I Spent 24 Hours at the Taco Bell Hotel
Check out everything that went down.
The email arrived in my inbox on an otherwise ordinary Friday morning. The subject line: “YOU’RE INVITED - The Bell: A Taco Bell Hotel and Resort 8/8.”
What?! I had written about the Taco Bell pop-up hotel, which was set to shimmer like a desert mirage in Palm Springs for only a few days this month and where rooms had sold out in less than two minutes when they became available to the public in June. Taco Bell had taken note and I got an insider’s invite to check out the place for myself.
On the one hand: the desert, in August. Temperatures in Palm Springs the week before The Bell — Taco Bell’s temporary transformation of the V Hotel — swung open its doors to superfans, influencers and lucky gapers like me hit highs of 117 degrees. Yikes.
And on the other hand: “We want to make sure you’re one of the absolute first to walk through the ‘Freeze Lounge,’ get braids or a fade at the on-site salon, sip n’ snack on a uniquely Taco Bell menu, and so. much. more,” the Taco Bell rep wrote.
So, yeah. How could I say no?!
I couldn’t. I didn’t.
Reader, I traveled there. I spent 24 taco-riffic hours at the Taco Bell hotel — eating, drinking, lounging by the pool and taking in other Taco Bell-themed activities, and then eating and drinking some more. I left stuffed fuller than an XXL Grilled Stuft Burrito, but it was a seriously cool way to chill in the desert.
Here’s what happened.
Thursday, Aug. 8
1:10 p.m.: Check In! “Hi, welcome to The Bell! Checking in today?” I am greeted warmly by everyone from the valet parking attendants to the people behind the front desk. Before I know it, I’ve been handed two key cards. One, designed to look like a Diablo Hot Sauce packet with the all-cap message “THE HYPE IS REAL,” will get me into my hotel room. The other, bluish green and marked “Room 15 … Let’s Chill,” will open the door to the Freeze Room, a tricked-out spot to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Taco Bell’s Baja Blast Freeze.
Someone has also slid a welcome tote bag onto my shoulder and two fabric wristbands onto my wrist, giving me full hotel and bar privileges.
Before I even leave the lobby, a server hands me a special (non-alcoholic) welcome drink: a Baja Blast (not the slushie kind) with a watermelon ice pop plunked down in it. I sip it and survey the Taco Bell merch on display near the concierge: hot-sauce-packet pool floaties, beach towels and throw pillows, Taco Bell jewelry, hats, sunglasses, mugs.
If these early treats are a sign of what’s to come, I know I’m going to have a ball at The Bell.
1:47 p.m.: The Room: I can’t overstate this: There are Taco Bell-themed details tucked in and around every corner of the room, and I am determined to find them all. A colorful Taco Bell mural covers the entire wall behind the bed’s headboard. Hot-sauce-packet pop art adorns another wall. A hot-sauce packet throw pillow and a Bell Hotel bed runner add pops of orange and blue to the white bedding. The two cotton robes embroidered with The Bell logo in the closet are not free; the heap of Taco Bell chips and mini-fridge full of caffeinated beverages are.
2:16 p.m.: The Swag Bag: No one’s really out by the pool yet, so I take a moment to unpack my welcome canvas tote bag. In it, I find a large Fire-red hot sauce beach towel conveying the message “I GOT THIS,” which of course I now do. There’s also a “cooling pillow” with The Bell logo on it, a small container of sunscreen, some Fire mini chips, and a booklet with information about the menu and scheduled events and a map of the hotel. I decide to use the map to explore.
2:47 p.m.: A Hotel Tour: Wandering the long corridors, I pass signs dangling from doorknobs, reading, on one side, “Yup” (meaning, I assume, yes, please clear out my heap of half-empty sauce packets) and “Nope” (meaning — again, guessing — please stay away while I recover from too many super-sweet specialty cocktails). After a pause to admire the Taco Bell-branded fixed-gear bikes available for rental to especially heat-tolerant guests, I pass through a gate bearing the message “Don’t Let the Tacos Escape; Keep Closed” to enter the pool area.
Throngs of guests, many wearing Taco Bell clothing (hot-sauce packet T-shirts and swimsuits, Taco Bell shorts sets), are already participating in The Bell’s main activity: cheesing for the ‘gram! This place is an Instagrammer’s paradise. So. Many. Backdrop. Options.
Some folks are like me, members of the press, but others are social influencers and Taco Bell superfans. I meet plenty of the first two categories. Woefully few of the third.
At the bar, the close-up worthy cocktails — Cucumber Crush, Watermelon Splash, Desert Mirage Margarita, etc. — are flowing. The bar and regular menu are cash, but servers sporting clear fanny packs full of hot sauce bring out trays of free food — Taco Bell favorites, sneak-peek and international menu items — to “surprise and delight” the guests. A bell toll indicates a new item is about to emerge from the kitchen. Oh, the Pavlovian excitement!
Next stop: The Taco Shop (aka the gift shop), where you can flip through racks of Taco Bell T-shirts, shorts and swimsuits and outfit yourself in Taco Bell gear from head (hats) to toe (slides). A lighted display case holds smaller merch, such as Taco Bell pins, understated necklaces, sunglasses and eyeglasses that protect your eyes from the blue light of device screens.
A little tacoverwhelmed, I leave without buying anything and return to the pool in search of a snack.
3:20 p.m.: The Scene: I order a drink at the bar, snap a photo (obvi!), and find an empty lounge chair near the Fire Pool. Most of the action seems to be around the pool, which is outfitted with orange hot-sauce floaties.
