Trip report: Marriott Marquis Washington DC

[Note: This post was written in early October and got forgotten for a little while. It’s still valid and we’re finally posting this report for your enjoyment.]

We’re back from nearly a week in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., for a little bit of sightseeing and a lot of the Splunk annual user conference, .conf2017.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Capitol, so to speak, and we’ll look at the unexpected benefit of using the Admirals Club instead of Centurion Lounge at SFO in a recent post. We also cover the change to Centurion Lounge access for non-Platinum cardmembers in another recent post.

Hotel: The Marriott Marquis, Washington, D.C.

The event was held at the Walter E Washington Convention Center, which is connected by underground tunnels to the Marriott Marquis. Having learned years ago that the event hotel is usually the best hotel for an eventgoing person, I chose to switch from my original reservation at the Grand Hyatt Washington (about 15 minutes walk, with a club room and Explorist status), to the Marriott Marquis (Not quite 15 minutes, but indoors, with a standard room, M Club access, and Gold Marriott Rewards status).

At check-in, the agent acknowledged my request for a feather-free room, and offered a $50 property credit which I promptly used on dinner that night. The lobby was mostly empty and there were only two people checking in at the time, so the process was quick and courteous as expected.

I got a two-doubles room facing the street, and an in-app request for body wash had been fulfilled with a bag of extra toiletries including body wash and hand wash. Marriott uses Thann products, which I’ve been happy with.

2017-09-23 19.49.00

I was disappointed to find that the coffeemaker is one of the disposable-tray models, not the Keurig Mini I’d seen in review photos. It seems the upper floors offer Keurigs, whereas the lower floors offer the standard Marriott coffeemaker (which is almost the same as the standard Hyatt coffeemaker). So my box of Tayst single cup pods stayed in the suitcase, and I actually didn’t use the coffeemaker nearly as much as I’d expected.

Join the Club

Silver, Gold, and Platinum guests receive access to the M Club lounge on the 12th floor, even if they don’t get club rooms. A long, thin room with a nearly-as-long  outdoor patio, the lounge offers coffee, tea, milk, sodas and waters, an espresso/coffee machine, and a still/sparkling water tap 24/7.

2017-09-24 19.04.52.jpg
View of Washington from the M Club lounge patio at dusk

In the mornings a modest breakfast was offered, with scrambled eggs, sausage and bacon, potatoes, baked goods, and a few other items along with the regular beverage offerings and orange juice.

In the evenings, a bartender serves drinks (which you can charge to your room), and various hors d’oeuvres are available as well. Later in the evening, dry snacks and take-out style packages were offered, so you could grab some pretzels or other munchies and take them back to your room.

A hotel employee was checking people in for breakfast and hors d’oeuvres, but other times you just needed a qualifying key card to get in.

The coffee was exceptionally adequate, so I only ended up using my room coffeemaker once. It was just as easy to head up to the lounge and get a coffee and a snack.

Hotel Dining and Amenities

The hotel features a couple of dining options that were not disapointing.

  • The lobby bar with a light bar menu and, of course copious drink options
    High Velocity, the sports bar offering lots of televisions and lots of meat (including a good chicken sandwich and some excellent burgers)
  • Anthem, a diner-style restaurant with breakfast and lunch service. The breakfast buffet was a good deal when taken with coffee and juice (as most hotel buffets are).
  • The Dignitary, a bourbon bar next door (which I didn’t make it to)
  • Arroz by Mike Isabella, a southern Spanish restaurant next door (which I also didn’t make it to, but wanted to)
  • There was also a Starbucks in the lobby, which closed at 4pm. I never made in there, but the coffee in the M Lounge was quite adequate.

A small but reasonably-stocked gift shop is located around the corner from the main desk. There is a very convenient CVS pharmacy half a block from the back side of the hotel, which combined with the mini-fridge in the room (under the coffeemaker) could be very convenient for families staying here.

