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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Grand Rapids, Michigan / Holiday Inn Express - Grand Rapids South

March 2013, Weekday, 1-night, King executive guestroom #314

Status perks and check-in
I had reserved the least expensive guestroom, which was a room with two queen beds. The client I was working for on this trip had requested that I get a guestroom for under $100, and the king rooms at this hotel were over $100. Other nearby hotel choices with rooms around $100 were the Comfort Inn and Baymont Inn & Suites. I had a very poor experience at the Baymont Inn in Muskegon (nasty, filthy hotel), which was my only experience at a Baymont Inn. Because of that stay, I will probably never stay in one of their hotels. I also collect PCR points, so I chose the Holiday Inn Express.

My IHG profile lists king executive room as my preference, and I also requested this along with a top floor guestroom, when I made the reservation. It appeared that staff had read my request for a top floor guestroom, and ignored my request for a king and/or executive guestroom, because I was initially assigned a 2-queen bed guestroom on the 4th/top floor. This hotel was not very full the night of my stay, and IHG Platinum benefits clearly sayComplimentary room upgrades (subject to availability), so I inquired whether an executive room, or at least a king room was available. After the agent had a conversation with the other front desk agent, and they checked the computer, I was assigned a king executive room on the third floor.

Imagine my surprise when I opened the door to the guestroom I had been assigned, and there was a family (parents and a small child) inside! I apologized, and returned to the front desk. One of the agents called the guestroom to request the name of the guest in the room. She then apologized to the person who had answered the telephone; however, I thought her tone was more matter-of-fact than sincere, and no one apologized to me. I heard the agents talking as though this was not the first time this had happened. After re-checking the computer, they also looked in a countertop file before reassigning me to guestroom 314.

The front desk agent did not recognize my status or thank me for being a loyal member.

The guestroom was a typical extended or executive type Holiday Inn Express guestroom. It was spacious, comfortable, and clean. We did not hear any noise from outside the guestroom, or from the floor above. I am not sure if this had more to do with the fact that the hotel was not very full, than it did with the soundproofing quality of the room. 

The spacious bathroom contained a long vanity with mirror, standard Holiday Inn Express bathroom amenities, and a low quaility hairdryer. The bathtub/shower combination had a curved rod with a shower curtain.

The closet in the entrance had a mirrored door, and it contained an iron, ironing board, and bedding on the shelf. The beverage area near the entrance included a sink, coffee maker with supplies, microwave, and small fridge. 

The living area looked like the photos on the hotel website: couch, coffee table, end tables, lamps, soft chair, and table with chair against the wall next to the beverage center. The chair at the table in the living area was a desk chair, like the one in the bedroom area.

The bedroom contained a king size bed, suitcase bench, flatscreen TV on an armoire, desk and chair, soft chair, night stands, and lamps. The bed was more comfortable than some Holiday Inn Expresses I have stayed in.

The only problem in the guestroom was the TV. The TV channels had not been programmed, and the process would not successfully complete when we tried to fix this. Engineering fixed it while we were gone that evening. The engineer heard us talking to the agents at the front desk about this when we were on our way out. He talked with us for a moment, and he had left a note in the guestroom when we returned. He was the most professional employee we encountered at this hotel. Also, the TV was not comfortably visible from the couch.

The Internet connection speed in the guestroom was very good. The guestroom was well lit with plenty of electrical outlets.

Food & Beverage
I did not go down for breakfast, although my husband brought me back a cheesy omelet, which tasted fine. We had brought our own coffee, since I do not like the quality of the Smart Roast coffee at Holiday Inn Express. Our coffee, with their cream, was perfect.

Business center
There was one computer and a printer in the lobby at this hotel. A guest was using the computer when I went down to print a document I needed in the morning. After waiting over five minutes, I asked him if he was going to be long. I said that I just needed to print something, and then I would be done. He said that he was almost done. I waited another 10 minutes while he browsed Facebook and such. I did not try to see what he was doing; however, this computer is not set up in a private area, and the computer screen was easily visible to anyone walking by or talking with him (as I did to ask how long it would be). 

After waiting 15 minutes, I was not even able to print my document because the printer did not work. After trying to fix this myself, I asked the front desk agent if she knew how to fix the error message. I do not recall the message, although it was not an error I had ever seen before. She did not know anything. When I looked at the documents in queue, I saw that I had not been the only guest trying to print something that morning. The agent did not sound concerned when I showed this to her.

We drove by the Comfort Suites on the way to my meeting, so I decided to stop and see if I could use their printer. The front desk agent let me in the business center with a master key, and guess what--their printer did not work either!

Other than the engineer, I did not think the staff at this hotel were professional or helpful. The manager had also walked behind the desk while I was checking in, and she did not make eye contact with me, smile, or assist the other two employees in any way. 

This hotel has a small scale inside water park, which I expect draws weekend family travelers. Several guests who reviewed this hotel on TripAdvisor (family and business travelers) reported similar staff experiences to what I encountered.

