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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Grand Rapids, Michigan--GRR airport / Marriott Courtyard

November 2011, Sunday night, King guestroom #302

Status perks
I had Silver status at the time of this stay, and did not receive an upgrade or any perks. I did not expect anything because that is usually my experience at Marriott hotels when my status is Silver. After this stay, I was offended that I had not received an upgrade, because after I checked out, I read a review on TripAdvisor from a guest who had booked a room for $46 on Priceline, and was upgraded to a suite! I find it insulting that this hotel would reward someone who booked a room for $46, and not a loyal guest.


The room was a basic older style Courtyard guestroom with a small balcony. It contained a chair and desk, older dresser and couch, and old style TV. The balcony was a nice touch, although there wasn't really a view or reason to want a balcony at this location. The guestroom had a connecting door, which I don't usually like since they are sometimes not very soundproof. I often forget to request a room without a connecting door, as was the case this time. The hotel was not very full the night of our stay, so the connecting door was not a problem. The HVAC wall unit was an older style that did not run silently as it turned on and off. The wireless Internet speed in the guestroom was good. The bed was acceptable, and since the rate we were paying was less than $100 (although much more than $46!), we found the guestroom satisfactory. The noise from the hallway was minimal.

Food & Beverage
This location did not have evening food service available. I was surprised, because I thought all of the Courtyard hotels offered at least some evening menu items. There were three dining options across 28th Street, which is too busy to cross on foot: Chili's, Papa Vino's Italian Kitchen, and Steak and Shake. The hotel restaurant opened at 6:00 AM, and I was gone before then, so I can not comment on any of the food quality.

Fitness center
The fitness center was open 24 hours. Even though it was a small room, it was adequate. There were four or five cardio machines with cardio theater, and the temperature was comfortable. It also contained hand weights, a scale, towels, and a TV.

An inside swimming pool and whirlpool tub are located next to the fitness center. I did not use the pool facility, although my husband did. He said it was clean, and the temperature in the whirlpool tub was good. There was no rinsing shower in the pool area.

Shuttle service & misc.
I stayed at this hotel because I had an early flight in the morning. The shuttle service was great; the driver was prompt, and it was an efficient trip to the airport.

I thought this property was outdated, and not as nice as other Courtyards I have stayed in. I think the normal rate of over $100 a night for this hotel is high. I do not have any serious complaints about the cleanliness, although there was a smoke situation the evening of our stay. Apparently, someone had left a heating unit on after breakfast, and the items inside (hard plastic serving dishes, or similar) started on fire that afternoon. When I checked in around 5:00 PM, the fire was out, the hotel entrance doors were all open, and the lobby smelled like smoke. There was still a slight odor in the air the next morning.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pensacola Beach, Florida / Hilton Pensacola Beach

November 2011, Weekend, 2-nights, Guestroom #942 - Gulf View Queen Suite 

Status perks and check-in

I had a room reserved for 2 nights--one night with points, and one with the AAA rate. The points night room was a gulf view, handicap accessible guestroom with 2 queen beds, because that was the only points room type available when I made the reservation. For the second night, I had reserved the least expensive non-view king room. I contacted the hotel by email prior to our arrival, to let them know that we had two reservations so they could be combined. I received a reply the same day, telling me that our reservations had been combined into a king gulf view room, and that we would not need to switch rooms during the stay. We were upgraded to a suite at check-in. The front desk agent also provided two bottles of Fiji water; however, I had to request the continental breakfast coupons that are listed on my profile.

Guestroom 942

view from balcony
The agent did not confirm what room type we were receiving at check-in, so when we arrived at our room on the 7th floor with 2 queen beds and a doorbell, I initially thought we had been assigned a queen-bed handicap room, and that our reservations had not been combined correctly. 

When I went back to the front desk to ask about this, the agent who assisted me then, explained that we had been upgraded to a suite. He said that all of the suites have 2 queen beds except the suites with separate bedrooms, which have a king bed. He said there was a king room available in the side of the hotel behind the front desk; however, he said those rooms are not as new, and that they are standard hotel rooms rather than suites. I asked if there was a higher floor suite available, and he said that the top 5 floors of the hotel are 1 and 2-bedroom suites. He did not offer an upgrade to one of those rooms, and I did not ask since the standard suite was already an upgrade. He offered to show me a standard king room in the other side of the hotel, and I said that we would keep the queen suite. He re-checked the computer, and then reassigned us a guestroom two floors higher--suite 942.