Exploring the Area

This was my first time in Washington in over 30 years, so I was happy to have a day to explore the Capital before my convention began.

washington-dc-hike-201709

I was quite surprised with the convenience of the hotel’s location; my tourist walk started with a bit less than a mile’s walk to the White House, continuing around it to the National Mall, the Washington Monument, the National World War II Memorial, and on to the Lincoln Memorial. The final walking tally was a bit over two miles, and I decided to take a ride-share back to the hotel from there.

If you’re visiting Washington, be aware that not everything is open, and not everything is as open as it used to be. For example, since repairing a crack in the Washington Monument from the 2011 earthquake, they found that the elevator needed to be replaced as well, so the Monument itself is closed through at least 2019. And for those of you wanting to get close to the fence at the White House, you probably won’t be able to. Security is very visible and there are additional layers of fencing all around, and line corrals near the Pennsylvania Ave gates.

Some coworkers and I went back out a couple of nights later for a night-time bus tour of the landmarks. For $39, it was two hours well spent, with an entertaining guide and only minimal interaction with tree branches in the open-top double-decker bus.

Most meals were taken at the hotel, or provided by the conference at the convention center. However, I did have a chance to visit a couple of restaurants, specifically the Rocket Bar, and Matchbox in Chinatown twice. I was quite pleased with Matchbox’s mini burgers (their apparent claim to fame) during a party, and returning with a colleague the next day we had a chance to enjoy the tomato mozzarella arancini and a pizza.

Those are our highlights from the trip, both at the hotel and around the City. I’d intended to visit Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown, where Senator John F Kennedy proposed to Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953, but didn’t make it quite that far out of the center of the capitol this time.

What do you think we missed? What are your go-to locations in Washington for dining, sightseeing, or just relaxing?

 

Photo credits: Map courtesy of Google Maps and its contractors. All photos (C) 2017 by Robert Novak, taken during this trip.

 

Advertisements

Trip report: Standard King at the Beverly Hilton, Beverly Hills, California

A couple of weeks ago, my niece sent me a note letting me know she was on my coast for a change, staying in LA for a couple of weeks with her grandmother. Since I hadn’t seen her since last fall’s Disney World trip, and won’t be down there for another year probably, I decided to try to make a road trip work.

After looking at major chain locations within half an hour of the suburb she was staying in, we decided to try the historic Beverly Hilton, perhaps obviously a Hilton property, a few blocks from Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Known for the Daytime Emmys and Golden Globes as well as numerous other entertainment industry events, it’s an older hotel (opened 1955) that’s seen some interesting ownership changes and refurbishments over the last 60+ years.

There is a brand new Waldorf Astoria adjoining the Beverly Hilton, but the rates would’ve been exorbitant for what was meant to be a crash pad stay, not a spa getaway. Maybe next time we’ll try something on that scale.

Thanks to expensive work stays at New York City Hilton properties over the last couple of years, we easily had enough Hilton Honors points for a two night stay. We booked with about thirty hours notice, dug into local exploration options, and packed up for the drive from San Jose to Los Angeles.

Staying at the Beverly Hilton

Unbeknownst to us, the weekend we visited had the Television Critics Association conference and the PBS conference back to back, so it was a bit crowded and there were no upgrades available. We did share air with a number of celebrities, and passed Nicole Kidman outside the Lobby Bar at one point.

The only reward rooms available were single king bed rooms, and there were no upgrades available, which complicated things for a two-teens-and-two-adults stay. We got a complimentary rollaway bed, and picked up an air bed for additional sleep space.

Our check-in agent was kind enough to upgrade our complimentary continental breakfasts to buffet passes, in consideration of the lack of a Hilton Honors Gold upgrade. We also got a pod-style coffeemaker, with plenty of pods and a bonus bottle of water, at no extra cost.

The King Bed Standard room went for 60,000 Hilton Honors points a night, including two bottles of Evian a night and breakfast passes for four. For super-short notice we would’ve been looking at $328/night, or $365/night for the breakfast plan, plus 15.5% + $0.80/day taxes.

