Sunday, December 3, 2017

Trip Report: Hawaiian Airlines - Honolulu to Maui (November 2017)

Trip Report: Hawaiian Airlines - Honolulu to Maui
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

We were going to be flying from Honolulu to Maui and at the time we were looking, there were a couple of options: Hawaiian Airlines, Island Air, or Mokulele Airlines.  Mokulele Airlines seemed like a smaller competitor and thus did not have a wide schedule therefore I was deciding between Island Air and Hawaiian.  Both seemed to offer low fares and a decent on-board product for inter-island flights; the only difference was the price.  Island Air flights were generally less expensive, while Hawaiian's prices depended on sale and how far in advance you booked.  I had previously flown Hawaiian about 10 years so I wanted to try Island Air - about a week prior to me booking my ticket the news came out that Island Air had declared bankruptcy and was shutting down.  That left one option for inter-island flights; Hawaiian Airlines.  Hawaiian Airlines is the most established airline serving Hawaii and for their inter-island flights, they usually have sales which makes travel more affordable.  When I had first looked, the prices for the inter-island flight were very inexpensive and then when I went to book, the prices had gone up but it was still relatively inexpensive.  The airline's website was easy to use and navigate.  You could manage your booking and pre-select your seat assignments at no-cost.   I had downloaded the app and was able to check-in via app, including changing my seat assignment and paying for my bags.  While the app was a bit slow at times, it was helpful in providing a lot of functions.  
As we were already checked-in, locals say we just had to be at the airport an hour prior to departure.  A couple of years ago, Hawaiian got rid of most of their check-in staff and replaced them with self check-in and self bag-tagging machines.  I am not a fan of the machines because 1) the machines do not allow any wriggle room in terms of luggage and 2) the tags need to be placed exactly as described otherwise they will not scan (and that has been a pain in the past).  There are staff roaming around to assist, and with their assistance we managed to check-in our bags.  We already had the boarding passes on our phone, so with that we proceeded through security and to the gate.When we had arrived at the gate, the plane had not arrived from Maui.  The Honolulu to Maui air bridge is a very popular route.  Our flight was scheduled to take off at 6:48p and around 6:15p the inbound aircraft pulled into the gate.  The passengers disembarked and we boarded via groups.  It was a quick and easy boarding process as the plane was only half full.  The flight time between Honolulu and Maui is 40 minutes and the flight was operated by a Boeing 717.  This plane has a 2-3 seat layout.  Hawaiian provides complimentary seat selection, but charges for extra legroom as well as for checked luggage.  The plane's interiors looked updated and the seats also looked updated.  They were comfortable enough and provided decent legroom for the short flight.  The seats were already in a recline and could not be reclined further.  There was a small tray table in front of you, enough for a drink.  The seat pocket below had the airline's magazine and safety card.  Overall, it was a nice and decent product given the short distance (compare this to other American carriers which probably would've operated a small E-190 with no room for this flight).Once we boarded and pushed back from the gate, a manual safety demonstration took place and we were ready for take-off.  Once we pass 10,000 feet, the attendants got up to start their inflight service.  Hawaiian is one of the few remaining carriers that still provides complimentary drinks and meals on long-haul flights; given the short flight time I was not expecting much in terms of in-flight service.  The inflight service consisted of attendants passing out mini cups of juice or water from cardboard boxes.  There were three flight attendants on board, one for first class and two for economy.  After the juices were passed out, Hawaiian also passed out complimentary maps of Maui that they had printed.  It was a nice promotional gesture and a nice friendly touch.Given the short flight time, as soon as the maps were handed out and the trash collected, we were already starting our descent into Maui.  Overall, it was a nice and comfortable experience about Hawaiian.  The fares were relatively inexpensive and for the price you got a decent seat and decent service.  I have paid a lot more and gotten a lot less on many other American carriers so it's nice to see that some carriers still provide decent service.  I am still not a fan of self-tagging the bag but other than that, a nice flight on Hawaiian Airlines.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Trip Report: Etihad Airways, New York to Abu Dhabi; Abu Dhabi to Dallas (July, August 2017)

Trip Report: Etihad Airways
New York to Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi to Dallas
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

Recently, Etihad announced it was cancelling its Abu Dhabi to Dallas flights.  Earlier this year, in late summer, I had the opportunity to fly this route.  My entire Etihad entire included New York to Abu Dhabi on the outbound, and Abu Dhabi to Dallas on the return.  The outbound sector was operated by an Airbus A380 while the return was operated by an Boeing 777.  I have flown Etihad before (ADD LINK HERE) and it has not been a good experience.  If possible, I try to avoid flying Etihad but unfortunately work had booked my travel so I did not have an option.  My Etihad travel was booked on Etihad but with partner airlines - JetBlue on the outbound and American Airlines on the return.

