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Monday, December 28, 2015

Carmel, Indiana / Staybridge Suites Indianapolis-Carmel

December 2015, Sunday night, 1-night, King one-bedroom #216

I booked a queen studio room with points for this stay, as the king one-bedroom option was not available to book with points.

Status perks and check-in

It was dark before we arrived, and I could not find any dining options near the hotel on my phone or GPS, so I called to ask if there was anything nearby. The employee who answered the telephone said that the closest restaurant was about 1½ miles away. I also inquired about an upgrade at this time, and she looked up my reservation. The employee said she could give us a one-bedroom suite, which I happily accepted.

When we arrived at Staybridge Suites Indianapolis-Carmel, in addition to the guestroom upgrade, I was offered the same Platinum perk I had been offered at the Holiday Inn Express in Bowling Green, KY--trail mix snack and a bottle of water, or 500 bonus points. I chose the points, which were posted to my account within a week. As the front desk agent handed me my key packet, she provided information about the hotel, and directions to our guestroom on the second floor.

Staybridge Suites guestroom #216

This guestroom was spacious, clean, and comfortable. We were happy with our stay in this hotel, and I would choose to stay here again.

The kitchen area inside the entrance contained a full-size fridge with ice maker, electric burners, microwave, coffeemaker, dishwasher, dishcloths, and a full roll of paper towel. The cupboards were stocked with items like salt and pepper, coffee condiments, dishes, utensils, and hand dishwashing soap.

A bar with two comfortable seats was located at the edge of the kitchen area before the living room. A basket on the bar held a package of popcorn and coffee for the coffeemaker.
angle view from the entrance

Monday, December 21, 2015

Panama City Beach, Florida / Long Beach Resort and area info

November - December 2015, 1-week, Unit 1-902, VRBO #394399

More photos and detail about this resort, the condo unit, and the area can be found in the Panama City Beach Facebook album.

sunrise from the bedroom

Pre-trip research

I started investigating condos and resorts in Panama City Beach February 2015 for our fall trip. This was quite a bit in advance of our trip; however, since we had never done this kind of vacation before, there were a lot of things to consider. Which property? Room type? Which manager or owner to go with? 

By March we had made our decision of where we wanted to stay. We chose Long Beach Resort for several reasons: we liked the floor plan with the large private balcony, we liked the pools and hot tubs, and all the units we considered said non-smoking, and no pets allowed (more detail about this later). We studied several condo photos and reviews, and eventually decided we wanted to rent with Bill Pedersen. He had two units we were interested in: #457462 and #394399. We initially chose 457462; however, repeat guests had priority for that unit, and Bill told us he would let us rent 394399 for the same price (at the time of our research, the weekly rate for 457462 was $100 less than the current price). We accepted the offer, and he marked the unit as rented for the week of our stay.

screen shot of the unit we chose during our research
After this, the reservation process did not continue as I expected.  Bill said he had the unit reserved for us, and he would get the paperwork out to us when summer activity slowed down. It was about the end of April at that time. I had not heard from him by the end of August, so I contacted him again then, and then again in September. Apparently, we had slipped through the cracks (just the paperwork; the condo was still reserved for us), and we completed the paperwork in September. 

This was our first experience with VRBO and with renting a condo. My main disappointment with the reservation process was that we had to send a check for the payment and deposit. We were receiving a discounted rate because the rates had increased since our initial contact, and Bill said that VRBO charges a 2.5% credit card fee. Our credit cards have included vacation/travel coverage, so we do not need to buy travel insurance for our trips. This time, we took a chance with no coverage.

photo taken 11/2015

Long Beach Resort Unit 1-902

This is a one bedroom unit in tower one (the SW end of the property) on the 9th floor. We loved the floor plan. We also liked being on the 9th floor, as we thought this was a good height for beach and water viewing - we saw dolphins swim by a couple of days! Overall, we were happy with this resort and the specific condo, although we experienced a few minor imperfections. Keep in mind, that I am probably pickier than most people!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Brentwood, Tennessee / Hilton Brentwood/Nashville Suites

December 2015, Weekend, 1-night, King suite #427 with shower only

Status perks and check-in

We arrived at the Hilton Brentwood/Nashville Suites in the evening just before dusk. Check-in went fairly smoothly, although the front desk agent did not tell me anything about the hotel or my guestroom. She told me she had not been able to give me an executive upgrade, and she confirmed that I wanted breakfast for my on-property perk. I needed to inquire about parking and the elevator location after she gave me my key packet. I was going to ask if my two bottles of water (Gold status and higher member perk) were in the guestroom; however, I decided to wait until I got to the guestroom and see. 

The next morning, I was additionally perturbed that she had not provided any information because I found a 500 bonus points voucher with my breakfast coupons. The additional points would be awarded for spending at least $25 dining in the hotel (exclusive of breakfast). We had spent just under $25 in the bar, not counting the tax and gratuity. I was not sure whether the tax and/or tip would count toward the $25. We would have had one more beverage while dining, if we had known about the offer. When I checked out, I showed the front desk agent the voucher. I said I did not know about the offer when I checked in, and I asked her if the food and beverage I had charged to the room folio would qualify. She said she thought it would since the total was over $25. She took the voucher with my information to submit it. Two weeks after we checked out, I submitted an inquiry to HHonors to ask about the 500 points. I never received a reply to my inquiry, and I never received the points. I would say Hilton dropped the ball on this one. 