That comes to $844.75 or 0.7 cents per point. The Points Guy has a valuation of 0.6 cents, and we got a total of four upgraded breakfasts (about $15 value each) and three bonus buffet breakfasts over the course of the weekend (about $50 value each), so we came out well ahead of the average.

The hotel and the room

The room we stayed in was a single king room, at about 356 square feet with an odd shower/tub (left) and a view of the driveway and one of the hotel signs (shown at the top of the page). It felt larger than, say, the basic rooms at the LAX Marriott or the Sheraton in Midtown Manhattan, but wasn’t all that cramped.

The bathroom had a sliding door, more of what you’d expect for a closet than a bathroom. For family it wasn’t too bad, as we’ve been in closer quarters, but there wasn’t much soundproofing from the sliding door.

Coffeemakers are available on request, at no charge, featuring a dual pod brewer and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf coffee pods. A reasonable minibar is also provided, with an unchilled courtesy shelf in case you need to stash some leftovers.

The parking was either valet and self-parking, at $42/night including tax either way. The hotel also advertised a courtesy vehicle for trips of a mile or less from the hotel, but they were backed up due to crowds (even with the critics show having their own limo service), so after 20 minutes we called an Uber (which arrived at the same time as the courtesy vehicle).

Dining and sightseeing

We chose to have breakfasts at Circa 55 on the lower level of the hotel, with the standard buffet on Saturday morning and the “champagne brunch,” described as “a Beverly Hills tradition,” on Sunday morning. Our other meals were outside the hotel, to get some different local flavor. We didn’t make it to Trader Vic’s for a Mai Tai, unfortunately.

The included breakfast coupons covered the standard buffet (approx. $30 plus 18% service charge), or an equivalent credit toward other purchases (i.e. the Sunday brunch at $45). I believe the credit also included a proportional credit for the service charge when we upgraded our meal.

Saturday we had a great experience, with an attentive waitress and great service at the omelet station. Sunday, the omelet station was still good, but we waited nearly half an hour from seating to get drinks ordered. It was at opening time for the full buffet, but the property was not crowded so this experience was disappointing. The food was good though. Comparing the $45 “bubbly brunch” to the $95 Sterling Brunch Buffet, which is our regular “tradition” buffet in Las Vegas, I’d say it might have been a bit overpriced on its own, but the typical hotel premium makes it about right.

For the first night’s dinner, we went to Roni’s, a little hybrid Italian/Cajun/Mexican/little-bit-of-everything joint just across Melrose (but on the far side, so a bit of a hike). The food was great, although the TVs on the walls of the small venue were a bit distracting.

Black Pastrami Reuben at Brent’s Deli in Northridge

Two friends from different parts of our lives recommended Brent’s Deli in Northridge, so we took the whole family there after a visit to the Los Angeles Zoo, and we were not even slightly disappointed. Plenty of food was provided for a great value (under $20 each with beverages), and the range of choices was amazing. It’s hard to pass up a good Reuben (the Black Pastrami Reuben is pictured below0, although my niece appreciated her “SF Burger” and a couple of other choices rounded out the table.

While we didn’t make it to these two other options, they’re worth noting. On the corner of Santa Monica and Wilshire Blvd was a Starbucks Reserve location that would’ve been tempting if they hadn’t closed before we finished dinner. These locations tend to have upscale decor and extra beverage choices, including custom sodas, Clover coffee brewers, and sometimes even alcohol.

And on Rodeo Drive amidst the upscale shopping experiences, a tasting room for St Supery winery just opened in August and should be open through August 2018.

Closing thoughts

This trip was unusual, both in the sense of driving my own car in a “distant” location (rather than a rental), and in being able to spend time with my extended family on my coast for the first time ever. The drive was cheaper than flying three of us down on a day’s notice, and we had the chance to stop off at Pyramid Lake on the way home.

