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Friday, December 21, 2012

Runabouts Car Service -- Grand Rapids, MI

Early weekday morning transportation to GRR - December 2012

We needed a ride to the Gerald R. Ford International airport around 4:30 a.m. from a home in Kentwood, about eight miles from the airport. I checked cab rates from three different companies, and the pre-tip fare was $17.70 or $18.70 (MetroCab started the meter at $4.30, and the others started it at $3.30). I then found a company I had not heard of before--RUNABOUTS.

The reviews I found for RUNABOUTS were all excellent, and the cost was only $18! Not only that, the cars looked comfy and clean. I have been in many Grand Rapids cabs in the airport area (most of them chosen by the hotel or hired after arriving at GRR), and most of them have been dirty, smelly, and cold. Many of them also reek of stale smoke smell. 

RUNABOUTS seemed like an excellent choice, so I made a reservation for 4:35 a.m. online. The email confirmation arrived within 15 minutes, and I received a reconfirmation the day before our ride.

RUNABOUTS arrived 10 minutes early, and this was fine with us. We were ready, and I'd rather be early than late. The trip to the airport was comfortable and pleasant. We rode in a clean Impala. I am so glad we found this company, and I plan to use them again. I definitely recommend this company.


Early weekday morning transportation to GRR - February 2013

We used this car service again February 2013, and had the same excellent experience. I am happy we found them, so I am spreading the word again!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Miami, Florida airport -- MIA / Hilton

November 2012, Sunday, 1- night, King guestroom #933

Status perks
I received complimentary Internet access, two bottles of water, and two continental breakfast coupons, which could also be used for the breakfast value--$14 each--off a la carte items. I initially received only one coupon, and when I asked the front desk agent later if the coupon was good for two, he gave me another one. I did not receive a room on one of the top floors; however, we arrived before check-in time around 1 PM. The agent immediately assigned us an available room without asking if we wanted to wait for a higher floor guestroom. The next day, I requested late checkout, and the agent happily allowed us to stay until 2:30 PM. If I had realized that this hotel has so many suites--over 25 of them--I would have requested a suite upgrade. Hilton does not typically give that type of upgrade to Gold members; however, I have occasionally received a suite upgrade.

Guestroom #933
I was somewhat worried about noise when I entered the guestroom, because this guestroom has two connecting doors. We must have had quiet neighbors, or the connecting doors are thicker than usual, because we did not hear any noise from our neighbors.

The spacious guestroom had a nice work area. A large window filled the length of the outside wall overlooking the lagoon, and a long table with two lamps was located against the wall under the window. There was one desk chair and one sitting chair in the guestroom. There was a telephone on the desk/table, and another one on one of the night stands next to the bed. A nice flat screen TV was on the armoire across from the bed. I was impressed with the comfort of the bed and the bedsheets. We had just come from the Z Ocean Hotel Crowne Plaza where the bedding was one of the best features, and the bed and pillows at this Hilton were even more comfy.

A coffee machine with supplies, bottled water, and a chilled minibar were located in a nice bar cabinet outside the bathroom. There was not a regular fridge other than the minibar. A good-sized safe was located in the closet by the door.

Other then the bathroom door almost hitting the toilet because of the smallish room size, the bathroom had some nice features. It had a tile walk in shower with glass doors and a pulsating shower head. The vanity and mirror were stylish looking and new.  Unfortunately, I did not get many pictures of our guestroom.

We watched a beautiful sunrise from our hotel room in the morning. We were not disturbed by guest or airplane noise, and we slept very well.

Pool and outside area
This hotel has several nice features for an airport hotel. There is a half mile walking/jogging track around the hotel with views of the lagoon. There is a garden walkway next to the pool and along the water with bench seating at the end.

Garden walkway
There are tennis courts onsite, which we did not use. I observed the area from a distance, and we saw guests on their way to the court with racquets in their hands.

The pool and whirlpool tub were both a good size. The temperature in the pool and in the hot tub was warm. The temperature seemed perfect to us.

End of the garden walkway
There was plenty of outside seating--lounge chairs, cushioned seats, and tables with chairs. One thing I did not see were shade umbrellas, although the pool area is partially shaded in the morning and in the evening. The pool towels were a disappointment. The towels were so small and thin that you needed two or three of them if you wanted to cover your chair or dry off after swimming.

The pool bar/restaurant was open both days of our stay. There was ample seating at the bar, and at tables around the bar--tall bar top style tables with chairs, and lower ones with chairs. The low tables had shade umbrellas.

Pool dusk 
It seemed like staff was cut to a minimum during our visit, and there were several things in the pool area that needed cleaning. All of the outside tables, including the dining ones around the bar, needed to be washed. There was quite a bit of debris in the bushes around the pool and along the walkways. I observed debris and bugs in the pool. There were ashtrays on every outside table, even though I never saw anyone smoking during our stay. And, every ashtray that I saw needed to be emptied and cleaned. I observed someone empty the trash bins by the pool once, and I observed someone cleaning the bugs out of the pool in the morning. Other than that, I did not see anyone cleaning the area.  