Although the guestroom was comfortable and clean, this hotel was not ideal for my business stay. The only other business hotel in this area was the Hyatt Place, which was another five miles away, and the guestrooms were over $100. I am sure that the rate is worth it; it just did not fit within the guidelines I had been asked to follow.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Lake Martin, Alabama

March 2013, Weekend, 1-day/night

We got a last minute invitation to visit friends in StillWaters on Martin Lake in Dadeville, Alabama. We had known that this visit might work out, which is part of the reason that we did not push for the upgrade that we did not receive at the Holiday Inn Express in Orange Beach

Lake Martin was a great location to visit before ending our Alabama visit the next day in Montgomery. The drive up State Highway 49 to StillWaters, after we got off Interstate 85, was scenic, and there was not much traffic. StillWaters is a peaceful gated community with condos, homes, Harbor Pointe Marina, and a golf course. 

view from boat dock
The condo we stayed in was perfect! Comfortable, clean, great location, and great company. We had a beautiful view of the lake and sunset from the balcony.

That evening, we all had steak dinners at a local restaurant called Poplar Dawg's. The steak and prices were both very good, and we had a first time experience that night. The state of Alabama allows "brown bagging" or BYOB from home. We were allowed to bring in our own bottle of wine to have with dinner for no charge! This was a pleasant surprise for us, since this is not allowed anywhere that I know of in Michigan. From what I read online after this visit, it sounds like restaurants can charge a corking fee at their discretion. 

The next day, we went for a boat ride on Lake Martin. Lake Martin is one of the largest man made lakes in the United States. It was a cool day; however, it was sunny, the company was great, and we love boat rides! We enjoyed a smooth ride with beautiful scenery. The first four pictures below were taken while we were on Lake Martin. 

When we left StillWaters, we took AL-50/Martin Dam Road instead of State Highway 49, so that we could drive by the dam and stop for an overlook view of the lake. We observed many flowering trees along State Highway 50, which we had not seen the day before on State Highway 49.

The next set of photos are from Cherokee Ridge Alpine Trail off Martin Dam Road.

Lake Martin where we had been
for the boat ride


We thought Alabama was a great place to visit. In addition to the Alabama hotel reviews that I have provided on this blog, we also stopped at the USS ALABAMA Battleship Memorial Park. It was $2 to park the car and see the outside displays. If we had had more time, we would have toured the inside of the battleship too.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Montgomery, Alabama / Renaissance Hotel and Spa at the Convention Center

March 2013, Sunday night, 1-night, Presidential Suite #1227

Status perks and check-in
view from balcony
The perks I received at this hotel are like nothing I have ever received before, and I may never get to experience again. This was a fabulous and impressive stay!

The front desk agent at check-in told me that I had been upgraded to the presidential suite. I did not get overly excited before I saw the guestroom because I have received great upgrades before: honeymoon suite, hidden/secret room, conference room suite, and even presidential suites. This was, however, my first presidential suite upgrade at a Marriott Renaissance hotel. I received a conference room suite at the last Renaissance I stayed in.

I also received my choice of Platinum bonus points or an amenity, and late checkout.   

Presidential Suite #1227
This suite is located on the top floor next to the concierge lounge. It is amazing! The size is well over 1,000 square feet. I was so amazed that I did not leave the guestroom for several hours after we had checked in, and that was at my husband's urging after we heard Bubba Hall playing while out on our balcony.

Bubba, if you are reading this, I wanted to insert a link to your website in this review, but the site on your CD is not working. Let us know if you have a new web page.
half bath

The guestroom double doors entered into a marble entrance that is larger than our master bathroom at home. This area contained two flags--USA and Alabama, two entry tables, mirrors, beautiful wall hangings, and a coat closet. There were no hangers in the closet. A half bath was located to the right beyond the coat closet.
American flag in foyer on left

The rooms inside the suite consisted of the foyer, half bath, living room, dining/meeting areas with two tables, kitchen and bar, bedroom with sitting area, and master bathroom. There was a large furnished outside balcony as well.

A round table with four chairs was located straight ahead from the entrance, and there was a baby grand piano on the left, next to a conference table with seats for eight.
conference table, piano,
bar & kitchen

There were five comfortable seats at the bar on the other side of the piano. A flatscreen TV was mounted behind the bar, and a cordless telephone was on the bar.

The kitchen contained a medium size fridge (about half size), large ice maker, sink, microwave, and coffee maker with supplies.

living room beyond
round table

The ice maker was filled with ice! My husband--who likes lots of ice, and often complains when a hotel does not have the ice maker on--was thrilled! Well... maybe the amount of ice was a little overboard, but it was still impressive.

There were not any dishes in the cupboards, and there was not any paper towel or a dish cloth in the kitchen. My husband said that is because they do not expect you to serve yourself in a room like this. There was a service entrance door into the kitchen from the hall, and there was a large pantry in the kitchen.

