Search This Blog

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

White House, Tennessee / Hampton Inn

December 2017, Weekend, 1-night, King guestroom 300

This post is a tad shorter than most with a bit less information, since it has been a few weeks since our stay.

Diamond perks and check-in

We had arrived in the evening after dark with takeout dinner. I received a bottle of water and the bonus points listed in my profile preferences. I inquired about the location of our guestroom, and I asked if there is a table with seating in the room. The agent said there is not a table in the guestroom, and she did not offer an upgrade. After we got the keys, we sat down in the lobby to eat before taking our luggage to to the guestroom.  

Guestroom 300

This is a basic guestroom on the top floor at the end of the hall. The only seating was a chaise lounge and the desk chair. The guestroom looked similar to the photos on the website. It is sufficient for one person; however, we would have preferred more room for the two of us. 

Guestroom 300
This past year, I have not experienced much of a benefit for being loyal to a hotel brand. This hotel was not very full, so it does not make sense to me why they would not give an upgrade to a Diamond member. It would have been nice to eat our dinner in the guestroom, and it would have been nice to be able to sit on a sofa together.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Orange Beach, Alabama / bike trails, restaurants and happy hours, boating, beaches

November 2017 - December 2017

Lakeshore Trail ~ One of the prettiest loops in Gulf State Park!

Gulf State Park bicycle trails and Beach Bike Rentals

We had taken our own bikes with us to Orange Beach; however, our son visited for a couple of days via plane, so he rented a bicycle one day when he was there. Beach Bike Rentals is located on Perdido Beach Blvd. next to the Hotel Indigo and Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail - Rosemary Dunes Trailhead. It was $25 to rent a 3-speed cruiser for the day. A bicycle lock and helmet is included with the rental. Another bike rental store is located inside Gulf State Park in the picnic area of Lake Shelby. I do not know the details of their rentals, as we did not compare costs.

Inside Gulf State Park next to trail
We bicycled through the park on two different days, and we walked inside the park one day. We saw alligators, an armadillo, tortoise, snakes, a bald eagle, other birds, and butterflies. I am sharing a few photos we took, although I do not have room to include them all.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Orange Beach, Alabama / Grand Pointe Condos through Alabama Getaway

November - December 2017, 1 week

One of the amazing sunsets from the beach at Grand Pointe

Choosing a property

After viewing many properties, we had our desired property narrowed down to a few: Grand Pointe, Caribe Resort, Phoenix VII, and Turquoise Place. We liked Caribe and Turquoise for the resort atmosphere and luxuries; however, the cost was much too high for only two people. We actually had a difficult time finding a condo with a good rate for only two people, as most of the units in this area have more than one bedroom. The prices are great, if you are looking for something with more room. Some of our criteria: A balcony with a view of the water, and access to the balcony from the bedroom and living area. We also wanted a heated whirlpool tub onsite, preferably outside and open all year.

We did not like the layout of the one bedroom condos we found because the bedroom was located by the entrance instead of the water and balcony. We then started to look at two and three bedroom condos. Something else we had to take into consideration, is that the add-on fees, taxes, and such, were higher than what we had paid when we stayed in Panama City Beach, Florida a couple of years earlier. After much time searching, we were very happy with the end result.

One of the murals on the inside wall at Grand Pointe

Grand Pointe Condominium amenities

We absolutely loved this property! It is peaceful, well maintained, and we liked the location.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Nashville, Tennessee / Embassy Suites by Hilton Nashville South Cool Springs

November 2017, Weekday-Holiday, 1-night, Premium king room 915

I redeemed points for a king bed guestroom for three people when I made the reservation (the sofa is a sofa sleeper).

Sunrise from suite 915

Diamond perks and check-in

I did not check-in before I arrived, because there are 9 floors in this hotel, and only 8 floors were showing as options to choose from. The system had also chosen a room for me right across from the elevator, and my profile is for a room away from the elevator. I called to ask about a room on the top floor, and learned that the premium guestrooms are on floors 7 and 9. I asked about an upgrade to a premium room with my Diamond status, and the agent said I could probably get one when I arrived, because there were rooms available.

