Sunday, September 7, 2014

Hotel Reviews - Houston (part 1)

the good, the bad, & the 'what'! = Houston, TX!
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

Everything seems to be bigger in Texas, even the options of hotels.  I frequent Houston, Texas a lot and with each trip I have tried to find a hotel that I enjoy and want to return to.  When I try to find a hotel, I try to find one near the Galleria Shopping area but I have also ventured out and tried other area hotels.  Since I have stayed in so many hotels, I divided the posts into 2 sections - part 1 (this post) are the hotels outside of the Galleria area, while part 2 are the hotels within the Galleria area.  Below are my reviews for all, so hopefully you get to enjoy the good ones and avoid the bad ones

Houston Marriott North (near IAH Airport) - April 2015
for pictures and additional comments on this hotel, visit my tripadvisor page

We were flying in and out of Intercontinental Airport (IAH) so needed to find a hotel near the airport that also provided parking.  Previously I had stayed at the Hilton Houston North (review below) and their shuttle stops at the Houston Marriott North so this time I decided to try the Houston Marriott North.  Overall, its not a bad Marriott hotel but when comparing the Hilton and the Marriott, the Hilton provided a bigger room and better customer service.  Overall the Marriott provided a decent room and nice hotel amenities such as computers and printer services in the lobby, a really nice and expansive fitness center as well as a nice pool area. Some of the negatives include a smaller room - it seemed a bit compact - and not great customer service. 

When you enter the room, the bathroom is on your left hand side.  Further down is the room - we had one with two double beds - but the room seemed small for the furniture that was inside.  The room did not feel comfortable but rather felt cramped.  The beds were comfortable and the wifi was free and decent.  

In terms of customer service - there is nothing negative to say but then there is nothing positive to say.  I was not greeted as a Marriott Rewards customer nor was given information about the amenities of the hotel.  In addition, we wanted to stay beyond the check-out time.  Check-out time is 12pm with late check-out being 2p - we wanted to check out at 4pm or 6pm and was told that this would cost me 1/2 day rate of the rate I paid for the hotel --- let me just say that Starwood hotels provides a 4pm or later check-out for all its Starwood members so for Marriott to be this stingy is not a good business model.  No concessions were given as a Marriott Rewards member either.  Even if I did not have this experience, I still would have rated the customer service as average to poor as it was not good customer service.  

One major plus point was the fitness center which was massive and was very nice.  It also had free apples and water in the fitness center so this was a nice amenity.  The hotel also offers a laundry facility where guests can wash their clothes (although the facility looked a bit dated).  Overall, despite the comfortable beds and nice fitness center, I would rather choose to stay at the Hilton vs the Marriott.  For the same price and same level of security, you get a bigger room and better customer service. 

Element Houston Vintage Park - by Westin December 2014
for pictures and additional comments on this hotel, visit my tripadvisor page
The Element Houston Vintage Park is a hotel “inspired by Westin Hotels, bringing together an eco-friendly environment with overall wellness…where guest can enjoy free breakfast, an evening reception and free internet access”

I had to go near Intercontinental Airport in Houston and was looking for places to stay when I noticed the Element Houston Vintage Park.  I heard some news items about the Element – which is the eco-friendly studio brand from Westin.  Right now they have a few properties scattered around the world, with one in Houston so I thought it would be nice to try --- after my experience, I would definitely go and seek out an Element; it was an excellent stay.   The rooms were spacious and well-laid out, the beds were also spacious and comfortable, there was enough lighting in the rooms, the free wifi was fast and really responsive, and the free breakfast was pretty good.  All this in an eco-friendly atmosphere made the stay all the more relaxing.

There are only two negatives I would say about this hotel – and both have to do with the location.  The hotel is located in a newly developed area and there are shops and restaurants near the hotel, but they are about a 2-3 minute walking distance --- this is fine during the day but at night there are very few lights.  That was my second negative, which was the road to the entrance of the hotel is not lit at all – the hotel is located on a one-way so if you are coming from the opposite way you have to pass the hotel and go down into the undeveloped section to make a u-turn to get to the right side of the street on which the hotel’s entrance is on – and that section of the road has no lights and is completely dark during the night.  As I said, those are the only two negatives as the rest of the experience inside the hotel was positive.