Guestroom #427

living room
view from entrance
This is a king suite on the top/HHonors floor. The guestroom was spacious, clean, and comfortable. There is a Hilton Auburn Hills Suites in Michigan where I have stayed three times, and the two hotels are very similar.

When we parked after checking in, I observed a couple of guestrooms with balconies. The guestrooms in the diagram that are a bit longer must be the ones with a balcony. The diagram shows nine longer guestrooms on our floor, and a few rooms that are larger than the others.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Hoover, Alabama / Marriott Courtyard Birmingham Hoover

November 2015, Weekend, 1-night, King guestroom 331

The sunset and sunrise views from guestroom 331 were great. In fact, I imagine the views from this guestroom are better than any of the other guestrooms. 

sunset view from balcony
in guestroom 331
Our overall experience at this hotel, however, was not the best. 
sunrise from guestroom 331

Check-in and arrival

I received an email from Marriott a day or two before my stay promoting "pre" check-in. It said that if I checked in on the Marriott app, I would be entered into a points drawing. I was not sure how the Marriott check-in app worked, so I decided to look at it. Based on my experience with other hotels, I expected to see a diagram of hotel rooms to choose from, and then be able to choose my room or back out of the process. Instead, after I entered my arrival time, I received a message that said I was all checked in. I did not even have the option to "confirm" my check-in before the process completed.

Before our arrival, I had read a review from a Platinum guest who was upset because he had not been given a balcony guestroom. I had asked for a balcony when I made my reservation, and when we arrived, I asked if the guestroom assigned to me, room 339, has a balcony. The front desk agent told me it did; however, she ended up reassigning me guestroom 331 instead. She said she was doing this because she was not sure if maintenance was done installing the new slider in guestroom 339. Her remark did not make sense to me, since I arrived at the hotel 1½ hours later than the time I had chosen for my arrival when I completed pre-arrival check-in.

guestroom diagram

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Bowling Green, Kentucky / Holiday Inn Express & Suites

November 2015, Weekday/Holiday, 1-night, King executive guestroom #316

morning sunrise from hotel entrance

You can enlarge any of the photos in this blog by clicking on them, and more photos from this location can be viewed in the Bowling Green Holiday Inn Express Facebook album.

Arrival experience and status perks

We booked a king guestroom with points for our stay at this Holiday Inn Express, and my IHG status was Platinum. We arrived in the evening on Thanksgiving. The front desk agent provided excellent service. He recognized my status, and he told me we had been given an upgrade to an executive room. He said I could also choose an extra perk of 500 bonus points or a bottle of water and trail mix. I happily accepted the bonus points, which posted to my account before we checked out the next morning.

guestroom 316

Guestroom 316

This is a spacious and comfortable guestroom. It contained a king size bed, two nightstands with lamps and an alarm clock, desk with chair, armoire, flatscreen TV, good size fridge, microwave, sofa, and coffee table. A full length mirror was mounted on the wall next to the armoire.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Ludington, Michigan / State Park Beechwood Campground

November 2015, Weekend-weeknight, 3 nights, Site 352

Lost Lake - photo taken from
Lost Lake Trail near Beechwood campground

State website and advance reservations

The activity information provided on the state website for Ludington State Park is great; however, the campsite photos and information for the campground are the worst I have ever seen. This is the only state of Michigan campground I have researched that does not provide the lot sizes. Not only that, many of the photos look deceiving as they are pictures of only the ground cover and no surrounding elements. Several photos are fuzzy, as well. The two photos below show the kind of photos on the campground reservation site.

Lot 311 - photo from state website
showing only the ground cover 
Lot 314 - fuzzy photo from state website

We thought lot 310 looked like the lot we wanted; however, since there were only two lots reserved in the entire park, and a few things about the lot information were unclear, we decided not to make an advance reservation and save the $8 reservation fee. Just our luck, that three days before our stay, someone checked into lot 310 for the rest of the week!


There was not anyone working in the ranger station when we arrived Friday evening, so we used the yellow telephone to check-in. When you register for your lot this way, you can pay by credit card over the telephone, or drop a check in a locked box. Several more lots had been taken before we arrived, and we ended up choosing lot 352. Beechwood campground is not close to the ranger station, and it was almost dark, so we did not drive back to look at the lot first. This was out first experience setting up in the dark! It was dusk when we arrived to check-in, and we needed our flashlights by the time we got checked in and backed on to our lot.

Beechwood campsite information - sites 352, 354, and 338 - 354

Monday, October 19, 2015

Grayling, Michigan - Recreation within Hartwick Pines State Park and Grayling Bicycle Turnpike

October 2015

We camped in Hartwick Pines State Park in early October, and following is recreation information about the area. If you would like more information about the campground, please visit my Hartwick Pines State Park blog post. More photos of the area can be found in the Grayling, Michigan Facebook album

Glory Lake

Bright and Glory Trail

This trail starts in the campground between lots 15 and 16. It is a short foot path, which ends at Bright and Glory Lakes. The trail is about 1½ miles roundtrip, and it is a fairly easy trek. This trail was closed at the time of our stay as there was a large tree across the path near the lakes.

