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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lafayette, Louisiana--LFT airport / Homewood Suites

March 2012, Weekday, 3-nights, 2-Queen bedroom suite #326

Status perks
I did not receive any perks as a Gold member. In fact, I did not even receive the room type listed in my profile.

I was first assigned guestroom 316. I asked about a room on the top floor since this hotel has four floors, and I was told that there were not any rooms available on that floor. I explained that I prefer a room on the top floor because I like to be in a quiet area (I had also written this in my reservation details when making my reservation online). Since I was staying three nights, I then inquired whether the guestroom I was being assigned had a connecting door because I can usually hear my neighbor through connecting doors. The agent said that it did, so she moved me to room 320.

When I entered guestroom 320, I saw that it had two Queen beds, and a connecting door. My profile says one King bed, and the only reason I would have reserved a Queen or two beds when traveling by myself, is if there were no King rooms available, or if the price was considerably more for a King room. I did not recall reserving a Queen room, although I assume I must have. I was frustrated that I had forgotten to confirm my room type during check-in (sometimes  different room types are available at the time of arrival than what was available during the reservation process). As I stood in the doorway and contemplated whether to return to the front desk, a housekeeper who had been at the front desk, came to my room with my welcome letter. She saw the connecting room door, and said she would call the front desk for me. The front desk agent told her to take me to guestroom 326. The housekeeper let me in the next room with her master key, and I returned to the front desk to get a new key a short time later. I appreciated that the housekeeper took the initiative to assist me; however, I did not have a chance to inquire about the guestroom bed type because of this. This was not a huge deal for me, and suite 326 was father down the hall--away from the elevator and hall traffic, and it did not have a connecting room door, so I settled in. 

The guestroom amenities were the same as I have always had at a Homewood Suites: kitchenette with full size refrigerator, sink, dishwasher, full size coffee pot with coffee, popcorn, cupboards with dishes, small table with two chairs; living room with couch, chair, end and coffee tables, flatscreen TV, and desk and chair; separate bedroom with two queen beds, second flatscreen TV, and nightstand with alarm clock. This guestroom had a folding luggage rack in the closet, which is often not provided in extended stay hotels like this.  

The bed was comfortable, and the bedding was clean. I checked the bed right away, because I did not think the guestroom looked clean. There was debris on the carpet and in the corners. I have uploaded a couple photos of the floor dirt at the bottom of this heading. I must have neglected to take a photo of the living room. I had hoped the floors would be cleaned on stayover; however, housekeeping got worse before I checked out. I always pick up after myself, and start the dishwasher before I leave the guestroom for the day. Usually, housekeeping puts the dishes away when I do this and leaves new supplies. I do not expect this; however, I appreciate this when it happens, and I always leave a tip. The first day, housekeeping made my bed, changed the towels, emptied the wastebaskets, and left replacement coffee and popcorn, although the floors had not been cleaned. The second day, the only thing someone did was remove used towels from my room, and empty the wastebaskets. I did not receive replacement towels (fortunately, I had enough towels for my use, including enough bath towels to use one for a floor mat). I did not receive any coffee, and the bed had not been made (I had pulled the covers up, and the first day, housekeeping had completed and straightened the bedding. The second day, the bed was as I had left it). 

This suite is in a fairly quiet location. I was glad it was located farther down the hall, because it is on the side of the building overlooking the courtyard. The first night, I could hear guests playing basketball after I went to bed, so I was glad I had decided not to stay in one of the first two suites, which are located closer to the basketball court.

An Internet connection cable was provided on the desk, so I had a good connection when using that. When I tried to use my webcam with the wireless connection, it would not stay connected for very long. The TV in the bedroom worked fine; however, most of the local channels did not come in on the one in the living room. There was bad weather with tornado warnings during my stay, so I wanted to keep the local news on. The TV in the living room said "no signal" for the same channels that came in on the bedroom TV. At least I had the second TV! There were plenty of outlets in the guestroom, and a decent hairdryer was provided. 