Once you walk inside the hotel, on the right-hand side is the check-in counter.  Beyond the check-in counters was a little pantry to buy snacks and beyond that was the elevators.  Across from the check-in was the dining area where the free breakfast is served (the breakfast was decent. There were standard items available that you normally would get as well as some unique items like egg, spinach, and mushroom on a toasted English muffin – but I did expect healthier or organic options and those were limited).   As you walk straight, there is a lounge/sitting area or relaxing area where you can also enjoy the free wifi.  To the left of this lounge is the business center which has access to two computers and a printer (during my visit, only one computer worked and the printer was not working).  Beyond the business center is the meeting room.  On the other side of the lounge/sitting area was the fitness center – which was spacious and had a nice array of machines – and a path to the outside which had an outdoor pool as well as an outdoor sitting/bbq area. 

Check-in was smooth and efficient and I was given my keys as well as a detailed explanation of the hotel and its amenities (which was good since it was my first time staying at the hotel).  I took the elevator to my room and when I opened the door, I thoroughly enjoyed the room. I had requested a room with 2 double beds so this is how my room was laid out: As you open the door, on the left were big closets (in an ikea-style design) which also contained a safe.  On the right was the bathroom which was very large and had a waterfall-style shower or hand-held shower.  The bathroom also had a low-flow toilet, low-flow sink, as well as refillable pumps for the the amenities instead of individual size toiletries (maintaining the environmental aspect throughout the room).  As you walked further into the room, on the left was the kitchen which was again ikea-designed and was quite big.  There was a very big fridge, a microwave, a sink, a stove, dishes and glasses, and pots and pans.  There was also two barstools and a little area to sit and eat at the kitchen.  Across from the kitchen was a desk/console combined into one.  This separated the bedroom from the main area.  The desk/console was a full desk that was extended to include a TV as well as a converter to plug in various devices and shelves below the TV.
The beds were quite comfortable and spacious and there were plenty of outlets near the beds and throughout the room.  In addition to the two beds, there was also a sofa that was very comfortable and could also turn into a sofa-bed. 

Overall, it was a GREAT stay at the Element in a spacious room with comfortable beds.  The wifi was REALLY strong and fast both in the rooms and in the lobby.  It was a great stay in a place that is good for you and good for the environment.

Hilton Houston North (near IAH Airport) December 2014
for pictures and additional comments on this hotel, visit my tripadvisor page

We were flying in and out of Intercontinental Airport (IAH) so needed to find a nice, clean hotel that also provided easy access to the hotel.  We found a great hotel in the Hilton Houston North which provided great airport hotel (though not connected to the airport).  The Hilton Houston North is located about 15-20 minutes away from the airport and is situated between a business park and a mall. The property is very large, has ample parking with security around it, and is able to handle large crowds (many flight staff were staying at the hotel and many large holiday parties from the surrounding businesses were also taking place at the hotel)

Check-in was smooth and efficient and we went to the rooms. The rooms are spacious and looked modern and updated with new Hilton amenities. We had a room with 2 double beds and the room also contained a closet (with additional blanket and pillow), a chest with 3 drawers on which the TV stood, a desk, and a coffee stand. The bathroom had an updated sink and tub surroundings, but it had not been as updated as the main room so from this you could tell the hotel was a bit older (the bathroom was still large and pleasant and updated

Free wifi was available in the lobby while paid wifi (10.95 per device!) was available in the room. Downstairs did have a business center with 4 computers - 2 macs and 2 windows - which did provide access to internet and office documents and could easily print out materials.

We did not have time to access all the facilities, but the information said a pool was available (it was outside and had blue lights), a gym was also available and that they were connected to another fitness facility. 

The hotel also offered late night dining (when we arrived around 11pm - both a cafe and room service were still available) as well as a breakfast buffet. There is a Starbucks in the lobby, but it was closed the morning we were there (they needed the room to set up for a holiday party)

The hotel also provided shuttles --- there were LOTS of shuttles - that went between the Hilton, the Marriott, and the airport. The shuttles were plenty and ran often.

