United States

Lodging Review: Fairfield Inns and Suites, Chicago O’Hare

A Quick Trip to the Northern Plains
Lodging Review: Home2 Suites by Hilton Rapid City, SD
Our Visit to the Crazy Horse Memorial and Custer State Park
Our Visit to Mount Rushmore and Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Lodging Review: TownePlace Suites, Dickinson, North Dakota
Lodging Review: Fairfield Inns & Suites, Chicago O’Hare

After driving literally all day, we made it back to Chicago and pulled into the Fairfield Inns & Suites Chicago O’Hare about 10 PM. We’d booked a room here anticipating that our Chicago-based friend would drop off my LA-based friend and me so she wouldn’t have to drive us back out to the airport the next day for our flights. But my LA-based friend decided to stay an extra few days visiting another friend so I had the room to myself. Once again we’d use an expiring free night certificate for our room, booking a room with two queen beds. Shortly before we departed on the road trip we called to see if we could switch to a 1 King room but they said the hotel was nearly sold out so they couldn’t make the change. We didn’t ask about it again at check-in as it really didn’t matter at that point.

Fairfield Inn & Suites Chicago O’Hare
photo from marriott.com

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Categories: Fairfield Inn, Hotel, Illinois, Lodging Review, Marriott, North America, United States | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lodging Review: TownePlace Suites, Dickinson, North Dakota

A Quick Trip to the Northern Plains
Lodging Review: Home2 Suites by Hilton Rapid City, SD
Our Visit to the Crazy Horse Memorial and Custer State Park
Our Visit to Mount Rushmore and Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Lodging Review: TownePlace Suites, Dickinson, North Dakota
Lodging Review: Fairfield Inns & Suites, Chicago O’Hare

We drove about 30 minutes east of Theodore Roosevelt National Park to the town of Dickinson, ND where we had booked a room at the TownePlace Suites Dickinson, which is a Marriott property. With pre-paid rates as low as $113 plus tax this was by no means an exceptional value for the free night certificate we used. But the certificate would expire within the next month or so and with no other plans for it the choice to use it instead of letting it go to waste was easy.

The hotel was easy to find, not far off I-94. The colorful exterior of TownePlace Suites makes it stand out and those bright colors are continued inside.

TownePlace Suites Dickinson Exterior

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Categories: Hotel, Lodging Review, Marriott, North America, North Dakota, TownePlace Suites, United States | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Our Visit to the Crazy Horse Memorial and Custer State Park

A Quick Trip to the Northern Plains
Lodging Review: Home2 Suites by Hilton Rapid City, SD
Our Visit to the Crazy Horse Memorial and Custer State Park
Our Visit to Mount Rushmore and Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Lodging Review: TownePlace Suites, Dickinson, North Dakota
Lodging Review: Fairfield Inns & Suites, Chicago O’Hare

We had one full day in the Rapid City area and we packed it pretty full. Fortunately the summer crush had not yet begun so we didn’t have issues with traffic or overcrowding. That also meant summer weather wasn’t in full effect. There was a wind advisory in effect until 2:30 PM on the day of our visit, something that wasn’t an issue early in the day but became one as the day progressed.

Crazy Horse Memorial

We started the day at the Crazy Horse Memorial, which is the world’s largest mountain carving and was about an hour away from our hotel. In 1939, Henry Standing Bear, an Oglala Lakota chief enlisted the help of Korczak Ziolkowski (who had assisted Gutzon Borglum at Mount Rushmore) to begin the process of carving famed Lakota warrior Crazy Horse on his horse into Thunderhead Mountain, land considered sacred to the Lakota. There are no known photographs of Crazy Horse, who resisted having his photo taken. Work began in 1948 and is still underway. Ziolkowski twice turned down multi-million dollar government grants to ensure there was no interference with the vision he and Standing Bear had. The project is funded solely on admission fees, gift shop purchases and private donations.

One of the best views of memorial – without paying extra to take the shuttle down closer – is from the upper parking lot. We were fortunate that even though it was windy, the temperature was warm enough that a light fleece jacket was all that was needed that morning.

