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.
The lobby or ‘The Hive’ as Tru calls it, felt very bright and open compared to other hotels of its class I’ve been to. Designed with the Millennial in mind, it is divided into 5 areas for eating, working, playing, lounging and check-in. The circular check-in desk sits at the heart of the space with a small selection of sundries on the backside for purchase. The space is very modern, though it could gain from taller ceilings, it does have room for individual seating in pods, tables for eating, stadium seating for hanging out, a foosball table to play with, and a couple of TV’s around the space. Nearby the elevators could be found and across from them a very nifty, but currently unused local tips board you could browse while waiting. Set up in categories from food to fun, it looked like in normal times people can write their suggestions with markers provided and is flanked by a tv showing hotel events, local weather, traffic, and some suggested sites. Overall a nicely appointed space that I could see myself working from in the future as life returns to normal.
Guestroom / Suite
The guestroom is one of the areas Hilton spent a lot of time revamping for the Tru brand and it is noticeable from the moment you walk in and break the Lysol branded cleaned sticker. The entry of the room which Tru calls the ‘landing zone’ gave me a ski lodge feel, it had a bench, ironing board, mirror, an open hanging rod to act as a closet, minifridge and 3 coat hooks. Something I found interesting about the room is that it seems to be designed for single people traveling together; however, it is all set up for 3 people instead of the 4 that the room sleeps.
Rooms at Tru properties are 10 feet wide vs 12 feet at your standard hotel, Hilton rationalized this by replacing the standard TV cabinet and dresser with a long linear table for a flat screen TV, as well as removing any closets. While the room feels narrower, it is not much of an issue though there are not many drawers or closed cabinet spaces. The room itself features a rolling chair on the long aforementioned table, minimal furniture and very brightly patterned rolling shades. The beds here also do not have box springs but instead use a platform leaving room to slide luggage under the beds. The linens did leave a lot to be desired aesthetic wise, but were comfortable. Continuing the theme of 3’s, each bed had 3 pillows vs the standard 4, but I am happy to report that both the pillows and bed were very comfortable and great for watching tv after a long day of hiking.
Off of the entrance is the bathroom, and while not huge it is very well laid out to fit around other components of the room with a nice walk in shower, large vanity sink and illuminated mirror. The bathroom continues the theme of group travel with 3 towel hooks; however, they were half falling out the wall - having opened in 2018 this seems very soon for them to be faulty. Large format toiletries were also hung around the bathroom: sleek looking squeeze bottles with fun-facts and puns on them which I found comical while showering.
Amenities & Features
The hotel is very much a no-frills property but does offer basic amenities such as free Wi-Fi. Off the lobby there is a small but well equipped gym that was closed during our stay, as well as the only ice machine we saw on site. Next to the ice machine there were plastic ice buckets to take up to your room, and plenty of plastic cups to use with the water bottle filling station we visited frequently. The property also offers a pool that looked nicely lit up at night; however, any access to it was closed off so we could only see small parts of it through the fence from the back parking lot.
Food & Beverage
The only food offered on property is the free breakfast, which during normal times offers the brand standard of ‘build your own breakfast’ this includes things like, waffle boats (think a waffle stick but larger), over 35 toppings, and other hot bar items all complemented with some basic continental options like danishes; however, for the sake of the review, we will review the COVID options which were 3 types of bagels, butter or cream cheese, and glazed donuts. A very concentrated tasting orange juice was also on tap and tables were spread out around the area. Breakfast was all served by the one attendant who took your selection and handed it to you in a bag to take away, the bagels were ok, but free and enough fuel for a day’s hike!
Admittedly we didn’t spend much time on property as we were hiking for around 8 hours and then spent any extra time in the room distancing from others. The lobby wasn’t as used as the design was intended to be, and the breakfast options were severely limited as well. The rooms were cleaned and sealed for guests and the hotel practiced a 24-hr vacancy minimum for rooms between guests which I found comforting. The TV remote was labeled as clean and individually wrapped cleaning wipes were available around the room to wipe down surfaces. Masks were required on property, but not properly enforced. Elevators were marked to limit guests and housekeeping was suspended during stays. Otherwise there weren’t many changes we truly noticed during our stay, we kept to ourselves and avoided touching anything unnecessary.
Tru by Hilton offers an interesting alternative when visiting smaller cities or on road trips, as they look to continue expanding and building closer to city centers - I think with a few edits they could be offering a unique product with an exceptional value. It was the consensus of the room that we truly enjoyed the stay and felt we got a great deal, and enjoyed the less stale vibe you normally get on roadside hotels or select service properties.
I would definitely recommend the Tru by Hilton at Bowling Green and the Tru properties in general. I would seek them out on short trips and am looking forward to trying other locations across the US especially when things return to normal and full services are provided.