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Tim Foolery

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Courtyard Marriott Toronto Downtown

I travel to Toronto for business at least once a year. Each of these trips, I am surprised at how expensive hotels are.  It’s tough to find a decent hotel in downtown Toronto for less than $400CAD.  For this trip, I searched and searched and the most inexpensive Marriott I could find downtown was the Courtyard Marriott Toronto Downtown, on Yonge Street.  I’m just a few more nights away from retaining Platinum Status for 2019 with Marriott – so I had to choose a Marriott Property.

I’ve stayed at this hotel many years ago, during a loud and frustrating renovation.  I’ve never heard of a hotel renovation starting before 06h00, but it did. It was torture.  The renovation is now complete and the hotel is quiet again.  I arrived at 11h00 and waiting behind several people attempting to check in.  Each of those guests were reminded that check in was 16h00 and they’d have to come back.  I approached, expecting to drop off my bags and working in the lobby before my meetings.  Without missing a beat, the woman working reception told me my room was available and I could check in immediately.

The groups in front of my, who were denied a room, were still milling about the lobby and became very frustrated and pushed back up to the check in desk, demanding a room.  I quickly headed toward the elevators to the relative peace of my room.

Courtyard Marriott Toronto Downtown

The main room of the Courtyard Marriott Toronto Downtown

Courtyard Marriott Toronto Downtown

The small but utilitarian bathroom of the Courtyard Marriott Toronto Downtown

Courtyard Marriott Toronto Downtown

I haven’t seen Paul Mitchell products in years

My room was a standard king room on the eighth floor. My view was of one of the dozens of construction sights in Toronto.

Courtyard Marriott Toronto Downtown

View of one of the many construction sites in Toronto

I hadn’t stayed in a Courtyard Marriott in several years. I’d been focusing most of my stays with Starwood, but now that the merger is complete, I’m open to branching out across the super chain.   I slept remarkably well the two nights I was in Toronto – probably the best hotel sleep I’ve had in years.

Have you stayed at the Courtyard Marriott Toronto Downtown before?  What is your favorite Marriott property in Toronto?  Where should I stay on my next visit?

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AC Hotel Portland Downtown – A Return Visit

The AC Hotel Portland Downtown was our home base at the end of our West Coast Road Trip.  We chose this hotel for two reasons 1) The price was right and 2) My recent stay ended up being pretty nice.  Our favorite hotel in Portland, the Nines, was going for over $650 per night, which is a price I’d never pay for a hotel room.

We arrived late in the afternoon and found a long line at check-in.  Evidently 16h00 is rush hour at this property.  Surprisingly, we were moved quickly to the front of the check-in line. Several of the people attempting to check-in didn’t have their identification nor did they have their credit cards – their personal documents were in their bags still on their tour bus. Lucky for us!

I don’t get why the folks working reception have to ask if this is our first visit at the hotel. It is clear in their system that it isn’t.  When I say I’ve stayed here before, the guy helping me checks his computer screen and sees that I had been their just two two weeks prior.  After thanking me for my loyalty he begins the standard soliloquy of the hotel amenities and details.  I was just here two weeks ago, give me my keys and let me go to my room.

The room was much like the one from a few weeks ago, so I won’t get into those details here again.

We had a more relaxing visit this time – not feeling rushed or obligated to do a lot in Portland, which allowed us to spend more time relaxing in the hotel. The room is quite comfortable for both work and relaxation.

There was one thing off about these rooms, which I touched on briefly last time.  There is only one single piece of art in the entire room. Now usually hotel art is pretty abysmal and I’d rather just see a blank wall than some poor quality, high production prints, but the AC Marriott Portland Downtown was different.  I was digging the art – but the large blank walls seemed like the hotel wasn’t quite finished.

Hotel Art - Not often good, but this was stellar

Hotel Artwork isn’t always good or fun – but this was great.

Final Thoughts

I wouldn’t hesitate returning to the AC Hotel Downtown Portland again.  It is centrally located, new, clean and nicely designed.  The staff is quite nice – a little too thorough sometimes though.