Food and Beverage
Next to Blue Lagoon Saloon
and the pool
We had burgers at Blue Lagoon Saloon, the poolside restaurant, the day we arrived. We received great service, even though only one employee served all the guests at the bar and tables. And, he had to go to the kitchen to get all the food orders. This was definitely one area where another employee was needed. Even if there had been an inside staff member, who could have filled in as a food runner when needed, it would have helped. There were times that we observed guests waiting for beverages at the bar, and we observed guests who gave up and left the area while the bartender was gone to get food. 

We thought the food prices on the poolside menu were high. It was $16 for one burger with fries, before tax and tip. The food flavor was good, and the portion size was generous. In hindsight, we should have ordered one burger to share, and then had something small to eat later.

We used our breakfast coupons to order off the menu at Coral Cafe the next morning. I ordered their version of eggs Benedict, which is served on savory bread pudding, and my husband ordered an omelette. The food flavor and serving sizes were excellent. This was the best breakfast our entire 5-day trip. I was somewhat apprehensive about ordering the eggs Benedict because I was afraid the bread pudding would be sweet. Our server assured me that it was savory and not sweet, and she was correct. It was cooked perfectly, and served hot. Three asparagus spears and a fresh tomato wedge accompanied the dish. My husband's omelette was served with asparagus spears, toast, and a tomato garnish. He agreed that the food was delicious. Everything was prepared with fresh, high quality ingredients, and the items were flavorful. 

Our service in the restaurant was not as good as we had received at the pool the day before. We had been seated for several minutes (probably over five minutes--I did not time this) before our server stopped to ask if we were ready to order. No one had stopped to offer coffee, juice, or water before this even though a few employees had walked by and glanced toward us. After we received our food, our server did not checkback with us until after we had almost finished eating. When we received our check, a $1 tip had been added in, even though it said "gratuity not included" at the bottom of the slip. I did not understand why gratuity of only $1 would have been added. This restaurant also added the tax in before the $28 in coupons had been deducted. Some restaurants deduct the coupon(s) first, and some add the tax first. I do not know which way is correct. After we added in the remaining tip, our check was just under $11. Definitely an amazing breakfast for under $11 ~ My compliments to the chef!   

We returned our rental car after checking in, and used the airport shuttle to return to the hotel (a Sunday). We then used the shuttle the next afternoon to return to the airport on Monday. On Sunday we were told that the shuttle runs every half hour, and on Monday we were told that it runs every 15 minutes. The shuttle was behind on the half hour runs when we returned the car Sunday. We waited about 20 minutes, and should have been picked up in less than 10 minutes because we arrived at the shuttle pickup spot at 1:30 PM. I had also called to confirm that the driver was on the way when we arrived there at 1:30. There was not much traffic on Sunday, so traffic would not have caused a problem that day.

On Monday, we decided to head to the airport earlier than planned, so we went out front for the 1:45 PM shuttle. We arrived around 1:40, and there was a flight crew already waiting. Another guest arrived after us. The shuttle did not arrive until after 2 PM. We had plenty of time; however, I could tell that the other guest was becoming agitated. We arrived at the airport more than 35 minutes after we went out to wait for the shuttle. We did not learn if there was a reason for the delay, or if this was typical for a Monday.

To say that the shuttle process was chaotic is an understatement. The hotel shuttles pick up and drop off in the same location at MIA. It is level 2/departure level. When I tried to tell the employee on the telephone my location after we returned the rental car, she told me to just wait at the center island and flag down the driver. Everyone else was waiting at the curbside, and the shuttle drivers were driving through between the curbside and the island, so after we waited in the center a few minutes, we walked back to the airport curb. I suppose we could have flagged down the driver from either spot, although when someone was getting off a shuttle, the bus went right up to the curb, which is three lanes in from the island. Another problem with this system is that sometimes passengers could not see their bus if it was traveling in the outside lane because of the traffic in between. Passengers next to us were waiting for the DoubleTree, and they would have missed their bus, if I had not spoken up when I saw it. It seemed to me that it would have made more sense, if the driver knew he had guests waiting, and at which terminal number. The "flag down" system did not work very well, IMO.

Misc. and overall
I was told that hotel parking is complimentary for less than 1/2 hour, and we did not have a charge when we left the hotel to return our rental car within this time frame. There is a public bus stop just down the road from the hotel, and there is a Publix less than a mile away across the street. Homewood Suites by Hilton (where we stayed for one night a couple years ago) is located on the same road as the Hilton.

I would choose this hotel, if I needed a hotel in the area for business because of the excellent sleep quality. The bed was supremely comfortable, and the guestroom was soundproof. I thought the $15 overnight parking charge was steep, so I would need to be able to find a room rate that made that charge worthwhile. The pool area and setting was nice for a one-night leisure stay; however, I thought the upkeep of the outside area was neglected.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

South Beach Miami, Florida / Z Ocean Hotel--Crowne Plaza

Thanksgiving weekend 2012, 3-nights, King handicap suite #207

Sunrise @ beach club
Status perks
As a Platinum guest, I received free Internet service. I found this out when I called the front desk to ask about the $14 charge, since the agent had not said anything at check-in. I did not receive the monogramed pillowcases shown on Facebook for Platinum guests, and I did not receive a guestroom upgrade.

