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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Charleston, West Virginia / Holiday Inn & Suites Charleston West

December 2016, Weekend, 1-night, Queen bed kitchenette 612

Comedy Zone showroom - we attended the show that evening

Platinum perks and check-in

We arrived in the evening after the 3:00 p.m. check-in time. I inquired about the guestroom type during check-in, and whether we had been able to receive an upgrade. The agent recognized my status, and said he could upgrade us to a queen suite. A key packet had not been prepared before our arrival, and it did not appear as though a guestroom had been assigned before this. I had redeemed points for our stay at this Holiday Inn & Suites, and I also received the Platinum welcome amenity points.

Guestroom 612

This guestroom was barely large enough for basic guestroom furnishings, let alone a kitchen. It was the tiniest guestroom I have ever been in with a kitchen area. The kitchen was literally at the foot of the bed. I do not understand why we did not receive an upgrade with a king bed, as this hotel was not very full the night of our stay. The only king bed guestroom we had this entire trip was on our first night at the Holiday Inn Express in Wytheville (one of the most comfortable and spacious guestrooms this trip, as well).

Diagram from back of guestroom door

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Visiting Savannah, Georgia & Tybee Island / Historic Squares, Forsyth Park, Downtown, Savannah Bells Ferry, City Market, Fort Pulaski, Tybee Beach, and more!

November - December 2016, Weekdays

We spent four nights in Savannah, Georgia at the Homewood Suites. I am sharing information from our experiences to assist future travelers to the area. One the first bits of information I want to share is about parking. All of the hotels downtown charge rates of $20 or more per night for parking. You can purchase a 24-hour parking pass from the city for $8, and you can purchase a 2-day pass for $14. More information is available in my Homewood Suites blog post (link above), and at the City of Savannah website. We purchased two 2-days passes, so our total parking cost was $28.  Much better than the $104 we would have paid at our hotel (not counting valet tips). We did not have any difficulty finding a parking spot in Bryan Street parking garage located directly behind Holiday Inn Express, or in Whitaker Street garage.

View of City Hall from Johnson Square

Savannah Historic Squares, Colonial Park Cemetery, Forsyth Park 

There are many narrated tours available to learn about Savannah history--trolley tours, walking tours, group and private tours. There is also considerable information available online and elsewhere, if you want to visit Savannah Historic Squares at your own pace, which is what we did. Here are a few online resources to assist with planning: Visit Savannah's Historic Squares, free Visitor's Guide, Historic Squares with descriptions, and my favorites: Squares and Parks and Self-Guided Walking Tour. I had prepared a rough draft of our walking tour plans before our trip, and then I left the folder of maps and info at home! We easily got new maps and information from the Visitor's Center  on E. Bay Street, our hotel concierge, and from various booklets around town.

Wright Square

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Savannah, Georgia / Homewood Suites Savannah Historic District/Riverfront

November-December 2016, Weekdays, 4 nights, 2-Queen 1-bedroom suite 502

Sunrise from suite 502

Diamond perks and arrival/check-in

We initially reserved a king balcony riverfront studio with points for one night (this was the best points room type available), and we were paying for a king studio riverfront without a balcony the other three nights of our stay. Shortly before our stay, we learned the pool and rooftop area had been closed for renovations, so we wanted to make sure we could stay in a guestroom with a balcony, and it would be even better, if we did not have to change rooms during our stay. I checked the Hilton website for the "upgrade with points" option, and I called the hotel a couple of times before our arrival to ask about this. I was told they w/could not upgrade us to a balcony guestroom for the paid nights, so I paid the difference for a 2-queen, 1-bedroom suite (there were no king balcony rooms available). The employe implied that she could not give me an upgrade for both reservations.

We arrived in Savannah before check-in time. After we parked in town (more info about this later), we stopped at the front desk to find out when our room would be available. The agent said our guestroom was already available; however, she gave us keys for a king studio balcony, and she did not mention the second portion of our stay. I had referenced both confirmation numbers in my reservation comments, and I had asked the hotel to tie the reservations together when I called. Additionally, I had been told we could have the queen bedroom balcony guestroom the entire stay, and that this could possibly become a king guestroom and/or higher floor room, if one became available before our arrival. I mentioned all of this to the front desk agent after I asked about the guestroom details (she had not provided any information), when she handed me the keys. She studied the computer a few moments, and then she coded new keys for suite 502. I am not sure if she checked for a higher floor or king balcony room, as she did not say anything more about the guestroom. She provided information about the hotel food & beverages, and she asked if we had used valet parking. She did not recognize my status.

