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Monday, April 30, 2012

Lubbock, Texas / Holiday Inn Express & Suites Lubbock West

April 2012, Weekday, 2-nights, King suite #422

Status perks
I received a bottle of water, a pack of honey grahams, and a coupon for $1 off a gift shop purchase. I had reserved a king suite because the cost was not much more, and I wanted to ensure that I would have a larger room, which is usually quieter and more comfortable. The room diagram at this hotel shows guestrooms much larger than the one I received, so I did not receive an upgraded room. I am not sure how those rooms are classified. When I made my reservation, there were three room types for the same rate (other than a standard guestroom): suite, executive, and feature. The descriptions for suite and executive rooms were the same, and the feature guestroom said it is a whirlpool tub room. 

Guestroom 422 is located on the top floor near the end of the hall. It contained a microwave, small fridge, sink, table with two chairs, couch, and coffee table. A soft chair, and desk and chair were in the bedroom area with the king size bed and flatscreen TV. The TV could be turned to view it from the couch.

The seating and working areas were comfortable and spacious, and the guestroom was clean. The guestroom was not very soundproof though, and I did not sleep well. I heard guests in the hall well past midnight both nights of my stay. The noise was off and on, so I could not determine who the offenders were to register a complaint or ask them to quiet down. I could also hear noise from guests in adjacent rooms, although that noise was minimal. Since the guestroom did not have any soundproofing, it would be nice if this hotel had a designated quiet floor.

A feature in this guestroom was the sensor light switch in the bathroom--VERY annoying! If I got up at night to use the bathroom, the light would automatically turn on when I entered the bathroom. I don't think anyone appreciates a blast of light when half asleep in the middle of the night! I did not see a way to turn the sensor or light completely off, although, I found that if I touched the switch as soon as the light came on, it would turn off. It did not stay off for the next time though--apparently, the sensor reset so that the next time I entered the bathroom, it came on again.

Food & Beverage
I thought the breakfast quality at this hotel was pitiful. The eggs tasted stale and old, and the bananas were black! I was shocked that a hotel would even put bananas that looked like that out. I don't usually eat the cinnamon rolls at Holiday Inn Express; however, since nothing else looked edible, I thought they would probably be fresh, so I had one. Even the cinnamon roll was crusty and not fresh.

Business center
There is an area near the front desk with bar type seating, and business amenities. This hotel offers remote printing, and I printed a couple documents. The provided stapler even stapled all 20 pages of my document!

Fitness center and pool
The pool and fitness center are located in a connected separate building at the north end of the hotel. You need to walk through the pool area to get to the fitness center. The pool area was not only damp; it actually smelled of mold. 

The fitness center had several problems, and was not satisfactory, in my opinion. One cardio machine did not work. The only treadmill that worked was located directly under the TV, so I was not able to watch TV while using the machine. I tried to listen to the news, but the TV channels did not have good reception anyway, and the treadmill was also noisy. The temperature in the fitness center was extremely hot. It felt like it was over 80 degrees.

Misc. & overall
I had read that this hotel is located in a great area with many restaurants, and I disagree with that. A new mall in just down the road from the hotel; however, there were only a couple fast food type dining options nearby. Restaurants located near the hotel were Starbucks, Five Guys Burgers, Cracker Barrel, and Rosa's Cafe (Mexican fast food). 

This is not a hotel that I would choose again. I was happy with the guestroom cleanliness and the business center; however, sleep quality and a working fitness center are also important to me.

Lubbock, Texas / Marriott Courtyard

April 2012, Weekday, 1-night, 2-Queen beds, Guestroom #321

Status perks
When I inquired about a king guestroom at check-in, I was told the hotel was full. I did receive a room with a nice view, which is usually my experience at a Marriott hotel.

Guestroom 321 is located on the top floor near the elevator. I heard guests off and on in the hall, even though I arrived after 10PM, although I did not hear any elevator noise from the guestroom. This room has a good sized balcony with a nice wooded view. I did not use the balcony since I arrived late at night, and left the next morning.
The guestroom contained two queen sized beds, a soft chair, flat screen TV, and desk and chair. The desk was a two-level desk, and the bottom portion is moveable. The guestroom and lobby at this hotel had been renovated to reflect the new Courtyard style.

