A recent thaw-out trip to Sarasota that has been the subject of several recent articles included a delightful Valentine's Day visit to The Ringling complex;
This former estate of circus co-owner John Ringling and his wife Mabel aptly boasts their literal palatial mansion, a circus museum, and a world-class art museum. (Not to mention a rose garden and another garden fully of creepy stone gnomes.) It also is home to the Also Theater, which offers films and live performances in an setting that is as opulent as the home and the art museum.
One of the nicest things about this complex is that it keeps the spirit of the circus alive years after the demise of Ringling Bros. A personal perspective on this is a early job being the Assistant Marketing Manager for the company that owned the circus.
As an aside, the numerous perks of our stay at the Hotel Indigo Sarasota included use of the sparkling-clean hotel shuttle and its jovial drivers. The Ringling is one option for a shuttle ride.
Our day (rather than night) at the museum began with a warm and friendly greeting by James Ingram, who is the Assistant Director of Visitor Services. The hospitality cred. of Ingram includes being the former concierge at the uber-exclusive Cinderella's Castle suite at Walt Disney World. This nice young man who has met at least two Jo Bros rocks skinny trousers as well as those preteen idols, Ingram also pays homage to his Mouse Factory days by wearing a coveted Dumbo pin.
The jovial volunteer who greeted us at the circus museum did us a solid by suggesting that we begin our visit by watching a short "day in the life of" film about the circus. This enhanced the experience of watching the MASSIVE 50-year labor of love diorama by master miniaturist Howard Tibbals. There truly is nothing else like this anywhere.
The actual railway cars in which the Ringlings traveled was the second favorite exhibit. It showed what it meant to travel in style.
Other exhibits included numerous circus props and dazzling costumes. We also go to learn about the stunts, the clowns, and the animals. This is not to mention an actual film of Ringling Bros. performances.
The obligatory stop at the circus museum gift shop, which has tons of cool merch., netted me valued Valentine's gifts. The most treasured is a stuffed elephant whom I have named Horatio simply because he seems like one.
Our next stop was a fun and informative exploration of the aforemetnioned Ca' D'Zan mansion; although there are many options for seeing this replica of a Venetian palace, the full-guided tour is the best choice.
The provided perspective included that the Ringlings choose Sarasota for their second home to avoid the scorn of the social elite, who looked down on new money and on circus folk, Also, the Ringlings had friends who were their kind of people in the area.
The house itself and the ornate touches throughout are very consistent with the showmanship of John; it is also provided a showcase for some of the tons of art that the couple purchased during Charles Foster Kane style trips to Europe. The overall apparent real and reel world attempts were to show that money can buy class.
The post-tour treat of getting to sit on the oceanfront lanai and look out on the water provided a good chance to chill before the next destination.
We had lunch in the outside sitting area of the surprisingly reasonably priced cafe across from the circus museum; although we opted for cold fare, the grill served hamburgers and other hot meals looked tasty.
Wrapping up our day at the art museum created a general cautionary tale. Both the building, which has the literal walls from a room in the Astor New York mansion, and the amazingly wide range of art are must see. At the same time, your not-so-humble-reviewer feeling the combined effects of already having toured the grounds for a few hours and of the moderate Florida heat resulted in going through this museum a little quickly.
Ringling visitors are advised either to rank their priorities regarding the three museums and visit them in the corresponding order or to take at least an hour of refuge in an air-conditioned space mid-way through a visit.
The casualties related to the art museum included not finding a temporary exhibit on armor. All who have toured it have highly praised it.
The bottom line is that The Ringling offers the best of both worlds by providing a taste of Disney pageantry with a strong dose of entertaining culture in a setting that is free of long lines and hordes of unruly children.
A comedy of errors regarding a Valentine's Day dinner evoked strong feelings of the sitcom staple of the plans of a couple going comically awry on that special day. The consensus during a dinner at a restaurant that can I consider The Ninth Level of Hell's Dining Room and that many people apparently love was that it most closely related what was recalled as Joe and Helen of the "Cheers" companion series "Wings" experiencing Hell every Valentine's Day.
The consensus regarding the setting of our meal of extreme discontent was that it was the restaurant version of "The Golden Palace," which was the titular Miami hotel that The Golden Girls (sans Dorothy) owned and operated after their original series ended, We also determined that Queen of Ill-Conceived Promotions Linda Belcher of "Bob's Burgers" would have tried something akin to the failed concept that lead to adding insult to injury.
Also in sitcom style, our narrative is shifting from the present of the primary "sit" that provided the "com" to the genesis of those unfortunate circumstances.
Back in July, your not-so-humble reviewer planned a "thaw-out" trip to Sarasota, Florida. This revolved around staying at the absolutely fabulous Hotel Indigo in that city. We subsequently learned more about the exceptional H20 bistro in the hotel.
On booking the vacation, we discussed where to celebrate Valentine's Day. The then top-rated restaurant Antoine's seemed pricey. Then number-two (currently number one) restaurant Dolce Italia was mid-priced and seemed very good. I asked my highly significant other (HSO) to book the reservation on Open Table.
I mentioned the dinner several times in the interval between July and February and ALWAYS referred to the restaurant as Dolce Italia. My HSO always responded that the correct name was La Dolce Vita. Knowing that I was correct but determining that that error was harmless, I always dropped the matter. On the other hand, I constantly confuse the Mexican chains On the Border and Border Cafe; I cannot remember which one I prefer.
We arrived in Sarasota on February 13, and the contradictions regarding the restaurant name continued. Having the privilege and the pleasure to speak with H20 Executive Chef Sol Shenker for an article on that eatery added more "com" to the mix in the form of Shenker repeatedly inviting us to have Valentine's Day dinner at his restaurant.
I advocated for eating at H20, but my HSO reasonably wanted to honor our commitment to the other restaurant. Shenker shared that he knew the chef at DOLCE ITALIA and that the food there was very good.
My HSO and I riding past Dolce Italia prompted me to say "there it is" only to be told that we were looking for La Dolce Vita,
The following stage of the narrative requires disclaimers. First, I do not blame La Dolce Vita for any events up to this point. Second, I do not have a horse in the race, and there are plenty of customers to go around. I simply consider the entire experience adequately amusing and sitcomy to warrant a post. Part of this humor relates to the La Dolce Vita owner taking arguably undue umbrage regarding negative online reviews to which even the finest restaurants and hotels are subject,
Now back to our story.
On arriving at La Dolce Vita, we were puzzled on sitting down and finding the menu in the below photo on the table. We wondered if we chose one of the two items in each category or got both and if the $59 price was per couple or per person. We also wondered if there was a standard menu that offered mutually desired ala carte options.
Neither the website nor the woman who called to confirm the reservation mentioned anything about a special Valentine's menu.
One issue was that I dislike any food that has lived in the water, and the menu was heavily slanted toward seafood. Additionally, my prior friendship with the three sheep on the farm of human friends had prompted me to stop eating lamb; one of the entrees was lamb chops.
We considered leaving but decided to stay and hope for the best.
A language barrier was a factor regarding our waiter not understanding our questions regarding the dining options. The prosciutto and mozzarella arriving merely by virtue of our sitting at the table contributed to the confusion.
I asked the waitress who cleared our plates after that course if we could order off a menu. Her response of "no menu; you eat it all" has been a source of humor for myself and my HSO ever since.
I did not eat most of the dishes, and the wait staff seemed oblivious to all those courses going back uneaten.
The real "com" kicked in on the restaurant owner coming to our table in the middle of the meal. My outward appearance reflected my being distraught,
My HSO and I repeatedly told the owner that I was alright, but she deserves credit for stating that she wanted to know what was wrong. She earns less credit for insisting that she wanted me to 'fess up to her face rather than write something nasty online. That turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy,
Her response to our calmly and politely stating that we had no basis for believing that we would not have choices regarding whats was served was that it was not her fault. We also explained that I did not like most of the served items. "Had we known," we simply would have eaten someplace else that night.
The owner asking me what I liked created an expectation that she would send over the requested spinach and ricotta pasta and/or the also-asked-for plate of fettuccine without the shrimp and anchovies that came with it. That reasonable response would have made me happy.
Instead, it was as if we had never spoken to the owner. The disliked items kept coming. The only other time that we saw the owner was when she cleared items off the table without even making eye contact.
I subsequently wrote a negative Trip Advisor review, which apparently is a trigger for the owner. The first copied-and-pasted reply by her is in response to my post, which mirrors this article. Although she asserts that we did not pay our bill, we have the $169 receipt that proves that we did not dine and dash. Additionally, we never stated that we were not going to pay.
The additional two copied-and-pasted responses are her replies to the other negative Trip Advisor reviews that each granted her a respectable three chits. The responses are COMPLETELY unedited and are of equal comic value for their sentiment, rather than for reflecting a limited comprehension of English."
"I will NOT spend one words for your disgusting REVIEW! Remember...YOU DIDN’T PAY your bill! PERIOD as you told me last night! Enjoy your life ...it is to short to go around and complain for everything!"
"I really don't know what to said!!!
