Saturday, February 28, 2015

Rankings: Hotel Amenities, From Worst To Best

Sweetie and I, once or twice a year, hire the older kids to come babysit and we head out for the day to get some R-and-R away from the house and the kids and the house full of kids, etc. etc.  We used to, before the boys were born, go farther away, but since the boys we've tended to stay closer to home, in case of an emergency like last year when the emergency was that we couldn't remember if we'd left one of the windows open in the living room, and couldn't get back to sleep for fear that Middle Daughter hadn't closed them and that after she fell asleep Mr F would sneak down from his room and crawl out them and drown in the lake.  That is an actual story of an actual fear we had, which actually resulted in us checking out of the hotel at about 2 a.m. and coming home, to find that the window was open but that Mr F hadn't yet figured that out.

We don't really open the windows in our house anymore, after that.

Anyway, going to hotels is expensive for us, not just because the hotel is expensive but because we get takeout to take to the hotel and we have to pay the older kids (who volunteer to do it but I pay them anyway) and, lately, we have to buy a present for Mr F and Mr Bunches, some sort of toy or book, to help them get over the extreme anxiety that having a babysitter causes them.  Which means that when we get to the hotel, I expect (a) amenities, and (b) at the least a restful night's sleep, the former of which I sometimes get and the latter of which I rarely do, not just because of the aforementioned-numerous-boys-related worries, but also because hotels have hard-to-figure thermostats, and terrible pillows, and, as of last night, smoke alarms that malfunction in the middle of the night, jarring you awake and 2:20 a.m. and requiring that you get dressed and await a security guard who will come and look at the alarm and then step out in the hall to radio that she doesn't know how to turn it off, and then it'll stop because apparently they can turn it off at the desk or something, and your wife will eventually go back to sleep but you will stay up until 5 o'clock a.m. because once you're woken up like that, you're really awake, and so you quietly watch the 1978 Invasion of The Body Snatchers on your phone and then grab some sleep from 5 to 8 before working out with the manager on check out that you'll probably get a free night sometime in the future.*
*Details pending.
That all left me with a lot of time to think about hotel amenities, and hence to rank them in what is now my longest-running themed series of posts.  TWO WEEKS IN A ROW HUZZAH!

I didn't include things like "blankets" and "art" and "desks" and other furniture in here, and I only realized that I maybe should have after I finished and proof-read it.  For the record, blankets aren't an 'amenity.' That's like counting 'floors' as an amenity.  If I'd put 'desks' on here it's be around number 18, because I don't use the desk in a hotel room.  I also didn't include 'art' like paintings on the wall because I can't think of a single painting I've ever seen in a hotel room.  I know they've all had them, but I can't remember any of them. They're basically just wallpaper and if you took them out, nobody would notice.

So here's the ranking!

24. Malfunctioning smoke alarms.  Or smoke alarms, CO alarms, or alarms in general.  I understand that there is a desire to be safe in this world. But we have to balance that against the needs for society (e.g., me) to sleep. That will not happen when they go off at all hours and/or can be pulled by any stupid fratboy or businessman who got drunk but didn't get that girl to come up to his room. When 'science' comes up with an alarm that can only go off in a real emergency and, if it must, only malfunctions during normal business hours, we can re-install them.  Until then, if you opt to sleep in a giant building filled with transient strangers bound together by nothing more than the thin fabric of commercialism, you take your chances on making it through the night alive.

23. Community hot tub: Who wouldn't want to take a bath with strangers, only no soap is involved? Every public hot tub is 90% strangers' body hair.

22. Minibar: Last night was the first time we've stayed in a hotel room fancy enough to have a 'minibar.' This consisted of a large(ish) bottle of water in the room 'fridge, and a sign that informed me that the bottle of water cost $4.95, or 1/2 the total we spent at the convenience store on the bag of snacks and drinks we brought with us.  If you're too lazy to stop at the 7/11, or too proud to bring a plastic bag full of Doritos (TM) into your hotel room, you deserve to pay five bucks for water.