I inquired about a spa or rooftop suite upgrade at check-in, and I was told that there was not anything available. The agent said I could check the next day, so I did. I spoke with the manager the next morning, and was again told that there was nothing available. I did not call again the morning of our last night, even though the website showed that rooftop rooms were available. The manager had not told me to check again, and I figured if the hotel was going to give me an upgraded room, this would have already been taken care of. I dislike having to ask for a perk that is supposed to be automatically given when available.
floor two diagram

I had booked a South Beach king suite with points for this stay. I did not book a handicap room, and we did not need one. I assume that we ended up with the handicap suite because it had not been reserved, and our room was not ready. When we arrived before check-in time around 2 PM, the suite originally set aside for us, #305, was not ready yet. We returned to the front desk about 1/2 hour after check-in time and our room was still not available. The agent checked some things, and then assigned us suite 207 instead. I asked if this was the same room type, and she said yes. We did not know that it was a handicap or poolside guestroom until we arrived at the suite.

This suite is spacious and very soundproof. It is slightly different than the photos shown online. I don't know if that is because it is a handicap room, or if it is because of the room location on an inside corner, or a combination of both. The differences from the other suites were: the glassed patio windows are a smaller area, the outside patio area is smaller, and there were no chairs inside the suite except the bar chairs. 

The bar/kitchen area was fabulous. It contained the following: nice dishes/plates, unique glassware--including champagne and martini glasses, coffee and tea cups, silverware, wine and bottle opener, nespresso machine with coffee supplies, microwave, fridge, sink, cold and dry minibar, bar stools, and a large safe.

The bathroom was two large rooms. The outer area contained the toilet and a vanity with sink and mirror. There was a second vanity and sink in the next area with a large tiled shower. A makeup mirror and high quality hair dryer were provided. I was surprised that cotton swabs and tips were not provided with the standard shower and lotion amenities. The shower had three sets of jets, and a fold down handicap seat. The shower was fabulous, although I felt like I needed an engineering degree to figure out how to operate the water flow!

One thing I missed in this suite, was a full length mirror. There were wall mirrors in the bathroom and living area; however, all of the mirrors were only half length vanity or decorative mirrors.

The bed, pillows, and bed sheets were all high quality and very comfortable. We could not hear any noise from the pool area when the patio door was shut. The closet contained two hanging rods, one below the other, so there was not a place to hang dresses without them hitting the lower rod or floor. A folding luggage rack was provided in the closet and there was a suitcase bench at the foot of the bed against the wall.

We did not receive consistent turndown service. The first evening, housekeeping knocked on the guestroom door around 5 PM. When I answered, I was handed a welcome letter with two small pieces of candy that reminded me of leftover Halloween candy--an M & M's and an Almond Joy. The second evening we were not present. When we returned to our suite, we found a robe placed on the bed and a pair of slippers on the floor next to the bed. We did not receive a turndown amenity. We did not receive turrndown service at all the last night. It would have been nice if we had received the super turndown delicacies bragged about on the Z Ocean Facebook page at least one of the nights.
Suite 207 in corner

The patio area contained a lounge chair and a glass topped table with four chairs. Since there were only two of us, and the area was small without much room to walk through, we set one of the table chairs aside, and it had been moved out to the pool area the next day.

Fresh plants were tastefully placed between each suite for privacy. A nice feature around all of the patio suites is the privacy curtain. Each suite patio had curtains that could be closed all the way around, if guests desired.
Typical poolside patio.
Suite 305 (original suite) on floor above right

Pool & beach
The pool area was not very busy during our stay and it was peaceful. The water spouts into the pool provided a soothing waterfall type sound. If we had been staying in one of the balcony rooms a floor above the pool, we probably would have slept with our patio door partially open. We observed only adults at the pool until the day we departed. There were two children in the pool that day.

The pool chairs were comfortable, and staff members provided excellent pool service. Lounge chairs were covered with towel covers, rolled towels were set out, and towels were immediately replaced when guests departed. A pool attendant served frozen grapes one day, and bar staff were attentive. The only thing I thought needed more attention in the pool area was the floor. I observed staff members sweeping up debris; however, the floor needed to be washed with soap. The grime was not visible; however, the bottoms of our feet and shoes turned black from the floor. And, I only walked a few steps with bare feet--from a chair to the whirlpool tub.
Pool view from below

My husband said that the pool temperature was slightly cool, although it was not so cool that he did not swim in it. The glass windows in the bottom of the pool are not over the restaurant, as I had read. The view into the pool is overhead when walking from the front desk toward the bar and restaurant. The whirlpool tub temperature was warm, although we would have liked it a little hotter since it was quite cool in the evenings.
Guestroom directory
Beach Club

This hotel is not located on the beach, and no one told us about the Beach Club across the street. Fortunately, I had read about it in a guest review before our visit, and information is listed in the guestroom directory. Guests can have two chairs with pads, towels, and an umbrella for no cost. A bed is available as an upgrade; I did not inquire about the cost for a bed. A few items were available for purchase at the hut on the beach--soda, water, sunscreen, and vending machine type snacks.