Beautiful chandeliers and plants were in the dining/boardroom table area, as well as throughout the entire suite. The piano was beautiful--I wish I had kept up my lessons, so I could have played it.

The living room beyond the round table across from the entrance was completely furnished. It contained four chairs, a sofa, coffee table, end tables, lamps (and chandeliers!), and a flatscreen TV. A gas fireplace was located under the TV, and there was a telephone, hotel directory, and local information on a built in cabinet against the wall.

The balcony was accessible from the living room through two sets of glass double doors. There was also a door at each end, from the bedroom and the dining area. We had an excellent view of the river and the hotel fountain below.

Double doors entered into the spacious bedroom from the living room. The bedroom contained an entry table, king bed, night stands, lamps, telephone, alarm clock, suitcase bench, couch, two chairs and a table with a lamp, desk with a lamp and chair, flatscreen TV, and gas fireplace. A large safe was in the cabinet next to the fireplace.

There were beautiful chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, and the room was well lit. The river view from the desk was great. I would have enjoyed working at the desk, if I had been working and staying in this room for a couple of days. There was access to the balcony through a glass door near the desk.
balcony door from bedroom

The sleep quality and comfort of the guestroom was excellent, except that we were awakened in the morning by the activity in the concierge lounge next door. It was not noisy in the lounge; it is just that the head of the bed is against the wall between the two rooms, and we could hear activity as food was being setup. If this had not been a leisure stay for us, we would have been up well before any activity next door.

The spacious bathroom was fabulous! There were mirrors the length of the long vanity with two sinks. The light fixtures were beautiful. A good quality hairdryer was in the cupboard under the left sink. Bathroom amenities provided on the vanity and by the tub, included mouthwash and toothpaste.

The large whirlpool tub filled from the ceiling, and there were two shower heads and a bench seat in the tile shower. All of the towels were plush and high quality. A separate toilet room contained the toilet, and a table with towels and tissue.

Concierge lounge
Several food items were available throughout the evening. There were three hot items, a large assortment of cold meats, cheeses, and fruits, and a few packaged snack items.

The quality and pricing at the honor bar was good, although most guests were not honest. I only saw one other beverage written on the sheet besides ours, and I observed guests who came to the room to get beer. Additionally, when I returned later for a second glass of wine, the wine bottle was almost empty, although no more beverages had been added to the list.

Food items in the morning included a similar array of cold meats, cheeses, and fruits. Other items included scrambled eggs, bacon, breads and bagels, yogurt, granola, cold cereals, coffee, tea, juices, bottled water, and milk. Full size candy bars, and snack size packages of chips were available after breakfast.

A working computer and printer were located off to the side of the sofa and TV sitting area of the lounge. I did not have any trouble printing documents, although I did not see a stapler or other office supplies available.

Food & Beverage
This hotel has several dining options, although we only visited one.

Wintzell's Oyster House is located on the bottom floor on the corner of Commerce and Bibb Streets. We tried to go to this restaurant for lunch the day of our departure, but there was a long wait for a table, and we did not have time to wait.

The Exchange is located next to The House restaurant on the corner of Tallapoosa and Commerce Streets. We visited the patio area of The Exchange, which is where we met Bubba Hall. The atmosphere was pleasant, and the seating was comfortable. There was a tent canopy around the patio, and gas heat lamps kept the temperature comfortable. The only thing I did not like about the lounge, is that smoking is allowed on the patio. In Michigan, smoking is not allowed outside at any establishment that serves food, and I sometimes forget that this is different in the south.

Pool area and fitness center
The pool area is located over the parking garage on floor eight. The pool was not open, although my husband used the whirlpool tub. He said it was clean, and that the temperature was good. The area was a good size with plenty of outside seating and loungers.

A large fitness center and the spa were also located on this level. I did not use the fitness center because we walked outside down by the riverfront. There is an outside walking track around the perimeter on this level, and we ended our walk on the track. I observed several cardio machines in the fitness center when we entered the room to get water.

Misc. and overall
This Renaissance Montgomery Hotel is a beautiful building, as are all the buildings in this area. It is well maintained and clean. I observed magnificent paintings in the guestroom, and in all public areas. I was surprised that this hotel was only a category 4 property. It is being raised to a category 5 at the end of this month, which seems like a more accurate category.
view across Commerce Street

If I lived near Montgomery, I am sure I would have used my Marriott category 4 certificates for weekend getaway stays at this hotel. I liked this hotel better than one of my favorite Marriott hotels in my home state--the JW Marriott Grand Rapids. The JW Marriott used to be a category 4 hotel, and the category has since risen higher than what it should be, in my opinion. That hotel was raised to a category 5 last year, and now it is being raised to a category 6.

