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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Ludington, Michigan / State Park Beechwood campground

September 2016, Weekend, 2-nights, Beechwood Campsite 275


This is the third time we have camped in Ludington State Park. My blog post from November 2015 provides a lot of information about many of the campsites in this park. Additional campground information and photos can also be found in the Ludington State Park album on our Facebook page. This is a condensed review of our most recent stay.


Reservations, check-in and arrival

There were not many sites available when we made our advance reservation. After I reserved site 275, I noticed it is an ADA site. The description on the website does not say it is handicap accessible; however, my confirmation email said it is.

The first entrance booth, in the parking lot by the sanitation station, was open when we arrived, and we checked in there. Usually we camp off-season, and this is the first time we checked in in this area. We needed to provide more details than usual during check-in: the names of all people on our site, and our complete vehicle(s) information. Our son was coming to stay with us the second night, and we were told he had to stop and get an overnight pass, even though he has a recreation passport on his vehicle. When we walked through the overflow parking lot while hiking during our stay, we noticed several cars with tickets for unauthorized parking on the windshield. It took us several minutes to check-in, and it took our son several minutes to get his overnight pass when he stopped the next day.

Site 275

This is a average size site on the inside of the second Beechwood loop. It is level, and does not hold water during rain. Parking was a bit tight after our son arrived, and we had two vehicles.

View from site 275; click photo to enlarge and view details

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Sacramento, California / Homewood Suites by Hilton Sacramento (SMF) Airport-Natomas

September 2016, Weekday, 1-night, King Studio #309

I stayed in this Homewood Suites in 2012, when it was brand new. The guestroom I had this stay was pretty much the same as the one I had last time.

Arrival and check-in

When I arrived, the front desk agent offered me bottled water. I received another bottle of water and Milano cookies in the guestroom.

View from living room window; HIX pool visible

Stockton, California / Hilton

September 2016, Weekday, 1-night, King executive guestroom 544


Arrival and check-in experience

I had reserved a king guestroom at this Hilton. When I viewed online check-in, I saw that my room had been upgraded to an executive room before my arrival. I thought about checking in online and using the Hilton digital key; however, the Hilton check-in site had changed somewhat, and I did not figure out how to view the entire floor plan until after I had arrived at the hotel. When I had looked at it that morning, the only portion of the building that was visible was the corner where the guestroom that was pre-assigned to me is located. I could not tell if this was a top floor guestroom, or where it was located. Later, I realized the entire floors can be viewed as follows: hoover over the diagram, and then click "choose your room" when it shows. You can then view the entire floor and change floors to view all of the floors.

When I arrived, the front desk agent made my keys for the guestroom that had been pre-assigned to me. I did not understand why my keys were not ready, because I observed 10 or more prepared packets on the front desk for guests checking in that day. She did not recognize my Diamond status, and I did not receive a bag with two water bottles, like I observed other guests receiving later that evening.

View of courtyard from elevator foyer; guestrooms on north and south sides

Guestroom 544

This guestroom is on the top floor at the end of the hall. It is located in the worst possible area of the hotel; on the side of the building facing traffic, rather than the courtyard or canal. Usually, hotel staff members assign top-tier guests guestrooms in prime locations (not just Hilton; Marriott, and other chains, too). I do not recall ever being assigned a guestroom in a location like this before, and I wish I had realized the hotel layout and guestroom location details before unpacking. If I had been staying more than one night, I would have returned to the front desk, and requested a different guestroom.

The guestroom was spacious. The bathroom and a closet were located near the entrance. The bathroom contained the usual Hilton bath amenities and good quality towels. The shower head was very low. I am only 5' 2" tall, and I had to crouch to get my head under the spray. The closet contained an iron, ironing board, summer robe, hangers, and a safe.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Harrisville, Michigan / Harrisville State Park

September 2016, Holiday weekend 3-nights, Site 25

I found some of the best park photos for Harrisville State Park on Wikipedia.

Arrival and check-in

We arrived Friday a bit before noon, and check-in time is not until 3:00 p.m. Checkout time is 1:00 p.m., and I had checked online to see if anyone was on our site Thursday evening. The site was open, so we figured it would not be a problem if we arrived early. The agent informed us of the check-in time when we arrived, and gave the impression we could not check-in early. After I inquired further, she said that if there was not anyone on our site, and maintenance was not being performed, then we could check-in. I asked if we needed to drive back there to make sure, and then come back and check-in. She then requested our confirmation information, and said she could check us in.

Site 25

Road into campsite; white truck on site 25
The roads in this campground are narrow with a lot of trees. It was tight backing into site 25, although not overly difficult. We barely fit lengthwise on the 45 x 45 site, as there are a lot of trees around the perimeter of this site. We have a 30' 5th wheel, which is a couple of feet longer including the bike rack on back; still only about 35' total. I did not see 10' to spare after we were parked.
Fire pit on site 25
The only perimeter area of this campsite that is open is by the road and fire pit. Campers on sites 23 and 162 were easily visible when seated at the fire pit on site 25. The rest of the campsite is secluded. There were a lot of trees beside the walkway, so the view out our window toward the walkway was woodsy. The site is somewhat grassy.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Mt. Pleasant, Michigan / Soaring Eagle Casino Outdoor Concert Venue

Septemer 2016, Weekday


Pre-concert experience/ticket purchase

We were going to be passing through Mt. Pleasant the night of the rescheduled Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Guess Who, and Mark Farner concert, so we decided to purchase tickets and attend the show. We purchased the least expensive general admission tickets on the Soaring Eagle Casino website, and printed them at home. The tickets were not a bad price, although I thought the service fee of $6.75 per ticket was high. Tickets were available when we arrived, and I wished we had waited to purchase them then.

