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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.