All of the suite rooms have doorbells, so the bell was not a handicap room bell like I had thought when we arrived at our first assigned room. Room 942 is located closer to the gulf than the first room we had been assigned on the 7th floor, so we did end up with a better view. 

I observed two queen beds and a desk with chair when we entered the guestroom. The bathroom--which contained a tub and separate shower--was next, and the kitchen/living area was beyond that. There was a sink, microwave, small fridge, and table with two chairs in the kitchen area. The living area included a couch, flat screen TV, end tables, coffee table, and two soft chairs. We liked the table and four chairs on the balcony. We had a fabulous view of the ocean, pool area, boardwalk, and air show from our balcony.

view of shallow pool from our guestroom
The bed and balcony seating were both comfortable, although there were a few issues with the guestroom: both sinks were stopped up--the one in the bathroom and the one in the kitchen, and the carpet was worn with a several loose frays. The sink water eventually drained; just not like it should have. We always prefer a walk-in shower, although the one in this room was not very big. 

There was an ethernet cable at the desk in the sleeping area; however, wireless Internet was not available in the guestroom. Wireless Internet was available for no charge in the hotel public areas, including the pool decks.

There were no bathrobes in the guestroom, so I called to inquire about this. I was told that housekeeping would bring one right up, and someone did. It was cool outside, so I wore the robe over my swimsuit to the hot tub later, and a guest asked where I had gotten it because there were not any robes in her guestroom either. 

I think we missed out on some of the housekeeping benefits because of our room switch and/or the fact that I originally had two reservations. When it looked like housekeeping had bypassed our room the next morning, I stopped at the front desk before we went to lunch to make sure that there was not a problem because of our room change, and I was told no. I called the guest service line when we returned to our guestroom around 3:00 p.m. to ask again, because no one had been to our room. We were in need of clean towels and glasses by this time. The employee who answered the call, said he would send someone right up. Our room was cleaned over an hour later, and we interrupted the process when we returned to the guestroom again just after 5:00 p.m. At this time, I observed another housekeeper thoroughly cleaning a guestroom in our hall, which I had seen someone cleaning that morning. It appeared that guestroom had been refreshed twice, and we barely received service one time. At check-in, our guestroom was missing an ice bag and a recycle bag. On stayover, we received only 2 bath towels; we received 3 floor mats instead. We did not receive any coffee stir sticks for the second morning.

Pool & beach

The water temperature was kind of cool in both outside pools, and we observed only one person swimming during our stay. The inside pool was small, and there was no hot tub inside. There were several people in the outside hot tub the day we arrived, and a few people used it on and off after that. The water temperature in the hot tub was pretty good (it could have been just a little warmer); however, there was a considerable amount of sand in the tub--small mounds on the floor and on the seats. Even though this is a resort on the beach, I thought most of the sand could have been removed. It appeared that the pool area was somewhat neglected because it was off season. I was shocked when I observed an employee from the pool bar walk through the pool area past a couple pieces of newspaper that were blowing around and not pick them up. I had been thinking about walking over to pick them up myself so that they wouldn't blow into one of the pools or onto the beach. There were several used pool towels piled on lounge chairs for more than 24 hours. Guests needed to request pool towels from the front desk, and there was not a bin in the pool area to place used towels. The pool area was not dirty; just messy. There were items that needed to be picked up or straightened. The hotel looked quite full the day we arrived with lots of activity at Latitudes Beach Bar (the pool bar, which was open every afternoon during our stay), and in the public areas. It was quiet the next afternoon and our second night. 

There was a walkway out to the beach, and a beach sand volleyball net was set up between this resort and the Hampton Inn next door. There was a walkway between the two hotels, and between the Hilton and the Holiday Inn Resort on the other side as well. All three hotels are owned by Innisfree Hotels, although it did not look like guests could stay in one hotel and use another's facility. There were signs at the gates that said that the lounges and restaurants are open to the public, and that the pool area and chairs are reserved for hotel guests. 