With a flight time of 12h45m, flying on the Airbus A380 is more pleasant vs the Boeing 777.  The flight was scheduled to depart New York at 3pm and arrive Abu Dhabi the next day at 12pm.  I had arrived to the gate and there was a lot of commotion - the number of passengers greatly outnumbered the number of airline staff; in fact there seem to be only 3-5 staff working on a full A380 flight.  The boarding pass stated that boarding would start around 2pm but boarding did not start until 2:30p.  Passengers were boarded by groups, and when I went to the front of line I was told I needed to get out of line and go into a separate line to confirm my boarding pass.  Those passengers who were connecting to Etihad from another airline, and there were many of us, needed to get our boarding pass reverified.  I understand this - what I do not understand is why this announcement was not made earlier (as other airlines have done) when the passengers were waiting for boarding.  Also, if the airline knew many passengers were connecting why not have more than one staff person to verify everyone's boarding pass.  It was extremely chaotic, disorganized, and not a pleasant way to start the flight.

I finally boarded and got to my seat.  Etihad does allow complimentary selection of seats (something which Emirates now charges for) so I was able to pre-select an aisle seat.  Because of the size of the plane, generally the seats on the A380 are bigger and better as compared to other airplanes; this was no different.  The seat size was definitely bigger and it was nice given the long flight time.  Each seat contained a pillow and a blanket, both of which were needed as the seat was not comfortable.  The seats pitch was generally decent, especially given the long flight time, however the seat comfort was almost nonexistent.  I used both the pillow and the blanket to add cushion to the seat as the seat felt as if it had no cushion, especially towards the end of the flight.  The blanket came in a packet which also included the headphones and the amenity kit - the amenity kit included eyeshades, tooth brush and paste, earplugs and socks.   Additional amenities of the seat included a decent size touch-screen PTV with USB port and headphone jack and a controller, a seat pocket, and a tray table.       

Boarding completed, we taxied to the runway and took off.  Etihad has a policy that it does not turn on the entertainment system until you pass 10,000ft on the departure, and turns it off when you get lower than 10,000ft on the return.  This policy may have a reason, but what ends up happening is that passengers have nothing to entertain them so they notice all the commotion and delays.  On other airlines, such as Emirates, the entertainment system is available as soon as sit in the seat until you depart - this policy is so much more customer-friendly.

In my experience, Etihad is not known for their exceptional service such as Singapore or Emirates.  I have found Etihad's service to be lacking in the past, but this time it was decent.  The service wasn't great, but it was better than previous experiences.  A little after take-off the first meal was served - lunch - along with complimentary drinks.  The meal was light but decent - not a lot of food but a decent amount.  After the service was completed the meal trays cleared, the cabin was dimmed for passengers to rest.  Water was available in the galleys for passengers to help themselves, along with some crackers.  In other airlines, staff usually walk around with water or just to check-on the passengers; this has not been the case in the past with Etihad and it was not the case here.  The staff rarely came through the galleys while passengers were sleeping.  Midway through the flight, they did come through with a light snack and another meal closer to landing.  The meal closer to landing was basically a big snack; it was larger than the mid-snack but smaller than the departure meal.  Again, as we passed 10,000ft on our landing the entertainment system was shut off - it's an inconvenience to passengers.

We landed and our proceeded to our gate.  About a month later, I took my return flight.  This flight was from Abu Dhabi to Dallas and was operated by a Boeing 777.  It's odd that for the 12hr flight Etihad would use the A380 but for the 16hr flight they would use the 777.  I guess it has to do with load factors (update: Etihad cancelled the Abu Dhabi to Dallas flight - they said that their partnership with American was one of the reasons to bring the flight to Dallas and since American ended that partnership it seemed fitting to end their service).  The return flight was operated by a Boeing 777, with a flight time of 16h30m, and was scheduled to depart Abu Dhabi at 9am and arrive Dallas at 4:15pm.  A lot of Etihad's American flights were departing around the same time and from gates right next to each other - it created for some confusion as people for one flight were getting confused by announcements to other flights.

