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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Chicago, Illinois -- Holiday Inn Express Magnificent Mile

Status perks
I received a coupon at check-in, which was good for a free movie or 2,500 bonus points. I took the bonus points!

Photo taken from inside the closet
Room
I received a room on the 8th floor at the end of the hall. The room was very small. There was barely room for a small chaise type sofa against the wall next to the closet. There was a microwave, fridge, and desk/table with chair. The desk chair hit the foot of the bed when sitting down or getting up. I had to use the sofa to set my suitcase on because there was no other place to put it. It would have been difficult for two people to stay in the room, or to fit two beds in it. The diagram on the back of the door looked like all the rooms on this floor were the same size. A safe in the closet was large enough for my laptop, and a flat screen TV was cleverly hung on the wall in the corner. The bathroom did not have any counter space. I found the hairdryer under the sink, and there was a small ledge under the mirror for the bathroom amenities. The view from the room wasn't too bad considering it was only on the 8th floor. I usually prefer a higher floor; however, this time it was probably better that I was not on the 16th floor. I waited a long time for the elevator in the morning, and it stopped at every floor on the way down. I did not hear any noise from other guestrooms; however, the noise in the hall from guests around the corner and at the other end of the hall was loud for a while in the evening. It sounded like the noise was coming from right outside my door, so the hall noise travels easily.
 


Food & Beverage
Fortunately, there is a Starbucks directly across the street, since I have never cared for the coffee quality at Holiday Inn Express. The food at this property was very disappointing. It was typical HIX fare--cinnamon rolls, scrambled eggs, bacon, biscuits and sausage gravy, cold cereal, milk, juice, and fruit. The choices were less than I have seen at other HIX, and the food did not taste fresh. First, I tried the scrambled eggs and bacon, which I threw out because the eggs tasted watery, and the bacon did not have good flavor. Then, I tried milk and a banana that looked firm and fresh. I threw both of these items out also. The banana lacked flavor and was not firm. The milk was not spoiled, although it did not have good flavor. Everything I tried lacked flavor. Fresh water was available in an iced pitcher all evening, which was nice.

Business center
There were two computers and a printer on the counter next to the dining area. I was able to print a document without any trouble.

Fitness center
I was extremely disappointed that I had not noticed there is not a fitness center at this hotel before I decided to stay here. When I inquired about this at the front desk, I was told that guests staying here are allowed to use the center at the InterContinental (1/2 mile away) for a discounted rate of $25! I did no ask what the normal fee is, although I decided to look up the hotel fitness center online. Guests staying at the IC have to pay $12 per day or $16 per stay to use the fitness center. Wow ~ I think that's too expensive for someone like me who mostly wanted to walk for an hour or less. I would have walked through Chicago except that it was extremely cold out (I had not packed for outside exercise), and it's difficult to walk at a brisk pace among all the people.

Parking & misc.
Valet parking is available for $40 a night. The hotel site says that self parking is available for $34 a night. It is actually a public parking lot next door, which costs $34 for 24-hours. There are no spots designated for HIX guests, and there is no access to the hotel from the parking garage. You have to walk out to the public street through the car entrance from the parking garage, or carry your luggage down stairs that exit next to the HIX (you can not enter at the stairway door; only exit). I was glad that I had opted to leave my luggage with the bellman before parking!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Chicago, Illinois / ORD airport -- Crowne Plaza

Status perks
I was told I had been given an upgrade to a suite when I checked in. The agent also provided a beverage coupon with my already prepared key packet. I asked if my room was on the executive floor, and he said that there were not any suites available on that floor. He said that the suite I had been assigned was a better room, and that he would code my key for access to the club lounge. He also said I would receive free Internet, and that the parking fee would only be $10 per night instead of the normal $23.

from entrance; bedroom on left
Room
looking toward kitchen area & bedroom door
view from the bedroom door
The room was fabulous! The living area contained a couch, soft chair, tall pub style table with two backless chairs, long desk with chair, large coffee table, flat screen TV, and a kitchenette. There was a sink, fridge, and microwave in the kitchen area with plenty of counter space. A large safe in the room was big enough to hold a laptop. A second flat screen TV, soft chair, dresser, night stands, and king size bed were in the large and separate bedroom. The bedding and pillows were plush and comfortable. I think this was the most deluxe bedding I have experienced at a Crowne Plaza. It was impressive and I slept well. The large tile bathroom contained a walk in shower, and tub. The bathroom vanity was the length of the wall with plenty of counter space. My room was a handicap suite on the 6th floor. I don't usually care for the handicap rooms because of the bars and higher toilets; however, I was glad to have a suite. The guestroom door from the hall was not very soundproof, and I could easily hear noise coming from the hall. I think this would have kept me up at night, except that the suite had a bedroom door, which I was also able to close. The walls between the rooms were soundproof; just not the guestroom doors. I could not hear any of my neighbors from inside the room, although I could hear voices through the doors from rooms when I was in the hall. The airplane noise was minimal.
vanity and walk-in shower