Food & Beverage
shrimp taco
We visited the hotel restaurant--The Front Porch Cafe--during Happy Hour two days. We thought Happy Hour was an excellent value. The beverage and food prices and quality were excellent. For $5 each, we had: calamari, Mahi-Mahi tacos, shrimp tacos, and crispy jerk pork belly tacos. The calamari was a good portion size and flash fried, although not very flavorful. Each taco portion was two tacos; however, I did not take the pictures posted here until after we had started eating. All of the tacos were good, and the shrimp tacos were amazing! We had the shrimp tacos both days because we liked them so well.

pork taco
A 17% tip was automatically added to the check, which is typical for the Miami Beach area. After we said we wanted to charge the bill to our room, this tip was changed to 20%.

I ordered the California Omelette from room service for breakfast one morning. The room service cost was a couple dollars more than the restaurant menu cost--before the tip was added. We knew this, but thought it would be enjoyable to dine poolside on our patio. The order taker did not provide a delivery time. The food was delivered in a reasonable about of time--within 20 to 25 minutes.

I was disappointed with the omelette. The eggs were brown and overcooked. The menu description listed avocado as one of the ingredients, which I had expected to be fresh slices on the side. I should have asked because the avocado was inside the omelette, so it was mushy from being cooked. The omelette came with toast, and a side choice--fresh fruit, tomatoes, or potatoes. I chose tomatoes, which were three good-sized and flavorful slices. The side of sourdough toast was thin, cold, and rubbery. It seemed like the bread had been toasted several minutes before the food was delivered.

Misc. and overall
Fresh ice cold citrus water was available by the front desk every time we walked through the lobby. Valet, bell, and concierge staff members were attentive and smiling every time we walked by. We liked the location of this resort at the start of Ocean Drive.

This is a nice facility with many good points. I am sure I would have been impressed if I had received a Platinum upgrade, or if we had received the amenities posted on the hotel Facebook page. I also read reviews by Platinum guests who received an upgrade to a rooftop suite. I had high expectations, and because we did not receive any of the perks I had read about, this stay was disappointing. I posted two comments on the hotel Facebook page about my disappointment not receiving the turndown amenities or the VIP pillowcases. No one from the hotel replied to those posts, although someone seems to actively reply to guests before a stay (they replied to all my posts before our stay). I felt like they got me in the door, and then ignored me.

I did stay on points; however, when I stay at a competitor hotel brand on points--Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt--I still receive the same perks as when I am a paying guest. When I stayed at the Crowne Plaza at the Ft. Lauderdale airport (FLL) with points in March of this year, we were upgraded to the presidential suite! I am still bragging about that hotel, and I will choose it again for my next stay in that area. When the Z Ocean Hotel stay posted to my PCR account ($745.80 under hotel rate with 0 points earned since I redeemed points), it looked like this hotel received over $200 a night for my points stay. If I had paid over $200 a night for my room, I would have been seriously disappointed rather than just mildly disappointed.

When booking a poolside room at this resort, I would suggest staying away from this handicap room unless it is needed. The other poolside suites have a much larger patio area, and I could see chairs inside the guestroom when the curtains were open.

UPDATE: After I posted on TripAdvisor about my disappointment with this stay, Director of Sales & Marketing, Frank Fuentes expressed empathy and invited me to contact him, so I did. I received a prompt and professional reply to an email I sent, which has altered my opinion of this hotel. The communication I had with Mr. Fuentes “wowed” me the way I had expected before our stay. We intend to stay at this hotel again the next time we visit SoBe!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Wheeling, West Virginia / SpringHill Suites

November 2012, Weekday, 1-night, King guestroom #501

Platinum perks

I received a goody bag with a small bottle of water and two snacks--cheese crackers and peanuts.

Guestroom #501

This guestroom is located on the top floor at the end of the hall. I had called the morning of my arrival to request a room in a quiet location without a connecting room door. The agent who answerd the telephone assigned my room during the call.

The guestroom layout and furnishings are exactly the same as the SpringHill Suites at my home airport--GRR. Every SpringHill Suites I have stayed in has always had a separate sitting area with a sofa, chair, and desk with chair, as well as a sink, small fridge, and microwave. A flatscreen TV on the armoire between the two areas could be rotated so it was visible from the bed or living room.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

New Philadelphia, Ohio / Holiday Inn Express

November 2012, Weekday, 2-nights, King guestroom #424

Status perks
I got to choose one beverage and one snack from the gift shop. I did not receive an upgraded room because the manager told me that the suites are all located in the center by the elevator, and I had requested a quiet room. Looking at the floor diagram on the back of the guestroom door, there are actually huge end suites at this hotel--at least there were two on my floor. The room I had been assigned was right next to a longer suite room, so it did not appear that all the suites are located by the elevator as I was told. I appreciated that the manager considered my request for a quiet room; however, I think one of the suite guestrooms would have been better soundproofed since the bed is then farther away from the door.

I included a photo of the floor diagram for guests who want to see the room layout before arrival.

This hotel has four floors, so guestroom #424 is located on the top floor. 

The guestroom is a good size and it contained a microwave and small fridge in addition to standard room amenities. There were plenty of outlets, and the lighting was good. The TV was a newer flatscreen model, and the room contained a suitcase bench.