There is a parking lot on M-93, just west of the campground entrance, so the lakes are also accessible from the road. We observed a few fisherman, although we did not see anyone catch anything. Bicycles are not allowed on the trail.

Visitor's Center, Logging Museum, Chapel in the Woods, Old Growth Forest Trail

The Visitor's Center is about two miles one-way from the campground. In addition to the paved road, there is a trail through the woods, which starts near the campground. The trail through the woods is a bit longer than the road. Bikes are allowed on the trail; however, if you do not have mountain bikes (ours are city bikes!), this route is not easy. The beginning of the trail from the campground is flat and firm; however, after turning right, the trail gets very hilly and sandy in areas. The paved road to the Visitor's Center is hilly, as well.
trail down to Logging Museum
from Chapel in the Woods

Grayling, Michigan / Hartwick Pines State Park, Campground and Recreation Info

October 2015, Weekend, 3-nights, Lot 99


There was not anyone working in the contact station when we arrived Friday afternoon. I spoke with a female when I used the yellow telephone to check-in. We had an advance reservation, and I also observed our name on the board for campers checking in that day. Remember that you always need your license plate number when checking in! I always remember to bring this when I go inside to check-in with an employee, but for some reason I forgot it when I got out after seeing that the office was closed. All camper vehicles in Michigan state parks need to have a recreation passport, so I wish the state of Michigan would update the website so we could enter this information during the reservation process.

Glory Lake in Hartwick Pines State Park
This campground was almost full the weekend of our stay, so I was surprised that no one was working in the contact station when we arrived. We observed someone checking campers in on Sunday when we left for our bike ride, and when we returned later that day.

Lot 99

Before I get into the details of lot 99, I want to say that I do not think there is a bad lot in this state park. It has some of the best camping lots of any of the state parks I have visited. There are 100 lots in this campground, and about half of them have full hookup. All of the lots accommodate an RV up to 40', and most of them are partially secluded.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Muskegon, Michigan / Lake Michigan State Park - Campground and Oktoberfest

October 2015, Weekend, 2-nights, Lot A48

Beach behind lot 48 in Lake Michigan campground

Photos, advance reservations, arrival

More photos for this campground and park can be found in the Muskegon State Park Facebook album.

We have stayed in Muskegon State Park Channel campground before; however, this was our first experience staying in Lake Michigan campground. We chose this area because we were going to be attending Oktoberfest across the street. After our arrival, we learned that shuttle buses were running between the two campgrounds every 15 minutes, so we could have easily stayed in either area.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Petoskey, Michigan Reviews - Breweries, Winery, Beer Festival

September 2015

There are many unique brewery choices in Michigan. I never used to be a beer drinker until I started trying some of the craft beers when they became more popular a few years ago. Following is information about the breweries we visited in the Petoskey area.

Beards Brewery

Beards Brewery is located downtown Petoskey (207 Howard St), and we rode our bicycles there on the Little Traverse Wheelway from Petoskey State Park

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Petoskey, Michigan Bicycle Trails

September 2015

We bicycled on a couple of the area trails from Petoskey State Park, and we are planning to visit again soon! Following is some information to assist future visitors. Additional trail photos can be found in the Petoskey album on our Facebook page. 

Martha Cavanagh Cameron Preserve

Little Traverse Wheelway

The Little Traverse Wheelway is a fabulous 26-mile paved trail between Charlevoix and Harbor Springs.  This trail is accessible from Petoskey State Park. We traveled on the trail a short distance in both directions.  

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Petoskey, Michigan / State Park & Tannery Creek Campground

September 2015, Weekend, 3-nights, Lot 138 and Lot 168

Photos, advance reservations, choosing lots

I have posted more Pestoskey photos in the Petoskey, Michigan album on our Facebook page, and I will post trail and brewery photos from our trip in those blog posts.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Auburn Hills, Michigan / Hilton Auburn Hills Suites

August 2015, Weekend, 1-night, King executive guestroom #539

This was our third time staying in the Hilton Auburn Hills Suites. The last time was October 2011, and the time before that was May 2010. All three times, we had a room on the executive floor, and our experience was similar.

Arrival and check-in

We were attending a wedding the evening of our stay, and I contacted the hotel beforehand to ask if we could have early check-in. Our ride to the hotel was over two hours, so we were hoping to be able to freshen up before the wedding, and we did not want to worry about checking in between the wedding and reception. The person I contacted said she would add this request to our reservation (I had forgotten to do that myself when I initially made the reservation); however, she could not guarantee anything.

When we arrived around 12:30 p.m., the front desk agent found us an available guestroom. I received two full breakfast coupons, and an upgrade to the executive floor. When we got on the elevator, I noticed that floor four says it is for Hilton Honors members, and floor five says it is the executive floor. I do not know what the difference is between the two floors. I would imagine that the executive floor guestrooms have the addition of bathrobes and bottled water. The standard suite guestroom photos that I saw online look the same as the guestroom we received on the executive floor. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Benefits of Pre-Trip Planning

Since I am a planner and I am very well organized, I tend to do a lot of research before any trip. Also, I prefer to have this type of thing out of the way beforehand, rather than doing it after we have left home! I am sharing a few suggestions that have served me well. Feel free to share your ideas, too, and let me know if you have any questions.