Why, why you didn't tell me when I stop at your table???
I always ask if everything is ok, and it seams it was.....but it seams it WASNT!
I need to know right away what it is wrong, so we can adjusted .
But for some reason, people like to said more in a review then in front of owners face.
And by the way, our tomatoes are from the farm, when they said wine ripe tomatoes we trust them!
And our mozzarella it is always the best quality and fresh , that's way you paid $ 10.95.
Anyway if you would like to give us another chance I will more than happy!"
"Thank you for your rewiew.
I'm surprise about your comment, because when I stop at your table, not only one time but more then two, you seems happy.
And when I ask if everything was ok you confirm that everything was OK.
I would like to know if somethings it is not good or not cook in the way my clients/friends are expecting.
That's the reason I stop at the table and I ask for it.
You know when the restaurant it is busy the way it was Saturday, can happen some mistake, but YOU didn't complained at all that same night.
And about the chicken parm price
It was only just a chicken, it was also a fresh FIOR DI LATTE MOZZARELLA,with a ORIGINAL PROSCIUTTO DI PARMA.
Those ingredients are expensive even for us.
I appreciate people that can said what they are thinking in front of me, not in one rewiew.
And I'm so sorry that you mentioned you will not come back, but as somebody said:
YOU CAN PLEASED EVERYBODY.
Thank you again "
The better news is that we had a decent dinner at another restaurant the following night and a last-meal worthy experience at H20 on Saturday night.
The morals of this story are to resolve contradictions in relationships and that restaurant owners who make a bad situation worse face the possibility of an accurate and sincere negative review showing up online.
This format precludes granting master celebrity chef Sol Shenker his full due regarding helping make the H20 Bistro at the Hotel Indigo Sarasota (see companion article) a destination restaurant. You must see and taste his savory entrees and literally to-die-for cheesecake to fully appreciate those culinary delights. This is not to mention watching the steam coming off the food on its way to the table.
Indigo Girl hotel General Manager Melody Odell deserves much of the credit for Shenker being at H20. She recruited him back after the restaurant faltered under his successor and after his Sol's NYC Delicatessen in Sarasota fell victim to the statistics regarding new restaurants.
Shenker gushed about Odell to the extent that she has no worries if she ever needs a kidney donor. Our Man for All Seasons also described his job as "its like owning my own restaurant without the bills."
This righteous dude extends his blend of humor and his mad kitchen skills to appearing on the Sarasota ABC affiliate; he notes that he cracks jokes and that he is "the culinary Rodney" in reference to not getting no respect.
This man had me at cheesecake but sealed the deal on answering a question about his thoughts regarding people obsessing over things such as gluten-free. His hilarious response was "People want to eat healthy, great. But when you go out, what do you want from me?" He further endeared himself to "tvdvdguy" in adding "Keep the 'Pulp Fiction' pen in your pocket" when you come to his restaurant. That, of course, made me crave his versions of a milkshake and of a Royale with cheese.
TALES OF THE CITY
Shenker also entertained in sharing his experiences in New York before moving to Florida after his parents relocated to The Sunshine State. He confirmed that the depictions of gleeful illegal and immoral behavior in the Anthony Bourdain book and Fox failedcom "Kitchen Confidential" are accurate. We also heard about 22-hour work days that required some of the most popular 80s-era stimulants. It further seemed that 4:20 was the standard break time.
The best of the other numerous stories from those days related to how Shenker obtained the basis for his apple strudel recipe. He explained that he was outside the New York restaurant that served the best strudel in the city when a minion who just quit stormed out. That disgruntled ex-employee accepted the offer of Shenker for $100 to take a photo of the recipe.
The rest of the story was that Shenker improved the recipe in a manner that solved a problem related to that dessert. Austrian-born Indigo Girl hotel Assistant General Manager (whose hotel career dates back to working at the Munich Hilton in 1985) Sandra Hyland stated regarding the strudel of Shenker that "Absolutely, as a Viennese, I approve of it."
On a more serious note, Shenker discussed beginning his restaurant career washing dishes at the age of 14. Another piece of the puzzle was his high-school guidance counselor steering him toward Vo-Tech school in response to Shenker being far from the head of the class. Vo-Tech instructor John Wish hiring his apt pupil at his Sewawrd Dining restaurant in violation of child-labor laws led to our man with a license to cook beginning his CIA training.
The rest is history that brings us to the present.
BEST MEAL OF YOUR LIFE
It is impossible that his Culinary Institute of America training is behind the perfect instinct that Shenker has for seasoning. The same is true regarding mixing tech. and cooking skills to develop an induction cooking system that he teaches to his inferiors all over the country. This is not to mention entrees that do not sacrifice quality in providing quantities that easily are enough for two meals. The only problem is that selecting just one is a true Sophie's Choice.
As much as I enjoyed my perfect 14-ounce steak and incredible seasoned roasted potatoes (the tasty seasonal vegetables were left behind ONLY because of the amount of food), a taste of the homemade pasta with tomato cream sauce of my highly significant other made me covet that meal. If I had ordered that one, I likely would have not cared about embarrassment related to licking all the sauce out of the bowl.
The insidious part of all this is that EVERY cheesecake, which can be shipped for $50 plus postage, in the repertoire of Shenker makes dessert mandatory; it is heartbreaking that a photo of the artistically presented peanut-butter chocolate-chip cheesecake of that evening got accidentally deleted. You truly have never seen anything like it.
One piece easily is large enough to share. However, neither of you will be polite enough to even pretend to be cool with the other person having the final bite. This is especially true that regarding the superb espresso cheesecake that Shenker is graciously renaming The Matt Nelson.
PLAY ME THAT WHITE-HOT JAZZ BRUNCH BABY
A Sunday Jazz Brunch with bottomless Bloody Marys and Mimosas as well as the musical stylings of The Vintage Jazz Band duo is one of the latest innovations of H20. Food highlights during the second run of this successful experiment included Shenker manning a carving station where he served tender and juicy prime rib with the best rub ever.
We also enjoyed a very tasty Monte Cristo, crisp bacon, and a fresh batch of roasted potatoes, We passed on the waffles, the pastries, etc.
The power of the press netted us a big piece of plain (but far from ordinary) cheesecake. Other diners marveled at it but had absolutely no chance of getting a taste.
A wise man once said that strong pride is not arrogance if you skills justify your actions; although this guy does not know Shenker from Adam Richman, this statement applies to America's true top chef.
On the surface, a recent stay at the fantabulous Hotel Indigo in Sarasota, Florida is contrary to the oft-repeated philosophy of the Inn Credible New England section of this site. This tenet states that spending the money on a luxury trip close to home is preferable to incurring the cost and the aggravation of air travel to go further away.
EVERYONE at the Indigo reflects a larger truth. People who live in nice climates are happier, and it shows. The all-star team begins with the Indigo Girls team of General Manager Melody Odell and Assistant Manager Sandra Hyland. They also have world-class Executive Chef Sol Shenker (much more about him later), very hip and equally friendly (he laughs at all my jokes) desk clerk Chevy, "and the rest."
You will not want to check out or leave. Don the shuttle driver repeatedly offered to turn back on bringing us to the airport for our flight home.
The Indigo-inspired revised credo is to leave yourself open to flying to a vacation destination that more than offsets the pain of getting there. Relevant experience includes the flight to Sarasota involving sitting next to a young mother with very bony elbows that kept poking me and inadvertently changing the channel on my in-flight entertainment system.
My beloved beats headphones (thanks again, Apple) drowned out her screaming infant but did not help with my being a regular victim of baby kicks. This inspired a tweet advocating allowing service dingoes on planes.
The Indigo is worth enduring this and so much more; it is the Barbara Eden of hotels in that it provides a paradise, offers genie-level wish anticipation and granting, and honors the few requests that it reasonably cannot anticipate. This is not to mention the luxurious Aveda amenities.
The experience begins with the aforementioned sparkling shuttle, which you must pre-arrange, waiting at the regional (and equally clean) Sarasota airport. The congenial driver keeps you entertained and provides helpful information on the 15-minute trip to the hotel. The shuttle also provides service to local attractions that include The Ringling museum (article soon), the upscale shopping and dining at St. Armand's Circle, and the beach. You also can borrow bicycles.
Chevy or one of his peers also makes you feel like a welcome family member on arriving in the well-decorated but intimate lobby. This area offers over-sized chairs that will inspire you to sit in them and say "My name is Edith Ann, and I'm five-years old."
The wow factor alone supports following the Inn Credible New England philosophy of splurging for upgraded accommodations. It is a relatively minor additional expense and indescribably enhances the stay.
The ecstasy without a trace of agony begins with walking into the moderate-sized entry with the granite-topped and well-appointed bathroom to the side. Having ample counter space and a large shower with soap dishes that are out of the line of fire of the shower head check off two more Matt Nelson desired items.
This leads into the roomy living area complete with a large pull-out sleep-sofa and an armchair. It looks as if you can get clear passage even with the bed extended.
This leads to the comfy king-sized bed. Again, there is plenty of room for clear passage,
As shown below, the entire accommodation is decorated in Florida chic with painted white furniture and pastel blue and green decor.
