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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Carnival Spirit -- 7-night Alaska cruise, May 2011


glacier at the end of Tracy Arm Fjord

I have shared a few photos in this blog post, and there are many more in the Alaska Facebook album.

Check-in

We experienced a couple of "firsts" this cruise. This was our first cruise as VIPs, and this was our first cruise out of Seattle.

We arrived by taxi around noon. On all of our previous cruises, there have always been porters to take our bags right at the curb when we arrive. This was not the case this time. We were slightly confused as we headed toward the building with our bags in tow because we did not see any luggage ahead either. After entering the building and finding a Carnival representative (who was wearing a cruise line competitor jacket!), we learned we needed to wait in a baggage drop line to leave our bags before going to check-in. I do not know if this is the way luggage is always handled in Seattle, or if this is something new Carnival is trying. We have another cruise planned this winter, so we shall see what happens when we arrive at Port Everglades. Even though there was not a VIP line to drop bags, this did not take long. 

After dropping our bags, we headed to the security check point, where again there was no VIP line. After we went through security, we found the VIP check-in line, and the check-in process went quickly. We were given a Zone 1 card and proceeded to the waiting area. I observed guests boarding, so I asked a Carnival representative if Zone 1 had been called yet. It had, so we boarded immediately.

Overall, the check-in process was very confusing. Usually, when we arrive at a port, a Carnival representative greets us (after dropping our bags at the curb), and directs us to the appropriate area. This time, we had to find a representative to ask about where to drop our luggage, and we had to find someone to ask about boarding. We would not have known what to look and listen for if this had been our first cruise. Since there was no VIP line until after security, I think it would have taken much longer to get on board, if we had arrived after noon. We were on board just under an hour after we had arrived.

Carnival Spirit premium balcony cabin 8237, category 9B

We had originally booked cabin 5243, which is the same room type we ended up with except it has an obstructed view. The lifeboats are at floor level in cabin 5243, which also makes the balcony not quite as deep. We upgraded our room type and also ended up with an on board credit because we had booked the Early Saver (ES) rate. I will talk more about booking the ES rate at the end of this review. For this heading, I am concentrating on the cabin.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Seattle, Washington / Crowne Plaza

May 2011, Memorial Weekend, 2-nights

Status perks
I redeemed points for a 2-night stay at this hotel, and the only room type I could reserve with points was a basic room. Some IHG properties do not provide an upgrade when staying with points, so I was not sure what to expect. I decided to send an email to the hotel before this stay to request a high floor and/or executive floor upgrade. I did not receive a reply to my email; however, we received an executive floor corner room, and the Club Lounge was open during our stay.

Room
We were very happy with the large corner room. In fact, our guestroom at this hotel seemed larger than the suite we had just checked out of at the Renaissance. There was a closet and room for our large suitcase in the entrance outside the bathroom. The closet contained two plush CP bathrobes.

There was one large window on both outside walls of the spacious guestroom. The guestroom contained a king bed, one soft chair, one straight backed chair, a desk and chair, a flat screen TV, two night stands, a large armoire, and a small fridge. The guestroom was comfortable, clean, and quiet. We slept very well. There was plenty of space in the guestroom, so two soft chairs, or a small sofa or loveseat would have made it even more comfortable. We did not request turndown service; it was automatically provided. We received 2 local chocolates and 2 bottles water, and the guestroom was refreshed both nights.
local chocolates

Club Lounge
The lounge was open both evenings of our stay, and it was open for continental breakfast in the mornings. The food in the evening included sushi and small pizza wedges, as well as cold snacks like cut fruit, vegetables, cheese, and crackers. Assorted non-alcoholic beverages were included, and beer and wine were available for purchase. The morning food items included assorted bagels, breads, and pastries, as well as fresh fruit, cereal, and hot oatmeal.

Overall / Seattle area
I was very happy with the service, comfort, and cleanliness of the Crowne Plaza, and would definitely stay at this property again. This property was in a good location for us. We walked to the waterfront, shopping and dining is only a couple blocks away, and we walked to the Space Needle.

We did not have any food or beverages in the hotel restaurant or lounge during or stay. The Club Lounge was great for morning and evening, and I recommend Ivar's House of Clams on the water during Happy Hour. Ivar's offers food and beverage discounts from 3 PM - 6PM. The prices were excellent, and so was the food--especially the Seafood Cocktail!

If planning to visit the Space Needle, I suggest going for lunch. The cost of a ticket to the top of the Space Needle is $16 a person, and this is included when you dine in the revolving restaurant--Sky City. The only requirement we had, is that we had to spend $50 in the restaurant, and that our dining time was limited to 2 hours. It was not difficult to spend $50. Yes, the food was kind of pricey, although not much higher than we would have paid at the Renaissance, if we had not used coupons, and the food was excellent. We were very happy with our decision to go for lunch. You can make reservations online for no charge.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Seattle, Washington / Renaissance

May 2011, Memorial weekend

Status perks
I did not initially receive any perks as a Gold member. In fact, I did not even receive the corner suite I had reserved until after I inquired about this. When the front desk agent provided our keys and said we had a king room on one of the higher floors, I said, "We have a corner king executive suite, don't we?" She said that there were not any available. I told her that I had booked an executive corner suite; the Seattle Pride Package. She checked the computer again, and then provided keys for a corner suite on the 19th floor, along with a coupon booklet. This was not as high of a floor as we had originally been given; however, it was a suite.

The agent did not code our keys for access to the concierge lounge, nor did she mention it. She had talked about how to access the Internet as a Gold member, so I thought that maybe the lounge was not open for the holiday weekend. Later that day, I learned that the concierge lounge was accessible for water and soda even though it was not staffed, so I stopped back at the front desk to inquire about this. The employee at that time, apologized that we had not been given access at check-in, and she coded our keys for lounge access.

