Lodging Review

Lodging Review: DoubleTree by Hilton London Heathrow Airport

My colleagues and I left Hinckley in the late afternoon and made our way back to London so we’d be near the airport for our return flights the next day. As I have Gold status with Hilton HHonors (thanks to simply having the Hilton Surpass card by American Express) I considered the Hilton attached to Terminal 3 but it was a good bit more expensive and I was leaving from Terminal 2 anyway so I booked the DoubleTree which is located between T2 & T3 as most of my colleagues were flying Delta out of T3 so it worked for them too.

DoubleTree by Hilton London Heathrow
(photo courtesy DoubleTree website)

DoubleTree by Hilton London Heathrow Airport Lobby

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Lodging Review: Sketchley Grange Hotel and Spa, Hinckley, UK

Sometimes a person’s view of a hotel is colored by their reason for being at a particular property. As I’ve thought about the time spent at the Sketchley Grange Hotel & Spa I’ve realized that some of the things that I have viewed as a negative are things I wouldn’t even have thought about if I were a leisure traveler.

The Sketchley is in a rather small town called Hinckley, in Leicestershire, about two hours north of London. There are two hotels in Hinckely and the other one (our company’s first choice) was booked so we were left with this one. (I later learned that there’s a DoubleTree in Coventry, only about 10 minutes further away, and in the future I’ll use that as the backup hotel.)

Main Entrance, older wings on the left

Modern Wing where our rooms were located

As the name suggests, it is both a hotel and spa and when we arrived on a warm summer weekend there was a tour group staying there as well as several groups of friends or families milling around. While the pool is indoors, there were lots of folks enjoying the warm weather sitting on the patio or even stretched out on blankets on the grass. There were also quite a few people enjoying the pool and hot tub inside.

Leisure Facilities

The hotel also has a pretty nice gym which closes at 8 PM on Sunday night but is open until 10 PM during the week. The bad part is that it does not open until 6:30 AM. This is one thing that wouldn’t bother me as a leisure traveler but as a business traveler I was disappointed because I’d have preferred to work out in the mornings since we went out for dinner after work and sometimes did not arrive back at the hotel until 8:30 or later and I just went straight to bed.

Sketchley Grange Gym

Sketchley Grange Gym

Sketchley Grange Gym

The spa, which is operated by an outside agency, only offers services until 6 PM, another item that’s probably not an issue for a leisure traveler but really disappointed me as I missed my massage at home and was looking forward to getting one while at the hotel.

Indoor Pool

Hot Tub

The hotel itself does have character. My room was in the wing on the complete opposite side of the hotel from the spa/gym/pool and it was an adventure getting there through the building. On a couple of occasions there would be 2-3 steps up and later 2-3 steps down or an unusual bend in the hallway as new wings had been added to the hotel. It was sort of fun walking through that way, though we later figured out it was faster to walk outside and around to the side of the building where the spa/pool/gym had its own entrance.

Sofa at a random wide spot in the hallway of one of the older wings

It seemed that locals could join the spa/gym directly as I encountered a few people walking directly into the area from the parking lot, just in time for one of the exercise classes.

Junior Executive Suite

I was assigned a room on the first floor -and was reminded that unlike in America, the first floor is the one above the Ground floor.  I left the front desk and walked through this seating area which is both near the elevator and the entrance to the bar.

Sofas outside the bar (yes, they were really *that* purple)

Getting off the elevator (or “lift”, since I was in England!) I turned right and walked just a short way down the hall to my room, which was on the left, facing the back of the property.

Modern Wing Hallway

Entrance to room 152

I had booked a Junior Executive Suite and was quite pleased with the size both of the room and the bathroom. As with many hotel rooms, upon entering there was a small hallway with the bathroom immediately to the left before passing the mini-bar and then into the main area of the room.

Junior Executive Suite Room Entry Hall

The room was plenty big for a king-sized bed, two side tables and a full-sized sofa without feeling crowded.

Junior Executive Suite Bed and Sofa

Against the opposite wall was a nice-sized desk – with outlets available above it (yay!) – and a narrow table. There was no pen or paper on the desk which normally I don’t care about but on this trip there was a point I needed to write a note but couldn’t.

Junior Executive Suite Desk

Beside the bed, against the back wall of the bathroom, was a built-in vanity (with chair) and a closet which had a few built-in shelves and the safe. Inside the closet were an iron & ironing board and the hair dryer. As usual in the UK, there was no outlet for the hair dryer in the bathroom so I had to use it at the vanity but at least the outlet was easily accessible.