The decor in the guestroom was pleasant and the seating was comfortable. The bathroom was a nice size with plenty of counter space. I thought the bed was too hard, and the pillows were low quality, which I have found typical in a Holiday Inn Express.

I thought the Internet connection speed was unacceptable. I had trouble submitting my online work, and had to reenter some things. This hotel was full; however, I had this trouble at 4 AM too, when I would not expect as many guests to be using the service.

Food & Beverage
Breakfast both mornings included: breads, milk, juices, yogurt, cereals, fresh bananas, sausage gravy with biscuits, and the HIX pancake maker and cinnamon rolls. One morning, the egg item was cheesy omelets, and the next morning it was scrambled eggs. The room was comfortable and clean.

Business center
There were two working computers and a printer in the business center. The equipment worked fine, although a mouse pad would definitely have helped! I have never had so much trouble trying to control the mouse as I did on these computers.

Fitness center
The fitness center contained three working cardio machines and a flatscreen TV. It did not open until 6 AM, and the lock was programed, so the room was not accessible before then.

Misc. and overall
This is either a new building or a completely gutted and rebuilt Holiday Inn. I found information about an older Holiday Inn at this address before my stay. The entire facility looked new. There are several restaurants nearby. A Bistro and Mexican restaurant are located next door. I would not recommend the Mexican restaurant. It was clean and nice looking; however, the food was not very good or authentic. Restaurants across the streets included: Texas Roadhouse, Long John Silvers, Hog Heaven, Burger King, and Denny's.

There is a Hampton Inn next to Texas Roadhouse across the street. If I needed to stay in this area again, I would probably choose this Holiday Inn Express again as long as I did not have a huge amount of work to enter online. The Hampton Inn looked like a basic Hampton Inn, and the building was older than this Holiday Inn Express. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Grand Rapids, Michigan / JW Marriott

September 2012, Weekend, King concierge guestroom #2311

I gave a review of this property in February and April 2011, so this review is only a brief report of differences from those stays.

Status perks
This was my first stay at this hotel as a Platinum member. I had Gold status at the time of my other stays. The only difference in treatment was the Marriott offering of bonus points or an onsite amenity. I chose the amenity--merlot wine and cheese--which was a better value than I have received at other hotels. Usually, the wine is a half bottle, and the JW delivered a full 750 ml bottle of Canyon Road with the cheese plate.

Guestroom 2311
This guestroom is a non-corner city view room. It offers an excellent view of Rosa Parks Circle. I observed only one difference in the guestroom from my previous stays. The brand of bathroom amenities had changed--Aromatherapy Associates brands were provided this stay.

At check-in, I asked the agent if he had been able to give me a corner room, and he said that there were not any available on the concierge floors. He said he could give me a corner room on the 12th floor, and still code my key for concierge floor access, if I wanted. I initially said I wanted to do this, and then changed my mind after seeing the room on the 12th floor. The corner rooms I have been in on the concierge floors do not have connecting room doors; the corner rooms on the 12th floor do. And, even though 12 floors seems like a decent height, the view from the 12th floor is not nearly as great as the view from the concierge floor rooms. The corner room on the 12th floor had a river view; however, the fireworks would not have been fully visible from this room because other buildings would have obstructed the view.

Food & Beverage
The cheese plate delivered with the wine was excellent, and we also ordered a Club Sandwich from room service. The order taker happily accommodated my request for a different bread type when I placed the order. The sandwich was excellent quality and a great price--only $11.34 with the 20% delivery tip added--although it did not arrive within the stated time. I had been quoted a delivery time of "no later than 11 PM," which was about 34 minutes from the time I had placed the order, and it arrived at about 11:07 PM. The room service server apologized for the delay during delivery; however, I probably would not have placed the order, if I had known it was going to be over 40 minutes before it was delivered.

Concierge lounge
The concierge lounge offered similar foods and beverages as I have listed in my previous reviews, although the food items were not as impressive this time. There was not any sushi or seafood this evening, and the hot food item was not as good as the pot stickers we had during a previous stay. It was some kind of dough puff pieces that were not stuffed with anything substantial. The beverages and service were both excellent, as has always been our experience at this hotel. Beer and wine is complimentary, and high quality mixed drinks cost $5.

Our stay was during the Celebration on the Grand, and the view of the fireworks from the lounge was fabulous. Staff members turned out the lights in the lounge when the fireworks started for even better viewing.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Sacramento, California / Fairfield Inn & Suites Sacramento Airport Natomas

August 2012, One-night, Weekday, King suite #318

Status perks
As a Platinum member, the agent at check-in asked if I wanted bonus points or an item from the gift shop. I did not initially receive an upgraded room, or even my preferred guestroom type. I was assigned a guestroom with two double beds, which I did not realize until after I arrived at the room. I then returned to the front desk to ask if a king room was available. My profile preferences are for a king room on a high floor; however, I had booked the least expensive room type at the last minute. I had checked out of the nearby Homewood Suites with the hopes of catching an early flight home. That did not work out, and I had a room reserved at this hotel, just in case.
view from entrance hall

Guestroom #318
This king suite is located next to the elevator, and the head of the bed was against the same wall. I was worried that the elevator noise might be bothersome; however, I did not hear any noise from the elevator or from the hallway at any time during my stay.

dry bar
There was a short hallway into the guestroom where the dry bar items were located: microwave, mini-fridge, and single serve coffee maker with dry condiments. The spacious bathroom was also located off this hall, next to the entrance door. The heavy bathroom door would not stay open. Fortunately, there was a footpad on the door, so I could prop it open. This may have also helped block out any hallway noise, since the door opened across the front of the entrance door.