Boarding commenced and we were able to board the plane.  The plane is laid out in a 3-4-3 configuration making it very dense.  The legroom was decent, but the plane felt smaller as compared to the A380.  Amenities on the seat included a blanket, a pillow, an amenity kit with eye shades, socks, and a tootbrush/toothpaste.  The seat contained a PTV with a USB port and headphone jack along with a tray table, and a seatback pocket which contained the airline magazine, safety card, and duty free magazine.  While the seat amenities were nice, the seat comfort was not.  Given the length of flying time, you would think the seat would have more cushion, but unfortunately it did not so you felt the seat during the flight.  Service on the flight was similar to the outbound - a meal after takeoff, a midflight snack in between, and a light meal before landing.  Again, portions were on the smaller side but decent and flavors again were average (I've had bigger and more flavorful meals as well as smaller and not as flavorful meals).  

What was the major disappointment as the entertainment system - Etihad's 'e-box' does not contain enough material to cover two long-haul flights.  My previous experience with them was similar in that they provided an average on-board product, poor customer service, and poor entertainment options.  Nothing seems to have changed in the 5 years I have been flying with them.  Change needs to happen to ensure the airline not only competes with, but wins against its competitors.   

Monday, November 13, 2017

Trip Report: United Airlines - New Orleans to Ottawa via Newark (October 2017)

Trip Report: United Airlines, New Orleans to Ottawa
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

United has been offering lower fares recently.  I need to fly to Canada for work and when I looked online, United was offering the best options both in terms of flight times and prices.  When I have previously flown to Canada, I like to fly Air Canada to try their product; however, this time Air Canada's prices were significantly higher so I booked United.  My route was New Orleans to Ottawa via Newark (and same on the return).  New Orleans to Newark was operated by an Airbus A320 while Newark to Ottawa was operated by an Embraer 190.  

It is very easy to manage your booking through the United app.  Through the app, you can view your booking, change your seat assignments, access boarding passes, see gate numbers, gate changes, flight status, as well as access the on-board entertainment.  It really is a useful app to have if you are flying with United.  With the app I checked in online and received my boarding passes.  My flight was scheduled to depart New Orleans at 3:50p and arrive into Newark at 7:50pm.  The flight had arrived from another destination, and after a quick turnaround we started boarding.  Boarding happened by groups, and within 30 minutes the plane had been boarded.  

The operating aircraft for the almost 3hr flight was an Airbus A320 with a 3-3 seat layout.  The legroom was surprisingly very good, I am tall at 6'1 and the legroom was good enough for me.  My knees were not hitting neither the seat in front of me nor myself.  The seat itself was pretty decent and comfortable enough for the 3hr flight (although I have been on this aircraft for longer flights, and after 3.5hrs the seat starts getting uncomfortable).  There was a small pocket in front of the seat that was empty.  The inflight magazine, safety card, and other information was stored in the pocket above the seat.  This is very convenient as this layout provides more legroom for passengers.  I also saw passengers use this nook as a holder for ipads and other electronic devices.  It was a quick taxi to the runway and we took off near our scheduled time.

About 15-20 minutes after reaching our cruising altitude, the inflight service continued.  Complimentary drinks were served along with complimentary pretzels.  Snack boxes were also available to purchase.  The drinks were provided in small cups, and this was the only inflight service for the entire 3 hours.  After providing drinks, the flight attendants never came by for another service - not even for water.  I understand trying to cut down on costs, but they could have at least come back down the aisle with water.  The rest of the flight was uneventful as it was up to the passenger to pass the time.  You can access free entertainment through United's app when you are connected to United Wifi.  Unfortunately the wifi was not working on this plane so you were not able to connect to the entertainment - there was no apology, just a statement that the wifi was not working.  We landed in Newark earlier than our time, but it took a while to taxi to our gate as there was another plane there.  We finally got to our gate and deplaned.

