Search This Blog

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Seattle, Washighton -- Light Rail from SEATAC to downtown

I read many different comments about the ease of using the Light Rail to get downtown before we took this trip, so I am sharing our experience.

Here is a little information about us and our situation: We are two healthy adults used to walking. We often take brisk 4 - 6 mile walks for exercise, in addition to leisure walks for entertainment or pleasure. I am a frequent traveler used to different airports and many modes of transportation; often lugging around a laptop and luggage. I have visited all 50 US states--Alaska was the last state for me, which we visited on this trip. My husband has also experienced many of these things, and we both look forward to new experiences.

We had two roller suitcases--one large and one small, and two carry-on size bags--one laptop and another shoulder bag, which could be slid on the roller bags. I also had a small purse. Our flight was due to arrive before 11:00 AM, so we had decided that for $2.50 per person we would take the Light Rail. Our destination was the Renaissance, which is less than 1/2 mile [4 - 5 blocks] from University Station. Not far, although it was uphill, which we were aware of before making this choice.

Departing from SEA airport

We flew Delta, and our luggage arrived at baggage claim 4. The signs to the rail were well posted and highly visible (I had read that signs are not visible), and it was easy to get to. We went up the escalator right next to our baggage claim, walked the perimeter of the parking garage, and crossed a short overpass to the rail station. It would have been a very short walk directly across the parking garage; however, we opted to take the bit longer way around on the sidewalk as was intended for pedestrians.

There were three self-serve kiosks after we got to the station to purchase tickets. I observed a group of people standing near a counter north of the escalator, so there may have been additional kiosks as well. I thought the ticket purchasing instructions were easy and purchased our tickets in less than 30 seconds. Apparently, other passengers did not have the same experience, because we waited in line over 10 minutes behind 4 or 5 passengers, and one of them walked the line after he had made his purchase to give away extra tickets he ended up with. You can use cash or a credit card at the kiosk. After we had our tickets, we went up the escalator behind the kiosks to board the train.

The train ride

We rode on Saturday of Memorial weekend. Since I have never been on the Light Rail before this trip, I do not know if our experience was different because of the holiday weekend. It would have been an enjoyable ride, except that it was extremely crowded. There were no seats when we boarded. There were passengers taking up available seats with their luggage and such, so there could have been more people sitting down. At most of the stops before we got off, more people boarded, and hardly anyone got off. The ride was smooth, quiet, and passed pretty quickly. We got off at University Station.

Arrival downtown and walk to hotel

There are a couple different street exists from the station. I had looked at the street and station maps before the trip, so I knew which street corner was closest to our hotel. We were the only passengers who took the elevator up to 3rd Avenue and Seneca. Nobody collected our tickets on the train or after we got off. I don't know if the ride was free Memorial weekend, or if the train always operates on the honor system.

Yes, the walk to our hotel was uphill, and many people advised visitors NOT to walk with luggage from the train station. We did not have any difficulty, and we did not regret our decision. We did not see any taxis when we came out of the station, which surprised me. Maybe the exit we took was not the normal station exit.


I was happy with the ease and speed of the trip. It looked to me like the train ride was quicker than a car ride would have been. I think if you don't have much luggage, and know where you want to get on and off the train, taking the Light Rail is the way to go. The comments I read online before making this trip did not help me at all. If anything, they made me question whether the signs I was reading at the airport were correct, since many people had made this trip sound like a difficult task.

I thought this was an easy trip--the signs in the airport were visible and easy to understand, and the kiosk ticket purchase was easy as well. I would do it again, as long as I did not have much luggage. The only suggestion I have for travelers, is to make sure you look at the street and station maps before your trip. Here is the link to the downtown stations:

Monday, May 30, 2011

Grand Rapids, MI--GRR airport hotel / Crowne Plaza

May 2011, Weekend, 1-night, King executive floor (?) guestroom 

Status perks

This hotel is usually one of my first choices when I need an airport hotel because I have always been upgraded to an executive or club floor room in the past. The agent did not recognize my status or provide any information about the guestroom during check-in, so I was not sure if I had received an upgraded room or not.

Our stay was Friday of Memorial weekend, and there were only 11 rooms rented that evening. (I learned this from a front desk employee later). Imagine what an impressive review I would be writing about this property, if they had opted to give a Platinum member, an upgrade to a suite or better guestroom.


I did not take any photos this stay, and I neglected to write down the guestroom number. I believe we were in a guestroom on floor five in C-wing. I do not know if all of the guestrooms on floor five are executive rooms, or just some of them. This guestroom seemed smaller than others we have stayed in.

