From One Extreme To Another

When planning our trip to Asheville and Savannah, as is the case with all of our trips, a large amount of time went into researching where to stay in each city. It's safe to say that hotels are one of my favorite things in life, and so anytime I'm traveling I want to make sure I have the very best....within my budget of course. My usual course of action is to consult Trip Advisor, family, and trusted friends and make a decision based on their combined information. It seems following this procedure worked well for our lodging in Asheville, however I strayed from what my research told me in Savannah and subsequently paid the price.

In Asheville there are a few distinct options for areas to stay, each with their own pro's and con's. You can stay at one of the old school resorts, such as the Inn on Biltmore Estate or the Grove Park Inn. Both are historical resorts which date to the early 1900's. They are great if you plan on spending most of your time on their property, however if you plan on exploring the city or dining out, then their locations are not very convenient.

The second option is to stay in Downtown Asheville. Downtown has a similar feel to most any metro area, and the atmosphere is accentuated by the fact that it is also a college town, serving as home for UNC-Asheville. Downtown plays host to a variety of fantastic restaurants and shops and is about a 3 mile drive from Asheville's main attraction, the Biltmore Estate.

Which leads to the final area for lodging in Asheville, the Biltmore Village. The village rests just outside the gates of the Biltmore Estate, and once served as the living quarters for those who built the mansion. Today it is a shopping area with many hotels and great restaurants. Knowing that a few of the restaurants we intended to dine were located in the village, I felt this was the best choice for us, as it would allow us to simply walk to these locations. It didn't hurt that the village is home to a familiar friend in the world of hotels....The Grand Bohemian Asheville.

Given that I worked for the original Grand Bohemian, it only made sense to stay at her first sister location. I knew plenty about the hotel already, so research wasn't really an issue here, however I did take the time to read up on Trip Advisor. Their ranking was lower than I had expected, but I didn't pay it too much worry, given that the only locations higher were the Grove Park, Inn on Biltmore, and a few random Hampton Inn style hotels.

As with the original Grand Bohemian, there is a certain "wow factor" when you arrive. The porte cochere was decorated to match the theme of the hotel, as opposed to just a cookie cutter drive up and valet stand. As you enter the lobby, this impression continues as an enormous fireplace in the center is there to greet you. The hotel is designed to give the feeling of an old hunting lodge, and animal trophies and antiques fill the open spaces throughout. As with the original Grand Bo, a fantastic art collection is found throughout the hotel, and I was pleased to see an exhibition by Jean Claude Roy, who's paintings were my favorite in the Orlando property.

During check-in, which is done sitting at the front desk as opposed to standing, we inquired what the additional cost would be to upgrade to a suite over a regular room. My wife's mother was joining us for a night midway in our trip, and we figured it would be nice to have the additional space. In addition, the hotel had told us we were booked into a room with a king bed, and they were oversold on two-queen rooms. Naturally, I didn't recall selecting a king, and my confirmation simply said we would have either/or, so it was clear to me given their situation with queen rooms, the hotel chose a king for us. Certainly not an issue to complain about, but after explaining our situation to the desk agent, the hotel was willing to work with us and split the difference of the cost of the suite upgrade.....sold.

Upgrading to the suite proved to be one of the best decisions of our trip, as the extra space was great, especially when her mom came to join us. The suite featured a separate living room, with a small dining room and wet bar also. The highlight, however, was the jacuzzi tub in the bathroom, as it was perfect for thawing out from the cold.

We spent many hours by the fireplace in the lobby playing rummy, and found the bar to be a great place for a late afternoon snack. Most of the staff were quite friendly, however the front desk seemed to be oblivious most of the time to the presence of guests in the small lobby. This is probably just the hotel manager in me, but the idea of sitting at a desk instead of standing opens the door to a distracted front desk staff. It's a pet peeve of mine to walk by a front desk, within just a few feet of an agent, and not be greeted. This happened nearly every single time I walked by the desk, and was the only mark I had against the staff.

When or if we return to Asheville, I think there is a strong chance we will return to the Grand Bohemian. It proved to be a great base for exploring the entire area, and it was certainly nice to be in a place that felt a bit like home to me. I wish the same could have been said about our hotel in Savannah....

The company I work for has a location in Savannah, and I figured it would be smart to ask some locals where was the best place to stay. In addition, some of my wife's co-workers and other friends had been to Savannah, and everyone we spoke to gave me the same response.....River Street. And so I sought out a hotel with this idea in mind.

It seemed that there were only a few hotels actually on River Street, and many others one block up on Bay Street. On River there was a Hyatt, a Grand Bohemian, and a Marriott. Unfortunately, the Bohemian was sold out given that it was New Year's Eve. The Hyatt and the Marriott got similar reviews on Trip Advisor, however neither were really glowing in that regard. The selling point to the Marriott in my mind, was they were the only one that featured balconies overlooking the Savannah river. Knowing that there would be New Years Eve fireworks over the river, I figured this was our best bet and booked a room at the Marriott Savannah Riverfront.