The wish anticipation extends beyond the aforementioned amenities including a bottle of mouthwash. I was set to run the white-noise app. on my iPad when I saw a card offering the loan of a white-noise machine and ear plugs as well as anything else that I need; the bathroom has a similar card regarding forgotten toiletries.
The hotel staff would have happily brought up the white-noise machine, but I went to the front desk to save them the trouble. I also requested body lotion, which was the best in the Aveda line, but spared Chevy the "it rubs the lotion on the skin or it gets the hose again" joke.
The white-noise machine worked well but was unnecessary. The room is astonishingly sound-proof, and provided a restful sleep every night. The feeling of wonderful isolation extends to being surprised on the Sunday morning of our stay that the hotel was fully booked the previous night. The "Quiet Zone" signs in the hall and housekeeping not starting until a reasonable hour likely help. Even then, the cleaners are amazingly quiet.
Eating at the H20 restaurant is a must. The $15 breakfast buffet is far from the continental breakfast at the Comfort Inn and is very tasty. The range of savory-to-sweet includes a omelet station, frittatas, French toast, make-your-own-waffles, pastry, cereal (yeah, I ate the Froot Loops), bagels, bacon, sausage, and potatoes.
The H20 dinner menu is a primary topic of an upcoming article on the restaurant. A spoiler is that celebrity chef Shenker has an incredible custom-made cooking system that he travels all over teaching hash-slingers that cannot compare to him. He additionally has a perfect instinct for seasoning and takes well-deserved pride in his work.
These sincere accolades are independent of Shenker naming the espresso cheesecake the Matt Nelson. A related note is that all of his cheesecakes are phenomenal; eating his will make you not want to eat any others. I know that I will break down and pay the $75 or so to have a Matt Nelson or other cake shipped to me at some point.
The more general level is that the Indigo also follows the rule of location, location, location. This Arts District property is in such a tranquil setting that one would never guess that the airport is 15 minutes away. One regret is that is that poor planning prevented getting tickets for a performance at the nearby Opera House, cabaret, stage theaters, or art-house movie theaters. This is not to mention Carol Burnett appearing at the venue down the road.
It is hoped that a trip to the 2020 Sarasota Film Festival will work out; if so, your not-so-humble reviewer will be most glad to talk all things film during breakfast and dinner; any move on my cheesecake will be cause for banishment. :-)
The immediate area also has an above-average Starbucks, terrific Whole Foods, and a few local shops and restaurants. The more developed "Five Corners" is a leisurely 15-minute stroll (not allowing for stopping to pet the herds of friendly small dogs). That neighborhood has a larger concentration of restaurants and stores.
The bottom line is that there is no cause for having reservations about making them at the Indigo, Things could not have been better, a discouraging word was never heard, and the skies were not cloudy all day.
The Unreal TV connection with this latest of several posts on the Wentworth By the Sea hotel on New Castle Island in New Hampshire relates to an all-time loved episode of a Top 10 favorite sitcom. The aforementioned outing in the (reviewed) '60s fantasycom "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" centers around the titular apparition of the 19th century sea captain transporting the titular widow and her family to the Victorian era. Seeing the coveted house on the Maine coast that our leads share decked out in gas-lights and old-timey adornments is spectacular.
A broader television reference to is to a '90s ABC series of a forgotten name that is a "Seinfeld" clone. The oft-told tale in posts in the "Inn Credible New England" section of this site is of the quartet of friends around whom this failedcom centers traveling to hotels in different cities. The "sit" that provides the "com" is that each lobby and even the staff look the same at every location. The appeal of the historic Wentworth and other "inn credible" properties is that they are not "cookie-cutter" lodging establishments. It is clear that the folks there either are born into the hospitality industry or truly love their profession.
The rest of the story is that a series of unfortunate circumstances and other factors are behind holiday decorations at Chez Nelson being scarce this year. A road-trip for lunch at the Salt restaurant in the Wentworth lobby fulfilled the need for a little Christmas (if not at that very minute). The spoiler is that the experience exceeded high expectations.
I knew that the magical abilities of general manager Jason Bartlett and his Argonauts did not include time travel; however, the tasteful wreaths and garland on the front of the hotel was the first sign that we were not in the Kansas City Fairview any more. The decorations in the lobby and other public areas include a whimsical upside-down Christmas tree; the highlight is a spectacular gingerbread house that is very tempting to nibble despite the risk of being tossed in the oven of a witch.
The delight of the meal began with sitting in one of the coveted tables with comfy chairs; the below-pictured table by the fireplace is the hot spot (pun intended) when the weather is conducive to using this amenity. Overhearing the conversations of oblivious people sitting under the dome provides additional entertainment.
Friendly and attentive Argonaut Ryan also set a nice mood to the extent of an INNOCENT desire to ask if the restaurant motto "fun, local, lively" on his apron referred to him. A desire to not freak out that New Hampshire high-school boy allowed not acting on that resistible impulse.
I enjoyed my reasonably priced and well-seasoned hamburger with a tasty tasty pepper-balsamic aioli to the extent of already craving it when "inn credible" travel (complete with film screenings during some stays) resumes in a few months. The galley slaves seemingly being the only ones at any restaurant to realize that "medium" does not mean bloody rare or cremation black was another highlight.
I equally enjoyed my creme brulee with a small scoop of ice cream, candied pecans, and PERFECTLY TOASTED meringue. Not being adventurous enough to try the paired sweet potato ice cream made substituting vanilla appropriate.
The food at Salt is more-than-good enough to attract locals and folks who are fortunate enough to stay at the Wentworth. The experience of visiting this historic site and enjoying the hospitality of the Argonauts makes even a lunch road-trip worthy.
Wrapping up the 2018 travel season for the Inn Credible New England section of this site with an article on The Exeter Inn in Exeter, New Hampshire is very apt. This boutique hotel has become the literal and figurative go-to place for the frequent north-of-Boston trips of your not-so-humble reviewer, This article on this third stay there since June 2018 additionally provides a good chance to update statements in the prior two posts on the Exeter Inn.
The appeal of the Exeter Inn begins with combining the uniqueness and charm of a B & B with the perks of a luxury hotel. The front desk is in the living-room style lobby, and you are assured both of a friendly greeting and of not having the clerk ignore you while he or she texts on an iPhone or chats with co-workers.
A chance to visit with fresh-off-the-fishing-boat hotel manager Derek Hunt was a nice treat. This very recent transplant from managing a hotel in Kennebunkport Maine clearly meets the Inn Credible New England ideal of being born to work in the hospitality industry, Including his cell number on his business card is one of many indications that he views his work as a profession, rather than merely as a job.
Native Virginian Hunt provided a perfect response when asked how he hoped to make the spectacular Inn even better. He stated "I'm A Southerner, and I plan to bring southern hospitality to New Hampshire. "
The well-furnished rooms are New Hampshire chic with a touch of metropolitan elegance. The couches, chairs, and tables are solid wood with simple earth-tone fabrics or are made of leather, The always comfy beds have luxury-hotel white bedding that smells crisp and clean.
Staying in a King Deluxe room requires the first update to the prior posts on the Inn. Those articles (and every other travel post) advocate spending the money saved by not subjecting yourself to the high expense (and TSA abuse) of flying on an upgraded accommodation at a place that offers the benefit of not looking the same as any hotel in any U.S. city.
The Fireplace Suite at the Inn remains the favorite room; the slightly less grand Queen Suite comes a close second. Neither being available for this trip meant staying in the Deluxe room. As the below photo illustrates, the roomy seating area in this class is ample for relaxing without feeling crowded. An element of this is the flat-screen television easily allowing you to hook up your personal DVD or Blu-ray player if you choose to have a long and active day in the area and enjoy the room.
The spa-style (including high-end amenities) bathroom in the Deluxe room deserves an architectural award. It is cozy but not at all cramped and has excessive shelf space for toiletries and sundry items. Part of the genius is putting the more than ample shower stall with a massaging head and excellent water pressure along the entire back wall of the bathroom. This limited space does support getting a suite with a larger full bath and a supplemental half-bath if two people require simultaneously freshening up.
The suites being at the end of halls at the back of the Inn prompted unwarranted concern regarding the location of the King Deluxe room. Room 221 is near the center of the building. Despite proximity to the elevator and to the main staircase just off the bar, very little sound permeates the hall. The thick walls and the layout of the room make it virtually soundproof inside, This design also prevents sound drifting from the adjacent room or from the one above it.
Nice touches in every class of room include two bottles of spring water being part of the morning maid service and Pepperidge Farm cookies being a highlight of evening turn-down service.
Unusual weather that includes a hot and humid September is one of the circumstances beyond the control of the Inn. That anomaly is making late October the beginning, rather than the beginning of the end, of foliage season. There is a decent chance that leaf peeping will be fairly good through early November. Folks for whom this is a big deal are advised to check conditions online before visiting the area.
The following photo was taken outside the Inn on October 23, 2018.
Although seeing vibrant foliage was a trip objective, not making a dent in the copious non-weather-dependent activities in the area showed that the Inn truly is a hotel for all seasons.