The living room area included a couch, soft chair, desk and chair, end and coffee tables, lamps, a flatscreen TV, and plenty of storage cupboards. There was an ethernet cord and telephone on the desk. A second telephone was on a nightstand in the bedroom.

The bedroom area contained a second flatsceen TV in a stand with more storage,  a suitcase bench, nightstands with lamps and an alarm clock, a closet, and king size bed. There were plenty of outlets in the living room; however, there were not any visible outlets in the bedroom. There was one available outlet behind the nightstand, although it was not easy to reach.

The guestroom was clean, and the bedding and amenities were satisfactory.

Food & Beverage
I checked out of this hotel before breakfast was setup in the morning. In the dining area, I observed fresh apples in a bowl,  and the locked beverage and sandwich cooler had been unlocked, although there were not any breakfast sandwiches out yet at 4 AM. Since I live in the eastern time zone, 4 AM is not really that early for me.

I had returned my rental car when I tried to catch a flight home the day before, so my evening dining choices were limited. I saw three choices within walking distance: a truck stop type restaurant across the expressway on/off road, Burger King, and Black Bear Diner. Employees at the hotel had told me that the Black Bear Diner was fantastic. It was acceptable, although I would not classify it as fantastic or even good. I guess it depends what you like. I think if I had ordered a burger, I would have liked the food better. I should have followed my instincts and ordered a burger after seeing the many burger choices on the menu. Other than the plethora of burger choices, this restaurant was just like Cracker Barrel (not a restaurant I would normally choose to dine in), right down to the corn muffins, and the "pay at the register on your way out" setup. I do think that this restaurant was probably the best choice of the three located near this hotel.

Fitness center
The fitness center contained a couple of cardio machines, and a working TV on the wall. It overlooked the outside pool. The room smelled kind of musty, and it was extremely hot. I observed an air freshener on the drinking fountain in the fitness center. Another drinking fountain was located in the hallway outside the fitness center.

Business center
Two computers and a printer were located on a counter in the lobby across from the front desk. I observed tape and paper clips in the area, although other business supplies were not provided. I used a stapler and scissors at the front desk.

I had to wait until 3 AM the morning of my departure to find out if I would be able to get on the first flight out of SMF for no charge (the flight I had booked was not until afternoon). Before I went to bed the night before, I told the front desk agent that I might want to get on the first airport shuttle at 4 AM, and that I would not know until morning. I asked if this would be a problem, and I was told no. It almost did turn out to be a problem, and there were other guests that did encounter a problem trying to get on this shuttle.

After I confirmed that I could get on the early flight that morning, I called the front desk, and asked to get on the 4 AM shuttle. I went to the lobby 10 to 15 minutes early so I could print my boarding pass (and, because when I called, the employee had said that the shuttle leaves right on time!). Since the business center is located in the lobby, I overheard other guests trying to get on the same shuttle. One guest came to the lobby, and another one called. I heard the employee tell both guests that the shuttle was full, and that the next one did not leave until 4:30. The guest in the lobby hung around just in case. After we were all on the bus (8 of us and our luggage), they squeezed the guest waiting in the lobby on board too. During this time, the employees kept saying that the shuttle holds nine, and that it was full.

It was a good thing that the airport was not too far away, because the bus barely held nine. We were packed in that bus, and all of the guests were of average size; we did not have any oversized passengers on board.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sacramento, California / Homewood Suites Sacramento Airport Natomas

August 2012, Weekday, 3-nights, King studio #329

Status perks
I received the bonus points I have chosen for my on-property benefit. 
kitchen view from couch

The guestroom was a standard Homewood Suites studio suite on the top floor. I had originally been assigned a studio suite on the second floor overlooking the courtyard. My profile preferences are for a high floor room away from the elevator. Since top floor rooms tend to be quieter, I inquired if a top floor room was available at check-in. The agent said he could reassign me to this room, but that it was on the expressway side of the building.
view from entrance

I happily accepted the top floor room. The courtyard view is nicer; however, when a hotel is full (as this one was), guests often congregate in the courtyard after the evening social, and traffic noise does not usually bother me.

view from couch--bathroom on right
The kitchen area of the guestroom contained a sink and dishwasher with supplies, full size fridge, microwave, stovetop, dishes in the cupboard, coffeepot with supplies, and a table with two chairs. Microwave popcorn was not provided, as it usually is. When I asked about this at the front desk later, I was told that the hotel was out of popcorn, and that I could choose an item from the gift shop.
view from bed

A full size sofa, desk and chair, and flatscreen TV on an armoire, were located between the kitchen area and the king size bed. Two nightstands, lamps, an alarm clock, and a telephone were located next to the bed. The two large windows had screens in them, and they could be opened.