Take a look at the online Visitor's Bureau 
I always search for the visitor's bureau online for the area I will be visiting. I search by city, state, county, or any other keyword specific to the area we are traveling to. For example, when we visited the Gulf Coast in Florida, I searched for "Florida panhandle visitors" along with the names of the towns we were going to visit.

I then fill out the online form for any free brochures, maps, discounts, etc. for things we are interested in. I prefer to have items mailed because I am not a total smartphone user, and we sometimes make notes on printed maps of the area. Sometimes, I opt-in for email notifications, and sometimes not. I usually unsubscribe after our trip. I have found that doing this often makes us aware of things we did not know about, and you can find discounts, coupons, promotions, and information about special events.

Old Town Albuquerque, New Mexico
Before we visited Albuquerque, New Mexico, I submitted a request for a visitor's guide to be mailed to me (this always makes a good magazine for the plane ride, too). I found a coupon in the guide for Holiday Inn Express where we had planned to stay. The rate was $30 less than the AAA rate I had booked online! Amtrak often has coupons in their printed guides, which are not available online. Unfortunately, we have never found one for any of the routes we traveled, although I have seen them for other areas. We received many coupons when we visited Wisconsin Dells by subscribing to their emails and requesting a travel packet. These are just a few samples of things you can receive with a bit of research.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Muskegon, Michigan / Hiking in PJ Hoffmaster State Park

July 2015, Weekday

The weather was not good for boating a couple of weeks ago, so we decided to do some hiking instead. Here are a few photos from Hoffmaster State Park, and some information about the trails we hiked.

Visitor's Center entrance

The campground in the park is located at the north entrance. We entered the park through the south entrance where the Visitor's Center is located. There are hiking trails and beaches in both areas. 

The Visitor's Center is a two level building with exhibits and information. A public restroom is located on both levels. We had visited the center last time we were in this park, so we just went inside briefly to get a trail map. We noticed a sign inside stating that bottled water could be purchased for 50 cents. 

trail map; click on photo to enlarge it
I thought the trail map left a lot to be desired; it was not well labeled. I have attached a photo of the online map, which is the same as the printed one we were given. I added a few notations to the map in red.

We usually hike in the spring and fall, when bugs are fewer, and the air temperature is cooler. Even though we had brought water, and we were wearing good walking shoes, this was only a brief hike for us. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Shoreline Photos

click on this photo of the Aruba shoreline to enlarge it

When I created the sunset photo album on Facebook, I had a request to share shoreline photos, as not everyone has had the opportunity to view our beautiful planet from that vantage point. 

The photo at the top of this post is the Aruba shoreline, and you can find more shoreline photos on our Facebook page. I have started two shoreline albums: Shoreline views from Lake Michigan & within the state of Michigan, and Shorelines-Landscape views from the water. The second album contains photos of Alaska, inland US lakes, and the Caribbean.

Since I live in Michigan, I tend to have more shoreline photos from our lakes than other areas, so I made a separate album for those. I may break the second photo album into segments, also, if it gets too large as I add more photos. For now, I have the two albums ~ Enjoy, and please continue to share your requests!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Grand Haven, Michigan / Municipal marina and area

June 2015, Saturday - Sunday

View behind slip 46
Grand Haven Municipal Marina floating dock #46 

Arrival and check-in experience
We arrived in Grand Haven by boat around 11:00 a.m. We called the marina on the radio to inquire about a boat slip for the night, and we were told that slip 44 would be available around 1:00 p.m., which is checkout time. Slip 44 is on the floating docks at the east end of the marina. The floating docks are barely long enough to accommodate a 30' boat unless you back in. We like to bow in because we prefer watching the water activity to the folks on shore. We have a 28' boat, with an overall length of over 30', so we asked about a slip at the west end of the marina. The female who had answered our call said that there was not anything available at the west end.

We idled past the length of the marina and saw that every slip had an "occupied" sign in the post. We made note of the boat in slip 44, and then departed to tie our boat up on the channel wall where we could see the boats coming and going.   

The boat in slip 44 was still there when we walked by around 12:30 p.m. After this, we stopped in the office to register for the slip and pay. The computer system was not working, so they were not accepting credit cards. We had to pay in cash or by check. Before we completed check-in, we asked again about the open slips with numbers in the 20s because there were still four of them open.

Last stationary docks #s 27 & 28

Thursday, June 4, 2015

St. Ignace, Michigan / Straits State Park Campground

May 2015, Weekend, 2-nights, Lot #3

We initially thought we wanted to reserve a campsite directly on the water at Straits State Park; however, the waterfront sites do not have electricity, and generators are not allowed. We figured the weather would be cool at the time of our stay in the beginning of May, so we chose a lot with electricity, which does not have a camping lot across the street from it.