 Food & Beverage
The included breakfast was acceptable, although nothing to rave about. Food items included every morning were: scrambled eggs, waffle maker, oatmeal, cold cereals, and breads/pastries. Alternating items included hash browns, sausage, and I do not recall the other items. There were not many healthy options.
chicken and salad

Beer, wine, soda, and fresh salad were served every evening of my stay (Monday - Wednesday). The red wine was not too bad--Canyon River Cabernet, I think it might have been. The salad items were fresh with good quality spring greens. Alternating items were: meatloaf with instant mashed potatoes, two types of chicken, croissants, and vegetables. Again, I thought the food items (other then the salad) were acceptable at best.

Business center
The business center was equipped with two computers, two printers, and all necessary office supplies--tape, stapler, paper clips, etc. I printed a document from one of the computers; however, I was not able to get the one located on the side facing the front desk to print. The printer was stocked and ready, and the document said it had been sent to the correct printer; however, it never printed. I thought maybe it did not print because the printer was in sleep mode, yet it still did not print after I manually woke the printer up.

Fitness center
There were several cardio machines with cardio theater and also hand weights in the fitness room. Everything worked great, and I never had a problem getting a vacant machine. The room also contained towels, sani-wipes, a fresh water cooler, and scale. It was open 24 hours. 

Shuttle & misc.
The shuttle service was prompt when I returned my rental car, and when I departed the next day. I observed people waiting for the Hilton shuttle before me when I called, and they were still waiting when my shuttle arrived. They spoke to the Homewood Suites driver with the hopes that he was also driving to the Hilton. The hotels are located on different streets, and do not share a shuttle bus.

There are many airport hotels in the same general area as the Homewood Suites. Holiday Inn Express, Staybridge Suites, and the Marriott Courtyard were all pretty close to the Homewood, and the Crowne Plaza and Hilton were just around the corner on Pinhook Rd. When I made my reservation, I had thought I'd prefer a larger room since I was staying three nights; however, after my stay, I wished I had chosen the Crowne Plaza or Hilton instead. There was not anything so wrong at the Homewood Suites, that I would classify my stay as unacceptable, although I did think it was subpar compared to other Homewood Suites I have stayed in.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Carnival Miracle -- 8-night Eastern Caribbean cruise from Port Everglades

March 2012 from Fort Lauderdale

View from Jeep excursion


This was our second experience with VIP status. The first time in Seattle was quite unorganized, and I was surprised when the experience at Port Everglades was not much better. I hate to be the kind of person who questions what I am told and keeps track of everything to make sure I am getting what I paid for and what I expect; however, our past two experiences have made us think we will need to do that next time. This was our experience with VIP check-in:

The lines were not very long when our cab driver dropped us off after 11 a.m. The VIP security line was located at the far end of the baggage drop area with no signage telling how to get to it. We were somewhat familiar with this port, so we looked around, found the area, and figured out how to get there with no assistance from a Carnival representative (we did not see anyone except the porters in the baggage drop area). As we went through security, we heard an announcement for VIP boarding and then some Zone boarding. After we exited security, we started to enter the VIP check-in area, as did the guests in front of us who had also went through the VIP security lane. They were directed out, and then we showed our VIP boarding pass to the representative who also directed us to the same check-in line. The line was not very long, and we thought maybe the process was changing since boarding had started. 

After we stood in line for several minutes, I began to think this was not the correct process, and then I noticed that other guests around us were holding boarding passes that did not say VIP on them. When it was our turn to check-in, the agent tried to give me a Zone 13 card! I told her I did not want the card because we had a VIP boarding pass. She then told me we needed to go to the VIP room, and she pointed across the room where we had tried to enter to begin with. I said that we did not want to wait in line again. Although the agent directing guests was no help, the employee working behind the counter was. She checked us in, then escorted us to the VIP room to get our Sail & Sign cards, and then through the entrance to board. 

Every time we have been to Port Everglades for prior cruises, a Carnival representative was greeting guests, looking at boarding passes, and directing guests properly. We did not experience this on our last two cruises. I had thought maybe this was a Seattle problem; however, after this check-in experience, it seems like Carnival representatives are no longer directing guests like they used to.