Junior Executive Suite Vanity and Closet

The only drawer in the whole room was a long narrow one under the vanity. I would have preferred to use a chest of drawers for the clothes I didn’t hang up but I made-do with the shelves in the closet. The doors on the closet did not slide particularly easily either.

The bathroom had dark gray slate tile that I actually liked. The sink was high profile while the counter was lower. The large soaking tub was quite nice, one of my colleagues reported.

Junior Executive Suite Sink

Junior Executive Suite Bathtub

The shower stall was just large enough and I liked that the spray could be adjusted from brisk to gentle. I also liked that it could be hand-held or put into the adjustable holder to make it quite high or low. But the shower did leak and the bath mat was always half-soaked when I was finished. The clear caulking used against the wall seemed to either have been placed over mold or mold was growing within it, I’m not sure which. Either way, it was unappealing to look at. The lack of shelving in the shower was also an issue. There was no place to put the shampoo, shower gel and/or razor and shave gel. There was also no conditioner which is not a problem with some shampoos but would have really been welcome as I didn’t care for the shampoo that was provided and I no longer bother with bringing any with me.

Junior Executive Suite Shower

Junior Executive Suite Mulben & Fearne Toiletries

The mini-bar had tea and a pot to heat water but I’m not positive it even had instant coffee. And the cabinet built to hold the mini-fridge was empty.

Junior Executive Suite Tea Station

While all rooms had the slot (standard in many European countries) which required a room key to be placed in it for the air and lights to work, in reality only with some rooms did the slot actually have to be used. In my room both the air and lights worked without anything being in the card slot.

View from room 152

And, oh, the air conditioning. The first day we arrived it was quite warm, the warmest day of the year so far, I believe. My room cooled down enough and I was so tired from the trip over that I slept quite well. The second night, even though the day had been a little cooler, the room was extremely warm. I even noticed the thermostat was at a lower setting, as if even the cleaning staff thought my room was warm. On the third night, which was much cooler, I was able to open the windows and the temperature was quite nice. I know that I prefer a much cooler room than seems to be the norm for Europe but it sure would be nice to find a hotel that can accommodate those lower temps.

I didn’t hate the room and the bed was actually really comfortable. I was a bit surprised the sofa did not have a pull-out bed as it would seem to me this would be a great room for a family with a small child or two. I had a lovely view of the back patio and the green fields beyond.

The Garden Restaurant & Bar

We ate in the hotel after arriving from London. It was Father’s Day so we enjoyed a 2-course meal (could choose starter + main or main + dessert) for a set price and it was quite good.

Special Father’s Day Lunch: pork loin, potatoes, carrots, green beans, Yorkshire pudding

Seating in the Restaurant/Bar

Bar Seating

Bar area seating

Wine Rack

The breakfast buffet can be added to your reservation and that made it easy each morning where we just checked in and served ourselves. However, the buffet didn’t open until 7 AM. That’s another of the things that’s not an issue as a leisure traveler but was inconvenient as a business traveler who would have liked to have been at the office by 8 AM.

Service at both the restaurant and the breakfast area was always rushed. Each morning when I arrived just after opening staff were still in the process of getting the food out and generally rushing around. It seemed they needed another person or two to get everything done on time. Perhaps it’s my expectations that are different from local norms. One member of our group wanted a pot of hot water to make her own tea each morning and she’d often have to ask at least twice before getting it.

I thought the buffet was quite ample though one member of our group was disappointed. Several kinds of fruit and cold cuts were available as was a hot selection with sausages, eggs, potato cakes, etc., a cold section with a number of cereals, whole fruit, juices and water and a third station with four different types of sliced bread and a very quick toaster. I certainly found plenty to eat each day.

But here and there, not only in the restaurant, attention to detail would make a difference in the impression the hotel leaves on a guest. For example, the juices were in large, clear containers with a spigot. They weren’t emptied each night but just kept chilled, which is fine. But at least one morning it was clear that the juice had separated a good bit with the more watery part floating to the top and the concentrate at the bottom. It should have been stirred up before opening the buffet to customers.

Everyone was quite friendly, nice and well-intentioned. I hope I’m not being overly critical but a few small improvements could make a big difference in perception. There were no laudry facilities nor was laundry service offered, so one team member who stayed for 10+ days had to find a dry cleaner in town to get her laundry done. Again, wouldn’t have thought twice about it as a leisure traveler but it made a difference as a business traveler.

As I said earlier, my preference would be NOT to return here for business travel but to stay elsewhere, even if it’s a bit further away.