Overall, it is a nice and comfortable place to stay near IAH!

Hilton Houston Westchase - June 2014
for pictures and additional comments on this hotel, visit my tripadvisor page

We went to Houston to attend a family friends wedding, which was taken place at this hotel so we decided to stay here as well.  While we had booked in advance for the wedding, but I checked the HHonors app the day before we arrived and the same lower rate was available.   

The Hilton Houston Westchase is located down the street from the Galleria - Westheimer - but it is about a 15-20 minute drive from the Galleria.  From the outside, hotel looks like a tall office building with an attached restaurant and parking surrounding the building.  The parking is free and ample but some of the parking is a little shady so I would be careful about leaving valuables in the car.  The parking does fill up quickly, especially well-lit areas and those closest to the entrances.  The hotel is located next to a supermarket and easy access to many amenities and highways.  

Check-in was a breeze, the attendant gave us the key and explained everything that the hotel offered. We went to our room, which was located on the 5th floor and two doors away from the elevator (we were a little skeptical about the proximity to the elevator, but no noise from the elevator or gathering around it was heard).  

The room was nice and spacious with 2 double beds, a desk, a chair to relax on, nice windows to look out (only views of the parking lot), a chest, and a small closet. The bathroom was decent, but a little small. Both the rooms and the bathrooms had been updated with the new Hilton offerings, but the doors and other structures indicated the building itself was old.  The bed quality was very nice and the pillows were very nice, but the beds in the Hilton seemed smaller than the ones we got at the Doubletree (still bigger than what was in the Omni). It could easily fit two people, but there is just enough room to fit 2.

There is also a fitness center in the hotel -- and this is a pet peeve of mine with all hotels; they install fitness centers as an afterthought and think they can put a center in anywhere. The fitness center here was located on the first floor, en route from the elevator to the big conference room/meeting room. The fitness center is also located next to other rooms so there is a lot of traffic passing by the fitness center. The fitness center is somewhat small as well, as only three, maybe four, people could work out at the same time. 4 people or more and the place would feel very congested and cramped. Again it seems as if the hotel took out an existing room and replaced it with the fitness center. The amenities inside the fitness center included fruit (not the best looking, but not the worst looking either), water, and cold towels. 

Overall, the hotel was not very expensive and for that low price you got a pretty good hotel with free parking, free wifi, good customer service, and decent location -- there was many restaurants and supermarkets surrounding the area.  Overall, if you are looking for a decent hotel with an inexpensive price that's close to the galleria and close to the highway, than the Hilton Houston Westchase is not a bad deal. 

CrownePlaza - Northwest Brookhollow
Note: this review is based on a 2013 stay

We had evacuate to Houston to escape an oncoming hurricane.  We had originally booked the TownePlace Suites but did not like the hotel and immediately wanted to change (see review below).  The TownePlace Suites is located one side of Highway 290 in Northwest Houston and the Crowne Plaza is located on the other side of the other side (near where 290 and 610 meet).  What made us switch to the hotel were the rooms but mainly the customer service and attention to the customer that the hotel provided.

Area: The hotel area is not the best.  The hotel is located on the service road of Highway 290 so it provides convenient access. In between the hotel and the service road is a mini parking area to combat some of the highway noise (we could not hear any of the noise inside).  I say the hotel area is not the best because while on one side of the hotel are other hotels and restaurants, on the other side of the hotel there is not much so that does not provide a lot of curb appeal.  While the second side does not provide curb appeal, it does provide access to the Galleria via Voss/Bingle Road which connects from the Galleria area and Westheimer and runs all the way to right next to the hotel (so you get to avoid the highways and traffic).
The hotel does provide plenty of free parking.