Aft balcony cabin 7300, category 8N

balcony #7300
This cabin was pretty much the same as any other aft cabin that we have had. There was a couch across from the vanity/counter area, and it had a deep balcony. There was one lounge chair and one sitting chair on the balcony along with a small table.

This ship had been refurbished just a few weeks before our cruise. Everything is the stateroom looked new, or at least in excellent condition--flatscreen TV, cupboards, walls, and shower--except for the carpet. The carpet was not in poor shape; it just did not look like it had been replaced when the ship was refurbished.

Prior to this cruise, I have always preferred the side premium balcony rooms with a longer balcony, and my husband has preferred the back rooms. Because of this, we usually alternate between a side cabin and a back cabin. After this cruise, my husband decided he prefers the premium balcony rooms on the side too--yay! 

Food & Beverage

This ship had typical Carnival dining venues--Lido buffet, Grill, Deli, and 24-hour Pizzeria on Lido deck, sushi bar, room service, dining rooms, and coffee shop and steakhouse for a charge--with a couple of differences.

There was no Fish 'n Chips by the steakhouse, which I had thought used to be on the Spirit (when we cruised to Hawaii), and on the Legend. Either Carnival has removed that dining venue, or I am mistaken about which ships have this. This ship had food available for delivery in the Serenity area on sea days, which is the first time I have seen this. A server stopped with a menu, so we decided to try a sandwich and a wrap one day. It was nice to have the food delivered; however, the sandwiches were not as good as the ones from the Deli. The food was served immediately in a plastic container, so it must have been prepared ahead of time. It was similar to pre-made sandwiches that can be purchased in convenience stores or airport kiosks or markets. The meal included a small salad with fresh baby greens.

Assigned time dining was located in the lower dining room on deck 2, and anytime dining guests were seated in the upper dining room on deck 3. The menu was similar to previous cruises, with the addition of "comfort foods." Crab legs, like we had on our last cruise to Alaska, were not on the menu any of the days, so that item must only be on Alaskan cruises. This was an 8-day cruise with two formal/elegant nights. Lobster was only on the menu the first elegant evening; however, prime rib was on the menu both times.

The breakfast menu did not have any changes from other Carnival cruises, and we ate in the dining room once for lunch. I thought the dining room decor was very cool, although one of our table mates did not like it.

I was disappointed that Korbel was no longer listed on the lounge menus. I did not notice this the first couple times that I ordered a glass at the start of the week. After a few days, I saw that this was not listed on the menu, and I was not able to get it in some of the lounges. It appeared as though this was being changed over, and was only available until the supply was depleted.

Pool and Outside areas

A serenity deck had been added to the Miracle shortly before our cruise. The serenity deck, and the other pool areas were usually quite full every sea day. The serenity deck on this ship was at the back, and consisted of only one deck. It did not include near enough cabanas or soft loungers. If you wanted a cabana or soft lounger during a sea day, you needed to get out before 6 or 7 AM to save one. I have seen hammocks on other ships in the serenity area, although there were not any hanging on this ship during our cruise.

The serenity area on the Miracle was not much different than the aft pool area on Spirit class ships. The only differences were - the loungers had cushions, cabanas and cushioned couches had been added, the ice cream and pizza stations had been moved into the dining area, and a towel counter had been added. There were signs that said that the serenity area is for guests 21 and over. This was not enforced the day we boarded; however, it was after that.

There was a small jogging track on the top forward deck where the basketball hoops and mini-golf were located. This was open the first sea day, and then it was closed for a few days because of the high winds. After that, it was open again for the remainder of the cruise. I was surprised that seaside theater had not been added when the ship was refurbished.

Bloody Mary, Mimosa, and Screwdriver morning specials were offered every sea day morning until noon. These were a good value compared to the regular price.

