Saturday, December 7, 2013

So Many Hotels: Experiences & Discoveries on the Road.

This was the first photo I shared-- encountered
in a suite in Shreveport.  Yup, that's a
Walmart sack.
Because of the nature of what I started doing in 2007 (that'd be travel writing, not some other strange thing), I have spent a great deal of time in hotel rooms, motel rooms, bed and breakfasts and other lodging operations throughout Arkansas, the American South and the United States in general.  I've learned a lot of things, have seen a lot of things (some pretty tacky!) and have taken a whole hell of a lot of photos.  Because of that, I have a great repository of advice for travelers and hoteliers.  And perhaps it's time to share it.

This posts contains images from some of the many accommodations I've stayed at (though not at the two worst -- the Executive Inn in McComb, MS and the Motel 6 in Alexandria, LA).  Some are informative, some are humorous, some are just plain brags.  Enjoy!

To begin, here's the now standardized toiletry set at Arkansas State Parks.
Pretty spiffy.  And the makeup remover cloth?  That should be standard.
A complete set of toiletries, like shown at the Sheraton Dallas Hotel, make
things easier for travelers.  
What doesn't make sense to me?  Overpriced water bottles.  Mind you, this
image was taken several years ago -- today, $3 for a bottle of Fiji water is
probably close to normal.  I think the most I've seen has been a $10 bottle
in Washington, DC.
The Ambassador Hotel in New Orleans circa 2001. Great
room, but I wanted to point out two things:  ornate
headboards like this are hell for those of us with long hair...
and metal bedframes can make a lot of noise.
You'll find that some places, the curtains don't quite meet
in the middle -- letting in the light.  Sometimes that light is
in the parking lot, and it's bright, and that sucks.  Here's a
way to get the darkness (and privacy) you want: use the
pants hanger (the one with the clips) from the closet to
pin it shut.
On the other hand, curtains are a great idea for rooms that have windows
that face outward into a hallway, or for exterior corridor hotels.  Those popular
woven-reed Roman blinds?  Yeah, they really kept out peeping toms at
the Clarendon in Phoenix.
Speaking of which, there's nothing quite staying in a room reminiscent of
a 1980s roller rink concession area.  Cool, huh?
There are so many different levels of bright, garish and overblown...
yet this room at the Villages at Indian Point in Branson seems to neatly
balance the Betsy Ross aesthetic.
There was the Clarion Grand Boutique down in New Orleans in 2000 --
which was a new property apparently decorated in Miami Vice kitch...
and the Onyx Hotel in Boston, where the bright red and
white and black decor against traditional colors was only
equaled in oddity by its proximity to a busy office
building across the street...
and its own leopard-print bathrobes.
I've long wondered why modern upscale hotels such as this Embassy Suites
in Houston insist on including a fake potted plant as part of room decor...
Until I met Punchy... the plant Hunter adopted in said hotel
suite.  She was pretty upset when we left.  I did ask if I
could purchase Punchy to take home, but that was a no-go.
We did find a suspiciously similar substitute when we
returned to Little Rock.  Apparently small fake plants in hotel suites are meant to befriend little girls. 
I do have one big pet peeve.  I don't care for hotels that
lack toilet lids.  Toilet lids are cheap.  If a hotel can't afford
to cover the bowl... just... ick.
Then there are windows.  Okay, I get that historic properties
may not be able to offer windows in every room -- but having
the only window in a room be in the bathroom?  Really?
Windows are a wonderful thing, and if you're
lucky, they look out on amazing sights -- like
this view of the Arch from the Four Seasons in
St. Louis. 
Of course, there is such a thing as too many windows, I suppose.  This
is the Radisson in Branson... not all windows are shown.
The idea of a lot of windows is opulence.  But there are other ways to show
it.  The reason I took this photo of my room at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel
in Phoenix from the floor?  Because it made me cry.  It was HUGE.  This is
the living room and dining area.
The well-placed wrap-around balcony.
The bedroom... the room I'd stayed in the night before at a Super 8 was
about the size of the BED.
The bathroom for two -- and the only place where I have
encountered a bathroom scale in a hotel room.