The riverfront is within walking distance of the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel, and the area is clean and well maintained. There are several restaurants across Commerce Street, and there are other sights nearby, such as Hank Williams Museum. I had no idea this was such a fabulous area when we booked this stay. I was disappointed that we did not have another day to explore the area.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Orange Beach, Alabama / Holiday Inn Express

March 2013, Weekend, 1-night, King guestroom 516

Status perks and check-in
We arrived before check-in time, and stopped at the front desk, because we wanted to walk on the beach, and we needed to go through the hotel to get to the beach. We had not planned to check-in early. I do not typically arrive at hotels before check-in; however, on this trip, I seemed to be ahead of schedule every day except for my first stay! 

The front desk agent said that our guestroom was not ready, and that he could give us a room on the ground floor, if we wanted to check-in right away. I asked if we had been able to get a gulf front upgrade, and he said yes. I said that I would wait for the higher floor room. We confirmed how to access the beach, and then returned a few items to our vehicle trunk.

As we walked by the front desk on our way to the beach a few minutes later, the agent said he had a room available now, so we stopped and checked in. I did not ask again if the room he was assigning us was gulf front since less than five minutes had passed. I did not end up receiving any Platinum member perks; not even a bottle of water, although I saw bottles behind the counter. When I made this reservation, I had requested a top floor room and a gulf front upgrade, if one was available.

Guestroom #516
view from balcony
This guestroom is not a gulf front room, and it is not on the top floor. This hotel has six floors. Guestroom 516 is near the back/beach side of the building with a very limited beach view from the balcony. It is directly across from the back elevators, and the view from the balcony overlooks the building and parking lot next door.

We had originally planned to stay at this hotel for two nights. Before we checked in, we noticed that there was not much of anything within walking distance of the hotel. We thought then that maybe we would change our stay to only one night, dependent also upon the quality of our first night's stay. Given our indecision, I did not call the front desk to inquire about the gulf front guestroom I had been promised. If I had known for sure that we would be staying for two nights, I would have called to ask what had happened to the gulf front room we had been told we would receive.

Other than the fact that I expected a gulf front room, the guestroom was a nice room. It was comfortable, and the paint color scheme was pleasant with ocean and earth tones. The bed mattress was pretty good quality for a Holiday Inn Express, although the pillows were the same low quality pillows that are typical at Holiday Inn Express. The furnishings were in good condition, and the guestroom was clean.

The entrance door is not very soundproof, and we heard guests in the hall most of the evening.

The balcony was a decent size with two chairs, and it would have been enjoyable with a better view. The chairs and balcony were clean as well.

Room contents included: couch, small table with two soft chairs, flatscreen TV on an armoire, king size bed, night stands, alarm clock, lamps, coffee maker, microwave, and small fridge. The room was well lit, and the Internet connection speed was good.

The closet between the bathroom and the bedroom area contained bedding, an iron and board, and a folding luggage rack. The closet door was mirrored.

The bathroom was a decent size. There was a mirror the length of the long vanity, and a low quality hairdryer was mounted on the wall. The bathtub/shower combination had a curved rod with shower curtain. The bath towels and cloths were good quality. Again, I was impressed with the hotel cleanliness.

Food & Beverage
The breakfast at this hotel was very low quality. There were fake scrambled eggs, cold cereals and instant oatmeal, white breads, the Holiday Inn Express pancake maker and cinnamon rolls, juices, and very weak coffee. I think the Holiday Inn Express coffee supplied in the guestrooms is low quality, and the coffee in the breakfast room was even worse.

The breakfast area was very busy, and staff did a good job keeping items stocked.

Pool and outside area
This hotel has a great outside area and pool, which is one of the reasons we chose this location over the Hampton Inn down the street. The area was clean and relaxing. The air temperature was cool during our stay, so there were not many people in the pool.

pool and gulf front rooms

The whirlpool tub was pretty warm, and my husband said that the swimming pool was warm as well. There were two hammocks hanging in the small grass area on the west side of the pool, near the outside bar. The bar was open until 7 p.m., with a couple of Happy Hour beverage specials. It sounded like the bar would stay open later, if it had been busy with patrons.
walkway to beach

There is a walkway out to the beach, and the beach area was beautiful. The white sand is soft, and we observed chairs on the beach.

Misc. and Overall
This hotel offers a free beach bag and coolie cup to guests via Facebook. If you "like" their page, and then make a post during your stay, you can go to the front desk and get the items. We learned about a similar offer when we stayed at the Hilton Gulf Front Pensacola Beach in 2011. The properties are both owned and managed by the same company, INNISFREE HOTELS.

I suppose this would be a good place to stay for guests who do not care about evening activities. Other than Bubba's Seafood House located across the street from the hotel, there was not much else within walking distance. We walked to Bubba's for an appetizer and beverage at the bar. The shrimp we had was excellent, and the service was good. The atmosphere was similar to Applebee's or Ruby Tuesday.

view of the Hampton Inn during our beach walk
The Hampton Inn located about a mile east of the Holiday Inn Express, is across the street from a shopping center with a few dining options. Even though the pool area at the Hampton Inn did not look as nice, I think that hotel would have been a much better choice. The pool photos on the link I provided here, look nicer than the pool photos I saw on the Hilton website when booking our stay. There are no view obstructions around the Hampton Inn, so a side view balcony there would have been nicer than what we had at the Holiday Inn Express. The rates at the Hampton Inn were only a few dollars more, and I think it would have been worth it. If we visit this area again, we would definitely choose that hotel instead.