The trip started with a few hours in nearby Portsmouth NH, which has the historic Strawberry Banke with houses ranging from colonial days through the early 20th century. Their Christmas open house in early December is well worth a trip to this region.
This led to taking advantage of the lack of sales tax in New Hampshire to purchase needed items along the Miracle Mile in adjacent Newington, NH. This included seeing an unbearably venomous film at a theater with reserved recliner seating.
A full day that began with getting up earlyish for the drive to Exeter ended with opting for the tasty pizza with tangy sauce at Pizza Academy just up the street from the Inn. Folks who want more gourmet fare have the option of the prime rib special and other treats at the Epoch restaurant at the Inn.
The next morning was devoted to the outlet malls in Kittery, Maine. Having at least 15 shirts that have been in their original packaging for a decade is a good cautionary tale. The stores there having an exceptionally good track record regarding prices and customer service does make resistance almost futile.
The activity for that afternoon requires an additional update. The first article on the Inn mentions that the walk to the downtown area is a little long; that likely reflected summer heat and not being very familiar with the area. This stroll is roughly 10 minutes and very pleasant. Browsing the gift shops, small cafes, bookshops, wonderful chocolate shop, etc. is awesome even if you are just window shopping.
Tuesday was devoted to visiting human and canine friends in Newburyport, Mass. The downtown of this waterfront destination city is roughly twice as large as Exerter and is nice despise increasingly being a boutique Miracle Mile with several upscale chains, These stores include Talbots, Fatface, and Life Is Good. An interesting aspect of this is the opening of a Starbucks roughly 20 years ago was a large local issue.
Later in the day involved strolling on the tree-lined streets of Exeter and exploring the college-caliber campus of Phillips Exeter Academy that abuts the Inn. The many friendly people and dogs whom I encountered showed that loyalty and love of that educational institution truly is life long.
The next morning was the time to leave. Activities such as visiting very charming Ogunquit Maine (complete with a top-notch summer-stock theater), getting farm-grown and raised vegetables and meats (and scratching Buddy the bull behind the ears) at Tendercrop Farm in Newbury Mass. hiking at the numerous state parks in the area, eating at loved restaurants with virtually every cuisine, etc will need to wait for an April 2019 visit, ,
Hilton Garden Inn Hanover Lebanon Strikes Perfect Balance Between Boutique Hotel and Corporate Retreat
A strong positive impression from a (too short) two-night stay at the Hilton Garden Inn (HGI) Hanover Lebanon near Dartmouth College in rural New Hampshire perfectly reflects (pun intended) a mirror-image of a horrific experience with far-less congenial owners of a far-less nice property. That nightmare stay is the genesis of the phrase "shabby broom closet" that provides context in some Inn Credible New England posts on this site.
The HGI, which opened in May 2018 and still is pristine, successfully provides vacation travelers an upscale place to rest and recreate while allowing folks who are there on the company dime use of some or all of the well-designed 7,600 SF of meeting space that accommodates up to 315 people. The HGI getting EVERY aspect of hospitality right and equally embracing EVERY demographic sharply contrasts with the purveyors of the broom closet turning psychotic in response to my referring to their establishment as a corporate hotel. In other words, the good ones like HGI owner Cowen Hotels realize that sheep ranchers (i.e., leisure travelers) and cattlemen (i.e., business travelers) can happily co-exist and that calling a property a corporate hotel is not fighting words.
Inn Credible Welcome
The developers of the HGI property deserve a gold star; placing the building in the middle of a huge lot and having abundant green space surround it and the more-than-ample parking lots provides the tranquil sense associated with the area.
The large and mid-sized carts in the vestibule are convenient for getting the abundant luggage for which car trips allow; the mid-sized cart was great for the perpetually packed duffel that I always bring on these trips. The power strip, extra toiletries, charging cables, snacks, etc. get put to good use every time.
The hotel has van service to the bus station next door, the municipal airport 5 miles away, and other area hot spots for folks who do not bring a car. This van additionally is available for chauffeuring gusts during their stay. Leaving my car in the lot my entire visit and getting a ride into downtown Hanover (a.k.a. Hangover) was a nice bonus; parking in that small city was limited during this move-in period for Dartmouth.
it also is highly likely that one of the strapping young men who work at the HGI can help with physical baggage. These guys (and their female co-workers) additionally offer great hospitality.
A bartender showed INCREDIBLE restraint with a (seemingly sober) orifice who repeatedly asked for "special ice" that did not absorb bourbon. This idiot additionally made several requests for free bourbon to compensate for the absorbed amount. A highlight of the exchange was the bartender subtly and politely inviting that guy to take his drink to his room.
Front Desk Supervisor Sarah Tillotson and her team literally will greet you a smile and be on top of your reservation; they additionally provide Hilton Honors members with a gift that is welcome at any hotel.
Right Said Fred
A chance to speak with Director of Sales & Catering Director Fred Dole provided good insight. He validated the emphasis of the HGI on equally catering to vacation and business travelers. His response to my expression of pleasant surprise regarding a Garden Inn being so upscale was that "Hilton is stepping up its game" as to that category of property. It is HIGHLY likely that the HGI not having every amenity of a full-fledged Hilton is the ONLY reason for the Garden Inn designation.
My attending grad. school in the area was a primary impetus for the trip, and I noted that many new hotels had been built in the area since I left. Dole responded that "supply has caught up with demand." He added that Dartmouth and the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, which was near the HGI, required this growth.
No Room for Improvement
The guidelines in the "Avoiding Getting Inn Trouble" article on this site state that spending a little more to upgrade a room often is worth the additional expense. This definitely is so regarding the HGI. Either way, you can count on a very clean room, a comfy bed, and perfect WiFi. The latter even supports a great deal of streaming that may include watching kitten cams on YouTube,
Every room category of room has a refrigerator (but no freezer ) and a microwave. Although the fare at the 24-hour pantry in the lobby includes frozen pizza that tastes just like the delivered variety, shut-ins are encouraged to bring in food from any of the numerous local options. The Hanover Co-op five miles away has a wide variety of reasonably priced prepared foods AND does not lapse memberships even after many years of inactivity. A large cookie from the famous Lou's Bakery in Hanover nicely warms up in the microwave.
More social folks can enjoy the fare that the HGI serves in the lobby in the evening.
The below photos show the bedroom area of every king room and the sitting area in a premium room. The sitting area is a particularly good perk for wallflowers such as your not-so-humble reviewer who opt to lounge in the room in the evening after a full day enjoying the local attractions. Easily connecting a personal DVD or Blu-ray player (do not forget an HDMI cable) allows for an evening watching a movie or television program while resting up for another active day. You can do this in the bedroom area, but having the couch is nice,
This upgrade also can avoid tension when travelling as a couple. One person being in bed while the other does his or her thing in the living area both provides a little alone time and prevents annoying each other. This is from the perspective of a guy who typically watches the Disney Channel on trips. The logic is that the tween sitcoms are amusing, and the only ads are promos for Disney fare.
On a larger level, the soundproofing is amazing. I did not hear hallway noise. It is more incredible that you can see the relatively busy secondary highway roughly 1/4 mile away but will not hear ANY traffic noise. Folks concerned about this can request a room on the other side of the building,
Towns For All Seasons
Although the current foliage season is a peak tourism period for the area, you can enjoy yourself year-round. The numerous quaint villages offer folk-art galleries, tasteful gift shops, restaurants featuring farm-to-table fare, etc. Further, the Miracle Mile shopping area of West Lebanon, NH has most of the big box stores and a Gap outlet with good bargains.
One hint is that the local markets sell the same maple treats and syrup as the gift stores but charge roughly 50-percent less. The same is true regarding the Cabot-brand cheese. A related note is that a low-income grad. student can get at least 20 meals from a five-pound block of the very tasty sharp cheddar.
Woodstock, Vermont arguably is the primary town with all of the above. A centerpiece is FH Gillingham and Sons, which maintains an old-timey feel while seemingly going on forever. You can all of the aforementioned Vermont items (as well as tacky souvenirs).
The Yankee Bookshop in Woodstock has a solid variety of tomes; going on a day that the Bernese Mountain dogs are working allows for a fun and raucous play date.
Hanover is a bit larger and offers more variety. Further, the students provide ample people-watching opportunities. You will see everything from the nicest kids in town to herds of arrogant WASPy frat boys who literally plow their way down the street. The latter reminds me of a joke from my college era that states "fraternities, only $20 a friend."
The Dartmouth Bookstore has evolved into a Barnes and Noble that sells textbooks; the two stores that sell Dartmouth clothing and gifts remain locally owned.
The aptly named International DVD and Poster has a wonderful selection of new and used DVDs; the latter can be purchased for 5 for $20 and come with a full guarantee. The variety ranges from art-house rarities to blockbuster hits.
One of the nicer Hanover stores exclusively sells the wide variety of hand-blown glass products, pottery, and other wares of Simon Pearce in nearby Quechee, Vermont. Your not-so-humble reviewer owns (and loves) many of these items.