The bathroom was an acceptable size with the vanity located outside the bathing area across from the closet. An unpleasant surprise was the open can of potato chips on the closet floor! Since the news had been reporting about the abundance of ants during my stay, I was glad I had not found any in my guestroom!

closet floor

Food & Beverage
I had the Breakfast BLT, which was not as good as I have had at other Courtyard hotels. It was not fresh--which surprised me since the hotel was full--and, it was served on plain white bread, rather than sourdough bread. Additionally, when I'd had this sandwich at the Courtyard in Bangor, ME, I was able to get it with turkey bacon, since the hotel sells a Turkey BLT lunch sandwich. When I tried that at this hotel, my order was placed with turkey Canadian bacon. The order taker did not ask me if I wanted Canadian bacon--fortunately, I heard her tell another employee she needed a BLT with Canadian bacon. I asked if that was my sandwich she was requesting, and she said yes. I told her that I wanted turkey bacon, not Canadian bacon. She said they did not have turkey bacon, so I had the sandwich with regular bacon. I would have been happy with regular bacon, if the sandwich had been prepared on fresh sourdough bread.

Fitness center
The fitness center was adequate, and I did not have any trouble obtaining a treadmill in the morning, even though there were only a couple machines.

This hotel was fairly easy to locate from the airport, even though I arrived after dark. I thought this stay was satisfactory, although not impressive.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Acadia National Park / Bar Harbor, Maine

April 2012, Easter weekend day visit

We decided to add a visit to the national park to our itinerary at the last minute, even though the park does not fully open until May. Since the park was not completely open, there was no park entrance fee; however, some of the roads were also not open either. The road to Cadillac Mountain was closed, and part of the one-way road at the end of Park Loop Road was closed. Jordan Pond was open; however, we missed that. Below is a brief recap of our April trip with some photos.

It was cool the day of our visit, and fortunately, the sun was shining brightly for most of the day! The park was not very crowded, although we did pass a few hikers and vehicles. A couple of the restrooms were open, as well as Park Headquarters on 233/Eagle Lake Road. We were not sure this would be open since we visited on Saturday. The location on 233 is listed as the winter facility with open hours on Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM - 4:30 PM. The park information online also says that the facility is closed on holidays, and since we were there on the Saturday of Easter weekend, we were surprised to find it open. The bathrooms were open at the Headquarters, and maps were available. The young man we spoke with was knowledgeable, helpful, and friendly. All of the trash containers throughout the park were closed and covered, so plan to take your trash with you at this time of year.
view from overlook
Schooner Overlook

We made several stops along Park Loop Road. Our first stop was Schooner Head Overlook, where we were able to climb down the rocks fairly close to the water.

The second set of photos are views from the rocks below the overlook. There is a foot path from the overlook to this area.

Our second stop at Sand Beach was breathtaking! We were surprised to find such calm water on the ocean, and soft sand amidst all the rocks in this area. Even though my husband has swam in Lake Superior before (which is VERY cold), he doubted he would ever swim in the water here--even in the heat of summer. The young ranger we spoke with at Park Headquarters agreed with us, and said that not many people swim here.

Our next stop was Thunder Hole. The rocks and view are beautiful here--just like all areas in the park! We observed a few puddles and wet rocks, although we did not see any thunderous splashes while we were there. There are restrooms located in the parking area across the road from Thunder Hole (not listed on the maps I had); however, they were not open in April.

Otter Cove

Park Loop Road was closed around Otter Point and Otter Cove, although Otter Cliff Road was open back to the cove. The water was calm and clear in Otter Cove, and we observed several hikers during our brief stop. We did not see any otters though!

Otter Cove

We also drove around the southwest portion of Mount Desert Island, which the ranger had told us has more camping and boating on the inland waters; however, I do not have any pictures from that area.

This park is beautiful, and definitely worth a visit--even when it's cold out. We would like to visit again when the weather is warmer, and we are able to spend more time at the park. There are many maps, reviews, and information about the park online, although I thought the materials provided at Park Headquarters was even better. Here is a link to the park website: Acadia NP

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bangor, Maine / Marriott Courtyard

view from room
April 2012, Weekend, 2-nights, King guest room #408

Status perks
I asked about an upgrade at check-in, and after the agent looked on the computer, she said that all of the suites were filled. We had a great view from our room, so even though the agent did not say anything about receiving any perks, it is likely we had been assigned a room on that side of the building because we had Gold status. Rooms on the front side of the building overlook the expressway.
view from room 

According to the room diagram on the guestroom door, most of the guestrooms are much larger than the one we received. I assume that they are rooms with two queen beds, because I could not find larger king rooms listed on the hotel website. There are rooms at this hotel described as: Extended, Larger Guest room, 2 Queen beds.

The guestroom was similar to other Courtyard hotels I have stayed in with the new style/decor. It contained a small fridge in the coffee/beverage area, king bed, wardrobe closet, nice desk and chair, couch and coffee table. I really like the two-tier desks at the Marriott hotels with the bottom piece that slides in or out for more table room. I thought the couch was comfortable, and I liked the built in end table on one end. The bed was comfortable, although the bed sheets were not deep enough because they kept coming off the corners of the mattress.