View of Marriott from bedroom window

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina / Coligny Plaza, Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, beach, trails, shopping restaurants...

November 2016, Weekend-weekday, 3-nights

Following is information about some of the places we visited during our stay at Marriott Resort & Spa on Hilton Head Island. 

Restaurants, dining options

We had a late lunch at Joe Loves Lobster Rolls in Ridgeland, SC on our way to Hilton Head. If you are arriving from the north, this is right on the way on N. Okatie Hwy. My husband had the Smoked Wild Boar sandwich special, and I had the Lobster Mac 'n Cheese side special. The sandwich came with a side and drink, which are not visible in the photo below. The food flavor was excellent, although afterward, we wished we had ordered the largest lobster roll and shared it instead. Yes, we wanted more lobster!

Joe Loves Lobster Rolls
We dined at two locations in Palmetto Dunes, which were less than a half mile walk from the Marriott: Palmetto Dunes General Store and Big Jim's BBQ, Burgers, and Pizza. Our breakfast from the General Store was not what we had initially planned that morning; however, it was very good. We had a freshly made bagel egg sandwich and sausage egg burrito. The portion sizes were good, and the cost was around $5 each. There is a sitting area outside the store. Other breakfast foods were available, as well as deli/lunch-type sandwiches. All of the foods looked fresh and appetizing.

Palmetto Dunes General Store

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina / Hilton Head Marriott Resort & Spa

November 2016, Weekend-weekday, 3-nights, 2-Queen beds oceanfront guestroom

Sunrise from guestroom 710

Gold perks and arrival/check-in

Our GPS was pretty accurate with the Marriott location; however, we were mildly confused about the resort location when we arrived, as I know there are several Marriott properties on Hilton Head, and the entrance sign did not exactly match the property name on the website. The website says, "Hilton Head Marriott Resort & Spa," and the entrance sign says, "Hilton Head Marriott Beach & Golf Resort."

Beautiful sand sculpture in lobby
I had checked in online the day before our arrival because I received an email that said, "check in now to access your Elite benefits! one of our most loyal guests, you'll jump to the top of the list for: Priority Room Assignment, Priority Upgrades - Get notified of a room upgrade before your visit, Priority Late Checkout - Find out how late you can sleep in … right when you arrive." I entered 2:30 p.m. for our arrival time, and 1:00 p.m. for a late checkout time. Check-in time is 4:00 p.m., and checkout time is 11:00 a.m. I did not receive any notification before we arrived around 2:45 p.m. The agent told me our room has just become available. He said we had been upgraded to an oceanfront room with 2 queen beds. He said there were no king oceanfront rooms available. This hotel has 10 floors, and we were assigned a room on the 7th floor. My profile is set for a king bed on a high floor, and I always request the top floor. I am not complaining about being three floors down; I am merely sharing this information for other elite members who may want to know what to expect. The agent did not mention my late checkout request, and I did not ask about this.

Guestroom 710

This was a typical Marriott guestroom. The property showed a bit of wear in some areas; however, the room was comfortable and clean. 

Just inside the entrance
Two closets were located outside the bathroom near the entrance. The closets contained two robes, hangers, and a folding luggage rack. The bathroom was spacious with a decent size vanity. The bottom of the mirror behind the vanity was slightly deteriorated from age. Thann bath amenities were provided, along with good quality towels, a hairdryer, and glass glasses. I do not recall for sure if there was a makeup mirror in the guestroom. Extra amenities, like mouthwash and cotton swabs, which are provided at most Marriott hotels, were not provided at this hotel. The tub/shower combination was located across from the vanity, with the toilet between the two.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Wytheville, Virginia / Holiday Inn Express & Suites

November 2016, Weekday (holiday), 1-night, King suite 317

Sunrise from guestroom 317

We redeemed points for this stay at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites on the evening of Thanksgiving.

Platinum perks and check-in

We received an upgrade to a suite, and I received the 500 Platinum member bonus points. The front desk agent recognized my status, and our guestroom had been upgraded before our arrival.

View from suite 317

Suite 317

This spacious guestroom is located on the third floor of this four-floor hotel. There is a large tile foyer at the entrance, and the bathroom is located to the right. The bathroom contained a long vanity with mirror, and tub/shower combination. Bath amenities, good quality towels, and a hairdryer were provided.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Lansing, Michigan / Crowne Plaza Lansing West

November 2016, Weekday, 1-night, King corner guestroom 436

This was our first stay at the Crowne Plaza in Lansing, Michigan. In fact, I did not recall knowing this hotel is not too far from the Lansing airport the last time we had stayed in a Lansing airport hotel. I will definitely choose this hotel again the next time I have a Lansing flight, or need to stay in the area.