21.  Ironing board.  Almost every hotel room I've ever checked into has one of these.  None of them have also had irons. And I'm pretty sure nobody's needed an ironing board since 1921.  So to use this amenity, you would need to bring your own iron, and you would also have to have clothes that wrinkle, which means you probably bought them at an estate sale and you are wearing a dead man's socks.  Gross.  If you do find yourself with wrinkled clothes, steam them in the bathroom by running the shower on hot the way we people living in the future do.

20. The Safe:  Not every hotel I've stayed in has offered a safe, which used to cause me a great deal of stress when our civilization still used paper money, and I would travel with a stash of traveler's checks and cash.  I had the option, then, of carrying every penny I had in the world with me at all times, which is unwise given that in any city larger than Hartland, WI, everyone is a pickpocket/rapist, or leaving it in the hotel room, where the maids would no doubt root through my luggage and find it.  Back when I had to travel with cash, I never could afford to stay in a hotel that had a safe.  My solution was to divide the cash into envelopes and hide them in various unsavory parts of my clothing, like tucking the envelopes into the plastic bag that held previously-worn clothing.  On vacations, my money used to be smelly.

But now, I travel with a debit card, and so I never have anything I need to put in the safe.  Plus, we don't really leave the hotel long enough to worry about storing valuables in the hotel room while we're gone, plus I don't own 'valuables.'  The most valuable thing in my hotel room last night (AFTER MY WIFE I LOVE YOU SWEETIE!) was the leftover pizza on the endtable.  Mmmm. In retrospect I wish I had stored it in the safe overnight.

If you're rich enough to bring things with you that need to be under lock and key while you're out and about, you should probably just stay in the type of hotel where people can't easily steal things and the staff is paid well enough to avoid temptation.  Plus, do you think someone at the hotel doesn't have the combination to that safe? I bet they're posted in the assistant manager's office.

19. Clock radio:  These would be great if (a) you knew the radio stations in the area and could set it to a station you like and (b) if there was some standardized method of setting all the various kinds of clock radios so that you wouldn't be just taking a wild stab in the dark as to whether it was going to wake you up at 7 p.m., at 3 a.m., or never, and (c) if it was 1978 and 'clock radios' still were a thing people used.  If you must be up at a specific time, bring your alarm clock from home, or use your phone like a regular person.

18. Wake-up call. Only slightly better than the clock radio, in that it's at least easy to figure out how to set it up. Good for you, making sure that the only thing between you and oversleeping is the kind of person who can't find a better job than night-desk clerk at a hotel. You might be a bit too trusting. That guy worked at McDonald's last week, and he doesn't care any more about your life now than he did then.

If you really must use a wake-up call, why not phone your Mom and have her call you in the morning, as long as you're being immature? She'll appreciate being part of your life. I bet she won't sleep all night, just to make sure she's ready for the call.  Moms are awesome. In a ranking of family members, Moms would be Top 3, for sure.

17. Exercise room: Thanks for making me feel extra guilty about having eaten 9 of the 16 slices of pizza, hotel! I used to exercise on vacation before I remembered what 'vacation' meant.

16. Hot tub in your room: This is a feature of every 'romantic' or honeymoon suite I've ever seen.  Here is what happens when you use the in-room hot tub:

STEP ONE: Fill up and imagine the romance!

STEP TWO Oh my God Is it hot!

STEP THREE: *don't think about all the other gross people who sat in this before you, with their bodies and their hair and the hair on their bodies*

STEP FOUR: Water's a little cold.

STEP FIVE: Gosh, it smells like chlorine in our room.

15. Valet parking: Last night was the first time I'd had valet parking offered at a hotel.  I was completely unprepared for it. The valet opened the door and said "Valet, or self-park?" I said, reflexively, "Self-park," because I was raised to automatically turn down every good thing anyone offered me, even if totally free.  That's manners, to my family.  Then I thought I don't even know where parking is or how far away it might be and we've got a pizza to carry plus those sodas... so I went for valet parking, and gave the guy my keys, and as he drove away, I asked if Sweetie had money to tip him.  Then, when we realized that between us we had only $4, cash, because we don't carry cash because we aren't drug dealers, we also realized that he was not going to come back to us with the keys, and so we couldn't tip him at all.  Then I thought maybe I tip him tomorrow when he gets the car, but of course he might not be working then (he wasn't.)  So we instead watched to see if he came back while we checked in (no) and if he was there when we went exploring the hotel last night (no) and this morning (no), and the guy who got our car for us this morning got the four bucks.