My room had not been assigned when we arrived to check-in Thanksgiving evening. I inquired about an upgrade to the top floor, and the agent gave us the same room type on the 9th floor. The only difference in the premium rooms (unless you get a corner or executive room) are the beverage and snack amenities. The premium rooms have a Keurig k-cup coffeemaker, and a few snacks and beverages are included with the room. I also received a Hilton Honors bag at check-in with bottled water and a snack.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Newaygo, Michigan / State Campground, Hardy Pond

October 2017, Weekday-weekend, 2-nights, Campsite 84

View of Hardy Pond from campground

Reservations and check-in

The last time we had camped in Newaygo State Park was almost 40 years ago, and I did not recall much from that stay. This campground is primitive like the state forest campgrounds, and the rate is the same; $13 a night. Since it is a state park, rather than a state forest campground, you can make a reservation and choose your campsite prior to arrival. The online information was not very detailed, and we wanted to wait until we arrived to get a better look at the sites. After I learned the office is not staffed this time of year, we decided to make a reservation online. The campground is quite a distance from the self-registration kiosk and phone. If we had not made a reservation, we would have had to drive through the campground, choose a site, drive back to the registration booth, and then go back to set up. Not a fun thing to do while towing a fifth wheel! And, it would have added 20 to 30 minutes to our check-in time.

Close quarters on site 84, if you have a large RV with slides

Campsite 84

This campsite says it can accommodate a camper up to 40', and that the site is lakefront. It is not lakefront (it is across the street), and the picture on the website for this site is not accurate at the time of this post. If you have a large RV, be aware of the following:

Monday, November 20, 2017

Luther, Michigan / Silver Creek State Forest Campground

October 2017, Weekday-weekend, 2-nights

We have camped in this campground a few times, and you can find more pictures and information about the campground in my previous post from August 2016. Nothing has changed in the campground since we started visiting it about five years ago. Other than the one Thursday night last August, we have only camped here in the spring and fall, so the atmosphere may be different on the weekends in the summer.

Pine River along the river sites at Silver Creek

Campsite 19

We had noticed this campsite during our August stay last year. We like this site because it is spacious, secluded, and on the river. It is the first site on the left as you start into the campground, which also means there is more traffic because everyone entering has to drive by. 

Campsite 19

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Coldwater, Michigan / Holiday Inn Express & Suites

October 2017, Weekday, 1-night, 2-Queen beds, room 304

Arrival and platinum perks

This hotel is next door to the Hampton Inn. The rates were about the same, and I had a difficult time choosing between the two when I made my reservation. I went with the Holiday Inn Express because I like the Keurig coffeemakers in the guestrooms. The Hampton Inn would have been a better choice for the sunset view, although that side of the hotel also faces the expressway. There was not much of a sunset the night of my stay.

View of Hampton Inn from guestroom 304
The front desk agent recognized my status, and said I would be receiving 500 bonus points, which posted to my account within 24 hours. She did not confirm the guestroom type, and the only thing I inquired about was whether it is on the top floor.

Guestroom 304

This guestroom is located on the top floor, almost at the end of the hall. I was surprised to see Do Not Disturb signs on the door handles of all the nearby guestrooms (at least three of them). I wondered if hotel staff was trying to create a quiet environment, or if the rooms were really booked. Turned out, the rooms were booked, and when the guests returned, they were none too quiet. This guestroom seems to be pretty quiet in terms of the walls between the guestrooms; however, there is a large gap below the door, and noise from the hall can easily be heard.

View from sofa in front of window
The room was comfortable and clean. The desk was comfortable, as was the sofa, and the bed. The desk is located at the foot of the bed, and is not visible in the photo above. A flatscreen TV is next to the desk, and there is a long suitcase bench between the TV and hanging closet.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Fort Wayne, Indiana / Staybridge Suites

October 2017, Weekend-weekday, 2-nights, Queen studio suite #339

I am glad I started this blog, because it did help me choose a hotel this visit. I did not initially recall that I had stayed in the Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites located in this same area, until after I had already made a reservation at the Homewood Suites. I re-read my review from that stay, and then decided to change my reservation to Staybridge Suites, which I had thought was a newer hotel. When I stayed at Homewood Suites, I did not care for the blasé Diamond recognition I received, and I do not like rooms that do not smell fresh.

Arrival and platinum perks

The agent recognized my status and offered further assistance. He did not say anything about Platinum bonus points; however, I received an email within two days telling me I had received bonus amenity points. He did not tell me what kind of room I had. I only asked if it was on the top floor, and he said yes. Although I did not receive an upgrade, my room requests were met. I received a room at the end of the hall in a quiet area, as I had requested online.

Suite 339 view from living area; bed on right

Queen guestroom #339

The guestroom looked and smelled clean. It was a basic queen studio suite with a full kitchen area, working desk, sofa, TV, queen bed, and bathroom with a tub/shower combination. The only thing missing from the kitchen area was a counter/bar or a table for dining. I ate at the desk, when I ate in the guestroom.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Muskegon, MI / Shoreline Inn, Pigeon Hill, Boars Belly, Lakeshore Trail

October 2017, Weekdays, 2-days

Shoreline Inn, penthouse suite 1003

We loved this guestroom! You can see more photos of this fabulous suite in my Facebook album, as I could not fit them all in this post. We booked a penthouse suite with points, and received an upgrade to a lake view penthouse suite. Or, the upgrade may have actually been an error, since the front desk agent did not tell us it was an upgrade, and I had some difficulty making the reservation.

