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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Mackinaw City, Michigan / Shepler's Ferry

May 2014

There are three companies that offer ferry service between Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island. We ended up with Shepler's Ferry, because the guestroom we had booked at the LakeView Hotel on Mackinaw Island included roundtrip tickets with this company. Before our trip, I had decided that Shepler's Ferry was a fabulous choice because of the professional and personable way in which the company presented itself online. Whoever is in charge of their Facebook page is doing an excellent job!

The week before our trip, the lake was still full of ice, and we had canceled because the ferry service was not running from Mackinaw City. The day before we had planned to travel, we learned that Shepler's would be starting limited runs the day of our trip from Mackinaw City, so we rebooked our room at the LakeView Hotel and rode to the island with Shepler's.

Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island, Weekday morning
We had initially wanted to take the 9:30 a.m. departure because it was listed as a Might Mac departure, which means we would travel under the bridge on the way to the island (weather permitting). The Mighty Mac departures are listed on Shepler's schedule; however, the schedule was just starting out this first day, and the weather was not good. I also had a business call that morning, so we went across on the 11:30 a.m. run.

Our reservation from LakeView Hotel provided a confirmation number, and we were told to stop at Shepler's Ferry dock for our tickets. I had hoped to pick up our tickets beforehand; however, our name was not on the list when my husband stopped there in the early morning. When we returned just before 11:00, I provided our confirmation email, the agent contacted the Lake View Hotel, and then we  received our tickets.

Shepler's complimentary parking is not clearly explained on their website. To park the car overnight, it is $16 in a gated lot, and it is complimentary in their lot about 4 blocks away. If you want someone to valet park your vehicle in the complimentary lot, the cost is $7. We had time to park the car ourselves, and my husband is funny about choosing his own parking spot and letting people drive his vehicles, so we took the car there and walked back. An employee had met us on the dock before this to take our bags. He provided a generic claim check, and he said that they were out of tags for the Lake View Hotel.

When we returned from parking the car, we waited in a covered area across from the dock. Flush toilets are located in a separate building behind the ticket counter. Just before boarding, an employee asked everyone to walk over to the dockside, and we then waited under an awning on the dock.

Boarding the boat was an easy process. It was chilly, and the boat was not completely full. A couple of people sat outside on top, although more than 90% of the passengers opted for inside seating. Even with the breezy weather, the trip was quick and smooth. A bike was left behind that belonged to a young girl with her parents who were seated behind us. It sounded like they were supposed to have loaded the bicycle, and they had thought it would be loaded with the luggage. Shepler's said that they would bring it on the next run.

After we disembarked on the island, it was unclear how we were supposed to get our luggage. I think we were supposed to have talked with an employee about the fact that our luggage had generic tags, and then it would have been delivered. Several passengers were standing around to get luggage with generic tags from one of the luggage carts because they were going to houses on the island. Our bags were on the same cart, so when they got their bags, we got ours as well. The Lake View Hotel is pretty much across the street from the dock, so taking our own bags to the hotel was quite easy.

Mackinac Island to Mackinaw City, Weekend morning
We returned on the 10:30 a.m. boat. We arrived at the dock about 10:20 or so, and the boarding process was not very clear. I did not see an office or window. Someone took our bag, and then after we inquired, we learned that the boat from Mackinaw City was on its way over. One other passenger was standing around, so we assumed she was waiting for the same boat. After chatting with her, we learned that she had ridden over on the boat almost ½ hour earlier and was still waiting for a horse/cab to the Grand Hotel. She said that she wished she had worn different shoes, because she could have been there already, if she had just walked.

When the boat arrived, our lone bag was taken out to the dock, and we began to think we were going to be the only ones on the boat. A few minutes later, another couple wheeled their luggage down the dock, and we were the only 4 passengers on the return trip.

The boat for our trip back was more comfortable than the one we had ridden out in. The entire inside of the boat had been refinished, and the cushions were more comfortable. The seats had been recovered, and the carpet was new.

It was raining when we arrived back in Mackinaw City, and we started to think we should have done valet parking. Just before docking though, we learned that there is a shuttle bus, and we could get a ride to the lot that way. We had not been told about the shuttle bus when we self-parked the vehicle before departure. We disembarked, retrieved our luggage, and took the shuttle to the car lot.