Platinum perks and check-in

We arrived a bit before check-in time of 3:00 p.m. The employee who completed the check-in process provided excellent assistance, and she went out of her way to meet our needs. I needed a ride to the airport around 5:00 a.m., and the hotel shuttle does not normally operate that early. She checked the schedule to see if there was an airline crew scheduled for the next morning, and was able to schedule a ride time for me that met both our needs. We received an upgrade to a king corner room (I requested this), and the 600 bonus points for Platinum members.

View of desk from entrance area
View from entrance

King corner guestroom 436

This guestroom contained a king size bed, night stands, desk and chair, soft chair with footstool, and a large flatscreen TV on an armoire. A small fridge, microwave, ice bucket, glass glasses, coffee mugs, and coffeemaker with supplies, were located in the armoire. The bed was super comfy, and the sheets were good quality.

A large vanity and a closet with mirrored doors were located left of the armoire. The closet contained two robes, along with hangers, and a folding luggage rack. Bath amenities were provided on the vanity. The towels were good quality. The toilet and tub/shower combination were located in a small room at the end of the vanity.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Old Mission Peninsula and Beulah, Michigan / Northern Michigan Wineries & Jolly Pumpkin Brewery

November 2016

This post is a brief update with some information we learned during our last visit to a couple of northern Michigan wineries and breweries.

You can find more information about Michigan wineries and breweries in the following blog posts: May and June 2016May 2016 (Grayling), May 2016 (Cadillac)May 2016 (Petoskey)October 2015 (Grayling), October 2015 (Petoskey), May 2015 (Tahquamenon Falls)March 2015,  and October 2010

Black Star Farms wine taste glasses being discontinued

Black Star Farms

We have a couple of the old style Black Star Farms wine glasses, which we purchased several years ago. The glasses came with six tastes at the time of purchase, and then we could get five free tastes every time we visited with our glasses thereafter. Keeping the glasses wrapped in a small carrier in the trunk of our car has been a good thing for us, and Black Star Farms - we always bought at least two bottles of wine every time we stopped in one of their wineries for a taste! During our most recent stop at Old Mission Tasting Room, we learned they are discontinuing complimentary tastes with these glasses at the end of 2016. The person who provided us with our sample tastes did not tell us this; when we paid for our purchases, the cashier asked us if he had told us the glasses were being discontinued.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Waco, Texas / Holiday Inn & Suites Waco Northwest

November 2016, Weekday, 2-nights, King whirlpool guestroom 504


The Holiday Inn & Suites in Waco, Texas is similar to a few other Holiday Inn & Suites I have stayed in: the one at the Denver airport, Ft. Myers Airport Town Center, and I do not recall the others for sure. I recall the lobby visual, and my exact experiences in the bar and dining room, in one of the other properties I stayed in; just not where it was!

Lobby view from elevator; restaurant and bar straight ahead

During check-in, the front desk agent recognized my status and mentioned a whirlpool, as she was talking about upgrades. I told her I probably would not use a whirlpool this stay; I said I was mainly interested in a guestroom in a quiet area with a nice workspace. I was uncertain about exactly which guestroom type I had received until I arrived at the guestroom. I also received a 10% discount dining coupon, and my choice of bonus points or an on-property amenity. 

Whirlpool guestroom 504

This spacious guestroom is located across from the elevators. The tile bathroom was on the right after entering the guestroom. It contained a large walk-in shower, and the vanity counter extended the length of the room. Bath & Body Works amenities were provided, and the towels were good quality.

View of bathroom just inside the entrance

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Kalkaska, Michigan / All Seasons Resort

October 2016, Weekday, 1-night, King whirlpool suite 119

We stayed at All Seasons Resort because we were traveling to an area nearby, and I had won a free night's stay from West Michigan Tourism! This hotel is a good choice, if you need an overnight stay in the area. 

Reservations and check-in

I called on the telephone to make a reservation as indicated on the award certificate. The certificate I had won said it was good for any guestroom type, so I reserved a whirlpool suite. I asked if all of the whirlpool suites have a sofa in them, like the photos I had seen online, and the person I spoke with said she did not know. I told her we would prefer a sofa, if all of the rooms do not have this, and she said okay.  

