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Monday, December 5, 2011

Des Moines, Iowa--DSM airport / Holiday Inn

December 2011, Weekday, King balcony overlooking pool area - guestroom #308

Status perks
At check-in, the agent said I had been upgraded to a "feature" guestroom with an inside balcony. She said the guestroom was located in a private hall, so I thought it would be in a quiet area. I also received a coupon to choose a perk. There were four items to choose from, although I only remember two of the choices--a beverage in the lounge or bonus points. I chose the bonus points. I am inclined to think this was a PCR perk, and not a Platinum perk, because I observed several guests turning in their coupons for a free beverage that evening.

Guestroom
The guestroom was on the 3rd (top) floor, and there was a doorway to enter the hall. I would not call this a private hall, since a key was not needed to open the door. There was an elevator to floor three; however, there were about four steps after going through the hallway door. I did not have a problem with this since I had only one small suitcase. Later that evening, I observed a guest with a luggage cart as I was heading out. I did not stop to see how he handled the steps; from the conversation I overheard, it sounded like he was going to push the cart down the stairs.

I thought the guestroom had been nicely remodeled for an older hotel. There was an open counter area outside the bathroom with coffee setup, a small fridge, microwave, and sink. The bedroom area was fairly spacious with a desk and chair, king bed, TV, and soft chair and footstool. There was a table and chairs on the balcony, which overlooked the pool area. The balcony was not private; it connected with the other balconies along that hall. This would have been a nice room, if I had been staying with a group, and not my myself. I did not like the fact that my room had a balcony that could be accessed by others, and this was an awful guestroom for sleeping! Since there is not much around this airport hotel, and I was staying on a weekday, I did not think the pool area would be a problem. I was mistaken. I had asked at the front desk if the pool area closed down for the evening, and I was told that it closed at 10 PM. I was kept awake by guests in that area until well after midnight, and I had to get up at 5 AM. I tried to block out the noise by choosing the "fan" mode on the HVAC unit; however, the fan would not run continually. If you plan to stay at this hotel for a good night's rest, I suggest you request an outside room. Since the king guest rooms overlooking the pool with a balcony are the same price as a regular king room, I did not really receive an upgrade at this hotel. I think it's annoying when someone says I am receiving an upgrade, when that is not true. This property has at least eight suites, so it would have been nice, if I had been upgraded me to one of them instead. I know the PCR program does not say that guests should expect a suite upgrade; however, I'm sure I would have slept better, and been a much happier guest. 

Food & Beverage
The cafe seating area overlooking the holidome/pool area looked comfortable. I was given a coupon for breakfast at check-in, which I thought I had received because of my Platinum status; however, the hotel website says that the hotel offers free, hot breakfast, so I guess all guests receive breakfast. I had to leave before breakfast, so I was able to choose three items from the cafe the night before--one whole fruit, one beverage (milk or juice), and one pastry or cold cereal. The whole fruits (bananas, apples, and oranges) all looked nasty, so I did not choose any of that item. The pastries looked equally stale/unfresh, so I chose a small box of cereal and milk. The coupon said "no substitutions," so I did not ask if I could choose cut fruit instead of whole fruit. Individual beer and wine bottles were available for purchase in the cafe, although they were out of red wine.

Before I went to the lounge for a glass of wine that evening, I asked the front desk agent if food is served in the lounge, and I was told no. There was no menu on the bar where I sat down; however, I observed stand up menus on the bar in other areas, so I requested one from the bartender. She opted to verbally tell me the wine list instead. A few minutes later, someone brought food to a customer seated at the bar. I then asked if food is available and requested a food menu. Apparently, food is prepared behind the cafe, and when it's ordered from the lounge, it is like room service; delivered on a room service tray with 18% tip added (the bartender told me about the tip when I ordered). I did not look at the hot food menu in the cafe, so I'm not sure if the menu choices were the same in both locations. I'd had a big lunch, so I ordered clam chowder and jalapeƱo poppers. The portion sizes were generous, although the food wasn't very good. The clam chowder tasted kind of blah--almost like it had been poured from a supermarket can. The seats at the bar were uncomfortable, and I wished I'd chosen to sit at a table instead.

Fitness center
The fitness center off the pool area contained several cardio machines, a weight machine, working TV with remote, drinking fountain, and scale. There were no hand weights. The room temperature was comfortable.

