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Friday, June 20, 2014

Clarion Inn at Syracuse: Incompetence Abounds

On Wednesday my son Tom and I took a quick trip to Syracuse. I wanted to show Tom the Syracuse University campus as well as where I will be living when I move. I did not want to stay at the Red Roof Inn where I stayed many times last academic year. I wanted a slightly better environment. To this end I reserved a room at the Clarion Hotel in Syracuse. The on line reviews were largely positive, it was not too expensive, and had a free continental breakfast for my son's bottomless stomach.  Better yet I was able to book a room that had two beds and a roll in shower. Here is a screen shot of the Clarion Inn reservation information:

The screen shot is poor quality and likely cannot be read. It states in part "2 double beds accessible. Also included mobility and hearing accessible, Roll in Shower, ground floor".  Perfect I thought. The days of sharing a bed with my son are long gone. We left for Syracuse very early. We arrived in time for lunch and I had a great time showing him around campus.  I also took him to Wegmans and he was massively impressed. In short we had a great time and by late afternoon were ready to check into the Clarion Inn. The second I walked in the door I knew we were in trouble. The two employees at the desk looked at me with trepidation. People who use a wheelchair and travel know this look. It is as though you have a bomb on your lap and the employees are fearful it will explode at any second. I identified myself and the employee at the desk ignored me. After I told her my name she looked at Tom and asked him for a credit card. Tom looked at her, then looked at me and remained mute. I put on my stone face and handed over my credit card. She ran the charge and did whatever needed to be down to check us in. She then tried to hand my credit card back to Tom. He did not reach for it and stepped back making it impossible to reach him. I put my hand up and wondered when did I catch the plague. I put the credit card away and the employee then tried to hand Tom the keys and directions to the room. We had driven around the building prior to entering the lobby and noted multiple entrances--most of which inaccessible. I asks very clearly what entrance was accessible and was annoyed in the extreme.

I navigate to the entrance on foot and Tom drove the car around the building. We arrived at the entrance at the same time. There were four steps to enter the building. We both turn around and head back to the check in desk. I am not impressed. The employee that continually tried to engage Tom is gone. A very young employee is alone at the desk. She has absolutely no clue how to help  me. I am quick to ask for the manager at this point.  Two employees emerge from the back. Neither employee identifies himself or herself as being a manager.  There are now three employees at the desk and all appear stunned I am present. It is as though a Martian has just entered the lobby. I was a problem that was solved a few minutes earlier. My presence was clearly unwanted. A man starts to furiously type away at the key board and a discussion ensues about which rooms and what entrance is accessible. No one has a clue and massive confusion reigns supreme. I am angry; however I do not raise my voice or change its tone. My son was furious and told me he would wait outside. I wait as more keys are struck and I am told there is an accessible room but there is no roll in shower. This is contradicted by another employee who says there is a roll in shower but it has only a king bed. No one is sure where the accessible entrance is. My confidence in anything I am told reaches zero.

I ask again about the accessible entrance and two employees contradict each other when they answer at the same time. They then contradict each other about the room number and location of the supposedly accessible room. I give up. At least 15 to 30 minutes after I arrived I cancel my reservation and walk out in frustration. We did not see a room or the inside of the hotel. No apology is offered. Off the Red Roof Inn we go. Upon arrival we are warmly welcomed and the manger jokes that "my room is available". She throws in a AAA discount, gives my black lab Kate a bone and offers her some water. Check in takes all of three minutes. The manager addresses me at all times. She has ignored my son who stands at a respectful distance. When ready to go to the room I introduce her to my son. They great each other warmly and off we go. I am routinely impressed by the Red Roof Inn. As always, the shower head is down in the room that has, gasp, a roll in shower! The staff in every Red Roof Inn I have stayed in knows the location and features of the accessible room instantly. Check is smooth and simple--normal if you will. In fact I almost feel like a typical bipedal traveler.