View from penthouse suite balcony #1003
This room is a corner suite with floor to ceiling glass windows on all of the exterior walls. There was a balcony with two chairs and a small table from the kitchen area, and the other glass doors could also be opened.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Grand Rapids, Michigan / ArtPrize, JW Marriott, Knickerbocker Brewing Co, CityBuilt Brewing, Fountain Hill Brewing Co, Atwater Brewery

October 2017, Weekday-weekend, 2-days

One of my ArtPrize favorites!
Not because I am a horse fan; because of the quality/how real it looked.

ArtPrize Nine

We visited on the last Friday and Saturday of ArtPrize, after voting had ended. In previous years (this was our 6th visit; not all consecutive years) when we visited on Friday during the day, the crowds had been minimal. This year, it was busy, busy, busy! There were many students and group tours on Friday, and Saturday became crowded after 11:00 AM. I think I preferred ArtPrize when it was smaller, and more centralized to the downtown area. This year, exhibits could be found as far away as Fredrick Meijer Gardens and Gerald R. Ford International Airport. We did get to see a lot of cool art, some of which I am sharing, along with additional information in this post.

Inside Gerald R. Ford Museum.
You may be able to read the artist's statement, if you click on the photo to enlarge it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Northern Michigan: Traverse City, Lake Ann, Frankfort

September 2017, Weekday-weekend

We had an unusually warm weekend at the end of September in Michigan this year. I am sharing some info about new places we visited, as well as a couple of re-visits. You can find additional information about all of the following areas in previous blog posts. Rather than list all the links here, I suggest clicking on the labels at the bottom of this post to find the posts with information you are interested in.

Bryant Park Beach
One end was empty when we first arrived

Traverse City: Bryant Park Beach, Brewery Terra Firma, Monkey Fist Brewing Company, Food Court (The Little Fleet), Boardman Lake Trail

We visited Bryant Park Beach for the first time, as we wanted to try a new beach. I had read that there are not many parking spots at this park, which is true. Additionally, the spaces are quite tight. We were able to get a spot when we arrived on a weekday shortly before noon. Our parking space was not one of the better ones, and when we returned to our vehicle to leave, we wondered how the driver of the different car next to us had gotten out without hitting our vehicle. I had to wait for my husband to back out of the parking spot before I could get into our car. Vehicles were also parked on the street when we departed. There is no charge for parking, nor is there an entrance fee.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Sawyer, Michigan / Warren Dunes and Local Breweries

September/October 2017, Weekend, 2-nights, Campsite #37

Sunset from beach/swimming area
Photo taken by our son

Arrival and check-in

The office was staffed when we arrived; however, we were not able to check-in because the computers were offline (or something). After several minutes at both computers, the employee said I would need to come back and check-in later. She had our printed confirmation that I had given her, and I was hoping someone would just bring us our dashboard paper later. No one stopped at our site, so I walked back to the office a couple of hours later. There were campers checking in and campers waiting. Fortunately, the employee I had left our information with, had completed the check-in earlier, and was able to just hand me my dashboard paper without me having to wait.

Campsite #37

All of the campsites in this campground are fairly small, and most of them are not secluded. This site says it is 50' long; however, the mowed portion of the site is only about 35' long. The description says that it accommodates a camper up to 30', which is pretty accurate considering only 30 to 35' of the length is usable. (I guess they are counting 15', or more, into the woods behind the site in that measurement...)? Additionally, we had to park as close as we could to a tree on the edge of the site, in order not to be too close to the fire pit. The fire pit is labeled in the photo below, which can be enlarged by clicking on it. Even though we parked as far away from the fire pit as possible, we rolled our awning up one night when the fire was lit and it got a bit breezy.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Midland County, Michigan / Black Creek State Forest Campground, Pere Marquette Rail Trail, Midland Brewing Co., Pine Haven Recreation Area

September 2017, Weekday-weekend, 3-nights, Black Creek State Forest Campground, Site #11

You can find a previous review of this campground with more detail in my post from June 2016


We arrived, again on a Thursday, and our experience was similar to our first stay. There was one camper in the second loop, and one camper in the third loop (we did not check the first loop). The camper in the third loop happened to be on site 21, the site we had liked from our previous stay. We chose site 11 at the east end in the second loop. The check-in experience and cost were the same.

View from site 11

Site #11

Site 11 is a HUGE site with better water access than site 21. The path to the water was not as steep for getting a small boat in and out of the water, and there was room at the bottom of the trail next to the water for two chairs. 

