Wanda Reign on the Bund: Inside Shanghai's first 'seven-star' hotel

Story highlights

  • Shanghai's Wanda Reign hotel has become a destination of choice for China's rich elite
  • The hotel's management says it attracts young Chinese who book weekend suites to party

Shanghai (CNN)Billing itself a "seven-star" hotel -- the first of its kind in Shanghai -- the Wanda Reign on the Bund certainly makes the appropriate first impression.

The exterior is an awe-inspiring mix of glass and steel, shaped by British design firms Foster + Partners and Heatherwick Studio.
    Upon entering the lobby, guests walk across Art Deco-inspired jade inlaid floors toward a wall-sized abstract painting of Shanghai by renowned Chinese contemporary artist Shi Qi.
    Large marble columns extend to a 10-meter-high ceiling.
    Other artworks, commissioned specifically for the hotel, are paired with old Shanghai elements to reflect the city's style during the 1920s and '30s.
    Magnolia patterns and amber-colored rhinestones, 3D mosaic murals and elaborate embroideries are all accompanied by plenty of crystal, jade and marble.

    New addition to the Bund

    Opened in June after three years of construction, the $516 million hotel is the latest addition to the many high-end hospitality options along the iconic Bund waterfront of the Huangpu River, joining the likes of the Peninsula, Waldorf Astoria and, across the river, Shangri-La and Grand Hyatt.
    It's the 51st hotel of the Wanda Hotels & Resorts group, part of the Dalian Wanda empire under the helm of China's richest man, Wang Jianlin.
    And in less than six months, it has become the destination of choice for China's elite.
    World's fanciest private karaoke room?
    On a recent Saturday morning, two young women still in makeup, short black designer dresses and gold-embroidered silk slippers venture sleepily to the plush breakfast buffet.
    Just ahead of them, a man in pajama shorts -- also in slippers -- fills his plate with steamed dumplings and fried rice, all while talking loudly through his iPhone 7's wireless headset.
    The three guests appear to be no older than 30.
    Their ages are noteworthy because they are exactly the type of clients Wanda Reign has been known to attract, thanks mainly to the hotel's association with Wang Jialin's 28-year-old son, Wang Sicong, who many consider the brainchild behind the property.
    For the uninitiated, Wang Sicong has grabbed headlines for his ostentatious displays of wealth -- and millennial cool.
    He booked an entire island resort for his 27th birthday and made headlines for purchasing iPhone 7s and Apple watches for his dog.
    While some disparage the youngster's lifestyle, others -- mostly China's second-generation rich, the sons and daughters of tycoons -- look at him as a model nouveau riche.

    "People are curious"

    "Many of our current clients are relatively young," says Christie Chen, director of marketing and communication for Wanda Reign.
    "They often come in at the weekend to party and book one of our suites. The fact that Wang's name is behind the hotel is certainly a draw; so is the 'seven-star' tag. People are curious."
    Both the rating and Sicong's name might just be marketing ploys, however.
    No authorized global travel body has granted Wanda Reign its seven stars, as there is no such international standard.
    And while social media and Wang Sicong's entourage have emphasized the youngster's involvement to generate hype, it is the father, not the son, who owns the property.
    But that hasn't kept the hotel from embracing the opulence.

    Designer uniforms and Rolls Royce car services

    Take Club Reign on the second floor, a private club for those who are part of the Wanda Hotels and Resorts membership plan.
    It's a world unto itself, with stained glass windows in the corridors and chandeliers hanging over leather armchairs and mahogany furniture.
    A personalized butler is always on call, and the bar is stocked with bottles of Chateau Lafite and Louis XIV cigars.
    There's a three-room spa as well as a state-of-the-art KTV room kitted with professional audio equipment and mauve lights, in case guests want to recreate the dance club experience without leaving the premises.
    Got an urge to strum? The Chairman's Suite has its own harp.
    Then there's the car service, featuring luxury vehicles starting at $110 per trip -- that's for a BMW 5 Series -- all the way up to $800 for a four-hour ride in a Rolls Royce. As many young, wealthy Chinese can't get enough of expensive cars, the service fills a need.
    Even the staff uniforms are high-end; Laurence Xu, the first Chinese designer to show at Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week, was asked to create liveries using fine Chinese silk and other traditional Chinese motifs.
    Chef Marc Meneau of now closed two-Michelin star restaurant L'Espérance runs the show inside French restaurant MARC, while at the Japanese restaurant HE, everything -- from the ingredients to the crockery, the water and your can of Sprite -- is imported from Japan.

    Five-star luxury for seven-star prices?

    Despite the large-scale glitz and pervasive comforts, the Wanda Reign on the Bund is hard-pressed to live up to its "seven-star" moniker.
    What the hotel offers is certainly very good, but not unparalleled when compared to other luxury hotels.
    Even Chen admits, "Internally, we think of it as a five-star."
    But it's the hotel's connections to the country's moneyed twentysomethings that gives it its shine -- and an edge over competitors.
    It remains to be seen how long that will last, but for now, this far-reaching and extravagant property is the newest playground for China's high-spenders.