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Thursday, December 5, 2013

ATL - Atlanta, Georgia / Atlanta Airport Marriott Gateway

November 2013, Weekday-Holiday, 1-night, King guestroom #546

Status perks and check-in
I contacted the Atlanta Airport Marriott Gateway about a week before our arrival, because we were not going to be arriving until around 9 p.m., and I wanted "late arrival" to be noted on our reservation. I also inquired whether the concierge lounge would be open during our stay. I was told that it would be closed, and that I would receive breakfast because of my Platinum status. I had already reserved a rate that included full breakfast; however, I had wondered about lounge access, because sometimes specialty coffee, bottled water, and snacks are available in the lounge.

At check-in, the agent recognized my status, and she provided two appetizer coupons to use in the restaurant since the concierge lounge was closed. She said that I could also get a beverage from the gift shop, if I wanted.

Guestroom 546 is located on the 5th floor of this 7 floor hotel, and it is not too far from the elevator. Since the agent had been so good about recognizing my status and providing extra perks during the check-in process, I had not asked her if I was being assigned a guestroom that met my preferences. I mistakenly assumed that she had taken care of everything. I do not know why she did not assign us a corner or concierge floor guestroom.

Even though the concierge lounge was not open, I am sure a guestroom on the concierge floor would have been more comfortable. It probably would have been quieter, and concierge floor guestrooms usually include bathrobes and bottled water. Our stay was Thanksgiving evening, and there was a lot of hallway noise that night and the next morning. We had had a long travel day, and really wanted to enjoy a quiet stay.

Other than my disappointment with the guestroom location, the furnishings were adequate, and the bed was superbly comfortable.

A closet was located next to the guestroom entrance door. The dry beverage area next to the closet included a single-serve coffeemaker with only one coffee packet, condiments with liquid creamer, a large bottle of water for $3.50, the ice bucket, and glass glasses. A small fridge was located in the cabinet under the counter. We got a second packet of coffee from the front desk clerk before going to bed that evening.

The sleeping and sitting area contained standard furnishings: flatscreen TV on an armoire, work desk and chair, soft chair and footstool, end tables, lamps, and two nightstands beside the king-sized bed. There was plenty of room to set the luggage rack up between the armoire and beverage area.

I do not understand why the desk photos on the hotel website look like the desk is rounded or tilted out on the end. The desk in this guestroom was flat against the wall. There would not have been room to walk through at the foot of the bed, if the desk had been placed on an angle. I wonder if all of the photos on the website are concierge or oversized guestrooms, because the rooms on the Marriott site look slightly larger than the guestroom we were in. The website also says that there is a laptop safe in the guestroom, and I did not see one. I may have missed this, although I thought I had checked for one.

The average-sized bathroom contained a tub/shower combination with a shower curtain on a curved rod. Everything worked fine. This is the first Marriott I have stayed in since the bathroom amenities have been changed to THANN and Aromatherapy.

Food & Beverage
Since it was late, and we were not planning to have anything to eat other than two appetizers with our complimentary coupons, we initially went to the lounge to eat. There were a few guests seated at the bar, and at one or two tables besides ours. After we had been waiting for several minutes, it appeared that no one was waiting on guests in the lounge except for the bartender. We then asked the host if there were servers in the restaurant, and we moved to the dining room to eat. The host did not seem to be busy, so I did not understand why she did not take beverage orders. Service in the restaurant was also lacking. The manager ended up serving us--she brought us water, took our order, and served our food. We waited several minutes after we had finished dining, and then I finally walked over to request a to-go box from the host. Since our coupons covered our food items, we left a cash tip, and then departed after this.

This hotel was definitely understaffed in the lounge and dining room the night of our stay. The manager was scurrying about taking orders, and helping where needed, while the other employees moved slowly, and did not seem to notice or assist outside their basic duties. Apparently, the manager was not very good at delegating, which is what was needed.

Our coupons were good for $10 each, and we ordered two appetizers for $10 each --  Country style chicken fingers grilled, and Margherita flatbread. I am sure that we could have ordered something more expensive and paid the difference; however, after our long waits, we were glad that we had not done that, because then we would have had to wait for our check. The chicken fingers was actually a grilled chicken breast, partially sliced into strips. This was good, and the honey mustard dip was excellent. The flatbread was disappointing, and I would not order that again.

The room rate we had booked included a full breakfast for two. The coupons we received said that they were good for the breakfast buffet. When we arrived for breakfast, I asked if I/we could use the coupon toward an item on the menu, and I was told no. When I stayed at the LAX airport Marriott, I was allowed to use my coupon toward an a la carte item, so this must be an individual property decision. The buffet was actually better than most buffets, and when I recalled later that I did not care for the menu choices or my breakfast entree at the LAX Marriott, I was glad that I had been told no.

The buffet included made to order eggs, which were excellent. There were several fresh ingredient choices for the eggs, with things like feta cheese and spinach. There were so many additional food items, that I do not recall them all. Some things I remember were: white, wheat, and swirl rye bread; three bagel choices, although none were whole grain; yogurt, fresh cut fruit, salmon with toppings (no tomato), cereal, oatmeal, grits, sausage, turkey or chicken sausage, bacon, cheesy potatoes, and many pastries and muffins. It was difficult to tell what some of the food items were because some of the signs were either missing or misplaced.