This recent trip to the Hanover store resulted in purchasing a Christmas present that comes ready to give in a stylish gift box tied with a tasteful white ribbon. Seeing such a box under the tree is not quite as exciting as finding a robin-egg blue one but comes close.
Vermont virgins are encouraged to visit the mill from which Simon Pearce operates; the store there is large and beautiful, and the casual chic restaurant offers very tasty fare. You additionally can watch the artisans at work.
Hanover offers several dining options; a local secret is eating at the cafeteria that Dartmouth operates at the Hopkins Center for the Arts, which allows anyone to attend the numerous art-house films and live performances there. The food is as good as any lunch place in town and is less expensive; further, you have the option of an adequately comfortable table for four. The cool kids have lunch or dinner at this eatery before attending a performance.
There also is the Nugget Theater, which offers an alternative to cineplexes in fare and style. However, some blockbusters find their way onto the screens of this art house,
Beyond this, you have the standard kitchen and gift shops of any small and/or college town.
Having It All
This discussion of the HGI and the surrounding area nicely shows that you can have a trip that meets every need and reasonable desire. You will be comfortable and have most luxuries of a chain hotel while still feeling as if you are staying in at a boutique property.
Further, the area provides every opportunity from literally getting lost in the woods to hunting for rollback bargains at WalMart and buying a $230 hand-blown glass pumpkin; sorry, Simon Pearce does not sell glass slippers.
The bigger picture this time is that the locals who can help make or break a trip of this nature so awesomely reflect living in a beautiful and uncrowded area that preaches (and practices) peace, love, and understanding that they greatly enhance coming here.
A recent disappointing experience at an inn that shall remain shameless has stirred longstanding thoughts about an article designed to avoid pitfalls regarding B&Bs and other small properties. Thoughts regarding how to present this led to fond memories of the (reviewed) Rabbit Hill Inn in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. The busy bunnies there do it right; the contrast in accolades and associations between that terrific place and the more recent destination demonstrates the difference that this makes.
A brief background that helps explain the love for the Rabbit Hill Inn is that the first stay predates Unreal TV 1.0 and 2.0. The then significant other of your future not-so-humble reviewer was looking for a place to celebrate a milestone birthday of the latter. Knowing that I love animals prompted paying particular attention to the Rabbit Hill. The sharing of that find prompting an exclamation of "BUNNY!" sealed the deal.
The Rabbit Hill remained a fond memory until history repeated itself in the form of the current more highly significant other of your not-so-humble reviewer looking for a place for a do-over celebration of an even bigger milestone birthday at an even larger train wreck of an inn than the recent lodging establishment. As the aforementioned article discusses, resident innkeepers Brian and Leslie Mulchay more than made up for the epic fail at the aforementioned clip joint.
The most important aspect of picking an inn relates to the primary rule when literally or figuratively playing the home version of the game show "Jeopardy!." Always trust your first instinct.
When first contacting an inn, either not hearing back for several days and/or reaching an unfriendly person is a very bad sign that typically warrants looking elsewhere. This is even more true if the representative does not answer questions about the inn, the room. or the general area. However, the demanding nature of the industry makes a polite request to hold or to otherwise wait very valid.
Similarly, having your spidey sense tingle at any preliminary stage of a stay calls for taking all practical steps to find alternative lodging. It seems that just as many negative Trip Advisor reviews include the phrase "we decided to stay anyway" as do letters in another publication begin with "I never thought that this would happen to me ..."
Speaking of Trip Advisor ...
Trip Advisor and similar review sites have value but should not be taken as the gospel truth. In fairness to inns, some guests use these forums to grind unwarranted axes.
In fairness to guests, many inns manipulate these reviews. This requires taking positive and negative reviews alike with a grain of salt. However, properties such as the Rabbit Hill Inn that have more than 1,000 glowing reviews and very few even neutral ones usually are a safe bet.
The biggest problem is that less reputable inns coerce guests into removing negative reviews. The corporate owner (more on this below) of the train wreck whose name I dare not speak actually sent lengthy correspondence via certified mail thinly threatening legal action and more dire consequences regarding a subsequently deleted review, which was honest and provided specific examples. A bizarre aspect of this was wrath related to the review noting that this establishment (with meeting rooms and a business center) that advertised itself as a historic property seemed more like a conference hotel than a cozy retreat.
Trip Advisor will respond to reports of such coercion, but that sadly can enhance the claim of a property owner that negative comments are actionable.
On the other side of the coin, properties can unduly encourage positive reviews. The Rabbit Hill Inn and other gems invite guests to write online reviews; lesser places such as the recent not-so-grand hotel reward guests for these postings.
I confess that an offer of points in a loyalty program for the recent property prompted a pre-trip Trip Advisor review that reflected then-positive thoughts but that I slightly embellished to maintain a good relationship with that inn.
On a more general level, it is advised (pun intended) to look for patterns Most negative reviews mentioning the same flaws likely have credibility but should be weighed against your own priorities and travel experiences. Many B&Bs get slammed online for not having televisions and coffee makers in the rooms. Folks seeking such amenities likely will prefer a more cookie-cutter hotel.
At the same time, positive reviews that are posted soon after a negative one and mirror the criticism in the prior post have little credibility.
A personal anecdote regarding mirroring relates to staying at a place that was much more boarding house than upscale inn. I gave the property a negative review based on specified flaws; a five-star review praised the EXACT same elements. For example, my commenting about the only hanging space being two 50s-era cloakroom style hooks on the wall was praised as providing a historic touch.
An innkeeper responding to negative reviews is another good sign; such replies being personalized and appropriately apologetic is another good sign. Clearly rote language such as merely stating "we are disappointed that you did not enjoy your stay; please give us another try" is not a terrific sign.
The WORST response is attacking the guest. Even being the most obnoxious individual alive, requesting the impossible, and leaving the room in a state that looks as if a heavy metal band spent a week there does not warrant expressing that in a reply to a review.
The same humor related to a Fortune 100 corporation owning a subsidiary that makes what are marketed as home-style baked goods applies in a less amusing manner to the very personal art of running an inn.
On a positive note, the Mulchays do it right by living on the property and being available from before sunup to well after sundown. They further have an always well-qualified assistant innkeeper, chef, and copious support staff to free them up to be charming and to step in the very rare case in which something goes awry and the even more unlikely situation in which a staff member cannot handle it.
On a negative note, corporate ownership of an inn has rarely worked in my experience; even an absentee owner often does not make for a good stay. An owner typically is the only one with a strong interest in the property and the authority to make a necessary change. The exception is having an onsite manager who either grows up in a hotel-management environment or has a natural talent for his or her job.
The personal account this time relates to carefully selecting a room at a B & B but being assigned less desirable lodgings. Trying to be a good sport resulted in a sleepless first night and a request to move the second night; this also showed the benefit of bringing a printed copy of a reservation when booking an individualized room at an inn.
The resident owner initially denied the request to move but apologized and allowed it after his own records confirmed the error. It almost is certain that a manager would have denied the request and that even a non-resident owner (who almost always is in the game solely for the profit and refuses to take a role in running the place) would have ignored feedback regarding the matter.
The aforementioned individualized nature of rooms at most inns makes selecting the room that suits your needs very important. Having been in every room at the Rabbit Hill allows qualifying this statement with the comment that there is not a bad one in the hutch.
A related aspect of this is conducting a cost-benefit analysis; a no-brainer is spending another $25/night to avoid sharing a bathroom with one or more complete strangers. More thought is required regarding paying a slight premium if it makes a difference between spending your special weekend away in a shabby broom closet and having a better experience in a cozy but well-appointed room.
A related hint is that a great bargain through an online site is very risky. This increases the odds of getting the worst room in the joint. The anecdote this time is literally needing to hop on the bed at the aforementioned train wreck to allow the other person to get out the door.
Another aspect of this is that size hugely matters when the inn tries to rob Peter to pay Paul. One negative aspect of the recent stay was the bait-and-switch related to the inn keeping the door open to a gorgeous well-decorated room with a spacious and gleaming bathroom and our room likely being less nice than it was when the inn was a boarding house.
Conversely, a stay in what probably once was a broom closet at the Washington-Jefferson Hotel in Hell's Kitchen still was great. The single bed was very comfortable and had indescribably good linens and pillows; further the bathroom (which was larger than the bedroom) was just as luxurious as the facilities in many visited five-star hotels. I knew that I was getting a cozy accommodation, but the otherwise wow factor of the room more than compensated for the only drawer space being under the bed and having to store my suitcase on top of the smallish armoire.
Most of the above brings us to an aptly "TV Land" analogy regarding the ideal inn. The '90s sitcom "Newhart" about transplanted New Yorkers Dick and Joanna Louden moving to a beautiful but quirky Vermont town to run a B & B provides an idealized image of such establishments sans the lazy maid and scary woodsman brothers who drop by every day. The Rabbit Hill and its ilk greatly outshine this "How-to" author and his sweater-loving trophy wife.
