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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Madison, Georgia / Hampton Inn

May 2013, Weekday, 2-nights, king guestroom #302

Status perks and check-in

When I checked in, the front desk agent pointed to a display with a couple of items, and said I could choose one for being a Gold member. I chose a bottle of water.

guestroom wall
Guestroom #302
guestroom wall
This guestroon is located at the end of the hall on the top floor. The bed was comfortable and clean; however, the hotel building is old and dated. I thought many areas needed to be updated and cleaned. 

There were several scuff and dirt marks on the guestroom walls. The scuff marks in the photos here do not show the dirt as well as it was actually visible. The building also smelled musty. Fortunately, this guestroom, and the hallway outside the guestroom, smelled fresh. 

It is possible that hotel personnel were aware of the moisture problem and had tried to rid the hotel of the dampness. The HVAC unit in the hall outside this guestroom was always on high (it was very cold in the hall!), and the smell in the hallway was as if air freshener had been used each day. I was glad about the air freshener scent because it did not smell like a cheap perfume that masked the odor; it made the hallway smell fresh. It had not been used in the stairways, and the musty odor was very strong when I used the stairs.

The guestroom bathroom near the entrance door was a decent size. It contained the standard Hampton Inn amenities and a tub/shower combination with a shower curtain on a curved rod. A single serve coffee maker with supplies was on the bathroom vanity.

What I think is one of the most infuriating hotel experiences happened to me at this hotel--finding out that the tub does not drain properly until after I have disrobed and stepped inside! Yuck! Fortunately, it was not completely stopped up. I called the front desk before I left for the day, and someone fixed it before I returned. One reason I find this so annoying (apart from the grossness of it), is that I do not see how housekeeping could not have known this when the guestroom was cleaned. It seems like hotels would have checklists for this kind of thing.

The guestroom area contained a suitcase bench, flatscreen TV on an armoire, microwave, fridge, king size bed, nightstands with lamps and an alarm clock, desk and chair, and soft chair. I thought both chairs looked old and not very comfortable. I sat on a towel when I used the desk chair. I did not use the lap pad on the bed because it looked like it needed to be cleaned.

I did not hear any guests or outside noise while in the guestroom, although the hallway HVAC unit was very loud. I could easily hear it after I went to bed at night. 

Food & Beverage
Breakfast is included at Hampton Inn, and it included the following items: coffee, tea, milk, juices, cold cereal, instant oatmeal, yogurt, fruit, and breads. Cheesy omelets were included the first day, and sausage biscuits with gravy were out the second morning.

Business center
One computer and a printer were located next to the front desk. I printed a document after I got assistance from the employee at the front desk because the computer was not connected to the Internet when I first sat down. Apparently something had to be reset the day before. The employee had to call someone to ask how to reset the computer.

Fitness center
I do not recall much about the fitness center except that it contained a couple of cardio machines, and a flatscreen TV. The TV worked well; however, it kind of echoed in the room.

Misc. and Overall
The address for this hotel does not quite match where it is located because you cannot turn into the hotel from Eatonton Rd. There is a road off Eatonton called Hampton Lane, and you need to turn down that road to get to the hotel. The hotel is somewhat visible from Eatonton Rd; however, since there is not a Hampton Inn sign on that road, I could not figure out where to pull in when I first arrived.

If you are arriving via I-20, Hampton Lane is located right next to the interstate, before McDonalds. The Hampton Inn is located behind McDonalds.

This hotel is in a convenient location next to I-20 and 441, if you need to travel to a few nearby towns, like I did. There are not many dining choices nearby. Other than fast food and Cracker Barrel, I saw only two other restaurants nearby: Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant and Pacho's Mexican Grill. The photo below is sushi from Hong Kong, which was pretty good.