Photo from website showing
sofa in background
Photo from website showing 
sofa in background

We arrived around 6:30 p.m. During check-in, I inquired whether our room has a sofa, and the front desk agent said she did not know (we prefer to watch TV sitting together, and have stayed in many guestrooms with only one sitting chair). When we got to the guestroom, we saw that there was only one soft chair in the room, and this guestroom also has a connecting room door. The front desk agent had told me there was one more guestroom of this type available, so I returned to the front desk to ask about that room. She escorted us to a guestroom at the opposite end of the hall, guestroom 103, I believe. That guestroom had the same furnishings, and it did not have a connecting room door. The agent then told me that there was a dog in the guestroom next door, so we decided to stay with the original guestroom.

Whirlpool suite 119

This guestroom is very spacious. It is on the ground floor near the end of the hall. The window faces the parking lot. It contained a small fridge, microwave, coffeemaker, flatscreen TV on an armoire, king size bed, two night stands, a telephone, soft chair, and a small dining-type table with two straight-backed chairs. There was a floor lamp in the corner by the table, two wall mounted lamps above the nightstands, and one above the armoire. An iron, ironing board, and coatrack with hangers were located near the entrance.

Supplies with the coffeemaker included local coffee from Leelanau Coffee Roasting Company--delicious! 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Grayling, Michigan / Hartwick Pines State Park

October 2016, Weekday-weekend, 3-nights, Hartwick Pines campsite 71

This was our third stay at Hartwick Pines State Park. This is a brief post to share new information we have learned about individual campsites within the park, and making changes to reservations. You can find more park and area detail in the following blog posts: May 2016, Bicycle Trail October 2015, Hartwick Pines October 2015, and in the Grayling Facebook album.

Making changes to advance reservations at a Michigan State Park

We had made an advance reservation for two nights, and decided we wanted to arrive a day early. Our campsite was available, and I hoped to make the change before our arrival, as the campground was quite full, and we would not be arriving until evening.

Colors in the park were just starting to change in early October

The state of Michigan website says there is a $10 fee to change a reservation. I knew from previous experience that a park ranger can make changes in the park without charging a fee, so I called the park. Unfortunately, the person who answered the call told me she could only do this after we arrived. I then decided to place a call to the State of Michigan reservation line, and hoped for the best. The person who took that call made the change for us, and we were not charged a change fee. Our reservation had already been updated when we arrived at the park, so check-in did not take long.

Hartwick Pines Campsites 71 and 77

We were on campsite 71. This a grassy and spacious site. It is private on the backside with many trees. There is one tree between this site and site 72. The fire pit is quite a distance away, since the site is so large. We were closer and more level for full hookup on this site, than we had been on site 99 in May 2015.

Site 71

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Grand Rapids, Michigan / Homewood Suites by Hilton Grand Rapids Downtown

September 2016, Weekday, 1-night, 2-bedroom suite #627

The Homewood Suites by Hilton Downtown Grand Rapids opened the summer of 2016, and I had won an overnight stay during a Facebook promotion.

View from bar on floor 2, which is above the Ottawa Ave. entrance

Arrival and check-in

When we entered from Ottawa Ave., we were a bit confused about where to check-in. We observed a baggage storage sign, and a hotel elevator sign for the guestrooms; however, we did not observe any signage for the check-in area. ArtPrize was going on during our stay, and it is possible we missed a sign, as there were many pieces of art in the lobby. Check-in is located on floor two, and you can get there via the guestroom elevator, or the stairs (straight ahead when entering from Ottawa Ave.) shown in the photos here.

Another view of the lobby from the bar on floor 2
The check-in process was efficient, and I received two bags with bottled water and Oreo cookies for being a Diamond member. The front desk agent told me I had received a room upgrade, although she did not tell me what kind of room she was assigning us. I did not realize there was any confusion with the upgrade until we checked out (more about this later). The room I had won was for a studio suite. After I made the reservation through the hotel, I looked at the upgrade options online. I then contacted the hotel manager to ask if I could upgrade to a two-bedroom suite and pay the difference. At that time, I was told I could not do that, as the certificate was only good for a studio guestroom. When I was told about the upgrade during check-in, I assumed it was a complimentary upgrade because of my status.

Guestroom 627

I learned suite 627 is a two-bedroom suite when we arrived at the guestroom. It was spacious and comfortable. The entrance door opened into the kitchen and living area. The kitchen contained a full size fridge, electric burners, microwave, dishwasher, table with two chairs, cupboards stocked with dishes, and a coffee maker with supplies. There was a welcome letter with a bag of bottled water and Oreo cookies on the table for another guest who had Gold status. I do not know if this was left behind, or if there had been some kind of guestroom switch at the last minute. I did not really think much about it at the time.