Hotel:  As you enter the front doors, on the left are the check-in counters.  After we were checked in, we went to our room.  We were recognized as IHG Rewards members and were awarded a room on the club floor – this allotted for a bigger room, free wifi, as well as free breakfast and free cocktail hour (all of this was at a lower cost that the TownePlace Suites!)
As you entered the room, on the right was the bathroom while on the left was the closet.  In the main area were 2 double beds with a nightstand in between them.  Across from the beds was a chest with drawers on the bottom and TV on top.  Next to this was a desk.  Next to the desk was a fridge with a microwave on top of that.  There was a lot of items in the room, but in spite of that there was still a lot of space between the bed and the windows (the windows faced the highway – not the best view).  The room was very spacious but very comfortable at the same time.  The beds were also big and comfortable and could easily fit 2 people.  The bathroom was also very spacious and modern and provided all the amenities. 

Service:  the main thing which made this hotel stand out was the service and the customer-friendliness.  The entire staff, from the check-in attendants to the cocktail hour attendants, provided great customer service and made the guest feel warm and welcome.

On the outside, the hotel does not provide a lot but on the inside the hotel delivers a comfortable and spacious room with outstanding service – and it is the service that will keep it high on our list of favorite hotels.

Marriott - Sugarland Town Center October 2013
We stayed at this hotel for a wedding that was nearby and this hotel is Amazing. The hotel is located in a town square making the location perfect as there are restaurants and coffee shops nearby and you can do some walking around the town square for fresh air.  The hotel itself is extremely nice and the staff are very polite and courteous. We had many people from the wedding party stay at the hotel, and each one had praise and glowing things to say about the hotel.  The rooms were nice and big, and the beds were big and comfortable. The gym was extremely spacious, very modern, and had lots of options of machines and weights.  As the hotel is located in the town square, it does not have its own parking garage but shares it with the square; the parking is free and there were plenty of spaces in the multiple garages (valet was also available and efficient).  Overall, it was a 5-star hotel experience and the rates were very reasonable.

TownePlace Suites - Houston Central/Northwest Freeway
Note: this review is based on a 2012 stay
I live in the South and we get hurricanes; it's a part of life living down here.  Whenever one comes, normally we evacuate to Houston for a couple of days and then return home once the hurricane has moved on.  During the end of summer 2012, this is what happened – a hurricane was approaching so we left and evacuated to Houston.  As most other residents also evacuate to Houston, the hotels fill up very quickly (and some have been charged at raising their prices during this period); all to say finding a hotel during this period is hard to do.  I managed to find a hotel in Northwest Houston, but after I found it I wished I hadn’t --- it was not a pleasant day.
As I said we were evacuating and were trying to find a hotel – most hotels within the Galleria and city area were already booked so I decided to look a bit out of town.  I found the TownePlace Suites located in Northwest Houston – off of Highway 290 that leads to Austin.  I have passed this area many times so knew of the area and the abundant shops, restaurants, and hotels that surround the area.  Given all this, I booked one room with 2 double beds.  In terms of location, the hotel is located off the main highway and is centrally located to many shops, restaurants, and other hotels.  It is a very convenient location.  That was one of the only plus points.

The hotel is located on the side road of the highway, set aback behind the shops and restaurants.  From the outside, the hotel looked ok and the lobby looked decent enough.  As you enter the front door, on the left was the lobby and straight ahead was the elevators.  To the right of the entrance was the dining room and lounge where free breakfast was available.  After we were checked-in, we went to our room.  To get to the room, we took the elevators to the second floor (there are only two floors to the hotel) and walked across a walkway that was open and underneath was the lobby.  Since it was an open lobby and walkway, this meant that all the noise from downstairs could be heard and amplified upstairs (it was loud and unpleasant).  The room we received was located right next to the lobby so we could hear all the noise and then some.

When we opened the door to our room,that is when the unpleasantness began.  The room smelled of cigarette smoke (even though we had booked and received a non-smoking room), and when I say smelled it reeked of the smell.  As you open the door, on the left hand side is a small, open kitchen with a sink, a fridge, and drawers for basic items.  Just beyond the open kitchen is a desk that faced out the window.  On the other side was the bathroom (standard but old furnishings) and beyond the bathroom was a sitting area with a couch/sofa bed.  In between the sitting area and the desk was a chest with drawers on the bottom and a TV stand on top.  Next to the couch was a half wall that separated the sitting and bedroom area.  In the bedroom area were two double beds, a nightstand in between, and a closet next the window.  Even though the place is called a ‘suite’ there were no partitions or separations between the rooms so everyone could hear everything – it didn’t feel like a suite, more like a loft that somebody had just designed into separate areas.  The designs of the furniture also smelled of smoke and looked dated – the room overall had a dated feel to it.   