Food & Beverages

We thought the food and beverages in this hotel were excellent! There is a local beverage called the Bushwacker, which contains rum and Kailua, and I'm not sure what else. An online search for Pensacola Bushwacker yields many recipes. I did not know this until I asked the bartender at the Bonsai Lounge (Hilton lobby bar) what the drinks were that I observed many people drinking. I then ordered one, which was excellent! I had two more at area bars before the end of our stay, and the one I had at the Hilton was by far the best. One of the others that I had was at the Sandshaker, which claims to be the home of the original Bushwacker. This is copied from the Sandshaker webpage: --today as it was back in 1975, there is no “pre-mixing”… all Bushwacker batches at the Shaker are made by hand. I was excited to try one there, and extremely disappointed afterward. It tasted awful, and was not freshly prepared. My drink glass was filled with an already prepared frozen blend, and the rum was added to it. It did not taste like it had any Kahlua in it. It tasted like frozen rum water. The cost of the drink at the Hilton was less than $2 more, it was almost twice the size, and more than twice as good.

We were able to upgrade our continental breakfast coupons to a full breakfast for $3 each, so we did that the first day. After I saw the many great food items on the cold food bar, I did not upgrade the second morning, although my husband did both days. We thought the breakfast bar was impressive. The continental bar included many pastries, muffins, breads, and bagels, mixed nuts, fruits, yogurt, cold meats and cheeses, and salmon with all the fixins. 

Overall & misc.

This resort is in a great location. We walked to the boardwalk across the street where there is entertainment, dining, and shopping. There are also a couple of restaurants and bars on the beach located on the other side of the Hampton Inn, and Peg Leg Pete's (where we dined one afternoon) is a 2-mile walk one-way. This is an easy trip on foot, if you enjoy walking. We walked the sidewalk on the way there, and the beach on the way back. 

I observed employees tending to the outside landscaping and washing windows everyday. This resort was well maintained and clean for the most part. Other than the pool and housekeeping issues I already mentioned, the only other area I observed that needed attention was room service pickup. There were a couple of used glasses on the table by the elevator on our floor in the afternoon the day we arrived. By the time we departed two days later, this had grown to quite an assortment of 10 or more used beverage glasses.

The beach is beautiful, and I read about many events in the area prior to our stay. We liked the rates in November; however, I think we would enjoy the weather more before it is this late in the year. I received a nice tote bag for "liking" this hotel on Facebook, and then posting a comment about the hotel during our stay.

February 2016

I am glad I keep this blog, as it helps me when I revisit an area, too. We are considering a visit to Pensacola again, so I am revisiting the area and hotels. 

Sandestin Beach, Florida / Hilton Golf Resort & Spa

resort view from beach
corner suite on right
November 2011, Weekend, Guestroom #1216 - King Jr. Suite Beachview 

Status perks
I had reserved a king beachview room with points, and we were upgraded to a king Jr. suite. We received continental breakfast coupons (as is requested on my Hilton profile), although I did not receive any bottled water like I usually receive at Hilton properties.


I thought the guestroom was fabulous! It was a corner room with a wrap balcony. There were twin bunk beds by the guestroom entrance with a small flat screen TV. The bathroom, a second sink/vanity outside the bathroom, and a closet, which contained a safe, were located off the long hall, which connected the bunk beds to the main area. The main area contained a microwave, small fridge, chair, king bed, second TV, armoire, nightstands, couch, coffee and end tables, and sitting table with two chairs. There was not a sink in this area. There were four chairs and two small tables on the balcony.

guestroom balcony
The bed and entire guestroom was supremely comfortable, cozy, and quiet. We enjoyed the balcony and slept very well. The only thing I thought was missing from the guestroom were Hilton bathrobes. Near the end of our stay, I observed guests on their balconies with robes, so I wondered why there had not been any in our guestroom. We went to another Hilton property after this one, and again there were no bathrobes in the guestroom. After I called the front desk at that hotel, I was told housekeeping could bring me a robe to use, so it appeared that we needed to request bathrobes at the Hilton hotels in this area.

view facing south from our balcony

Food & Beverages
The sushi and beverages in the lobby lounge in the evening were excellent. Our continental breakfast coupons came with the option to upgrade to a complete breakfast for $7.49. We thought that was kind of pricey to add eggs and hot meat to our meal, so we went with the continental breakfast. The continental breakfast included coffee and juice, cereal, fruits, yogurt, and bread/pastries. It was acceptable, although it was nothing to rave about. In fact, for a higher class property, I thought breakfast was kind of disappointing.

