Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Marriott is a Marriott is a Marriott

Upon arrival to Washington Union Station on a recent conference trip to D.C., I found my way outside, waited five minutes in line, and caught a cab to my destination, the Washington Marriott at the corner of M and 22nd Streets ($16, including tip, not bad for PM rush hour). The hotel sits in the heart of NW Washington, where all the D.C. money is. The many billions spent every year by lobbyists are dispensed on nearby K Street, and you can almost hear the legislative cash registers ringing from the corner of M and 22nd.

Still, there's nothing special about the Washington Marriott. It's a cookie-cutter urban property with the same damn tiny rooms that Marriott is famous for. Check-in was swift, and the clerk accommodated my request to change my preassigned room from a lower floor to the eighth floor, room 855.

Sure enough, though the room was nicely appointed, it was small. The chair under the narrow and wobbly desk could not be moved out to sit in without hitting the bed and blocking passage to get to the windows. I liked the flatscreen HD TV, though I hardly had time to watch more than 20-30 minutes a night. There is a narrow and almost unusable space between the bed and the window where Marriott has nonetheless crammed in a lamp.

I've been on sailboats with bigger heads (bathrooms) than the one in room 855. The sink didn't even face the mirror because it was forced into one corner. The tub/shower was roomy enough, but the oversized rainwater showerhead had little water volume, and the outward shower curtain bulge that's now standard in every hotel room caused the shower curtain to bow out over the toilet seat because the toilet was installed so close to the tub by necessity. The closet by the room door was miniscule; it reminded me of the narrow closets on airplanes.

All this lux for a mere $331 per night, the generous and special conference rate! I was assured by Marriott reservation agents when I booked the room that this was half the rack rate.

Oh, and by the way, it's another $13 per day (plus tax) for wifi. I used my BlackBerry instead. Paying $662 for two nights in a plain-vanilla Marriott made me sour enough without having to fork over more for a commonplace product that's included in the room rate most places. A hotel that charges guests for the Internet these days makes as much sense as charging extra for towels and soap--but maybe I shouldn't give them any ideas.

Marriott's snazzier brand, the Ritz-Carlton, is just a half block away on the other side of the street. I decided to treat myself to another visit to its beautiful bar, done up with proper dark wood and muted lighting. I enjoyed Champagne and cheese there two years ago, and I wanted a repeat experience. The menu seemed not to have changed, with a bottle of Taittinger nonvintage brut at $80 and a cheese plate for less than $20. Knowing I couldn't drink 750 ml of fine French Champagne without falling asleep in my chair, I opted for two glasses of the Taittinger at $16 per.

The Champagne and the cheese went well together, as usual, and I was soon hoofing it back to the Marriott. Out of curiosity I stopped in the bar there to check out their bill of fare. I was amused to find the Marriott offering a bottle of Mumm California champagne at $60 for the bottle, or $13 per glass. Mumm made in Napa is fine, but it's far inferior to Taittinger made in France, and yet the Ritz price for the Taittinger was a great bargain by comparison to the Marriott's price for Mumm. I didn't order any.

Both nights in the hotel were quiet on the eighth floor, and I slept well.  The HVAC fan rattled a bit, but it didn't keep me awake, and thankfully the thermostat functioned properly, avoiding wild swings between too hot and too cold (a problem in some hotel rooms).  I give the Marriott credit for delivering the Wall Street Journal to my door each morning, which has long been the preference stored in my Marriott profile.  Note to self: Now that the mendacious Rupert Murdoch has defiled and debased the once-great WSJ, change the newspaper preference in my Marriott account to anything but.

I did not try the hotel's restaurant, just as I had not two years previous, because the menu was unimpressive and the ambiance dull.  Instead, I ambled over to K Street to dine with colleagues at McCormick & Schmick's.  I don't doubt for a second that their signature crab cakes outshone anything on offer at the Marriott.

Two days later when my rail conference concluded, I checked out and got a taxi from the Marriott to Washington Union Station for my train home. Leaving the hotel at 1:00 PM I thought I'd be fine for traffic, but instead it took 25 minutes (and $20) to make the journey. Heavy traffic and construction everywhere delayed the cab's progress.

Sitting in the cab in Washington's stop-and-go crawl, I reflected on all the hotels I'd stayed in for over three decades.  A hundred?  Two hundred?  More?  Some weeks I stayed in the same property for 4-5 nights running, but many weeks I was in and out of three or four hotels in three or four different cities.  I didn't keep count, but I remember what I liked and what I disliked.  

There's a lot to be said for product consistency from hotel property to hotel property, but that formula can also get boring.  Boring can be forgiven--or at least overlooked--when the room rate feels like a bargain.  The Washington Marriott, though, charges dearly and strictly for location without giving anything back. It seems like they could polish the experience into something more memorable.  Given its expense and lackluster commodity service offering, I'd never choose to go back.


Blogger Needle Nicely said...

And it seems that no one in corporate Marriott-land is doing their homework. I wonder if one of them will pick up on your comment about the Mumm/Taittinger price difference and taste quality.

I always enjoy your slant on travel. And I wish you would comment more often. But, thank you.

10/25/2012 9:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad you felt the need to share with us your complete disdain for the WSJ under Mr. Murdoch.
Do you also have Fox News blocked from the channel selection in your room?

10/26/2012 11:49 AM  
Anonymous gbtrotter said...

Couldn't agree with you more Will. Marriotts for me are like McDonald's - some are different on the outside but on the inside everything is the same. Some people like that comfort and consistency - just like most Courtyards and Fairfields. I much prefer SPG properties - I like the consistency of the products and soft goods but really enjoy that their hotels are mostly unique and different.

10/26/2012 1:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will, I've greatly benefited from your comments over the years, but this is my first comment. Your note on the ridiculous charges for wifi in these hotels who can charge what the traffic will bear scarcely seems likely to ever be going away. Exprense accounts are involved with many of their guests and so who is to complain. I am a retired academic, now an occasional consultant but usually travelling on my own dime(s). As I also edit an online discussion list, access to the internet is vital--but recently I encountered charges of $19.95 per day, and $8.00 for one hour. It is disheartening and I agree that it is not an incentive to ever return.

10/26/2012 6:08 PM  
Anonymous Jeremy said...

Anonymous, don't come to Australia then... I've seen wifi charges of up to $29.95 here! (1 AUD = 1 USD approximately). And just like in the US, it's only the more expensive, business hotels that charge for wifi... smaller places are likely to include it for free or for a much lower fare.

10/29/2012 11:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At the risk of giving up my secrets and thus ruining things for myself - there are bargains to be had in the boutique hotels in the NW area of DC. The River Inn and One Washington Circle Hotel spring to mind. I've stayed at both - both were spacious, and both were memorable, which is more than I can say for the last dozen chain hotels I've stayed in. At One Wash. Cir., you can opt for a suite upgrade for $20/nt at the time you book, if a suite is available when you check in. The suite I stayed in last time was twice the size of my friend's apartment in SW DC, and my top rate was $269/nt with the suite surcharge. It pays to shop around, both in price and in comfort.

12/02/2012 12:30 PM  

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