I got the Lady-in-Red at Hong Kong Chinese restaurant to-go, and then took the photo back in the hotel room. I could not find a webpage for the restaurant, although I did find a recent review from someone else who thought the sushi was good too: Yelp review. I did not dine at Pacho's, although I thought the food and menu on their webpage looked good when I found it. Since I could not find any menu information for Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant, I probably would have chosen Pacho's, if I had looked online first. I called the hotel before I arrived, and the front desk agent only mentioned Cracker Barrel, Pizza Hut, and the fast food choices. Both Hong Kong Chinese restaurant and Pacho's Mexican Grill are less than one mile down the road.

After the impressive apology and bill adjustment that I received from the Hampton Inn in Dickinson, ND when I encountered problems in the guestroom, I was quite disappointed with the way this hotel handled the clogged bathtub/shower drain. I did not expect an entire bill adjustment; however, I did not even receive a note in the guestroom telling me that this had been fixed. I found out because I checked the drain by running the water when I returned to my hotel that day.

DSM airport - Des Moines, Iowa / DoubleTree Hotel

May 2013, Weekend/weekday, 2-nights, king fireplace suite, #301

Status perks and check-in
I reserved a king sofa bed non-smoking guestroom online. Hilton perks say Gold members receive complimentary upgrades to an executive floor guestroom and the lounge in hotels with an executive floor. It did not look like there was an executive floor or executive guestrooms in this hotel, so in the comments box, I wrote that I would prefer a top floor guestroom, and a fireplace suite upgrade, if available. 

En route, my flight was delayed a couple of hours, which was going to make my arrival time well after 8:00 p.m. It looked like this hotel was sold out when I checked the room availability online, so I decided to call the hotel from the airport. I said that I was going to be arriving late, and that I wanted to confirm my reservation. The front desk agent read my comments while I was on the telephone, and said that she could give me an upgrade to a suite. She told me that this would be on the 3rd floor instead of the 4th/top floor, and I said that would be fine.

When I arrived to check-in, I also received a coupon good for one beverage in the lounge, and coupons for breakfast both mornings.

Guestroom #301
This guestroom was clean and comfortable. The bed was one of the most comfortable hotel beds I have had recently. The entire guestroom comfort was great.

The bathroom was located near the entrance. The bath towels were good quality, and a plush robe was hanging on the back of the bathroom door. The water was hot right out of the faucet. A good quality Conair hairdryer with a cool setting and a diffuser was provided.

The closet across from the bathroom contained a large safe, and an iron and ironing board.

The countertop next to the closet contained a single serve coffee maker and two bottles of water. Coffee supplies had been provided, although there was only one packet of regular coffee. I drank both bottles of water, and they both were replenished on stayover. Coffee supplies had also been restocked with two packets of regular coffee.

The spacious bedroom and sitting area included a king size bed, desk and chair, microwave, fridge, flatscreen TV on an armoire, night stands with lamps and a lighted alarm clock, and a folding luggage rack.

The living area between the bedroom and bathroom contained a large sofa, flatscreen TV, fireplace, lamps, wall table, and footstool. The sofa and footstool were very comfortable.

There were plenty of electrical outlets in the guestroom, and the noise level was good. Even though this hotel is located next to the airport, I did not hear any airplane noise. I heard only occasional noise from other guests. Sometimes, I heard the water running from other guestrooms, although it was not so loud that it was disturbing.

The HVAC unit was decent. It did not make much noise, and the airflow was consistent. Even though some of the furnishings were older in this guestroom, everything was well maintained and clean.

Food & Beverage
The breakfast coupon I received could be used for the full breakfast buffet, or toward the purchase of an a la carte item on the menu. Usually, I order from the menu when I have this option; however, at this hotel, the buffet breakfast was better than the menu items.

A la carte breakfast items available were just the basics and eggs Benedict. The breakfast buffet was fresh, and the items were good quality. Real scrambled eggs were on the buffet, and special order eggs could be fulfilled from the server as well. The breads included whole grain, white, and sourdough breads, as well as muffins, and bagels. Hot food items included oatmeal, bacon, and cheesy potatoes. There were several fresh fruit choices, including strawberries and melon slices. Yogurt, milk, and cold cereal were available as well.

