Feb 7, 2008 travel
I had been on the road for about a day and a half when I made the choice to find a hotel for the evening. Stopping at the rest area over the Alabama border from Tennessee, I picked up a coupon book where I spotted a listing for the Sleep Inn in the nearby town of Athens. Calling I confirmed a king bed room, non-smoking and paid with my credit card to guarantee the accommodations.
After grabbing a quick bite, I pulled into the hotel’s packed parking lot shortly after 9pm. Dragging my bags into the lobby, I rang the bell for service. Finally on the third ring, an employee came out and checked me in. This is where the problems started.
I was informed there were no more king bedded rooms left, but they did have a queen bed room available. I protested that not only had I been confirmed for a king but it was already paid for. Nothing she could do, I was told, they only had the one non-smoking room left, and it was the same price. Tired, I decided the bed size wasn’t worth the hassle of finding a different hotel and took the keycard.
The room itself was sparsely decorated, with a microwave-refrigerator combination in one area of the room, a TV and a vanity area. The bathroom featured just a shower stall, no tub. I wasn’t even in the room ten minutes when the smell of cigarette smoke became overwhelming. I called down to the front desk where I was told there was nothing they could do about it, as it was probably coming from the smoking room next door.
I had troubles sleeping due to the smell and almost slept past the complimentary continental breakfast. I headed down for the last half hour of the allotted time and found next to nothing left in the food area, save some cereal and an apple. I asked if they had anything else and was told they weren’t going to put any more food out since it was almost time for the breakfast to end.
I ate what was available – some breakfast was better than nothing – and went up to gather my belongings. I stopped at the front desk to check out and asked to speak to the manager about all the problems I had encountered with my stay. I asked the manager to honor the posted 100% satisfaction guarantee and was told it wasn’t her fault the room switch occurred, nor was it the hotel’s fault the non-smoking room smelled like cigarettes due to a neighboring guestroom. Seeing that I was getting nowhere with the manager, I left and called Choice Hotels, Sleep Inn’s parent company, but to date have received nothing but an apology letter. No attempt to honor the satisfaction policy has been made.
Bottom line, while the room was adequate and the hotel was convenient to Interstate 65, I would never advise anybody stay there due to the incredibly poor customer service. There are other options nearby that would probably be a better choice.
[photos courtesy of Choice Hotels]
Feb 7, 2008 travel
One of Walt Disney World’s original resorts, Disney’s Grand Floridian resort is popular both for its proximity to the Magic Kingdom and for its location on the monorail transportation system.
An ode to the luxury seaside resorts of early 1900s America, the theme is present inside and out. Pulling up to valet, a gentleman dressed in an outfit reminiscent of a 1920′s paperboy took my keys and unloaded my luggage. Passing a white antique Rolls Royce parked along the entry walkway, another gentleman in a top hat welcomed me inside the front doors.
My first steps into the hotel landed me in the Grand Lobby which is a five-story tall atrium resembling a Victorian parlor room, complete with grand piano. Despite a lengthy check-in line, the actual process was quick and painless. Luck of the draw netted me a lagoon room in the Conch Key building with a view of the Magic Kingdom.
The room itself was a good size, with a bathroom that featured a vanity area separated from the bath area by a door. A closer look at the room decor and it became apparent there were several Disney touches: a lamp in the shape of Mickey; bedding with quotes and images from Alice in Wonderland. It was subtle and not overwhelming, unlike Disney’s value or moderate properties.
The room had a balcony facing Cinderella’s Castle, offering a great view of the park’s nightly fireworks later that evening. Unfortunately, the dividers separating the balcony into sections for each room on that side of the building didn’t extend all the way to the floor, allowing the child in the room next door to crawl under and visit me several times. I was also puzzled as to why there were huge spotlights aimed at that side of the building, making it necessary for me to close my curtains to sleep. So much for waking up with a view of the castle.
Other drawbacks to the location of the room became apparent with the early fall weather that fluctuated between hot and humid and stormy with strong winds. With my room in a separate building at the far end of the resort, it was very inconvenient to get to the on-property restaurants or the main lobby to catch the monorail during afternoon rain showers. And with only two pools for over 850 rooms, it was like a sea of people at either of them during the hottest parts of the day.
Another guest inconvenience is the self-park lot, which is located almost two city-block lengths from the lobby. Those with large families or lots of luggage will want to splurge on valet, as it’s quite a hike.
Disney’s Grand Floridian features several fine dining options, including Narcoossee’s (seafood), Citricos (Mediterranean) and the ultra-luxurious Victoria and Albert’s, which offers a four-seat “chef’s table” for the ultimate dining experience. Those with kids, however, may want to opt for the more family-friendly options of the Gasparilla Grill or 1900 Park Fare, which offers buffet-style dining, including a morning breakfast with Disney characters from Mary Poppins, as well as Pooh and Tigger.
Other guest amenities at the resort include a spa and health club, a complimentary shuttle boat to the Magic Kingdom, a small marina with jet ski and boat rentals, and a wedding pavilion.
Despite the few inconveniences mentioned above, Disney’s Grand Floridian is a beautiful resort and those that want to stay in luxury when visiting Walt Disney World should find the experience worth the price.