Food & Beverage
There was plenty of comfortable seating in the lounge, with posted daily specials. There was a beverage and food item on special both nights of my stay. The service was good, and the salmon dinner entree I had the first evening was excellent. I had calamari the second evening, which I would not order again. I inquired about the preparation of the calamari, and the bartender told me it was flash fried. It was greasier than I expected.

Club lounge/executive floor
This is only the second Crowne Plaza I have stayed in that did not have an executive lounge with snacks, bottled water, etc. during the week. The front desk agent did code my key for lounge access after I inquired about the lounge; however, after checking the room out, I learned why he said the suite I had been given on a lower floor was better than a regular room on the executive floor. I did not see the guestrooms on floor 12, although I did visit the club lounge (as it's called at this hotel). The room was not staffed, and did not have any amenities--not even water or coffee. There was a copy machine, although I could not get it to work. There was plenty of comfortable seating and tables in the room. If you are traveling with colleagues and need a place to get together without the need for a large private room, this would be a great room for that.

Business center
The business center consisted of several office machines (computers, printer, copy machine) in an open area across from the lounge. All of the machines required payment for use. I was able to get a few copies from the front desk after I was unable to get the machine in the club lounge to work. There was a locked business center room adjacent to the business center with a note on the window. It appeared that the closed room was available to rent. 

Fitness center
The fitness center was located in the pool area with several cardio machines with cardio theater. Sani-wipes, towels, and water were available. There was a separate weight room with several weight machines and hand weights. The posted hours said that the rooms did not open until 6 AM; however, my key worked before 6:00, and I was not the only guest using the fitness center before this. I was happy with the equipment, although the cardio room got a little warm after 1/2 hour. This room was in the pool area--in its own room; however, you had to walk through the pool area to get to it. The weight room was located in the hall before the pool room. I observed a microwave in the hall outside the weight room. I wondered if this was for guests to use. There was not any seating nearby.

Overall
I was very happy at this hotel and would choose it again. The bed was superb, and the service was great. There was a fresh water machine in the vending area on floor 6 for no charge. Chilled water was available 24 hours a day!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Grand Rapids, Michigan -- Radisson

Status perks
I am a Goldpoints Plus member; however, since I don't usually stay at Radisson hotels, and I am only a basic member, I did not expect to receive any perks. I was pleasantly surprised when we both received a river view room. We were traveling with friends, and had chosen this hotel because a mutual friend was playing in the band the evening of our stay. We had both booked the least expensive non-view room. 

Room
The room was a basic king-bed hotel room with a river view. The room contained a sleep number bed, which was comfortable. I did not think the couch was comfortable. The Internet connection speed was fast, and the desk seating was comfortable and easily adjustable. The flat screen TV in the room was huge--it must have been 42". I was glad that the carpet in the room looked new, since this is an older building, and some of the public areas needed to be refreshed. One bottle of water was provided in the room. The coffee amenities were good quality and included liquid cream, although I did not think the bathroom amenities were high quality. I do not recall the brand name as it was not a name I recognized. I used the shampoo and conditioner, and both items were watery. I was happy we were assigned a room on the top floor--as I had requested when making the reservation--and, a room next door to the friends we were traveling with.

Food & Beverage
We had deluxe nachos in the lounge, and would not recommend this item. The flavor was bland, and the food quality was poor. The service in the lounge, and in the restaurant the next morning, was excellent! We had not planned to have breakfast at the hotel; however, we received free breakfast coupons with our room. Without the coupons, the breakfast buffet costs $7.55 per person. A fresh omelet station was available, and the chef provided excellent service as well. Fresh fruit and fresh bread was available on the buffet. The hot items on the buffet--scrambled eggs, bacon, pancakes, etc.--did not look fresh or appetizing. The coffee served in the restaurant was good quality. Coffee was also available for hotel guests in the lobby by the restaurant entrance.