The awesomeness of the seven-room Long Dell Inn B & B in Centerville, Mass. on Cape Cod extends beyond its perfection. The nature of that home run reflects the principles of the Inn Credible New England section of this website that determine if such a place hits one out of the park or is a swing and a miss.
Inn Credible Hosts
Innkeepers Marc and Donna are the rare breed that makes getting things right look easy, pass the test of vacation friends with flying colors, and manage to run the business together without tears or recriminations. Being there on their 15th wedding anniversary made things a little more special.
Former financial industry compliance guy Marc shares that the secret of the success of his partnership with former defense attorney with a heart of platinum Donna (who has a history of almost literally giving clients suits off of the back of Marc) is that each has individual areas of responsibility. Having their own on-site living space on the property is another cited basis for the personal and professional tranquility.
The story of how this couple comes to own this mid-century house with a roughly 120-year history of hosting guests is somewhat typical. A Goldilocks-style search for the right second-career after years of a bridge and/or tunnel commute from New Jersey to Manhattan ends with discovering this place that is just right for this couple and all those who discover it. This leads to the desired fairy tale endings.
Their hospitality begins with the telephone call inquiring about the inn. This includes ensuring that all dietary requirements and preferences will be met and that the breakfast that the rate includes will be to the liking of the guest. Marc bending over backward to please a particularly persnickety guest during our stay further illustrates this incredible service,
Finding what is behind the lime-green door on arriving reinforces the choice of hotel. Marc provides a brief welcome that includes an offer of the snacks and hot and cold beverages that are available 24/7. Fortunate guests get face time with shy puppy-mill rescue inn dog Lucky the coton de Tulear.
Marc next provides the best of both worlds that addresses the gripes of rookies who do not realize that virtually no B & B has someone to carry bags to your room. He politely insists on helping with the luggage and taking the heaviest items. He may rethink the latter offer after carrying the perpetually packed Inn Credible New England duffel. The "just in case" items in it include a power strip, snacks, toiletries, and surf shoes.
Inn Credible Rooms
The "just right" theme includes the Long Dell guestrooms. The nicest thing about the beachy chic Cape Cod vibe of the individually decorated rooms (all of which have private bathrooms) is that it lacks the cookie-cutter feel of large hotels. A personal peeve is staying in a room that looks as if it is as likely to be in any other city as the one in which you are staying.
On the other end of the spectrum, each room is so meticulously decorated yet homey, immaculate, and sunny that you need not fear the bait-and-switch that some B&Bs pull. Paying $200/night or more for a shabby broom closet when you have an expectation of a charming quaint room that does not require one person to jump on the bed to allow the other to pass (been there, done that) is worse than feeling that you are staying in the bedroom department of a mid-price furniture store.
The highly individualized art and other special touches by Donna in each room further enhance the warmth of the Long Dell.
Marc and Donna further provide the best of both world regarding bathroom amenities. Their desire to do their part for Mother Earth prompts having sparkling clean spa-quality body wash, shampoo, and conditioner dispensers. The cucumber body wash is a highlight.
This system supports the efforts of environmentally-conscious folks and allows the rest of us to avoid "please. sir, I want some more" moments. This relates to the desire to either rinse off the dust of the road or remove yeti-caliber stench on arriving at a hotel often requiring requesting a second bar of soap for the next morning. Of course, the aforementioned duffel bag has two bars of soap.
Inn Credible Happy Days
Having seen every room at the Long Dell allows ensuring readers that none of them remotely resemble a shabby broom closet. This includes the especially well-appointed Tradewinds Room, which was the reserved accommodation. Fortune smiled on us in the form of a last-minute cancellation for the coveted and particularly aptly named "The Nest." The following photos (which includes the oft-mentioned duffel) do not come close to doing this oasis justice.
The partner of your not-so-humble reviewer describing this suite (which includes a private deck) as an upscale Fonzie apartment nicely provides a sense of this room. The private entrance to this spacious option over two guestrooms in an addition at the back of the inn is one of many senses of isolation. Having a small refrigerator, counter-top microwave, and kitchen sink is further conducive to private relaxation.
This easily is the quietest room at a very peaceful property, and the sitting area is a great spot to relax after a busy day in the area.
Inn Credible Area
Speaking of the area, this Centerville property is centrally located to all that makes Cape Cod the destination choice of presidents who do not own golf resorts or family compounds. The general store and area-favorite Four Seas ice cream shop that are town highlights are a short walk away.
Large and sandy Craigsville Beach also is a fairly easy stroll, but driving facilitates bringing beach gear. A tip that Marc shares is that parking in the HUGE lot is free after the college kids who staff it go home in the late afternoon. The downside is that these scholars lock the bathrooms and the outdoor showers when they close up.
An amazing aspect of this is proving to this Northern New England boy that ocean water can be warm; this is adequately great to warrant the comment that the Pilgrims are dopes for not staying put on landing in Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod, rather than the almost universally accepted location of Plymouth. The note here is that the famed rock is not worth crossing the street to see.
The larger town of Osterville is roughly five minutes away. This is a haven for folks who enjoy boutique-style shopping. Those who are so inclined easily can go home with a stylish summer clothes, tasteful sea-themed decorations. nice drinking glasses, and gourmet cheese.
Fans of hamburgers are warned that the well-known Wimpy's restaurant in Osterville does not do especially well with that entree despite the eatery name indicating otherwise. They seem to do better with seafood. As in all things, the better bet is to heed the advice of Marc and dine at the mid-range flatbread restaurant Crisp.
The inn also is roughly a 15-minute drive to Kennedycentric Hyannis, which has a JFK museum next to the post office, The several blocks-long downtown has the basic restaurants. souvenir shops, and other businesses that one expects in a touristy beach town.
Inn Credible Advice
This trip reinforces the belief that personalized hotels generally outshine cookie-cutter properties. The ones, such as the Long Dell, that survives more than four years, are run by folks that know the business and value art over commerce. (The perspective this time was having to convince a hotel owner at a $175/night place to unlock a cabinet to take out a second fun-sized box of Rice Krispies.)
The best places feel like visiting relatives whom you like; in this case, Marc and Donna seem like the cousins who are the kids of the nice aunt. This also makes returning fun.
The third time truly was the charm at the Wentworth By The Sea Hotel on the small island of New Castle near genuinely historic (and New England trendy) Portsmouth New Hampshire. The only guilt related to taking all of the "just right" things from Baby Bear; the only flaw was not following personal advice regarding a fully rejuvenating trip there requiring at least five nights. The better news is that three nights at the hotel still does a great deal of good.
Two other highlights were wearing "indoor shoes" the whole time despite the snowy ground outside and the equally valued ability to charge items to the room allowing leaving my wallet in the room safe. These small luxuries greatly contributed to relaxing.
A year-old post on the first of three visits to the Wentworth provides a good sense of this hotel that dates back to 1874 but has reliable WiFi and several charging options in each room. A perfect example of both the service and the modern technology is the front desk providing a spare charger on your not-so-humble reviewer discovering that his no longer works. Being told to keep the charger was the icing on the cake.
Reading the aforementioned article provided memories of deja vu all over again in the form of severe winter storms being factors regarding both the desire to decompress at the hotel and travelling there between nor'easters. Fortunately, the weather behaved better than expected this year. Additionally, general manager Jason Bartlett and his fantastic crew (a.k.a. Argonauts) are magnificiently accommodating regarding weather-related reservation changes.
A relevant tale regarding the service and the weather is that the Wentworth was booked (and accordingly staffed) at 10-percent occupancy when one of the four-easters this March caused wide-spread power outages that led to last-minute 100-percent occupancy. On asking Bartlett in an interview for this article if he both cleaned rooms and worked at the front desk that night, he stated that he did not do either. He then praised his staff for meeting the challenge as he was confident that they would.
The sense of "been there, done that" also exists regarding the praise for the King Suite in the 2017 article. Repetitive thoughts regarding the comfort and modern luxury in that accommodation reinforce that it is the perfect spot to recover from anxiety related to weather and the many other ills of life. One difference is that the most recent watched Disney Channel fare was "Bizaardvark," rather than "Liv and Maddie."
The following photo of the suite living room provides a good sense of the Utopia there and of the joy of making the space your own. (Alas, the well-written rare book on the history of the Wentworth is a personal item; the better news is that there is SOME hope that the hotel will reprint it and make it available to guests.)
As spectacular as the suite is, going for a misleadingly named standard room only sacrifices the living room. You still get the posh and very comfortable bedroom and high-end bathroom.
An endorsement of the bed is the stay at the hotel being the first time sleeping through the night since an August 2017 visit to the Wentworth. Sadly, the king mattress and soft bedding are too large to smuggle out in a suitcase.
Salt of the Earth
The desire to follow the "I ain't goin' nowhere" pledge of the current trip contributed to eating every breakfast and dinner in the Salt Restaurant off the Wentworth lobby. The perfection regarding every aspect of every meal hardly made this a sacrifice. This reflects the pride and the work of restaurant manager Joshua, who wears the awarded hotel pin that recognizes his exceptionalness as an actual badge of honor.