We were happy with the comfort and service from Shepler's, and we would choose this company the next time we visit the island.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Mackinaw City, Michigan / Deer Head Inn

May 2014, Weekday, 1-night, The Hemingway guestroom

This was our first experience at a Bed and Breakfast. Since we did not think our previous hotel stays in Mackinaw City were desirable, we decided to try something new. 

I had reserved the least expensive Lighthouse guestroom at Deer Head Inn because we were only going to be staying a short time. We were arriving in the evening, and departing the next morning. I had some work to do in the morning before we left, which would be easiest to complete at a desk or table. Before we arrived to check in, I began to wonder if The Lighthouse room had a desk. The main rooms page of the website says: "All of the rooms at the Deer Head Inn feature incredibly cozy queen size beds with special comfort appointments, spacious bathrooms each with unique and welcoming tile designs, warming gas fireplaces, and comfortable easy chairs and desk to make you feel right at home." When I viewed the pictures, however, I did not see a desk in The Lighthouse room. I contacted the inn to ask about this, and I was told that The Lighthouse room does not have a desk, and that we had been upgraded to The Hemingway room for no charge!

fireplace in breakfast room

Arrival experience
Barry met us at the door when we arrived. He provided keys and instructions for how to use them. He escorted us to the guestroom, and provided an overview of the features. We were the only guests the evening of our stay, and he told us we could view any of the other guestrooms that had an open door, if we wanted. We briefly looked inside the other rooms later that evening. He also said that there are movies available, and he explained where they were located.

We had to carry our luggage up the stairs, which was not too difficult. We had one small to medium sized roller bag, a laptop bag, and a small cooler.

The Hemingway guestroom
This guestroom is located at the north end of the inn by itself. All of the other guestrooms are up a different set of stairs across from the steps leading to The Hemingway room. We did not hear any floor noise from the stairs to The Hemingway room, or in the guestroom; however, the floors creaked when we walked to the other guestrooms. Since The Hemingway guestroom is located away from the other guestrooms, I expect that this room offers a quieter night's sleep than the rest of the rooms when the inn is full.

The guestroom contained a queen size bed, night stands, lamps, clock, two leisure chairs, a desk and chair, end tables, a flatscreen TV, wicker armoire, a fireplace, and two ceiling fans. A good size closet was located at one end of the sitting area by the foot of the bed. It contained hangers, extra bedding, and a folding luggage rack.

The room was charmingly decorated, although we did not think that any of the chairs were comfortable, especially the desk chair. I had only brought my short laptop cord, and it barely reached the outlet under the desk.

I read reviews from a couple of guests who did not care for the stuffed animals in the room. We were fine with that, although we thought the artificial plants were too much clutter on the desk and end table. I would have preferred more workspace on the desk, and we moved one of the plants in the sitting area so that we could use the end table.

The bed was comfortable, and the sheets were good quality.

The bathing area contained a small shower, a whirlpool tub, decent size vanity, small fridge, coffee pot with supplies, 2 coffee mugs, a plastic ice bucket, plastic cups, 2 towels, 2 washcloths, 2 hand towels, a bath mat, a makeup remover wipe, and a bar of glycerin soap. One of the packages of coffee that was provided was Hazelnut flavor, and the condiments included liquid creamer. 

I was surprised to see the fridge and coffeepot, because this is not listed on the website, and it is not visible in any of the photos. I did not notice if any of the other rooms had this feature when we looked at them.

There was not a full length mirror in the guestroom, and the mirror behind the sink was not conducive for applying makeup. I was glad I did not need a makeup mirror, and I missed a full length mirror. The sink mirror looked nice, although it was not very functional.

The shower in this guestroom was smaller than the showers in any of the other rooms. A couple of the other rooms had a 5-sided corner shower stall. 

I wondered if the glycerin soaps had been specially made since they were wrapped with the inn name, and I also observed some downstairs in the breakfast room. I wish I had asked!

Barry had asked us about diet needs and breakfast timing when we checked in. Barry and Nancy served a deluxe breakfast exactly at the time they had told us. When we arrived a few minutes early, we found the table set with two place settings, a pitcher of water, and fresh strawberries and pineapple. Coffee and tea were available on the counter across the room. 

Barry and Nancy greeted us and offered orange juice. When the hot food was ready, they served an asparagus quiche, potatoes, bacon, and an apple tart with homemade caramel sauce. Much nicer than the continental breakfast we would have received at the Best Western, where we had initially planned to stay!