The oversized toiletries.  The tin held cotton swabs and cotton balls. 
The problem?  I was nearly broke, had no food with me (I had my laptop bag
and a single suitcase for my 10 day trip), was charged with traveling without
a rental car and SO HUNGRY. And this was the honor drawer.
And then this was delivered to my room.  And I bawled.  And then I got
invited to the most expensive single dinner I'd ever been to -- complete with
wine.  It was overwhelming.
Which brings me to this... why the phone by the toilet?
Do rich folks defecate more?  Or is time so precious...
That wasn't the only place.  This was at the Fairmont
Dallas, where once again there were giant toiletries and
a phone by the toilet.  I'm also not a fan of backless
toilets, but at least here there was a lid.
The Four Seasons topped that with a TV in the mirror and
separate gigantic deep bathtub and rainshower.  The toilet
was in its own closet.  This bathroom was bigger than a room
I once stayed in at the 1929 Hotel Seville in Harrison.
Room = opulence is a common theme.  This room at the Degas House in
New Orleans was fantastic -- four poster bed, fireplace, writing desk, daybed,
clawfoot tub... spectacular.
And then there's really huge... a few years ago I did a series on traveling with
a toddler.  The folks at the Moody Gardens in Galveston invited us to come
stay there.  The first key opened this room... one of the largest hotel rooms
I have stayed in.  The double-queen room with desk also had a separate
living/dining area and a balcony.
But it didn't prepare me for what the other key opened...
a Presidential Suite that rivals my house in square footage.  
And the three doors onto the balcony... which opened out over the amazing
swimming pool.  Extravagant.  And I spent most of my time there either
doing things for the story or writing the story.  I'd like to go back.
The Affinia in Chicago had a similarly sized sleeping room -- with TWO king
sized beds.  I'm not sure what the point of the short half-wall
might have been there.  But that window offered a great
view down a Chicago backstreet.
The bathroom was... well, interesting.  Also large.  And copperish.  And
equipped with a shower.  I've seen that more lately.
Of course, there was an honor bar -- actually, a "refreshment center" that
consisted of a mini-fridge you couldn't store stuff in because it was packed,
and a tray on the top of the cabinet.  And in that tray...
was this.  I guess they know their market.
There are other ways to spread a little opulence... and do it well, like the
lovely blue patterns throughout the Daffodil Cottage in Eureka Springs.
One room, with a four poster bed and sofa and dining area and big tub and
kitchenette?  But the best thing in this room is what you can't see -- a dual
control heat pad on the bed.  Hey, I was pregnant at the time.  It was wonderful!
There is such a thing as too much stuff in one room.  This room at the Hyatt
in Arlington, TX combined a large living room area with entertainment center,
kitchenette, workspace, bed, wardrobe and bathroom.  I could get around
all right, but I was traveling solo.
And once again... that whole partial wall... I don't really get it, but whatever.
More small accommodations.  This is the last room on
the fifth floor at the Sleep Inn in downtown Memphis. I
was there on my own, thank goodness.  The bathroom
door is a pocket door, the rounded wall contains the
shower, and I was standing where the clothing rail was
(which took the place of a proper closet). I'm hoping its
efficient size and amenities (shelves instead of bedside
tables, desk built into TV stand) is specifically set for one.
I do love historic properties.  This is a classic motorcourt called the Tall
Pines Inn up in Eureka Springs.  I'm guessing 60 years ago the view was a
lot less consumed by the gigantic tree outside the picture window.
The property also has about the smallest functioning
bathroom I've encountered.
Quaint touches from bygone eras of travel motels are
neat.  This one's at the Holiday Motel in Sturgeon Bay, WI.
The Alpine Resort at Egg Harbor had this unusual corkscrew...
And this more usual razor blade slot.  You know what?  When we replaced
the mirror in my house, there was a pile of razor blades behind it from a
similar slot.  I wonder how many rusty razorblades have accidentally sliced
into would be home renovators over the years...
Of course, I'm all about customer service... but the presence of these ear
plug packets in the drawer concerned me about the potential lack of
insulation between rooms.
When I walk into a bathroom (like this one at the Best Western Inn of the
Ozarks in Eureka Springs) and see a shower curtain tucked like this, I
immediately suspect ninjas are awaiting my arrival.