More photos for this campground and area can be found in the Straits State Park Facebook album.

photo taken from the beach access area across from lot 3

Arrival and check-in

There was not anyone working in the entrance booth when we arrived Friday afternoon. We found our name on the posted list of arriving campers before proceeding to our lot. The road splits after passing the booth, and the posted signs did not contain lot numbers or the campground section names. We should have looked at the campground map more closely before we arrived, because we turned the wrong way! The road that veers left goes to the lower campground, and the road that goes straight ahead/to the right goes to the upper campground.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Garden, Michigan / Fayette Historic State Park and Campground

May 2015, Weekday, 3-nights, Lot #32

water near lot 32

Arrival and check-in

The entrance into Fayette Historic Park from the main road is paved and it is over a half mile long. Unfortunately, we did not see any wildlife along the way. There was not anyone in the office when we arrived, and I did not see a posting with our name or lot information. We had reserved and paid for lot 32 online, so we continued to our lot and settled in. 

There were two other campers in the park when we arrived, and a few more arrived during our stay. Every time guests arrived at a campsite, a campground employee stopped to see them a few minutes later. I assume, to give them their campsite documents and such. We expected someone to stop and talk with us; however, no one did until the night before we departed. At that time, someone drove by after checking with another camper who had just arrived. He asked if we had checked in, and we said that we had made our reservation online. He asked if we wanted him to bring us our check-in papers. We said that we had our online receipt, and that it did not matter since we were leaving in the morning. He must not have been concerned about this either, because when he returned with paperwork for the other campers, he did not bring us anything.

When we had walked by the Old School Site that morning, it looked like there was a sign in the window at the contact station that said something about checking in at 8:00 or 8:30 a.m. It seems like we were probably supposed to have completed our check-in at the office our first morning, and we did not realize it. Since we had not seen a sign about reserved lots, and there was not a cone on our lot when we arrived, we were glad that our lot had been open when we got there!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Paradise, Michigan / Tahquamenon Falls State Park, Campground, and Brewery

May 2015, Weekend-Weekday, 3-nights, Lower Falls - Portage Lot #11

I have shared a few photos in this post, and there are many more photos of the trails and the falls in the Tahquamenon Falls album on my Facebook page.

Arrival and check-in

The online reservation system for Tahquamenon Falls State Park says that the lower falls portage campground is open year round; however, a post on their Facebook page said that the road to the lower falls had just opened a week before our stay. Initially, we were the only ones with a reservation the dates of our stay, and two more campsites had been reserved before we left on our trip.

upper falls
There was not anyone working at the entrance to the lower falls campground when we arrived. Our name and lot number were posted on the board for arriving campers, so we drove to our lot. There was an orange cone on the lot to designate that it was reserved. We moved the cone, and before we finished parking, a ranger drove by and stopped to greet us. She confirmed that we were the ones who had reserved the lot, and she asked if we had any questions. She provided some information about the trails and such in the area, although she did not have any park or trail maps with her. She then departed to get our check-in materials. We were not on our lot when the ranger returned, and when we got back to our lot later, we found that she had left our registration materials for us with a note.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mackinaw City, Michigan / Tee Pee Campground, Wineries & more!

May 2015, Weekday-Weekend, 2-nights, Lot #27

Sunset from lot 27 at Tee Pee campground
I am sharing a few pictures from our stay in this blog, and there are many more in the Mackinaw City album on my Facebook page.

Arrival and check-in at Tee Pee campground

I made an advance reservation at Tee Pee Campground even though it was not likely they would be busy when we arrived on a Thursday night in early May. Looking at the campground map online, lot 27 looked like the best lot for us. We would be facing the lake with a view of the bridge, so I asked if we could reserve that lot. The person I spoke with said that lots are not pre-assigned.

We stayed in this campground in 2004 with a pickup camper, and we did not recall much about the lots. I did not keep this blog then, so I only had a few old photos to look back at. I could determine that we had stayed on a lot numbered in the teens at that time, and that the lot next to us had been empty.
online map

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Camping on Gun Lake in Middleville, Michigan / Yankee Springs Recreation Area and Campground

April 2015, Weekend-weekday, 3-nights, Lot 60 and Lot 42

I have included a few photos in this blog post, and there are many more in the Yankee Springs Recreation Area album on my Facebook page.

We had initially planned to camp in Petoskey State Park the weekend of this stay; however, the temperature in Michigan dropped to below 40° (during the day) in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan this week. After researching several lower Michigan inland parks and towns, we decided on Yankee Springs Recreation Area instead. When we made our decision, four nights before our stay, lot 60 was the only waterfront campsite left, so we booked that. We considered waiting before booking lot 60, and we should have. Before our stay, and after we had made our reservation, two more waterfront lots became available from cancellations; lot 50 and lot 78. Lot 50 looked like a better lot with more of a lake view instead of channel view, and it has a tar pad. There is a $10 reservation change fee online, so we decided to wait until we arrived at the park to ask about changing lots.


We arrived around 12:30 p.m., and lot 50 had already been filled by someone that morning, so we stayed on our original lot for the weekend. The first entrance booth to the boat launch and campground was not staffed at the time of our stay; the campground check-in station was staffed, and staff members were also working in the campground during the days. It only took us a few moments to check-in.

view from lot 60 toward Gun Lake

Lot #60

This is a spacious lot with full sun. We wanted the sunshine, since it was only 40° to 50° during the day, and the temperature dropped to around freezing overnight.

view from the back of lot 60

Gun Lake was slightly visible from the fire pit looking behind our RV.

