rock to Westerners is the ability to get something Western when you’ve had one too many serves of nasi lemak. We ate at the actual Café on our last day after we’d checked out, and it was absolutely delicious. The service was slow but friendly which I’d come to expect from three weeks in Malaysia.
What I did love about the hotel was the ability, in some situations, to order from the Café menu. This is possible if you order room service, or if you rent out one of the cabanas by the pool. We did both, and loved both. Prime example:
We ate a fair bit of room service on this trip. Our eldest found the constant change in scenery pretty overwhelming and got sensory overload at times, so room service was great. It made him feel calm and safe and in control of his surroundings. And honestly, it made for great family time. We all sat together on the bed in our pyjamas, watching a movie and eating our dinner. Sure, it’s not cocktails and canapes on some rooftop bar, but it’s the stuff memories are made of. For us, but also for our kids. It’s not fancy but our eldest will remember chicken nuggets and Despicable Me on his holiday… Probably more fondly than that hot, sweaty, crowded temple Mum and Dad dragged him to!
We ate at the Starz Diner buffet on the first night because we can’t resist the allure of seafood. It was…. Uninspiring. But then again, most buffets are. They did have a really lovely pasta, which the kids tried to eat but found too spicy (such delicate Western taste buds, it literally WAS NOT SPICY). But the staff whipped up a custom Carbonara for them in a flash, which was so lovely of them to do.
Breakfast was a funny one. Each morning someone greeted patrons in the lobby, asked their room number then told them where to go for breakfast. Some were sent to the huge Starz Diner; others like us were sent over to the Pizzeria. After the second day, we realised: everyone dining with us had young families. Maybe it was meant to be “exclusive” – maybe we were the suite occupants? – but it kind of felt like we were hidden away a bit so our kids didn’t bother anyone. Which… yeah, that might be fair enough.
But it also felt like our buffet was smaller. I have no idea what breakfast wonders awaited those in the Starz Diner. Anyway, for a 4-star hotel, the breakfast was definitely decent, but it definitely wasn’t mind-blowing either. The kids had coco pops and hash browns so they were happy; I was sufficiently caffeinated and noodled so I was happy too.
There are 250 guest rooms at the Hard Rock Penang and they all have huge TVs, BOSE sound systems and comfy beds. Some views are definitely better than others, as with any hotel. We stayed in a Roxity Kids Suite on the third floor, which was huge, but overlooked the air-conditioning plant. That wasn’t really a big deal though, because the window was in the kids’ room… and they’re not even tall enough to look out of it. If this is a problem, you can pay a little more and get the Roxity Kids Suite with Courtyard… a little mini playground in the privacy of your own room!
The Suite was large but the bathroom was tiny – the designers could have taken a metre out of the room and into the bathroom and there still would have been heaps of bedroom space. Because it was it was so small it was nearly impossible to bathe the kids. The bathroom also had flimsy sliding doors behind that partitioned the bedroom – so don’t expect to do anything in the bathroom without those in the bedroom hearing.
The room featured a King bed (so comfy) and a couple of chairs. The wardrobe was huge and there was a safe (this is a must for us). A sliding door led into the kids area: a king single with a slide-out trundle, heaps of toys and books and a TV with PS4. So while our kids are really little, this room would have suited them well into their teens. Again, though, the partition was flimsy and didn’t go all the way up to the ceiling so if your kids are older and you’re expecting some, ahem, privacy for the grown-ups, this isn’t the room for you.
I didn’t have the time, nor the inclination, to explore all the other room types (this was the end of our holiday and I was exhausted) but the website has a full list here and they look lovely.
For once, a kids club service our kids could actually go to! While they were too young for the Roxity Kids Club, the Lil’ Rockers Infants Club takes kids three and under. Unfortunately for us, Mister Three was not keen so we didn’t test it out. But it’s worth a mention as every other kid’s club we’ve encountered won’t take kids under four. There’s also the Tabu Teens club for older kids that looks amazing.
I think I read that the Hard Rock Penang has the largest free-form pool in Malaysia and, yes, it’s awesome. It also has a water play area including two water slides, and there’s a beach bar, a swim-up bar (oh yeaaaaah) and cabanas for daily hire. We loved hiring a cabana: you can plug your own music into the stereo and there’s a phone to order cabana-service.
When you arrive at the pool in the morning, you’re given a wristband to verify your status as hotel guest, and a bright purple towel.
There are lifeguards on duty whenever the pool is open, and the DJ spins sweet tunes all day long.
One minor criticism: to get from the pool back to the room you have to go through the main lobby – so the floor is always wet (even though the staff did an amazing job of mopping it up).
Yes, there’s a gym. Yes, it’s well equipped. Hell no, I didn’t use it.
The Rock Spa looked great, though the menu was certainly in Western-resort pricing. I didn’t try it out and I regret it.
The Hard Rock Penang sits right on Batu Ferringhi beach. There’s a jetty and lots of motorsports such as jetskiing on offer. There are also beach volleyball nets and you can ride a horse along the beach too. It’s not the most pristine beach (the motorised watersports wouldn’t help) and when I looked off the jetty I saw jellyfish (they didn’t look like the really harmful kind but still… jellyfish) so we didn’t swim in it. The pool was a better option. But the sunset was pretty magnificent from the beach so I do recommend checking it out.
So, would we go back?
Ask the husband and he’ll say no. But take that on face value: we spent a week in Penang and absolutely crammed in sightseeing each day so we’re not likely to head back very soon anyway. (But it’s amazing, here are some things to do in Penang) I guess my opinion is along a similar vein… I’d probably choose to stay at the Shangri-La, or a nice condo apartment, before I’d book the Hard Rock again because I’d want to experience something different.
But I would recommend staying at the Hard Rock
Yeah, I absolutely would! Do you want somewhere with reasonable rates, a huge pool, fun vibes, friendly staff, and good location? Somewhere that’s 100% kid-friendly? Then why the hell wouldn’t you book the Hard Rock? Don’t listen to my husband, he’s grumpy. Listen to the kids, who had an absolute BLAST.
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