If you have a camper, there is a steep downhill slope from the road onto the dirt/gravel pad. The rest of the site is level. We ran the front of our camper down as far as it would go, and it was barely level. We have never had to do that before! Fortunately, we were still able to open our flip-down steps without them hitting the ground.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Toledo, Ohio / Holiday Inn Express & Suites Toledo West

September 2017, Weekday, 1-night, 2 queen beds guestroom 526

Arrival and platinum perks

The front desk agent recognized my status, although, sadly, he did not initially meet any of my requests or profile preferences. My guestroom preferences are: high floor, away from elevator, king executive. I was not concerned about the fact that I did not receive an upgrade to a king guestroom, although I was displeased with the agent's attitude about my requests. I had written my usual requests in my reservation comments: prefer top floor corner in quiet area (and, I always add a "thank you," as well). The agent initially handed me a key for guestroom 410 without providing any information about the room. I asked him if my room was on the top floor, and he said no. Since the guests above me for the two nights prior to this stay had been quite loud, I asked if there was a room available on the top floor. As the agent then looked at the computer and read my requests, he remarked that there were already a lot of elite guests in the hotel who had been there since Monday. Apparently, I was unimportant since I had arrived on a Wednesday, and would only be staying for one night. After a few moments, he recoded my key for guestroom 526. I was glad I had inquired about the room location, because later I noticed that guestroom 410 is also located very close to the elevator.

Sunset view from guestroom 526

Guestroom 526

This guestroom is located at the north end of the hall. It was spacious, comfortable, and clean. I heard minimal noise from the hall, as the nearby neighbors were very quiet. There was quite a gap around the guestroom door, so I imagine hallway noise near the elevator could be disturbing.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Independence, Ohio / Hampton Inn & Suites Cleveland/Independence

September 2017, Weekdays, 2-nights, King suite 220

Arrival and diamond perks

There are three diamond guest parking spots at this hotel, and I got the last one. My guestroom was ready when I arrived a bit before check-in time. I had not checked in online to choose my room, because the app was only showing me a room on the second floor, and I prefer to be on the top floor. During check-in, I learned that is because the only suite left was the one on the second floor. I have bonus points checked for my on-site amenity, and the front desk agent also offered me a bottle of water.

Sushi from nearby restaurant; info below

Guestroom 220

This guestroom is located near the elevator and center of the building. I did not hear a lot of noise from the elevator or guests in the hall, although I did hear the guests overhead (precisely why I always try to get a top floor room).

The suite was quite spacious. The open kitchenette and living area contained a small fridge, a table with two chairs, microwave, sink, sofa, footstools, table that slides under seat, flatscreen TV on an armoire, desk and chair, ice bucket with disposable cups, and a single-serve coffee maker with supplies. The coffeemaker was on the slide out shelf in the armoire; I had already moved it to the kitchen counter before I took the photos below.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Ann Arbor, Michigan / Courtyard by Marriott

September 2017, Weekend, 1-night, King extended guestroom (suite) 431

Arrival and gold elite perks

The check-in process went smoothly, and I was impressed to learn I had received an upgrade to a king suite. I had reserved just a basic double-bed guestroom, and I have rarely received an upgrade at a Marriott Courtyard (I do not recall ever receiving one without asking). I have never understood why elite members usually only receive upgrades at full-service Marriott and Hilton hotels, and not all brands. My experience over the years has not been any different when I had Platinum or Diamond status, than it has been as a Gold member. This Marriott Courtyard is one of the best Courtyard hotels I have ever stayed in, and I was disappointed I did not have more time to enjoy it (I arrived just before dark, and departed at 6:30 AM the next day).

Suite 431 from entrance

Guestroom 431

This suite was super comfortable, and I loved it! My profile says high floor, and additionally, I had requested a guestroom on the top floor in a corner or quiet area. All of my requests had been fulfilled.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Grand Rapids, Michigan / Judson's Steakhouse in The Bob

September 2017, weekday evening, birthday dinner

Advance reservations

We have been to most of the venues in The Bob several times, although this was our first visit to Judson's Steakhouse. It was my husband's birthday, and the free lobster dinner that Gilly's used to give customers had been taken over by Judson's.

I found this out when I called The Bob to make a reservation and confirm that Gilly's was still offering the free lobster dinner. I was able to make the reservation for the day after my husband's birthday, as his birthday fell on Labor Day, and The Bob was not open.

View out the window from our table

Dining atmosphere at Judson's Steakhouse

The atmosphere inside the restaurant was pleasant. We had a good view from our table, the acoustics were good, and the seating was comfortable.

Menu in the restaurant

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Frankfort, Michigan / Marina, Stormcloud Brewing Company, Betsie Valley Trail, and more

July 2017, Weekday-weekend, 2 nights

Sunset over the pier in Frankfort, Michigan

We stopped in Frankfort on our way south from Suttons Bay, as we wanted to visit Stormcloud Brewing Company and do some biking on Betsie Valley Trail. We ended up staying for two nights!