I had about one hour before my next plane departed, but I also had to switch from the C concourse where United is based to the A concourse where United Express is based as my next flight was on a small plane. The operating plane for my flight to Ottawa was a small Embraer plane in a 1-2 layout.  There was one seat on one side and two seats on the other side and neither of them had a lot of room.  The plane was also small in height - I am about 6'1 and my head was hitting the roof of the plane.  Luckily the flight time was only 1h20 minute so a lot of time was not spent in the plane.  Given the short flight time, as soon as we reached cruising altitude the inflight service commenced.  Complimentary drinks and snacks were provided.  It was a very short and uneventful flight - and that's good because it is not a comfortable plane to be on for a long period.  

Overall, it was a decent flight with United.  While United is a mainline carrier, their service resembles that of a low-cost carrier.  Before their ticket prices were very high and you did not get a lot for the ticket price, but now they seem to have lowered their prices in comparable to the service you receive.  You do not pay a lot of money and in return you do not get a lot of service - basic prices for basic services.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Stay Report: Best Western Plus - Downtown Suites (Ottawa, Canada - October 2017)

Stay Report: Best Western Plus Ottawa Downtown Suites
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

I was going to be in Ottawa for work, and the company put us up at the Best Western Plus Ottawa.  It is the first time I have ever stayed at a Best Western Plus so I was not sure what to expect.

The hotel is located on the edge of downtown near the Canadian Museum of Nature, and is a 15-20 minute walking distance to many areas.  When you enter the hotel lobby, in front is the large check-in desk while to left is a small sitting area.  Free water is provided in the lobby (which is a nice gesture).  Further into the hotel, after the check-in desks, is the sitting area and where the free breakfast is provided.  Continuing ahead are barstool desks which provide nice work spaces as they have electrical ports on the desks (a nice touch).  In this hallway are also where the elevators are located, access to the meeting rooms, as well as rooms on the first floor.  Check-in was relatively quick, I received my key as well as access code to the wifi, and took the elevators to my room.

I had never stayed at a Best Western nor Best Western Plus, so was not sure what to expect the room to look like.  When I entered, it looked like a standard hotel room.  You enter the room into a hallway.  On the left is the wall to the adjacent room, while on the right is the bathroom.  The bathroom had a tub, a toilet, and a sink with some counter space behind the toilet.  The bathroom was a decent size and it was stocked with lots of towels (another plus point).  

Continuing along the hallway, also on the right hand side was a kitchenette.  This contained a counter with a small sink and a coffee maker on the counter.  There were cabinets above the sink as well as a microwave, and below there were additional cabinets and a refrigerator.  Both amenities were nice to have, but it would also have been nice to have some forks, knives, and/or plates to go along.  

Further into the room, on the left was a chest with drawers on the bottom and a TV on top.  Continuing along the wall was a desk.  The desk was large enough to provide a good working space, and the desk contained the lan internet connection as well as outlets on the lap (which only worked when the lamp was on).  Next to the desk was the window which looked out onto the city. 

Against the other side of the wall were the two beds.  This room had two double beds with a nightstand in the middle.  The beds were high and provided a decent nights sleep; the only negative were that there lots of pillows on the bed (I counted 6 on one bed).  One bed was closer to the window while the second bed was closer to the bathroom.  The bed next to the bathroom had an outlet on the other side (which was convenient, but only one plug worked) and there was also access to the closet.  The closet was located in a nook behind the kitchenette.  It was an odd location because it faced the bed so really only one person would have access to the closet.  The closet contained a safe, an iron and ironing board.  Overall, the room was decent - not spacious and not cramped.  The decor was a bit outdated but looked nice enough.

Amenities in the hotel included a fitness center with a sauna (which I was told was very nice), meeting rooms, work spaces (which were a nice addition and which had power outlets), free wifi (which was decent but a bit inconsistent), and complimentary breakfast.  Breakfast was served in the lobby and there were a variety of mostly cold items.  There were some hot and fresh items available, but it was the standard complimentary breakfast (similar to what other major chains - HI Express, Hampton, etc - have provided).  

