DC travel troubles – or never stay in the Washington Hilton

I spent the last week at a conference in Baltimore with a couple days of meetings in Washington, DC. When I travel for work, I’m usually staying in relatively nice places and enjoying the experience. However, this trip included some annoyingly bad travel experiences.

While the site of the conference in Baltimore, the Marriott Inner Harbor at Camden Yards, was mostly pleasant, it was unfortunately situated near what seemed like some rough neighborhoods and required nearly a mile walk in the cold to find some decent restaurants. In an even more annoying development, the hotel only had two elevators working throughout the time we stayed there and it took forever to get from one floor to the next. About halfway through the week, I gave up on using the elevator at all during normal hours, resorting to chugging up and down 6 flights of stairs instead.

Snowy scene from the Marriott in Baltimore
Snowy scene from the Marriott in Baltimore

Despite its faults, the Marriott was heads and shoulders above our our DC accommodations. We stayed at the Washington Hilton – yes, the place Reagan was shot – after negotiating a discounted rate of $209/night. The Hilton is a few blocks off Dupont Circle, around which our DC visit would be centered. Unfortunately, the location was about the best thing the hotel could offer. The first major flaw was the fact that the hotel is undergoing a major renovation. That means that a good chunk of the windows have construction bags flying, good chunks of the hotel are off-limits, there are construction guys wandering around like they own the place, and there will be the sounds of demolition. The clerk checking us in said as much when he offered to put us in the “back of the hotel” where “it would be quieter.” Not a good sign.

The hotel room itself wasn’t that great – I’m surprised this renovation hadn’t happened long, long ago. The carpet in my room was terribly uneven and dirty, the layout was less than ideal, and frankly, things were falling apart. There were two thermostats, neither of which seemed to have any control over the room temperature. There wasn’t enough room for what the hotel has to offer, so the window sill (which had entire wood panels falling off) was apparently the home for things like the coffeemaker, even though it was plugless and could not be used there. The hotel offers corded internet access, but you’ll have to pay $12.95/day for the privilege and struggle with a short cord that forced you to work on the right side of the desk. Internet access that puttered so slowly through that cord that it was virtually impossible to watch a youtube clip or browse the modern web without wondering if you had been time-warped back to the era of 33.6k dial-up modems.

Ridiculous bathroom at the Washington Hilton
Ridiculous bathroom at the Washington Hilton

The bathroom was pathetic –  when laying out the room, the designers evidently forgot that guests would want a toilet in there, as it was unceremoniously stuffed under the sink. Yes, you read it correctly, the toilet was under the sink…which meant that you (1) couldn’t put the toilet seat up, (2) had to bend over and reach under the sink to find the flush handle, and (3) couldn’t use half of the sink counter without leaning over the toilet.  Unbelievable.

The bed and sheets weren’t up to $209/night standards, but that hardly matters when you have to deal with the nearly constant sound of jackhammering. The racket seemed to start about 7:20am and last until 6-ish, which is a tad early to start waking up your guests but otherwise acceptable. At least it would be if it was minor noise, muffeled or “background” noise thatone could work through. Unfortunately, it was not. It was shaking-the-picture-frames, rattling-the-heater-vents, drive-everyone-insane style noise. Absolutely unacceptable.

I should mention that we were planning on holding our upcoming board meeting at the hotel. We will certainly be taking our business down the road instead, and I never, ever plan on staying there again. EVER. I routinely have significantly better experiences in a $42/night Motel 6.

I have to say, I was also under-impressed with the Dulles airport. First, I wasn’t very impressed with the crazy shuttle (designed by a sci-fi geek, I’m sure of it) that you have to board to get to the other terminals. Not sure why, but it’s a bit creepy. Second, the place is friggin’ packed. There’s not nearly enough space to sit down at your gate, and the restaurant options are both limited and overcrowded, making it virtually impossible to grab a bite to eat without arriving 2 hours early for your flight. The most annoying thing, however, was the lack of electrical outlets. Dulles has a few of these “charging stations,” which feature a whopping four plugs, all of which have evidently been used by the travelers who’ve been living in the airport for the past few days. After searching the entire terminal, I only found 6 other outlets, and only one that was open (only because someone had just unplugged as I walked by). In 2009, that’s a problem, and certainly shows that the airport doesn’t care much about customer service.

So, there you have it – my travel troubles and complaints from this week’s business trip. I hope your next trip is more satisfying.