There are not any full service hotels in this area, although there are several condo resorts with rooms for rent. Most of them have nice pool areas, although I could not find any with a restaurant or lounge onsite.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Mobile, Alabama / Homewood Suites by Hilton

March 2013, Weekday, 1-night, King 1-bedroom suite #346

Status perks and check-in
I received two bottles of water and a medium-sized package of Milano cookies. I was surprised to receive this because I have bonus points chosen as my on-property benefit, and I received those as well.

I arrived before check-in time, and the room that had been set aside for me was not ready yet. I sat down in the lobby to work, and the front desk agent walked out to get me about 1/2 hour later. She did not remember my name or what room I had been waiting for; she just said that she could find me a room now. I followed her back to the counter, and it sounded like she assigned me the suite next door to the one that had originally been set aside.

Guestroom #346
There are two guestroom sections at this hotel, and this suite is on the top floor of the west wing, about halfway down the hallway from the elevator. The two hotel sections are not connected, except through the lodge and front desk area on the ground floor.

The windows in this guestroom face west, so I had a great sunset view. I prefer rooms that face the outside of the property, rather than the courtyard, because they are usually in quieter areas. The room was clean and comfortable, and I did not hear any noise from outside the guest room.

The kitchen and living area contained: full-size fridge with ice maker, stovetop, dishwasher, microwave, coffee pot, small table with two straight-backed chairs, couch, soft chair, footstool, flatscreen TV on a short armoire, coffee table, end table, and lamps. The dishes in the cupboards did not include wine glasses. Microwave popcorn and coffee with condiments were provided. This suite does not have a desk and chair, which I did not miss during my one-night stay. I am sure I would have missed this, if I had been staying for more than one night. The Internet connection speed in the guestroom was good.

Doors between the living room and the bedroom could be closed. I did not see any "studio" room types listed at this hotel. I would rather have a one-bedroom suite than a studio suite, although I was surprised that the rooms are all one and two bedroom suites. The bedroom contained a king size bed, flatscreen TV on an armoire, nightstands, lamps, telephone, and alarm clock. The bed and pillows were comfortable, and the sheets were good quality.

The bathroom vanity and a closet were located between the bed, and the shower and toilet area. The closet doors were mirrored. The closet contained a luggage rack, and an iron and board. Bathroom amenities were on the vanity, and a low quality hairdryer was mounted on the wall by the vanity.

There was plenty of room in the bathing area. The tub/shower combination had a curved shower rod with shower curtain. The bath towels were good quality thick towels.

sunset view from living room window

Food & Beverage
The food and beverages served at the evening social were good quality, and the service was excellent. The tossed salad was prepared with romaine lettuce, and assorted fresh toppings were available. The stuffed green peppers and apple turnovers had excellent flavor. I do not recall the other food items that were served, since I did not try anything else. I think there was some type of bread.  

I do not know what brand of beer or wine was served. White Zinfandel and red wine were in decanters on the counter. The red wine was decent quality.

I had cold cereal and an apple for breakfast because I did not see anything else that looked appealing. My husband had the scrambled eggs and sausage, which he said were not very good. The only oatmeal available was instant oatmeal. White breads were available, along with the apple turnovers that had been out the night before. Beverages included juices, coffee, tea, and milk.

Fitness center
The fitness center contained cardio machines with cardio theater, hand weights, a flatscreen TV, a scale, sani-wipes, a water cooler, and towels. Everything was well maintained and clean.

Business center
The business center contained two computers and a printer. I received an error message on the printer when I tried to print a document the day of my arrival. The front desk agent opened and closed some doors on the printer, which fixed the problem. I did not have any trouble printing a second item the next morning.

Shuttle and misc.
One reason I had booked this hotel is because it has airport shuttle service, and my husband was arriving at 10:15 p.m. After I had checked in, I learned that the hotel shuttle stops at 10 p.m. It does not say this on the hotel website. I usually call the hotel beforehand to confirm the shuttle times when I know I will need early morning or late shuttle service. I did not call this time, because it was before 11 p.m. This hotel is only a few miles from the airport, so it wasn't that difficult for me to pick him up, although it was dark, and it was my first time driving to the Mobile airport.

