Tim Foolery

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Monthly Archives: August 2013

Hanoi Elegance Ruby Hotel

How did we find the Hanoi Elegance Hotel? We scanned TripAdvisor. This hotel is part of a local chain and came very highly rated. Plus the rate was great – $50/night.  While we could have easily found a cheaper hotel, knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t stay anywhere else in Hanoi.
We arranged for the hotel to pick us up at the airport and while the driver wasn’t all that friendly, he did collect and deliver us as we all agreed.  The hotel is down an alley and if we didn’t have a driver, I am not sure we would have ever found the property.  Our friends had arrived in Hanoi the night before and were waiting for us as we approached the hotel.  We were greeted by 4-5 hotel employees, all of whom looked to be about 15 years old.  We handed our passports over for check-in and we were immediately given the best mango juice I’ve ever had. It was a wonderfully refreshing mango puree – I would go back to Hanoi right now just for the mango juice.
We were given a room on the second floor with two twin beds.  We opted to get two beds mostly because of some of the stories we’d heard about how the Vietnamese treat gay visitors.  We ran into no issues whatsoever and our friends had a room with a king bed – again no issues.
The reviews of the hotel indicated the street noise was a bit too much from the lower floors. I heard nothing and slept very well each night.
Our room had two beds, with rose pedals welcoming us as we entered. We also had a small desk, with a laptop provided by the hotel, WiFi was included in the room rate and surprisingly the signal was quite strong.  There was also a TV above the foot of the bed which played an interesting mix of Vietnamese and foreign programming.
Twin beds with roses
Bare wall with TV

Unlike some hotels we came across (but luckily never stayed in one) we had a private bath attached to our room. The bath was quite spacious. One of my biggest pet peeves in a hotel is the lack of water pressure and inconsistently hot water – this hotel was great, these issues were non-existent.

Bathroom

Our $50/night room rate included a breakfast in the restaurant on the first floor.  The menu had about 10 items – eggs, fruit, pancakes, French toast, etc.  Each morning I had either a pancake or a crepe and several glasses of fresh mango juice.

Each time we’d return from exploring Hanoi, the folks at the reception area would stop us and ask us all about our day. What did we see? Where did we eat? Where are we going later in the day? Do we need help with reservations or taxis?  The staff at this hotel was beyond top notch. I really enjoyed every interaction with these folks.  The one issue I had with the staff was really relating to our mutual language skills.  They would say something that really seemed odd and out of place, then the whole staff would just stare at me — then they’d burst out laughing.  The issue was really mine. I knew what they were saying but their turn of phrase made me unsure if they were making a joke or if they were just stumbling over the language.  Rest assured – they are making a joke.

Would I stay at this hotel again? Without a doubt.  While you won’t earn any points at this hotel, nor is it one of the super cheap hotels you often associate with Vietnam, but in my mind you cannot find a better hotel for the value.

The folks at the hotel will also help you book a cruise on Halong Bay or a day trip away from Hanoi — both of which they did help us with.

As I write this trip report I crave fresh mango juice.  If you are going to Hanoi – do yourself a favor and book the Hanoi Elegance Ruby Hotel. I am sure you will not be disappointed.

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W New York – Downtown: Hotel Review

The first of three @SPG hotels I stayed at while in New York was the W New York – Downtown. This was my first stay at this property. Located in lower Manhattan just immediately across the street from the 9/11 Memorial entrance, this hotel’s lobby is on the 5th floor, which I really like. You get out of the hustle and bustle and you can start to relax immediately.

I arrive around 15h00 and was greeted by name as I approached the check-in desk.  I had not been in contact with the hotel prior to my arrival. My guess is that they had very few people checking in that day and I was the only one either queued up to arrive at that time or the only single arriving. Who knows.  I was thanked for my loyalty and offered a welcome amenity. I opted for the points in lieu of the free internet or a cocktail.  I was on a work trip so my cocktails were paid for by the vendor I was there to see, and I was queued up to be out of the room most of the time and my internet usage would be limited so those would have been a waste.

I was assigned a room on the 8th floor and unlike the W on 49th and Lex this room was bright and much bigger than I was expecting. The rooms I’ve stayed in at the Lex property are slightly larger than my walk-in closet at home.  It’s Manhattan and I get space is of a premium – and I’ve stayed multiple times at the W on Lex, so I know what I’m in for.  The downtown property was by no means spacious, but it was a nice upgrade from Midtown.

You walk in and find the bright white room with a red bed scarf that provides a huge punch of color.  The white was a bit worn, but at least you could see what was dirty and what was just worn – everything here was just worn and not dirty! Whew.

The desk was under the TV, which made it almost impossible to watch TV and work at the desk, nothing critical.  This layout actually made me a bit more productive too.  I was right next to the elevators, which Marriott is always good about following your preferences – I haven’t had much luck with SPG regarding my placement away from an elevator.