A server brings me a box of Strawberry Shortcake Twists, a fruitier version of Cinnamon Twists served with a cheesecake frosting dip. Dessert first? Sure, why not?! Moments later another server approaches with a box of Nacho Fries with four different sauces for dipping. That was the something savory, salty and a tad spicy I was craving.
6:15 p.m.: The Food: Members of the press gather in a quiet area — by the Mild Pool — to hear about the food at The Bell from Taco Bell Executive Chef Rene Pisciotti, who oversees all menu innovation at the chain.
“The most-important thing … when you’re coming to Taco Bell resort, the food has to be on point,” Pisciotti says. “We wanted to make sure that the experience people had really, really delivered on that.”
The “resort-inspired menu” was conceived to include Taco Bell spins on what the chef and his team considered “non-negotiable” vacation-food items, Pisciotti says.
Taco Bell’s take on a classic three-layer club sandwich, for instance, swaps out lunch meat for breaded chicken and adds spicy jalapeno bacon, fresh lettuce and tomatoes, creamy avocado, swiss cheese, aioli. White bread has been replaced by a cheesified chalupa, with aged cheddar baked through and toasted on the surface, that will soon be on offer at all Taco Bell locations. The Toasted Cheddar Club Sandwich is served with Nacho Fries and nacho cheese.
In Pisciotti’s team’s hands, avocado toast, which he calls a “quintessentially California thing… you have to have … when you are coming to a resort” in the state, has become an Avocado Toast-ada. It features a generous portion of cool avocado heaped on multigrain toast from the local Bosch Bakery, plus radishes, chipotle sorghum and “Diablo Puffs” — crunchy vegan chicharrones spiced with Taco Bell’s Diablo seasoning — for texture on top.
The Bell Crudite platter, which is a “light, refreshing” nod to the desert heat, Pisciotti says, offers fresh and pickled seasonal vegetables, grilled Gordita bread, and two sauces: a black bean hummus and a cucumber crema that’s like a tzatziki but with cilantro instead of dill as well as Taco Bell verde-sauce seasoning.
The last item Pisciotti shows off offers (like the toasted cheddar chalupa on the club sandwich) a sneak peak at a product headed to Taco Bell locations around the country: Sweet Jalapeno Popcorn Chicken, with a seasoning based on Taco Bell Fire sauce, served with Cilantro Ranch dressing and topped with Bread & Butter Pickles and Jalapenos. “Fried chicken is definitely having a moment,” says Pisciotti. “There is no way we were going to miss that here.”
The Bell’s menu, which also features other Taco Bell-inspired sandwiches and salads and tried-and-true Taco Bell favorites like nachos (served in a cute mini box that’s perfect for poolside snacking) and Doritos Locos Taco, took Pisciotti’s team about five or six months to perfect, he says. The avocado toast (specific to The Bell) and popcorn chicken (coming soon to a Taco Bell menu near you) are standouts.
7 p.m.: Synchronized Swimmers: Back at the Fire Pool, a water ballet troupe called the Aqualillies performs, wearing red bathing caps and Fire-sauce-packet swimsuits, of course. It’s super fun, highly Instagrammable and, alas, over all too soon.
9:18 p.m.: Music: I’m sure to catch the evening’s entertainment, Fletcher. Back in March, Billboard declared her song “Undrunk” to be “the First Great Breakout Pop Song of 2019.” As the sun sinks, the weather cools and the lights cast pretty colors over all the space, it’s pleasant to hang by the pool and listen to her.
10:00 p.m.: Bedtime: With the show over and the crowd by the Fire Pool thinning fast, I make my way back to my room to snack on the turn-down-service cookies — decorated by a local bakery to look like tacos and Fire hot sauce packets — and sleep under the Taco Bell mural. This is a sweet, sweet slumber.
Friday, Aug. 9
7 a.m.: Poolside Yoga: Woops. My plan was to join those doing early-morning yoga poolside on hot-sauce-packet yoga mats, but that doesn’t happen. I am too comfortable doing the corpse pose in bed to do the cobra pose on the pool deck.
9:20 a.m.: Breakfast: Hello, room service! I wake up to a DIY breakfast taco with fixings like eggs, potatoes, hot sauce, cheese, bacon, plus Pancake Delights, which are little doughnuts holes stuffed with a sweet, gooey filling.
11 a.m.: Check Out! I officially check out and stow my bag at the reception desk, but my fun isn’t over because I’m scheduled for a manicure at the Bell salon. I have my choice of six different looks and opt for the Bell Mani. Each nail is painted a different Taco Bell color – Fire sauce red, mild sauce gold, Baja Blast teal, white and one accent nail decorated with a Taco Bell decal and painted accents. I am super happy with the results.
11:30 a.m.: Lunch: With the previous night’s guests mostly gone and that night’s yet to arrive, I grab lunch at the Baja Bar. I go all in on the Fish Tacos (coriander-panko breaded cod, cabbage, aji aioli and pineapple pico, served with tortilla chips) and a Mexicali Cobb Salad (chili lime chicken, roasted corn, grape tomatoes, queso fresco, jalapeno bacon, avocado and dressing). This is Taco Bell feasting at its finest.
12:55 p.m.: The Freeze Room: Before heading out to explore Palm Springs, I stop by the Freeze Room for a Baja Blast Birthday Freeze. It’s a green slushie tricked out with funfetti and a sparkly swizzler in honor of its 15th anniversary, and it’s a celebratory end to my stay at the Taco Bell hotel.
Live Mas, indeed.