As I stated, it was my first experience at a Best Western.  Going into it, I was not sure what to expect and having stayed here I am not sure what the difference was.  The hotel was a standard hotel room with some additional amenities.  The additional amenities are welcomed by the guest and that makes for a decent stay.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Stay Report: Courtyard San Jose Escazu (Costa Rica - October 2017)

Stay Report: Courtyard San Jose Escazu (Costa Rica)
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

When looking for a place internationally, I am usually looking for a hotel that is centrally located either to the sights I want to see; located near public transportation; and/or located near other services such as food outlets and supermarkets.  When I was looking for places in San Jose, Escazu neighborhood stood out as a nice place and I found a good redemption for points deal with the Courtyard hotel so I booked that hotel.

The hotel is located on the side of a highway, right next to a mini plaza and walking distance to a major shopping area.  To get to the major shopping area, there is no sidewalk so you have to walk on the street with the cars – the hotel also provides a complimentary shuttle there but it costs $2 for the return.  I walked the walk a couple of times, and while not the safest thing to do, it was alight.

From the outside, the hotel looks modest and decent – not great and not brand new, but not too old.  You walk into the lobby with the check-in desk on the left hand side and the restaurant and bar on the right hand side.  Check-in was smooth, we received our key, and proceeded to the elevators.  The elevators are located behind the check-in desk in a corridor which also contains the entrance to the outdoor pool, the meeting rooms, a lounge area for the dining area, and the gym.  Both the gym and outdoor pool are relatively small, but decent enough for the smaller hotel.  We took the elevator to the 4th floor to our room.

The room itself was a standard Courtyard room, with a bit more room.  As you entered into the room, on the left was the bathroom.  It was a standard Marriott bathroom with a shower, a toilet, a sink, and a hair dryer.  Across from the bathroom was the closet which also contained the safe, an iron, and ironing board.  Right next to the closet was a small nook.  On top of the nook was the coffee maker and glasses, while below was the fridge.  As you moved further into the room, you entered the area for the beds.

On the left side were two double beds with a nightstand in the middle.  The beds were fairly comfortable, a nice size, and provided a decent night’s sleep.  Across from the bed was the chest of drawers with a TV on top and next to that was the desk.  On the side of the desk were additional plugs, and this was a nice touch as guests are always looking for additional plugs.  Across from the desk was a sitting chair that looked out onto the balcony.  The room came with a balcony which overlooked the outdoor pool.  The balcony also had patio chairs and a table.  Overall, it was a nice spacious room with the standard amenities.

The additional services at the hotel included a restaurant, a bar, an outdoor pool, a gym, a shuttle, as well as free wifi.  I utilized both the shuttle and the free wifi.  We took the shuttle to the main plaza, it was complimentary on the outbound but needed to be paid for the return.  The wifi was pretty good and strong enough to stream movies and check mail.

Overall, it was a standard stay at the Courtyard San Jose Escazu.  The only negative was the location – it was walking distance to the main plaza and to other restaurants and bars, but there were other hotels on the other side of the road (a 5-10 minute drive) which were more centrally located to the surrounding areas.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Trip Report: Copa Airlines - New Orleans to San Jose via Panama (October 2017)

Trip Report: Copa Airlines 
New Orleans to San Jose via Panama
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

I have flown Copa Airlines before, once in 2010 and then again in 2014; however, the airline recently started direct international service from New Orleans to Panama.  As a way to support the service from my hometown, as well as try Copa's product again, I booked Copa from New Orleans (MSY) to San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO) via Panama (PTY).  The service started in 2015 and runs 4 times a week.  The flight departs Panama at 6:30p and arrive into New Orleans at 10:30p with the return flight departing the next morning at 6:00a and arriving into Panama at 9:30a.  The flight is timed to maximize connections in Panama for onward travel.

Copa Airlines is based in Panama and has a fleet of Embraer as well as Boeing 737- 700
and 800's.  The flight time from New Orleans to Panama is 3hrs while the return is 3hrs and 30min.  When the flight for commenced, Copa was using their Boeing 737-700 for the flight but the flight has been downgraded to the Embraer 190.  My previous experience with Copa was mixed - nice amenities but inconsistent.  I also flew Copa when they were going from a transition, and have now identified who they are and what product they want to serve. 