The toaster did not work well; once through did not toast the bread, and twice through burned it. I buy and consume chicken and turkey meats frequently, and I did not like the turkey sausage. It was dry and bland. Overall, though, breakfast was good. The egg chef was excellent.

When I chose this hotel, I did not notice that it does not have a whirlpool, which is one thing my husband likes. He went to the pool in the morning; however, he did not go swimming because he said that the water was quite cold.

Transfer from the International terminal and the Skytrain
I chose this hotel because of its proximity to the airport. I like that it is accessible via the Skytrain. We had to take a shuttle bus from the International terminal to the Skytrain, which did not take long. We boarded a waiting bus, and it departed as soon as it was full a few minutes later. This is the same shuttle bus that goes to the domestic terminal, and both locations are at the same stop. We then took the Skytrain to the Gateway center hotels. SpringHill Suites is across the street from the Marriott. This night, the rate at the SpringHill Suites was more than at the Marriott. The next day, we took the Skytrain to the domestic terminal for our flight.

Misc. and overall
I have wanted to stay at this Marriott when I was in the area before, because of the airport convenience; however, the rate has always been much higher than the Marriott Atlanta Airport hotel. Here is the link to my 2011 review of the Marriott Atlanta Airport. This night, the rate at the Marriott Atlanta Airport hotel was $12 less than Marriott Gateway; however, it did not include breakfast, and we would have had to spend more time waiting and riding the shuttle bus. I think that the Gateway hotels are the most convenient when needing to stay near ATL.

We thought the AAA rate at Marriott Gateway was an excellent value, although I was disappointed with the guestroom we received. I expected that as a Platinum guest, I would have at least received a corner, oversized, or concierge guestroom. We did not hear any noise from the airport or other guestrooms; just the hallway. Guests were not making a lot of noise in the hall; we could hear people speaking in a normal tone of voice, and we could hear doors opening and closing.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Castries, Saint Lucia / Sandals Halcyon Beach

November 2013, 6-nights, Building #9, Guestroom #313 ~ Fabulous stay!

Arrival experience

Before our trip, I had read comments online from other guests about the porters at the airport. Guests had thought that they were being greeted by someone from Sandals, and then the baggage handlers dragged their bags around the corner and expected a tip. Because we knew this, and we only had one bag and a carry-on, we exited the airport with our own bags. We did not see the Sandals lounge, and initially we wondered if we were headed in the right direction. 

Here are directions to get to Sandals lounge from the Delta baggage claim (I do not remember if there were other baggage carousels or exits, although I think everything was in the same area): We went out the exit door just to the right of baggage claim. Facing the roadway/drive, we turned left, and walked along the front of the airport building (this is when we wondered if we were headed in the right direction because the Sandals sign was not visible, and I had expected the lounge to be inside the airport). After just a few steps, we saw the Sandals sign and entered the lounge. A staff member took our information, gave us tags for our luggage, we were offered rum punch, and we took a seat in the lounge. The lounge was comfortable, and there is a nice restroom in the lounge. The tags that we had been given for our luggage ended up being our room number.

After we had been waiting several minutes, and I observed two buses depart to the other Sandals resorts, I asked the employee at the podium about the shuttle to our resort. I was glad I did, because she then directed me to the door where the other two shuttles had left from, and we boarded a bus for immediate departure after we provided our information to the staff member at the door. I wonder if we would have ended up waiting for the next taxi/shuttle, if I had not inquired about our shuttle status just before this. 

The ride to Sandals Halcyon Beach was less than 75 minutes. It was comfortable and scenic. The road is curvy, although none of the passengers in our van had a problem with motion sickness. We had a good driver, and we gave him a tip at the end because we learned he was not a Sandals employee. I am actually not sure if this was necessary, though. In the states, I have sometimes been given a taxi ride to the airport from my hotel, which is covered by the hotel, when their shuttle is not running. This has happened to me so often, that I asked at the hotel if a tip is already included when this happens, and I was told yes. 

At the resort, all of us from the shuttle bus were taken into the concierge room, so I assume that everyone had reserved a Club room. We were offered rum punch, given a brief orientation, and then a staff member escorted each couple to their room. Before we departed to our room, I asked our concierge, Che, if we could make our dinner reservations first. We sat down at the desk, and he said that he needed to talk with us about our room. He said that the Club rooms had been oversold, so we had been relocated for the first night. He apologized, and said he was offering us a candlelight dinner for two, or a spa credit for the inconvenience. He also assured us that we would still receive our Club amenities. Our first night, and a good portion of the next day, was somewhat of an inconvenience, since we did not unpack or have our room attended to until late, because we were not sure if we would be moving to another guestroom. We ended up staying in the first guestroom, although this was not finalized until the next day. Sandals took excellent care of us, and I will talk more about some of the details of our experience throughout this review.


The guestroom was already stocked with Club level beverages when Che escorted us to our room -- vodka, whiskey, gin, rum, and cabernet wine were on the shelf, and Piton beer, white wine and champagne were in the fridge. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Flint, Michigan / Holiday Inn Flint - Grand Blanc Area

November 2013, Weekday, 1-night, King bed executive suite #401

Status perks and check-in
I had reserved a king bed executive room with points for this stay. A few days before check-in, I contacted the Holiday Inn via Facebook. I wanted to make sure that I had requested my preferred leisure preferences and not my business preferences, like I had mistakenly done at the Midland Holiday Inn. I also wanted to let them know my preferences for an upgraded room, if one was available. I received a reply asking me to call the hotel, so I did. When I called, the agent upgraded my room to an executive jacuzzi suite.