Bonefish Grill and TGI Fridays are located right next to this hotel, and they are both easy to walk to. Even though the address for this hotel is on Providence Park Drive, it is directly behind TGI Fridays, and it is accessible from Airport Boulevard traveling from either direction. My GPS did not think I could turn in from Airport Boulevard, and tried to direct me to Cody Road, and then in the back way. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Montgomery, Alabama / Residence Inn

March 2013, Weekday, 1-night, king studio #212

Status perks and check-in
I did not look at this property close enough when I booked it, because this property does not have an interior hallway with elevators. I typically do not book this style of Residence Inn because I don't feel as safe on the ground floor, and it is difficult to carry anything more than a carry-on up the stairs.

I realized my oversight when I arrived at the hotel. It was before check-in time, so I decided to look online to see what other hotels were available nearby. I found a Homewood Suites with availability that was not too far away. I decided to go inside to find out what kind of room I would have, before deciding what to do. The front desk agent said that I had a king studio suite on the second floor, and she confirmed that the hotel does not have elevators.

Since I was traveling with a fairly large suitcase, I asked if a room was available on the ground floor, where it would be located, and if it would be an upgraded room. The agent said that she could give me a king studio suite on the ground floor on the front side of the building, but that it was not ready yet. She said that she could not give me an upgrade; that she needed to give me what corporate had assigned. I have never heard that before; however, I did not question her. I said that would be fine, and I sat down in the lobby with my laptop.

Staff provided great service assigning my room while I worked. An employee walked over to get my credit card and MR card (I was glad I had this, since I am usually never asked for it). She asked whether I wanted points or something from the gift shop for my bonus amenity, and then she took my cards to the front desk to complete the check-in process. When she brought my cards back to me with my check-in key packet, she thanked me for being a Platinum member. She said that she had been able to upgrade me to a room with a fireplace.

Guestroom #212
view from living area
This guestroom is located on the front side of the building just down from the lodge and check-in desk.  It had been recently updated, and it was clean and comfortable. I did not hear any noise from other guestrooms. Since there is parking just outside the windows, I  heard occasional noise from guests leaving or arriving. In fact, I was awakened at 5 a.m. when I heard a diesel truck start in the parking lot.

The kitchen area contained a full-size stainless steel refrigerator, complete range with stovetop and oven, microwave, dishwasher, full size coffee pot, dishes in the cupboards, and bar with two comfortable bar stools. Coffee with condiments and popcorn were provided.

view from kitchen
A desk and chair were located against the wall by the entry door, between the kitchen area and living room. There was a telephone, lamp, and ethernet cable on the desk. The Internet connection speed was good with the cord and on the wireless. I did not need an access code to access the Internet.

The living area included a couch, soft chair, footstool, lamp, coffee table, and fireplace. The couch in this guestroom was exactly the same as the couch in another Residence Inn I recently stayed in--Miami Airport Residence Inn. It was just as uncomfortable as the one in the other hotel. The style looks great, but it is not good for relaxing.

A flatscreen TV on an armoire was visible from the living room, the bedroom, and even the bathroom vanity area. There were two narrow windows in the living area, and a large one by the bed, which could all be opened. That is what I do not like about this type of hotel--the ground level windows. I think this is a nice feature if you are not a female traveling by yourself.

The fireplace was not much of an upgrade, for me, because it was a wood fireplace! I have never stayed in a suite like this that had a wood burning fireplace instead of a gas one. When I asked the front desk about this later, I was told that they have fire logs for sale in the gift shop. I did not inquire how much they cost. I wondered about the danger of someone bringing their own wood into the suite. Most guests would not know about the fireplace beforehand, because the Residence Inn website does not include a fireplace in the room descriptions. There is a fireplace on the images of the 2-bedroom suite floor plans. None of the studio floor plans matched suite 212 exactly.

The bed was comfortable and clean, and the lights and outlets on the headboard all worked. The area also included nightstands, a telephone, and an illuminated alarm clock.

A long vanity was located outside of the shower and toilet area, across from a large closet. The closet contained hangers, although there was no luggage rack. The closet doors were mirrored, and the mirror above the vanity, ran the length of the counter. There was not much room in the toilet and shower area, but at least the door could be opened fully! The shower was a tub/shower combination. The towels were good quality, thick towels. A hairdryer was provided, although I did not use it or notice the quality.

Food & Beverage
Food served at the evening social included: large vienna type hot dogs with sauerkraut, chili sauce, and other fixins; potato, macaroni, and tossed salad; potato chips and cookies. Franzia box wine was available--White Zinfandel and Chablis, and draft beer--Budweiser, I think.

I have recently noticed that some of the extended stay hotels are cutting back on the number of days that the evening social is offered, so I took a photo of the March 2013 schedule posted on the refrigerator. This hotel was only offering an evening social on two or three nights a week. Wednesday looked like the standard "BBQ" night, which is when I stayed at this hotel. I would suggest calling for the schedule, if this is a major consideration when choosing a hotel.