Since this room had been recently remodeled, I was surprised by some of things I saw that needed to be cleaned, like toothpaste spatters on the bathroom wall. 

The view from the room was nice, and the large window opened. The gap around the guestroom door from the hall was easily visible, and we heard quite a bit of noise from the hall. Other guests were not noisy; we merely heard doors opening and closing, and guests speaking in a normal tone of voice.

guest bathroom
Food & Beverage
We had a Turkey Rueben in the Bistro in the evening that was acceptable. I have definitely had better sandwiches, although I did not have any serious complaints about this one.

We had purchased a 2-night package for this stay, which included breakfast. The first morning, there were three or four tables with guests in the dining area when we arrived, and there were about four or five employees working in the dining area and tending to the lobby coffee. I ordered a BLT egg sandwich with turkey bacon and milk (our breakfast coupon was not good for any of the specialty coffee beverages). My husband ordered the Daybreak eggs with canadian bacon and regular coffee. He was disappointed with the coffee, and said it did not taste like Starbucks. The food was very good; however, we waited over 15 minutes for or food, which we thought was a long time. 

The second morning, we had to leave at 4:30 AM for an early flight. At check-in, I had asked the agent if there was anything she could offer in the restaurant in place of the breakfast coupons, since we would not be there for breakfast. She said no. The second afternoon, I noticed that there were breakfast items in the gift shop (granola bars and protein pacs with a hard boiled egg). Since there was a refrigerator in the guestroom, I decided to ask if any of those items were something we could use our coupons for. The same employee again said no. Getting breakfast wasn't a huge deal--I was still happy with the promotional rate we had booked--however, I was annoyed by the employee's inflexible robotic attitude. Both times, the way she immediately and flat-out said no without even thinking, made me feel like she was not even listening to my request. And, it wasn't like I was asking for some leniency or special privileges for a perk she had given me; I was asking for a substitution for something we had paid for with our room! 

Later that evening, I realized I had not been thinking clearly about the situation either. Since many of the breakfast items were sandwiches, I thought they might be pre-made. I showed our coupons to the employees at the Bistro, and said that we needed to leave before they would be open in the morning. I asked if there were any items available that we could take back to our room that evening. The two employees working in the Bistro, provided the best customer service I received at this hotel! The first employee said she would check, and she asked what I wanted. I told her our first two preferences, and then said that we would take anything that was available. After checking, she said she could give me two Sunrise Starter sandwiches, which I gladly accepted. The other employee asked which two beverages I wanted, and encouraged me by offering different juices and water when I was not sure I would take two. They also provided me with a fresh fruit cup (since the sandwiches are served with a fresh fruit cup at breakfast), even though I said they did not need to worry about getting that for me. They packaged everything, and put it in a paper to-go bag for me with a smile and thank you--wonderful! In the morning, we were able to warm our sandwiches in the microwave located in the lobby.

Public areas
There is a large public area in the lobby on the back side of the building, across from the Bistro. This area contained coffee in the morning, and had the following for use at all times: microwave, the business center, a large flat screen TV, couch, tables with chairs, and a library of books. We used the couch and a table to play cards during our stay and found the area very comfortable.

There is not anything within walking distance of this hotel, although there is a large shopping area right on the other side of the interstate with many restaurants.

Thomaston/Rockland, Maine / Hampton Inn

April 2012, Weekday, 1-night, King studio suite #401

Status perks
I did not receive any perks as a Gold member. I had booked a studio suite, so the only room type that was more expensive than what I had booked was a whirlpool room. The front desk agent did not say if there were any whirlpool rooms available, and she did not ask if I wanted one. I probably would not have wanted one anyway, unless the guestroom was more spacious and also had a couch.

Guestroom 401 was located on the top floor at the end of the hall. My favorite location--yay! The counter area at the entrance included a sink, small fridge, microwave, and coffee setup. There was a connecting room door between the entrance and sitting area. The sitting area was located at the foot of the bed. There was enough room for the two of us, although I did not think the suite was very spacious. Furnishings included: a couch, soft chair at the desk, end tables, coffee table, desk and chair (located against the wall between the couch and bed), king bed, night stands, and one flatscreen TV, which could be swiveled to view from the couch or bed. 

There were two large windows with screens, and the windows could be opened. The bathroom vanity and a closet were located outside the bathing and toilet area, which contained a tub/shower combination. I thought the guestroom furniture was kind of old, and the room did not smell fresh. This Hampton Inn was definitely not as clean or furnished as nicely as the one we had just left in Bath, Maine. 