We had reserved a room for 3 days, but we could not see ourselves sleeping in this room for 3 days so we went downstairs to ask to be switched to another room.  When we went downstairs, the lobby attendant was not helpful nor friendly at all.  When we asked to switch rooms, the attendant, without even looking or bothering to make any effort, said ‘we are full for tonight’.  Since we had arrived late in the afternoon/early evening, I understood that all rooms may not be available that evening so we said that we had reserved for three days so could we switch tomorrow – again we got a surly ‘no’.  When we informed the attendant of the smell, we got the response ‘well, it’s a non-smoking room’.  We had replied saying we understood it was a non-smoking room but it still smells so is there something they could spray to at least make the room a bit more pleasant for tonight – again a surly ‘fine!’ and huffed away.  It wasn’t so much the response but rather the lack of customer service (combined with the uncomfortable room) that made us decide to go looking for another hotel that night.  While we were at dinner, we noticed a hotel across the street from a different hotel (Crowne Plaza – review below).  We drove over, talked to the lobby attendant who was nice, customer-friendly, acknowledged our participation in their rewards program, and provided us with a bigger, more spacious room at a lower cost!

After we returned from dinner, we informed the hotel we were checking out the next morning and no one asked ‘why you are leaving after one day since you had booked three days’ and that is the main issue with the hotel – the lack of customer service and lack of customer attention.  It was our first experience at a TownePlace Suites and it was unpleasant so stayed in one since and avoid booking their properties!

To end on a positive note, the hotel does provide free wifi, free parking, and free breakfast!

SpringHill Suites - Houston Brookhollow 
Note: to be honest - it has been a while since we stayed at this hotel so this is my review from that time

We were looking for a hotel that was near Highway 290 but we also did not want to be too far away from the Galleria area so we looked for something in the middle and that is how we found the SpringHill Suites – Houston Brookhollow.

Area:  The SpringHill Suites is located in an area that is close to transportation and close to restaurants and other shops, but the hotel itself is located a bit off from these things.  The hotel is located off of Highway 290, where you take the exit and then a left onto the service road and go past the restaurant and the shops.  You also pass some office blocks and then the hotel is located at the corner --- where above Highway 290 and 610 meet; like I said not the best area.  However, given the proximity to the highways you cannot hear the traffic noise inside the hotel. 

The hotel itself is very nice and had all the standard SpringHill Suites accommodations – with spacious rooms, comfortable beds, free wif, free parking, and a free morning breakfast.   

Overall, the hotel provides a nice accommodation with convenient access to transportation and restaurants --- had the location of the hotel been better it would have been a perfect hotel.

Hampton Inn - Houston Northwest
Note: to be honest - it has been a while since we stayed at this hotel so this is my review from that time

Hampton Inn Northwest in Houston is located off of Texas 6, further down off of Highway 290.  We had originally booked another hotel that was on the same Highway but closer to the city; unfortunately when we got to that hotel the room smelled, there was human hair on the bed (and hair from the head) and when we opened the bed there were visible stains on the bed --- all this despite the room having been cleaned.  Given all this, we decided to cancel our reservation and try to find a nicer, cleaner hotel.  We found that in the Hampton Inn Houston Northwest.

The hotel is located on Texas 6 right off of Highway 290 so it has convenient access to restaurants, shops, and transportation.

The hotel itself provides the standard Hampton Inn experience with clean rooms, comfortable beds, and a nice hotel with free wifi, free breakfast, and free parking.  This hotel also had great customer service as there were fresh baked cookies available in the evenings (around 5pm) and apples and juice available in the morning.

This hotel would have been any other decent and nice Hampton Inn, but the staff were friendly, courteous and customer friendly and for that I would give the hotel a higher rating.  Overall, this is a nice, comfortable stay in Northwest Houston.   

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