Guestroom
facing entrance &
connecting guestroom
The guestroom was comfortable; however, it was not as impressive as I had expected. The room description on the website and on our reservation confirmation listed the room as 497 square feet, and the room we received was NOT 497 square feet. It was more like 350 square feet. When looking at a photo of a king corner suite on the website, the description is 335 square feet, although all the other areas list the suites as 497 sq. ft. I am not sure if there are two different corner suite rooms, or if the description needs to be changed on the website. It is possible we received a king corner suite (335 sq. ft.) instead of the executive king corner suite (497 sq. ft.) that we had reserved since our room was not on the concierge floor. The website only lists five suites though, and I could not find two different suite types. I wish I had been more diligent about the details and differences at the time of our stay, because I would have inquired whether we had been given the correct room type. I did not scrutinize all the details until after we had returned home. My suggestion for guests who reserve an executive king corner suite--bring your printed reservation with you!

facing toward beverage center
across from bathroom
There was a comfortable sitting area when entering the suite, which included a couch, floor lamp, one end table, desk and chair, and flat screen TV. The suite had a connecting door to the guestroom next door. I liked the exterior wall of windows, which made the room look larger.

The bathroom was located between the sitting area and the bedroom, and there was a beverage center and closet across from the bathroom. The small fridge never got cold, and we tried adjusting the thermostat several different ways. The safe in the closet was large enough to hold a laptop. A second smaller flat screen TV was located in the bedroom. It was mounted on the wall in the corner since the bedroom was quite small. There was just enough room to walk around the foot of the bed, with a small nightstand on each side of the bed. Large windows made up both exterior bedroom walls; however, they needed to be cleaned. There was a nice suitcase bench/window seat on one wall. This guestroom did not have any Renaissance bathrobes, which I observed other guests wearing to and from the pool. I missed that because I had packed light this trip, and did not have a warm swimsuit coverup to wear.
bedroom

I had filled out the Virtual Concierge form online a few days before our arrival, requesting turndown service and early check-in at 1 p.m. Since our key packet had not been prepared, and we were initially given the incorrect room type when we checked in at 1 p.m., I was not too confident that we would receive turndown service that evening. When we returned from dinner, turndown service had been provided. Amenities included two local chocolates, and two bottles of water. Our room had not been refreshed. I'm not sure if the bottled water was part of turndown service, or if those had been delivered to the room because of my Gold status. The water bottles were not left next to the chocolates.

Food & Beverage
view from lounge/dinner
Marriott had an online offer for a free entree for Gold members--buy one, get one free. We dined in the R View restaurant/lounge on the top floor that evening. The food was excellent quality, and this was an excellent value with our coupons. The only disappointment was that I ordered the Seafood Cioppino, and the restaurant did not have any mussels. Extra fish was included in the dish to make up for this. My husband ordered the Halibut, and we had two Happy Hour beverages. We also had a free appetizer coupon with the Seattle Pride package we had booked. Since the restaurant was not open for lunch the next day, our server let us use the coupon for the Slider Sampler to-go. The Slider Sampler included two each of the following sliders: salmon, chicken, and beef. They were delicious! Seating in the lounge was self-seating, and we chose a table on the highest level with corner windows. We had an excellent view. The windows were much cleaner than the windows in our guestroom.

Pool
The pool and hot tub were located on the top floor just down the hall from the restaurant/lounge. The exterior walls were all windows with another great view. We did not stay long because the hot tub was not very warm. We were fortunate that we had been able to enjoy the view without a lot of commotion while we were there. There was only one guest/child in the pool area when we first arrived. We observed several families and children heading to the pool area while we dined. I had noticed when we reserved our room at this hotel, that not many hotels in downtown Seattle have a pool or hot tub.

Business center and Concierge lounge
I was finishing up some business at the start of this leisure trip and needed to print several documents. First, I tried to print them in the concierge lounge. The desk computer required a signon, and I did not notice the computer for guest use, which was turned off against the wall. I then tried the business center on the bottom floor, and found there was a charge for printing documents. I stopped at the Concierge stand in the lobby to ask if he knew the signon for the concierge lounge computer, so I could print from there. He told me about the guest computer in that room that was against the wall, and he also showed me a computer in the lobby near the front desk. I was surprised to learn I could print as much as I wanted from the lobby computer for no charge! I used that computer and did not try the one in the concierge lounge.

When I first checked the fridge in the lounge after the Front Desk agent coded my key for access, it was empty. Later that day and the next morning, it was stocked with bottled water and soda. I was happy to be able to get a couple bottles of water during our stay. The room looked comfortable, and there was also a table and seats outside. We had thought we might take advantage of the sitting areas to relax that evening; however, we ran out of time.

Overall
I was happy with our room for the price we paid. I was glad I had not paid full price because I would have been seriously disappointed. Before I discovered the Seattle Pride Package, all the room rates I found at this hotel were over $200, and the corner executive suites were over $250. My husband always likes to have a pool, so I booked this hotel mainly because of the pool--and, because I am a Marriott Gold member.

Our room rate with the package was $151, which made this stay a good value. Other than the free appetizer coupon that we used in R View, our package did not include much of anything except a better room rate. The coupon booklet we were given with the appetizer coupon contained mostly ads for Happy Hour specials, and a couple small discounts. We used only one of the discounts; 15% off at Sazerac. Since we only stayed at the Renaissance one night, we used our coupon after we checked out because we stayed at a different hotel for two nights after this stay. That review will be next!