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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Michigan Fall Color Tour -- NW lower peninsula

We enjoyed a wonderful drive around northern lower Michigan  the first weekend in October. We visited a couple wineries and saw some beautiful scenery and colors, although I think the second weekend would yield better colors.

The drive around the Leelanau peninsula through Suttons Bay, Northport, and Leland is a nice trip. The roads are hilly, which provides many great views of Lake Michigan, Lake Leelanau, and many different trees. Each town offers quaint shopping, wineries, great fish, and local dining options. 

Black Star Farms winery has three tasting rooms in the Grand Traverse Bay area. They sell a souvenir glass for $5, which you use to sample six wines. You can then reuse the glass for five more samples at a different time or location. We visited the tasting room in Grand Traverse Commons, and the winery on Old Mission peninsula. We were disappointed with the service and knowledge shared at the Commons location; however, we thought the Old Mission visit was great! The young man serving at Old Mission provided excellent and brief information about each product he poured, he provided bland crackers for in-between tastes (which we did not receive at the Commons location), and he provided chocolate truffles with the excellent raspberry dessert wine we sampled. We, of course, made a purchase at this location! If this was my business, I would implement a way for employees to receive credit for each purchasing customer (he could have provided a business card, or the cashier could have asked who assisted us). The service we received at Old Mission made an impact on our decision to purchase.

One reason I wanted to visit Black Star Farms is because I am an avid champagne lover, and had found this review of their 2008 sparkling wine: "Recently released and oh so bubbly our 2008 Sparkling Wine was reviewed by Tony Brueski on  As Tony notes this is not a sweet style sparkling wine but a rather dry one made in the classic brut style.  This wine pairs well with an assortment of dishes as well as being wonderful on its own." 

Brut is my preference, so I was excited to try this wine, especially since the price was under $15. I am sad to say that I did not like this product. It was more flat than bubbly, and lacked flavor. Two positive words that describe it are clean and crisp--much like many inexpensive white wines.  

We enjoyed beautiful fall colors alongside the 131 expressway through the Cadillac area on our way home. I was surprised that the colors in this area were more peaked than the ones in the Grand Traverse Bay area. I assume the bodies of water in the Bay area have an impact on this.

Traverse City, Michigan -- Holiday Inn

Status perks
At check-in, I received two small bottles of water, two small chocolates, and two small snacks, as the guest before me had also received. I also received a PCR letter with a coupon for one complimentary "Best-4-Breakfast" in my prepared key packet.

There were two agents assisting three guests before me when I arrived on Saturday afternoon shortly before 4:00 pm. When the female agent finished assisting the guest at the counter in front of her, she left the area. Another guest arrived behind me as I continued to wait. One of the guests in front of me, turned around and mouthed the word "slow" to me. She had been in the gift shop and then wandering around the lobby while her partner was checking in. It took me over 15 minutes to check-in.

I received a king bed room with a connecting room door on the top/4th floor. It was a basic room with a very tiny bathroom. The bathroom door almost touched the toilet seat when opening. There was only room for one person in the bathroom, and if I had wanted to shut the door, I would have had to step in beside the toilet to shut the door. And then, you'd want to lock it so you wouldn't get your knees and toes smashed, if someone opened the door without knocking! I was apprehensive about the connecting room door; however, I knew the hotel was quite full, so we did not voice any concerns about this. As it turned out, we did not need to worry about noise from the room next door; only the hall. We were awakened four times during the night. The second time, I heard someone talking on a two-radio, as if hotel personnel were also in the hall. Twice, we were awakened by a dog barking, and the next day, we passed three different guests with dogs. One of the guests with a dog entered the room with the connecting door next to us.

I have stayed at this hotel before and always thought the rooms were kind of dingy. Since the property had recently completed upgrades for the Holiday Inn relaunch program, I decided to give it another try. I was seriously disappointed. The bedding was somewhat more comfortable; however, that is the only change I observed. Our room still had the dusty, musty, old smell that it used to have. I guess it is in the walls because the carpeting looked fairly new. The furniture did not look new (there were stains and damage), but the smell did not seem to come from the furniture. The one nice thing about our room, is that we received a king bed. The only room type available when I made the reservation was two queen beds. I had sent an email to the hotel before my arrival, which said I'd like to have a king bed high floor room, if one was available. Although no one sent me a reply, it would appear they had received my note.

Food & Beverage
The service and beverages in Shimmers lounge were unacceptable, in my opinion. I walked to the bar after we had been seated for over 10 minutes and ordered two margaritas. I requested good ones, although I did not state a brand preference, and the bartender did not ask. I mistakenly assumed he would use something better than nasty bar tequila. After giving him a $2 tip and returning to the table, I realized how awful the beverages were. I took mine back to the bar and said I wanted a different margarita because the bar tequila he used was not good. The bartender basically told me "too bad." He said I would have to pay for my drinks all over again, if I wanted new ones. We left the lounge shortly after this, and had the tab removed from our bill at check-out. Manager Heather the next morning was the most impressive employee I had contact with this visit.

We decided to order a snack from CW's Blue Water Bistro next to the front desk, and get a bottle of wine from the gift shop to take back to our room. The cashier in the restaurant was nice enough, although there was not anyone in the area when I arrived to place the order, nor when I returned to pick it up after I had purchased the wine. I ended up waiting several minutes both times. I'm not sure how long the smoked whitefish dip had been done before I was able to take it back to my room.

I was impressed when we received excellent service in the Bistro for breakfast the next morning! And, I was happy to see sugar-free jam available. The food was acceptable, although not great. I ordered Pesto Eggs Benedict, which had excellent flavor; however, my eggs were cooked hard--pretty much like hard boiled eggs.

The service in the gift shop was not good. There were not any guests at the front desk where two employees stood when I entered the gift shop, which is connected to the front desk. I browsed a few minutes and did not see an employee in the gift shop. Before I had a chance to request assistance from an agent at the front desk, two guests arrived to check-in. An employee who I had seen walking around the halls entered the gift shop a few seconds later, and I asked him if he could help me. He said no, and that he would tell someone at the front desk. When the guests finished at the front desk, no one entered the gift shop to assist me. Another guest arrived at the front desk, so this time, when the guest finished, I stepped out of the gift shop where I was certain the employees at the front desk could see me. The female associate standing behind the counter, looked at me and rudely said she knew I was waiting. Wow! I had not even said anything to anyone, and since no one had acknowledged me before this, I had wondered if I was invisible. She rang up my wine a few minutes later, and I returned to the bistro, where I then waited for our snack. When I got back to the room, my husband commented that he was about ready to send out a search party for me.

I do not have much of anything good to say about this hotel, and I have decided I will never stay here again. The only good points for me, were that I received PCR points for my stay, and it's in a good location. I'm afraid those benefits do not outweigh the negative things. There are MANY more hotel choices in the area, and almost all the ones that are located a bit farther from town, offer free shuttle service to town.