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Categories: Attraction Review, Historical Site, North America, South Dakota, Trip Report, United States | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Lodging Review: Home2 Suites by Hilton Rapid City, SD

A Quick Trip to the Northern Plains
Lodging Review: Home2 Suites by Hilton Rapid City, SD
Our Visit to the Crazy Horse Memorial and Custer State Park
Our Visit to Mount Rushmore and Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Lodging Review: TownePlace Suites, Dickinson, North Dakota
Lodging Review: Fairfield Inns & Suites, Chicago O’Hare

We arrived in the Rapid City, SD area on a sunny, windy afternoon. The temperature was quite pleasant with only a light jacket required. The Home2 Suites is located on the south side of I-94 in an area with four other similar hotels. The Home2 Suites, La Quinta Inns & Suites and Fairfield Inn are all connected to the WaTiki Indoor Waterpark Resort. There’s also a Residence Inn next door so it’s obviously a popular area for tourists like us. To reach the entrance of the Home2 Suites you take the road past the Fairfield Inn, take a side road that runs between the Residence Inn and the La Quinta and drive past the side of the Home2 Suites before turning right towards the main entrance.

Home2 Suites Rapid City Exterior

I’m very familiar with the Home2 Suites brand as I often stay at the one in the Bellevue area of Nashville when I visit my parents so I had a good idea what to expect and by and large the hotel met my expectations. Home2 Suites’ color scheme involves a lot of neon yellow both on the building’s exterior and in the guest rooms. One of my companions found it garish but I must admit it doesn’t really faze me anymore as I’ve become accustomed to it. We were met by a couple of friendly reps at the desk who checked us in quickly and let us know that we wouldn’t receive housekeeping except by request or complimentary after the fourth day. That was fine by us as we were only staying two nights. Continue reading

Categories: Hilton, Home2Suites, Hotel, Lodging Review, North America, South Dakota, United States | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

A Quick Trip to the Northern Plains: Introduction

A Quick Trip to the Northern Plains
Lodging Review: Home2 Suites by Hilton Rapid City, SD
Our Visit to the Crazy Horse Memorial and Custer State Park
Our Visit to Mount Rushmore and Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Lodging Review: TownePlace Suites, Dickinson, North Dakota
Lodging Review: Fairfield Inns & Suites, Chicago O’Hare

Due to not taking my usual two-week international vacation in the fall of 2021, I found myself with some extra vacation days to use before my company’s fiscal year ended. My two travel pals and I had not all been together since our trip to New Zealand and Australia in the fall of 2019 so we were all glad to get to be together again. In the past we’d discussed domestic trips we’d like to do but had just never gotten around to so this seemed a good time of year to explore the Dakotas a bit.

Despite doing a road trip around the Southeastern US about a year ago, I’m not a huge fan of road trips. I’d rather fly and get a car. Flights into Rapid City, SD aren’t exactly cheap and my friend from Chicago said she’d be driving anyway, so we decided my LA-based friend and I would fly to Chicago and we’d all spend a little quality time together on the way out and back.

Driving there and back was an all-day affair each way. With a very early morning start we drove from the WSW suburbs of Chicago to Rapid City, SD with a sit-down lunch break and a few gas stops and arrived around 4 PM. On our return, we left Dickinson, ND just after 7 AM and arrived at an O’Hare-area hotel right at 10 PM with only a brief stop to grab-and-go some lunch and a few more gas stops. Rapid City and Dickinson are both on Mountain Time so while we gained an hour going there, we lost an hour coming back.

We save our points to use on vacation so even if this wasn’t the best use of points or certificates we got to stay free which was most important to us. We stayed at a Home2 Suites by Hilton in Rapid City on points, a TownePlace Suites in Dickinson and the Fairfield Inn & Suites O’Hare, both using Marriott free-night certificates that otherwise would have gone unused.

In between we visited the Crazy Horse Memorial, Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park and Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Our weather ran the gamut from sunny and pleasant to windy with sleet/snow.

As the whole trip was less than a week and we really only had two days on the ground, it’s a pretty quick trip report.

Categories: Fairfield Inn, Hilton, Historical Site, Home2Suites, Illinois, Marriott, North America, North Dakota, Road Trip, South Dakota, TownePlace Suites, Trip Report, United States | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lodging Review: San Moritz Condos #K202, Crested Butte, Colorado

In February I spent a long weekend with my cousin and her family at Crested Butte ski resort in Colorado. Though Crested Butte is not far from Aspen/Snowmass as the crow flies, it’s a 4-5 hour drive away during winter and 3.5-4 hours in the summer. My cousin reserved an Air BnB in the San Moritz condo complex, unit K202. There are three buildings in this complex, each on situated above the other and ours was the building in the middle.