I know it's going to be a rough night when I walk into a room and see the
corners of the mattress below the covers.  Also, flat pillows suck.
And speaking of coverlets... nostalgia aside, is it time to move past the
concept of bedspreads?  Comforters and quilts, sure, but few people my
generation and later realize that bedspreads are meant to be removed before
one goes to sleep.
On the other hand, I don't believe we should torture our beds.  Tucking
in every available edge like tying a mental patient into a straightjacket, just
seems like cruel and unusual punishment for a comforter.  Also, I have a
tendency to return to my room at the point of exhaustion and I either forget
to loosen the covers or fall into bed and crash immediately... and since I tend
to sleep with my feet off the end of the bed, I end up waking sideways
across the span.  Why do hotels do this?
I've seen that so many places.  Also, these 20 inch wide throws at the end of
the bed... what the heck?  They're not good for anything, except little girl's
doll covers.  No adult is adequately covered by a 20 inch table-runner like
throw at the end of the bed.  Who started this crap?
Which leads me to these.  What the heck are those big round pillows for?
I've heard neck pillows - dude, if your neck needs a roll like that?  Wow.
And they are multiplying.  Unless this is a method to encourage pillow
fights (which seems to be the only good use for these pillows, outside of
blocking the light from the hallway if you put them at the door).
Then there are these beds.  This one's at The Grand Treehouse Resort in
Eureka Springs, one of my favorite places to stay -- but the style of the bed
clashes bad with my clumsiness.  Hard wooden corners on the base, plus
toe-stubbing base supports, mean bruises galore.  But that's just me, likely.
I also don't understand towel animals.  But I'm weird like that.
The Ozark Folk Center, my favorite overnight stay at any Arkansas State
Park, does the whole thing-on-the-end-of-the-bed thing right.  Those are
folded quilts.  That makes sense.
There's that dang round pillow again.  However, the Grand Hotel Marriot at
Fairhope, AL does have a lot going for it, including a decent amount of
pillows, room between beds and an untucked comforter.
This room at the Crown Plaza Hotel Astor in New Orleans was striking and
plush, a suite with so much room.  However...
This alarmed me... no, not the sachet itself but what was within:  ear plugs.
Yes, from several stories up, Beale Street still echoed through the room.
I actually liked that.
If a hotel really wanted a wish list for things to include,
This is one of mine... a handheld showerhead.  This
isn't just for the luxury of washing -- but for tall folks
like me who need a higher showerhead.
I have to say -- this sort of set-up freaks me out -- the
partial canopy.  I would freak out with this overhead,
with the fear it would drop on me in my sleep.  This one,
though, is from the House of the Seasons in Jefferson, TX.
One of the rooms we stayed in at the Palmer House in Chicago.  Yes, there's
that weird throw thing, a round pillow... but there were also big comfy
chairs and great bathroom amenities.  The other room had a bed bench.
Another bed throw -- this one at the Omni Parker House in Boston -- a bit
wider but the same issue.  Here the neck thingy was a long flatter pillow --
and it was perfect.
Everywhere I go, there are weird things.  I couldn't quite understand the need
to put the refrigerator on the table -- but then saw how the electrical outlets
were laid out.  Strange things like this happen in old hotels.  
There was also the time when I had to stay overnight in Manchester, TN.
The desk clerk changed my room when she saw me arrive on crutches. This
was what I encountered.  That tub was about as big as the bed.  Also, the
remote was attached to the bedside table.
More bed thingies again.  But I did love the padded headboards.  I tend to
sleep with my hands above my head.
However, The Woodlands Resort and Spa sent to my room the best
hospitality gift ever -- not wine (I rarely drink), not a fruit basket
(though I love those) -- but cold milk and freshly baked cookies.
Sometimes a property does everything right... but it's still a bit off.  Here,
the foldover at the end is a light blanket, but it's of a satin material that
would fall to the floor at the slightest brushing.  The plant?  Odd.
Another fridge on a table, and the tiniest TV on a stand.  But they tried so hard.