The bathroom was immediately behind the bedroom and took the entire wall. This reminded me of the layouts of the various Alofts I’ve visited before. Obviously this is a good design layout for small spaces.  The bathroom was clean and featured a nice sized walk-in shower.  The closet was extremely small – and since I was in town for more formal meetings, I couldn’t comfortably hang all my clothes – not even enough hangers. I requested some additional ones as well, but none ever showed up.

The hotel also offers complimentary car service within a given radius – although I don’t know what that radius was. No free trips to the airports that’s for sure.  I did use this service once, after check-out, when I was moving from the W Downtown to the Element Times Square.  I usually don’t have much luck with complimentary transportation services at hotels. Someone either just beat me to it or it just stopped running.  This worked out perfectly. I rode in an Acura and I had to complete a quick survey on the service and if this made me want to buy an Acura. I don’t need a car, but I told them it did, since I want this type of service to continue.

I did eat dinner one night in the hotel – mostly because there is a BLT Bar and Grill. I fell in love with BLT when we were in San Juan a few years ago. The popovers are worth the visit alone (although, I think mine are marginally better).

I often struggle with the W Hotels.  Sometimes they just seem too hip for me. I really dig the design – sleek, modern, functional – but the attitude of the guests and from time to time the staff really start to grate on my nerves.  By the end of the third day, I just want to go elsewhere.

Would I stay here again? In a heartbeat.  I like the location. I liked the room. The price was average for a Manhattan hotel. Both the Element (obviously) and Le Parker Meridien were substantially cheaper the weekend I stayed, which is part of the reason I changed hotels. I wanted to save a bit of money (50% of the cost of the W) and I wanted to try two additional properties (and get different stay credits).  My biggest complaint about the hotel, isn’t the hotel itself. It is the tons of people across the street waiting to enter the 9/11 Memorial. So many people (tourists) who don’t know where they are going. They have big bags and are bumping in to you and are just generally confused.  During the week it was great. The weekend (when I went to the Memorial) it was utter torture.

Have you stayed at the W Downtown? What’s your favorite Starwood Property in Manhattan? Are you still shocked at the size of the rooms at the W on 49th/Lex?

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The Westin Phoenix Downtown: Hotel Review

We ended our Arizona visit with a stay at the Westin Phoenix Downtown (@WestinPhoenix @SPG). We arrived around 17h00 on Saturday night and downtown Phoenix was as dead as can be.  We parked across the street and walked (in the blazing heat) to the hotel.  The lobby was empty, except for three Westin employees, two of which scattered when we entered the lobby.
The man working reception was very nice and thanked me for my loyalty (Gold status). We made small talk while he typed away for quite a while on his computer. Have you ever wondered what the hell they are typing during check-in?  I asked about the occupancy level at the hotel and he said they were well below 15% and it was so dead.  Of course, this encouraged me to ask about a room upgrade – which was immediately met with “No, we have no upgrades available.”  Hmmmm.  Upgrades aren’t guaranteed, so I can’t really complain.
We were given a room on the 16th floor. The hotel really seemed like a ghost town.  When I opened the door to the room I was shocked at the rush of cold air hitting me — such a huge (and wonderful) difference compared to the Aloft from a few days earlier.
Entering the room you immediately come across the bathroom, which was quite modern and except the two burned out lights (I called the front desk and this was remedied immediately) the bathroom was pretty nice.  I like the design aesthetic and the hotel is only 2 years old so it is still quite clean (and considering it is in Phoenix, I doubt the summers are all that busy here, reducing the number of guests even more). 
Door-less toilet alcove.
Great walk-in shower and modern vanity
Mini-Fridge, safe and coffee maker in closet.
When we walked into the room itself, we were quite surprised at the size. This room was huge, with a couch, a chair, a desk, along with a king sized bed and a bench.  My first thought was how I wanted to see what an upgraded room would be like.  Honestly, there was a lot of wasted space in this room — I’m not complaining – I like the space and could see myself getting a lot of work done and having ample space to relax on a future stay.
Main area of standard room
Main area
Seating area
View from the room

As you all know one of my biggest hotel pet peeves is a total lack of electrical outlets near the bed. This hotel did a pretty good job of having outlets — the biggest problem? The outlets were laid out so that your standard mobile device chargers could be plugged in (they were too big and the outlet was at the very bottom of the lamp base).


The hotel itself was actually quite nice — and the restaurant Province was good too (we just had appetizers and some cocktails only).  We didn’t have much interaction with the hotel staff at all, other than check-in and check-out (and the quick help from maintenance when they replaced our bathroom light bulbs), but all in all, I thought the stay was pretty good.

Since it was early July, we were able to get a very good rate and the location seemed pretty good too – we walked around the corner to grab dinner with a friend in Phoenix and we passed by several restaurants that looked like they had some decent selections.  I would definitely give this property another go if I were staying in downtown Phoenix again.

Have you stayed here before? What is your favorite Starwood property in Phoenix?  Does it surprise you how dead downtown Phoenix is on a weekend as much as it did me?Be the first to know when a new post is published: sign up to receive them via email or directly in your RSS Reader. Follow me on Twitter or Google Plus too!