San Moritz Condos, Crested Butte, CO

Location

As you look at the Crested Butte trail map, the San Moritz condos are at the far right near the West Wall lift. The complex is ski-in/ski-out though not every unit is. Fortunately our unit was second from the end near the ski hill so it was a very short walk to the end of the parking lot. From there we could put on our skis and ski down to the West Wall lift. Coming home at the end of the ski day, it was not a simple thing to ski back to the same spot. It was easy enough to get back to the base of the West Wall lift but from there it was uphill to reach the parking lot of our building. It may be different in years when there was more snow but for less experienced skiers I’d recommend just walking back up the hill to the condos vs. trying to navigate down from the top. For true beginning skiers I’d recommend taking the complimentary shuttle to and from the base. The San Moritz staff can provide the details on that. Continue reading

Categories: Colorado, Condos, Crested Butte, Lodging Review, North America, United States | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Lodging Review: King Accessible Tub Studio Suite, Homewood Suites, Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Homewood Suites Steamboat Springs

Since I stayed at this property just two years ago, this review will be brief. I’ll only highlight the differences in the room. During my previous stay I was in a King Bed One Bedroom Suite but on this trip I had stayed in a King Accessible Tub Studio Suite, normally meant for those who need accessible amenities. Since I’d already reviewed this property, I’d planned to stay at the Hampton Inn in downtown Steamboat. But on Thanksgiving weekend I received an email stating that the hotel would be closing permanently as of December 1 (I think that was the date). As the email did not come from someone with a hilton.com or hamptoninn.com email address I was a bit skeptical but decided I should go ahead and move my reservation since there are very few properties in Steamboat that are available on points or by using a free night certificate (which I did). Thank goodness I swapped reservations quickly as I got one of the last available rooms and that’s why I ended up with an accessible room. I later learned the Hampton and a Fairfield Inn were being converted to employee housing.

The room was at the end of the hall. The door opened directly into the kitchen. The kitchen counter and appliances were all on the right and a door connected to the adjacent room was on the left.

Homewood Suites Steamboat Accessible Suite Entry

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Categories: Colorado, Hilton, Homewood Suites, Hotel, Lodging Review, North America, United States | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Lodging Review: Storm Meadows Club A, Steamboat Springs, Colorado

In late February/early March I visited Steamboat Ski Resort with my ski club and we stayed in the Storm Meadows complex. We wanted ski-in/ski-out condos and technically that’s what we got though beginners shouldn’t even think about trying to ski in or out of these units.

Check-in

Check-in takes place at the Mountain Resorts main office which is technically located on Resort Drive but is visible from Mt. Werner Road, which is the main road to the ski resort when coming from Lincoln Ave/Hwy 40. There is a city bus stop right outside the office. (Note: Steamboat has a wonderful and free city bus system! As of my visit masks were required on city buses.)

I arrived before my condo was ready but I was able to hang out in the office until it was available. They have free guest wi-fi in the lobby but I found that the router was on the back side of the fireplace and when I was relaxing in the comfy chairs in front of the fireplace I had trouble getting the signal. The lobby also has restrooms with showers which is very nice. If you have a late flight and want to ski in the morning after checking out but before your flight, you can clean up before heading to the airport.

Once my room was ready, the office called for a shuttle to take me and my bags up to the Storm Meadows Club Condos which is about a 1.7 mile drive up the hill. There are three Club buildings and my group had units in both Club B and Club A, where my unit was.

Our group typically pays for porterage, which usually means our bags will be delivered to our room. I don’t know if we didn’t pay for it this time or if there was a difference in the definition of “porterage” or what but my bags and I were dropped at the front door of our building with no offer of assistance to get my bags to my room. I will say there was a shortage of drivers during my stay. The airport shuttle companies were slammed with business and not enough drivers to go around. The local taxi service did not run in town during the day as they were too busy with airport transfers. So that could be a part of it.

Storm Meadows Club A Condos

The Club A building is actually the middle of the three Club buildings. The main entrance is in the center on the second floor. On the lower level is the ski locker room, the coin laundry and, in winter, a small hot tub that will hold about 4-6 people. At one end of the first floor is the exit to the slopes which I’ll discuss below. Condos are on all four floors.