Pool & public areas
We walked into the pool area, but opted not to return with our suits because there were MANY children in the pool and the area was quite noisy. The large whirlpool was filled with young kids--even though a posted sign stated that kids 12 and under were not allowed. The sauna and fitness center were located in the pool area. The door to the fitness center was open, which seemed like it would make the room too hot for exercising. 

The interior hall outside the pool area smelled musty and unclean. The carpet in this area was extremely stained and dingy looking. Both elevators looked old and unclean. The elevator closest to the front desk was slow and noisy.

The Women's restroom near the lounge and restaurant needed to be cleaned the entire evening we were at the lounge. There was tissue and debris on the floor when we first arrived, and no one attended to the restroom that evening.

Overall
This was a great stay for the evening we had planned and the price we paid. We booked our rooms with a 30% off discount offer I had received. The room rate was $74.55. The offer I received did not state that breakfast was included, so the breakfast coupons were a pleasant surprise. I do not think I would choose this hotel unless I was attending an event in the hotel, such as we were the evening of this stay.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fresno, California / FAT airport -- Holiday Inn

Status perks
At check-in, I received a coupon good for my choice of: a beverage in the lounge, 1,000 points, or breakfast. When I inquired about what kind of room I was receiving, I was told I had an executive room upgrade. I told the agent that I had reserved an executive room, and she said that I was actually receiving a poolside suite.  Since the interior pool area at this hotel is similar to a Holidome, I was concerned about the noise in a poolside room and said I'd rather have a suite or executive room away from the pool area. The agent assigned me a suite in the far corner on the second floor.

Room
Suite #262 was very roomy; however, it was not very conducive for working. There was a table with two extremely dirty/stained and uncomfortable chairs, a couch--which wasn't much more comfortable than the chairs, and an armoire with TV. There was no desk, chair, or Internet connection plug in the room. Wireless Internet was available, although the connection speed was quite slow. There was hardly any counter space in the bathroom. The large size of the room was poorly utilized, in my opinion. In addition to the furnishings in the room, there would have been room for a desk and chair, as well as a small fridge and microwave. My stay would have been much more comfortable, if the room had contained these extras. The bed was clean and comfortable, so I decided to work as best I could. Before the end of the stay, I decided I would probably have been better off with the poolside room, since there was not any activity in the pool area during my stay. Room 262 is across from Housekeeping, so it was quite noisy when I first arrived as staff members were finishing their rounds. I did not hear much noise or disturbance after Housekeeping left for the day. 

Food & Beverage
I dined on site with a colleague from a nearby airport hotel. Neither one of us were happy with the entree we ordered. I ordered grilled steak and chicken skewers, and she ordered a steak. The chicken skewers were tender, moist, and flavorful; however, the steak was poor quality and lacked flavor. The skewered vegetables served with the meats did not taste or look like they had been skewered or grilled, and I had questioned the Server about the vegetables before I ordered this entree. She assured me the skewers contained fresh vegetables that they would be grilled with the meats. The person dining with me sent her steak back and requested a burger instead. We were surprised with the food quality because the items on the soup and salad bar looked and tasted fresh. I had Eggs Benedict Florentine for breakfast the next morning, which had excellent flavor. It was prepared with fresh spinach and mushrooms. The eggs were slightly overdone as was the muffin, yet this item was still enjoyable.

Fitness center
There were a couple different working cardio machines and one TV in the fitness center. I had the room to myself in the early morning. Chilled water was available.

Business center
I did not see a business center sign or a public computer until the morning I departed. At that time, I noticed a computer and printer in the corner of the lounge near the hall. I did not observe anyone using this area, so I am not certain the machines worked. Everything was off when I walked by in the morning. There was not a business center listed in the hotel directory in the room, and it was not included with the other signs on the walls for the fitness center, lounge, etc.

Overall
I chose this hotel because it is across from the airport, and it was easy to walk to and from the airport. I was able to return my rental car and walk back to the hotel after I checked in. It was also an easy walk to the airport with my wheeled suitcase the day I departed. I was happy that I was able to accomplish that; however, I would never stay at this hotel again. When I looked at the hotel more closely after returning home, I realized I had actually received a room "downgrade!" There are no suites listed on the hotel website, and all of the room descriptions state that there is an ergonomic desk chair in the room--one of the things I missed most. The agent who assigned my room knew that I had reserved an executive room, and I mentioned that I wanted an executive room when I asked if there was a room available away from the pool area. The hotel room I stayed in was in dire need of a face lift. The mere fact that I paid for more than I received, is enough to make me choose a different hotel next time. The hotel website also says that complimentary dinner snacks are included with an executive room, which I did not receive.

