Denver Renaissance

February 23, 2023

We didn’t really have our hopes set high enough, it seems.  Because business trip, travel set by others, Marriott property, etc.  But here we are at a very nice Renaissance Hotel in Denver.  And everything is fine.

Getting here was a thing because a huge winter storm had travel all in a bind.  Something like 1200 flights were cancelled.  Mine was not, but it did take an extra 40 minutes because the headwinds were so strong.

The snowy drive from the airport was actually hazardous due to Americans in SUVs.

We were assigned an excellent suite (550) with lots of windows and, most important of all, glass showers.  The room design is dated, but passable.  Some refurbishment would be a good thing.

We were greeted with a personal note and a bottle of bubbly (which sadly will remain behind).

Glass shower for the win.  The rest of the bathroom is pure Marriott.

A fun little chair.

The lobby bar is very good with clear ice, and proper Negroni capability.  Seriously.

Entertainment for the evening included bowling (?1) and tequila shots.  yeah no.

A late evening visit with Gino to Lady Jane (who made an absolutely excellent El Diablo with house hot ginger syrup) killed some time before we headed over to Williams and Graham (special shouts to Jacques and Sean Kenyon). Though W&G remains a top notch bar, it somehow seems to be overrun by non-bar people from conferences.  Enthusiastic and stupid.  Our bartender from NC was a hot and cold mess (and being a southern gentleman myself, I can assure you he is not very legit NC).  Thing is, there was no green chartreuse.  But instead of saying so, NC boy swapped to something not at all the same without saying a word.  Not a fan of that kind of nonsense.  We did have some excellent snacks and some great drinks in the end before we were summarily dismissed.  Fernet for all.

Nephew Gino.

Sam’s number 3 is a great place for breakfast, even when it is 4 degrees outside.

All told, four showerheads and a great deal of surprise for the Renaissance.  You go Marriott.

New shiny bits for the Stick

A quick but essential trip down to Wilmington to upgrade the Stick internet to fiber. Hopefully NPS will be spending more time here in 2020.

The Stick in November

Atlantic facing south

Sadly the best bet for staying in Wilmington is the Courtyard by Marriott. I know. Downtown. It is new, but somehow dated and frivolous at the same time. We were assigned hamster cage 317 (see the red dot).

Dot r you.




Plastic with a glass door?! It’s the new plastic.

Looks OK from here

Molded plastic for all

Dinner and a Negroni at Caprice Bistrot was quite good. Best yet in Wilmington.

Two showerheads and a yawn for the Courtyard Marriott in Wilmington. We’re glad it’s here. We think.

After a seriously turbulent night flight across the pond, a bus ride over the Frankfurt tarmac, a multiply-delayed ICE train and a missed local connection, it was nice to arrive at the Nestor Hotel and have a room ready to go. Walking over from the train station is very easy indeed, and helps you stay awake. Check in was easy even in zombie mode.

Sadly, the Nestor chain appears to be set up to accommodate conferences and large groups more than anything else. This is a four star in Germany, which puts it right smack in JW Marriott territory. Everything looks pretty good on the surface, but it is really cheap veneer with thin carpet allowing lots of noise between rooms. A business class hotel. Not NPS’s cup of tea.

The little NPS cubicle (replete with tiny bed) is 308.

Lil teeny bed in 308

The sitting area and desk are all within 15 feet of the bed

Fortunately, Ludwigsburg is resplendent today.

View from 308

The bathroom is likewise “cozy” and very Euro.

Not plastic unless you count the tub, which is plastic

Sink stand

There is a big pipe in the bathroom. That is just weird.

After a much-needed invigorating shower, it was off into town for lunch. Greek food at Die Griechin is very homey. Great people. Authentic, if not uninspired fare.

Breakfast at the hotel is very nice, and the restaurant serves a decent lunch as well. Service is friendly even if the kitchen is slow.

On a more upbeat note, the Black and White Cocktail Bar just a few short blocks away is cozy and excellent. We were among the only patrons on a Tuesday night.

Amer Picon in the house means a Liberal or two.

La Barrosa Cocktail (by Mario Wirth)
50 ml carlos I brandy
10 ml Strega
.5 ml Balsamico creme (can sub px Sherry)
Amaretto spray on top
Stir. Serve on one big rock.

Make sure to visit the Black and White Bar if you are in Ludwigsburg.

Dinner at the very friendly Zum Urigen was authentic and about as German as you can get. The owners are from Vietnam, but have lived in Germany for 30 years. This place has a very local feel with lots of patrons who know each other.

A very low three showerheads for the Nestor, where function overrides style, and things feel fairly fake.

Here we are again in a university town, this time Ann Arbor. This town is great. Books, coffee, food, cocktails. Almost everything you need, but still no good hotel.

The Residence Inn is a Marriott property, and it is brand new. It’s pretty much what you would expect of a mid-tier mid-market Marriott hotel. Shiny suburban fake is the style. NPS has different style.

When the reservation was made, we requested a high floor and a Panoramic City View Suite. The first room we were assigned was 414 which is ADA formatted. When asking for a non-ADA configured room instead were assigned down to 214. The rooms are almost exactly identical. Moving down was a big mistake because traffic noise starts at 5am. Alas.