We arrived at the hotel around 4:30 p.m., and the front desk agent said that she was not sure that an executive jacuzzi suite was available. I thought that was odd, since we were not arriving early, and I had already seen that my reservation had been changed to an executive jacuzzi suite online. She asked if we wanted to just take a jacuzzi guestroom instead of a suite. When I did not immediately reply, she asked if I wanted to wait while she contacted housekeeping. I said that I would wait until she talked with housekeeping to see if a suite was available. I then asked where the restroom is located. I left to use the restroom while she made the call. When I returned, she had an executive jacuzzi guestroom available for us. I felt like the hotel had made the offer of an excellent upgrade, although they did not really expect me to accept it. I do not know if that was their intent; however, that is how I felt.

I also received a choice of bonus points or a coupon for a snack and beverage in the lounge, and 15% off dining. When we were in the lounge that evening, I saw a guest redeem his coupon for a beverage and snack item. The snack item was a package of cookies or a candy bar, so I was glad that I had chosen points.

Guestroom 401 is located at the end of the hall on the top floor. It was quiet in the guestroom, and the bed was comfortable. We slept very well.

The view from the large window behind the HVAC unit overlooked the parking lot of the Marriott Courtyard next door.

There was a second window around the corner in the L-shaped guestroom where a free-standing closet was located. We thought the room arrangement would have been nicer with the desk located in that area in front of the window. The closet could then be placed against the wall at the foot of the bed where the desk was located.

All of the remaining guestroom furnishings are visible in the photos: king-sized bed, suitcase bench, nightstands, lamps, soft chair and footstool, flatscreen TV on an armoire, and table with two chairs.

The kitchenette area included a fridge, microwave, sink, ice bucket, and coffeemaker with supplies.

The whirlpool tub was deep, and mostly clean. I always wipe down/clean hotel tubs before I use them, and this time there was a small bit of debris on the cloth when I finished.

The bathroom was an average size with a tile walk-in shower. We prefer walk-in showers; however, there was only one light in the bathroom, so it was very dark in the shower.

I was surprised when I did not initially see an iron or ironing board in the guestroom. I then found both of these items hanging on the wall in the bathroom behind the door.

Looking at the guestroom diagram, it appears that there is another L-shaped guestroom at the other end of the hall, as well as a large square-shaped suite.

This hotel seemed very empty at the time of our stay, so I did not understand why we had been told that a suite might not be available when we arrived. We observed only a few cars in the parking lot, and five or six guests in the bar and dining room that evening.

Food & Beverage
Before our stay, I had read that the hotel restaurant, J. Porters, won hospitality awards the last two years in a row. We decided to dine in the lounge since we were not having much to eat. The bartender was attentive, and the hotel had several beverages on special for Happy Hour until 7 p.m. -- beers, well drinks, and a couple of speciality mixed drinks. The only beverage not on special that evening was wine. We shared a Cuban sandwich with coleslaw, which was very good. 

Shuttle and misc.
This was our first experience flying out of the Flint airport. We chose this hotel because it is less than five miles from the airport. Other hotels located in this same area are the Marriott Courtyard and the Residence Inn.

The airport shuttle runs every 20 minutes, starting on the hour. When we arrived, we observed a flight crew waiting in the lobby. It appeared that they were waiting for the 4:20 p.m. shuttle, which was running late. Because I observed this lateness, I initially signed up for the shuttle at 4:40 a.m. instead of 5 a.m. Later that evening, the bartender convinced us that was way too early, so we changed this to 5 a.m. Even though we left the hotel after 5:00 the next morning, we still arrived at the airport by 5:10 a.m.

When we returned, the shuttle bus was already at the airport because he was picking up the flight crew from our flight. We had been seated in first class, so we were one of the first few people out of the airport with our luggage. Our flight had several passengers who needed wheelchair assistance, so we waited 10 to 15 minutes for the crew. After this, the ride back to the hotel was quick, and we were happy that the driver unloaded our bags from the bus first!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tipping at all inclusive resorts - Sandals vacation

November 2013

Our departure to paradise--Sandals Halcyon Beach in Saint Lucia--is just around the corner! To say that we are excited would be an understatement. We have stayed in several all inclusive resorts, although this will be our first stay at a Sandals resort. We are looking forward to fabulous service and good quality. The Sandals' website boasts about The Sandals Difference with items like: luxurious accommodations, top-shelf drinks, Beringer wines, entertainment, motorized water sports, and all tips and gratuities included.

Our first visit to an all inclusive resort was in 2000, and many resorts at that time said that all tips were included. We did not tip any extra the first few years that we went to all inclusive resorts. We always had great service, although sometimes the food and beverage quality was not very good. I think that was more related to the resort quality, though.

In 2004, we noticed that guests were leaving tips, and that the quality of the service and beverages seemed to be related to whether the guest had left a tip or not. After that trip, we started to bring small bills with us, and we also joined in leaving additional tips at resorts that said tipping is included. 

Today, I think that those of us who gave out extra tips when we were not supposed to, created the tipping problem prevalent in many resorts today. I have noticed this get steadily worse since 2004. We do not like the way we were made to feel, if we do not leave a tip, and we do not like employees acting like they expect one, when this is supposed to be included. One of the things we are looking forward to at Sandals, is not having to worry about tipping, and having better quality service. 