The bathroom shower area contained the toilet, and a tub with shower. The bathroom vanity, and a large closet with glass doors, were both located outside this area.

outside bathroom area
The bed was comfortable, and it was quiet in the guestroom. The lighting was good, and there were plenty of outlets available. There was an ethernet cord and second telephone provided on the desk.

My guestroom was not cleaned after my first stayover night. It is possible this had something to do with the guestroom change I had made at check-in. I had to call the front desk after arriving in my guestroom because I could not access the Internet with this guestroom number, so it appeared as though they did not change their records correctly after the room reassignment. I inquired about housekeeping when I went to the front desk to get coffee for the second morning, and the agent said he would take care of it. My guestroom was cleaned the next day.

Food & Beverage
Complimentary freshments each evening included: fresh salad, soda, beer, and wine. I did not notice what kind of beer was available, although I did observe Coke brand cans with ice for the soda option.

The salad was fresh, and the topping ingredients were slightly varied each night. I thought the salad offering was good. Hot food items were also served each evening. Chicken was served the first night, meatball subs the next evening, and chili with fries the last night. The hot food containers looked scarce as the evening progressed. Items were well stocked when the evening social began; however, when I went to the lodge room a couple of times more than an hour after the evening social had started, I observed empty or nearly empty serving dishes. I did not stick around to see if or when these were refilled.

Breakfast in the morning consisted of: scrambled eggs, potatoes, breads, cereals, cut/canned fruit, fresh bananas, milk, juices, coffee, and tea.

Fitness center
The fitness center contained three cardio machines with cardio theater. One of the treadmills did not work the first day, and all of the machines had been turned off the second day that I tried to use them. The employee at the front desk that morning was able to get both treadmills working, although he could not get the stair stepper to work. He commented that this happens infrequently enough for him to forget how each machine operates. The posted sign on the fitness center said that it did not open until 6 AM; however, there was already one guest using the room when I arrived at 5:30 the first morning. Another guest also arrived before 6 AM that day. The fitness center is not close to any guestrooms.

Pool and outside area
This hotel has an outside pool, hot tub, basketball hoop, grills, and plenty of spacious sitting areas. I was only outside in the courtyard once to do some work on my laptop. The Internet connection was good in the courtyard, and the table seating was comfortable. Although I did not use any of the other amenities, everything looked clean and well maintained.

This hotel is a newer hotel in an area that was still being built up at the time of my stay. It offered easy access to the expressway and main roads without a lot of traffic. There is a Holiday Inn Express and a Hampton Inn next door, and a couple restaurants within walking distance. Most of the restaurants were chain type restaurants (Sizzler, iHop, KFC, Panda Express…), although there was also one unique restaurant [Malabar] where I dined one day. I had the Mahi Mahi from the lunch menu, which was excellent.

The hotel has an airport shuttle, although I did not use it.

Schaumburg, Illinois / Chicago Marriott Schaumburg

August 2012, Weekday, 1-night, King concierge guestroom #1425

Status perks
I had booked a basic hotel room with a category 1 - 4 certificate, and received an upgrade to a concierge guestroom.

The guestroom was a basic guestroom with the addition of a small portable fridge. I think the refrigerator was in the guestroom because I have "refrigerator preferred" checked on my Marriott profile. It did not look like there were refrigerators in all of the guestrooms on this floor when I walked by guestrooms with the doors propped open by housekeeping (the fridge was by the guestroom entrance door).

Guestroom furnishings included a king bed, flatscreen TV on a storage unit/armoire, desk and chair, safe in the desk drawer--large enough for a small laptop, soft chair and footstool, small end table, floor lamp, two nightstands, and lamps on all the tables.

A folding luggage rack, iron, ironing board, and bathrobe were in the open (doorless) closet by the entrance door. A small counter next to the closet area and across from the bathroom, contained a single serve coffee maker with coffee, condiments, tea, and two bottles of water. The room had good lighting and plenty of available outlets.

This guestroom is near the middle of the hallway. It was well soundproofed and comfortable.

Food & Beverage
We had one round of beverages and a sandwich in the bar. The service and food quality were both excellent.

Pool & outside areas
We chose this hotel for the outside pool, because we wanted to relax the last night of our vacation. Unfortunately for us, the weather did not cooperate. After a week in the 90s, the temperature dropped, and the sky was 100% cloudy during our stay. This hotel has an inside and outside pool, and the hot tub is located inside. The hot tub was a good temperature, although we would have enjoyed it more, if it had been outside. The seating in the outside pool area was decent. There were a few tables with chairs, and several comfortable looking loungers. We sat at one of the tables for a short time, but didn't stay long. The pool temperature must have been acceptable, because we observed a couple of kids using the outside pool even though it was not hot outside.

Concierge lounge
Even though the lounge room is not overly spacious, we did not have any trouble finding a place to sit in the morning or in the evening. The seating was comfortable. Unfortunately, I did not finish this review immediately after our stay, and I do not remember the specifics of the food items. I know that we did not have shrimp (as I had read by another guest before this stay), or any other fantastic items. I do recall that I overheard some guests complaining about only being able to get one or two bottles of water a day. I did not think their complaint was justified, since there were also two bottles of water in the guestroom, which were restocked everyday.

