Of Pillows and Continental Breakfasts

The success or failure of any trip often hinges on your hotel/motel. Our recent pilgrimage to Gettysburg was no different. While we are by no means "world-travelers," we do know whether or not we are comfortable, and can usually tell whether an effort has been made by the innkeepers to make our stay enjoyable enough to entice us to make a return stop. What follows is a review of the motels we stayed in during our trip. (Careful readers will notice there are no motels listed for Saturday and Sunday night at the beginning of the trip. We stayed at a small resort for family reunion.

Note for the uninitiated: "continental breakfast" has nothing to with eating outside in the manager's Lincoln. (Who knew?!?)

  • Antlers Motel - Jct. US 12 & 53 Eau Claire, WI

    General consensus: two thumbs up. This small motel was a definite gem for the first night. The room was spacious, the beds acceptable. It was not fancy, but more than made up for that lack in other ways. Besides the two beds, the cable TV with remote, there was a table and two easy chairs, and, just outside the door to the room, two lawn chairs to relax in while watching the sun sink in the west. The office had current magazines you could take to your room to read. The coffee was fresh and tasty, and, paired with the continental breakfast the next morning, was sufficient for starting the day. Between the free HBO and the lateness of our arrival my children barely missed the nonexistent swimming pool. Friendly front-desk personnel and a souvenir unbreakable comb - imprinted with the motel's name and address - rounded out this enjoyable visit. The desk clerk told me people have brought back their combs twenty years later, most of the printing worn off but still unbroken and functional long after their hair has departed!

    I have no qualms about suggesting the Antlers Motel to others, and will certainly consider them the next time I am in the area.

  • Howard Johnson's - exit 26 off I-70, New Stanton, PA

    Ho-Jo's are adequate. One thumb up. We got off on the wrong foot, I think. We are animated people, and we enjoy kidding around and chatting with new people. Our desk clerk had about as much personality as creamed peas without toast (Lutherans will understand!) He was extremely polite. "Yes, ma'am." "No, sir." But when he went through his obligatory litany for checking in, he lost points. He knew we were a party of four, two adults and two children. When he asked if we had any pets along, we simply made a slight joke: wondering if the children counted as pets. "No, ma'am. Children are not counted as pets." Okay....

    Beds were nice enough. Pillows functional. Outdoor pool OK. Not too much chlorine. Pool towels provided - nice plus! Pool only open until dusk (8:30-8:45pm) - minus sign. The toilet gave us a little trouble. It flushed without any enthusiasm, and so required multiple flushes to "clear the bowl." Environmentally correct, since it only used about three cups of water per flush, but design flaws tipped the scales the opposite way by making it actually use about 6 gallons to get the job done when your job was done.

    Coffee was OK. Rolls (pastries) were OK. TV worked. Nothing to write home about, but nothing to write to Mr. Howard or Mr. Johnson about, either.

    We ate across the street at the Eat 'n Park. Yes, there was a Howard Johnson's restaurant next door, but the lifeguard told us she didn't like the food there. She said the Eat 'n Park seemed much more healthy and less greasy. She was right. We had a very good meal. Wonderful salad bar. Several different varieties of corn bread - plain, strawberry, blueberry, and banana walnut - were a nice plus, and a sign we were slowly making our way further south.

    As nice and reasonable as the meal was, I must mention something my wife pointed out that evening. There really is a "Minnesota Nice." Maybe it's our Scandinavian heritage, but we seem to enjoy people more than others do. Even if we don't quite understand someone's humor, we laugh anyway! When the hostess was preparing to seat us, she wanted to know if Becca was 10 or under. I said Becca (who is eleven) was my wife, and suffered from a glandular disorder, and was really 34. I pointed to my (real) wife and told the hostess SHE was ten years old and also suffered from a glandular disorder. She gave a weak, confused smile, left the kids menu behind and showed us to our table. (Any good Minnesota hostess would have roared with laughter, and asked my wife if she wanted the kids' menu. She would have played along since this was not prime evening rush hour.) So we went meekly with our hostess and quietly noted that we weren't in Kansas anymore, Toto.

  • Howard Johnson's - Business Hwy 15, Gettysburg, PA

    It's a Ho-Jo! One thumb up. And one thumb down (from my daughter. I'll explain later). Location, location, location. You can walk to just about any part of the Gettysburg Good Stuff from here. You're right next door to the Civil War Wax Museum and across the street from the edge of the battlefield and cemetery. There's no continental breakfast, but you're also right next door to a Friendly's Restaurant. The room was quite nice, the beds and pillows did their jobs, the cable TV had HBO, the outdoor pool was open til ten o'clock at night with pool towels provided, and our room had a balcony with chairs. The maid service was very good (we were there two nights) with one exception: she threw away Becca's bullets. Allegedly threw away Becca's bullets. They could also have been left or dropped somewhere else, but Becca's sure of what happened, and that's why the one thumb down.

    To hear her tell it, the maid is dabbling in black market Civil War bullets, and quickly lifted what Becca had innocently left behind during one of our outings: a mini-ball and cleaner bullet, purchased with her own money, too! She's convinced we could go back and buy those very same bullets again, now that the maid has gotten her finder's fee and the shopkeeper has put them back on the shelf. I've lived with Becca long enough to know there may be a much more mundane solution.