In the last year I have traveled a great deal. I have stayed at high end hotels. I have stayed at some real iffy motels in questionable neighborhoods. Generally speaking I have had far more positive experiences at budget motels over high end hotels. Obviously exceptions exist. I would speculate this is a numbers game--a matter of basic economics. People with a disability are in overwhelming numbers poor. The few that can afford to travel surely stay in budget accommodations. High end hotels without question do not get nearly as many visitors with a disability. As a result, budget motels like the Red Roof Inn are extremely responsive and familiar with accessibility. Other chains I avoid. The Clarion Inn is at the top of that list now.  I know certain hotels to avoid--some of them are top notch hotels. The Grand Hyatt and the high end Marriott for example are typically terrible in terms of access and the reservation process is time consuming.

In spite of the needless trouble we encountered we had a great trip. My son was relieved to see that I am not going to be living in a hovel. He saw the town I am living near and was impressed. The surrounding area is gorgeous and I am literally living on a lake a mere 30 minutes from the Syracuse campus. Here is proof the location the lake I will be I will be living next to is lovely.

The highlight of our trip took place in Roscoe, New York on our way home. We visited Prohibition Distillery that sold bourbon and vodka. We ate a sub made at the local sandwich shop that was delicious. Better yet, we ate outside and Kate ate our bread scraps. We then went to the distillery and had a sampling at the that we shared. My son had bourbon, I had the vodka. Wow. Best vodka I have ever had and the bottle design was cool. Such is my life. Never ordinary and many highs and lows. When we got home I can assure my readers I had a stiff drink--in fact I will confess I had more than one and went to bed a happy man.


anon said...

I recently stayed at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. I am a very poor PhD candidate and can't afford hotels like the Hyatt Regency, just as you mentioned. I was there for a pre-departure orientation for the Fulbright program. I am happy to report the hotel staff was extremely friendly and gave me exactly what I asked for: a room close to the elevator on the side of the (huge) hotel on which the orientation was to take place. I use a walker and have a service dog, Piper. The hotel staff went out of their way (or did their job) to make me comfortable. For example, they asked me to call them when I wanted my room cleaned, so they could do it at my convenience. I am immune-compromised and predictably, got sick while I was there. Check-out time is 12 noon, but they allowed me to stay in the room until 3 PM, when my airport shuttle was to arrive. Although I do not need an accessible room per se, they have them, including roll-in showers. They provided a shower chair for me, which I do need. They also brought a roll in table with all my room service orders,even very small ones, so I could eat sitting on the edge of my bed. When introduced, they were very friendly and welcoming to Piper. I highly recommend them.

The Fulbright people were also great. My only complaint, and this is not about Fulbright, but about the other scholars attending the orientation, is that people constantly came and pet and engaged Piper, even though she has a service dog vest and a large red & white tag that reads "DO NOT PET," and another tag that says "I AM WORKING." Piper is a small dog, a Pomeranian, and usually rides in the basket of my walker. Only two people asked, "Is she working?" and then did not pet her when I replied yes. This is a constant source of frustration for me. Yes, she is small and extremely cute and wags her tail at people. She doesn't "look" like a typical service dog. Nonetheless, she is. She alerts me when I have very high blood pressure or very high blood sugar. She is an indispensable part of my ability to travel alone. I have not yet found an effective way to stop people from petting and engaging her.

william Peace said...

Anon. Glad you had a good experience with the Hyatt Regency Capital Hill and the Fulbright program. I too have had great experiences at hotels but they are all too rare. I was very surprised by your comments about academics being invasive in terms of your service dog. A good friend and fellow academic forms a guide dog team with his yellow lab. Within an academic setting I have not observed a person be intrusive. I wonder if the issue is your dog is not the typical labrador or retriever typically associated with a service dog. Of course this observation does not o you much good.

Moose said...

When I travel, when possible, I stay at Red Roof Inns. With the exception of one place near Columbus, Ohio, I've always found them to be the easiest dealing with accessibility issues. They do tend to be noisy, but I'll take that any day in return for getting a roll-in shower when I book a room that has one and a bed that I don't need a climbing rope to get into.

