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Monday, February 21, 2011

Grand Rapids, Michigan / JW Marriott

February 2011, Weekend, King concierge corner guestroom

Status perks
I used a free night certificate and had Gold status during this stay. It was a Saturday night, we received an upgrade to the concierge floor, and the lounge was open on the weekend.

The concierge floors are on floors 19 - 23, and the concierge lounge is on the 23rd floor.

We received a corner river view room on the 20th floor. The room was in the same location as when we stayed at this hotel a couple years ago, except it was on a higher floor. I had Silver status during that stay, and we did not receive a concierge floor room then.

River view when looking straight down
The view from the room was great, and the room was comfortable. It contained a chaise lounge sofa and a soft straight-backed chair, along with the desk and chair. The bed was supremely comfortable, and the room was soundproof. There was even a soundproofing strip on the bottom of the door.

A laptop safe was located in a drawer in the beverage area outside of the bathroom. The beverage center included a single-serve coffeemaker with good quality coffee and a mini fridge. I was surprised that  liquid creamer was not provided. I was sure that had been provided the last time that we stayed in this hotel. Because this was a concierge floor room, there were two bathrobes for use in the closet, and two small bottles of complimentary water were provided.

The bathroom was large, although the counter space was limited. There was a full size bathtub, and I loved the large walk in marble shower. The bedroom floor was carpet, the bathroom floor was marble, and the floor outside the bathroom--between the bedroom area and door, was wood. Everything in the room was high quality and tastefully decorated.

Concierge lounge
We did not have any food or beverages except in the concierge lounge. I saw a sign stating that lounge access could be purchased for $25. I don't know if that was per person or per room. Beer and wine was included in the evening, and mixed drinks were available for purchase. Snacks included cheeses, crackers, sushi, pot stickers, and egg rolls. All of the hot items were not set out at once; items were refilled or replaced as they became empty. The food in the morning included cut fruits, yogurt, granola, cold cereal, salmon, bagels, breads, and pastries. Available beverages were coffee, cappuccino, espresso, orange and cranberry juices, and milk.

Overall & misc.
This is one of my favorite Marriott hotels, and we already have another reservation here in a few months. The downtown skywalk is accessible from the hotel. Self-parking was $16 per night.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Carnival Glory cruise -- 7-night Exotic Western Caribbean from Miami

This was our first experience with kiosk check-in. I had not noticed that our boarding document or "Fun Pass" said "kiosk ready" on it before we arrived. There were two Carnival representatives greeting and directing guests to two different lines. They were also providing zone number cards, because we arrived around 11:30 a.m., and guests were not boarding yet. We received a Zone 7 card. One check-in line was for guests with kiosk ready boarding passes, and the line on the left was for other guests. After checking in and scanning our passports at the kiosk, we received a receipt from the machine with a window number for our cabin key pick up. Our receipt was for window number one. There was no line, and we were immediately greeted and given room keys. We sat down to wait, and our zone was called about 30 - 40 minutes later. We were on board the ship around 12:30 p.m.

When we first arrived, we had noticed guests who rushed right past the Carnival representatives instead of waiting to speak with them. They were in such a hurry to get in line, they paid for it later. While we were waiting for our zone number to be called after check-in, we observed guests being redirected to the other line (they had chosen the incorrect kiosk or non-kiosk line in their haste). And, some guests did not have zone number cards because they had not waited to speak with a representative when arriving (we waited briefly behind four or five guests). When these guests noticed the zone numbers, they asked what they were for, and what time certain guests had arrived (yes, some of them asked us what time we got there). Then, the guests without numbers expected Carnival to give them a low number (or, they expected guests like us who had a low number to include them in our group). They claimed that a representative was not greeting guests when they arrived. I do not think that was true because I always observed at least one representative greeting guests from the time we arrived until we boarded. There was only one representative when we first arrived, and the second employee returned to a his post a few seconds after we stood in line to wait. We were glad to see that the Carnival representatives were not providing already called zone numbers to the complaining guests.

Cabin 7442, balcony, category 8M
We had an aft cabin extended balcony room. The balcony was much deeper than the aft cabin balcony we had on the Legend; however, the room was smaller. There was no couch, and there was only one chair with the table. There was room for two chairs, so I did not understand why only one was provided. There were two chairs and a lounger on the balcony, which was great! Unfortunately, I do not have any good balcony photos to share.