As our trip draws closer, I started to read some of the recent reviews online. I found so many references to poor service, poor quality, and discreet ways to leave tips, that I became alarmed. I immediately contacted my travel agent, who had this to say: There is absolutely NO tipping whatsoever to any Sandals employee.  Their employees will be fired on the spot if they are seen taking money.  Now you can tip the porters for your luggage. Your service will NOT be any different. She also assured me that premium beverages and good quality food are served.

Some of the negative reviews that I read did not make any sense to me. One guest complained about a dead frog in her room that had not been removed all week! If I found a dead frog in my guestroom, it would be removed that day--one way or another. Another guest complained that she stood at the bar for over half an hour, and the bartender did not wait on her, so she went to complain to management. That is another thing I would not do--stand at a bar and wait to be served for over half an hour. There is more than one bar and one bartender at the resort, as well as other ways to get assistance before going to management. I read a lot of complaints about a rude wine waiter in Kelly's, who is trying to upsell bottles of wine. I read these complaints from happy and unhappy guests, so I tend to think that what I read about this experience is accurate. Hopefully, Sandals has dealt with this by now. We plan to carry a beverage/glass of wine with us to dinner, just in case.

We have a club room reserved, and plan to experience our stay the Sandals way--great service, and good quality food and drinks, without tipping staff members we are not supposed to tip. I will share our experience after we return. In the meantime, safe travels, and Happy Thanksgiving to my American followers!

UPDATE: Our stay was fabulous! Excellent service, good quality beverages, and the food was amazing! We did not tip any extra for services that were already included. I think that is Sandals intent, and that is what we had been hoping for. A full detailed review will be posted soon.
Sandals Halcyon Beach

Monday, November 18, 2013

Midland, Michigan / Holiday Inn

November 2013, Weekend, 1-night, King jacuzzi guestroom #423

Status perks and check-in
When I made this reservation, I had mistakenly entered my business traveling preferences instead of my leisure traveling preferences in the comments box. I did not realize this until I called the hotel after I noticed online that my guestoom type had been changed to a handicap guestroom. When I called to ask why, I learned that I had requested my typical "traveling for business by myself preferences" -- top floor corner room in a quiet area. The employees at this hotel had read my requests, and fulfilled them. The only available top floor corner room happened to be a handicap guestroom. On the telephone, I said that I appreciated the corner room in a quiet area, although I said that I would prefer a whirlpool guestroom, if there was one available. The agent told me that there were no jacuzzi guestrooms available. I thought that was odd since the website was showing four or five whirlpool guestrooms available. I decided to wait and ask about this again after I arrived at the hotel to check-in.

When I arrived, I learned that there were whirlpool guestrooms available, although there were not any on the top floor. I gladly accepted an upgrade to a whirlpool guestroom on a lower floor. I also received a coupon good for $4 off in the restaurant or lounge.

Guestroom 423
Coincidentally, this is the same guestroom we stayed in at this hotel in 2011. I had re-read that review before we arrived, so I knew we were going to be in the same guestroom as soon as the agent gave me the key packet.

This guestroom is located on the 4th floor near the center of the hall. It was exactly the same as I remember it.

The entrance area contained a full length mirror and a beverage area with a fridge, microwave, and sink. A small coffeemaker with supplies was on the counter. The coffee was the same brand as our last visit, Rainforest Alliance.

A closet was located next to beverage area, and the bathroom entrance was across from the closet. The bathroom had the same features as before: walk-in shower, and nightlight under the vanity. I do not have any bathroom photos from this stay; however, there is a shower photo in my 2011 review.

The living area contained a suitcase bench, flatscreen TV on an armoire, king-sized bed, nightstands with lamps, desk and chair, soft chair and footstool, and the whirlpool tub.

The window could be opened a few inches. In fact, the guestroom window was not fully closed when we arrived. The guestroom was clean, including the tub, and the bed was comfortable. During our stay, we did not hear any noise from the hall or from guests overhead.

Pool area
The pool area was the same as before; the blinds were open between the pool and the bar/restaurant, so that guests at the bar tables could see everyone in the pool. The next morning, the blinds were closed, so they may have been shut later in the evening. We were in the bar for a few hours that evening, and they were open the entire time we were there.

One thing I did not recall from our last visit, is that the whirlpool in the pool area is an indoor/outdoor whirlpool. Next time, we'll have to try the pool area whirlpool, too!

Food & Beverage
We had a 14" NY style pizza at the hotel restaurant/bar, Big E's, and it was very good. I am not usually much of a pizza eater, and we had not planned to order much; however, when we sat down at the bar, the pizza the patrons next to us were having looked good. We would have gotten a smaller size, except that 14" was the smallest available.

Misc. and overall
In my last review, I wrote  that cappuccino and espresso were available in the lobby. There was a coffee machine by the front desk this stay; however, it only contained regular and decaffeinated coffee. I had thought that there were two machines last time.

The parking lot was under construction during our stay, which did not cause us any trouble. We were able to get a parking spot by the north end of the building, and there is an elevator at that end.