The beef tenderloin with the whipped potatoes and the charred broccolini was so tender and perfectly seasoned to require getting it two of the three nights. The four-cheese tortellini with guzzle-worthy cream sauce the third night was equally good and only slightly less decadent. The wood-fired pizzas are planned meals for the next visit.
Fortunately, the ideal temperature and chlorine-level pool allows swimming enough to work off these gourmet feasts.
The below photos show various seating areas in Salt. The snowy weather made the window tables with the club chairs and the fireside space equally desirable. The domed ceiling is original to the hotel and allows the same form of eavesdropping as the Capitol dome.
Time in the hotel spa was a significant part of the plan and did not disappoint. This facility has the low lighting, soothing music, and subtly scented air that make these places great. There also are well-appointed locker rooms (complete with dry-heat saunas) that more than meet your needs in transitioning between this safe space and the real world.
Scott the masseur exceeded expectations regarding the two massages during this stay; he provided the ideal pressure and literally hit all the right buttons regarding tension points.
As nice as the current spa is, Bartlett shared that it is going to improve in the near future. He stated that the spa is going to be expanded regarding both space and services and further sound-proofed. Thought not promised, one can only hope for Jacuzzis and steam rooms in the locker rooms.
The Captain Speaks
Visiting with Bartett and touring the two-story suites that occupy the three observation towers was another highlight. The frosting this time was Bartlett stating with his gracious smile that I would need to try one of those accommodations sometime. This graciousness further proves that he makes head honcho Peter McDermott in the (reviewed) ABC soapy "Love Boat" style anthology drama "Hotel" look like the manager of a hot-sheets motel.
The manner in which Bartlett responds to Trip Advisor reviews is a general manifestation of his good work. He writes specific responses to every five and one-star review, and NEVER turns criticism onto the guests as is the case regarding many counterparts at other properties.
He further noted that he and his staff "make every effort to accommodate guests' needs" and that they "try to be fluid." The final highly reasonable note on this subject was that "if a guest is genuine, we do what we can." An element of this is a guest being much less prone to get angry when something goes awry if the service provider is pleasant and friendly from the first interaction. This clearly is so at the Wentworth.
This discussion of hospitality included asking about the Wentworth getting a hotel dog; Bartlett responded that there were no plans to do so but that his dog might fill that role if he adopted one. He added that dogs up to 35 pounds were welcome but required paying a $75 fee. There are additional thoughts of creating a package of treats for canine guests.
A funny coincidence was meeting Bear the Schipperke as he was checking in that evening. We quickly established who was a good boy and who wanted a belly rub.
Wentworth history that is relevant to the talk with Bartlett is that current owner Ocean Properties purchased the (then dilapidated) property in the late '90s and completed a massive three-year restoration. Current Properties Director of Operations Tom Varley was the first GM. Although this hotel is a Marriott franchise, that corporation did not invest one cent in enhancing it beyond its former glory.
The Marriott role also relates to the reply of Bartlett when asked to provide general information about his most challenging guest. He replied that visitors with Marriott elite status "expect a lot" and sometimes negatively commented about the closet size and other aspects of the room. He added in a very friendly manner that "we are not a cookie-cutter Marriott."
The above comment reflects a strong preference of your not-so-humble reviewer. Historic hotels and B and Bs are favored because they are not cookie-cutter properties. Many Unreal TV hotel reviews refer to an episode of an ABC '90s "Seinfeld" clone with a forgotten name in which an ongoing joke is that the quartet of misfits discover on visiting several hotels in a chain that they are the same down to the staff and the guests. A personal pet peeve is staying in a hotel that could be in any city.
Additionally, I brought at least five days' worth of clothing in two large suitcases and two large tote bags on the recent trip to the Wentworth; the several folks who offered help with this load included the housekeeping inspector who saw me outside my suite.
I did not even fill half the closet, that closet had more than enough room for my luggage, and the dresser had a great deal of empty space. (Darn you "Modern Family" for making me notice the whisper-quiet gliding drawers.) On top of that, most of toiletries fit in the bathroom drawers; the counter space was ample for the rest of it.
The final individual note regarding Marriott v. Wentworth relates to general customer service. Sheer stupidity by a third party ultimately led to accidentally debiting credit in one loyalty program and crediting my Marriott loyalty program with 70,000 points. The resolution included a statement that those Marriott points were mine to use.
A very aggravating subsequent effort to utilize the points resulted in learning that Marriott allowed them to essentially be stolen. Marriott refused to do anything to make this right. Bartlett personally strongly advocated for me.
Now returning to our primary topic, Bartlett managed the Properties-owned Sable Oaks complex before coming to the Wentworth roughly one year ago,. That resort near Portland, Maine has two hotels and a gold course. Proving himself in that role earned him the privilege of stepping in when the former manager resigned.
The aforementioned book on the Wentworth prompted asking Bartlett about his background. That tome noted that the strong appeal of the hotel included its history of having owners and managers that either were raised in the hospitality industry or had a natural talent for it. Current guests get the twofer of Bartlett having uncles in the "business" and his belief that "ultimately hospitality is just in my blood." He added that he "loves working with and talking to people."
Bartlett further enforced the vibe associated with the Wentworth in stating that the owners maintain the historic integrity of the hotel while "seamlessly incorporating modern style and amenities."
Shared enhancement plans in addition to expanding the spa largely focused on the summer season. Bartlett stated that the hotel planned to offer croquet and other family-oriented outdoor activity. This is in addition to plans to build a fire pit and otherwise increase the amenities at the marina suites.
As this lengthy article indicates, the Wentworth literally and figuratively is a personal "go to" place for breaks from the real world. Part of this reasoning is that visiting there avoids the high price and sense of being a prisoner getting processed in the big house associated with flying these days.
It also is nice to have flexibility associated with not having to catch a flight. On top of this, you can bring a great deal of luggage without paying a high fee for the privilege of waiting 30 minutes for it to show up battered and bruised while you get jostled at baggage claim.
The most apt way to wind up all this is a highly relevant happy note by Bartlett. He states that he "wants guests to leave happy, and want to return, and want to spread the word."
[EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is a perfect inaugural post for the Inn Credible New England section of Unreal TV 2.0. The experience at the Exeter Inn reflects the benefits of unique hotels that these articles share. Vintage posts of this type from Unreal TV 1.0 will make their way here by the end of August 2018.]
Returning to the Exeter Inn in Exeter, New Hampshire for a birthday celebration a month after a (reviewed) spectacular stay shows that you can go home again if the homies treat you like visiting dignitaries. A related takeaway is that the benefits of boutique hotels over cookie-cutter monstrosities greatly improves the odds that the staff will exceed expectations regarding putting right what once went wrong.
An amusing aspect of this is that it evokes thoughts of hotels beginning responses to negative Trip Advisor reviews with the phrase "This does not reflect our usual level of service" as frequently as letters published in a particular magazine start with "I never thought that this would happen to me." In the case of the Exeter Inn,, this statement is very credible regarding the "hiccups" that occur even in the best of places.
Readers are requested to please refer to the prior post on the Exeter Inn to learn more specifics regarding the awesome accommodations.
The overall vibe of staying in this 1932 Georgian mansion on the edge of the campus of Philips Exeter Academy is of a weekend stay at Downton Abbey absent valet service and any drama or trauma.
The emotional rescue that led to wonderful satisfaction commenced with the failure of an ill-advised last-minute effort to book a night in Bush country in coastal Maine prompting the wildly successful Plan B of staying at the Exeter Inn. Although the greatly loved Jacuzzi Suite from the prior stay was booked, the "downgrade" to the Queen Suite did not diminish the enjoyment of the visit beyond lacking a tub in which to remove Yeti-caliber stench. (The shower was a great substitute.)
The tradition continued with watching Disney Channel fare despite checking in hours before Trump was scheduled to announce his choice to take over for Tony Kennedy. The benefits of Disney while travelling are that you can watch amusing tweencoms and only be subject to advertising in the form of promos for the fare on that network. The watched shows this time were "Jessie" and the "Jessie" spin-off "Bunk'd."
The exasperation to which the title of this post refers begins with arriving at 1:30 despite a known 3:00 check-in time; arriving early always creates a possibility of not getting in the room. That alone being the case was not bothersome.
Learning that the guest from the night before had told (rather than asked) the front desk that they were leaving at 2:00 p.m. (despite 11:00 being the check-out time) was annoying mostly because it created the possibility that they would prolong their stay beyond that.
Director of Rooms extraordinaire Julie St. Pierre was staffing the front desk and had the good grace to smile when asked "is there some point that you tell them to get the Hell out of there?" Her response was "We won't phrase it that way, but yeah." She also offered us vouchers for drinks at the bar.
There was really neither harm nor foul because I and my highly significant other merely put our luggage in the back office and leisurely walked the 1/2 mile to the business district. Julie had my cell number and promised to text as soon as the room was ready.
Although the 11th hour had passed with the squatters still occupying the suite, we got to check in at the allotted time. The added insult to this injury was that the room hogs now COMPLETELY commandeered the lobby area by bringing over relatives staying at other properties.