14. Bathrobe. I don't own a bathrobe. But they had one in the hotel, and this morning after I showered I wore the robe for a few minutes to see what it was like. I don't get it.

13. Crummy hotel pillows: I was kind of thinking that since this was a fancier hotel (we could afford it after an online discount, I'm not rich [yet]), the pillows might be better than the usual Sack'O'Mush (TM) at the hotels we used to stay at. They were not. Shouldn't pillows hold up your head at least a little? I could get the same neck support from a washcloth.

Our hotel last night also had the emergency blanket/pillow sack in the closet, in case you do that thing everyone does where you lie about how many kids are staying with you so you don't get charged more.  Why should hotels charge more for more people in the room? If you want to cram 35 people into a hotel room overnight, that's your business, not theirs.  The emergency blanket/pillow package is at least helpful in creating the necessary stack of 17 pillows you have to put together to equal one real-world pillow, and the extra blanket helps if you mis-set the air conditioner to "Post-Apocalyptic Ice Age", which you will.

That is quality hair.
12. Shampoo: At home, my shampoo costs 99 cents a (large, gallon-sized) bottle, which is the level of quality I need for what is left of my hair.  Our shampoo at this hotel smelled like mint, which I guess demonstrates luxury, if your hair smells kind of like a Girl Scout cookie?

It's good that they give shampoo, though, because I already don't like schlepping my toothbrush and toothpaste in a plastic bag in my backpack.  I get kind of grossed out if my toothbrush leaves the general area of the bathroom sink.  Toothbrushes don't need to expand their horizons. It would be worse if I also had to bring shampoo with me. I'd probably just wash my hair in the public hot tub, then.

11. Other toiletries: I will pass on the mystery goo that can be rubbed on my body/face/hair. And the tiny packet of Qtips only makes me wonder whether people before me were rubbing their ear wax on things, and after I think that I can't touch anything in the room anymore.

10. An ice machine.  I suppose if you are traveling with a cooler like we used to... in 1981... this makes a lot of sense, but who ever supposed that, living in a world where ice could be made by machines, travelers would need ice in such large quantities, in their air-conditioned hotel rooms, that ice machines would be necessary?  The one we stayed in last night, a fancy hotel, had a fancy ice bucket and these little highball-esque glasses next to it.  It looked like it should only be used for the Senator's annual end-of-season-bridge-party-and-fox-hunt.  I can't picture anyone who regularly stays in that hotel padding down the hall in their bathrobe to get ice in a bucket just to make sure that $4.95 bottle of water doesn't ever hit room temperature.

9. Pool (outdoor): These are always too cold, and an outdoor pool is useless for 10 months a year everywhere north of Florida but a hotel has got to have a pool or it's not a real hotel, so in a pinch a hotel should at least put in an outdoor pool.  Our hotel last night did not have a pool. I will be downgrading it in my Yelp! review for that.

8. Pool (indoor, but no slide): Indoor pools for hotels are usually disappointing. Again, you have to have a pool because that's how people clean up after a hard day of driving and sweating against each other's elbows in the car: swimming in the pool.  That's what my parents used to tell us on vacations.  We'd unpack the car, and Mom and Dad would say "Go swimming to clean yourself up before dinner." 

But indoor pools at hotels are usually too small and shallow to do much of anything, other than stand there.  That's the trouble with swimming in general: once you've splashed around, and done a headstand, and gone underwater, what's left to do? Only little kids like swimming.  If you are in or around a body of water and you are bored, congratulations: you're a grownup. Now go find your kid.

7. Pool, indoor with slide: This will entertain you for three minutes longer than a pool without a slide.

Some hotels have pools with waterparks in them, and in Wisconsin, hotels have started to be built expressly for the purpose of housing a waterpark.  I wholeheartedly support these, except that they all cost $300 PER NIGHT, which is more than anyone should pay to slip a disk and require back surgery when they forget that adults aren't meant to play at waterparks.

