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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!