There are a few hotels located near this Holiday Inn. Hampton Inn, Residence Inn, and SpringHill Suites, are a few of the hotels that I saw. We were, again, happy with our stay at the Holiday Inn. Last time, I had thought the rate was kind of high, and this time I thought the rate was reasonable. We would choose this hotel again, as long as I could find a fair rate. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

St. Louis airport - STL / Renaissance St. Louis Airport Hotel

October 2013, Weekday, 2-nights, Club Level 2-queen bed guestroom #1002

Check-in and status perks
The front desk agent recognized my status, and she asked if I wanted bonus points for my on-site amenity. I also received a bottle of water and a snack. I was originally assigned standard king guestroom #737 with access to the club level lounge. Guestroom 737 is located in a central hallway area with more guest traffic than an end room, and it has a connecting room door. Since I was going to be staying for two nights, I returned to the front desk to see if I could get a room with a non-connecting room door. One thing I do not like about the Marriott reservation site, is that it does not have a comments box to enter special requests, like many hotels do.

A different employee assisted me this time. He said that most of the guestrooms have connecting doors, and that there were not any rooms available on the club level floors. After a bit more conversation, he was able to find me a guestroom on a club level floor without a connecting door, and at the end of the hall! The guestroom had two queen beds instead on one king bed, and I said that would be perfect. I have one king bed chosen on my hotel profiles; however, when the two-bedded rooms have queen beds, I am happy with that as well.

This hotel has 12 floors, and guestroom 1002 is on the 10th floor facing the direction of the airport. The windows and walls were well soundproofed, because I did not hear any disturbing noise. 

The guestroom contained the basic furnishings: two queen beds, a nightstand, a large desk area with chair, a soft chair, end table, flatscreen TV on an armoire, and a couple of lamps. 

The lamps did not provide enough lighting, and it was very dim in the guestroom. One of the bulbs in the floor lamp was burned out, and I do not think one more bulb would have made much difference. There were not enough electrical outlets in this guestroom. I like to have four accessible outlets outside of the bathroom, and this guestroom did not have that.

A slide-out shelf in the armoire contained a single-serve coffeemaker with supplies, the ice bucket, glass glasses, and a small bottle of complimentary water, like I had received at the front desk.

The bed was super comfy, and the bedsheets were good quality. 

Unfortunately, my photos are kind of fuzzy. Hopefully, they are clear enough so that people reading this blog can see the quality of the guestroom, because I have made reference to another Platinum guest's review at the end of this review, whose experience was different than mine. 

The carpeting in this guestroom, the bedding, and the desk furnishings looked new. Some of the items, like the lamps, looked outdated. 

The bathroom contained a tub/shower combination with a shower curtain on a curved rod. Bathing amenities were provided on the vanity, along with a hairdryer in a bag on the shelf. 

The electrical outlet in the bathroom did not work. I was glad that I had tried to use it the day I arrived, because there may not have been an engineer available to solve the problem early the next morning. 

After the engineer looked at the outlet in the bathroom, he said that he needed to go to the main panel to fix the problem. He said that the switches were not well marked, so it would probably take him a while. He plugged the hairdryer in on the "on" position. He said that he would have radio contact with the hotel operator to call me and find out when it started working. About 10 minutes later, the hairdryer started working, so I called the hotel operator to tell her it was on.

If I had noticed that the bulb in one of the lamps was burned out before this service request, I would have gotten a replacement bulb, too.

I had one other problem with the guestroom that occurred during stayover. One of my replaced glasses after the guestroom had been cleaned was dirty. I do not know if this was the glass I had used, which housekeeping wiped out and reset, or if it was a glass off the cart from another guestroom. 

Club lounge
The food in the club lounge was very good. There were two hot items both evenings, and a deluxe veggie platter. Other items available were cheese, crackers, and mixed nuts. A cappuccino machine, coffee, tea, and bottled water were available all day long. A self-serve honors bar was available in the evening. There were more food and beverage items than what I have listed; however, I did not take detailed notes during my stay, so I am only listing what I recall for sure.

The lounge is located on the 11th floor, on the same side of the building as my guestroom, so the view overlooked the end of the airport. If you plan to just stop and grab something to eat, I suggest not visiting the lounge as soon as it opens, because the food items were never available right away. I visited three times--both evenings, and once for breakfast, and the food was never ready until about 15 minutes after the lounge opened.

Fitness center
The fitness center contained several cardio machines with cardio theater, a weight machine, and hand weights. Two of the treadmills did not work properly. One did not work at all, and another one made a squeaking noise. Both of the inferior treadmills were the only ones available when I arrived, so I started out with the squeaky machine. Fortunately, another guest left a short time later, and I switched machines. The squeaky machine did not make a lot of noise, if you were not the one using it; however, I was not able to hear the cardio theater very well before I switched machines.

Hotel parking and shuttle
The Marriott Renaissance website for this hotel lists self-parking as $10 per night, and valet parking for $12. I was not charged for self-parking during my stay. The parking lot was open--the gate was not down when I entered or exited. I do not know if this is typical, or if parking was not being charged at the time of my stay, or what. The agent did not ask if I had a vehicle during check-in, and I had my car keys in my hand when I arrived. I also asked about the airport shuttle, to see if I could be picked up at the car rental lot when I returned my car the next day. I was told that the first priority of the shuttle service is the airport, and that he sometimes accommodates special requests.

When I called the next day, I was told that the shuttle could pick me up at the Avis lot in 14 minutes, which is exactly when he arrived. The hotel operator called the shuttle driver before she quoted the time. I was impressed with his accuracy! The airport car rental lot is not at the airport, so I would had to take a shuttle back to the airport, if the driver had not agreed to pick me up at the lot. Shuttle service in the morning was excellent. I waited only a few minutes at the hotel, and the trip to the airport did not take long. The shuttle driver was extremely cheerful, and he provided a great start to the day!