Is it just me, or has everything everywhere been priced out of the range of families? I cannot afford, and if I could I couldn't justify spending, the money it costs to do anything with our kids. Sporting events, concerts, amusement parks, water parks, everything that isn't the public library costs $47 a person to get into. How do families do things?  When I see families out and about and having fun and all carrying souvenirs and drinking giant sodas and going to petting zoos or whatever, I get this horrible feeling that I am failing miserably at adulthood.

6. Free newspaper: One of the things I used to really enjoy when we'd travel somewhere was getting a local newspaper and reading it and being pleasantly confused by all the local references.  Every place you go on vacation seems so great, mostly because you are there on vacation instead of living your crummy life (if you lived there, it would be your crummy life and would be less great), and I liked imagining what it would be like to live in the place where we were vacationing.  (It was always awesome, except for Tampa.)

Now, I get 100% of my news from my phone, and it is the same news everywhere I go.  I haven't seen a newspaper in a hotel in years, and if I did I wouldn't stop looking at my phone long enough to read it.  I picked up the local free indie paper that I used to read every week, just to see what I'd been missing. I read it in 4 minutes. There literally was nothing of any interest in it, other than the letters to the editor (NO LIE I SWEAR THIS IS TRUE) complaining that the free paper had taken out the movie listings and what were they supposed to do, look online for them? There were THREE letters like that printed in the paper.  THREE PEOPLE felt so strongly about reading their movie listings in newsprint the way God intended that they actually wrote to the editor of the paper about it. I wonder if they emailed the letter.

5. In-room refrigerator: Those gas-station Coke Zeroes aren't going to keep themselves cold.  And I don't want to keep having to go get ice in the ice bucket, and having sloppy water-soaked tops of dressers.

4. Continental breakfast: We're hitting the top of the list here, and not surprisingly they mostly deal with food.

"Continental breakfast" is supposed to include "cold meat," according to Wikipedia, but mostly when people use this phrase they mean "doughnuts and coffee in the lobby while they last."  Continental breakfasts should be required by federal law.  Every time I stay in a hotel that doesn't offer it (like ours last night!) I feel like I've been ripped off and want to call a local news show to investigate it on one of those dopey segments where they expose locksmiths.  I am paying you $100+ to use 30 square feet of flooring for 12 hours. BUY ME A DOUGHNUT.

With that said, hotels that are run by civilized people now have 'continental breakfasts' that are actually breakfast bars or breakfast buffets, and so I can include a SUBRANKING of those items!

               viii. Fruit: Look, I only eat fruit because I want to pretend I'm not going to turn into Gilbert Grape's mom by 50, and I'm not deranged so I never touch vegetables. When I'm on vacation, I'm not likely to eat fruit at all, let alone sad warm fruit in a bowl that I have to pick out with tongs.
               vii. Cereal: I have never seen anyone ever get cereal at a hotel breakfast bar. If I did I would instantly hate that person for sucking so much.  Cereal is what you eat at home, plus they never have Cap'n Crunch-based brands. But seriously: it's for at home. You are on the road. You are in a public room, wearing a pair of pajama bottoms and an old t-shirt while a room full of parents traveling with their kids' soccer teams slowly loses their minds around you. Live it up a bit and ignore the Raisin Bran.
               vi. Eggs: I'm in the middle of an egg renaissance, and I make a lot of eggs these days. Hotel eggs, though? I'm skeptical. I'm pretty sure they're not eggs so much as they are "eggs", which wouldn't affect me at all if they also didn't have some sort of watery juice on them, like the people who prepared them were crying. But I like that they come in patties, pre-made, so that I can assemble my own breakfast sandwich.  Breakfast sandwiches are one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century.  It's sad that it took humanity so long to take the genius of a sandwich and apply it to eggs and sausage.
               v. Sausage: I am deliberately leaving bacon off this list entirely because bacon is just okay, here and there, and I wish everyone would shut up about bacon already. It's not even funny anymore.  But sausage? Sausage is phenomenal, and as I am the only one who likes it in our house and as it's kind of difficult to cook it at home, and as we rarely have big breakfasts, I have sausage mostly on vacation.  I love picking up the lid of the sausage thing and seeing like fifty of them lined up. I want to dump them into a box and spend my day eating them.
               iv. Toast: Again, a home-food, but what puts it higher up the list is hotels have bagels and English muffins and several breads all available at once. Do you have that kind of variety at home? We do, but I'm too lazy to take advantage of it. We have had English muffins in our 'fridge for two weeks and every time I think about toasting one for breakfast I think about how I'd have to take the package out and get that little plastic nub off and then get a fork and split it... I'm exhausted just typing that. In hotels, they're all right there for the taking so you don't have to move last night's leftovers just to get a bagel. Plus, hotels have those toasters with four slots. Those are awesome.  It's like you're the king of toast.  TOAST ALL AROUND! 
               iii. Waffle maker: We have a waffle iron at home, but making waffles at home is even worse that making toast at home.  At the hotel, though, they pre-make the batter, and the waffle iron is extra-complicated, usually with a thing that makes you have to close it with levers and flip it over and stuff.  It's like being in a steampunk version of my life.
              ii.  Various juices: most hotels have OJ, of course, but they also put in some apple juice and cranberry juice, making me feel like I won the juice lottery.  I pour three cups, one of each, and pretend I have three kids who need vitamin C. But it's all for me.
             i.  Pancake machine: I have only ever seen one of these, in Paducah, Kentucky, 5 years ago, and I would honestly drive to Paducah -- it's only a day away -- to stay in that hotel and use this machine again.  You pour pancake batter in one end and a little conveyor belt moves it along while it cooks and then it falls off the belt on the other side onto your plate.  That is honestly the exact conception of the future my 10-year-old self had, and it is every bit as wonderful as I imagined.  Mr Bunches and I made ten pancakes that morning and it was the highlight of that vacation.