Even though all of the channel lots except for lot 78 had been booked for the weekend, it was quiet on this lot because several people did not show up. Lot 58, right next to us, and lot 54, were both empty all weekend. Campers in a tent stayed on lot 56 Friday night, and then they left on Saturday. This left all three lots between lot 60 and Gun Lake open. Someone had taken lot 78, which is farther inland, after we arrived.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Grand Rapids, Michigan / Courtyard Marriott Grand Rapids Downtown

March 2015, Sunday night, 1-night, King Jr. Suite #542

The guestroom information for this post will be shorter than usual because this is the same guestroom we stayed in the last time we stayed at this hotel in July 2014. I redeemed a free night certificate for both stays. My status had been Gold in July, and it was Silver during this stay, although it had been Gold when I made the reservation.

Status perks and check-in

I have stayed in the Courtyard Marriott Grand Rapids Downtown a few times, with both Silver and Gold status; I did not stay in this hotel when my status was Platinum. Several years ago, when I stayed in this hotel with Silver status, I received an automatic upgrade to an executive suite overlooking the river. I have never received an upgrade since then without asking for it, and I have never received that kind of guestroom again, although I have received upgrades after asking.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Southfield, Michigan / Embassy Suites Detroit - Southfield

March 2015, Weekend, 1-night, King suite #730

I had read a few reviews for this Embassy Suites that were not very good. Again, we had found an inexpensive rate, and this was one of the stops on our trip, which would help me maintain Gold status with Hilton. We had stayed at the Embassy Suites at the Detroit airport a few years ago, and it was nice; however, that location was out of our way, and the cost was more. We hoped for a clean, comfortable guestroom at this hotel, and we were not disappointed. I would choose this hotel again.

sunset from bedroom window

Status perks and check-in, including online check-in

I did online check-in with Hilton for the first time the day before we arrived at this hotel. I had looked at online check-in before our stay at the DoubleTree Port Huron; however, I did not fully understand the process, so I did not complete it then. At the DoubleTree, the room assigned to me had been 207, and I did not go through the process far enough to see that I could have chosen a guestroom on a different floor. I had been afraid of choosing a poor room and not being able to get out of it.

When I started online check-in for the Embassy Suites Detroit - Southfield, I had been pre-assigned a room on the second floor, just like at the DoubleTree. I was confused by this because my Hilton Honors profile says high floor. I went through the process further this time, and I was able to see guestrooms on floors up to floor 7. Although most Hilton Honors or executive floors are on higher floors, I have stayed in a couple of hotels that have them on a lower floor, so I decided to call the hotel. I explained what I was doing, and I asked if they have a specific floor for Hilton Honors members. I was told that they do not have this yet because the guestrooms were being remodeled. I asked if any of the guestrooms had already been remodeled, and I was told no. The agent said they are working on floors 8 and 9, and she would suggest floor 7. I thanked her, and then completed online check-in. I chose guestroom 730 because it was a corner room, and it did not show a connecting room door.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Port Huron / DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Port Huron

March 2015, Weekend, 1-night, King water/bridge view guestroom #218 

Status perks and check-in

Our key packet had not been prepared when we arrived at the DoubleTree Port Huron shortly after 3:00 p.m. The agent looked up the reservation and said we had a king water view room. I had reserved a basic king guestroom, so I thought this was an upgrade. I said great, and I asked if that was also a bridge view and on the top floor. She said she could give us a bridge view on the second floor, and that there was not a room available on the third floor with a direct view of the bridge. We happily accepted the guestroom on the second floor.

view from balcony
I received the two bottles of water and breakfast coupons for Hilton Honors Gold members. I had requested that my on-property benefit be changed from bonus points to breakfast. And, we each received a DoubleTree cookie, which all guests receive at check-in.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Traverse City, Michigan / Hampton Inn

March 2015, Weekend, 1-night, King study guestroom with sofa bed #433

I was a bit uncertain about our choice to stay at this Hampton Inn because of the reviews I had read online. There were many comments about noise, small rooms, and that this hotel does not live up to the Hampton Inn standards. I needed one more night's stay to keep my Gold status, and I had found a great rate, so we made the reservation and hoped for the best. 

Status perks and check-in

We had reserved a king guestroom and received a king study. The agent did not say this was an upgrade because of my status, although I tend to think it was. I had written in my reservation comments that we would like a study upgrade, if available. When I tried to choose the "upgrade with points" option online before check-in, I received a message saying that nothing was available. This may have been because I did not have many points since I had recently made a couple of reservations with points. I have bonus points selected as my on-property perk, and I also received my choice of a beverage and snack. 

Guestroom 433

This guestroom is located on the top floor near the south end of the hall, and the window faces west.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Traverse City Michigan Area - Tour of Breweries & Wineries

March 2015, Saturday

We spent a full day in the Traverse City area visiting breweries and wineries, along with some walking and dining. Following is information about the places we visited and what they have to offer.

Brewery Terra Firma

Samples: Black Orchid Vanilla Bean Porter &
Ancho Chili Dutch Double Chocolate Porter
Brewery Terra Firma is a brewery, farm, and taproom (tasting room) just south of Traverse City on Hartman Road. It is pretty much located behind the Crossing Circle shopping center where Home Depot, Staples, and Office Depot are located, although there is not a road behind the shopping center. Hartman Road runs between US-31/37 and Cass Road.