Tipping Hotel Housekeeping

Tipping the housekeepers at a hotel is a topic you see regularly on travel blogs. For some it is as standard as tipping at a restaurant. For others it’s as common as tipping your dentist: Just doesn’t happen.  For me, I usually leave a bit of cash – especially if I’ve stayed a few days.  I leave a lot of cash if I feel it is necessary (ahem, the Standard Hotel Downtown LA).

Yes, these folks get paid a wage. Is it a living wage is a topic for another blog.  These folks are doing a service for me and I appreciate it. I can also afford to put down a few dollars a day as a tip.  When I was younger (early in my career), I really didn’t have the money to do so and consequently, I didn’t. I didn’t notice any service difference either. But seriously, do you tip only so you can get better service?

This brings me to this morning. I’ve been staying at the Aloft O’hare for 10 nights so far – I am staying a total of 18 because of housing changes (a different blog will walk through that).  I’ve asked for no housekeeping service since I’m working during the day and I am terrified Lilly will get out and she’ll be gone for ever.

I went downstairs this morning and asked for immediate housekeeping (as I am going out later this morning).  I had to visit the front desk because my phone still doesn’t work in my room, but luckily the internet is back up and running.

I know this is a pain in the ass for these folks. They have their routine down and demanding an immediate visit from housekeeping isn’t ideal…plus the room hasn’t been cleaned in 10 days and Lilly sheds when she’s nervous and well anytime you have a litter box in a small area it gets kind of gross.

Lilly and I hanging out at the bar while the room is serviced.

As the housekeeper knocked on my door, I grabbed Lilly and stuck her in the carrier and headed downstairs. I preemptively tipped the housekeeper $10 (as that was all the cash I had on me, except for a bunch of singles–she’s a maid, not a stripper).  She was shocked and tried to push it back in my hand. I insisted. To me this is a thank you for being so understanding and for the extra work she’ll have to do.  If she takes it as a bribe to do a better job, so be it. That’s not my intention.

I wonder what percentage of people here actually leave tips for the housekeeping staff.

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Aloft Phoenix – Airport: Hotel Review

We decided to stay at the Aloft Phoenix Airport (@AloftPHX @SPG) on our recent trip to Arizona, mostly because our flight got in so late. We landed around 23h00 and the drive to Prescott (our final destination) would have us arriving around 02h00. No good.  The Aloft had a complimentary shuttle from the airport, which had us arriving at the hotel around 23h30.
When we arrived the Lobby was pretty packed. Who knew that a Wednesday night would be the rockin’ night at an airport hotel bar?  At check-in I was offered either a free drink at the bar or 250 Starpoints as my Gold Welcome Amenity. I opted for the points (figuring that since it was nearly 02h00 on our body clocks we’d just go to bed – I was wrong).  
We headed to the room to drop off our bags.  The halls were absolutely sweltering. Phoenix was hot – when we landed – it was still 41C (107F) outside at nearly midnight.  We made it to our room and were quite surprised at how hot this room was too.  We cranked up the A/C and knew that we’d be tossing and turning all night if we tried to sleep in that heat.
When you enter the room, immediately to the right you find a small closet, room safe and the bathroom sink.  Continuing on through the sliding mirrored door you find the toilet and the shower.  The very standard / cookie-cutter design for an Aloft.
Closet

Bathroom vanity with mini-fridge

I am disgusted when I enter a room and find a gaping toilet greeting me.  How hard is it to close the lid after you clean it.

Shower Room and Gaping Toilet

The main room, on the other side of the closet wall, consisted of a king bed, a small desk and a chair in the corner.  The bed was the standard Aloft bed – which isn’t as great as the W Bed or the Westin Heavenly Bed, but I do find them to be quite acceptable. A whole hell of a lot better than the Hotel Indigo beds.

Main room with desk
Bed and Chair – Mike relaxing
Another bed / room shot

Since we arrived so late, I didn’t get a chance to take a picture of our view until the next morning. Whoa, what a beautiful industrial Arizona view, eh?  Makes you want to sit and stare out the window watching the world go by, doesn’t it…

Stellar view

I didn’t get any pictures of the common areas, unfortunately. We arrived too late and were in a hurry the next morning.  The service at the bar was very lackluster. All the servers were too busy on their phones and attempting to coordinate an ad hoc karaoke party amongst themselves – they need not quit their night jobs to be singers, that’s for sure.  Unfortunately they didn’t even know the items they were serving. We asked one server about the beers they had on tap and she suggested we go up to the bar and look — then she left us.  It took us quite a while to get our check too – everyone was a little preoccupied that night.

I would stay at this hotel again, but only if I had either a late arriving flight or an early departure the following morning. There really isn’t any other reason, in my mind, to stay at this hotel.  I must admit, I do like the Aloft chain.  They are consistent.  Interestingly enough, as I write this review, I sit in an Aloft near O’hare and the room is EXACTLY the same as the PHX room, except I got stuck with two queen beds and no chair.  Sometimes it is nice to find a reasonably priced hotel that is extremely consistent.

Have you stayed at the Aloft – PHX before? Do you dig the Aloft or do you prefer slightly more glamorous digs?

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