The car rental lot is less than a mile from the Renaissance, and I would have walked to the hotel, except that there is not a cross-walk in front of the hotel, and the street is a fairly busy road. There are several hotels less than one mile from the car rental lots; however, most of the area does not have sidewalks for walking. I saw three hotels that looked like they would be safe to walk to from the car rental area: the Hilton is located in between the Hertz and Avis lots, and Holiday Inn and Americas Best Value Inn are located right around the corner from the Hilton in the same block. As much as I would have liked to stay at the Hilton for the convenience, I did not choose that hotel because the cost was quite a bit more. The Holiday Inn cost was also more than the AAA rate at the Renaissance, although not as much as the Hilton.

Misc. and overall
I was happy with my stay for the most part; however, if I had stayed in the guestroom I had originally been assigned, #737, I do not know if I would feel the same way.

I read a recent review from a Platinum guest on TripAdvisor that does not match my experience. He stated that the rooms are past their prime, and that the linens were holy and thin, which was not true in guestroom 1002. He did not provide his room number, nor did he say if he had a club floor level room. He also complained that the front desk agent asked to see his AAA card for the AAA rate he had booked. He did not like this because he did not have his card, and he claimed that this is the only Marriott hotel from his last 80+ stays to request his card. My experience has been that I need to show my card about 50% of the time. The agent at this hotel requested my AAA card at check-in, also. I do not understand why a AAA card holder would not be carrying his card. I carry my card in my wallet, because if I ever need towing, or unlock or gas assistance while traveling, I would need to show my card for this service.

The first guestroom I was assigned was not a club floor room, and I was initially told that there were not any club floor rooms available. Most of the reviews for this property on TripAdvisor are good, although the review from the unhappy guest, and this review from me, are the only two recent reviews I could find from Platinum guests who had booked a AAA rate. Reading about his experience, and thinking about mine, makes me wonder if the hotel does not treat Platinum guests who book the AAA rate the same as they do Platinum guests who book the regular rate. I also wonder if the dissatisfied guest's complaints stem from the fact that he was asked to present his AAA card, which he did not have.

I thought the AAA rate I had booked at this hotel was an excellent value. And, although I do not have any reason not to choose this hotel again, I have been far more impressed at other Marriott properties. One time, when I had an incident like the non-working plug in my guestroom, at a Marriott Courtyard, the engineer knew that I was a Platinum status guest, and before the end of my stay, I was told that I would receive 5,000 points for the inconvenience. That was a pleasant surprise, and I will always remember that stay.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

O'Fallon, Missouri -- Hilton Garden Inn St. Louis/O'Fallon

October 2013, Weekday, 1-night, King guestroom #347

Status perks and check-in
I did not receive any extras, and the agent did not recognize my Gold status. Since Hilton usually provides two bottles of water, I asked about this after check-in was completed, and then the agent gave me two bottles of water.

The guestroom was furnished with the standard Hilton Garden Inn furnishings: beverage area with small fridge, microwave, and coffeemaker; king-sized bed with nightstands and lamps; flatscreen TV on an armoire; desk and chair, and soft chair with footstool. 

I was happy and impressed to see a Keuring K-cup coffeemaker in the guestroom. I do not recall ever having one in a Hilton Garden Inn before. 

There was an ethernet cord on the desk, and there were two telephones in the guestroom--one on the desk, and one on one of the nightstands next to the bed.

Even though the bed in the guestroom was a Sleep Number bed, I did not think it was comfortable. I adjusted the number on the bed, and it did not seem to make any difference. Additionally, the sheets were low quality--rough and stiff feeling. 
Another problem with the sleep quality was noise from the other guestrooms. The guests near me were not making a lot of noise; the walls were very thin. I had this same problem recently at the Hilton Garden Inn in Savannah, Georgia, and I wrote about it in that review.

This guestroom did not have enough electrical outlets. I like to have four accessible outlets outside of the bathroom to use overnight, and I like one of those to be next to the bed for my cell phone. I do not like it when I have to reach behind the furniture to find an outlet. When one of the lamps did not work after I flipped the switch, I discovered that it had been unplugged. Later, when I realized that there was not an available outlet by the bed, I understood why the lamp had been unplugged!

The bathroom was an adequate size with a tub/shower combination. A shower curtain was hung on a curved rod, and a decent size vanity and mirror were located across from the shower area. Bathing amenities were on the vanity, and a hairdryer was provided. 

The toilet paper in the bathroom was extremely coarse/rough. I do not know what brand it was; however, it was not anything I have ever purchased, nor had I ever experienced that kind of quality in a hotel room before. Since the toilet paper holder held two rolls, there was not a wrapped spare roll to show the brand name.

The bathroom had several cleanliness issues. There were many hairs in the shower, which I did not notice until after I had turned the water on. Because of that, you can see water in some of the photos I am posting. These photos were taken before I stepped into the shower, and it was not my hair, because I have very long dark blonde/reddish hair. Not short, straight black hair, like the ones in the photos. 

The corner between the tub and the bathroom door was moldy, old, and nasty looking. Click on the photo to enlarge it, if you want to see what I mean. 

The bottom of the tub had a few minor dings/damage, which I probably would have completely overlooked, had it not been for the other issues.



tub bottom

Business center
The business center photo on the hotel website is pretty accurate. I like that Hilton Garden Inn business centers always have everything I need: a computer, printer/copy machine, tape, white-out, Post-it notes, paper clips, envelopes, and a stapler.