Storm Meadows Club A
(photo from stormmeadows.com)

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Categories: Colorado, Condos, Lodging Review, North America, Steamboat, United States | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Lodging Review: Hyatt House Dallas/Las Colinas (DFW Airport)

On a recent ski trip I experienced more travel interruptions than I think I’ve ever had on any trip. My original plan was to fly from Memphis to Steamboat Springs, Colorado (HDN) via DFW on American (AA) on a Friday late in February. Things changed late the Wednesday before I was scheduled to leave when AA canceled the first leg of my trip and re-booked me for Sunday. Not wanting to miss out on my vacation, I managed to get the MEM-DFW leg rescheduled for Thursday night where I’d spend the night in the DFW Airport area and then take the second leg of my flight as scheduled on Friday.

I had a free night certificate from my World of Hyatt card that was good for a category 1-4 hotel. While I did not receive any exceptional value by using this certificate, I have a number of similar certificates from various credit cards so I was happy to be able to use it. I did look into staying at the Grand Hyatt DFW, which is accessible from the inter-terminal train (SkyLink) but they did not have any rooms available on points and that property is a category 5, so I couldn’t have used my free night certificate anyway.

Hyatt House Dallas/Las Colinas (photo from hyatt.com)

I’d previously stayed at the Hyatt Place DFW and had absolutely no complaints so this time I thought I’d try the Hyatt House in the area since I knew both limited-service properties included breakfast. What I hadn’t considered until after I’d booked is that for the Hyatt House, at least, the complimentary shuttle, originally shut down due to COVID, had not yet been restarted. As the hotel is only 8 miles from the airport I didn’t think it would be difficult to get a ride. Continue reading

Categories: Award Travel, Hotel, Hyatt, Lodging Review, North America, Texas, United States | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lodging Review: Holiday Inn Express, Gunnison, Colorado

Holiday Inn Express Gunnison

I stayed here on two separate nights on either side of a ski trip to Crested Butte Resort, which is about 35-40 minutes away.

Airport Shuttle

I had called two days prior to my arrival (a Monday) to ensure the hotel had an airport shuttle. They asked for my name and flight info and I provided that. However when I arrived on Wednesday and called after collecting my bag, the message had not made it to the proper folks. There are only three people who are allowed to drive the shuttle and fortunately one of them was available to come pick me up but I did have to wait.

Before checking out I made sure to go ahead and schedule the shuttle for the following Monday morning. There is no local taxi service and only one Lyft driver in the Gunnison area so if you don’t have other transportation you’re out of luck.

Side note 1: the Gunnison airport is still a major construction zone as of February 2022 and will be for several more months. The only food & drink available is from vending machines so plan accordingly.

Lobby

I arrived in the early afternoon and was welcomed right away. The lobby is large with a couple of seating areas and a faux fireplace. The business center is off to one side.

Holiday Inn Express Gunnison Lobby

Behind the fireplace is the breakfast area. There were a few skiers there on the one morning I ate breakfast at the hotel but it was by no means crowded. Though I didn’t get photos of the breakfast buffet there were several hot items, three types of cereal, some just-add-water containers of oatmeal, pastries and fresh fruit along with juices, coffee and tea.

Holiday Inn Express Gunnison Breakfast Dining Area

Just beside the front desk is a mini-mart with packaged food and drinks for sale.

Holiday Inn Express Gunnison Mini-Mart

Side note 2: in general, masks are not a “thing” in Gunnison in February 2022. I can count on one hand the number of people I saw wearing masks in town, including wait staff.

Guest Room

The room I had for my first stay was on the ground floor, immediately behind the front desk. This was actually quite nice as the main bag I had with me was my skis bag and I’d packed it quite full. So not having to drag it very far was a win for me.

The hotel seems new and the hallway seemed fresh with decorative carpeting and matching walls.

Holiday Inn Express Gunnison Hallway

My room’s layout was standard: a short entryway with the bathroom on the right and the living area behind that.

Holiday Inn Express Gunnison Guest Room Entry

The king bed was quite high off the floor and might be difficult to get into if you’re someone who is very short or has mobility issues. But it was very comfortable. I liked that each side of the bed had two pillows and they were even labeled as “soft” or “firm” so I didn’t have to guess which one I’d prefer. Each side of the bed had a night stand with two electrical outlets as well as a USB charger, which is fantastic.

