So you’re probably wondering, why Kentucky and why Bowling Green? Four words; Mammoth Cave National Park. As summer drew to a close and fall swung into full gear, a few friends and I decided to go have one last outdoor adventure that far enough from home that we could disconnect, close enough we could drive, and impressive enough that it was worth it. Thus we pre-booked our cave access tickets, planned our route, and bought a lot of snacks for a 6-hour long journey of I-spy and Abba karaoke.
The Tru by Hilton brand launched in 2016 and is aimed at the economical young traveler with a trendier aesthetic - read: millennial - with furniture and amenity spaces that are skewed toward matching this demographic while still fitting within the select service arm of the industry. For comparison among Hilton Brands, Tru is similar in offerings to a Hampton Inn - which Melanie & Tom reviewed over the summer - albeit in a trendier outfit. For this new concept, Hilton redesigned their room standards - shrinking the size by removing elements like desks and closets - to fit more rooms per building and offer economics that could lower the cost per night. This formula aims at carving out a new trendier niche in the select service market.
The quaint city of Bowling Green, Kentucky’s 3rd largest city and where our hotel was located, is home to the Corvette Factory and the National Corvette Museum - a great site to check out while in town. The hotel itself is located right off I-65 in a sea of gas stations, chain restaurants, and next to a dying mall with a Cinnabon. The area left a bit to be desired, but was within a 10 minute drive to downtown Bowling Green through some residential streets. Downtown had some cute dining spots as well like Mellow Mushroom Pizza, which was our favorite, and is filled with some interesting vintage buildings and automotive history. But the real star is around 20 minutes away: Mammoth Cave National Park. Established in 1941 and considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site - as well as an international Biosphere Reserve. Within its boundaries are only a small amount of a jaw dropping 400+ miles of the world’s longest cave system, not to mention some beautiful hiking trails and campgrounds.
I booked this hotel directly on the Hilton website and reserved a 2 Queen Room for $77/night with fees and taxes totaling $175 for our two nights and earning 2,772 Hilton Honors points. Paying with my Chase Sapphire Reserve, which earns double points on travel, I also earned 350 Ultimate Rewards Points for my stay.
Arrival, Check In & Lobby
After hours of screaming Mamma Mia at the top of our lungs on the drive from Chicago, we pulled off into a quintessential highway off-ramp neighborhood to start our vacation. Check-in was a breeze, it took under 5 minutes, and the staff were all extremely courteous and masked up which we appreciated as we did not see much of that around the area. We were handed our room keys and told a bit about the hotel procedures including the limited breakfast options and hours.
If you know me, you know that I’m a proud Floridian, and that for some reason I dislike the Tampa Bay area, yet find myself there too often. Perhaps it's because I’m a Florida Panthers fan and had to watch the Tampa Bay Lightning be lauded in the playoffs by locals, but during my time back home amid COVID-19, I once again found myself in the greater Tampa Bay area for a family getaway.
This trip was originally scheduled to occur the weekend prior and then hurricane Isaias decided to give Florida a bit of a scare that week, thus we postponed for the following weekend and I once again extended my stay in Florida. As a family we highly prefer the beaches of the Gulf Coast as they tend to have warmer waters, white sand, and stunning wildlife from sea turtles and dolphins, to manatees and sand dollars - we saw it all on our short escapade.
When I originally booked this property, what really drew me in was not only its location near the stunning Fort De Soto State Park, once voted one of America’s most beautiful beaches, but also the fact that it was cheaper than most in the area and brand new having opened in January. Unclear to most travelers, but true of most Residence Inns, this property was franchised and had outside management, which ended up being crucial with all the turns the trip took.
I booked this hotel directly on the Marriott website and had originally reserved a Bay View 2 Queen Studio Room for $195/night totaling to $430 with resort fees and taxes. However, due to circumstances you’ll read about in the next section, we ended up paying $100/night and with taxes and fees totalling $226 for both nights of our stay. I earned 1,000 Bonvoy Points and since I paid with my Chase Sapphire Preserve, which earns double points on travel, I also earned 550 Ultimate Rewards Points for my stay.