For a while I was attending an annual conference that had me staying in a Hyatt. The "handicapped" rooms were in corners, so that they were large, but they had a small hallway with a sharp turn that could be hard to negotiate. The bathrooms were decent, but the beds were so high I risked falling out before I even got in. And the best part were the bank of 6 elevators which all closed fairly quickly after arrival. My first time there one actually slammed shut on me. The hotel was appropriately horrified that it had happened and started comping things out the butt. Even after that, however, trying to get to an elevator before the doors closed was a game of roulette.

My most recent non-RRI stay was in a Holiday Inn. They had some nicely placed handicapped parking spots right near a well-done kerb cut which was near the non-automated front door ... which was on a narrow part of the sidewalk with no way to easily open the door and get in without risking falling off the sidewalk. Inside the hotel were various doors (likely to reduce sound from the lobby/restaurant) but none were automated, either. It was insane when I had to go back to the front desk three times because of non-working keys, and each time had to fight to get through the doors!

Give me the RRI any day. I'll take barking dogs, screaming adults, and, that one time, a guy watching 'adult' movies all night, any time over the crap from other motels and hotels.

Mountain Grandma said...

Do you'uns ever post your experiences on TripAdvisor or one of the other travel review sites? I've occasionally gotten quite a lot of attention from hotel management with such reviews.

william Peace said...

Moose, Amazed by your observation about Red Roof Inn in Ohio. I have been to three Red Roof Inns in Ohio--they were terrible. I avoid the chain in that state. Yes, the Red Roof can be loud but the ease of access and quality of staff and spotless rooms more than make up for it.
Mountain Grandma, I have never seen a trip advisor add that mention wheelchair access. A few apps exist designed for access information at hotels and motels. The information is very scarce.

Becs said...

Lake access to take up kayaking again?

Moose said...

At this point I've been to about a half dozen RRIs in Ohio, near both Columbus and Toledo, and two in the Pittsburgh area.

The worst one near Columbus is the Worthington one on High Street. They have lied to me about what I reserved [even with a printout of the reservation; they insisted that I'd cancelled it and reserved something else], pretended to put in a room change for another visit, and actually stolen things from my room. The manager made it clear that nobody gave a crap about my complaints. That was it for that place. My experiences with the others have been ok.

The ones in Pittsburgh I've been to are mixed. The Pgh East [Monroeville] has rooms with ample marked parking and kerb cuts right in front of the rooms, but to get to the office without using stairs you have to park around back and come a small distance -- annoying. The Pgh "South" (which is west of the city) location has an easy to get to office but parking and kerb cuts a bit away from the actual rooms! Crazy.

I have answered RRI corporate surveys and posted stuff on review sites. Little things like "The bathroom was dirty" might get a response. Stuff like "Your desk clerk lied to me, twice" gets ignored.

william Peace said...

Becs, Yes to kayaking. I am right on the lake.
Moose. I will never stay at a Red Roof Inn in the state of Ohio. If visiting a big city I stay in a hotel down town or about an hour away. Airport motels are pretty good sometimes.

jwg said...

Had an interesting experience this weekend at the Spring Hill Suited by Marriott in Tarrytown NY. The accessible room had enough space to bring in and recharge my scooter without having to trip on iot, I requested and quickly received a shower chair and everyone was helpful The best part though was at the pool and hot tub. Both are equipped with chair lifts which would allow everyone to use both facilities. I didn't try them but they looked pretty simple. I asked the young man at the desk about them and he said Marriott is pushing all the hotels to install them. He said that some hotels had chosen to close their pools-a stupid move- but many others are complying. I don't know the details, whether it's all Marriott brands, if there is a timeline or anything else, but is was pretty interesting.

william Peace said...

jwg. Wow, this is a small world. My parents lived 3 miles from that Marriott and tirelessly worked with that staff to get them up to speed. I was in that hotel many times and pointed out multiple problems. Most were solved but it took years. So funny they are still somewhat on top of things.