Frankfort beach, boat launch, and marina

It is about a half mile walk from boat slip #2 at the municipal marina to the beach. Lake Michigan was warm enough for swimming, and the water and beach were both packed even though we visited on weekdays. I took the photo below when we walked on Friday morning. We passed many people heading to the beach already on our way back to the marina. 

Frankfort beach in the morning
The cost to slip our 25' boat overnight was $40, and the launch ramp fee was not included. Most marinas we have stayed in comp the boat launch fee when staying overnight (Suttons Bay and Muskegon municipal, for example). When I asked about this, I was told that the boat launch is separate, so they could not do anything about that. I thought that was odd, since they are both run by the City of Frankfort. The boat launch fee is $7 per day. Frankfort municipal had the best price for gasoline on the water that we saw this week; $3.60 a gallon, and it had been closer to $4 a gallon everywhere else.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Suttons Bay and Traverse City, Michigan / boating, Leelanau Trail, wineries, breweries, dining...

July 2017, Weekend-weekdays, 6-nights

Beautiful clear aqua colored water in Suttons Bay and Grand Traverse Bay!

Suttons Bay Marina, north slips 

We made a reservation at the marina for Friday and Saturday night in advance. You can do this online, and then pay online, or you can mail in a check. We opted to mail a check because there is a service charge to pay with a credit card at this marina. Our home port marina (Muskegon) also charges a service fee to pay with credit card, which is new this year. We did not make an advance reservation for our next stay, as this was during the week, and we were not sure exactly which day we would be returning. Harbormaster Edie was very easy to work with.
View from picnic table in front of slip 68
We stayed in slip #34 for two nights when we arrived. This slip is located in front of the harbormaster office near the boat ramp. It was surprisingly quiet, although there is no view from this slip. When we returned, we stayed two nights in slip #67, which is located farther down on the north side. There is a nice view from this location, although the hike to the restroom is a bit farther. The marina facilities are located in the same building with the public restrooms next to the marina entrance from Front Street. The facility was always well maintained and clean.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Bicycle Trails in Michigan / Fred Meyer Berry Junction Trail, Little Traverse Wheelway, and more

May and June 2017

Little Traverse Wheelway ~ Petoskey, Harbor Springs, SW toward Charlevoix

The bicycle trails in the Petoskey area are some of our favorite ones to ride in Michigan. During this visit, we bicycled from Petoskey State Park to Harbor Springs one day, and from the state park to West Park beyond Bay Harbor the next. There is a short wood-chip trail from Tannery Creek campground to Little Traverse Wheelway. The information in this blog post goes along with previous blog posts about the Petoskey area: bicycle trails, brewery and winery visits, state park September 2015, state park May 2016, and KOA July 2013

View from East Park on Little Traverse Wheelway
It is a little over 20 miles from Petoskey State Park to Charlevoix. We rode as far as West Park, which was almost 11 miles one-way from our campsite. The ride was fairly easy, and there are several parks and benches along the way. You can enjoy a fabulous view of Little Traverse Bay from East Park where there is running water and flush toilets. There are not as many stops between East Park and West Park, as there are between the state park and East Park. West Park is located off the paved trail down a dirt road. This park has vault toilets, no running water, and no view. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Ocqueoc and Rogers City, Michigan: Ocqueoc Falls and underground river, 40 Mile Point Lighthouse, Huron-Sunrise Trail and downtown

June 2017

We visited the following sights from P. H. Hoeft State Park. You can find more information about the state park in my previous blog post

Ocqueoc Falls

Ocqueoc Falls and Little Ocqueoc [underground] River

It is just over 15 miles from the state campground to the falls. There is a state forest campground at the falls; however, we wanted to stay on Lake Huron and near the bicycle trail. Also, the road into the state forest campground is kind of narrow with low hanging branches - not the best situation, if you have a larger camper or 5th wheel.

Ocqueoc Falls

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Rogers City, Michigan / P. H. Hoeft State Park

June 2017, 4-nights, weekend-weekdays, campsites 21 and 121

Sunrise from site 21

Hoeft State Park  is located on Lake Huron about five miles north of Rogers City. There are a few campsites near the lake, although there is not much of a view from most of them. There are hiking and mountain bike trails in the park, and a paved bicycle trail in front of the park. The park also contains a playground, volleyball nets, a pavilion, and beach. You can find more information about amenities inside the park below, and I will have a separate blog post about some of the area sites: 40 Mile Point Lighthouse, Rogers City, Ocqueoc Falls, and Little Ocqueoc Underground River.

Arrival and check-in

The office was staffed when we arrived, and it only took a few minutes to get checked in for our campsite. We wanted to empty our holding tank and get fresh water when we arrived, and the sanitation station was easily accessible on the way  to our site after check-in.