I was glad to see oatmeal at breakfast because I did not see much else that interested me. Hot items included: fake scrambled eggs, greasy sausage, waffle maker, oatmeal, and stir-fry with rice. This is the first time that I have seen stir-fry at breakfast. Cheese, sour cream, and salsa were provided for the eggs. Brown sugar and walnuts were provided for the oatmeal. Other items included cold cereal, white breads and bagels, pastries, milk, juice, coffee, and tea.

Fitness center
The fitness center was not very large; however, it was open 24 hours, and I never encountered other guests while using it. It contained three cardio machines with cardio theater, a flatscreen TV, sani-wipes, water, and towels. Everything was well maintained and clean.

Business center
I used the computer by the front desk to print a document without any trouble. There were no other office supplies available. The front desk agent gladly let me use the stapler at the front desk.

Pool and outside area
I did not see anyone using the outside areas since it was cool during my stay (low 60s during the day and low 40s overnight). I observed a pool, whirlpool tub, nice seating, a grill, and a basketball court. I thought it was odd that the pool was uncovered during daylight, and the whirlpool tub was covered. I would have thought that there would be more of an interest in the whirlpool tub with the cool weather, although it is possible that a guest requested that the pool be uncovered.

Suite #212 is not connected to the main lodge, so I needed to walk outside to get to the lodge. This property looked newer, and it looked like it was located in a nice neighborhood. Even though my room was not 100% what I desired, it was comfortable and clean, and staff assistance was excellent throughout my stay. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Birmingham, Alabama / Embassy Suites

March 2013, Weekday, 2-nights, King corner suite #725

Status perks and check-in
I received free Internet access and two bottles of water, which is typical with Gold status. Check-in time at this hotel is 3 p.m., and I arrived a little after 3:30 p.m. The front desk agent said that my room was not ready yet, and he commented that notes on the computer said not to change my room. I told him that was probably because I had requested a quiet corner top floor room. Since I was going to be staying for two nights, I told him that I wanted to wait for the room that had been set aside for me, and then I took a seat in the lobby.

Fifteen minutes later, the bellman walked over and said that my room was ready. I walked back to the front desk and then waited several minutes because another guest had arrived and was checking in. I have waited in the lobby for a guestroom before, and it is impressive when the front desk agent brings me my key packet when the room is ready.
Welcome letter -
I covered up his last name;
obviously, my first name is not Harry!

Guestroom #725
When I got to my guestroom, I realized that the agent must have moved me to a different room, even though I had told him that I wanted to wait. This guestroom is not on the top floor (the hotel has 8 floors), and a welcome letter for another guest was on the counter in this room with the two bottles of water. The guest the welcome letter was for was a Diamond level guest. Since my status is only Gold, I was surprised that this guestroom would have been for a Diamond guest, because I did not think the room was very nice.

When I called the front desk later to ask which guestroom I had originally been assigned, the female agent said that information was no longer on the computer. I called because I was curious, and because I wanted to let the agents know that when I had said that I wanted to wait for the room that had been set aside for me, that I had meant it. She told me that this is one of their better suites. I sympathize with guests who end up with a basic room at this hotel!

The furnishings in the guestroom were old and dingy looking. The room was not very clean, nor was it well maintained. The entire guestroom needed to be updated, in my opinion. The bedding looked clean, and the bed looked comfortable, so I decided to stay.

Here are the details of the guestroom furnishings and condition.
Living and kitchen area:
- Full size couch, which I never sat on because it was very worn and did not look clean.
- Soft chair, end table, lamps, and armoire in poor to average condition. The bulbs in all of the lights must have been low wattage because the lighting was very poor.
- Flatscreen TV, which looked like it was in excellent condition.
- Table/desk with one desk chair and two straight back seats. The condition and cleanliness of these furnishings was acceptable.   
door stop
- The door stop was broken and laying behind the door in drywall dust. This was not cleaned on stayover.
- Mini-fridge and microwave under the counter and sink. Both of these items were in acceptable working condition.
- The coffee setup on the counter had not been restocked. There was one single serve coffee packet, and only one flavored liquid creamer. Usually, I find two or three packets of coffee and two to four unflavored liquid creamers. I would guess that the flavored creamer had been left behind by a previous guest.
- Again, the lighting in this area was very poor. I don't know how housekeeping could even tell if the counters and appliances were clean, it was so dim.

The carpet looked old and dirty. There was dust and lint buildup along the walls and in the corners, and it was stained. This is one of the few hotels I have been in where I did not walk on the floors at any time without my shoes on.

There was a door between the kitchen area and the bedroom that could be completely closed.

dust buildup along edges

- Tall armoire/hanging closet with hangers, and an iron and board. Other than the sticky door when opening and closing the cabinet, everything was acceptable. The iron worked, and there were enough hangers.
- Dresser with second flatscreen TV. The TV looked new, and the dresser looked old. It was moderately scratched, and again, the carpet corners had considerable buildup of dust and dirt.
- An undamaged folding luggage rack was open next to the dresser in front of a full length mirror.
floor stain
- The king size bed and pillows were comfortable. The outlets and lamps on the headboard worked. There was a large stain on the floor next  to the bed.
- Nightstands with a telephone and an alarm clock radio. I did not check or use the alarm, so I do not know if it worked. The radio was on when I arrived. The volume was low and the noise was static, as though no one had realized it had been left on.
- Vanity with sink, mirror and bath soap. The wood front of the vanity had water spots and a few scratches on it. 
- Sliding glass doors opened to a small balcony area. There was just enough room to step out on the balcony. The sliding door track was grimy, and there were many Asian lady beetle bugs on the windows and curtains. Some were alive, although most were dead.