Johnny's Italian Steakhouse is located in the hotel. I had the lobster bisque and Shrimp Frangelico salad in the dining room the second evening. The lobster bisque was excellent--probably the best I have ever had! The shrimp salad was good too, although it was not as exquisite as the bisque. The beverage coupon I had received was good for one house beverage. I asked my server if I could use the coupon value toward the purchase of better quality wine, and she said yes. Not only did she let me use it toward the wine, she accepted the coupon for the entire charge; I was not charged anything for the wine.

Fitness center
The fitness center contained three cardio machines with cardio theater, and only one of the machines was a treadmill. It looked like some guests who came to the room while I was using the treadmill, had hoped to use it. I got lucky both times that I visited.

The fitness center hours said that the center opens at 6 a.m. I decided to try at 5:45 a.m., and my key worked. Another guest was also arriving at the same time that I was. There are not any guestrooms near the fitness center, so I did not understand why it would not be open 24 hours. The second morning, I decided to check it out at 5:30 a.m. The center was open, and another guest was already using the equipment.

The temperature in the fitness center was very warm, and I thought it was difficult to be in there for more than 30 minutes. The room also contained hand weights, a water cooler, sani-wipes, a scale, and towels.

Business center
The business center consisted of two computers and printers in the hallway by the elevators. The only supplies present were notepads and pens.

This hotel is located very close to the airport and also provides shuttle service. I was very happy with my stay, and I would definitely choose this hotel again.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Old Red Trail Scenic Byway and Enchanted Highway

April 2013, weekend

We took the Old Red Trail Scenic Byway from Dickinson, North Dakota to Bismarck, North Dakota. We had printed a few maps and some information from the website before we left Dickinson; however, the trip was still a bit of a guessing game since the route was not well marked.

I had written the "Talking Trail" telephone number and several extensions on the maps I printed, so we listened to the audio in many of the towns that we went through, which was kind of cool. The only thing I found frustrating with the audio, is that the call disconnected after each segment, so we had to redial the number for the next extension. Some of the towns had three or more points of interest, so it was kind of a pain to redial the number and wait for the connection and greeting instead of just entering the next extension.

One of the stops we wanted to make was at Fort Sauerkraut. We were disappointed that I had not printed good enough directions to get us there, because this was not marked on the trail, and we could not find it.

Another stop we wanted to make was at Lovers Cliff in Almont. Again, the directions were not very clear, and the pushpin location on the map is not accurate. This was not marked on the trail, and after a few wrongs turns, we were finally able to find it. All three of the photos here are of Lovers Cliff.

Near the start of this trip, we took a detour from the Old Red Trail to drive down the Enchanted Highway, which is not too far from where we started in Dickinson. The Enchanted Highway runs from exit 72 off I-94 and south to the town of Regent. The map of the sculpture locations must not be to scale, and most of them must be near the town of Regent, which is 32 miles south of the interstate. We drove half of the distance, as far as the town of Lefor, and saw only two sculptures.

The two sculptures that were saw were pretty cool looking, and if we had not already planned to spend the day taking the Old Red Trail, we would have continued farther south--or, if this southern route would have been close to the direction we needed to go, we would have continued. At this point, we did not know how long it would take us to get to Bismarck at our leisurely pace, so we did not continue after we got as far as Lefor.

These are photos of Deer Crossing and Geese in Flight on the Enchanted Highway.

Geese in Flight from a distance

Geese in Flight entrance
with birds on each post

We sometimes drove great distances in North Dakota without seeing a gas station or a restaurant. Be sure and plan your day accordingly, and enjoy your travels! 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Theodore Roosevelt National Park - North Dakota

April 2013 - Weekend, 11:15 a.m. - 4:45 p.m.

One could easily spend an entire day in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We spent about six hours visiting the park, including the drive between the North and South units. We were not rushed, although this would have easily turned into several more hours, if we had walked more of the trails in the park. My husband was just healing from a twisted ankle a few weeks before our trip, so we did not do as much trail walking as we normally would.

The cost to enter the park is $10 per vehicle, and the pass is good for seven days. I have uploaded a photo of the park brochure and map, although you can probably find better information on the website link above, if you want to do any research before you go. We did not look up anything before our visit, and I do not  think that affected our visit at all.