Where do you stay when visiting Portland?  Are you as surprised as I am about hotel prices in Portland?

AC Hotel Portland Downtown

For frequent readers, you’ll know I’m a Starwood guy. I’ve been a Starwood Platinum Elite (staying 50+ nights a year) for the past 6 years (Gold for even longer), so I try to remain loyal for the benefits and the requalification. I needed to spend a week in Portland, Oregon and the Starwood selections are pretty slim. The Westin recently changed hands and the only other Starwood Property downtown is The Nines, a Luxury Collection Hotel, which I’ve stayed in at least half a dozen times and love it. Unfortunately, The Nines was going for $600+/night, which is well outside of my company’s expense policy and honestly, just outrageous.

Since Marriott acquired Starwood and is slowly integrating the business, I decided to extend my hotel options to the Marriott brand. Stays and points will be combined between Marriott and SPG later this year, so I won’t be losing any elite qualifying credits by jumping ship. Based on the pricing of the properties and the location, I decided to stay at the AC Hotel Portland Downtown. This hotel is just a couple blocks from our office and is relatively new. Plus, the AC sub-brand has a bit more character than traditional Marriott Properties, in my opinion.

I enjoy clever decor…

…and perfectly curated bookcases.

We arrived at around 16h00 after taking an early morning flight and working a good portion of the day. Moments before we arrived, the hotel called me to confirm I was actually going to show up, which I thought was strange. They didn’t do this for my colleague who was staying as well. I thought it was because I put in a special request and they were going to ensure that it was acted upon before my arrival. Spoiler Alert: It wasn’t.

We chose to park across the street at a Smart Park location, in lieu of valeting with the hotel. The self-park option was only $10/day while the valet was $45. Yes, the company was paying for it, but this doesn’t make sense for me to spend an extra $35/night on parking.

Strolling into the lobby, we were greeted by three reps at the check-in desk. Two were helping a confused and angry woman who was arguing about something – I never could figure out what her problem was and I think the Marriott folks were having the same issue. She’d complain about something, they’d offer a solution and she’d poke holes in that solution with a completely separate and distinct problem. She was an angry and toxic guest and the Marriott folks were doing everything they could to satisfy her – no one could make her happy.

Check-in was relatively smooth, if not a bit robotic. After I checked in, I wasn’t given my keys until they could confirm that my room had been de-feathered. I loathe feather pillows in hotels. I have a very mild allergy that makes me quite congested while I sleep. Swapping out he pillows is an easy fix that gives me a pretty good night’s rest. My allergy isn’t catastrophic, but the hotel staff always treats it as such and won’t let me enter the room if there is a feather pillow in the area. So I waited about 15 minutes while they confirmed the room was feather-free. I appreciate the effort, but I just wanted to sit down and relax after such a long day. Kudos for heading THIS request.

I was given a room on the 12th floor, away from the elevators, which is also my preference (high floor, away from the lifts). The room was pretty modern with a king bed and a pull-out sofa.

The room wasn’t huge, but had ample space.

The desk was big enough for me to work and spread out all of my papers. The desk chair was like a dining chair, it wasn’t on wheels, which I think is the first time I’ve come across this in a hotel. It was perfectly fine, just different from what I was expecting.

The desk area – without my special request

The bathroom was big and bright with a very large walk in shower and single vanity. The room was very well lit and had great water pressure and ample hot water.

Lovely large walk in shower.

 

Sleek and modern vanity and super modern toilet.

The minibar was stocked with a single small bottle of complimentary water. I do love an ice cold water, but I’d rather have two bottles a day. The chill was nice though.

Less stocked minibar, but with chilled water.

The view was unobstructed, not all that inspiring. Some views in Portland are absolutely stunning – the mountains or the river and bridges, but the big windows brought in a ton of natural light.

My view wasn’t too shabby.