Food & Beverage
Again, the food items at breakfast were similar to what had been served at the Hampton Inn in Bath. The hot egg item on the morning of our stay were the egg and vegetable fold-over omelets.  

Fitness center
The fitness center at this hotel was exactly as pictured on the hotel website, and everything was in working order.

Most of the lodging choices in this area are Bed and Breakfast type inns. Since I always like to accrue points when I travel, this Hampton Inn was the only choice, without having to drive back and forth from Augusta. I thought this stay was acceptable, although nothing to rave about.

I have found that many of the guestrooms at Hampton Inn recently are only furnished with one chair, which is often a straight back uncomfortable chair. I had found a decent AAA rate for this studio suite, which is why I booked this room type--I wanted to have someplace to sit besides the bed or desk chair.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Bath, Maine / Hampton Inn

April 2012, Weekday, 1-night, King study riverview guestroom #400

Status perks
view from room #400
I received an upgrade to a riverview room, which I did not realize until I started to write this review. The agent did not mention this at check-in, and I was not sure if all of the king study rooms had a river view until I checked later. A riverview room costs $10 more, and I had reserved the least expensive king study guestroom.

Guestroom 400 is located at the end of the hall on the top floor. It has a connecting door and overlooks the river. I do not think there was anyone in the guestroom next to this one, so the connecting room door did not present any noise problems. The connecting door was located across from the bathroom and closet, rather than across from the bed, so it's likely it would not have been an issue even if there had been guests next door.

The spacious guestroom contained a couch, as well as a desk and chair. I had found a good rate for this room type online, so I reserved it rather than a standard room because the standard room looked like it only contained one soft chair. The large windows could be opened, and there were screens in place.

The room had a microwave and refrigerator, which I think is in all guestrooms at this hotel. There was a suitcase bench, two night stands, and a cushioned coffee table/footstool. 

The spacious bathroom had a walk-in shower, and most of the standard Hampton Inn amenities. There is usually a moist facial cleanser pad in Hampton Inn hotels, and that is the only item I usually see that was not present. Shampoo, bath gel, bar soap, and coffee amenities were provided.
The Internet service was good, and the bed was comfortable and clean. The entire guestroom was clean, and it smelled fresh. There was one annoying thing about this guestroom--the bathroom fan/vent ran continually. There was no control for this in the bathroom; it is apparently something that is on all the time. The noise was quite loud, so we had to shut the bathroom door at night, so it did not keep us awake.

Food & Beverage
Standard Hampton Inn food items were available the morning of our stay: juices, milk, tea, and coffee; cold and hot cereal; cut and whole fruits; and a couple hot items: scrambled eggs and pre-made biscuit type sandwich halves with egg and peppers on top.

I was happy with the hotel cleanliness and sleep quality during our stay. There was an IGA grocery store next door to the hotel--which also sold beer and wine, and there were several dining choices within walking distance.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Grand Rapids, Michigan -- GRR airport / Fairfield Inn

April 2012, Weekday, 1-night, 2-Queen guestroom #305

Status perks
I did not receive anything as a Gold member; not even an acknowledgement or thank you for my business. Since the following Marriott Gold perk was touted to me with an offer to upgrade to Gold: Room Upgrade: At no additional charge, we’ll do our best to upgrade you to our best-available guest room in the next room category level. Suites are excluded. I had hoped to receive a King guestroom, or at least an acknowledgment, if one was not available.

This was one of the worst check-in experiences I have ever had. The employee did not cofirm my room type or rate, and he did not ask if I had been to the hotel before, or mention any amenities. He did not smile, and he mumbled so I had to ask him to repeat himself more than once. After he set my key packet on the counter, I asked if my room was just a basic King guestroom. He then told me that it was a double Queen room, and that the hotel was full.

Room 305 is located on the top floor near the end of the hall facing the back parking lot. The guestroom was a basic hotel room in fair condition. The carpet in the guestroom, and in the halls looked new, although the guestroom did not smell fresh. One of the bed throws was badly stained, and when I pulled back the sheets on the second bed, it had not been made up well. I had to tuck the sheets down around the mattress, so they wouldn't come off during the night.
The guestroom contained two beds, a desk and chair, and flatscreen TV placed on a low armoire. There was no seat except the desk chair, which was not very comfortable. I was surprised that there was not a luggage rack or place to set my suitcase. I had a medium size suitcase, which almost fit on the armoire beside the TV; however, there was no room to open it there. Two pleasant surprises were the coffee quality--Bold Beginnings by Royal Cup Coffee, and the bathroom amenities--Pantene shampoo and conditioner, and Vaseline lotion.

bed throw stains
The large window in the guestroom had a screen and opened fully. The bed and pillows were comfortable. I heard quite a bit of guest noise, as if someone was walking around overhead, which surprised me because this guestroom is on the top floor.