Copa is full-service airline that provides complimentary meals on all flights, free 2-pieces of checked luggage, free seat assignment, and is a member of Star Alliance.  The only thing Copa does not offer is in flight entertainment - this is changing as their Boeing 737-800s now have seatback PTVs, but these are only being operated on long-haul flights.  You can book flights on Copa's website and you can also call the call center to book a flight.  It is not easy to manage your booking on the website, but you can select a seat and request special meals by calling.  Copa does have an app which I only found useful to store my information and access mobile boarding passes.  24-hours prior to departure, I was able to check-in and obtain my boarding pass.  You can change your seat assignment when you check-in, but you can only do this if you are using a laptop/desktop - you cannot modify your seats at check-in through the app.  

I had checked-in online, received my mobile boarding pass, and went to the airport to drop off my luggage.  The check-in line was very long, but the Copa representatives were very good and quick in assisting all passengers.  A Copa representative came through and asked those passengers who had checked-in online to bypass the line and be served first - this made check-in got a lot faster.  I received my luggage tag, went through security, and waited to board.  Copa likes to start boarding their planes about 1 hour in advance - for each of my flights the boarding started one hour prior to the flight.  We boarded by group numbers, and even though all passengers were on board, the plane door did not close until the posted boarding time (so I am not sure why the plane is boarded so early).  Boarding was done by group numbers and was quick and efficient.

The operating aircraft was an Embraer 190 with a 2-2 seat configuration.  The seat pitch was very good with lots of legroom, even in standard economy.  The seats were generally comfortable as well.  There were no PTVs either behind the seat nor any drop down screens; and Copa does not offer neither complimentary wifi nor any entertainment.  Boarding happened quickly, and though we were all seated, the boarding doors did not close until the stated departure time.  Manual safety demonstrations were done, and then it was a quick taxi to takeoff.  The flight was about 90% full, and even on the return the flight was about 90% full.  About 20 minutes after we reached cruising altitude, the attendants came down the alley with the service carts.  

Complimentary drinks, juice, tea, and coffee were served along with a complimentary meal.  Although not a huge size, the meal was decent enough to fill you up and contained a salad, bread, dressing, dessert, and the main meal.  Breakfast is served on the outbound while dinner is served on the return.  You could order as many drinks as you wanted, but the serving size was small.  The only negative of the service was that for the 3hr+ flight, this was the only time drinks were served.  It would've been better had copy come around with drinks again or even just with water.  Once the meal and drinks had been served, and meal trays cleared, the flight was uneventful.  It is left up to the passenger to pass the time as they see fit.

We landed in Panama early, all of our flights seemed to land early, but it took a while to taxi to the gate and wait for an open gate (this seemed to happen a lot in Panama - Copa's growth seems to have outpaced the capacity of Tocumen).  I originally had about 1.5 hour layover, but given the delay in taxing and the given how early Copa likes to board, I went directly to my gate (even though Tocumen is not that big and you can access food really easily).  My next flight was to San Jose, Costa Rica and this was operated by a new Boeing 737-700 with mood lighting and PTV's on each seat.  The PTVs had a decent selection of movies and TV shows, not great but decent enough to keep you occupied for at least 3-4 hours.  The flight time to San Jose was only 1hour, so due to the short duration the meal and drinks service commenced as soon as we reached cruising altitude.  On the return flight, the service was the same but the operating aircraft was different - this time it was an Embraer 190.

Overall, Copa is a decent airline.  They provide discount tickets which includes a complimentary meal, two free checked bags, free seat selection, a nice seat, and a comfortable experience.  They are not into a lot of frills and extra amenities, but have consistently provided a good service at low prices.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Stay Report: Hilton Sandestin Beach, Golf Resort & Spa (Destin, Florida - September 2017)

Stay Report: Hilton Sandestin Beach Resort & Spa
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

Destin, Florida is known to have some of the best beaches in the United States.  I was looking for a nice beach spot to spend a long weekend, and I had previously been to and enjoyed the Hilton Sandestin Beach Resort and Spa.  I had initially come here in 2013 and enjoyed it so much that I decided to come back in 2017.  My experience was the same for both occasions - overall really nice and spacious rooms with good amenities and decent service. 