My husband noticed champagne on the counter in the kitchen area, and if I had not had work I needed to finish after breakfast, I would have inquired whether mimosas were included with breakfast, too!

The inn is only about a block away from town, which is another reason we chose it. We knew that we would not be there early, and it was not warm enough out to walk very far.

The larger room was nice, although if I had been given the choice of rooms, I probably would have chosen The Wilderness room. I did not use the whirlpool tub, and I liked the larger shower in The Wilderness room. The desk chairs looked more comfortable, and the bed in that room is a king bed. The Wilderness room is located at the end of the hall, so even if you are choosing a room when the inn is full, I think this room would be just about as soundproof as The Hemingway room. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Mackinaw City, Michigan / Lodging and Chamber of Tourism

May 2014

As much as we love the quaint city of Mackinaw, one thing I think that it lacks is a decent hotel. The last time we visited, we stayed in the Holiday Inn Express. We thought the Holiday Inn Express was overpriced and unclean, so I searched for different lodging for this trip. We have also stayed in the Hamilton Inn Select and the Ramada Inn when it was in a different location many years ago.

Some of the locations I researched before this trip were: Best Western Plus Dockside Waterfront InnComfort InnHamilton Inn SelectRamada InnBridge Vista Beach, Cabins of MackinawBrigadoon Bed & Breakfast of Mackinaw City and Deer Head Inn. Over several days time, I read many reviews, researched properties on Facebook and google, had online conversations with some locations, and I made several telephone calls.

During my research, one thing became clear. Many, many guests who had made a reservation through the Mackinaw City Chamber of Tourism were unhappy. Part of the reason I am writing this post is to make future travelers aware of the potential for disaster when booking through the chamber of tourism. I consider the complaints that I read valid, because they are not specific to one hotel, and all of the complaints are the same in nature: staff members were rude, including the manager who was often not available; they did not have a reservation when they arrived, some guests had even called to confirm a few days prior and had produced a printed confirmation; they were sent to another [unacceptable or lower quality] hotel for the same cost; they were told that there was a water problem in the guestroom, this same story given at different properties; and/or they were given a different room type than they had booked.

Initially, I thought that the Chamber of Tourism site must not be the official booking site for hotels in Mackinaw City, because I did not expect an official site for a city to allow there to be so many unhappy travelers. That is not what I concluded at the end of my research, however. This is what I think is happening, and bear in mind that this is merely my conclusion.

I think that Mackinaw City wants to fill all of their hotels, no matter how this is accomplished. Therefore, the Chamber of Tourism site will accept a reservation at any hotel that the guest chooses for any room type, whether there is a room available or not. When a hotel becomes full, the hotels are not honoring reservations for guests who booked through the chamber site. They are giving some type of story about why the reservation is not being honored, such as, there is a water problem with the room, or the guest is told that they do not have their reservation. The guest is then either assigned a lower quality room than what he or she had booked for the same rate, or the guest is sent to a lower quality hotel for the same cost. [I plan to check this theory of overbooking rooms when it is peak season this summer by attempting to book a room on the chamber site at a hotel that is full.]

Some of these properties do not have their own website, so guests cannot reserve a room through them except for over the telephone. When I entered the web address for Cabins of Mackinaw and for Bridge Vista Beach, for example, I was not taken to a web page for either company; the browser goes to the chamber booking site, and neither property has their own website. This is very misleading, and I can understand why there are so many unhappy guests. A few of the properties, such as Ramada Inn and Comfort Inn, have their own website with the same rates as the chamber. I suggest booking a room through the hotel website, or directly with the property over the telephone to ensure having a guestroom when arriving.

We initially chose the Best Western, and made our reservation through the chamber site because the rate was $10 less before taxes. When I called Best Western (the Mackinaw City hotel and the corporate number), I was told that they could not match the chamber rate (even though BW has a low-rate guarantee, and I also filled out the claim form). It did not sound like booking through the chamber would be a problem, and I was told that my rewards number could be added to the reservation when we arrived. I still had an uneasy feeling, and I decided to call back about a week later and cancel that reservation, as I had read even more complaints about reservations made through the chamber of tourism site. The employee on the telephone at the Best Western provided excellent service and a cancellation number, so I thought everything was fine. We ended up staying at The Deer Head Inn, and at about 10:30 p.m. that night, I received a voice mail from the Best Western about my reservation. I returned the call the next morning, and the employee had no record of our cancelation! I did not have the cancelation number with me, and fortunately, the employee was professional about the situation, and did not try to charge us.