North Unit overlook
We visited the North Unit first, since we were on our way south from Williston. The main Visitor's Center is located in the South Unit, which is the area of the park visited most. There is a pullout viewing point on Highway 85, just north of the North Unit park entrance.

We liked the North Unit best, so I am glad that our route brought us to that portion first!

North Unit
The North Unit office has limited open times before summer. It was staffed the day that we visited, and the ranger was very helpful. There were a few taxidermy stuffed animals on display in the center, and there was a sit down video, which we did not watch. There were also a couple of souvenir type items for purchase. Restrooms with flush toilets, and a drinking fountain with the capability to fill water bottles, were located in the foyer.

There was not much traffic during our visit. The wildlife that we saw included bison, longhorn steers, a rattlesnake, deer--one of them closeup, and pheasants. We were disappointed that we did not see any Bighorn sheep or elk. The first wildlife that we saw were longhorn steers and bison. This review will have so many photos, that I am having a difficult time choosing the right ones to post!

The next two photos show and explain how the "slumps" of landscape are formed. Remember that photos can be enlarged, if you click on them.

This next photo is from the stop called Cannonball Concretions.

We saw a rattlesnake on the road next. It almost blends right in with the pavement!

A couple more photos before we turned around to head back toward the entrance.
Overlooking the Little Missouri River at the end of the road

These two photos are from the River Bend Overlook stop.

Three last photos from the North Unit, just because I could not stop taking pictures! Our day started out overcast, and the sun was out by the time we left the North Unit. We stopped at the picnic area for lunch before heading to the South Unit.

Painted Canyon Visitor's Center
We were disappointed that the Painted Canyon location was not open at the time of our visit. I had read that it is open on the weekends in April; however, the gate was closed when we stopped. There was a vehicle parked at the gate, although we did not see anyone around. After we drove off, I wondered if we would have been able to walk around the gate to take an overlook photo of the South Unit. This next photo was taken from the highway after we found out the location was closed.
South Unit
We did not get as many photos in the South Unit. Not only because we liked the North Unit better, but also because we had not paid attention to our camera battery, and it was going dead. Fortunately, I realized that the GPS car power cord had the same connection as the camera, so we were able to plug it in to get some photos. It did not recharge very quickly though, and the camera would not work to take photos while it was plugged in. If we had realized this sooner, we would have had the camera plugged in during the one-hour drive between the two units.

The Visitor's Center in the South Unit is open daily year around. It is much larger than the one in the North Unit, with a substantial gift shop. There is also a museum, and a park video, which again, we did not watch. The facilities at the entrance were similar to the North Unit, with restrooms and a drinking fountain.

We followed the 36-mile loop through the park around to the right, and the wildlife we saw included bison, prairie dogs, deer, and wild horses.

2nd Prairie Dog Town
There are several Prairie Dog Towns listed on the map. We thought the best viewing was at the second and last towns. In fact, at the last Prairie Dog Town, near Peaceful Valley, we saw dogs running across the road and along the sides of the road. The two photos here are from the second and last towns. We took photos at the first town too; however, the dogs in that area seemed to blend in with the landscape more.
Last Prairie Dog Town

We saw many deer laying in the distance beyond the prairie dog in the last prairie town, although they are not very visible in the photo.

Here are a few photos near the start of the loop, before we arrived at Buck Hill. Wild horses are visible in the first photo.
Wild horses

Buck Hill is the highest elevation in the park, and it was SUPER windy when we were there! I told my husband that I felt like I was about to be blown over the side. We could see a large cave opening in the landscape across, which is barely visible in the photo on the left.
Buck Hill - cave
Buck Hill toward the parking lot

One more stop for us, and more buffalo! Most of the buffalo that we saw in the South Unit were near the start of this trip, and in the same area at the end.

In the campground

Now that I have finished this blog post, maybe I will start singing a different song in my head other than, Home on the Range! I wish everyone an enjoyable visit at the park, and I hope you have enjoyed this blog post!