The room did seem a little bare though, with only one piece of wall art. I’m not expecting a miniature museum, but it did strike me as odd that there was so much blank space.

The single piece of art on the wall.

Each time I interacted with a staff member on the main floor, I was addressed by name – which never happens at a Marriott for me. I get this at a St. Regis or a Parker or the Ritz…never at a Marriott. I asked for a couple recommendations from staff members too on this trip and was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t get awful recommendations for common chain restaurants. Every time I asked for something, I was offered a local option, within quick walking distance AND most importantly a personal anecdote about a recent experience at these restaurants. SCORE.

I’ve stayed at the AC chain by Marriott a couple times before and have enjoyed it. This stay in Portland was really quite lovely and I’ve already booked a return stay in a few weeks because of my experience. I slept really well (the bed was surprisingly comfortable too) and had very positive interactions with the staff the entire stay.

The hotel is located in downtown Portland, just a couple blocks from the Willamette River, the MAX (light rail system) and hundreds of amazing restaurants and shops. You really can’t go wrong with the location and if the service stays at this level, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better Marriott in the area.

Where do you stay when visiting downtown Portland?

Is Hotel Status Worth Chasing?

Hotel status is an interesting animal for me. On one hand, I really dig the suite upgrades and the additional points earned for stays, but on the other, the upgrades are so infrequent, why worry about them? I’m Platinum with Starwood and Marriott (their not-so-recent merger allows for a status match between programs). I earn this status by staying 50 nights a year at SPG Properties (plus the nights/stays credited because of the co-branded credit cards). I do struggle maintaining this status because sometimes my work travel doesn’t afford me the opportunity to stay at an SPG Property.

Prince de Galles Macassar Suite – Upgraded because of my SPG Platinum Status

Does Platinum Status even matter any more?

Friends have commented on how Marriott isn’t all that generous with their Platinum members – negligible upgrades being the biggest issue. What minimums do I expect from a hotel program? I expect high speed internet for at least three devices (I need my phone, tablet and laptop all connected…and if I’m traveling with anyone else, we need at least four devices connected), I would like access to a club lounge with bottles of water and some snacks and cocktails (even grocery store wine is an acceptable amenity). I don’t care about breakfast, complimentary parking, or discounts at the on-property restaurants. A room free of feathered linens and located away from the elevator is also high on my list.

In reality, I can get all my hotel needs met with a mid-tier (Gold with SPG, Marriott and Hilton) status. I get access to upgrades (that rarely materialize even with Platinum status), I get free internet and I get access to the club lounges. I get this status without running on the Hotel Stay/Night hamster wheel.

The American Express Platinum card offers Gold Status with both Hilton and Starwood. United offers Gold Status at Marriott for flyers who maintain Gold or higher status with MileagePlus. I’ve got all the major programs covered, why should I push for Platinum Status? Should I just find the best rate at the best hotel and use whatever savings I’m getting to pay for a nicer room when I really need it.

Since the Marriott and SPG loyalty programs will likely be combining in 2019 and I have confidence that it will look more like Marriott Rewards than SPG, I’m changing my hotel strategy – Find a hotel with a good rating, great rate, close to everywhere I want/need to be and call it good. I hope it feels freeing that I don’t feel obligated to stay at a property I’m just not digging because I need the Stay/Night credit (I’m looking at you, Westin Arlington, VA).

What is your hotel strategy for 2018 and beyond? If you are a Marriott fan, tell me how your luck has been with your upgrades and elite recognition.

 

The Camby, Autograph Collection (Phoenix)

We visit Arizona every summer, usually around the July 4th weekend. These trips allow us to visit family, friends and spend some much needed time relaxing in the pool with a cocktail. We always stay the first night in Phoenix because after a long day of work and travel, the last thing we want to do is drive the few hours from Phoenix to Prescott or Sedona. Plus, Phoenix in July is sweltering, so hotel room rates are low and you can get access to nice properties at a great discount. 