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Danube Trip: Hilton Budapest (Castle District)

Danube Trip: Chicago to Brussels
Danube Trip: Brussels Adventures and Getting to Prague
Danube Trip: Marriott Courtyard Prague
Danube Trip: Prague, Czech Republic
Danube Trip: Boscolo, Autograph Collection
Danube Trip: Prague to Nuremberg
Danube Trip: Viking River Cruise Boats – the Njord and the Bestla
Danube Trip: Nuremberg, Germany
Danube Trip: Weltenburg Abbey and Danube Narrows
Danube Trip: Regensburg, Germany
Danube Trip: Passau, Germany
Danube Trip: Wachau Valley and Göttweig Abbey
Danube Trip: Vienna, Austria
Danube Trip: Budapest, Hungary
Danube Trip: Hilton Budapest (Castle District)
Danube Trip: Budapest to Chicago

We arrived at the Hilton Castle District by taxi in the late afternoon after having walked all over the Pest side of the city.  A bellman quickly assisted us with our bags and we found the bell staff was very helpful each time we needed them.  We’d arranged for the taxi driver who brought us up the hill to take us to the airport on Monday morning.  When he didn’t show, the bell staff jumped in and got us another taxi right away.

There are several sets of entrances into the lobby.  Upon entering, the front desk is at the right side.  The lobby’s stainless steel and dark wood look combined with the rather low ceiling should make the area feel smaller than it is but I never felt like the walls were closing in.

Hilton Castle District Lobby

Hilton Castle District Lobby

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Lodging Review: Residence Inn – Palm Desert, California

I recently spent four nights at the Residence Inn in Palm Desert, California with a couple of friends. When we travel together we each like our own bed so that can sometimes be a challenge to find properties with this configuration.  It’s one reason we love Residence Inns and Hyatt Places – we know we can have the bedding we want AND free breakfast!

Residence Inn Palm Desert

My two friends had already spent a couple of days in the area at a different property before I could join them late on a Tuesday evening.  So thanks to them for taking most of the room photos you’ll see below. Continue reading

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Danube Trip: Boscolo, Autograph Collection

Danube Trip: Chicago to Brussels
Danube Trip: Brussels Adventures and Getting to Prague
Danube Trip: Marriott Courtyard Prague
Danube Trip: Prague, Czech Republic
Danube Trip: Boscolo, Autograph Collection
Danube Trip: Prague to Nuremberg
Danube Trip: Viking River Cruise Boats – the Njord and the Bestla
Danube Trip: Nuremberg, Germany
Danube Trip: Weltenburg Abbey and Danube Narrows
Danube Trip: Regensburg, Germany
Danube Trip: Passau, Germany
Danube Trip: Wachau Valley and Göttweig Abbey
Danube Trip: Vienna, Austria
Danube Trip: Budapest, Hungary
Danube Trip: Hilton Budapest (Castle District)
Danube Trip: Budapest to Chicago

Our first two nights in Prague were at the Marriott Courtyard courtesy of the free night we each earned by holding the Chase Marriott credit card.  For our last night we decided to splurge on the Boscolo Prague, which is part of Marriott’s Autograph collection.

I fully admit that we initially selected this hotel because it’s beautiful.  As  it turned out it was more convenient to Old Town and was practically across the street from the train station.

autograph-collection-boscolo-exterior

(Photo courtesy Marriott.com)

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Danube Trip: Marriott Courtyard Prague

Danube Trip: Chicago to Brussels
Danube Trip: Brussels Adventures and Getting to Prague
Danube Trip: Marriott Courtyard Prague
Danube Trip: Prague, Czech Republic
Danube Trip: Boscolo, Autograph Collection
Danube Trip: Prague to Nuremberg
Danube Trip: Viking River Cruise Boats – the Njord and the Bestla
Danube Trip: Nuremberg, Germany
Danube Trip: Weltenburg Abbey and Danube Narrows
Danube Trip: Regensburg, Germany
Danube Trip: Passau, Germany
Danube Trip: Wachau Valley and Göttweig Abbey
Danube Trip: Vienna, Austria
Danube Trip: Budapest, Hungary
Danube Trip: Hilton Budapest (Castle District)
Danube Trip: Budapest to Chicago

When deciding where to stay in Prague we naturally turned to our points and free night certificates.  We each have the Marriott credit card from Chase and that card comes with a free night certificate for a category 1-4 hotel.  Since the Courtyard is a category 4, it worked out perfectly for us.  We booked two free nights, each using our certificate.  We decided to splurge on the Boscolo, part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, for our final night.