Lounges and Entertainment

We had two comedians on board at the start of the cruise, and a different comedian boarded after our first port of call. We saw both of the first two comedians in Madhatter's Lounge at the start of the cruise, and both shows were good. I loved the decor in Madhatter's Lounge, and wish I had taken more photos of the room. The schedule for the second comedian was not conducive for early dining guests. One show was scheduled before the show in the showroom ended, and the second show was full when we tried to enter after the showroom show, and we were not allowed to enter. The comedian was on again the next night; however, that was also the last night of the cruise, so we had packing and other things going on. If you want to see the comedy show at the end of the cruise, make sure to arrive early.
main showroom stage

We went to two shows in the showroom--a ventriloquist, and the Beetles show. Both were great! We liked the live band in Frankie and Johnnie's; however, this was also a smoking lounge, so we only visited twice. It seems like the best live bands are always in the smoking lounge. The karaoke band in Madhatter's Lounge was also excellent.

Ports of Call and Shore Excursions

We booked the Golden Eagle Sail and Snorkel tour through Carnival before our cruise at our first port of call in St. Maarten. This was a 3.5 hour tour departing at 1:15 PM for $79.99 per person. Our cruise time was changed to 12:30 ahead of time, which we liked, because we preferred the 12:30 departure time. I had read many positive reviews about this excursion, so I was excited. This excursion was advertised as follows: Experience one of the biggest, fastest and best-looking sailing catamarans in the whole Caribbean.

  • Stop at a quiet cove to snorkel in the crystal clear waters or bob around on a beach float.
  • Explore caverns or dive through coral formations teeming with fish.
  •  Stop on a fabulous pink sandy beach, one of the finest you will see in the Caribbean.

St Maarten
Based on the description, we expected to stop in a cove to snorkel, and then at a beach. I had read that the snorkeling wasn't the best, so we didn't expect much in that regard. We thought the sail and experience would be great anyway. Details, of course, said that this may be changed due to weather conditions. There were not any weather conditions the day of our excursion--it was a perfect sunny Caribbean day with a light breeze. After this excursion, we have decided not to do any more sailing excursions. Every one we have been on is mostly about the rum punch, and is never as nice as advertised. We did not think this excursion was worth the money, and I would not recommend it.

Here are the details of our excursion day: We had to remove our shoes before boarding--even if wearing boat shoes. I expected this because I had read this comment by other reviewers; however, it was still kind of yucky to use the restroom without shoes on, I thought. The sailboat was nice enough; however, the table where we sat had not been cleaned, so we could not set anything on it. After we left the dock, a crew member raised the back sail, and we motor-sailed to the beach. They did not put any sails up for the trip back. Crew members mostly texted on their iPhones and smoked on the back of the boat for the trip out. Made me wonder why we left them a tip at the end. Make sure to choose a seat forward of the galley, if you don't want to be near the smokers.

We anchored at the beach, and stayed there for a little over 1.5 hours. The beach was beautiful; unfortunately, we had only brought our underwater camera, so I don't have any beach photos. Some people snorkeled around the rocks just off the beach, and the snorkeling was better than we expected. Refreshments included rum punch, beer--Coors Light and Presidente, water, juice, and french roll type sandwiches. The sailboat paused in front of Maho Beach where the planes land, on the way out and on our return, which was kind of cool. Must be this was our stop instead of the "quiet cove to snorkel." We arrived back at the dock, and were all off the ship well before 4:00 PM, so our excursion was actually less than 3.5 hours. Since most of this excursion was spent at the beach, we thought it would have been a better value, if we had just taken a cab to the beach and back.

St Lucia beach and Jeeps
In St Lucia, we had not planned anything beforehand. We had brought a printed map of the port, and initially planned to do something on our own. Here is a link to a Castries St. Lucia map.

road to beach
After we read the shore excursions again, we decided to book the 4 x 4 Jeep Getaway. This was a 4-hour Jeep tour with a stop at a private beach for $55.99 per person. We thought this was an excellent excursion that delivered exactly what was described. We had a great group of people in our Jeep, and it was not too crowded or uncomfortable. A local guide rode in back with us, and provided a narrated tour. We made several brief stops to take photos, and we stopped at a small market before arriving at the private beach. The trail back to the beach was a bit rough, but not bad. Refreshments included rum punch (surprise!), beer, water, soda pop, and fresh coconut. This tour was from 9 AM - 1 PM, so you may want to pack a sandwich or something, if you want more than a few slivers of coconut to eat.