So much for the high floor request.

The manager, having heard tell of checkin problems, was very gracious. We had a nice chat. His valet staff is super.

The view from 214 says it all

The room is filled with lots of shiny new veneer cheap furniture that looks better than it feels when you use it. The suite includes a kitchenette.

Entry hallway kitchenette

desk room

desk room couch

View from the bed to a nice bank of windows

large (impersonal) bathroom

The real problem is the shower, which is partially glass and partially plastic. It is open to the huge bathroom without a glass door. Cold air makes for a less than stellar shower experience.

shower. not approved

Anyway, we knew what we were getting into when we agreed to come to Ann Arbor. Apparently, there is a copy of The Graduate here too BTW. Sure wish university towns had better hotel kung fu!

Dinner at Mikette was delicious. Great service.

The cocktail scene in Ann Arbor remains vibrant. A Sunday night visit to Nightcap was optimal in all respects. Andy was a blast behind the bar.

Because there was Handy in the house, we present, The Handy Handy
1.75 Thomas Handy Rye
.3 oz Del’erborista ultra-bitters
.3 carpano antica
2 dashes scrappy aromatic
Stir. Strain. Express orange peel and drop in.

Three showerheads for the Residence Inn in Ann Arbor. Dang university towns.

Lets tip our NPS hat to the people in marketing, shall we? We’re running a conference for a couple of hundred senior people down in Florida. So Amelia Island it is, and the Ritz-Carlton at that. Anyway, how does this property rate? Off the charts.

Room 832

Room 832

United pulled a ridiculous head fake on the way down: You’re upgraded. Oh, sorry, nevermind. Oh no wait, you ARE upgraded but now there is no room for your suitcase since you’re already seated in the back. In the end the trip was great and NPS appreciates the upgrade. Nice try united! Lets do it again and get it all right next time!!

The hotel provided car service at the airport, and our driver was superlative. He took a shortcut that saved us 20 minutes getting on the island. There was some evidence of hurricane damage on the sides of the road coming in. This island dodged a bullet when hurricane Matthew stayed off shore just two weeks ago.

We were greeted by name at the door with some champagne (which we sadly had to skip), and whisked up to 832 by gregarious staff. Outstanding greeting.

And the amenity shows that someone has been doing their homework. Cocktail? Yep. Sparking water? Yep. Hand written note? Yep. It’s all here and all awesome.

Pirate Loot (chocolate treasure, a cocktail, and sparkling water).

Pirate Loot (chocolate treasure, a cocktail, and sparkling water).

832 is nothing short of palacial. A gorgeous room with an incredible view of the ocean from its five balconies.

The suite has two main sections and 5 rooms.

Living area off the bedroom

Living area off the bedroom

832 bedroom

832 bedroom

Dining area

Dining area


Of course, we’re here for the showers. This non-plastic shower is also off the charts. Multiple shower heads and a bench? OK then.

Shower in the bathroom suite (itself several rooms)

Shower in the bathroom suite (itself several rooms)


The bar situation here is not good, which in 2016 is just plain sad. Sure, you can get some scotch if you try hard enough. But no bourbon to speak of. And if you order a proper cocktail (say, something like a sazarac) you will be sorely disappointed. Ever had a cocktail served hot in a glass straight from the dishwasher? How about a sazarac made with angostura? Yeah no.

Time to invest in some people who actually know what they’re doing Marriott. In the meantime, stick with the Mt Gay Extra Old rum (in a glass that has cooled off).

Four showerheads and a sincere wish for some more free time and a real bar for the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island. Gorgeous property run by hospitality experts.

Sadly, Hartford, CT is lacking in both the boutique hotel and high-end cocktail bar departments. That makes life here at NPS kind of difficult. Marriott hamster cage for you! And mid-tier booze to boot.

View from the 19th Floor (Hartford, CT)

View from the 19th Floor (Hartford, CT)

The good news, relatively speaking, is that my travel companion this trip is a super Elite Marriott Platinum whatever. He booked all the rooms. What that means to NPS is that the bottle of water is free! Such amenity.

Here is what cage number 1921 looks like. (FWIW, 1921 is way better than 717 was last go ’round.)

Hartford Marriott 1921

Hartford Marriott 1921

1921 bed

1921 bed

1921 pays homage to the TV (standard Marriott practice)

1921 pays homage to the TV (standard Marriott practice)

The shower is glass and is very nice. NPS approved.

Not plastic!

Not plastic!



A last minute hunt for a decent cocktail bar in the city came up with nothing. So down to the Marriott bar it was for a nightcap. Negroni? Check. Stagg Jr? Sure why not. NPS advises you to just skip the bar visit.

One ray of sunshine during this visit is that Max’s Downtown is a very nice restaurant with an interesting wine list. Highly recommended.

In the end, this Marriott property is a low three showerhead kind of place. Nice enough in its generic big hotel you must be here on business way.

Yes it rained. And then rained. Deluge. Downpour. So we moved the music inside and played all night anyway.