I would say the hotel had glamour but not luxury, although it was comfortable and convenient for our needs. The Sheraton Universal might have been more spacious, but I’ve stayed there several times so it wouldn’t have been adventurous (and we might have been tempted by Universal Studios rather than the LA Zoo, which would’ve been costly, especially for a Disney family). We’ve had some spacious rooms at the Coast Annabelle in Burbank (walking distance from the Walt Disney Studios), but the dining there wasn’t all that great.

We’re not all that likely to head back very soon, since the family is on the other coast most of the year and my job doesn’t take me to the LA area very much anymore. But it was a fun experience and a reasonable value for the hotel experience we had.

 

Eight days in Burger-town with Gordon Ramsay Burger, Michael Mina Pub 1842, Fleur by Hubert Keller, Nom Burger, and more

In the past eight days we’ve dined on burgers six times. This is about four more than our usual weekly burger quota, but a week in Las Vegas warrants some exploration. Let’s take a look around the week of burgers.

In This Post:

  • Gordon Ramsay Burger, Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas (Total Rewards)
  • Michael Mina Pub 1842, MGM Grand, Las Vegas (MLife Rewards)
  • Fleur by Hubert Keller, Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas (MLife Rewards)
  • Gordon Ramsay Burger, again
  • Nom Burger, Downtown Sunnyvale, California
  • Jack In The Box, San Jose, California

Prices listed are modest estimates; you can spend a bit less or a whole lot more at any of the venues.

Continue reading “Eight days in Burger-town with Gordon Ramsay Burger, Michael Mina Pub 1842, Fleur by Hubert Keller, Nom Burger, and more”

Travelogue: Quick updates from Las Vegas, featuring Jimmy Buffett, Gordon Ramsay, and Uber

Welcome back to rsts11travel. Jimmy Buffett enticed us back to Las Vegas last weekend–no April foolin’ here–for a long weekend at Signature at MGM Grand. With Signature’s proximity both to the MGM Grand Garden Arena and the Las Vegas Monorail station, it’s an ideal and affordable option to enjoy relative quiet and little to no smoke. You still have the ease of access through the District to MGM Grand proper, and the entire strip is accessible one way or another, including the Harmon Ave sneaky path to Planet Hollywood.

Continue reading “Travelogue: Quick updates from Las Vegas, featuring Jimmy Buffett, Gordon Ramsay, and Uber”

A golden weekend at Aria Sky Suites in Las Vegas

You only turn 29 so many times, I often say. Two years ago for my birthday we went to Las Vegas for a weekend at the Mandarin Oriental. This year we went a bit upscale and spent a weekend at Aria’s Sky Suites in the City Center complex. In the process we had some great experiences and re-qualified for MLife Rewards Gold status for next year in one (pricey) stay.

This is a long read, but we try to cover a packed weekend in an unusual property, so you should find it worth the journey.

Givens and Druthers

The owner of a model train shop I used to frequent in Indianapolis started every railroad design workshop with “givens and druthers.” The givens are your limitations. For a train layout it might be a 6×8 closet/garage, or having to fold up at night so the dog doesn’t eat it. The druthers are the “I’ll settle for this, but I’druther have that” wish list items. These are good categories to take into account when planning travel excursions as well.

Given #1: I travel a fair bit for my day job, and in that role I have to choose approved hotels and lowest cost options at those hotels. So the first given on this trip was something upscale from what work would normally pay for.

Given #2: A spa visit. Last summer we visited the Bathhouse at Delano (in the Mandalay Bay complex) and we wanted to refill our spa experience on this trip.

Given #3: An affordable (for an admittedly stretched value of “affordable”) rate, taking advantage of any special rates, promos, or other considerations we could find to optimize the expenditure and the experience.

Druther #1: Having just seen a video about the Aria penthouse suites, something like that was intriguing but likely out of our price range, but it was the first druther.

Druther #2: A private spa suite; Bathhouse had couples massages, but when we weren’t waiting for or having our massage, we were in the segregated spa facilities. Not as romantic as you might think.

So with these guidelines, the American Express Platinum card, and MLife Gold, we started looking at the options. Continue reading “A golden weekend at Aria Sky Suites in Las Vegas”