Back to the rest of the rankings!

3. Maid Service: My in-laws used to have a time share, which was both more expensive and less luxurious than a hotel, the latter part because nobody cleaned your little set of rooms every day.  Going to a hotel is all about getting out  of your regular life, which means leaving the beds unmade, towels on the floor, pizza boxes on the table, and having someone be paid to pick it up.  I don't go out of my way to make a mess in a hotel room, but I don't worry about it if I do, either. No matter what fun thing you're doing at home, at the back of your mind is "After this is done someone's going to have to pick up all this junk." In hotels, maids are those someone.

2. Cable TV.  We stayed in a bed-and-breakfast once.  I bring it up here because this is a good time to demonstrate how awful B&Bs are in comparison to hotels.  In bed-and-breakfasts, there are no televisions, and screw you, I like TV.  That is just one of the many ways B&Bs are terrible, but it is the worst of the many ways.

In regular hotels, I can live without the porn on the cable TV. I'm not a prude or anything. It's just that that's what the internet is for. Did you somehow go on a business trip and not bring your laptop or phone?

Also, there should be premium channels, hotels. This might be my only chance to watch HBO.  Again, I am paying by the minute to use some space you have lying around.  At least make it nice.

And the best amenity of all: 1. In-room coffee maker:   Another way bed-and-breakfasts are nightmares is that you are expected to get up and mingle with total strangers at breakfast, so  if you just want a cup of coffee you have to go down to the kitchen and be introduced to a bunch of people you don't even know, all before you've had even a bit of caffeine, and that is terrible.  I don't even want to know the people I already know; the thought of meeting new people makes me want to run screaming to the hills, and the thought of doing so in my sweatpants and t-shirt with my hair sticking up is even worse.

In hotels, you get the anonymity that I want.  Not only does nobody look anybody else in the eye in the lobby, but there's no feeling like you should be friends just because you're all occupying space near each other.  But even before I wander through the lobby to load up a plate with fourteen toasted English muffins and tiny little boxes of boysenberry jam, I get to make my coffee in the privacy of my own hotel room, and that hotel room is my bedroom, too, which means that I'm practically making coffee in my bed, getting to prolong the best part of any day, by which I mean the part of the day when you are awake but don't actually have to get out of bed yet.  I know technically I have to get up and fill the coffeemaker with water from the bathroom (GROSS! DON'T THINK ABOUT IT!) sink and then wait a minute for the coffee, but it's all done within sight of my bed and so it's like I'm still there.  It's such an awesome setup, I am considering right now moving my coffeemaker up to my bedroom.

Maybe Sweetie would let me install a pancake machine there, too...

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