Pool, beach, & public areas
The two outside pools were clean, and the property was beautifully landscaped. The hot tub was warm, although we would have preferred it hotter, since the air temperature was quite cool. There was also a good sized inside pool and hot tub. The beach in front of the resort is beautiful, and chairs are available for rent during peak season--our visit was during the off season.  We liked the outside fire on the patio that evening. It was warm and there was plenty of seating around it. The pool bar was not open during our stay.

In addition to the perfectly manicured landscaping, the inside plants were well cared for and magnificent looking. 

Even though this was a rewards night stay, we were still charged $10 for overnight parking, which we were aware of before our visit.

Baytown shopping, dining, and entertainment complex is across the street from the resort. There is a tunnel under the highway, so that pedestrians can walk back and forth. This resort sits back quite a ways from the road, so it's about a 3 to 4 mile walk one-way. We were interested in walking out to the area in the evening and talked with the concierge about our options. When we learned how far of a walk it was one-way, and she did not provide any information about a shuttle or return ride, we decided not to go that evening. The next day, we drove to the area and walked around after we had checked out of the hotel. When we did, we learned there had been live entertainment in some of the businesses the night before, and we saw a Sandestin Beach Golf Resort shuttle driving through the area! I was quite disappointed that the concierge did not make us aware of this option when we questioned her about transportation to and from the complex. Even if it had not been available the evening that we talked with her, we would have used it the next morning, if we had known. I did not learn the facts of how the shuttle ride works. If this is something you're interested in, I suggest you specifically ask about it. It was not a bus; it was a golf cart pulling a covered wheeled wagon with several bench seats.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Lansing, Michigan/Hampton Inn West

November 2011, Weekday, King guestroom #344 & 348

Status perks
I typically do not receive any extra perks from Hampton for having Gold HHonors status, so when the agent did not acknowledge my status or guestroom type at check-in, I did not ask about an upgrade.

Guestroom 348
We had been assigned a guestroom at the end of the hall on the top floor, which is my preference. Room 348 contained a small fridge and microwave; however, the room was very small and the furnishings were old. It did not look like there were many guests at the hotel--there were only a couple cars in the parking lot--so, I decided to call the front desk to ask about an upgrade. The agent said he could give us an upgrade, so I went back down to the front desk, and he gave me a key for room 344. The agent again did not say anything about the room type I was receiving. I took the key, and hoped for the best.
Guestroom 344

Guestroom 344 was a larger room, although the furnishings were just as old. The room contained a microwave and small fridge like the first guestroom. There was also an outside door and balcony behind the sofa. Before our stay, I had read online reviews, which said that even though this is an older hotel, the rooms were clean and comfortable. I needed an extra HHonors stay this year, and this hotel was in the area I wanted to stay, so I had chosen it, even though it didn't look that great online. I must have different expectations than most of the people writing reviews on TripAdvisor, because I would not stay at this hotel again. Even though the second room we received was an upgraded room, I felt that we had stayed in a $50 hotel room (something I would not normally do), and that it had cost us $87.

The carpet in the guestroom was old, dingy looking, and frayed in spots. The furniture was old and did not smell fresh. The HVAC unit was an older style unit on the outside wall. The front cover of the HVAC unit fell off that evening! It was still connected on one corner; however, it was hanging by the hinges, and gave us quite a start when it fell down. The guestroom door, and the bathroom door, were both old, dinged up wood doors. The bathroom sink drain was slow; fortunately the tub/shower drain drained well. The bed and sheets looked clean, and, if that had not been the case, we would not have stayed the night.

The TV in both guestrooms were updated flat screen models, and that was the only thing in the hotel that looked current. The guestroom had a wired Internet connection; however, we had only brought our iPad and no laptop, so it did not do us any good. The hotel wireless service did not show up in the guestroom. When I went to the lobby with my iPad to use the Internet that evening, I observed another guest with an iPad doing the same thing. 