The suite had been cleaned well but several details that otherwise would have been caught were overlooked. These included finding a clothes hanger on a curtain rod, only having one wash cloth in the bathroom, and not everything being replenished. The self-help portion of the solution included raiding the hotel linen closet. The rest consisted of asking very responsive evening desk clerk Cindy to please have the fabulous turndown service (including tasty evening treats) include the items that needed attention.
An amusing aspect of this was returning from a tasty dinner in nearby Portsmouth, New Hampshire to find a pile of towels and a comic amount of amenities. The funniest part of this was that a couple of items still were missing. Cindy was unduly apologetic and equally responsive on learning of this,
Before moving on to the "ecstasy" portion of this article, it is CRUCIAL to remember that the inn has ABSOLUTELY no fault regarding the unfortunate aspects of an overall wonderful stay at a place that will be the destination of many future trips, Very few circumstances allow for booting paying guests from a room, Further, the housekeepers were being forced to stay late after several hours cleaning on a 90+ degree day. This was on top of knowing that guests were waiting for the suite.
I further learned that the housekeeping supervisor (who had started her day early that morning) was the only person doing turndown service that night. The bigger picture is that not having drinking glasses in a hotel room falls well within the category of (insert your own adjective here) people problems.
The ecstasy began with the aforementioned post-dinner return to a room well stocked with towels and small bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel. This led to "Big City Greens" on the Disney Channel and a restful night that would not have occurred but for the grand hospitality.
The real kicker came the next morning on stopping by the desk to share plans of checking out at 9:30. The response was an invitation to have breakfast courtesy of the hotel. The reply to that was a smile and a revised announcement of a 10:30 departure.
Further ecstasy came on enjoying freshly squeezed orange juice and a very tasty $8 Belgian waffle with REAL maple syrup and a side of crispy bacon at the Epoch restaurant that otherwise would have been missed out on. Better amusement came on playing "I Love Lucy" while sitting in the banquette in the classic style dining room. Commenting that "I hear that William Holden always come here" was especially fun.
The bigger picture this time is the truth of two cliches that hold true for any business. Being nice before a challenging situation arises prevents tears and recriminations that include words that you never heard in the Bible. The related principle is that the trademark of a good company is not so much that nothing ever goes wrong but that they quickly go above-and-beyond in response to an unhappy customer. Experiences both with a large chain operated by a self-declared saint and with other small hotels in northern New England show that they could learn a great deal from the Exeter Inn.
An incredible recent stay at the historic Exeter Inn in Exeter, NH was the highlight to 24 hours in that underrated small town near the New Hampshire coast that mega-watts outshines its higher profile "cousin" just across the Massachusetts border. A luxury hotel, a good walking downtown, and awesome restaurants. Who could ask for anything more?
The 1932 grand hotel has expanded well beyond its roots as a temporary home to visitors of the adjoining Philips Exeter Academy. One of many ways that the recent extensive renovation by the current owners melds the old and the new is keeping the original numbers on the doors while identifying each room with modern markers. Further, a key-card system keeps things current.
The warm welcome begins with Rich or one of his front-desk colleagues greeting you with a smile in a reception area that is much more inviting living room than check-in spot. You can count on beverages all day and tasty baked treats in the afternoon and evening. Arriving on a day that the inn was serving world-class chocolate chip cookies was a treat.
Rich and his peers prove the validity of the theory that good hotel workers either grow up in that demanding profession or are born to it. He demonstrated this in his response to a request to purchase an Exeter Inn t-shirt after discovering a failure to pack a t-shirt.
This front desk clerk extraordinaire cheerfully stated that the inn does not sell t-shirts but that the Exeter Academy bookstore stocks those garments. He then gave perfect directions to that establishment.
The good experience began with finding a $10 t-shirt. That shirt advertising "Philips Exeter 2018" provided the basis for a good fantasy regarding both intelligence and youth.
The biggest treat was staying in the Jacuzzi Suite, which is the best room in the joint. The initial benefit is the suite being at the end of a private hallway at the rear of the inn. It is difficult to image hearing any noise from any guest.
Walking into the suite elicits the desired wow. The living room is the epitome of comfortable chic that is PERFECT for the end of the active day that is part of the Exeter experience. The complimentary bottles of spring water are a particularly nice touch.
The agenda of your not-so-humble reviewer commenced with a trip to the larger seaside city of Portsmouth NH, being granted the gift of an early check-in at the Inn, quickly walking into the retail district for a tasty lunch at The Green Bean (which has genuine Cali cred. and even better chocolate chip cookies than those at the Inn), playing with new French bulldog friends Ripley, Greta, and Harlow at a downtown toy store, exploring the other stores, browsing the farmers' market, and finishing with a self-guided tour of the perfectly-maintained beautiful college-level Philips campus. The hospitality there rivaled that of the folks at the inn.
The enjoyment (and removal of personal Yeti-class stench on this warm summer day) of the suite began with a long soak in the tub that gives the accommodation its name. Past experience with such places led to bringing well-utilized bath salts. This led to rinsing off in the large stall shower with the powerful shower head.
Donning the provided comfy spa robe and slippers while following the tradition of watching the Disney Channel on these trips completed the mellowing out. The logic behind Disney is that the tweencoms are amusing, and the ads and cute promos for Disney offerings are more entertaining than traditional commercials.
A leisurely stroll through the quiet residential streets that surround the inn, an evening soak, and then watching "Bewitched" episodes on a portable DVD player was a perfect end to a highly enjoyable day. Plenty of nightlife is readily available for more ambitious folks.
A good night's sleep was a final treat before heading out the next morning.
Anyone who is interested in hearing more about the Exeter Inn specifically or the general joys of staying at B&Bs and small hotels is strongly encouraged to email me; you also can connect on Twitter via @tvvdguy.
Feeling incredibly achy and tense in the wake of Super Storm Stella and of not getting an annual February thaw-out trip recently drove your not-so-humble reviewer to an overnight stay at the uber-fantabulous Wentworth by the Sea hotel just outside Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The true blessing and the curse of staying there is that one night never is enough.
This grand hotel, which dates back to 1874, is a prime example of expertly renovated resorts of the era that include the Mount Washington Hotel in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It evokes equally strong thoughts of the Stanley Hotel in Colorado that is the inspiration for the Stephen King horror novel, film, and mini-series "The Shining."
This vibe provided a sort-of-a-homecoming in the form of thoughts related to a college-era summer working at the Mount Washington and living in the staff housing on the top floor of the hotel. The Mount Washington currently uses that space for storage, and the Wentworth converted the comparable area into guest accommodations.
The Wentworth staff provided the proverbial friendly and courteous service that enhances stays such as this. Front Office Manager Kathleen deserves special praise for her mad hotel skills that rival those of ideal hospitality industry executive Christine Francis of the '80s Aaron Spelling anthology drama series "Hotel."
The facade of the Wentworth and the elegant classic-style hallways prompted copious "Shining" jokes. Favorites included reporting guilt regarding declining the offer of identically dressed twin girls to play and complaining about a young boy riding his Big Wheel up and down the corridor.
The following photo of the hall allows you to judge the accuracy of the above statement.
The aforementioned style of the Wentworth is one-half of the conclusion that it is a mullet hotel in that it has pristine vintage elegance in the public areas and is upscale spatastic in both the guest rooms and the actual spa that is a perfect example of the restorative centers that many luxury resorts offer as a means to keep their doors open.
Although a tight schedule prevented enjoying spa services, two swims in the pool pictured below were nice substitutes. The water being the perfect temperature and the chlorine level being equally wonderful made these extended exercise sessions (followed by a soak in the whirlpool) special.
The professionals to whom a former roommate referred to as interior desecrators did an awesome job extending the luxury spa facet of the hotel to the guest accommodations. Entering a Grand King Suite, which features fully separate living room and bedroom areas with identically spatabulous bathrooms off of each, impresses luxury-travel veterans and should floor folks who typically patronize mid-range lodging facilities.
The image below is of the living room with a working gas fireplace and a marble bar area with real highball glasses and a stainless-steel mini-fridge. Relaxing there with episodes of the Disney Channel teencom "Liv and Maddie"after a tasty brick-oven pizza dinner in Portsmouth was a perfect end of a memorable day.
The equally desirable bedroom pictured below had the same "just right" Goldilocks quality as the rest of the suite. The good folks at the Wentworth magically found a mattress that was neither too firm nor too soft. That, along with the spa decor of the room, provided my best sleep in a long time; the aforementioned aches and tension were gone the next morning.
The massage rainfall shower head in the marble shower was another treat that allowed feeling rejuvenated at the end of bathing. An amusing element of this was initially being unhappy with the mid-sized towels hanging by the shower. They were larger than a typical hand towel and quite a bit smaller than an average bath towel but did the job. Finding good-sized bath towels in the cabinet under the sink solved the mystery and enhanced a second shower later in the stay.
The only negative aspect of the visit was being so comfortable in the spa-quality robe that almost ended up in my suitcase that I did not want to leave. Missing my kitty and being concerned about reports of an impending snow storm were the primary motives were checking out of the first (but not the last) stay at the Wentworth.