In St. Kitts I had found information online about a resort within walking distance where we could spend the day for $10 per person, plus $2 for a towel, if you did not want to bring your own towel. The walk was less than a mile, and the view from the resort was great. We thought the walk was easy; however, if you are not a walker or adventurous, you may prefer a cab ride. The resort also contains a beautiful garden, and Shell Works gift shop. Here is a link to the resort--Palm Court Gardens, and to a port map. We decided not to bring our towels because we did not want to carry them back wet, and we planned to do some shopping on our way back to the ship.

We arrived early, spoke with an employee at the resort, got two towels, and found a nice cushioned lounger for the day. We were told we could pay with cash, or use a credit card and pay at the end of the day, so we chose that option. I thought we might have a few beverages; however, the bar choices were limited, so we ended up with only one beer on our tab. They did not have Bloody Marys, and when I asked about an iced blended beverage--like a mudslide or something--I was told that they did not have anything like that.

We stopped at a liquor store on our way back to the ship, and made one of our least expensive liquor purchases this cruise. Taxes are quite a bit in Michigan, so we purchased Absolut for $11 a liter in a shop right next to the ship. My husband also wanted to get some local rum, of course! We checked prices in the supermarket in town, and in other stores farther away from the cruise ship, and did not find better prices.


VIP debarkation--just like embarkation--was not properly executed on this cruise. We had time before our flight, so this was not a huge deal, except that it was something we had expected. Zone 1 luggage tags had been delivered to our cabin with debarkation instructions. The instructions said that VIP guests should wait in the showroom, and that we would be escorted to the exit when it was time, so we went to the showroom at the designated time. After all of the self-assist guests had left the ship, Zones 1 - 3 were announced all at once for debarkation. Since we were in the showroom, we had to walk back to the atrium to disembark. We passed a Carnival representative on our way out who may have been on her way to the showroom for VIP guests; however, it would have been too late at this time. Almost all of the VIP guests had left the showroom by the time we did, and we did not observe any guests being escorted out after we left the room. By the time we got to the exit, the area was filled with many guests who had been waiting in the atrium, so we had a bit of a line to get off, and then quite a crowd to maneuver through as we had to make our way through Zone 2 and 3 guests to get to the Zone 1 luggage area.

This was the first cruise we have returned from where the customs officials did not even look at our declaration form. She set it aside, looked at our passports, and then waved us on. Even with the confusion disembarking, we still got off the ship quite early, and could have easily made it to the 11:15 AM flight we were originally booked on. The Carnival website suggests not to book a flight before 11:30 AM, so we had changed our flight to a time after noon.


We thought the cruise was a good value, and we liked the itinerary. We did not need to tender at any of the ports, which is always nice. Fort Lauderdale is a good value airport for us to fly into, and the port is close to the airport with many hotel choices, if you choose to stay in the area before or after your cruise. I liked the Serenity deck better on other ships that we have been on where it is located on the forward decks near the Spa, because the area has more room. I also missed the poolside theater. We have enjoyed a couple good concerts on the screen under the stars on other ships.

All in all though--this was a great vacation! Our cabin steward was great, and we were able to sit at a different dining room table and dine with some new friends a couple of the evenings.    

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Fort Lauderdale, Florida -- FLL airport / Crowne Plaza

March 2012, Weekday points redemption, One-night, Presidential suite #1128

Status perks
I had reserved a regular suite with 25,000 points--the standard award amount, and received an upgrade to the presidential suite! 