When I made this reservation, I had requested a high floor, corner room, in a quiet area. Although I  received a guestroom on the top floor, it was next to the elevator. I do not think there were any other guests in this hall, so the guestroom was in a quiet area, even though it was next to the elevator. It was not as nicely remodeled as some guestrooms I have stayed in, and there was only one soft chair in the room. I have stayed in other guestrooms at this hotel with a couch instead of one chair. That would have met our needs better, since there were two of us. It had a balcony overlooking the back courtyard.

Club Lounge

The Club Lounge remodeling had been completed, and the lounge was in use, although it was not open the evening of our stay. Sometimes, the room is still accessible for bottled water and such. I tried my key in the door, which did not work. Later that evening, I inquired about the Club room, or discount coupons in the hotel lounge. The front desk agent--who was different than the employee who had checked me in--gave me a couple of beverage coupons for the hotel lounge.

Food & Beverages

The service, food, and beverages in the lounge were excellent. I have liked every food and beverage item I have tried at this hotel since the lounge and restaurant were remodeled. We shared a chicken jerk sandwich, which was plenty large enough for two. The bartender let us use our beverage coupons for upgraded beverages.

Business center

I was able to print something in the business center without any difficulty or a charge. I have stayed in some Crowne Plazas that charge for printing. There was not a copy machine in the business center, and the front desk agent made a copy of two items for me. Front desk staff were also happy to let me leave a package I had scheduled for pickup the day we checked out.

Hotel shuttle & misc.

The morning shuttle was prompt, as was our pickup from the airport when we returned.

One reason I usually choose this property over the nearby Hilton (now a DoubleTree) is because of the perks I normally receive. Since I did not receive any perks this time until after I inquired, I am undecided about which hotel I will choose for future airport stays. The room we had was acceptable, although I did not understand why staff would have chosen not to give us a better room when the property was nearly empty. I'm sure we would have been more comfortable in a room with more space and a couch. I appreciate that the Front Desk agent gave us beverage coupons after I inquired about Platinum perks; however, I never like it when I have to request these things. It is much more impressive when perks are given without prompting.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Tupelo, Mississippi -- Hilton Garden Inn

Status perks
I received the standard two bottles of water that I always receive from Hilton at check-in, and a basic king bed room, which is what I had reserved.

The room contained a soft chair and footstool, desk and chair, and fridge and microwave. I didn't think the room offered the best comfort for working. Neither chair was very comfortable. The desk chair was an ergonomic chair; however, the material was rough, so it was not comfortable when I was wearing shorts. It had not been cleaned very well (hairs on the seat and back), so I tried sitting on a towel, which helped some. The sleep number bed was comfortable, and I slept well. The Internet connection speed was good. Even though the diagram on the guestroom door showed my room as one of the smaller rooms, I was happy with it because it was on the top floor at the end of the hall. I did not experience any noise or disturbances.  This was great considering the hotel and lounge were extremely full one of the nights during my stay. I later learned there had been a Poison concert next door that night! I guess I should have asked what was going on that evening.

Food & Beverage
I had a couple different food items in the evening and was impressed with the quality. I had the wedge salad, a berry salad, and an ahi tuna sandwich on three different evenings. Both salads were large potions, prepared with fresh ingredients, and flavorful. The ahi tuna was also excellent. The sandwich comes with fries, and I was able to get it with fresh vegetables after I inquired about a different side item. It was a good sized piece of grilled tuna on a french roll with cucumber dressing. House wine was discounted on Wednesday evening. This was also the evening of the concert, and the service was excellent this evening, even though the restaurant and lounge were extremely busy. The service was acceptable the other two evenings, although it was better the night it was busy. I had the same bartender every time, so I guess he works better under pressure!

Little splits of Korbel were available in the beverage center next to the front desk for $4.25, which I thought was a great deal.

Fitness center
The room contained three cardio machines and a weight machine. There was one working TV and remote, fresh water, a scale, and towels. The cardio machines looked into the inside pool area. The room temperature was quite warm, so I never stayed more than 1/2 hour. I did not have any trouble finding an open machine when I visited in the afternoon or early morning.

Business center
The business center was well stocked with many different business supplies: tape, stapler, post-it notes, envelopes, pens and pencils, and paper. There were two working computers and a printer. I also used the copy machine without any trouble.

