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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Hotel Report: Crescent Plaza - Downtown Proud...

On our recent trip to Wichita Falls we used Expedia to locate a hotel to stay at. The bad thing about using the Internet to find a hotel is, what little information you get rarely includes pertinent details like, "Nearby homeless people and vagabonds will hound you for gas money" or "Kind size bed was not large enough to share with roaches in room" or other such descriptions that would give you a hint. So, all you can do is look for the things that you specifically want or need, and hope they are on the list.

I won't make reservations in a hotel that doesn't offer free high speed Internet. In this, the information age, I view free Internet as a required amenity at a hotel no differently than I do air conditioning or little soap bars on the bathroom sink. It isn't even something you should have to ask for, it should be assumed.

I also believe that the majority of hotel rooms should be no-smoking and that in fact, it should not be on the non-smoker to ask for a no-smoking room, but the opposite - if you want to breath-in some stranger's second hand smoke in your cozy hotel bed, you ought to have to ask for that privilege (and perhaps pay extra). This paragraph brought to you by a former smoker.

So, with all that stuff in mind, I probably sound pretty picky, but then again, I am a self-admitted cheapskate, and though if the going rate for rooms is $129, I don't mind paying it; I'll definitely look closely at one I can get for fifty bucks. Which is what I did when we found the Crescent Plaza Hotel in historic downtown Wichita Falls.

A little background is surely in order. Apparently, back in the late 1970's, there was a huge tornado that went through downtown Wichita Falls and created some serious havoc. When the dust cleared, a lot of federal grant money and insurance and such made way for business owners to rebuild in newer parts of the city which, as you might imagine, left the downtown area full of empty old buildings. One such place was a Holiday Inn that was housed in the Petroleum Building on 8th and Scott Street. This hotel was pretty old to start with (mid to late 60's I'm guessing) and when it went out of business, supposedly, it stayed vacant for years - I think until the late 1990's. It was opened again for a brief time as a Ramada Inn but never made a come back. According to staff, the hotel was reopened earlier this year by a new group and as part of a bigger effort to bring businesses back to the downtown area, the Crescent Plaza is open for business. Hence, our $50.00 rate when all the other hotels in the vicinity were significantly higher.

When we first checked in, the lady at the front desk was extremely helpful and seemed ready to bend over backwards to help. The hotel lobby looked like an old hotel lobby, but very clean and some really nice furniture and such in the lobby. What gave us a slight twinge of concern was the fact that, even though there were four elevator doors, only one worked. I learned later that two of the elevators go to floors above the hotel rooms (office spaces for rent) and the second elevator for the hotel was being renovated.

As we walked to our room on the second floor, my wife commented on the fresh smell of Fabreeze and I have to admit, that gave me a little twinge of concern. Don't get me wrong, Fabreeze is a great product, but if it over powers you, there is usually some awkward smell being hidden.

Thankfully, the room was pretty nice by old hotel standards. It was spacious, the TV was new and probably 36". Limited on channels, but good reception. The Internet worked, the bathroom came complete with soap and little shampoos, and the bed was clean and comfortable. Plus, we had a refrigerator and a microwave oven. Hey, for $50.00, this was great.

I'll never forget staying at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago about 10 years ago. The room was easily the cheapest, government per diem rate of like $225.00 a night, in a tiny 8 X 8 closet of a room, on a twin size bed and not even enough room to change your mind. It was one of these really fine, swanky places with real art work in the spacious lobby, attendants everywhere, and I kept thinking to myself, "I wonder if they would mind if I slept in the lobby?"

I'll take clean and spacious over swanky and cramped any day of the week.

So, I would be lying if I didn't say we had more than one miscue at the hotel. Nothing really so major that I was ready to check-out or anything, but I have to tell you that my report on this blog (and later when I do a feedback on Expedia) was almost a lot different. I even took some pictures of really silly things (like the return air vent in the room that was really just an air filter glued to the open hole in the wall), but it is so easy to look for flaws in things and not get the bigger picture - the fact that the place is still a work in progress and the cost was only $50.00.

I mean, sure, they did forget to send a maid the first day. So, we did the environmentally friendly thing and hung up our towels, not unlike what we do at home. I feel like Al Gore already. Except for the private jet.

We learned later (about 10PM at night to be exact) that our room was located right next to the hotel ball room. We found this out when some people from the party next door kept running up and down the hall yelling "Marco?" quickly followed by "Polo!". WTF?

The next day, before I could even think about complaining, the nice lady at the front desk asked me if we would be interested in moving to a different room because they were having a dance in the ballroom that evening. We definitely took her up on the offer.

On Saturday morning, we were treated to a parade on the street in front of the hotel. (I'll write about that later), and Saturday afternoon, we went swimming at the pool located on a deck above the parking garage. To their credit, not a single person yelled "Beached Whale" when I emerged from the awesome water and found a lounger worthy of sustaining my girth and weight long enough for me to relax and enjoy the afternoon sun. I told my wife that I hadn't felt this relaxed in quite some time. And in spite of the few flaws we could easily point out, the price and quality of the people we dealt with at Crescent Plaza prompted my wife to say that she would be happy to stay there again.

So, if you are in Wichita Falls, need a place to stay for a lot cheaper than the regular brand hotels but not nearly as seedy as the similarly priced hotels in the area, try the Crescent Plaza Hotel.

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I love to observe the odd things happening around me as I go about my day. I especially like it when I can get a picture of people being themselves. Here, I attempt to report the various people and events I have encountered in my neighborhood, and my city. I'd also love to hear from you. Feel free to e-mail your experiences and photos of life in San Antonio.

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