Campsite 121

Campsites 121 and 21

When I made our reservation, I initially looked at the campsites near the water. It did not look like the water would be visible from any of the campsites, and these sites are mostly dirt, so I chose site 121. Campsite 121 is a good sized site, which is sunny, somewhat grassy, and private. There is a small patch of trees between sites 120 and 121. State Park Road runs behind this site, although traffic is not visible from the campsite. The traffic noise was minimal.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Ionia Michigan / Ionia State Park Recreation Area, Fred Meyer Grand River Valley Trail, Steele Street Brewing

May 2017

All kinds of last minute trip changes for us this year! We had not planned to stay in Ionia State Park Recreation Area again so soon. Since we did, I am sharing some new travel info about the area. You can find more park details in my April 2017 blog post

Ionia State Park Recreation Area, campsites 77 - 82

We chose a site in the northeast loop near the equestrian campground this time, because the lakeview sites had all been reserved. The sites in this loop are also larger than most of the sites in the lakeview loop.

Site 81
Horse trail behind trees
We stayed on site 81, which was mostly sunny, mostly grassy, and slightly secluded. There are trees/bushes between site 81 and site 79. Site 82 is sunnier than site 81. Site 80 is directly across the road from site 81, although it does not look like it on the campground map. Click on the photo below to enlarge it and see more site details.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Mesick and Cadillac, Michigan / Jeep Blessing and Mitchell State Park

May 2017

We stayed at Mitchell State Park to attend the Jeep Blessing in Mesick, Michigan. This was our third stay at Mitchell State Park, and you can find more campground details in two of my previous posts: May 2016, and September 2014.  

Sunset view from back of campsite 180

Mitchell State Park: sites 174, 176, 179, 180, and 181 

We camped in a new area [for us] of the state park this visit, and I am sharing a few photos and information about some of the campsites in the channel area. Information that I shared previously concerning the facilities and amenities has not really changed any.

Sign at park entrance
We were camping during non-peak season, and there was not anyone working at the ranger station during our stay. The sign at the entrance said we could just proceed to our site, if we had a reservation (which we did). Pictures in this blog can be enlarged by clicking on them. The only new thing I observed about the facilities was a sign by the showers saying that the shower cost is $1 for non-campers. Must be they have a lot of non-campers using the showers!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

White Pine Trail and West Michigan Brewery Experiences ~ Brewery Vivant, Cedar Springs Brewing Company, Rockford Brewery

April 2017

At Brewery Vivant

Brewery Vivant

Brewery Vivant is a pretty cool place. The beer and food we have had has always been excellent, and this visit was no different. We shared the beer cheese pretzels and a "limited time" dessert, because the menu said the dessert paired well with Undertaker beer (which I was having). Everything was delicious, and we had our growler filled before we left. Brewery Vivant is located on Cherry Street near Eastown.

Taken from our table at Cedar Springs Brewing Company

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Interlochen, Beulah, and Lake Ann, Michigan / Lake 'N Pines Lodge, Lake Dubonnet State Forest Campground, and more!

May 2017, Weekend, 1-Night/2-Days

We had several places to visit in northern Michigan, which we decided to do in two days. We stayed overnight at Lake 'N Pines Lodge, we drove through the nearby state forest campground, and we visited Lake Ann Brewing Company and St. Ambrose Cellars. Following is information to assist future visitors.

Sunset from boat dock at Lake 'N Pines

Lake 'N Pines Lodge ~ Angler's Nook

We had a last minute change of plans at the time of our stay, and Angler's Nook was the only unit available at Lake 'N Pines. Pines Nature Suite would have been my first choice; however, that unit had already been rented for both weekend nights. Bay Chalet looks like an amazing unit, although it has a higher price than we would usually pay for a quick overnight (and, it was not available either). Definitely, if you are looking for a special weekend away, Bay Chalet would be the way to go. Angler's Nook is located on the ground floor beneath Pines Nature Suite.

Unexpected and nice surprise in the fridge when we arrived!
I have not included many pictures from our room at Lake 'N Pines Lodge because their website is very detailed and accurate. There is a floorpan for each unit along with several room photos on their website. I am including just a couple of photos showing a few unexpected amenities that I did not see listed on the website.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Englewood, Ohio / Hampton Inn & Suites Dayton Airport

May 2017, 2-Nights, Weekdays, 2 Queen beds, Rooms 420 and 320

Diamond perks and check-in

I arrived from the airport after dark. I decided to take 40/National Rd. rather than the interstate, as it looked like a direct route. The drive was about 10 minutes, and it would have been less except that there was a line of traffic behind a car going much slower than the speed limit. Fortunately, my GPS took me to the exact location of this hotel, because it was difficult to see the drive in the dark. There is no outside lighting at the entrance from the road.