GA tix purchased and printed at home
I had read several negative reviews about the concert venue beforehand. Many of the reviews were from people who had purchased more expensive reserved seats closer to the stage. One person said his reserved seats were directly in front of the General Admission Hill Seating, and he had a terrible view. Looking at the seating layout, I would not be happy either, if I had paid more than twice as much for seats directly in front of where we were on the lawn. I had read another review from someone complaining about the stench and proximity of the porta johns--I hoped that was not correct!

Arrival/entrance

We parked in the casino RV lot, which we had never done before. We knew you could do this; however, we were surprised at the number of RVs in the lot. There were more than 25 trailers and RVs on this Thursday evening; many with the slides out, and some with generators running. One family appeared to be "camping," rather than visiting the casino. They had children, their camper was unhooked, and they were gone in their truck most of the time (I would not be visiting the casino or concert with kids, anyway, although I suppose some people might). We even observed a boat in the parking lot with a ladder at the back to get on and off the boat. There was plenty of room for parking, and the parking lot was fairly level. Next time we do something like this, we will be more mindful of the lights in the parking lot. We had parked before dark, and when we returned after the concert, we realized our bathroom skylight was located pretty close to one of the overhead lights.

Over 10 RVs in this photo
We took the shuttle between the RV lot and the casino, and then walked through the casino to and from the concert grounds. There was a special events shuttle stop between the casino and hotel entrance for transportation to the concert grounds, which we did not take. It seemed like the walk from the stop at the concert grounds to the entrance was farther than walking through the casino, unless you wait for the golf cart type shuttle to take you from the shuttle bus stop to the concert entrance.The concert grounds were located directly behind the casino. Even though the concert grounds have been open since 2012, the online property map does not show the outdoor venue location.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Lake Michigan Recreation Area / Lake Michigan at Manistee, Michigan

August 2016, Weekend, 2-nights, Orchid Loop Site 43

Sunset over Lake Michigan at LMRA
This was our first overnight stay at Lake Michigan Recreation Area. I was a bit confused when I made our campsite reservation, because the government reservation site lists the name of the campground a tad differently. The reservation site has the name as Lake Michigan at Manistee, MI

Advance reservations

Not considering the group campsites, there are four loops in the campground, and two of them have sites that can be reserved: Oak and Orchid loops. I thought it was difficult to choose a site, as we had never camped there before. Many of the fire pits on the sites are located behind the tar pad or on the right side, which would not be a good location, if you are camping in an RV (like we were) and need to back in. The fire pit is not visible in the photos of some of the sites, and the site dimensions are not provided; only the length of the tar pad. I thought the camping cost was high, considering there is no electricity, no shower facility, and no dump station. It was $21 night, plus a $9 transaction fee. We have a trip planned to Mammoth Cave Campground; the rate is similar, $1 less per night, and they have a dump station. We'll see how that National Park compares to this one after that stay.  

Arrival and check-in

This campground has self-registration with locked deposit boxes like the State of Michigan forest campgrounds for campers who do not have a reservation. Our site had a reserved tag on it with our name and the dates of our stay.

Orchid Loop Site 43

Site 43 has a 44' tar pad, and it says it can accommodate an RV up to 44'. Our 5th wheel is 30', and it was tricky for us to back into this site. It is on the corner, which made backing in a bit more difficult. The corner was sharp enough that we had to watch out for the numbered site pole on our lot, and the one across the street. Additionally, there was a large tree located next to the road at the start of the driveway. The tree was located on the east side of the pad on site 43. All of these obstructions were considerations when we backed in, and when we departed. This was one of the few times I needed to stay outside the truck to watch when we departed, until our RV was completely on the road. Fortunately, my husband is experienced with backing up and towing many kinds of equipment!

Site 43
There were wooden posts in the ground at the end of the pad on this site, so we could not back in as far as we would have liked. I can understand that they want to keep tires on the pavement; however, the back of our 5th wheel extends several feet beyond the tires. If we could have backed up a couple more feet, we would have had more room to park our truck on the pavement in front of the 5th wheel. Most of the sites had similar posts at the end of the pads, although I observed a few sites without posts.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Portage, Michigan / Homewood Suites by Hilton Kalamazoo-Portage

Weekday, 1-night, Kind studio suite 423


View to the east from front entrance

Arrival and status perks

The entrance at this Homewood Suites was beautiful. The hotel had been open less than a year at the time of my stay. It is located next to a newer Marriott Courtyard near I-94. 

The check-in process was efficient. I was initially assigned guestroom 325. Naturally, I inquired if this was a room on the top floor away from the elevator and activity. After looking at the computer a moment, the agent said she could reassign me suite 423 on the top floor. This was across from the elevator at the back of the building; however, so was suite 325. I said that would be fine. The front desk agent did not verbally recognize my status, although she must have seen it on my reservation. She said she saw I had bonus points chosen for my on-property benefit. She then offered me a bottle of water, which I gladly accepted.
View from living room window in suite 423;
creek visible when looking straight down

Suite 423

Suite 423 is a corner room located at the back of the building. It is about the same distance from the elevator as suite 325. There was a nice view of the trees and West Fork Portage Creek behind the property.
View from living room/sitting area