Holiday Inn Express Gunnison King Bed

In the corner beside the bed was a chaise with a side table. I used this to eat a fast food lunch and it was adequate though not ideal.  While the room has an under-the-window HVAC unit, at least it has an actual thermostat where you can set a temperature and put it on “auto” as well as selecting heat vs. cold. I hate it at some hotels when you turn the thermostat down a few degrees in the winter and the A/C automatically comes on rather than just letting the room cool down naturally.

Holiday Inn Express Gunnison Chaise Longue and HVAC

Across from the bed was a furniture piece that consisted of the wardrobe, a low shelf with hooks above it and a section with three drawers and the TV mounted above them. Since I only had a coat to hang I didn’t bother with the wardrobe but used the hook for my jacket. I put my carry-on luggage on this shelf, which I found very handy. Another chair was between this furniture and the outside wall.

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The bathroom had a counter that stretched the length of the room with a sink in the center. If you didn’t want to turn on the fan, the only light was the one around the mirror. That light was great but the room was lit up much better with the overhead light on. I just wish I could have turned that light on without the noisy fan. There was no under-cabinet storage so all your toiletries had to go on the counter. The hair dryer was in a bag that was hung either on the back of the door or on one of the towel pegs.  This room had only a standard shower stall, no tub. The shower head could be adjusted both for location and for type of spray. However even in its most concentrated form it did not spray as hard as I’d have liked. But at least the water was hot and I never ran out of it!

For toiletries, two bars of Oasis hand soap were provided. The shampoo, conditioner and bath gel were all in wall-mounted bottles in the shower. They’re JR Watkins brand and I liked their smell just fine. There was also a tiny bottle of JR Watkins lotion (not pictured) that I really liked and took with me.

 

Just beside the bathroom was an area with a microwave, a Keurig and a mini-fridge (empty).

Holiday Inn Express Gunnison Guest Room Appliances

Across from that was a corner shelf with the ice bucked and some cups and the wall-mounted mirror.

Holiday Inn Express Gunnison Mirror & Ice Bucket

My second night’s stay

The second room I was assigned was on the second floor, located above the pool. Having the pool below means the room stays warmer but it also means that when there are folks in the pool at night you can hear them, not clearly but muffled voices, when you’re trying to sleep as the pool doesn’t close until 11 PM. Next time I will specifically ask not to be right above the pool, especially if I have an early flight.

This second room also differed from the first in that there was a desk positioned between the drawers and the outside wall (forgot to take a photo of that). In the bathroom there was very little counter space and the toilet was positioned beside the sink instead of on the wall between the sink and shower. The shower also had a small seat along its back wall and a grab bar. I didn’t manage to photograph that either.

Holiday Inn Express Gunnison Alternate Bathroom

Gym

The gym is quite small but surprisingly well-equipped. There’s a treadmill, an elliptical and a recumbent bike for cardio, a weight bench and dumbbells as well as some fit balls, medicine balls and a BOSU trainer. Elastic bands and yoga mats are also available. You can also get free disposable ear buds at the front desk if you want to plug into one of the machines. The gym is open 24 hours and those 15 and younger must be accompanied by an adult.

Pool

The pool is open 7 AM – 11 PM and those age 15 and under must be accompanied by an adult. It appears to have a hot tub built in and pool towels are available on site.

Location

The hotel is located at one end of town on US 50 and is next to two fast food chains and Western Colorado University. As there’s no lunch or dinner service at the hotel, it’s about a 6-block (some very short blocks) walk to the nearest restaurants. To get more to the center of town (where US 50 and CO 135 intersect) is about another 5 blocks. It was quite cold during my stay (below zero overnight) but with no wind and bundled up properly I really did not get all that cold walking to and from dinner. As mentioned above there is no local taxi service and only one Lyft driver (who doesn’t work all the time) so either bring/rent your own vehicle or be prepared to walk.

In the end

There are limited hotels in the Gunnison area where points can be used for stays. I used an IHG free night certificate for one night and points for the other. With a free airport shuttle and free breakfast this was a good place for me even if it’s not the most convenient to other parts of town.

Categories: Colorado, Hotel, IHG, Lodging Review, North America, United States | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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