Fitness center
I was not able to use the fitness center because all of the treadmills were in use both times that I visited. I thought that there were more than the two treadmills that are shown in the hotel website photo; however, since I left the room very quickly, I can not say for sure.

Misc. and overall
I arrived at this Hilton Garden Inn from the north, and I thought that I would see the hotel sign from I-64, or the hotel name on the sign on the off ramp. Since I did not see the hotel or any signs, I hoped that my GPS was correct when I got off I-64 at Winghaven Blvd. The hotel location matched my GPS, although I did not see any hotel signs until I was directly in front of the property.

Hilton Garden Inn used to be one of my favorite reasonably priced business hotels. I like that I receive bottled water at check-in, I like the beverage area in the guestroom, the bed is usually comfortable, and they always have a fabulous business center. My recent stays are causing me to re-think whether I want to keep Hilton Garden Inn at the top of my hotel choice list. I did not like the super thin walls in my last two hotels, and this hotel was not well maintained. Given the condition of the bathroom in my guestroom, I tend to think that the bed mattress was not as comfortable as usual because it needed to be replaced. 

I was shocked to read that this hotel has a 2013 TripAdvisor certificate of excellence award.

Area dining
Bristol Seafood Grill is located in the same parking lot as the hotel. In fact, it is so close that it almost looked like it is part of the hotel. I thought the menu that I had found online looked fabulous, so I called in a to-go order for the Lobster Cobb Salad. The salad cost is $4 more on the dinner menu than it is on the lunch menu, and I doubt that there is much size difference. This is a photo of the dinner Lobster Cobb Salad.

I have had excellent lobster salads before, and I was not happy with the service or the food flavor at this restaurant. One of the best lobster salads I ever had was at the InterContinental hotel at Doral in Miami, Florida

Bristol Seafood Grill reopens at 4 p.m. for dinner after being closed from 2 to 4 p.m. I called shortly after 4 p.m. to place my order, and I was put on hold for over one minute. Counting my hold time, it took me over three minutes to place my order. All I ordered was the salad, and I did not have any questions. This is not a huge deal, although it was consistent with the type of service I received. 

When I arrived to pick up my order, the hostess by the door was cheerful and immediately greeted me; however, I was not greeted after she directed me to the bar area. There were not any patrons in the bar area, and even though no one greeted me, I assumed that the employees had overheard that I was picking up a to-go order, and that it was not ready yet. I stood at the bar, and after I had been waiting a few minutes, a man who walked out from the back, asked me if I was being helped. I said that I was waiting to pick up my to-go order. After this, an employee who had been seated at the bar, walked to the kitchen. When she returned, she told me that my order was almost ready. I assume that the male employee was the manager, and that the female employee who had been sitting at the bar was the bartender. I had expected her to greet me, check on my order, and offer to take a beverage order while I waited! Other employees had also walked through the bar area before the gentleman who greeted me, and none of them had acknowledged me either.

I was further disappointed after I returned to my hotel to enjoy my salad. The ingredients were fresh; however, the flavor was bland. Based on this experience, I would not recommend this restaurant, and I would never dine there again.  

After I published this post, I shared my experience with Bristol Seafood Grill. I am happy to report that someone immediately contacted me. The fact that they place importance on guest satisfaction, makes me more willing to change my viewpoint the next time I have the opportunity to dine at Bristol Seafood Grill.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Jefferson City, Missouri / DoubleTree by Hilton

October 2013, Weekend-Weekday, 2-nights, King guestroom #1013

Status perks and check-in
On my Hilton profile, I have bonus points chosen for my on-site amenity instead of breakfast, and I almost received both perks. When I checked in, the agent confirmed that I wanted breakfast instead of bonus points before she gave me my key packet. After I said my profile should be set for bonus points, she looked this up online. She said that my profile was set correctly, and that when the employee at the hotel had set aside the rooms and preferences, he or she must have coded my on-site amenity wrong. Sometimes, I have received both perks, and now I know why. When the employee does not confirm anything at check-in, I have always been pleasantly surprised to find a breakfast coupon in my key packet.

The front desk agent told me that two bottles of water would be in the guestroom; however, there was not anything extra in my room. I got two complimentary bottles of water from the front desk/gift shop later.

Guestroom 1013
This guestroom is located on the 10th floor very close to the elevator. My profile preferences are for a room away from the elevator; however, this guestroom looked like a larger, possibly upgraded room. Looking at the guestroom diagram, there are only two rooms on the floor this size, and they are both close to the elevator. This guestroom is not very big, so if the diagram is to scale, the other guestrooms must be very small! The guestroom was well soundproofed, and even with this location close to the elevator, I was not disturbed by any noise from the hall.

I had arrived after dark, and when I first entered the guestroom, it was pitch black. The light switch by the door turned on one overhead light by the entrance, which was not very bright. It was more like a nightlight than a light, and I could not see clearly until after I walked across the room to turn more lights on.

It was also very hot in the guestroom when I entered. The HVAC unit was set on 74 degrees, and it was over 70 degrees outside! It took me a few minutes to figure out how to turn the unit off, but at least it could be turned off.

The beverage area, located outside of the bathroom near the entrance, contained a small fridge, microwave, ice bucket, glass glasses, and coffeemaker with disposable cups and supplies. The coffee was good quality, and liquid creamer was provided.