Food & Beverage
We had an early flight, and checked out before breakfast in the morning. We requested to-go breakfast bags, which contained the same items I have always received in a Hampton breakfast bag: bottled water, apple, muffin, Special-K bar, and Hampton mints. Cookies were available at the front desk when we arrived; however, there were no napkins with the cookies.

The wireless Internet signal was decent in the pool area, and my husband said that the hot tub was hot and clean. The seating in the pool area was comfortable.

Public areas and misc.
I thought all areas of this property needed to be refurbished and cleaned better. All of the doors were dinged up old doors, the elevator was scratched and dirty, as was the foyer area outside the elevator, and the hallway carpet was old and frayed. There was dust buildup and debris in all the corners, and on the carpet at the base of the walls. 

There was not a gift/snack shop in the hotel, and there was only one food vending machine. The vending machine did not have microwave popcorn--something I was looking for since both guestrooms we had seen contained a microwave, and I have seen popcorn in vending machines before.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dearborn, Michigan/The Henry Autograph Collection (Marriott)

November 2011, Weekend, Guestroom #1027

Status perks
We were upgraded to a concierge floor room. I had Silver status and redeemed a category 4 free night certificate for this stay. I had requested a concierge room when I made the reservation, and this was noted as an upgrade request. I'm not sure if we would have received the upgrade, if I had not requested it, or, if we had been staying on a weeknight.

Our guestroom was on the same floor as the concierge lounge, and there was one more floor of guestrooms above us. Our room was comfortable and clean. It looked pretty much exactly like the photo on the Marriott website. There was a spot for a small fridge in the beverage center outside the bathroom; however, there was not a fridge inside. A mini-fridge was plugged in on top of the counter. Since my Marriott profile preferences are set to include a fridge, it looked as though someone had brought the mini-fridge before our arrival, and plugged it in on the counter. I appreciated that employees had read my profile, although I thought it would have been nicer, if the fridge had been located inside the beverage center where it was intended. Since this is a concierge floor room with space for a fridge in the beverage center, I was surprised it was not automatically included in the room. Two 16 oz. bottles of water were included on the counter, in addition to the coffee setup.

The sitting area contained a plush chair and footstool, second straight back chair, and a desk and chair. The bed was comfortable, the room was soundproof, and we slept very well. I usually have to pay for Internet access when staying at a Marriott, when my status is less than Gold. I was glad that there was not a charge at this hotel, because the connection speed in the guestroom was terrible. I tried several different hotel wireless connections, and none of them worked any faster than the others. The Internet connection speed was spotty the entire time. 

Food & Beverage
We visited the lobby lounge in the evening. The atmosphere was inviting, and the seating was comfortable. We did not order any food, although the small plate items on the menu sounded appealing. A guest seated beside us recommended the Smoked Salmon Flatbread. He said he had that the night before, and it was excellent. The food and beverage prices were fair, and the beverage quality was good. 

Concierge lounge
I was disappointed that the concierge lounge was not open the evening of our stay. I know that the lounge is often closed on weekend nights; however, I thought I had read on the website that it was open at this hotel on Friday nights. I must have been mistaken, or the hours had recently changed, because when I checked the hotel website a few days after our stay, it did not say that the lounge is open Friday evenings.

Even though the lounge was not staffed, a few self-serve items were available. The fridge was stocked with bottled water and assorted sodas. I was surprised to see that this included Coke, because Coke products are not usually available at Marriott properties. Once, when I was searching for a diet Coke (in the hotel gift shop, vending machines, etc.), an employee told me that I would never find Coke products at a Marriott. There was no diet Coke at this hotel, although they did have regular Coke. A couple different blends of Starbucks coffee were available in the fresh brew machine. Available snacks included potato chips, trail mix, Nutri-Grain bars, and a fresh fruit bowl.

This was my first experience at an Autograph Collection hotel. I chose this hotel after looking on the Marriott site for a category 4 hotel in the area. I was glad I had recalled that it is called The Henry, because the GPS location was slightly off, and I did not see Marriott on any of the outside signs or building exterior when we arrived. We pulled into the valet area to ask the employee if the hotel was the Marriott before we parked. Self-parking is complimentary. The website lists valet parking as $15 a night, although no one asked if I had valet parked at check-in. Other than our Marriott Elite guestroom key cards, I did not see the Marriott name inside the hotel either.

I thought this stay was a great value for a category 4 hotel.