Update - 3/21/2011
Shortly after this stay, I decided to contact the hotel manager to let him know what happened. I am happy to say that I received a professional and well thought out reply the same day. He checked the room I had stayed in, and agreed that the furnishings were far below their expectations. He said he has ordered new furnishings, is correcting the website, and asked me to contact him when I have another stay in the area. As a result, I am changing my decision about future stays at this property. The next time I need lodging near the Fresno airport, I will be contacting the hotel manager and giving this property another chance!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Visalia, California -- Marriott

Status perks
I did not initially receive an upgrade to the concierge floor; however, when I asked at check-in, the agent checked and was able to provide a room upgrade. My preference, which is on my profile, is for a king bed room. The agent said the only room available on the concierge floor was a room with two beds, and I accepted it. I received complimentary Internet access since I had Gold status at the time of this stay.

Room
The room was at the end of the hall, which I liked. It was comfortable and well soundproofed. I slept extremely well both nights. There was a ledge half the length of one wall about 3-1/2' high, and 2' deep. I don't know if all the rooms had this, or if this room had it because the room was at the end of the hall. I really liked the ledge. It held my suitcase at a good height and made it easily accessible. There was also a luggage rack in the closet. There was a similar ledge in front of the window. It would have been a great window seat except that it was too high. The chair at the desk was comfortable. The coffee and ice bucket were set up on a counter outside the bathroom. Bottled water was not provided in the room. It was available in the concierge lounge, although it was not stocked at the time of my check-in. It had been refilled when I visited the lounge that evening.
 
Food & Beverage
I had a chicken cobb salad one evening, which was excellent. The chicken was perfectly grilled and cut in strips. The salad ingredients were fresh, and the portion size was generous--it was more than double what I needed. I called in the order for pickup, and the salesperson had asked if I wanted bread with the salad. I replied that I did not want any unless it was whole grain. I was impressed with the whole grain rolls I received. They were warm, fresh, and clearly whole grain. I met a colleague in the lounge for drinks one night, and was disappointed with the champagne available. The only champagne split on the menu was J. Roget for $8! I thought this was outrageous since that is an inexpensive and low quality brand. In fact, I was surprised that the Marriott would have such a low quality beverage available with no other choice.

Concierge lounge
I was happy that bottled water was readily available in the lounge (other than when I first arrived). The food items offered the first night of my stay were disappointing. The hot food item was macaroni with small bits of ham. A few vegetables and plain crackers were also available. Dessert, which looked like chocolate mousse pie, was set out later in the evening. I did not try the dessert because it did not look appetizing. The choices the second evening looked better; however, I did not have anything to eat in the lounge the second evening. There were small steak pieces for the hot food item, and cheese was also served with crackers that evening. I was surprised that breakfast both mornings was not any better than what I had received at the HIX the morning before this stay. Scrambled eggs and bacon were available one morning, and deluxe scrambled eggs and sausage the second morning. The deluxe scrambled eggs had green pepper and cheese mixed in. The food items were warm and acceptable, although I did not think any of the hot items tasted fresh or like high quality. There were a few fruits available both mornings--cut and whole--and limited bread choices. Oatmeal, cold cereal, milk, juices, coffee, and tea were available as well.

Fitness center
The fitness center was a fairly large room with several cardio machines and weights. There was one working TV with a remote in the room and cardio theater on each machine. The temperature was cool. Water, chilled towels, headphones, and sani-wipes were provided. I was happy with the condition and availability of everything in the fitness center.

Overall & misc.
The doorman/valet was great! He greeted and held the door for all arriving and departing guests. The front desk agent at check-in was also personable and accommodating. I did not initially receive an upgrade to the concierge floor; however, she was more than happy to provide this after I asked. I received an extremely discounted room rate--less than $100!--with a promotion I had found online. I don't know if that had anything to do with the room upgrade. This hotel is located near the hospital, so I heard ambulance sirens several times, although it was never for a very long period of time, and did not wake me up in the evening. There are several restaurants within walking distance of the hotel.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Delano, California -- Holiday Inn Express

Status perks
I received a goody bag with a bottle of water and a couple snacks at check-in. I did not receive a room upgrade, and I did not ask if one was available. My main concern the day I checked in was to get some rest, and there were only two cars in the parking lot, so I did not think noise would be an issue. Since the agent had acknowledged my status, I thought maybe she had already given me an upgrade and just did not mention it.