The presidential suite at this hotel was a fabulous upgrade. The double door entrance, which entered into the living area, had a deadbolt lock. I was glad to see this since I have stayed in guestrooms with a double door that did not have a second lock before. 
entry & table

There was a full size fridge, small sink, microwave, and coffee maker in the kitchen area. The large living area contained a table with four chairs, a desk and chair, flat screen TV, couch, two soft chairs, and coffee table. There were plenty of outlets, and the Internet connection speed was good. All of the furnishings were comfortable and in good condition. The bathroom in the living area was located between the kitchen and living room. 

This suite contained a separate and spacious bedroom with a closing double door. There was a large suitcase bench at the foot of the bed, and a flat screen TV in the bedroom, in addition to a closet, night stands, lamps, and more outlets.

The spacious bathroom located in the bedroom included a walk-in shower--with a comfortable stone look grip floor, whirlpool tub, chic vanity, and separate toilet area. Everything was clean and well maintained.
whirlpool tub

Food & Beverage
We ordered a club sandwich to share at the bar, which was very good. It was prepared on sourdough bread with fresh ingredients, and was served with fries. The portion size was large enough to share. 

At check-in, we had received a coupon good for a free beverage with the purchase of an entree. When we were in the bar that evening, it sounded like this perk was given to all guests, and not just PCR members. The bartender let us use the coupon even though our food item was not a dinner entree. Two guests next to us used their coupon for similar food items, and after they ordered two items, the bartender deducted two beverages from their tab.

The pool is located on the 5th floor, as is the bar and restaurant. The pool chairs were comfortable, and there was cushioned seating on the patio outside the pool area. The only thing we thought the pool area was missing was a whirlpool tub, and since we had one of those in our guestroom, this did not impact our stay. We were staying at this hotel pre-cruise, and we could see the cruise ships from the patio.

Misc. and overall
The hotel shuttle was very prompt when we arrived at the airport. The hotel offers a shuttle to the cruise port; however, it is less expensive to take a taxi. Our cab ride was less than $10 before tip. Taxis do not wait at this hotel because there is no place to park. If I had known this, I would have called down ahead of time, so we wouldn't have had to wait after checking out. The wait was less than 7 minutes (the time quoted by the front desk agent), so it wasn't too bad. And, if you don't call the front desk or bell services for a cab beforehand, you may get lucky to have one nearby anyway. We met some guests at this hotel who were going on the same cruise that we did, and they told us that there happened to be a cab at the hotel when they checked out.

I observed only one restaurant very close to the hotel--Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza. If you don't mind walking, as we don't, there are other restaurants and shopping just under one mile away. We walked to the Publix shopping center (to visit the wine store) behind the Embassy Suites on 17th St. You can cut over on 20th St. from N. Federal Highway (US 1). We walked to McDonalds on the corner of 17th St. and N. Federal Highway for breakfast. Both of these walks were just under one mile one-way.

I was happy with everything at this hotel--the service, room comfort, location, food, pool area, and bar. At the last minute, I had changed our plans from a Jr. Suite at the airport Hilton (also with 25,000 points) to this Crowne Plaza because I had read some bad reviews about the Hilton. I was somewhat worried before our stay because the pool area at the Hilton looked tropical and grand. After our stay, I was happy with our decision to stay at the Crowne Plaza instead.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Chicago, IL -- MDW airport / Holiday Inn Midway

February 2012, Weekday, King guestroom #533

Status perks
I received my choice of a beverage in the bar or 500 points--I took the points, of course! I also received a bottle of water.

Even though I did not receive an upgraded room, I loved the guestroom. It was clean and comfortable. The large closet by the door contained regular hangers and a luggage rack. I prefer the suitcase benches, and there was plenty of room for one of those in the room, so maybe those will be added at some point. A counter area across from the bathroom held the ice bucket and coffee setup. Again, there was room under this counter for a mini-fridge, and room on the counter for a small microwave, although they were not present. I have stayed in other Holiday Inns with the same layout as this property that had a microwave and fridge in this area.

The bedroom area included a desk and chair, soft chair and footstool, flat screen TV, night stands with lamps, and plenty of outlets! Along with the ample outlets in the guestroom, there was an ethernet cord on the desk. The Internet connection speed was good in the guestroom, even when using the wireless. The leather furniture was comfortable, and so was the bed. I heard some airplane noise, although it was minimal and did not bother me at all.