During check-in, The agent did not specifically mention my status, although she did confirm that I wanted the bonus points for my on-property perk, and she also offered me a bottle of water. I did not receive an upgrade, and I did not receive the room type in my profile. I had reserved a room with two queen beds, because there were no king bed rooms available when I made the reservation. King study rooms were available, and I did not receive an upgrade to one of those (even after the agent offered to let me switch rooms).

View from guestroom 420

Guestrooms 320 and 420

Both of these guestrooms are exactly the same. The only difference was the style of the soap dish in the bathroom, and the carpet stains in room 320. I did not like the stale and moist odor in guestroom 320, or the cheap perfumey scent that had been used to try and mask the odor. I usually keep a small lavender spritzer in my luggage for situations like this; however, I discovered I did not have this in my bag. I called the front desk to ask if they had Febreeze or something in the hotel that I could use to spray in the guestroom. The agent said yes, and then she offered to switch me to another room. Since I could hear the floorboards in this hotel making noise, I agreed, and I said I would prefer something on the top floor, if possible (I had also made this request in my reservation notes). She told me the room directly above this one, 420, was available. I picked up my luggage, and she met me in the hallway with the new keys. Guestroom 420 did not smell any better than room 320. It was late, and I was ready for some sleep, so I made the best of it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Saranac, Michigan / Ionia State Park Recreation Area, Fred Meijer Grand River Valley Trail

April 2017, 3-nights, Weekday-weekend, Site 13

View from site 13
This was our first visit to Ionia Recreation Area. It looked like a great place to check out in the spring or fall when it is cooler in the Lake Michigan area campgrounds. Also, we stayed over Easter weekend, and Ionia was a reasonable drive from our son's house making it easy for him to visit.

Advance reservations, arrival and check-in

Since this stay was before peak-season, we considered just choosing our site after we arrived to save the $8 reservation fee. There are not many water view sites though, and after I noticed a couple of them had been taken, we decided to make a reservation. We initially reserved site 13 for Friday and Saturday night, and then we called on Thursday to add Thursday to the reservation. 

The camp office was closed when we arrived Thursday evening, and we checked in via the yellow telephone outside the office. I was glad I had called beforehand and taken care of the additional night, or I would have had to provide all the payment information and such during check-in.

Campsite 13

Campsites 13, 15, 18, 22

It was pretty easy to back in on site 13. The site was grassy, and we had a decent view of the lake from outside. From inside, we had a view of the lake out the back window, and the view from our living room looked out toward the trees behind site 15. The online information for this site says that it accommodates a 40' RV. We have a 30' 5th wheel (about 35' overall), and we took up just about the entire site lengthwise. I think it would tight with a 40' RV on this site.

Standing by fire pit on site 13

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan / Holiday Inn, Boat Show, 20 Monroe Live, Happy Hours

February 2017, Friday afternoon - overnight

View from Holiday Inn guestroom 511

Holiday Inn, King executive suite 511

This was our third or fourth stay at this Holiday Inn, and our experience was pretty similar to our past stays. Here is a link to photos and my 2014 post for executive guestroom 811. The only real difference in the guestroom this time was that the in-room coffeemaker had been upgraded to a Kuering K-cup machine. I was surprised there were only disposable cups in the guestroom, as there had been ceramic coffee mugs in 2014.

Coffeemaker in guestroom 511

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Mexico - Riviera Maya Excursions

January 2017, Monica Rendon private tour - Sac Actun Cenote, Tulum Ruins, private beach, local taco stand

We initially thought we would take the bus (colectivo) to the ruins, and then I happened across information about an amazing private tour guide operator. I contacted Monica via email to make arrangements. You can find more reviews for her on TripAdvisor, and she has a Facebook page titled SOY La Pesera. Our excursion was a bit unusual, as we had friends who happened to be staying at a resort in Cozumel at the same time we were staying at Luxury Bahia Principe Sian Ka'an. Monica picked up our friends at the ferry dock in Playa Del Carmen, and then she picked us up at the resort for our day.

Meeting, transportation, etc.

Our friends had no trouble finding Monica at the appointed time and location when they disembarked at the ferry dock. I had provided Monica with our stay information, and she was able to enter our resort to pick us up in front of the lobby. The vehicle/van had two seat rows behind the driver's seat, which easily seated 2 to 3 people in each row. The vehicle was clean and comfortable. Monica had a cooler in the back for us filled with cold Corona and bottled water. She spoke good English, and she assisted us perfectly with our day's activities. She exchanged our cash for pesos, negotiated and made our purchases for us at each stop, provided information about the best restrooms, beaches, food, and more.