This location opens at 10:00 a.m. Monday - Saturday, and it was our first stop as we were arriving from the south. It was more like a tasting room than any of the other locations.

They sell snacks (visible in the photo behind the beer samples, if you click on the photo to enlarge it), and food can be brought in or delivered to eat, as well. Beer samples were $1.50 each.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Frequent Traveler Status Changes

March 2015

March 1st is the day my status changed in a couple of guest programs, and if I keep with this less traveling way of life, I expect there will be more next year. I have updated my program status changes in the header of this blog, and this post provides further information.

Delta - status change from Gold to Silver

First, a bit of background about the travel style I had been used to - When Delta and Northwest Airlines merged in 2008 my status was Silver. Silver status with Northwest had been worthwhile before the airlines merged. After the merger, Silver status became insignificant because there are so many travelers from my home airport (GRR) with Gold status or higher. Since most flights from GRR are not direct flights, I expect that many of those travelers earn their status from segments rather than miles. In the beginning, I earned my status by miles flown, and the last two years I earned it by segments flown. My status had fluctuated between Gold and Silver for a couple of years, and then I remained a Gold flyer for the last four years years until March 1st.

We left on a trip in February 2015 and returned March 1st. My Delta status was Gold when we left, and Silver when we returned. We checked in online 24 hours before our return departure when my status was still Gold, and my boarding pass said Sky Priority on it. I was glad for that, although I was not sure if anything would be different the next day.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Cancun, Mexico / Intercontinental Presidente Cancun Resort

February 2015, Weekday-Weekend, 4-nights, Club ocean view with 2 queen beds #612

morning view from guestroom balcony

Arrival experience and status perks

We had reserved a king guestroom with points for this stay. About 10 days before our arrival, I contacted the resort via email to ask if it was possible to upgrade to a club level room. I was told that if we paid $70 plus tax per night to upgrade to a club lagoon view room, we would receive a complimentary upgrade to a club ocean view guestroom because of my Platinum elite status. A king club ocean view guestroom was not available, so we had the choice of a guestroom with two queen beds, unless we wanted a suite, which does not have a balcony. We opted for the queen room with the balcony. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Cancun, Mexico / Holiday Inn Cancun Arenas

February 2015, Weekday, 3-nights, King ocean view guestroom #2415

view from balcony
We stayed at Holiday Inn Cancun Arenas around the holidays at the end of 2011, and a review from that stay can be found here. One change I saw online before this stay, is that the words "all inclusive" have been removed from the hotel name. I think that was a good move because this hotel offers guestrooms that are all-inclusive, and they offer rates for only the guestroom. I never had a problem knowing which kind of room I was reserving, although I have read complaints from others who expected their stay to be all-inclusive, and then discovered it was not when they arrived. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Cancun, Mexico Airport and Transportation ~ Canada Transfers and between hotels

February - March 2015

Arrival experience - February 2015

Delta baggage claim

We waited a long time for our bags, because we did not know that Delta has a new process for Sky tagged luggage. I do not know if this is a new process for all International travel, or if this is only in place in some airports. We traveled to Jamaica less than two months before this trip, and our experience was different at that time.

When the bags from our flight came around on the carousel, only a couple of them had Sky Priority tags on them. After most of the bags had been delivered, I started to look around and walk over toward the Delta baggage counter. As I walked around the carousel, I observed our two bags lined up, along with several other Sky Priority bags. I do not know how long the bags had been sitting there or how they had been delivered to where they were. When we collected our bags for customs in Detroit (DTW) on the way home, I observed a sign on baggage claim #5, which said that all Sky Priority bags would be delivered at baggage claim #3. We saw no such sign stating this in Cancun, and when we returned through Atlanta (ATL) from Jamaica, Sky Priority bags had not been delivered separately.

Hotel shuttles/Canada Transfer information

We booked transportation with Canada Transfers a couple of weeks before our stay. The cost for non-shared transportation for two was $53 round-trip between the airport and our resort in the hotel zone (before tip). We would have preferred to pre-pay with a credit card, and then just pay the tip in cash upon arrival; however, that was not an option with this company. The company accepts pre-payment through Paypal only, or payment in cash upon arrival. We opted for cash upon arrival.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Grand Rapids, Michigan - GRR airport / Hilton - DoubleTree

February 2015, Weekend, 1-night, King guestroom with mini-fridge, #411

I did not realize when I made this reservation that the hotel was changing from a Hilton to a DoubleTree. We stayed at this hotel a few times when the property was a Hilton, and here are links to reviews for two of those stays: March 2011 and April 2011. At the time of this stay, the hotel was still classified as a Hilton, and some remodeling was still in process.

Status perks and check-in

I received the 1,000 bonus points I have chosen for my Hilton Honors "my way" benefit, and I received two beverage coupons. This hotel does not have an executive floor, and I was told that they could not give out a suite upgrade unless it is authorized by the sales department (I may have the department name slightly incorrect), because the suite cost is so much higher.