    Based on location alone, I'd stay there again. We spent so little time in our room that anything more would have been wasted. If I was staying for a week, I might look elsewhere for something a little more plush and with free continental breakfast, and maybe an indoor pool. If I did stay there again, I would hope they had fixed the water pressure for the shower. I need to feel the water hitting my body, and I prefer it to stay at one temperature instead of alternately freezing and parboiling me. I guess I'm just funny that way.

  • Comfort Inn - Jct. 23 & 30, Upper Sandusky, OH

    In the middle of nowhere is a star shining brightly. The least expensive motel we stayed at but by far the nicest. Four thumbs up, or maybe two thumbs and a couple of big toes.

    Four people in a room for forty-five bucks sounds like bare mattresses and a single lightbulb with a string attached, doesn't it? This little oasis really impressed the heck out of me. When you're traveling cross-country on a budget, don't be afraid to stop in here for the night. The only thing missing was a pool. And, the one night we stayed there, cable TV. The cable had gone out about an hour before we arrived, and was fixed later that evening. But we still had HBO, which came in via satellite, so we weren't completely undone.

    Very nice, well-kept clean rooms are just the start. I fell in love in that room. After nearly a five-hundred mile day, I fell in love with a large, overstuffed chair which was in addition to two other chairs and a table. A large ficus tree occupied another corner, adding a touch of nature to our room after a day of asphalt and concrete. The ficus tree was not only greenery we found, though. We discovered, in between wings of the motel, a courtyard with rustic benches where we could listen to the night sounds before bed and enjoy coffee and bird songs in the morning.

    The continental breakfast was delightful. The children scoped it out the night we arrived and made their selections immediately. There were three kinds of juice, coffee, decaf, hot water for tea and hot chocolate, milk, sweet rolls, Danish, granola bars, cereal, fresh fruit, pancakes and sausage, bagels, muffins and English muffins. And, unlike most motels, you didn't have to grab what you wanted and balance it on various body parts while walking back to your room. They had a breakfast nook right there which looked out on the courtyard and newspapers to peruse while you ate a leisurely meal. It was exactly how breakfast should be, and without the time constraints of many larger, fancier places. The morning fare was available when you were ready.

    Something else we noticed as we traveled further north and west was the reemergence of personality among desk clerks and restaurant folks. Esther, the desk clerk at the Comfort Inn, was there when we arrived late on a Thursday evening, and was lively, animated and friendly. She was also lively, animated and friendly the following morning. She had switched shifts and so had worked a late night followed by an early morning, but was none the worse for her lack of sleep. She handled check-ins, checkouts, the phones and deliveries with genuine cheerfulness. Hats off to Esther and the Comfort Inn of Upper Sandusky, Ohio for a wonderful short stay. If we can, we'll be back.

  • Budget Host - 3 miles west of I-90/94, Madison, WI

    Oops. Someone goofed at Triple-A. This should not have been a two-star motel. We had stopped once, two years before, and it looked nice, but there was no vacancy that night. This time we planned ahead and made reservations. Having stayed there, I'm sad to say I have to give it a thumbs down rating.

    I'd like to think it's not the fault of anyone working there, but I'm afraid it is, from the maids to the desk clerks. Mildew on the shower curtain, bathroom tiles which felt far less than clean, carpeting which should have been replaced no less than two years ago, pillows that made a credit card look thick and a TV which screamed out for a remote control. I have enough trouble working our TV at home when someone loses the remote, let alone trying to figure one out in a motel after a long day on the road. The pool smelled like it had been overdosed on chemicals, the timer for the whirlpool was broken, and the sauna wasn't even labeled. I opened an unmarked door and there it was. There was garbage all over the yard in back where we parked, and the lighting around the doorway was very poor, making it hard to see the keyhole to get into the building. The coffee was fresh in the morning, but no decaf for my wife, and no lids for the styrofoam cups, which made for a very careful walk back to our room. The continental breakfast was a Monday through Friday thing, so we missed out by waking up on a Saturday morning. The newspaper in the lobby for you to read on the sagging, threadbare couch was stuck to the table by what I hoped was only Friday morning's breakfast. At checkout we found out about the five-dollar room-key deposit we had not been told about the night before. We asked them to take it off our Visa bill rather than giving us cash.

    When you consider our trip was 2800-miles long, traversed eight states and was completed in nine days, one bad motel isn't such terrible statistics. There is no substitute for your own bed, of course, but if you shop around before you r trip and ask questions when making your reservations, you should be able to get pleasant accommodations without blowing your budget. We actually made our trip for about half of what AAA said it should cost. If you do find your room lacking something or plagued by fixable irritations, be sure to let the manager know, or write to the franchise and let them know. Let them know if you really enjoyed your stay, too, and what specifically was extra-nice for you and your merry band of travelers. For the most part, the AAA guide we used was pretty accurate. But if you stop in Madison, Wisconsin, go to the Comfort Inn.


    ©Copyright 1996 Mike Zimmerli

    A Ramblings Special Edition in Three Parts:

    How I Spent My Summer Vacation
    (2800 miles in nine days with two kids in the backseat)

    [Part One] [Part Two]

    Part Three:
    Of Pillows and Continental Breakfasts
    (Our Review of Our Lodgings)

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