Food & Beverage
We stayed at this hotel because we had an early flight the next morning. We needed to leave at 4:30 AM, and did not expect any breakfast items to be ready at this time. I was surprised to find that an employee was already setting things up, and many food items were already available. The last time I stayed at a Fairfield Inn, the only breakfast sandwich was the unhealthy Jimmy Dean biscuit sandwich. Another pleasant surprise for me this stay, was the addition of a healthy Santa Fe whole grain pita egg sandwich.

I thought the public halls and stairways were clean, and they smelled fresh. This stay was acceptable, although I thought the AAA rate of $99 was high for the quality and type of guestroom. The entrance doors at this hotel are not power operated for easy entrance with a suitcase.

There are a few restaurants within walking distance of this hotel: Carrabba's, Hooters, Olive Garden, and Wendy's. This hotel is fairly close to the airport; however, they do not provide shuttle service.

Monday, April 2, 2012

New Mexico Road Trip

March 2010, Albuquerque area south to Texas and back

Following is a blog I wrote for a different forum back in 2010. Recent questions about this trip, made me realize I had never posted this on my own blog!

My husband and I drove over 800 miles in New Mexico. We made a big loop southward from Albuquerque. Following are some of our experiences. The hotel links will take you to detailed hotel reviews, and you can enlarge any photo by clicking on it.

In Albuquerque, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Old Town when we arrived, and at the Staybridge Suites at the airport before departing. We liked the Holiday Inn Express; however, I would probably not choose the Staybridge Suites again.

Old Town
We shopped and dined in Old Town, and the jewelry prices were better than we had expected. Turquoise is very common in New Mexico; however, we found that prices for tanzanite and mother of pearl were also very competitive. We dined at Casa de Fiesta, which is right in the center of Old Town. The service was very good, and the food was acceptable. The parking cost in Old Town was $3 for the day, or you could park free on any of the streets for up to two hours.

Highway 117
Since our next destination of Socorro was only 1-½ hours south of Albuquerque, we made a large loop southwest and enjoyed the scenery along the way. We drove south on highway 117 along the eastern edge of El Malpais National Park. We did not visit the entire park, although there were places to stop along the road as we headed south.

Natural cave on Highway 117
We redeemed points for a stay at the Holiday Inn Express Socorro, which we thought was the best lodging choice in town.
 We visited the Historic Plaza about a mile from the hotel, which consisted of only a few shops and restaurants. Even though there were only a couple shops, we found the best New Mexico souvenir prices in Socorro and made a couple purchases. We dined at Socorro Springs Brewing Company, located next to the Holiday Inn Express. The service was lousy; however, the food and beverages were very good. We had a local brew and wood fired pizza.

We enjoyed a nice drive on portions of the Geronimo Trail and Lake Valley Back Country scenic byway on our way to El Paso, TX, where we stayed at the Embassy Suites for one night. You can download New Mexico scenic byways maps at: Scenic byways - NM

In Las Cruces/Old Mesilla, we had originally planned to stay at the Hilton Garden Inn. At the last minute, I learned that the pool area was closed, so we switched to the Staybridge Suites Las Cruces. We were happy with this decision.

We dined at La Posta in Old Mesilla (SW outskirts of Las Cruces), because I had read that local residents chose it as the 2009 Reader’s Choice award for the second year in a row. The food, service, and d├ęcor were all good. There are plenty of shops and restaurants in Old Mesilla, and there were outside vendors and musicians in the park the day we were there. 

We visited the White Sands National Monument on the southern outskirts of Alamogordo. The cost was $3 per person and well worth it. You can camp and hike, although we only visited for a few hours. It was a beautiful sunny non-windy day when we stopped. If you are planning a trip to the area, be sure and check the White Sands site for road and missile testing closures and updates. Click on the “things to know” link. I-70 and the monument had been closed at the end of the week before our arrival for missile testing.

White Sands
We made a brief stop in Ruidoso, which is a resort town. We found some great local shopping here. There were many local vendors selling local handmade items. My husband purchased a nice turquoise pocketknife here.

Once you get off the interstate in New Mexico, you can drive for hundreds of miles without seeing a restaurant or a gas station—be prepared! We thought this was a great trip, and will definitely visit again. Our only disappointment was that we did not have more time to visit the Santa Fe area north of Albuquerque.