Before choosing Deer Head Inn, we had also considered Brigadoon Bed & Breakfast of Mackinaw City. We decided not to make an advance reservation at either place because of the cancelation policies, since the lake was still frozen in April. Brigadoon has a stiffer cancelation policy; $30 cancelation fee at any time, and there is no refund less than 10 days prior to the stay. Most of the reviews I read for Brigadoon Bed & Breakfast were great except for a couple of minor things. Some people said that the bed was not very comfortable, and that the pillows were hard. When I called there, I found out that they have one guestroom without a fireplace, even though all 8 rooms on the website have a fireplace listed. I assume that they have a 9th room without photos that is not described online. We went with the Deer Head Inn because the rate was less, and the reviews I read said that the beds were comfortable.

All four of the Mackinaw City locations we have stayed in have been similar. I am surprised that there is such a contrast in lodging pride and cleanliness between Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island. We have only stayed in one location on the island (that review will be published soon, too), although all of the properties on the island look like they are excellently cared for.

Peoria, Illinois / SpringHill Suites Peoria Westlake

April 2014, Weekday, 1-night, King studio #326

Before my stay, I knew I had stayed at this SpringHill Suites before. I did not recall the hotel, although I did recall walking to the shopping center next door to eat. I could not find a previous review; I think that I stayed in this hotel before I started this blog in 2010.

Status perks and check-in
I received a personal email from Guest Services a couple of weeks before my stay, and I was able to set up airport shuttle service at that time.

The agent asked me at check-in which floor I preferred, and she assigned me a top floor guestroom. She thanked me for being a loyal member. It seems like I also received a bottle of water at check-in,  although I cannot say for sure, since I forgot to write this down while I was there.

This guestroom is located near the end of hall. It had been recently renovated, and it was clean and well-appointed.

The spacious living and working area contained the following: sofa with throw pillows, lamps, under sofa table, desk and chair, sink, fridge, microwave, coffeepot with supplies, two coffee mugs, ice bucket, and two glass glasses. A couple of disposable plates and a package of silverware were located in the microwave.

There were plenty of outlets available by the sofa and at the desk. A cute towel animal was on the desktop.

The couch and desk were both comfortable for working, although the guestroom door was not very soundproof. I did not feel like the area was very private when I was having a conversation at the desk.

A flatscreen TV on a cabinet between the living and bedroom area was visible from both areas.

There was plenty of room in the bedroom and bathroom area. A closet to the left of the vanity contained hangers, a hairdryer, folding luggage rack, iron, and ironing board. The closet doors were mirrored.

A decent size vanity was located outside of the bathing area along the wall between the closet and washroom. This was across from the bed. Bath amenities were provided on the sink and in the shower. A shower curtain was hung on a curved rod in the tub/shower combination.

Nightstands with lamps were located on each side of the bed along with a clock and a telephone. The bed was fairly comfortable, although the mattress was a bit stiffer than what I prefer. The area was spacious, and there was plenty of room on both sides of the bed.

The view from the window overlooked the front parking lot.

Food & Beverage
I had oatmeal for breakfast, so the hot foods offered must have been imitation scrambled eggs, and/or sausage biscuits with gravy because I bypass those food items. I remember that fresh grapes and strawberries were available, along with breads, milks, juices, and cold cereal.

Several restaurants and a grocery store are located in the shopping center next door: Panera Bread, Five Guys Burgers, Biaggio's, Sushigawa, and more. I had not had lunch, and I was looking forward to some sushi when I arrived in the late afternoon. Unfortunately, Sushigiwa was closed until 5:00 p.m. I almost did not wait for the restaurant to open. Later, I was glad that I did. The food flavor and quality was very good.

Business center
Two computers and a printer were located on the counter between the elevator and the front desk.

Fitness center
The fitness center next to the elevator contained cardio machines, hand weights, a water cooler, and towels.

Shuttle service and misc. 
I was glad that this hotel had an airport shuttle. I am pretty sure that when I stayed here before, the shuttle service was limited, and I had to call and pay for a cab back to the airport in the morning. After years of experience traveling, I now check with hotels beforehand, if I plan to depend upon the airport shuttle. The service to and from the airport was prompt.

There was a bowl at the front desk for business cards. If guests dropped a card in the bowl, the staff would make it into a luggage tag. I thought this was a very cool idea, and I wished I had left a couple of my cards in the bowl to be made into tags.