Food & Beverage
The food on this ship included the same offerings that I wrote about in my Freedom review. You can find that review posted December 15, 2010. There were a couple differences, which I will list here. There was a burrito bar on the opposite side of the ship from the deli counter. It was similar to the deli: You waited in line to special order any type of dry burrito desired. My husband had a shrimp burrito, which he said was great. If there was a burrito bar on the Freedom, we missed it. The sushi bar on this ship was open every evening from 5:00 - 8:15 p.m., instead of just a few nights. This was not listed in the Fun Times each day; however, I observed a sign stating the hours.

Pool & outside areas
All areas of the pool deck were filled with guests on the first sea day. I can't remember the last cruise we have been on when there were so many guests in all the loungers along the side decks too. The serenity deck on this ship was the same as the one on the Freedom with a couple minor differences: None of the cabanas on the Glory had covers, and the four hammocks were hung so low, that they were barely off the ground when a guest laid down on one. We saw one guest fall off a hammock; I'm sure she was happy she didn't have far to fall. One of the hot tubs on serenity deck was filled with hot water, and the temperature in the other tub was lukewarm. The water slide and jogging track on this ship were the same as the Carnival Freedom.

Cruise Director, Jorge Solano, was excellent--very funny!! Unfortunately, he is retiring. The entertainment on this cruise was superb! Two great comedians, a physical comedian, an illusionist, and Carnival dancers. We enjoyed every show. The seaside theater played movies and concerts at various times. Shows and times were listed in the Fun Times each day. The Fun Farewell party (free drinks and dancing) was not well advertised, so there were not many guests there. At the bottom of the tear off panel in the daily paper, there was a section called, "Looking Ahead." I read about the farewell party in that section. On the day of the party, it only said, "Fun Farewell," in the 5:00 time slot with no explanation. I recommend reading your Fun Times every day, so you don't miss anything!

Ports of Call & Shore Excursions
We booked the Deluxe Sail & Snorkel Tour in Cozumel and were very happy with it. We motored on a large catamaran to go snorkeling, and then we motor-sailed to a nice beach. Margaritas, beer, and non-alcoholic beverages were included. Non-motorized activities (water toys and slides, kayaks, volleyball) were available for no charge at the beach. Food and other activities (horseback riding, Seadoo riding, parasailing) were available for purchase.

In Belize, we booked the Barrier Reef Snorkel. We boarded our excursion boat right from the ship. We took a short and beautiful ride to the reef where we swam and snorkeled for 2 hours. The guides provided excellent service. They gave special attention to guests who were first time snorkelers. Rum punch, beer, and non-alcoholic beverages were included. We were surprised to receive this because it was not listed in the shore excursion details. The rum punch was citrus, instead of red/berry punch, and I thought it was excellent.
Belize tender boat

When we returned from our excursion, we took a tender boat to the mainland, just to see what it was like. We quickly returned after stepping outside the guarded entrance. There are typical cruise ship stores on shore where you can shop without going through the guarded gates to Belize City.

We went to Tabyana Beach at Isla de Roatan. Our only disappointment with this excursion is that our ship arrived two hours later than expected, and we were only in port until 3:00 p.m., so we did not have as much time there as we would have liked. The ride to the beach was 30 minutes. We knew this, and considered it part of the excursion because we were looking forward to seeing the island on the way. We would have enjoyed the ride more, if our driver had provided an upbeat ride with narration. Instead, we rode in silence. If you have traveled to the Caribbean and Mexico, you may be familiar with the center fold down seats on the buses! Fortunately, we knew about these seats, AND, we knew that it would be a 30 minute bus ride to the beach. When our guide tried to load us into a full bus by folding down the center seats, we declined and waited for the next bus. I bet the passengers inside were just as happy as we were when he shut the door without loading different guests.
Tabayana Beach

Tabyana Beach has beautiful white sand, many lounge chairs, and some shade. The snorkeling from the beach was the best we experienced this cruise! Non-alcoholic beverages were available for no charge; alcoholic beverages were expensive. We purchased an island beer ($4 + tip), and I loved it. I do not like beer much, except for an occasional Corona, and I thought the beer was smooth and had good flavor. Mixed drinks were $7.

In Grand Cayman, we enjoyed some quiet time on deck, and then rode a tender boat to shore with some of the last guests.  Before this, guests were getting a tender boat number in the showroom and then waiting about an hour for a boat. We went around 11:45, and waited 1/2 hour. If we had waited until after noon, there would not have been any wait, because they quit giving out numbers shortly after we got ours, and the boat we rode was not full.