Suite 627; view from entrance

Monday, October 24, 2016

Battle Creek, Michigan region / Fort Custer Recreation Area

September 2016, Weekend, 1-night, Campsite 218


Our decision to camp in Fort Custer Recreation Area was last minute, so we did not have an advance reservation. We had never been to this park before, and the campsite photos would not show on my phone when I tried to view the available sites before our arrival. The ranger picked site 218 for us, which she said is a corner site. She had told us we could drive through and pick our own site if we wanted; however, there are over 200 sites in this park and it was late in the day. It was not dark yet, although we had not eaten dinner, and we did not want to spend another 20 minutes or so driving our 5th wheel through the park and then returning to the office.  

Sun rising over Jackson Hole Lake

Campsite 218

Looking at the campground map, it did not look like site 218 is a corner site; however, it basically is. The corner between this site and site 125 is all trees - site 125 is not actually on the corner like it is shown on the map. The campsite photo on the DNR reservation site for campsite 218 is accurate looking straight in from the road. I have included more photos below, which can be enlarged by clicking on them.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Slade Kentucky ~ Natural Bridge State Resort Park: camping, hiking, and more

September 2016, Weekdays-weekend, 3-nights, Whittleton campsite A029

View of Lookout Point from Natural Bridge

Advance reservations, arrival and check-in

When I looked at the campgrounds online in Natural Bridge State Resort Park, I thought we would want to stay in Middle Fork Campground along the stream. By the time we were ready to make our reservation, all of those sites were either reserved or not suitable, so we reserved a site in Whittleton Campground.

Labeled map
We arrived via Highway 11 from the south. The Whittleton campground sign is a short, small sign at the entrance with no forewarning, and we missed it. We pulled into the next drive north of Whittleton, which was the entrance to the skylift and lodge. We turned around after driving over the entrance bridge because the sign clearly said "No RVs" to the left. We could have also turned around by the skylift, if we had turned right. Even though the map shows a road through the picnic area after turning left, you cannot get through on that road with an RV. There is also a drive into Whittleton campground on the south side of the stream, which is a dead end with no turn around. If you happen to miss the main drive arriving from the north with an RV, I do not suggest pulling into that drive. You can enlarge the labeled map I have inserted here by clicking on it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Cumberland Falls, Kentucky

September 2016, Weekday, Afternoon visit

View from road shortly before we arrived at Cumberland Falls

On this trip, we stayed at Mammoth Cave National Park, Dale Hollow State Resort Park, and Natural Bridge State Resort Park. We stopped at Cumberland Falls between Dale Hollow and Natural Bridge.

Cumberland Falls Campgrounds

When we starting planning our Kentucky vacation, we initially thought we would stay a couple of nights at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park. When I began to make reservations for the trip, I discovered there are no large RV sites in the campgrounds. There is only one 30' site in the Ridgeline campground, RV site #33. The size dimensions for this site are 30 x 15, and there were no pictures of the site online. I did not think our 30' 5th wheel, which is actually a bit longer, would fit, so I called the campground to make sure the information I had found online was correct. As I am writing this blog post, I see the reservation site now has the following language under Alerts and Important Information: No camping equipment or vehicle over 30 foot will [be] allowed in the Camping Area. 

Following are some RV campgrounds nearby:
- Falls Creek Cabins and Campground is the closest RV campground I could find. I do not know why this campground did not show when I searched online before our trip. We passed it when we left the falls, and I easily found the website when I searched after returning home. It is just over five miles east of the falls.
- Corbin/Laurel Lake KOA is about ½ hour northeast of the falls, near I-75. We were going to be arriving from the southwest, so we decided this was too far away to stay a couple of nights and drive back and forth.
- I found General Burnside Island Park after we had already made reservations at Dale Hollow State Park. This park is about ½ hour west of the falls. Since this park is located on the west side, more in line with our route than the KOA, we would have stayed at this park instead of Dale Hollow, if I had found it earlier. The drive from this park to Natural Bridge would have been less stressful than the route we took! By the time I happened upon this campground, it was less than 15 days before our stay, and we would have lost more than just the cancellation fee to change parks. 