Business center
The business center consisted of two computers in a small room between the front desk and the cafe. Documents were supposed to print at the front desk, and these was a charge for printed items other than boarding passes. I sent my boarding pass to the printer twice from the business center, and a third time from a computer in the lobby. None of these items printed behind the front desk, and another guest was having the same problem. I saw her go to the front desk twice. She was still trying to get her boarding pass to print, when I gave up and left. About three to four hours after this, I received a call in my room telling me my boarding pass had finally printed. I said that I would pick it up the next morning.

Shuttle and misc.
This hotel is located across from the airport and the shuttle service was excellent! I was planning to walk back to the hotel after I returned my car; however, it was very cold and windy with snow flurries that day, so I opted for the shuttle instead. When I checked-in, the employee said to stop at the front desk and let them know when I left to return my car. I stopped at the front desk on my way out, and the employee at that time told me to call after I had returned my car. I did not need to call; the driver was already waiting for me when I finished with my car return! He said that he had come right over since it was so cold out. The driver also offered to take me to a local restaurant that evening, if I wanted to dine elsewhere.

The shuttle driver in the morning was just as great. I had been told that I did not need to sign up for the shuttle in the morning, and that I could come just come to the lobby when I was ready to go. When I arrived in the lobby a few minutes before I wanted to leave, there were two flight attendants waiting. I told the front desk agent I needed a ride to the airport and then waited with them. After I had been waiting several minutes, the shuttle driver came to the lobby and learned that we were waiting for another flight attendant, and that they had all signed up for the 5:45 AM shuttle. I commented that I was told I did not need to sign up when I had asked. The shuttle driver asked what time my flight was, and said that it would probably take me about an hour to an hour and a half, to check my bag and get through security. It was not quite 5:40 at this time, and it sounded like the flight attendants wanted him to wait for their coworker. The shuttle driver said he would be able to take me to the airport before they needed to go, and he quickly whisked me away. As quickly as I arrived at the airport, I think the driver was correct. I'm sure he was able to bring the flight crew over before their requested time, because I saw them in the airport around 5:45 AM.

For an older property, I thought this hotel had been nicely updated--other than the lounge seats. The hallway stairs had an open design, with large windows and nice tile. The guestroom furniture and carpet looked fresh.  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Marshalltown, Iowa / Hampton Inn

November 2011, Weekday, 2-nights, King guestroom #327

Status perks
I did not receive anything for being a Gold member, nor did I expect anything. It's too bad Hampton properties don't upgrade Gold members like Hilton hotels do.

Guestroom
The guestroom was spacious, although there were several things I did not like about the room. This is a newer Hampton Inn, and the room seating was the same as another newer Hampton I had stayed in recently--there was no couch or soft chair! The last time I encountered this, I was only staying at the hotel one night, so it did not bother me as much as it did this stay. There was a chair in the room in addition to the desk chair--the exact same type of chair that was in the other newer Hampton Inn I had stayed in--it was straight back wood chair. The seat was padded; however, the chair was still not comfortable. I asked the front desk agent if this was the only type of chair in all the guestrooms, and he said yes, except for in the suites. There was only one telephone in the guestroom, and it was on the nightstand next to the bed instead of on the desk. 
straight back chair

The HVAC unit was lousy. Even though the thermostat was set at 70+, it was cold in the room when I arrived, and it would never turn on unless I manually increased the temperature, and then it would run so long, I'd have to turn it back down. The impression I got about the HVAC unit, is that the thermostat is suppose to be motion sensored, and it did not work right. Even though my guestroom was at the end of the hall, the hallway noise was extremely loud. I didn't hear guests talking or making a lot of noise in the hall, and I did not see anyone when I looked out the peephole in the door. It was just noisy from people entering and exiting rooms. The noise from doors opening and closing must have been echoing since it was so loud. The bedding was the usual Hampton Inn bedding, which was good quality, although I thought the mattress was quite hard. The flatscreen TV was nice, and the entire guestroom was tastefully decorated. 

I liked the large tile bathroom and large walk-in shower. I was happy with the bathroom set up, other than the coffee maker. The coffee maker was on a shelf in the bathroom, and the shelves were not tall enough to open the coffee maker and put the water in. At least it was placed on a shelf behind the door, and away from the sink area. When housekeeping cleaned my room on stayover, my coffee was not replenished, and I had to get some from the front desk.

Food & Beverage
The design and seating in the breakfast room was comfortable and chic, although I did not care for any of the hot food items. I took a to-go bag with me each morning when I left, which was a nice option. Every time I have received a to-go bag at a Hampton, it has always contained the same items: bottled water, blueberry muffin, Special K vanilla breakfast bar, apple, and Hampton Inn mints.

