The layover hotel after a long overseas trip has never been one of my favorites. More often than not, I tend to pay little attention to the amenities when making my decision, which is usually based solely on minimum points. So our recent layover in Charlotte, North Carolina after a return trip from Rome was not expected to be a highlight of our trip. Based on our loyalty points with IHG, it seemed the best option we had was a stay at the Holiday Inn Express and Suites Charlotte Airport.
Located less than two miles away from Charlotte International and only a five-minute free shuttle, it allowed for the fastest return time to the airport to catch the final leg of our journey home. I should have known that we were in for a surprise simply by the shuttle service alone. Our driver immediately engaged us in conversation of which I am a fan. I have always been the one who looks for good first impressions and he provided it.
Within seconds of entering the shuttle, he spouted off gleefully how great his hotel is. It is clean, the free breakfast is superb, and if we need to go out to eat later, he would be happy to take us there and pick us up. We were quite hungry so he nailed it right off the bat since transportation to anywhere would be an issue. Upon first glance, it appears as every other Holiday Inn Express we have stayed at over the years. The outdoor area was cleaner than most and the parking lot looked quite new, but other than that, the same.
The difference is when you walk through the door. I would say the first thing you notice is the smell, clean. Yes clean seems to have its own unique smell, especially after a 12 hour flight. The lobby is beautiful with bright colors decorating the walls, the floors and of course the ceiling. It does not take long to realize the decorative style of modern, posh and aviation. This particular Holiday Inn is uniquely adorned with images of flight in the artwork as well as elements of airplane design in the furniture and décor. The designers paid particular attention to leaving no areas untouched, which is a welcome change from hotels that have cavernous areas with literally nothing but a wall.
The lobby itself has an open floorplan with cubbies spread throughout for privacy. Whether you want to watch a little television in private (they have three available so you are not stuck with a particular news channel which can be utterly annoying) or if you want to have a cocktail in private. They have a beautifully decorated coffee area that also has a flight update board to make sure your next departure is on time. A small computer and printer allow a quick print of your boarding passes for convenience.
The lobby opens up to a dining area for the breakfast crowd or if you simply want a place, other than your room, to hang out. I usually would not suggest such a thing with most hotels of this budget price, but the mood is inviting to say the least. The breakfast area looked as if it had barely been used it was as clean as did the dining area. Just beyond the lobby is the fitness area and indoor salt-water pool. This was not the mildew-smelling swamp found in other places, but a meticulously cleaned pool simply inviting you to jump. Unfortunately, we had been on a 2-week trip to Europe in March and had not brought swimsuits. I dabbled with the idea of jumping in without one, but I needed a place to sleep and nobody wants to see that. The fitness machines, although not used by us, looked in perfect shape and can only speculate on the quality while in use.
The enjoyable experience continued as we made our way to the room. The hallways are well lit, with carpet that matches the colors and theme throughout the lobby area. As you can see from the picture, it felt as if we were the first guests to tread on the carpet. You enter the rooms by simply passing the key over the lock, rather than inserting, which is more convenient when you have an armful of luggage. We stayed in a double queen standard room to save our points and it was the prefect size.
The room is adorned with the aeronautics motif and the use of engineering pictures of planes fit in quite nicely. The room itself is the standard one we’ve all come accustomed to over the years with the Express brand, but clean, very clean! The beds were comfortable, pillows nice and firm and the carpet felt like you did not need to keep your socks on to walk. Trust me; I am a slight germaphobe so this is saying something.
Still looking for any cracks in the armor with the bathroom and once again came up empty. They must clean the room with a toothbrush based on what we saw.
What began as a layover we would have rather done without turned into an eye-opening experience on what is possible with the Holiday Inn Express brand. Whether it was the reception experience, the room or the facilities, the thought behind the design was spot on. The amenities of a 24-hour shuttle, a breakfast that tasted more homemade than thawed and a shuttle driver that delivered on his promise to take us to a Mexican restaurant and back solidified what I felt on the initial shuttle drive. This was not the ordinary Holiday Inn Express.
Deserving of Praise
It is not often I would brag on a hotel of this category, but it is more than deserved. Holiday Inn reached into their pocket and pulled out a masterpiece in their Express brand. We will certainly be coming back here and I will bring a bathing suit. I promise. If you do have that short layover or thinking about a visit to the Charlotte, North Carolina area, do not pass up the opportunity to stay at the Holiday Inn Express and Suites Charlotte Airport . I was not expecting to take many pictures of our layover after taking thousands, but it was that nice. Kudos to you Holiday Inn! I hope you continue the trend.
Live Within Your Means, Travel Beyond Them!