As always, we enjoyed the great service, food, drinks, and entertainment. Again, the entertainment on this cruise was some of the best we've experienced. The organization this trip was somewhat lacking--we arrived in port late in Belize and Roatan, and there were not any Carnival representatives directing guests. We also did not hear any announcements (with the exception of Roatan) after arriving in port saying that guests could now disembark as we are accustomed to. Surprisingly, the debarkation in Miami was one of the smoothest we've experienced!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Miami, Florida / MIA airport -- Marriott

Status perks
I did not receive any recognition or perks at check-in. I had filled out the Virtual Concierge form prior to arrival, requesting a fridge and room on the concierge floor. Near the end of the check-in process, I asked if my room was on the concierge floor, and the agent said yes.

We stayed in the south tower on floor seven, which is where the concierge lounge is located. Floors eight and nine are also concierge floors. The lounge was not open on the weekend, although our key allowed us access to the lounge and business area inside when we first arrived. The guestroom was a basic Marriott room, and the fridge I had requested was in the corner. The room was not very big. The ice bucket was on a small table next to the dresser, and the coffee maker was in the dresser under the TV. It was not plugged in or useable where it was located. We took the coffee maker out, and found just enough room for it on the the dresser next to the TV, where a plug was located. There was one 10 oz bottle of water in the room when we arrived, and housekeeping left another one on stayover.

The north tower looked like an older building, and the bottom floor smelled musty when we walked through that tower, which is next to the pool area. The rooms in the north tower had two window panes of glass, and the rooms in the south tower had three.  The rooms looked like they were the same size; there was just more window area in the south tower rooms. The bed in our guestroom was comfortable, and the room was sound proof. We did not experience much airplane or hallway noise during the 2-night stay. The room was clean at check-in; however, we encountered a few minor housekeeping oversights. We only had one coffee cup, one creamer, and a used bar of soap from a previous guest had not been removed from the shower. All of these things were taken care of when housekeeping attended to our room after the first night. None of the rooms at this hotel have a balcony, and the windows do not open. The heating system was easily adjustable and quiet. I do wish I could have turned it off overnight though, instead of trying to find a comfortable temperature.

Food & Beverage
We had a sandwich and drinks at Cane Fire Grill the night we arrived. The turkey sandwich on sourdough bread was fresh, good quality, and large enough to share. The service we received was not as good as expected. We did not have any real complaints, although usually when we sit at the bar, the bartenders are more social and attentive about offering refills.

We dined at Champions Sports Bar in the adjoining Marriott Courtyard the second evening. The service in Champions was great--and, we were served at a table by the bartender! I would not recommend any of the food that we tried. This was definitely a sports bar atmosphere and food offerings. Since the bartender highly recommended the Mahi Mahi sandwich, and the bar was located in a Marriott, we expected better quality. We did not think either food item was worth $12.95. The Mahi Mahi sandwich consisted of one small overcooked fillet, which did not come close to covering the bun. The Mahi Mahi in the fish tacos was overcooked as well, and the flour shells were stale. The atmosphere and seating were both comfortable, and we would visit Champions again for drinks.

There is a Starbucks located in the Marriott, and a hotel employee had told us it was a "regular" Starbucks, so we expected to get breakfast sandwiches there one morning. When we arrived, we learned that this location only serves muffins and pastries. We had breakfast at the Latino restaurant next door, which was an excellent choice! Most of the menu items included coffee, toast, hash browns [called "The Works"] for $10; however, you could also get just an omelet or scrambled eggs with ham for under $5!

hot tub beyond pool; north tower on left
Pool & outside areas
wicker chairs; Residence Inn beyond
The pool located at the Marriott is also used by guests at the adjoining Marriott Courtyard and Residence Inn across the parking lot. Even though there was not a lot of seating around the pool, the area was never overcrowded. There was a large area with additional lounge chairs and tables outside the pool gate.  The pool area was shaded most of the day since it is on the north side of the building. The expanded seating area outside the pool gate, near the Courtyard hotel, provided shaded and sunny seating and lounge chairs. The furniture was nice looking dark brown wicker furniture that usually is accompanied with chair cushions. Since there were not any cushions on any of the pool chairs, the seating was very uncomfortable. There were several sitting chairs with cushions under a roof overhang outside the Marriott Courtyard, which were comfortable.
pool on left; more lounge chairs straight ahead

Fitness Center
Marriott left, Courtyard right; fitness center under red roof
The fitness center is located in the Courtyard hotel, near the pool. I did not use the center, although I could see it was a large glassed room with more than 10 cardio machines. The location didn't seem like it would be too much of an inconvenience from the Marriott as long as it wasn't raining.