I was happy with the bed comfort and location of this hotel. The staff were friendly and helpful. There is a fabulous restaurant next door called the Fairpark Grill.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Grand Rapids, MI / GRR airport hotel -- Staybridge Suites

Status perks
I received a coupon good for two items at the Suite Shop.

I was disappointed when I saw that my guestroom was right next to the elevator and not on the top floor, because it's usually noisy in this area. When I make a reservation, I always request a room in a quiet area away from the elevator on the top floor; however, I have found that some hotels read the guest comments, and some do not. This was a Sunday night stay before an early flight I had, and I was not going to be there long, so I did not request a different room. The room was a studio king bed room with a full kitchen. It met my needs for the short stay; however, if I had planned to be in the area working for a length of time, I do not think I would be happy at this hotel. I did not think the couch or desk chair were very comfortable for working, and the room was a bit noisy--from guests in the hall and above me. The bed was comfortable, and I liked the fact that the large window had a screen and opened.

Food & beverage
This hotel does not provide food on Sunday evenings. An evening reception is included Monday - Thursday. Breakfast was included in the morning; however, I had to leave before then. I inquired about a breakfast to-go bag, and was told that is not offered. Sometimes, when I ask about this because of an early departure, the employee has let me grab something from the pantry.

Pool and outside area
The outside pool and hot tub had just opened for the summer the weekend of our stay; however, neither were usable. The pool was dirty, and the water in the hot tub was not warm. The outside seating area, tables, and grills for guest use were excellent. The seating was comfortable, and there was plenty of room.

Hotel shuttle and misc.
The hotel shuttle was very prompt in the morning. In fact, the driver took me right away after I checked out at the front desk, even though I arrived downstairs a few minutes early. This is one of a few hotels where I often stay when I have an early morning flight. 

This stay was similar to my other stays. I have always received the two Suite Shop items for being a Platinum PCR member, and I don't usually receive a room upgrade or a room on the top floor like I request when making my reservation. I received a room upgrade once at this hotel when I specifically requested it at check-in. Our son was staying with us that time, so I wanted a room with a bedroom, if it was available, and it was.

My husband was disappointed that he was not able to enjoy the pool and hot tub during  this stay. Especially since I had called the hotel that morning to ask if the pool area was open yet. I had been told it was opening that day. Apparently, some of the little details did not get completed on time.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mt. Pleasant, Michigan / Hampton Inn

Status perks
We did not initially receive any kind of upgrade or extras for being a HHonors Gold member. A few years ago, we had received a fabulous corner room with whirlpool and kitchen area at this hotel, so I asked about an upgrade at check-in. After checking on the computer, the agent said she did not have that room type; however, she could upgrade us to a king whirlpool room.

The large guestroom was on the top/3rd floor, and near the end of the hall, which is the location I prefer. It was spacious and comfortable. The desk chair, chair and footstool, and bed were comfortable and clean.  There was another straight back chair with a cushioned seat, which we did not use. The large flat screen TV was visible from all areas of the guestroom, including the tub. There was a nice suitcase bench in the room, and we liked the walk in shower in the bathroom. There was not a tub in the bathroom, which did not matter to  us. We prefer the walk in showers instead. The large window in the guestroom opened to the outside, and there was a screen. We slept very well, and did not hear any noise from the hall or other guestrooms. By the looks of the parking lot, this hotel was fairly full during our stay. The Internet connection speed in the guestroom was satisfactory.

Food & Beverage
The breakfast included with the room was very good. I had cheesy omelets, and sausage that reminded me of Hillshire Farms sliced links. There was also yogurt, cold and hot cereals,  waffles, and more. The strong coffee tasted even better than I am used to receiving at Hampton Inns.

This is a short review because we did not use the pool, fitness center, or business center during this stay. We stayed one night while visiting the Soaring Eagle casino, and did not spend a lot of time at the hotel. The hotel offers shuttle service to the casino, which runs until 11 PM. We initially thought we would use the shuttle service; however, we decided to drive ourselves since it was only a mile or two down the road. 

This hotel used to have a 24-48 hour cancellation policy (I do not remember for sure if it was 1 or 2 days); however, that was not the case during this stay. When I made the reservation a week in advance, it had the basic "until 6 PM" cancellation terms. We stayed on a Thursday night with a great AAA rate of $89. We considered staying at the casino hotel; however, rates there were over $100, and the casino hotel does not follow the Michigan no smoking laws.

There used to be a full service Holiday Inn between this Hampton Inn and the casino, which closed down and was then purchased by the casino a few years ago. That building has now been torn down. I find it disappointing that the only full service hotel in this area is the casino hotel.