It was late on a Thursday evening in Austin, Texas, and, anticipating a pre-dawn flight home the next morning, I was eager to settle into my hotel room, watch Grey’s Anatomy, and call it a night. The desk clerk at the airport Embassy Suites handed over my key, and I made my way to my assigned room at the end of the hallway. Trouble was, the room was not a suite—at the Embassy Suites! Instead, it occupied an awkward corner, with no separate sitting area, and featured an old-fashioned tube TV situated at an odd angle to the bed. If you can’t even score a suite at an all-suite hotel, you’ve encountered some pretty bad luck, as travel accommodations go.
If the staff had known who they were dealing with, they might have tried harder to live up to their marketing claims. I am a card-carrying hotel snob who has lived through some harrowing experiences to get this way. I’ve stood on the curb in my pajamas in front of my work colleagues after a fire alarm blared and run down a wire fire escape during a 6.7 California earthquake. I awoke to a flooded Caribbean casita and chased a small bird around the room given me as a replacement. I have had the room doorknob come off in my hand and electrocuted myself on the prong of a universal converter. And I have plugged in my 1875-watt hair dryer and blown out the power on an entire floor.
There have been some nice memories, too, such as a stay at the regal Beverly Wilshire in L.A., where I was obliged with a special corporate rate and a suite with a full living room, huge marble bathroom, and walk-in closet. A spray of fresh flowers and chocolate-dipped strawberries sat ready on the desk. There is that gleeful moment when you enter such palatial accommodations and realize they are yours, all yours, if only for a night. You don’t know what to do first: soak in a lovely deep bath with fragrant salts and oils, sink into the cloud of crisp white linens, or just loll about on the sofa and order room service.
It is no wonder, then, that after such treatment, you become a hotel snob. You don’t require rose petals on your bed, but you expect that certain criteria be met:
- A celebrity sighting. This ensures that you will always remember where you were when you saw famous person X. At the Beverly Wilshire, Julia Roberts, Ron Howard, and Larry King were spotted, not to mention someone in the elevator bearing a resemblance to Denzel Washington. (This sighting could not be confirmed after the fact, as during the transport I had stopped breathing, and the limited oxygen to my brain rendered me senseless.)
- Bathrobes. They do not fit, especially if you are 4-foot-11, but it’s fun to wear one, even with the belt tied around your knees.
- Magnifying mirror. Illuminated—and with an adjustable height (see above).A view.
- Skylines, lakes, and beaches are preferred over interstate highways, HVAC equipment, and brick walls.
- Complimentary shoeshine. In fancy hotels, a shoe fairy will retrieve your tired loafers from outside your room and magically return them—looking spiffy—the next morning. If you are at the $89 airport hotel the airline has provided because your flight was canceled and you leave your shoes by the door, they will be taken, but probably not by someone who actually works there.
- Thick white towels. A former co-worker used to claim the best part of staying in a hotel was leaving the towels on the bathroom floor. I never drop them because I know someone else will have to pick them up, and I don’t feel right about that.
- Luxury soaps. If you are not tempted by abject thievery, you can indulge in the aromatic designer soaps provided for the tub and sink. Otherwise, stash them in your travel bag, avoid hotel security, and head for the exit.
- Morning coffee in the lobby. My husband, a frequent travel companion, likes to bring me a nice cardboard cupful, which I see as a sign of affection. A miniature blueberry muffin alongside is gratefully accepted.
- No guilt-inducing green messages about wasting water. I of course want my sheets and towels laundered every day—that’s part of the thrill—and would appreciate management not making me feel bad about it.
- Thick walls. I don’t want to hear clinking glasses, giggling girlfriends, crying babies, slamming doors … or worse. At one hotel I was unfortunately placed next to a couple of indeterminate origin who were, shall we say, expressive. In any language, this sort of communication must remain private. Likewise, if you see school buses, or men with lanyards around their necks, run.
- Turn-down service. You do not need ice, an in-room safe, or, heaven forbid, an ironing board, but you do need the draperies pulled, the decorative pillows removed from the bed, fresh towels hung, and the radio tuned to soft jazz.
I love iconic hotels, like the Waldorf-Astoria (the clock!), the Peabody (the ducks!), and the Plaza (Eloise!), and am not interested in experimentation. I realize there are hotel rooms in treehouses and caves, in igloos and underwater, but I’ll stay above ground, in a temperate environment. Worst would be a capsule, like those in Japan where guests sleep in containers stacked on top of one another. There are mausoleums for that, and I can wait.
In the meantime, I wouldn’t mind a pillow menu, a real-live elevator operator, or a butler who rings my doorbell to offer personal concierge service. Monogrammed sheets would be lovely but aren’t really necessary.
Illustration by Andrea Eberbach.
This column originally appeared in the June 2011 issue.