Other than the female front desk agent when I checked out, all of the employees at this location were fabulous! They were attentive and friendly. The male employee at the front desk brought my luggage tag to me in the breakfast room when it was ready (it had not been made yet when I checked for it before going to breakfast). The female employee working after him was not rude, although she was indifferent and aloof compared to the fabulous attitude of all of the other employees.

I liked the location of this hotel, and the working area comfort was excellent. I would definitely choose this hotel again the next time I am in the area.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Morton, Illinois / Holiday Inn Express & Suites Morton Peoria Area

April 2014, Weekday, 3-nights, King guestroom #301

Status perks and check-in
At check-in, the agent offered me a choice of Platinum perks: 500 points or a goody bag. I took the points! I did not receive a guestroom upgrade, although staff members did meet my guestroom location requests. When I made the reservation, I had requested a quiet location, as I usually do--top floor, corner. Since I was going to be staying at this property for three nights, I decided to call the afternoon of my arrival to inquire about an upgrade and guestroom location. The agent on the telephone told me that my room was not next to the elevator, although it was not at the end of the hall either. When I arrived a few hours later, I was happy to learn that they had changed my room assignment to a corner guestroom on the top floor. The agent said that a suite upgrade was not available for all three nights of my stay.
Not having a suite was not a big deal, because this guestroom is a large room. The only thing I missed not having was a refrigerator. I was glad that I had called and that I had been assigned an end guestroom, though. 

This guestroom is located at the north end of the hall on the top floor. This is a newer hotel, and it was nicer than some Holiday Inn Express hotels I have stayed it. The guestroom doors have a soundproof sweeper on the bottom of the doors to reduce hallway noise, and the window was soundproof, too. I could not hear much traffic noise when the window was shut.

The bathroom near the entrance contained a large vanity with amenities and a hairdryer. It had a tub/shower combination, and the shower curtain was hung on a curved rod. Bath amenities were also placed on the tub, and the towels were good quality.

A closet and full length mirror were located in the entry area outside of the bathroom. The closet contained an iron and ironing board. I do not recall if there was a folding luggage rack, although it was not needed, because there was a suitcase bench next to the armoire.

A large flatscreen TV was on the armoire across from the king size bed. The 
bed was against the stairway wall, so there was not a guestroom at the head of the bed, which is always nice. There was a nightstand with lamps and alarm clock on each side of the bed. A soft chair and foot stool were located in the corner. A desk with a drawer and lamps was located near the window on the other side of the armoire. 

The HVAC unit was located under the window. It was quiet and non-drying. There were plenty of outlets in the guestoom. Although there were several lamps in the guestroom, the bulbs were not very bright. The Internet connection speed was slow, and I had a difficult time connecting at the start. After I connected the first time, I did not have any trouble connecting again, although I had to sign back in every time that I reopened my browser, even if it was only a few hours later.

Food & Beverage
Breakfast included the basic Holiday Inn Express food items: cinnamon rolls, small donuts, milks, hard boiled eggs, yogurts, breads, cereals, and juices. Two mornings the hot items were scrambled eggs, sausage, and sausage gravy and biscuits. One morning, the scrambled eggs had been replaced with cheesy omelets.

This hotel offers Happy Hour Monday through Thursday from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. The sign said that guests were allowed two beverages. The beer brand was Coors Light, and the wine was Coastal Vines. Not expensive brands, although the Cabernet Sauvignon was not too bad--I was glad it was not sweet! Small packages of snacks were also available--Gardettos or Chex Mix.

Business center
Two computers and a printer were located in an area near the front desk. Everything worked great. A stapler, paper clips, and pens were provided.

Fitness center
The fitness center contained three cardio machines--a treadmill, bicycler, and stair stepper, a flatscreen TV, water cooler, sani-wipes, and towels. It was very stuffy and hot the first time that I visited, and I did not realize until after my second visit, that the HVAC controls were on the wall unit, and I had looked on the wall for a control.

All of the staff members at this hotel were cheerful and helpful. There were a couple of restaurants within walking distance, although not many good choices, in my opinion. Ruby Tuesday, Pizza Ranch, and Paddy O'Flaherty's inside the Best Western, were all located across the street. I walked to the Best Western one evening to get a turkey wrap, and from what I saw of the public areas in this hotel, I would not suggest staying there. The hallways were nasty looking, and everything smelled musty.