The gift shop had a good selection of food items. The prices were high, but if someone did not want to go out or have a full meal, there was plenty to choose from.

Fitness center
I was happy with the fitness center, which the front desk agent had told me was open 24 hours. The hours sign posted outside the room said it was open from 6:00 AM - 10:00 PM. I did not ask about the hours after I saw the sign, and I did not have any trouble accessing the room at any time of day. There were guestrooms right outside the fitness center, so if the noise in those rooms was similar to what I experienced in my room, I would not have liked that location, if the center was open 24 hours. The room was spacious, it contained several cardio machines with cardio theater, a flat screen TV, hand weights, exercise mat and ball, and more.

Business center
The business center was a small room next to the front desk. The printer was out of toner when I tried to print something the first day. I did not visit the room the next day so I don't know if this had been corrected. I did not see an employee to make someone aware of the situation after my experience.

Newton, Iowa / Holiday Inn Express

November 2011, Weekday, Queen Bed Executive Studio #204


Status perks
I received a bottle of water and choice of a small snack--Chex mix or cookies. I saw that someone had written "upgrade please" on my reservation; however, I did not receive an upgraded room. I did not ask for one at check-in because when I saw the note, I figured this had already been taken care of. And, the front desk agent had acknowledged my Platinum status. 

Guestroom
I called this hotel before my stay because I was confused about the room choices. A king bed executive room, and a queen bed executive studio were the same price. The queen studio listed a fridge and microwave in the description, and the king room did not. I called the hotel to ask if a king executive room was the same size as a queen studio, and if it had a fridge and microwave. I had made my reservation for a queen studio room, thinking it would be larger, and if the rooms were the same size, I was going to change my room type to a king executive guestroom. The employee I spoke with seemed less knowledgable than me. She said that the king executive rooms are all suites with a whirlpool tub and table, and that they cost about $15 more than a queen studio. She did not say that there are king executive rooms at the hotel, even though this is listed on the website. I questioned her about this to try and find out, and did not get anywhere. She then said that since I am a Platinum member, she would make a note to upgrade me to a king suite.

Room 204, which is described as "1 Queen Bed Executive Studio," is a basic Holiday Inn Express hotel room with a fridge and microwave. It is not an oversized room, and did not have any extras. I think the listing of "studio" for this room is misleading and false. When I looked at the hotel diagram on the back of the guestroom door, it looked like the larger rooms were around the pool area, so I decided not to go back and ask about an upgrade, since that area can often be noisy.

The guestroom contained a suitcase bench, one queen bed, desk and chair, older looking couch and table, TV, microwave, and fridge. The room smelled musty and old, and the housekeeping could have been better. My bedding was clean, although there were a few hairs in the bathroom. Even though this room was not on the top floor, it was surprisingly quiet. The Internet connection speed was satisfactory. The hair dryer was a low quality wall mounted unit.

Food & Beverage 
I thought breakfast looked unappetizing, and decided to eat elsewhere after checking out--no place fancy; I ate at Subway. The eggs at the HIX did not look fresh, and neither did the whole fruit. I had planned to have a banana and milk, but changed my mind.

Fitness center
The fitness center contained three cardio machines without cardio theater. There was a TV in the room, although there was no remote. I visited the workout room two times, and could not find the remote either time. The website photo shows hand weights in the fitness center, although I do not recall seeing any. I usually use hand weights when they are available, and I only used the treadmill during this stay. The AC in the room did not work (I tried turning it on and to different settings a couple different times), and since the room is located off the pool area, it got pretty hot after 10 or 15 minutes. 

Overall
I was surprised that this hotel is located downtown so far off the interstate. I had to visit a business in town in the morning, so it worked out fine for me, although I do not think that most travelers just looking for overnight accommodations would care for the location. Usually, hotels are not located downtown except in bigger towns with events or venues downtown that people would be specifically traveling to the area for.

It was only a couple blocks to the downtown circle; however, there were not many dining options. In fact, I overheard a guest at the airport hotel where I stayed the last night I was in this area, talking about this Newton HIX. He had stayed here--apparently at the same time I did--and, said he would not stay here again. He said that if he had to return to the area, he would stay in Des Moines, and drive to Newton during the day. His comments were that there was nothing to do and no place to eat.

The hotel website lists the following room types for the same price: standard, king bed, queen bed, 2 queen beds, king executive, queen executive studio. Since the hotel diagram shows all the guestrooms as the same size except the few around the pool, and, the employee when I called did not differentiate between any room types except the suites, my feelings are that all of the rooms at this hotel must be the same except for the suites.