For the past couple of years we would stay at the Aloft Phoenix Airport, but after last year’s interaction with the strippers doing a show in the lobby and manager playing it off as normal and acceptable, we decided to branch out.  Since Marriott acquired Starwood, I’ve been a bit less loyal to Starwood. I’ll get into that some other time.

I searched for great hotels and low prices and found the Camby for only $109 per night, plus taxes and fees, which was only $30 more than the whorehouse Aloft PHX, a good deal in my book. 

After a short delay out of Chicago and a quick pickup of the rental car (Silver Car), we arrived at the Camby around 22h30. The hotel doesn’t offer a self park option, but if you want to skip the valet, you can park at the movie theater that charges and hourly and overnight rate. We opted to pay the $33 per day for the valet…the idea of saving $10 (+/-) but having to walk across the parking lot in 100F heat didn’t appeal much to me.

We were greeted by the two front desk reps with big smiles and a hearty hello the second we were in their line of sight.  I had received a push notification that our room had been upgraded and I’d just need to stop by the front desk to pick up my keys.

The woman helping us was very friendly, she thanked me for my loyalty as a Platinum Member (which I earned by staying 50+ nights with Starwood then matched status with Marriott). She confirmed we’d been upgraded to a Luxe room…which seemed to just have a better view, which wasn’t all that beneficial for our short stay, but it’s better than that awful Zero Floor Upgrade I had years ago in Texas). I chose the 750 Mariott Point welcome bonus, in lieu of $15 off breakfast per person at the hotel (I’m not really a breakfast guy and hotels have such over priced and underwhelming offerings).  I did take the $10 bar credit in lieu of the 500 additional Marriott Points offered. After a long day I needed a drink.

We went to our room to drop off our luggage then headed straight back down to the bar.  The elevator to the guest room  appeared to have some smeared shit in the floor. When we headed back down to the bar, I told the front desk folks, but it was still in the elevator when we went back to our room more than an hour later. It was gone in the morning though.

It appears someone left some feces in the elevator

Broken hand rail in the elevator.

The hallways blended contemporary styles with classic Native American textiles

Our room was a larger standard room, with a king bed, a small seating area and a mountain view.
The bathroom was really nicely upgraded, with great (both smelling and acting) bath products by Nest. The bathroom initially seemed a bit dark, but the white tile really brightened up the area, despite having just two low output lights. The hot water took more than two minutes to actually arrive in our room, which was shocking to me. The only negative thing in the bathroom was the cheap plastic shower floor. It just made it seem a bit low rent, even though everything else was quite nice.

The single vanity bathroom worked fine for us. That shark / clothesline art was pretty cool, in my book.

The shower had great Nest products and wonderful water pressure, but it took an inordinate amount of time for the hot water to kick in.

I really enjoyed the Nest products offered at the Camby.

I really enjoyed the art throughout the hotel’s public spaces and in the guest rooms. It wasn’t the standard hotel cheap you see, it had a local vibe and a modern flair with neon, cacti and clean lines.

Cow skull lighted art in the guestroom. While I don’t want one for our house, I do dig it.

Our room was of decent size, with a quite comfortable king sized bed and a small sitting area.

Our couch continued the Native American theme found in the hallway.

The quintessential coffee and beverage bar.

The bar was a dark but nicely appointed space (it was actually the restaurant and bar). We stayed with the signature craft cocktails on the menu, but interestingly enough, these bartenders had no idea how to make these drinks, they had to frantically run around trying to find the recipe cards. They had the vibe of hipster craft cocktail masters (beards, matte black/gun metal grey linen shirts, red suspemders…yeah, you know who I’m talking about), but not the immediate knowledge. The drinks are good and well balanced and the service was quick too. 
I really enjoyed my 10 hour stay at the Camby and will definitely return if the price is right and the timing works. I don’t like to spend much on these short post flight stays, that being said, if I were spending more time in the area I’d definitely stay again.

Habe you stayed at the Camby? Did you like it better as the Ritz Carlton? What was your favorite cocktail?