I managed to find a steal of a rate, but it was only on a traditional room. So I called the hotel to find out what my options were that would guarantee me a balcony overlooking the river. I was told that the only room type that guaranteed a balcony was the Executive Suite, which ran $60 more per night. Given the awesome rate I had found, this was still cheaper than what I had seen for a traditional room, so I went ahead and reserved the suite.

What I found upon arrival, however, was not a very good story. It seemed the hotel had a huge open atrium, with a giant window overlooking the river which reached the full 8 stories of the building. Looking for confirmation from the front desk that the suite had a balcony overlooking the river, I was informed that the suites do have balconies, however they are inside the atrium, and one can see the river through the glass windows....Huh? Obviously this was not what I had in mind, and I certainly wasn't paying more for a suite without the exterior balcony. The agent scurried around, and managed to find a traditional room, with the coveted exterior balcony, and so I decided that all was fine at that point. That is, until I walked away from the secluded front desk to see the rest of the hotel...

It was clear at that point that I had just checked-in to 1985. The atrium, while very nice with the huge windows, clearly hadn't been painted in a decade, and the water spots on the ceiling were a nice touch. I was a little perplexed by the pool which was also in the atrium, giving off a lovely chlorine aroma throughout the entire hotel. The floral dingy carpets looked something straight out of a grandmother's kitchen. The wallpaper, which I was unaware hotels used anymore, was discolored and peeling off the walls. The bath in our room featured beautiful plain white 6 inch tile, as I'm certain was popular during Reagan's first term, in addition to a black faux granite counter, set atop a beat up wooden vanity. It was all really a sight to behold. Literally the only thing this place lacked to complete the package was a Village Inn as the hotel restaurant. Needless to say, I was more than a little disappointed, as I had just traded my Lexus for a Datsun.

Just when my crappy hotel induced depression couldn't get any lower, a bright spot.....a giant container ship went by on the river, literally just a stones throw from the room. The passing of these ships every few hours proved to be the only bright spot of our stay. As the crews of these ships from Hong Kong, Singapore, and Shanghai passed, many of them would wave, and in returning the gesture, I was reminded that my present situation certainly could have been worse. Of course my curiosity of who these guys were, where they came from, and where were they going next got the better of me, but I digress...

After resigning myself to the fact that our hotel was lousy, we decided to take a walk down River Street and see what all the fuss was about. It didn't take long for me to realize that my trusted advisors in this matter were a bit misguided. As we made our way down the cobblestone road, I was unsure if I was actually in Savannah, or a cheesy Caribbean cruise port. If you've ever been on a cruise, or to Key West's Duval, or St. George Street in St. Augustine, then you have a pretty good picture of what River Street had to offer. There were no shortage of bars serving frozen alcohol free drinks to fresh 21 year olds, and shops looking to sell cleverly themed t-shirts to mindless tourists. One thing was for certain, there was no way I was spending New Years Eve anywhere near this place. Savannah, it seemed, was turning out to be a giant bust...

That is until the next day when we set off to explore the many historic squares that are scattered throughout the city. It was here that my impression of Savannah totally changed, as these were some of the most beautiful green areas I've encountered in any city. Most paid homage to leaders of Georgia and the South as a whole during Colonial times, and as was to be expected, Georgia's brief stay as a member of the Confederate States of America. We only were able to visit about a half dozen, but there were many more that we missed, which will have to wait for another visit. I say another visit, because we will certainly be back. But the lesson learned was to stay at one of the Inns or hotels scattered amongst these beautiful downtown squares.

With the arrival of New Years Eve we set off for a great meal at The Olde Pink House (more on that in another entry), and decided we would spend the rest of the evening in our room playing cards, and watching the festivities on TV. Given that we had a balcony over the river, we had one of the best seats in the house for the fireworks, without having to fight through the mess that was sure to be River Street. But as was par for the course on this leg of or trip, an incredible fog settled over the city which was so thick one could not see the river which was no more than 20 yards away. It was quite comical when midnight struck and the huge fireworks display was set off without a single one being visible, but rather flashes in the clouds similar to lightning.

My research was flawless on our selection of the Grand Bo in Asheville, however I went against my better judgment in Savannah and paid the price. My boss, who is also my most sought after source of travel information, was quick to remind me that I didn't consult him on Savannah, and I'm certain if I had things would have gone differently. And really and truly, aside from it taking 2 hours for a pair of forks to be delivered at the Marriott, we didn't really have any true problems with either of our stays. But you live and you learn.

Lesson time, this hotel snob will stick to the advice of other hotel snobs....

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~


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