Parking at Cumberland Falls

There is plenty of parking at the Visitor Center for large RVs. I was glad I had researched the park before our trip, and we knew where to pull in when we arrived. If you are arriving from the west, I suggest pulling into the first drive, directly on your left, after crossing the river. The entrance is located on a sharp turn in the road, and the speed limit is only 15 MPH on this corner. There was no sign designating this as the RV lot, and we hoped the information I had found before our trip was correct. It was, and the next entrance would have been more difficult to pull into from the west. The turn is even sharper at the second/main entrance from the west, and you will have to drive back to the first lot next to the river, if you have a trailer or RV.

View from RV lot above the falls

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Dale Hollow Lake Reservoir in Kentucky/Tennessee - Dale Hollow Lake State Resort Park

September 2016, Dale Hollow Lake State Resort Park, Weekday, 2-nights, Campsite L005

View of reservoir from the lodge

Reservations and arrival

We made an advance reservation at Dale Hollow State Resort Park online. The rate was reasonable, and we got a AAA discount. There are photos of most of the campsites online, although I thought it was difficult to choose a site before we actually arrived at the park and saw the entire layout. You can find more campsite and park photos in the Dale Hollow Facebook album.

We stopped at the IGA in Burkesville after arriving on KY-90 from the west. We were able to get some supplies at the IGA, although food selection was limited. Before we entered the store, I had observed a Dale Hollow State Park sign across from the store, directing us to KY-61. Our GPS was telling us to go to the next road, Hwy-49, so I asked the cashier which route was best. She said KY-61 has less curves. We took KY-61 to the park, and there are many curves on this route. Looking at the map overview afterward, there are just as many curves on this route as on Hwy-49. We should have followed our GPS, because taking KY-61 was over two miles longer. A measly two miles does make a difference when you are towing something on skinny roads through curves at slow speeds.

We arrived on a Monday, and the camp store/registration office was not open. The sign on the door said it is closed on Mondays. I assume the sign pertained to off-season hours. There was a self-registration box at the entrance booth after the camp store. There were less than 10 campers in the campground when we arrived. We observed reserved signs on some campsite posts from previous guests, although there was no sign on our site. We would not have been too happy, if we had found someone on our site when we got there! We waved when we passed park rangers during our stay, although we did not speak with any workers our entire stay (other than at the marina).

Campsite L005

The campsites in this park are on circle loops, and Loop L is near the outer edge with woods along the edge. We had a private and beautiful view from our fire pit and table. It was not windy during our stay; however, we heard a startling noise one night of our stay - a huge tree fell down in the woods! There are many large trees in Kentucky, and the tree we heard made a tremendous crash/thud. We were in bed when this happened, and did not hear if there was any cracking or other noise beforehand to indicate this was about to happen.

Campsite L5
View out window toward L4
Fog in the morning, just like Mammoth Cave

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky / National Park Campground, Cave Tours, and more

September 2016, Weekend-weekday, 3-nights, Campsite 71

Domes & Dripstones Cave Tour; info at the end of this post

Reservations, arrival, check-in

We wanted to reserve a campsite at Mammoth Cave National Park before our arrival; however, the park stops accepting campground reservations for the season on September 15th, which was a few days before our stay. You can still make reservations for the tours, although not the campground.

When we arrived, the ranger told us to turn in Loop C, find a site that we fit on, and then come back and pay. The cost was $20 per night, and we could pay by check or credit card.

Campground map; click to enlarge

Campsite 71

We had walked through this campground a year earlier when we passed through the area. At that time, we had thought sites 71, 73, and 80 were all good sites. We did not notice the traffic direction until we drove into the campground; all of the perimeter sites in Loop C are on the wrong side of the road to pull in with an RV (unless you want to face the road instead of your fire pit!). We decided to turn around through site 72, and then we chose site 71. Fortunately, there was not much traffic when we left, because we did not try to turn around again at that time. We passed one non-camping vehicle on our way out, and he pulled off the road to let us by.

View from our camper on site 71

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Ludington, Michigan / State Park Beechwood campground

September 2016, Weekend, 2-nights, Beechwood Campsite 275

This is the third time we have camped in Ludington State Park. My blog post from November 2015 provides a lot of information about many of the campsites in this park. Additional campground information and photos can also be found in the Ludington State Park album on our Facebook page. This is a condensed review of our most recent stay.

Reservations, check-in and arrival

There were not many sites available when we made our advance reservation. After I reserved site 275, I noticed it is an ADA site. The description on the website does not say it is handicap accessible; however, my confirmation email said it is.