In 2013, I had booked a junior suite as that was the only room that was available.  This time, I was booking two rooms so I booked two regular rooms.  The two rooms were booked together, on one reservation, so I had requested that they be connecting rooms.  We arrived late to the hotel, and by the time we had arrived all the connecting rooms were full - so instead we were given complimentary upgrades to junior suites.  The suites were on two different floors, but the the room was a bigger size than what we had booked.  We had arrived late to the hotel in 2017 because in 2013 when we arrive in the afternoon, there was a lot of rush so to avoid that we arrived later in the evening.   

We checked in, received the keys to our bigger room, and received our wristbands.  Each guests receives white wristbands which indicate they are hotel guests.  In addition to the room rate, the hotel charges a daily resort charge which includes "guest internet access; self parking; fitness center access; tram transport throughout resort; kids 10 and under eat free breakfast Sandcastles; exclusive shopping pass for Silver Sands/Grand Blvd; local/toll free calls"  The daily charge is $30, and that to me seems excessive for what they are charging as there are many items which we did not use.  In the amenities included in the resort fee, we only used the internet and self parking.  The good thing about Hilton is that the notice of the resort fee is plastered everywhere - when you are making reservation, when the reservation is confirmed, and when you check-in.  

We received our keys and went to the rooms.  Both junior suites had a similar layout.  As you walked into the room, on the left were two bunk beds each of which had a personal tv with them.  Past the bunk beds was the bathroom area which had a sink and mirror outside, a large closet - which had a safe in it as well as an iron and ironing board - and then a door to the bathroom with another sink, the toilet and the bathtub.  The bathroom itself looked like a standard Hilton bathroom, but the additional sink and mirror outside was nice.  

As you entered further into the room, along the right hand wall was the TV and chest with drawers.  Further along the right hand wall was the desk with chairs and outlets - the room had been updated to allow many outlets throughout the room (something that is lacking in other hotels).  The only negative was that the desk was positioned too close to the TV stand so the chair could not fit properly.   Along the left hand side was the two double beds with a large nightstand in the middle.  The beds were standard Hilton beds and were comfortable enough to provide a good nights sleep.  

Along the wall between the bed and the bathroom was a little nook.  On the top shelf of the nook was the coffee maker and microwave.  There were shelves below that as well as a fridge.  These additional amenities were very nice and very useful in the family suite, but the placement was odd as it was closer to the bed rather than the sitting area.  

Next to the second bed was a sitting area which had a really big sitting chair and couch that opened up to a sofa bed.  There was coffee table in front of the couch.  Sitting on the couch you could face out onto the balcony which overlooked either the ocean or the parking lot (depending on which tower and your view).  The balcony was also pretty big and could accommodate at least three individuals.  It was also nice and enjoy the ocean view while sitting on the balcony.

Most people come to the Hilton Sandestin for the beach, and the hotel does have direct beach access as well as a pool.  The beach is nice and clean, and there are lots of chairs but Hilton started charging $50 a day to rent the beach chairs (we did not pay any money in 2013).  If we are already paying for the room rental plus the resort fee, why are we paying additional money for the beach chairs - shouldn't those be included?  There are chairs available on the deck and the near the pool which are free.  The pool itself is somewhat small given the size of the resort - and there is both an indoor and outdoor pool (the indoor pool was mostly filled with little kids).    

The hotel had other amenities, some of which I tried in 2013 and some of which I have never tried.  In 2013 I tried both the gym and spa.  The gym was spacious and could accommodate many people, and the spa was decent and the hotel had hired many extra people to accommodate the rush.  Self parking was included in the resort fee and there were plenty of spaces.  

The service at the hotel was also decent.  The staff were polite and courteous.  There was a lot of guests and I am sure a lot of requests, but the staff never looked flustered nor agitated.  There were only a couple of complaints - 1) the charge for the beach chairs.  2) there is a lot of rush during checkout and thus it took almost 30 minutes for the elevators to arrive.  Some guests had said they saw the bell staff hold elevators as those who requested bell service got first priority.  3) some of the rooms were connecting and so there is a door between the two rooms.  The door is located across from the bathroom, and a lot of noise is transmitted between this door.  The hotel needs to do a better job of soundproofing.

Overall, I enjoyed both of my times at the Hilton Sandestin.  The room quality stayed the same as well as the access to the beach and pool.  What changed was the increase in charging for the extras and a small decrease in the customer service.  This is one of the best resorts in the area and seems to be holding up well.