Food & Beverage
I had salmon at the bar that evening. The food quality and service was excellent. The service and food I received at this bar was the best I'd had all week. The sides I had with the salmon were homemade slaw and sweet potato fries. I would have preferred the fries a little crispier, although they were still great. The last time I stayed at a Midway airport hotel, I ate at the restaurant/bar in the Marriott, and I thought the food quality and service was better at this Holiday Inn.

Fitness center
This was by far the nicest fitness center I have ever seen in a Holiday Inn. Not the best hotel fitness center I have ever been to, but the best one at a Holiday Inn. The large room contained about eight cardio machines with cardio theater, a flat screen TV, hand weights, a weight bench, scale, water, and towels. The temperature was comfortable and everything worked.

I did not use the pool; however, it is located next to the fitness center, and looked quite impressive for an airport hotel. There was a ping pong table and a fuse ball table in the pool area, as well as several soft chairs and tables with chairs. The fitness center and pool area looked great, so I took photos to share.

Shuttle service
The shuttle arrived promptly when I arrived in the afternoon. My return trip the next morning took slightly longer. The shuttle runs every 20 minutes, and the front desk agent at the hotel had told me that the shuttle would stop at two more hotels in the complex before heading to the airport in the morning. The shuttle actually stopped at three more hotels after guests got on at the Holiday Inn, and it took us 10 minutes before we even left the hotel complex to head to the airport. I was glad I had decided to go at the earlier time, rather than the next run, which would have been cutting it kind of close for me. After the slight delay getting to the airport, I started to remember that this had happened last time I stayed in the Midway hotel complex. I looked up my Hilton Garden Inn review from last year, and sure enough, that shuttle was later than expected getting to the airport too. MDW is a fairly easy airport to navigate, so this isn't a huge issue. I would suggest choosing the earlier run though, if you are trying to decide what time to go.

This is the third hotel I have stayed in at the Midway hotel complex, and it is my favorite so far. The other hotels I stayed in were the Hilton Garden Inn (you can find that review in this blog), and the Fairfield Inn.

Joliet, Illinois / Holiday Inn Conference Center

February 2012, Weekday, One night, King guestroom #407

Status perks
I received a coupon for complimentary hot breakfast. 

The first guestroom I was assigned (room 418, I think) on the top floor, had a connecting room door. This hotel is an older building, and since I can often hear my neighbors through connecting doors--especially in older buildings--I called the front desk to see if there was another room available, or if the room next to the one I had been assigned, was going to be empty. The clerk said that there was another room available across the hall, so I returned to the front desk for a new key.

The second guestroom was the same as the first one, except that there was no connecting door, and there was a small fridge in the room. I got the impression that a fridge could be requested, because I heard a guest checking in after me who was told that his room was ready, and that a refrigerator was in his room. It sounded like the front desk agent knew this guest.   

The carpet was old and stained in both of the guestrooms I entered, as were as the furnishings. The couch and old style TV in both rooms were the same. I did not try the couch or TV during my one night stay. A suitcase bench was located near the entrance door, under the hanging clothes rack. There was not a closet with a door in the guestroom. There was only one available outlet at the desk, and one in the bathroom. Since I did not use the fridge, I unplugged it to use that outlet. The bedding was clean, and the bed comfort was satisfactory. The Internet connection speed was also satisfactory.

Food & Beverage
My breakfast coupon was good for one of three choices--2 eggs with potatoes, meat, toast, and coffee, or an omelet with pre-chosen filling ingedients, or oatmeal. I had the 2 eggs, scrambled. The eggs were fresh, hot, and flavorful. I was surprised to receive my food so quickly after ordering because after I was seated, I waited several minutes before someone greeted me to take my order. The restaurant was pretty full, and it did not look like there were enough employees working. One employee seemed to be taking care of everyone, and another employee poured water, and then assisted when she learned what the other employee had not taken care of.