This hotel is located in a quiet business park area. There is plenty of parking onsite, and there is no charge for parking. I observed the shuttle from the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center waiting near the entrance when we checked out in the morning. The Renaissance was full the day that we stayed at the Marriott, and it appeared as though the driver was there to pick up guests to shuttle over to the Convention Center. I think this Marriott would be a great location to stay for business or leisure, and I would definitely choose this hotel again.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Original Wisconsin Duck Tour and Upper Dells Scenic Tour

August 2012 

Duck boats
I originally thought we would book the Wisconsin Duck Tour with a 20% coupon I had, and then decide if we wanted to take another tour later. We ended up booking the package Duck Tour and Upper Dells Scenic Tour. Booking the package was a better deal than purchasing the tickets separately, because the cost was then 50% off for the second set of tickets. If you are not interested in more than one tour, I received the 20% off coupon by subscribing to Wisconsin Dells Deals via email. I was not able to use the 20% discount with the package discount.
View from our seat-Duck boat

The Original Wisconsin Duck Tour departs from the location on Wisconsin Dells Parkway, which is about 2 miles north of the Hilton Garden Inn where we were staying. It is on the same side of the road, and there is a sidewalk, so we decided to walk there. When we bought our tickets, we were told that the Duck Tour departs every 10 - 15 minutes. We observed a tour departing when we arrived around 9:20 - 9:25 a.m. 

Because we were the first passengers for the next tour out, we were able to sit right up front where we had a better view; however, we did not depart 10 - 15 minutes later. It was 1/2 hour later before the boat was filled, and the tour did not leave until all of the seats were filled, which was just before 10 a.m.

View from Duck tour

The ride was informative and fun. We had a great view, although I thought we would have been better off if we had taken a seat in the back. The diesel fumes every time the boat went in the water were quite strong. My husband seemed to think that this would be around us no matter where we had been seated. We went in and out of the water a few times, sightseeing by land and water. We observed deer during one of our trips through the woods on land, and that is the only wildlife we saw.
Duck boat route--
Up the river, back out on land,
and down the hill back into the water

Other than the fact that we waited so long before departing, this was an enjoyable excursion. If you are only interested in the Duck Tour, and purchase tickets with a 20% discount, this is a great value. The tour was a little over an hour long.

Lower Dells-Duck tour

Upper Dells boat
The Upper Dells Scenic Tour departs from downtown, and there is a shuttle between the two locations. We did not go on the scenic tour first because that trip did not start until 10 a.m. If we had known that the Duck Tour was not going to leave until 10:00, we would have taken the shuttle downtown and gone on the scenic tour first. I imagine the Duck Tour fills up quicker later in the day, and therefore, rides probably do head out every 10 to 15 minutes in the afternoon. 

Upper Dells

We were told that the Scenic Tour leaves every 20 to 30 minutes, and again we waited until the boat was nearly full before departing. A boat had just departed, and it was 45 minutes later before the next boat was almost full. I think if we had reversed the order of our trips, we still would have waited up to 45 minutes for the Scenic Tour to depart, and then only 10 to 15 minutes for the Duck Tour.

If it is a hot day when you are going on the Scenic Tour, I definitely suggest a trip in the morning or late in the day, rather than in the middle of the afternoon like we did. The Scenic Tour boat travels in the sun with no cover (unless you sit inside the boat on the lower level where the view is not as good). It was very hot with almost no breeze on the top of the boat. Since the Duck Tour travels through the woods, and there is a cover/roof on the boat, you can be in at least partial shade on that tour.
Upper Dells 2nd stop

The seats on top of the boat for the Upper Dells Tour were webbed lawn chairs, which were connected to each other, and not to the floor. There were three chairs on each side, with a skinny aisle in the middle. Since most people travel in pairs, there were a few empty seats in the center. There was not much room between the chairs, and I was surprised that there was not a weight limit posted for roof seating because the web chairs were not high quality, nor were they very sturdy.

Since the chairs were not attached to the floor, and it was such close quarters, the rows of connected chairs were bumped by almost every passenger going to the front of the boat. The chair sections slid back and forth every time this happened. And, since the chairs were such low quality, I observed one oversized passenger pop a bolt out of a chair when he sat down, and then he sat sideways in the broken chair for the remainder of the trip. The size of the seats on top of the boat reminded me of folding chairs. The cushioned bench seats inside the boat looked comfortable, although we did not try them. 
Second stop--Upper Dells

This tour had a couple stops, which we enjoyed. There was a restroom and a concession stand at both stops. They told us that the second stop was a difficult and steep walk, but we did not think it was that bad. A few of the passengers on our boat had difficulty walking, and everyone was able to walk the route without any problems.
Upper Dells

This was supposed to be a 2-hour excursion, and our trip was about 15 minutes longer than that. The extra time was not too much of a problem, except that it was way too hot to be on top of the boat. It was 90+ degrees and mostly sunny the day of our tour. I was surprised that we did not travel faster on the return trip since we were a bit over on our time, and it was so hot out. We certainly would have appreciated a stronger breeze and less time in the heat!

We did not have any real complaints or compliments about either trip. Both excursions were "okay" and mildly enjoyable. With the discount, our cost was around $70 for two people for both trips. That was not counting tips or purchases, which were pushed on both tours.