View from Tulum Ruins

Tulum Ruins

Our first stop was at the ruins, which was just a short drive from our resort. It was not too busy when we arrived before 9:00 a.m., although it was quite busy with a few tour groups by the time we left. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Riviera Maya Mexico - Luxury Bahia Principe Sian Ka'an Adults Only

January - February 2017, 7-nights with Friday arrival, King Jr. suite #41223

We enjoyed our week at Luxury Bahia Principe Sian Ka'an, and hope to be able to visit again. This post takes up where one of my previous posts, Travel between Lansing, Michigan and Cancun, Mexico..., left off. Our check-in and arrival experience is covered in that post.

Sunrise from guestroom balcony 41223
More photos and information about Bahia Principe can be found in my Travel Reviews Facebook album.

Guestroom 41223

This room is located on the top floor in building 12 near the two main pools and Cenote snack bar. Our room number designated the exact location, just as I had read in a post by someone else: 4(resort - Sian Ka'an) 12(building number) 2(guestroom) 3(floor). There were two guestrooms at the top of the stairs to our room, and the room number across from us was 41213.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Lansing, Michigan / Crowne Plaza Lansing West

January and February 2017, 2 separate nights - weekday and weekend, King deluxe room #547 and King corner room #416

Our stay at the Crowne Plaza Lansing West was just as impressive this trip as it had been November 2016. The hotel is very clean and well maintained, and the staff is excellent. There was a minor snag with my first night's stay, and staff members went above and beyond to make this right. There is more information about that at the end of this post. I had two separate stays here, which I am combining into this one post. We stayed on a weekday, and then on the weekend a week later. I used points for both nights.

View from the 4th floor

Platinum perks and check-in

I received the Platinum on-site amenity choice for both stays: bottled water, beverage in the lounge, or bonus points. I always choose the points, since I tend to use my points so frequently. I had reserved a corner guestroom for my first night, and a deluxe room for my second stay. I would have reserved a corner room for both nights, except I was not able to do that when I made the reservation online. When I checked in for the first night [corner guestroom, weekday], the front desk agent had difficulty finding me a corner room. She said there had been one set aside for me, although it was showing that it had not been cleaned. I waited a few moments while she called someone to confirm whether the room had been cleaned or not. While we were waiting, she told me there were deluxe rooms available, and I said that would be fine. She assigned us a guestroom on the top floor, and said she would request a corner guestroom for us when we returned.

When I checked in for the second stay, we received a corner guestroom on the 4th floor. One of the employees had told me there are no corner guestrooms on the top floor. I think the larger corner rooms on floor 5 are suites. The employee apologized for the fact that I had not received this type of guestroom the week earlier, and she said there was an amenity in the guestroom fridge for me.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Travel between Lansing, Michigan and Cancun, Mexico via MiamiAir booked through Apple Vacations (destination Luxury Bahia Principe Sian Ka'an in Riviera Maya )

January - February 2017

This post could easily become extremely long. I have condensed the information somewhat to focus on the main points. If you have any questions, or would like more details, just ask!

Although our travel experiences include over 15 resort stays in Mexico and the Caribbean (some before I started this blog), this was our first experience with Apple Vacations and MiamiAir. You can find separate posts in this blog for Luxury Bahia Principe Sian Ka'an and our excursions.

Booking through Apple Vacations with MiamiAir charter flight

We booked our vacation over the telephone with an Apple representative, since we had not booked with them before, and I had a few questions. If you want to have access to your Apple Vacations booking online, I suggest booking online instead. I found out afterward that you can access your Apple Vacations booking online, if you book online; however, you cannot access your itinerary and such for reservations that have been booked over the telephone.

We booked this trip at the last minute because we happened upon an amazing price--$839 each for 7 nights, including air. We then paid an additional $78 each to upgrade our airline seats to Preferred Perks Plus roundtrip, which is similar to first class. The airline upgrade said it included the following per person each way: fresh meal/snack box, two standard alcoholic drinks (21yrs.), and preferred check-in, security, boarding and seating. Without Preferred Perks Plus, there is a fee to select seats, and another fee to check bags ($40 roundtrip per bag when purchased through Apple beforehand--$50 at the airport).

The telephone number provided in our travel documents to check flight status before heading to the airport was incorrect. The telephone number Apple Vacations provided was for Norwegian Air. The telephone number on the MiamiAir website to check flight status is: (305) 871-8001.

Miami Air in Lansing, Michigan

Departure from Lansing, Michigan via Miami Air 

The MiamiAir website provided the following information for check-in: Ticket counters will open 3 hours prior to departure. Check in locations are as follows: Lansing, Michigan Capital Region International Airport (LAN) – Main Terminal, check-in counters located at Door 2. I also found this news story about the Apple Vacations/MiamiAir/Lansing Airport relationship.