Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hotel Blues

I've been on the road for the past two weekends, both times in South Carolina. I was working at some flower shows, helping my son on short notice. It was hard work, but loads of fun. I loved spending time with my son!

The first weekend we stayed at an older hotel in Florence, The Thunderbird. While it was older, it was clean and the people were outstanding. The breakfast, a full buffet, was included. I think I gained ten pound in four days just eating at that buffet! Omelets to order, a fruit bar, waffles, pancakes, four or five different meats... even salmon cakes. They offer a great golf package that includes room, two meals, games at your choice of a whole bunch of great golf courses. It's a good basic place to stay.

We ran into a bit of trouble getting into a hotel the second weekend as we were in Columbia, SC at the same time as the South Carolina vs Alabama game. Hotels were packed and the rates were high. Given the number of shows and amount of time spent in hotels Chris had numerous discount cards. Pretty much none of the hotels were giving discounts. Usually he books in advance, but there weren't any deals on-line. Sometimes you'll get better deals showing up at the hotel when the on-line offerings are nil -- and many of your smaller hotels aren't on-line or don't update with deals.

We spent some time trying to find a decent hotel but the prices were a bit high given the quality of the hotels. We finally settled in on one that looked good, had decent rates and per the front desk, the new management was in the process of upgrading the rooms, renovating the hotel. All good. The lobby was beautiful at night, in low light --- spiral staircases on both sides, beautiful hand-painted murals, and a nice sitting area. It didn't offer a continental breakfast, but given the rates we were OK with the lack of what's usually not-so-good food anyway.

We soon discovered that the looks of the front lobby were misleading. The side door closest to our room didn't close without a good shove, nor did the access key work. We had to travel through the front area to get to the room. No biggie, we knew they were working on the place, right? I was a bit concerned about safety given the entry door didn't close easily...

The room wasn't great, but it looked fairly clean. The lights were all low wattage bulbs so until daylight it was hard to see the corners.

I had forgotten my bug spray and spray disinfectant, new additions to my travel packing since the bed bug stories started circulating. I checked the mattresses thoroughly, no bugs, no signs of bugs, no stains. The bathroom looked OK, although they shorted us on the washcloths and hand towels.

We popped the air conditioner on and settled in for the night. I clicked on the computer to hook into the WI-FI they advertised on their marquee. It was down. The front desk said they expected to have it on by midnight. Yours truly planned to be snoozing soundly by midnight. Stuff happens, I figured I'd catch up the next night on updating my websites.

The air conditioner didn't work, something we didn't fully realize until we were hitting the sack. The fan worked and tepid air circulated, but it never got cold. I was OK, barely, but my son was miserable. He played with the thing off and on, slept on the floor next to it to suck up the breeze for a while only to wake up with his back hurting.

The next morning I was able to see the crud build-up in the corners, the stains on the walls (was that blood?), the holes and other problems. It's rare that anyone can please me when it comes to cleanliness in a hotel, this one wasn't filthy, you could tell they vacuumed and cleaned... I could smell the disinfectant. I think that over time things built up and weren't corrected. I decided I could handle it for two more nights if they fixed the air conditioner.

As we left we stopped by the front desk and told them about the air conditioner. They said they'd either get it fixed or move us to another room.

We got back to the hotel around nine that night after eating dinner with some friends. The key to the room didn't work so we figured they'd moved us. Nope, the key just didn't work. We then "assumed" they must have fixed the air conditioner. Nope to that one, too.

Chris went down, talked with the front desk, they gave us the option of two different rooms, both on the second floor.

The first one looked OK, it even had sliding glass doors leading out to the balcony. Chris opened the door, started to step out and luckily realized that there wasn't a balcony before taking that next fatal step. One foot out the door and he'd have dropped down two stories to the cement path. It was "in the works" and had a few other problems -- Chris shared them with me but I've forgotten what they were as we ultimately chose the second room.

In the second, the room was still undergoing renovations also. Things weren't connected, electrical outlets were missing covers, the mirror wasn't on the wall... but it was OK and there was a balcony.

We moved. By the time we settled in all I had time to do was turn on the computer and check a few emails. I was pooped.

No bed bugs, but yes, bugs. Chris went down to the front desk and got a spray bottle of bug killer. We sprayed the entire room down, including the mattresses. Then let everything air out. We talked about checking out, but given the trouble we'd had finding a room we figured we'd end up sleeping in his truck so decided to stick it out.

I spent a restless night, expecting to see bugs. If I'd seen the bug that someone drew on the door jam before getting settled, I might have opted to stay in the other room... or slept in the truck! No more bugs, the spray worked. We sprayed again before leaving the next morning and again when we got in the next night.

I could regale you with more details of the horrors of the hotel, like the key not working on our door again (I guess they check you out every day?), but this would be a book, not a blog. The poor girl at the front desk was in tears one time when we stopped by sobbing that she liked to make people happy but, sob, sob, but...

I hate to pan the hotel forever as a place to stay given that they are renovating. I understand they have new management --- but it's the same owner. New owners would have made me feel better. You don't own a hotel and let it go down that far!

I'm debating on whether to share the name only because maybe when it's finished it'll be OK. I'll go this far --- it's near the hospital, within viewing distance. And, it's NOT the Holiday Inn or Days Inn or any of the other major names you're probably familiar with.

My biggest lesson? From now on I want to see the room before checking in. On-line reviews don't really help when choosing a room because the owners, management, staff or friends will go out and write nice things... and generally the only others who'll share are those who've had a bad experience. It's also hard to tell when someone writes a bad review how much of the problem emanated from their end. There are just some people who find fault with everything or try to scam the system in order to get free rooms or discounts.

Aside from the hotel, everything else about Columbia was great! Wonderful people, great food and it's a beautiful city. I'd like to spend more time there... in a different hotel.

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