This Ramada in Murfreesboro, TN was interesting.  After not having my
room after all, I was assigned to one with two beds and given the single
rate -- as long as I didn't use the other bed.  Bed use wasn't the issue -- the flat
pillows, thin blanket and dusty bedspread was.
The Talbot Heirs in Memphis is a lovely place.  I adore the bed benches,
the comfortable linens and personalized service.  It's one of those rare places
that ask what you want in the fridge for your arrival.  Yes, there's a separate
room with a full kitchen, living area and dining bar attached to this.  And it's
right across the street from the Peabody.
I do like how some older properties such as the New Orleans Hotel and Spa
in Eureka Springs utilize an open bathroom concept but which put the
toilet in its own separate room.
There's nothing like arriving some place and having a
hankering... like mine for hot cocoa on an overnight
stay at Mountain Harbor Resort near Mt. Ida, AR...
and it was RIGHT THERE.  Along with Westrock
Coffee, to boot!
And then there are things that bother me that probably don't bother anyone
else.  I was so scared of sleepwalking off the balcony of this master
bedroom that I slept on the couch downstairs instead.
And just to say this -- why would anyone dive into a tiny three foot deep
hot tub?
I suppose the same sort of person that would dive into this sitting pool
at the Villages at Indian Point in Branson.
Sometimes, it's the little things.  The folks at The Hub at Marble Falls
leave out a stack of rags to wipe down bikes for its customers.
Three years later, I spotted this stack of towels in the
lobby at the Comfort Inn in Harrison.  I'm glad to see it
I have wondered for several years at this photo from the Excelsior Hotel
in Jefferson, TX.  If you're already sleeping in separate beds and the
possibility of an argument is a real thing, perhaps having fine china to
throw readily available is a BAD THING.
I love the little touches, and this bathtub tray with book holder and wine
glass was spot-on.  Yes, there are those of us who love reading in
the tub... and having some cold fruit juice onhand.
Frequent travelers like to be able to have things onhand -- yes, most items
can be requested from a front desk, but not having to call down and ask for
extra pillows, blankets, toilet paper and such is a blessing.
Union Square Guest Quarters in El Dorado, AR hits this spot-on... with a
ceiling fan above, a real blanket on the end of the bed, comfortable seating
and cold beverages (colas, fruit juices and water) in a small fridge ready
to go.  And wifi reception was spotless.
No matter the size or quality of the location, a luggage rack is a certain
necessity.  Bed benches are an acceptable substitute.  Our luggage ends up
all sorts of places -- on floors, in the holds of aircrafts and ships, dragged
hither, dither and thon... but when it comes time to unpack, having that bag
or suitcase on a stand is key.  This luggage rack's on display at a group
room at the lush White River Inn in Cotter, AR.
Road warriors like myself like to have everything set when
we hit the room.  We want a fridge for leftovers or just
to keep beverages cold.  We want coffee and we want to
have everything out of the way so we don't knock
anything over.  This sort of set-up is great -- though now
outdated thanks to that TV.  I'm thinking a microwave would
make a great substitution.
We like toiletries that make sense.  Two cotton swabs in a little box don't
make sense, but cotton swabs and cotton ball containers like what you see
here at Mountain Harbor Resort?  That's awesome.  Both are cheap -- and
give travelers a little credit -- we know those jars need to stay put.
One more thing I don't understand... doilies at the bottom of trashcans.  What?
Over the years, I have come across just about everything you can imagine in
a hotel.  Some of the places I've stayed in have been humble (and sometimes
scary), some have been very luxurious and extravagant.  I know I'll encounter
a lot more in my travels, and I expect I'll share those experiences, too.  I will say -
the Chancellor Hotel in Fayetteville, AR has a great set-up for someone like
me -- including a more-than-adequate workspace with seating, a refrigerator
and easily accessible outlets for plugging in my computer, cell phone, camera
battery charger and wifi device.
One more little bit for hoteliers... if you do have a special guest, this is a
perfect marketing opportunity.  The Peabody Memphis does this well...
there are ducks all around, even in the architecture.
And the Sheraton Dallas Hotel gifts special guests with
treats from its in-house restaurants.  Think about what you
could do special for the next guest that comes to your door.

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