Guestroom 411

This guestroom is located on the top floor near the center of the west wing. The window faces the courtyard. It had been nicely remodeled; however, there was a strong scent in the hallway and in our room that smelled like glue or urethane. Since the windows in the guestroom do not open, and there was no exhaust vent in the bathroom, I returned to the front desk to inquire about a different guestroom. The only other remodeled guestroom like the type we had reserved was on the first floor in a high traffic area. The front desk agent gave me a key so I could look at the room, and see if we wanted to switch. The odor in the second guestroom was much fainter than it was in guestroom 411; however, I decided not to take it since the first floor room was located by the elevator and corner to both halls where guests would be passing by on the way to and from the lobby or lounge.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Grand Rapids, Michigan / JW Marriott Grand Rapids

February 2015, Weekend, 1-night, King concierge guestroom 2311

The JW Marriott is my favorite hotel in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. I am no longer traveling for work, so we decided to enjoy one last stay at the hotel before I lost my Gold status. Here are links to reviews of some of our other stays: March 2014, September 2012, April 2011, and February 2011.

view from guestroom

Gold perks and check-in

A couple of days before our stay, I looked up my reservation online and saw that we had been upgraded to a concierge city view guestroom. When we arrived around 2:30 p.m., our room was ready. I needed to show my AAA card for the AAA rate we had booked, which I did not recall doing before. This was not a problem for me since I always carry my card with me.

My experience this visit was similar to previous stays. All employees were professional and gracious. The front desk agent walked to the lobby to hand me my key packet after check-in was complete. The next day, we were granted late checkout when I called to ask about this.

Guestroom 2311

This is the same guestroom we stayed in March 2014 and September 2012.

Friday, February 6, 2015

You Don't Ask, You Don't Get!

I have often thought about publishing a book with the title You Don't Ask, You Don't Get! I have learned a lot in my 15 years of traveling, and I always like to share my ideas and experiences. Asking for an upgrade or something extra is often a necessary first step to receiving it, although I think there are many aspects to obtaining an upgrade or extra perks.

Today, I am sharing an often overlooked detail, which many may consider unimportant. I think that every piece of information is just as important as taking the initiative to ask.

Pay attention to what is going on around you. Here are a few examples of experiences I have had, and things I learned by paying attention.

Around the year 2000 – Traverse City, Michigan

I was waiting to check-in behind another guest who had walked in without a reservation. It was dinner/evening time, and I observed the guest doing some quiet negotiating. I easily overheard the guestroom rate he was given, which was about $10 - $15 less than the rate I had booked. When I got to the counter, I said, “I heard he just got his room for $XX. Can I get that rate, too?” The front desk agent looked up my reservation, and then lowered my rate to match what I had overheard.

Lesson learned: Be aware of your surroundings, and do not be afraid to ask!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Muskegon, Michigan / Holiday Inn Muskegon Harbor

January 2015, Weekend, 1-night, Queen guestroom #711

Status perks and check-in

We arrived at the Muskegon Harbor Holiday Inn between 3:00 and 3:30 p.m. The front desk agent recognized my Platinum status and offered me 500 bonus points or an on property perk: a bottle of water, snack, or drink in the bar. I accepted the bonus points, which posted to my account immediately. I had reserved two queen beds, because the cost for a king room was more. We prefer a king bed; however, since the two-bedded rooms were queen size rather than double beds, the room type we had reserved was also acceptable. My IHG profile preferences are king bed executive room. This hotel does not have an executive floor.

Even though this hotel was not very full, I did not receive an upgrade to a king guestroom, and the agent lied to me when I inquired about this. Instead of saying she could not give me an upgrade (or something similar), she told me that the hotel was "sold-out." I knew the hotel was not sold-out, although I did not question her other then to say, "Hmm, really."

Guestrooms available at the time of check-in
We stayed in this hotel January 31st, and I have included a screen shot showing that every room type was still available after we got to our guestroom: queen rooms, king rooms (listed two different ways), standard rooms, and 4 king jacuzzi rooms. Clicking on the photo above will enlarge it, and the date and time I checked the website and took the screen shots are visible.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Michigan Photos & Upcoming Travel Reviews

I have not had as many posts to this blog as usual recently, since I have not been traveling as much the last six months. In fact, I may have to change some of the elite status levels in my profile after the end of February. I have mixed feelings about that right now.

Beautiful sunrise in early winter 
I will have a new travel post next week, and a few in March, April, and May. Most of the first few posts will be from area hotels and travel outside of the United States. Some of you will be glad to know that the information in April and May will be from Michigan--campgrounds and information about visiting northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula!

In the meantime, please visit and "like" my Facebook travel page. I often provide additional photos and information on the Facebook page when there is too much for a blog post. I also share travel information and contest links from other pages. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

MBJ airport/Sangster International Airport ~ Montego Bay, Jamaica

January 2015

We had Sky Priority first class seats on Delta, and I have Priority Pass membership through American Express. This is our departure experience from Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Delta check-in

Our check-in experience was very quick. It would have been even quicker except for the rude passengers who cut in line in front of us.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Sandals Resorts Sleep Quality

As I mentioned in my review of Sandals Royal Caribbean in Montego Bay, Jamaica, I have been researching the mattress types in Sandals resorts. Rather than add this information to that review, I decided to create a new post because my resort review is already quite lengthy. 

When I started researching this after our stay, I found several posts from other guests who also wanted to know what kind of mattresses are used in Sandals resorts. I found reference to Serta in one of the posts that I read; however, I did not initially find any information about which kind of mattress is used.