The first entrance booth, in the parking lot by the sanitation station, was open when we arrived, and we checked in there. Usually we camp off-season, and this is the first time we checked in in this area. We needed to provide more details than usual during check-in: the names of all people on our site, and our complete vehicle(s) information. Our son was coming to stay with us the second night, and we were told he had to stop and get an overnight pass, even though he has a recreation passport on his vehicle. When we walked through the overflow parking lot while hiking during our stay, we noticed several cars with tickets for unauthorized parking on the windshield. It took us several minutes to check-in, and it took our son several minutes to get his overnight pass when he stopped the next day.

Site 275

This is a average size site on the inside of the second Beechwood loop. It is level, and does not hold water during rain. Parking was a bit tight after our son arrived, and we had two vehicles.

View from site 275; click photo to enlarge and view details

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Sacramento, California / Homewood Suites by Hilton Sacramento (SMF) Airport-Natomas

September 2016, Weekday, 1-night, King Studio #309

I stayed in this Homewood Suites in 2012, when it was brand new. The guestroom I had this stay was pretty much the same as the one I had last time.

Arrival and check-in

When I arrived, the front desk agent offered me bottled water. I received another bottle of water and Milano cookies in the guestroom.

View from living room window; HIX pool visible

Stockton, California / Hilton

September 2016, Weekday, 1-night, King executive guestroom 544

Arrival and check-in experience

I had reserved a king guestroom at this Hilton. When I viewed online check-in, I saw that my room had been upgraded to an executive room before my arrival. I thought about checking in online and using the Hilton digital key; however, the Hilton check-in site had changed somewhat, and I did not figure out how to view the entire floor plan until after I had arrived at the hotel. When I had looked at it that morning, the only portion of the building that was visible was the corner where the guestroom that was pre-assigned to me is located. I could not tell if this was a top floor guestroom, or where it was located. Later, I realized the entire floors can be viewed as follows: hoover over the diagram, and then click "choose your room" when it shows. You can then view the entire floor and change floors to view all of the floors.

When I arrived, the front desk agent made my keys for the guestroom that had been pre-assigned to me. I did not understand why my keys were not ready, because I observed 10 or more prepared packets on the front desk for guests checking in that day. She did not recognize my Diamond status, and I did not receive a bag with two water bottles, like I observed other guests receiving later that evening.

View of courtyard from elevator foyer; guestrooms on north and south sides

Guestroom 544

This guestroom is on the top floor at the end of the hall. It is located in the worst possible area of the hotel; on the side of the building facing traffic, rather than the courtyard or canal. Usually, hotel staff members assign top-tier guests guestrooms in prime locations (not just Hilton; Marriott, and other chains, too). I do not recall ever being assigned a guestroom in a location like this before, and I wish I had realized the hotel layout and guestroom location details before unpacking. If I had been staying more than one night, I would have returned to the front desk, and requested a different guestroom.

The guestroom was spacious. The bathroom and a closet were located near the entrance. The bathroom contained the usual Hilton bath amenities and good quality towels. The shower head was very low. I am only 5' 2" tall, and I had to crouch to get my head under the spray. The closet contained an iron, ironing board, summer robe, hangers, and a safe.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Harrisville, Michigan / Harrisville State Park

September 2016, Holiday weekend 3-nights, Site 25

I found some of the best park photos for Harrisville State Park on Wikipedia.

Arrival and check-in

We arrived Friday a bit before noon, and check-in time is not until 3:00 p.m. Checkout time is 1:00 p.m., and I had checked online to see if anyone was on our site Thursday evening. The site was open, so we figured it would not be a problem if we arrived early. The agent informed us of the check-in time when we arrived, and gave the impression we could not check-in early. After I inquired further, she said that if there was not anyone on our site, and maintenance was not being performed, then we could check-in. I asked if we needed to drive back there to make sure, and then come back and check-in. She then requested our confirmation information, and said she could check us in.

Site 25

Road into campsite; white truck on site 25
The roads in this campground are narrow with a lot of trees. It was tight backing into site 25, although not overly difficult. We barely fit lengthwise on the 45 x 45 site, as there are a lot of trees around the perimeter of this site. We have a 30' 5th wheel, which is a couple of feet longer including the bike rack on back; still only about 35' total. I did not see 10' to spare after we were parked.
Fire pit on site 25
The only perimeter area of this campsite that is open is by the road and fire pit. Campers on sites 23 and 162 were easily visible when seated at the fire pit on site 25. The rest of the campsite is secluded. There were a lot of trees beside the walkway, so the view out our window toward the walkway was woodsy. The site is somewhat grassy.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Mt. Pleasant, Michigan / Soaring Eagle Casino Outdoor Concert Venue

Septemer 2016, Weekday

Pre-concert experience/ticket purchase

We were going to be passing through Mt. Pleasant the night of the rescheduled Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Guess Who, and Mark Farner concert, so we decided to purchase tickets and attend the show. We purchased the least expensive general admission tickets on the Soaring Eagle Casino website, and printed them at home. The tickets were not a bad price, although I thought the service fee of $6.75 per ticket was high. Tickets were available when we arrived, and I wished we had waited to purchase them then.