Music at Oopstock

Music at Oopstock

But then we were due in Wisconsin the next morning before noon! That meant leaving the party at 2am for a late night visit to the nearest airport’s suburban hotel chain. Ears ringing from electric music, off we went into the deluge.

Here is the disaster that is Manchester, NH Springhill Suites. Just. Do. Not. Go.

My travel buddy with endless platinum Marriott points procured our reservation and checked us in, so we got to participate in ultra elite status. Like check out this outstanding amenity!

Amenity? Or cheap bag of chips.

Amenity? Or cheap bag of chips.

And we got the best available room in the place, which was this desert of a design disaster.



Just super generic and gross.

Plastic shower! In a sealed room.  Obesity rod.

Plastic shower! In a sealed room. Obesity rod.

Yeah. No.

Yeah. No.

So anyway, we were there for less than three hours. The plan is to never have to do that again!

One showerhead for Springhill Suites writ large. No.

Usually NPS has to slum it when we come through Wilmington, NC on the way to the beach. We have had a number of seriously awful experiences at the Hilton. Read for yourself here and here and here (there’s more if you like snark).

So the bar is set exceptionally low, and we’re happy to say the the brand new Courtyard by Marriott is much better even though it is still a hamster cage experience.

A stylish elevator hallway to wait in

A stylish elevator hallway to wait in

We had a SNAFU getting into our room that involved waiting for the front desk and engineering to figure out why a deadbolt was thrown in the room we are supposed to have. Anyway, we ended up in 424.

Instruments on carts

Instruments on carts

Accent wall in the hamster cage

Accent wall in the hamster cage

NIcely appointed bathroom

NIcely appointed bathroom

The shower is a glass pod! Yays.

Glass shower.  We repeat, glass shower!

Glass shower. We repeat, glass shower!

But of course all is not sweetness and light here at NPS. We do have to say that the view sucks.

This is not a view of the river

This is not a view of the river

Blogging chair.  Don't spread out!

Blogging chair. Don’t spread out!

Anyway, good on the Marriott for bringing the town up to a low three showerheads! Way more than zero (the Hilton’s last rating). Looks like we’re going back to circa 1922 for dinner.

The best part about Circa 1922 other than the food is the barman Josh Giles, a reformed architect who has become a master barman. John specializes in growing ingredients in his garden and incorporating them into his drinks. The C4 is a great example:
1 oz cucumber shrub (cucumber, lovage, chervil, salad burnett, white wine vinagar, rice vinagar)
1.25 oz hendricks gin
.5 green chartreuse
splash of st. germaine
.75 oz soda

Both the shrub and the drink are out of this world. Josh rotates the menu regularly and features a cocktail with local produce (like the C4). World class.

And tomorrow, the Stick!!

Sophie at the stick

Sophie at the stick

USAirways to Raleigh

March 14, 2015

Surprise surprise! Commuter jets operated by Republic for USAirways have wifi, and you can upgrade for super cheap. Too bad they only fly out of DCA.

I am not sure what United has planned, or when its plan will be implemented, but they seem to think a plan is reality. Ridiculous.

I flew in and out for dinner and did not spend the night. But I did camp in the Marriott RTP lobby for a short while. Yuck.

At least Marriott listened (and brought out a cocktail to boot).

Even when you fill a hotel with 300 people, things can go sideways in Marriott land. Met at the door by a persnickety doorman, I was refused luggage service when I arrived and asked to drive around to the loading dock. What?! Well, there was a bit of music equipment, but in the past it has all fit on 2 carts. No bending of the rules for mr door weeny.

Too much luggage for the front door?  Nah.

Too much luggage for the front door? Nah.

So, instead of a welcome I got to bake in the heat, sweat through the shirt I was going to wear in a video shoot an hour later, and work with (the very able and excellent) security people. Hey Westfields, your front entrance situation needs a reboot. (FWIW, after a chat with the manager, the checkout situation went much more smoothly.)

Still from the video shoot.  Had to change shirts due to checkin SNAFU.

Still from the video shoot. Had to change shirts due to checkin SNAFU.

But there is some good news. The Internet situation has been fixed. Free, more reasonable net. Which when you are running a conference full of geeks (like last year) is important.

And there is some bad news. The shower still sucks in suite 130. I mean really, get a new shower in here. The rest of the room is far better.

This is the bad shower in 130 at the Westfields Marriott.

This is the bad shower in 130 at the Westfields Marriott.

After a long day, including a video panel, a talk, and a music performance, it was nice to retire to some wine and cheese left by the event staff. Thanks for that! It was demolished before I thought to take its picture.

The stage ready for some Gently Let Down by Catherine.

The stage ready for some Gently Let Down by Catherine.

There was fruit and cheese here last night?!

There was fruit and cheese here last night?!

Thanks for the note and the wine.

Thanks for the note and the wine.

All in all, the Westfields Marriott is an even better place for a meeting than in past years. But the staff needs some training and suite 130 needs a new shower. They can make you an espresso in a pinch though, and they’re actually pretty good at it.

Morning at the Marriott.

Morning at the Marriott.

Three showerheads for the Westfields. Run a meeting here, but don’t come here for the sleeping rooms.