The front desk staff assisted us quickly.  They noted that they were completely full for the night and thus could not give us our preference of a room, which was a high floor away from the elevator.  They did say that we could have that type of room for the following night.  Knowing that we’d be spending very little time in the room, we opted to keep the same room for both nights.

We’d reserved a room with two beds and they appeared to be double beds.

prg-courtyard-beds

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Lodging Review: Highlands Lodge, Beaver Creek, Colorado

The Highlands Lodge has become the go-place for our ski group to stay when in Beaver Creek.  We had five units inside the Lodge, which is the building where the reception desk is located.

Welcome to unit 203

Welcome to unit 203

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Lodging Review: Hyatt Place DFW

I hadn’t planned on spending the night in Dallas.  But after the delays in flying out of Aspen, I arrived at DFW too late to make a connection to Memphis, so I had no choice.  While on the plane waiting for boarding to complete in Aspen, I used the Hyatt app to book a room near the airport.

Photo from Hyatt.com

Photo from Hyatt.com

I had spent a night at the Hyatt Regency DFW in October 2015.  I thought about booking a room at the Grand Hyatt since it’s connected to the terminal.  But since I knew I’d be paying for this stay out of pocket I opted for the Hyatt Place DFW.  It’s a fairly new property, having been open just less than a year.

In general, I love Hyatt Places because I love their consistency.  I know I’ll get a large room with a separate seating area, good wi-fi, an airport shuttle and free breakfast – things I value highly.  This hotel was no exception.

My flight landed in Terminal B and I called the hotel from baggage claim.  Their shuttle picks ups at either end of the terminal so I scooted down to the B1 end of the terminal where I found two others waiting as well.  The shuttle arrived in less than 10 minutes, which was great since I’d already had a long day.  Fortunately ours was the last pickup before heading towards the hotel.

On arrival, I was able to go directly to the check-in desk since I only had two small backpacks.  Fortunately I’d planned for the possibility I might get stuck getting out of Aspen and one backpack contained clean clothes and personal grooming items.  Yay, me!

At the front desk I was greeted by Mary, a grandmotherly-type who called me “hon” and welcomed me “home” after noting my Platinum status.  Normally being called “hon” is not on my list of favorite things but after my long day, being welcomed “home” made me feel like I really was home. Continue reading

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Lodging Review: Top of the Village Condos – Snowmass, CO

 

The Gatehouse, home of the front desk, pool and hot tubs

The Gatehouse, home of the front desk, pool and hot tubs

I stayed here for almost a week with my ski club. TOV has lots of good things going for it but could use a refresh.

There are four buildings: Leaf, Slope, Trails, Summit. Each building is slopeside (ski-in with a small hike to ski-out) and each condo has a slope view.  Our group utilized both 2BR and 3BR condos. I am not sure if there are larger or smaller units.  Each unit is independently owned, so furnishings and decorations are up to the owner. As you might expect, some units have been refreshed more recently than others.  Each unit has its own wi-fi router though I was surprised at how my signal sometimes dropped when I was in a bedroom with the door closed.

Each building has only one (slow) elevator and sometimes it seemed to get stuck.  As we were on the second floor we’d walk up on those occasions, but at altitude that’s a lot more difficult than it looks!
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Lodging Review: The Stonebridge Inn, Snowmass, CO

stonebridge-inn-signI didn’t set out to stay at the Stonebridge Inn.  When I learned my ski club was doing a trip the first week of January the timing worked out well for me.  The catch was that it wasn’t on our normal Saturday-Saturday schedule since the first Saturday would have been New Year’s Eve and no doubt quite expensive.  So we were running a Monday-Sunday trip.  I noticed that there was an IHG property in the area and thought that would be a good use of the free night certificate that comes with the Chase IHG MasterCard each year.  So I booked myself a flight to get to Snowmass a day early and used the free night certificate.  Unfortunately a couple of months later I was notified that by January the property would no longer be under the IHG umbrella so my reservation was cancelled and the certificate was restored to my account.  Not wanting to part with number of SPG points required, I was able to get a room at the Stonebridge Inn for one night.  I paid with my Chase Sapphire Reserve and the $200 annual travel credit covered the majority of the room charge.

My flight arrived just after noon so it was no surprise that my room was not ready.  But the friendly counter folks kept watch over my luggage while I walked up to Snowmass Village for some lunch and shopping.  They gave me a call less than an hour later to let me know my room was ready.

stonebridge-inn-exterior
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