I killed a couple of the bugs before I realized there were many live ones, so then I called to ask someone to come and vacuum the bugs out. When I returned to my guestroom later, a couple lights were on as though someone had been in the guestroom; however, most of the bugs were still there. 

Asian beetle bug

From what I saw in areas like the window track and the room corners, it looked like housekeeping at this hotel needed a lesson on how to use a vacuum hose nozzle.

Asian beetle bugs

I usually leave a tip for housekeeping, and I had a difficult time deciding whether to do so for this stay. On one hand, I did not think it was deserved, and on the other hand, I thought if I left a tip, my room might be cleaner the next day. In the end, I decided to leave a tip, and it did not make any difference. The guestroom cleanliness was just as poor the next day as it had been when I arrived. The coffee, however, had been restocked with two packets of regular coffee and four unflavored creamers.


The bathroom was spacious except for the way that the door opened against the toilet seat.

- Long vanity and mirror with bathroom amenities. The vanity was clean; however, it was severely cracked the entire length along the back.
- Tub/shower combination. The tub and shower curtain were clean. There was ceiling damage in a couple spots above the shower.
- The toilet was clean. Since the door did not open past the toilet, it needed to be closed in order to use the toilet.
- Hairdryer. A decent quality hairdryer was hanging in a bag on the back of the door.
- Towels. The towels and washcloths were clean, unstained, and good quality.

vanity crack

shower ceiling

Food & Beverage
I attended the evening social hour the first evening of my stay. Low quality wine was served, as well as mixed beverages and beer. I did not inquire about the beer or liquor brands. Snacks included tortilla chips and guacamole, and cheese and stale crackers. I thought breakfast the next morning was just as unsatisfactory. I suppose the omelet I had (well, that I had ordered anyway - I did not eat it after tasting it) would have been okay, if it had not been cooked until brown because the vegetable ingredients did look fresh. I thought the morning coffee was weak and watery, and I did not finish that either.
Calamari Salad from Ruth's Chris

Ruth's Chris Steakhouse is located in this hotel, and I had soup and salads there. The service at Ruth's was exceptional both times that I visited. The first evening, I ordered the Calamari Salad to go. The second day, I had the Lobster Bisque and the Harvest Salad for lunch. All items were good quality and flavorful.

Fitness center 
The fitness center was open 24 hours. There were several working cardio machines with cardio theater. The room also contained weights, a water cooler (no cups the first day I visited), towels, and a flatscreen TV. The sani-wipes dispenser was empty both times I visited.

I did not have any trouble getting a cardio machine in the afternoon; however, the machines were all in use between 6 and 7 a.m. both mornings.

Business center
I thought the business center was excellent. I have stayed in some Embassy Suites hotels where I could not print documents on my own for no charge. This business center had two computers and a fast laser printer. It also contained a stapler and other office supplies.

Public areas and overall
The plants in this hotel were in excellent condition, and the atrium decor was great. Embassy Suites hotels always have a nice atrium area; however, the atrium in this hotel was more beautiful than many I have stayed in. There were even plants above the guest reception bar and breakfast counter. The lobby view from Ruth's Chris Steakhouse was great.

Other than the great plants, the cleanliness and condition of the public areas were like the guestroom. I was worried about my stay from the start, because of what I observed when I entered. The furniture by the entrance was worn, dated, and unclean. There was debris on all of the floor mats and rugs, and there were spots on the floors that needed to be cleaned. I realize that some of imperfections I have shared here did not affect my stay, such as the cracked vanity; however, for what this hotel charges, and the image they want to project, I thought the condition was unacceptable. The condition of the furnishings I saw in this hotel, do not match what is shown on their website.

Another thing I did not like was that there was no parking when I returned to the hotel the second evening after dark. I had to park near the bank next door, around the side of the building. The valet parking sign at the entrance says that valet parking is for Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, and the hotel page does not list valet parking as an option.

I chose this hotel because it was in an excellent location for the businesses I needed to visit. I had also considered the Marriott Courtyard in Homewood, which was almost as close. I decided to go with the Embassy Suites since I would be staying two nights, and I figured I would like the extra room in the suite. In hindsight, I should have kept both reservations (either could have been canceled up to 6 p.m. day of arrival) until after I had checked in. If I hadn't canceled the Marriott Courtyard reservation beforehand, I probably would have left the Embassy Suites and went there.