Overall & Misc.
We were very happy with the comfort of our stay, since I had discovered a great rate of $114 (this was a promotion code rate, which also earned points and status). I think we would have been disappointed, if the rate had been more than $125. I was glad this was not my first Marriott experience as a Gold member because I would have been seriously disappointed. I would have wondered what the appeal is. I had experienced more impressive reception, recognition, and perks as a Gold member prior to this stay.

We waited over 20 minutes for the "every 15 minutes" shuttle bus when we arrived at the airport. I ended up sitting on my husband's lap, and there were more guests who had to wait for the next shuttle. The shuttle was picking up guests for the Marriott, Courtyard, and Residence Inn. Lucky for us, it dropped off at the Marriott first!

There is a Winn Dixie, Walgreens, K-Mart, Payless Shoes, McDonald's, Taco Bell, and a few more businesses in a shopping center less than a mile from the hotel. Other than the fast food restaurants, and the Latino restaurant where we ate breakfast, there is not much dining nearby.

Grand Rapids, Michigan / GRR airport -- SpringHill Suites by Marriott

Status perks
I did not receive any extra perks as a Gold member. In fact, the agent did not even mention my status or thank me for being a loyal member at check-in. 

The room was a basic SpringHill Suites room with a sitting area and comfortable bed. It was a bit smaller than some SpringHill Suites I have stayed in. There was a couch, chair, and table with desk chair in the sitting area. There was a small fridge, microwave, and sink in the corner. A partial wall provided minimal separation between the sitting area and bedroom. A large flat screen TV on the dresser was visible from the living area and the bed. There was plenty of room in the bathroom and vanity area, although the toilet was positioned very close to the shower.

Food & Beverage
Breakfast is included with the room rate. This hotel also has a small lobby bar, which is an unusual extra for a SpringHill Suites. We did not visit the bar, although we had breakfast in the morning. There were breads, pastries, cereals, fresh fruit (apples, oranges, bananas), yogurt, scrambled egg squares, sausage patties, milk, and juices. All of the items were fresh and hot.

This hotel has an indoor pool and hot tub. There were several comfortable lounge chairs and a few small tables around the pool. The hot tub was hot, and the area was clean.

Fitness center
There were two or three cardio machines in the fitness center. The door was propped open with the trash can when we arrived, and the next day as well. A sign on the door offered an apology for the fitness center being closed; however, it did not appear to be closed. I observed guests using the equipment every time we walked by.   

We signed up for the 8:30 AM shuttle the evening we checked in. Fortunately, we had opted for the early choice rather than 9:00 AM, because the 8:30 shuttle was over 10 minutes late, and then it made a stop on the way to the airport. I usually expect to arrive at the airport 10 - 15 minutes later than the shuttle time we schedule. We arrived at the airport at 8:53 AM. The driver did not acknowledge or apologize for the delay. When we called for pick-up from the airport after returning, the agent told us to take a cab and the hotel would pay for it. This was great--we arrived back at our vehicle in their lot in record time!

March 2012, Weekday, 1-night, King suite #326

I have stayed at this hotel a few times, and every room and experience has been pretty much the same except this guestroom, so I am providing some information about this room--I would avoid it!

Room 326 is located on the top floor next to the elevator. I could hear the elevator, although that noise was minimal. In fact, if that had been the only issue with the room, I would have considered the room acceptable, even though I usually prefer rooms farther down the hall.

This room had a strong smoke smell--after we got settled, and not constant. The elevators are located near the hotel entrance door from the back parking lot. The only thing I could figure this might have been from, is that guests were smoking outside the back door. Fortunately, the smell was only in the sitting area and not the sleeping area of the guestroom.

The second problem with this room is that the window looks out over the lower floor pool and fitness center roof. Not only did this obstruct the view, it also caused a lot of noise when it rained the evening of our stay. I like rain and storms; however, the way the rain ran down the drains around the roof was so loud it kept me up that evening.