GA tix purchased and printed at home
I had read several negative reviews about the concert venue beforehand. Many of the reviews were from people who had purchased more expensive reserved seats closer to the stage. One person said his reserved seats were directly in front of the General Admission Hill Seating, and he had a terrible view. Looking at the seating layout, I would not be happy either, if I had paid more than twice as much for seats directly in front of where we were on the lawn. I had read another review from someone complaining about the stench and proximity of the porta johns--I hoped that was not correct!


We parked in the casino RV lot, which we had never done before. We knew you could do this; however, we were surprised at the number of RVs in the lot. There were more than 25 trailers and RVs on this Thursday evening; many with the slides out, and some with generators running. One family appeared to be "camping," rather than visiting the casino. They had children, their camper was unhooked, and they were gone in their truck most of the time (I would not be visiting the casino or concert with kids, anyway, although I suppose some people might). We even observed a boat in the parking lot with a ladder at the back to get on and off the boat. There was plenty of room for parking, and the parking lot was fairly level. Next time we do something like this, we will be more mindful of the lights in the parking lot. We had parked before dark, and when we returned after the concert, we realized our bathroom skylight was located pretty close to one of the overhead lights.

Over 10 RVs in this photo
We took the shuttle between the RV lot and the casino, and then walked through the casino to and from the concert grounds. There was a special events shuttle stop between the casino and hotel entrance for transportation to the concert grounds, which we did not take. It seemed like the walk from the stop at the concert grounds to the entrance was farther than walking through the casino, unless you wait for the golf cart type shuttle to take you from the shuttle bus stop to the concert entrance.The concert grounds were located directly behind the casino. Even though the concert grounds have been open since 2012, the online property map does not show the outdoor venue location.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Lake Michigan Recreation Area / Lake Michigan at Manistee, Michigan

August 2016, Weekend, 2-nights, Orchid Loop Site 43

Sunset over Lake Michigan at LMRA
This was our first overnight stay at Lake Michigan Recreation Area. I was a bit confused when I made our campsite reservation, because the government reservation site lists the name of the campground a tad differently. The reservation site has the name as Lake Michigan at Manistee, MI

Advance reservations

Not considering the group campsites, there are four loops in the campground, and two of them have sites that can be reserved: Oak and Orchid loops. I thought it was difficult to choose a site, as we had never camped there before. Many of the fire pits on the sites are located behind the tar pad or on the right side, which would not be a good location, if you are camping in an RV (like we were) and need to back in. The fire pit is not visible in the photos of some of the sites, and the site dimensions are not provided; only the length of the tar pad. I thought the camping cost was high, considering there is no electricity, no shower facility, and no dump station. It was $21 night, plus a $9 transaction fee. We have a trip planned to Mammoth Cave Campground; the rate is similar, $1 less per night, and they have a dump station. We'll see how that National Park compares to this one after that stay.  

Arrival and check-in

This campground has self-registration with locked deposit boxes like the State of Michigan forest campgrounds for campers who do not have a reservation. Our site had a reserved tag on it with our name and the dates of our stay.

Orchid Loop Site 43

Site 43 has a 44' tar pad, and it says it can accommodate an RV up to 44'. Our 5th wheel is 30', and it was tricky for us to back into this site. It is on the corner, which made backing in a bit more difficult. The corner was sharp enough that we had to watch out for the numbered site pole on our lot, and the one across the street. Additionally, there was a large tree located next to the road at the start of the driveway. The tree was located on the east side of the pad on site 43. All of these obstructions were considerations when we backed in, and when we departed. This was one of the few times I needed to stay outside the truck to watch when we departed, until our RV was completely on the road. Fortunately, my husband is experienced with backing up and towing many kinds of equipment!

Site 43
There were wooden posts in the ground at the end of the pad on this site, so we could not back in as far as we would have liked. I can understand that they want to keep tires on the pavement; however, the back of our 5th wheel extends several feet beyond the tires. If we could have backed up a couple more feet, we would have had more room to park our truck on the pavement in front of the 5th wheel. Most of the sites had similar posts at the end of the pads, although I observed a few sites without posts.