In the evening, I had a cobb salad from the dining room, which was pretty good. The topping ingredients were actually a larger quantity than needed compared to the amount of lettuce, although I did not have any serious complaints about this item. The ingredients were fresh, and the portion size was generous.

Fitness center
I thought the sign on the fitness center said it was open 24 hours; however, that is not what it says on the hotel website. The online hotel page says that the center does not open until 9AM, and I know that is not correct, because I used it around 6AM. The room was not very big. In addition to a couple cardio machines, hand weights, and a TV, the room also contained the ice and vending for floor one. 

I was the only one in the fitness center both times that I used the room, and I had to be let in both times. After trying my key several times, I went to the front desk to say that my key did not work. The agent (same employee who checked me in) said that the door is tricky, and that I needed to insert the key and then slide it to the left. He did not offer to assist me. In fact, I thought he was kind of aloof every time I spoke with him. I returned to the fitness room, and tried my key again with no success. Another guest watched me to see if I could get my key to work, and said that he had not been able to get in with his key the day before. On my way back to the front desk, I passed an employee (an engineer, maybe) who let me into the fitness center. It took him several tries with his master key to get the door open. The next morning, the same thing happened. This time, the manager was walking by and let me in. It also took him several attempts with his master key before the door opened.

This is an older building, in desperate need of refurbishing. The elevator was old, dingy, and extremely slow. Every area I observed in this hotel was somewhat rundown, with the exception of the bar and dining area. I did not visit the back of the hotel to see the outside pool area and grounds because the weather was rainy and cool at the time of my stay.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Normal, Illinois / Hampton Inn

February 2012, Weekday, 2-nights, King guest room #505

Status perks
I did not receive any perks for being a Gold member, which is typical at Hampton Inn. I have only received an upgraded room a couple of times at a Hampton, and that happened after I asked. This hotel has MANY suites. In fact, guestroom 505 was one of the few smaller rooms, according to the hotel diagram. One reason I often choose Holiday Inn Express over Hampton is because I frequently receive a fabulous upgrade to a suite with better working areas. I am surprised that Hampton Inn does not also do this, as it is good for building guest loyalty.

The guestroom was a standard size with a desk and chair, an additional soft chair, and a small fridge and microwave. Other than the bedding and the flatscreen TV, the furnishings look outdated. I liked the nice suitcase bench at the foot of the bed that is in most Hampton Inn guestrooms now.

Recently at Hampton Inns, I have observed only one telephone in the guestroom, located next to the bed. This is a good location, if you have a wakeup call set; however, it is not a good location, if you want to use the telephone while taking notes or something at the desk. I thought this room lacked sufficient outlets for charging my cell phone and other electronics. There was one available outlet by the desk, and one by the refrigerator.

The bed and bedding was comfortable; however, the guestroom was not very soundproof. I could hear guests in the room next door, and I heard their alarm go off in the morning. I was glad that my guestroom was on the top floor. The Internet connection speed was good, although I thought it was annoying that I had to enter my passcode every time, even when it had only been a few hours since the last time I had signed in. You would think my sign on would have been good for at least 24 hours. The desk work area was acceptable, although not very comfortable after an hour or so.

I liked the large tile bathroom and walk in shower. A small coffee pot was setup on a shelf in the bathroom.

Food & Beverage
Sausage gravy and biscuits, and egg omelets were served both mornings--vegetable one morning, and cheesy omelets the second morning. Other items available were: grapes, whole fruits, yogurt, cold cereals, oatmeal, breads, juices, milk, water, and coffee. The sitting area was spacious, and the seating was comfortable.

Fitness center
The posted hours for the fitness center were 6 AM - 12 AM. When I arrived the first morning just before 6:00 AM, another guest was already there working out. The next morning, I decided to go earlier, around 5:30 AM, and again someone was already there. I have sometimes stayed in hotels when the pool or fitness center doors were locked outside of the open hours; that was not the case at this hotel. I was surprised that the open hours were not enforced, since there are guestroms directly across from the fitness center on floor one.

The room contained three or four cardio machines, hand weights, and a working TV.