The guestroom area included a flatscreen TV on an armoire, desk and chair, soft chair, footstool, small end table, king size bed, nightstands, alarm clock, and lamps. 

The closet contained a folding luggage rack, hangers, iron, ironing board, and a large safe. The safe was on the top shelf inside of the closet, and I had a difficult time reaching it. I had to stand on my toes to open and close the safe.

The bathroom contained a tub/shower combination across from a decent size vanity. Bathing amenities were on the vanity, and the towels were good quality.

Food & Beverage
I called to order the salmon salad to-go, and then picked this up at the bar. I thought the price of $8 in the guestroom menu was an excellent price. When I went to pick up my order, I was charged $9 instead of $8. I thought this was still a fair price, so I did not say anything about the price difference.

The flavor of the salad was good, except for the cheese. The menu listed the salad with feta cheese,  which I have had many times. The cheese on the salad was white; however, it did not taste like any feta cheese I have ever had. I do not know what it was, but I did not like the flavor.

Fitness center
The fitness center is located on the 2nd floor near the front desk. It is not accessible from the 2nd floor of the guestroom elevator. The first time I used it, the front desk agent told me that the only way to get to the fitness center is from the elevator next to the front desk. It is actually accessible from the first floor without using the elevator. After exiting the guestroom elevator at the lobby level, there is a hallway to the right before the front desk. There are stairs in this hall, that go up behind the front desk to the fitness center and pool area.

The fitness center was a good size with large windows, providing a good view of the outside. It contained several cardio machines, a weight machine, hand weights, a water cooler, sani-wipes, and towels. All of the cardio machines had cardio theater except one treadmill.

The HHonors guestrooms at this hotel are on a lower floor--the 3rd floor, I believe. The front desk agent told me that the rooms on that floor are the same as the guestroom I had, so she had given me a room on the 10th floor because my preference is for a high floor, and she said that the view is better. I have stayed in several hotels recently that have the concierge or executive floor on a lower floor, when the norm used to always be the top floors. The agent at this hotel told me that the reason the speciality floor is the 3rd floor, is because that is the only floor at this hotel with every guestroom type. She said that they needed to have a floor with every room type to designate it as the HHonors floor.

The guestroom I had on the 10th floor did not have a bathrobe, like the HHonors guestrooms; however, I was able to request one. I would guess that the HHonors floor guestrooms also have bottles of water in the room. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Boston, Massachusetts--BOS / Hilton airport

October 2013, Weekday, 1-night, King room #809
View from hall by elevator
facing the front

Check-in and status perks
I received a basic king guestroom with access to the executive lounge. 

This guestroom is located on the 8th floor near the end of hall. It faces the back side of the building.

The bed comfort and bedding was superb! The guestroom walls were soundproof, although the door was not. I did not hear any noise from the airport, or from guests next door or overhead. I did, however, hear occasional noise from guests in the hall.

This guestroom was not very spacious, although it met my needs for one night. The furnishings shown in the photos looked new: flatscreen TV on an armoire, desk and chair, chaise type lounge, king size bed, nightstands, full length mirror, and lamps.

The coffee maker, which is barely visible on the desk, included good quality coffee. A large safe, which I forgot to photograph, was located in the left cupboard under the coffee and ice bucket location.

The chaise lounge and desk chair were both comfortable for short periods. I was not in my room much, so I do not know if my opinion would have changed after a longer period of time.

The bathroom was a basic room with a tub/shower combination. The flat surface at the end of the tub served as a convenient ledge for bathing needs, like shampoo and such.

Food & Beverage
I had the Arugula Wrap to-go from the bar. The flavor and portion size was excellent. I thought the bill was deceiving though. A 15% tip was automatically added to my order, and the slip said that gratuity was not included. I was glad that I had looked my receipt over before adding another tip, because the bartender did not tell me it was included either. I usually tip 10% to 15% on to-go orders when I pick them up, although I have tipped more than this, too. It depends on how much needs to be prepared, and/or whether I made any special requests. In this case, I would have barely tipped the bartender 10%, so he made out like a bandit for doing nothing. I felt like he almost grunted about needing to greet me and take my order.

Executive lounge
I did not visit the lounge in the evening, so I do not know what was served. I went to the lounge before the evening social, and I got some bottled water to take back to my room.

Breakfast items in the lounge in the morning included only cold/continental food items. There were not any hot food items; not even oatmeal. Cold items included Dannon yogurt, hard boiled eggs, bagels, breads, cut and whole fruits, milks, juices, coffee, and tea. I am sure that cold cereal was also available, although I do not have this written in my notes, so I am not 100% certain.

Fitness center
The fitness center contained several cardio machines with theater, hand weights, and weight machines. The locker room had several amenities, including a hairdryer.

This Hilton is located inside the airport. The overnight parking charge is quite high: $30 for self-parking, and $40 for valet parking. I returned my rental car before my stay, and the hotel shuttle picked me up in the rental car area. I would have walked to the hotel, if there had been sidewalks the entire way. 

In the morning, I walked from the hotel to the Delta terminal (terminal A), via the skywalk on floor two. I had not done this before, and the signage was pretty clear. I did not have any trouble figuring out where I needed to go. Several flight attendants who were on the elevator with me, must not have thought the directions were very clear, because they asked me if I was going to the terminal, if I had done it before, and if I knew the way. It took me less than 15 minutes to walk from my guestroom, and get my luggage checked. There was not anyone in the Sky Priority Lane when I arrived, so I did not need to wait.