We ended up having to rebook this trip due to hurricane Isaias making a dash at the Florida coast the week we were supposed to go. I had the pleasure of talking to the property owner, and as a fellow Floridian she totally understood our worry with driving and traveling during a storm. She very kindly offered to waive all fees to rebook or cancel the day prior to the stay as we awaited to see the storm's path. To be safe we rebooked and she happily changed our days for a week ahead with no extra fees.
Arrival, Check In & Lobby
Finally the weekend arrived and after a surprisingly quick three and a half hour drive from the South Florida coast, we arrived at the Residence Inn Tierra Verde, which sits on a small barrier island before Fort De Soto and requires a small toll to enter - be aware of that anytime you travel the Florida Gulf Coast. The lobby was very well appointed and spacious, with plenty of sunlight and water views as well as coastal furniture and beechwood tones. On the ground were creative sand footprint social distancing decals - to promote standing 6 feet apart; the check-in desks had tall acrylic panels and all the staff were wearing masks; however, the same cannot be said about other guests even though it is required.
Check-in was a breeze and the front desk manager was nothing but a delight, we got our room keys and headed up, but upon entering we were facing… the parking lot. As you recall, we had booked a bay view. I went down to the front desk and asked if it had been an error where we ended up or to see what happened. They explained that it must have been an error with the system and our reservation was not showing the bay view, and that unfortunately, they had no more rooms facing that direction and were fully booked for the weekend. After some back and forth - mainly concerning the rate difference between a bay and parking lot view room - she offered to take off $95 off per night, leaving me at the discounted rate above. It was quite the discount and I was beyond happy with the resolution!
The Ritz Carlton brand began in Europe with The Ritz and The Carlton hotels in Paris and London, respectively, in the 1890’s later expanding into North America by the 1910’s. After many historical years and properties, the brand was fully purchased by Marriott International in 1998 and have since expanded to include over 100 properties in 30 countries.
The Ritz Carlton Guangzhou opened 2008 in the central business district of Guangzhou, China, and underwent a major renovation in 2018 for its 10th anniversary. The skyscraper housing the hotel and residences is across from the new IFC tower and faces the Zhujiang River with the absolutely stunning Canton Tower across the water. The Hotel is conveniently placed near many of the city’s modern attractions like the opera house, various museums, and is a short walk from the nearest station of the very expansive metro, making it easy to reach all destinations in the city from the hotel.
Guangzhou itself is the 5th most populous city in China and capital of the Guangdong region, with a metro population of over 50 million it is part of one of the largest urban agglomerations on earth. The city has a long history as a trading port having been a major stop for the silk road, add in its proximity to Hong Kong and Macau and it has grown into one of the largest trade capitals in the world, home to the second largest trade fair every spring and fall; The Canton Fair.
For this stay, we booked directly with the hotel at www.marriott.com reserving a Deluxe Room at a rate of $197 + Taxes and fees earning us 2,858 Marriott Bonvoy points. This also counted towards our Bank of America Travel Rewards card $1,000 minimum spend sign-up bonus to receive a 25,000 point reward.
Booking was truly where the Ritz experience truly began. I booked this trip a few months in advance and did my research on what I was planning to do in Guangzhou; however, many things were difficult to book from the US. Thus I decided to email the concierge about my plans in the city to see if they could help me booking things, one being tickets to the Guangzhou opera who had a show in their acclaimed Zaha Hadid designed venue, which as an architect I had to go to. I also requested help with dinner reservations at their Michelin starred restaurant Lai Heen, and cab directions among other things on my birthday trip around the Pearl River. The staff was nothing but helpful, they purchased the opera tickets, received my train ticket to Macau in the mail, and prepared me for my visit. I cannot stress enough how exceptional the staff was from the moment I booked.