Room
I received a regular king bed room, which is what I had reserved. The room was a good size with a small fridge and microwave. There was a couch, suitcase bench, and desk with chair in the sitting area, and a chair and footstool in the sleeping area. There was one older style TV on the dresser, which was also visible from the couch. When I looked at the hotel diagram on the door, I was surprised to see that there were several rooms even larger than the one I had been given. The couch and bed were comfortable. The one thing I did not like about the bed was the pillows. I have never liked the cheap Holiday Inn Express pillows, and this hotel was no exception. The desk chair had not been cleaned, and it was very hard. It was uncomfortable to work on my laptop. The Internet connection speed was lousy. I did not hear any noise from the hallway, which was surprising because room 207 is right next to the elevator. This room is also above the front desk area, which turned out to be a downfall. There was no view because the lobby entrance roofing blocked the window. I was also awaken twice during the night by a loud TV and/or music. At first, I thought it was coming from another guestroom, and was confused about where it could be coming from. I later realized the noise was coming from the breakfast room TV, and the music I heard was playing through the speakers at the front desk/entrance. When the front desk agent asked about my stay at check-out (I had to go to the front desk because I did not receive a bill under the door, like I usually do), I mentioned the lobby music noise, and he offered a sincere apology. He said that he would make sure the music got turned down in the evening.

Food & Beverage
Hot breakfast items included scrambled eggs and sausage patties. Cinnamon rolls, cold cereal, white breads, milk, and juices were also available. I did not think the breakfast choices were as good as I have received at other HIX's. 

Fitness center
The fitness center room was very large. It contained a working TV and only a couple cardio machines. There were not any weights. The door was open when I visited in the morning, and I left the door open. It appeared that the door was propped open so that it would not get stuffy in the room.

Overall
Other than the loud music from the lobby, I did not experience any other disruptions. The bed was comfortable, and I did not hear any noise from the hall.  Fortunately, I did not have a lot of work to do during this stay so the Internet speed and working desk comfort did not hinder my plans too much. This hotel is located next to Highway 99, and if you need to stay in this area--as I did--I did not see a better hotel option. There were many hotel choices in Bakersfield about 1/2 hour south of Delano; however, since I was only staying one night, I opted to stay in Delano. I would stay at this hotel again, if my travel plans brought me to the area again.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Grand Rapids, Michigan / GRR airport -- Hilton

Status perks
I stayed at this hotel on the weekend and received two full breakfast coupons at check-in. This hotel does not have a concierge floor or lounge. I had an early flight and would not be able to use the breakfast coupons, so the agent asked if I wanted bonus points instead. After I inquired and learned she did not have an offer for evening perks, I accepted the bonus points.

Room
We received a room on the top [4th] floor in the middle of the hall. The bed, couch, and desk chair were all comfortable. The carpet and furnishings looked new. The bathroom was extremely small. There was room for only one person at a time, and the door needed to be shut to use the shower. I would have preferred a more soundproof guestroom door from the hall because there were many young kids at the hotel during our stay. I always request a corner room in a quiet area on my reservation, so I was disappointed that we had been assigned a room in the middle of the activity. The hallway noise was distracting; however, it was not extremely disruptive, so I did not voice any complaints.

Food & Beverage
The Spinnaker Lounge serves many local brews, so we decided to visit for a beverage and snack.  We were happy with the beverages, although, the flash-fried calamari was disappointing. The calamari was good quality and fresh; however, it was the greasiest flash-fried calamari I have ever had. Usually, when I receive flash-fried calamari, it is less greasy than deep fried calamari. It was served with mango cocktail sauce, which had good flavor, although it was quite sweet.

Overall and misc.
I was very comfortable at this hotel. I think if your goal is a good night's sleep at an airport hotel, this property is a good choice—especially during the week. I imagine the guests are usually business travelers on weekdays, and the only noise problem we experienced were the young guests running down the hall. The airport shuttle in the morning was on time. It only took about five minutes to get to the airport. There were a couple restaurants across the side street—Smokey Bones and Applebee’s.