Capitol Hill is not just for Bills

I've taken many business trips to the DC area; some places visited I wouldn't mind revisiting for pleasure again.

JW Marriot

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by notso62 on June 25, 2008

"Where on earth is my hotel?" Is all I could think as I walked up Pennsylvania Avenue towards the White House. I double-check the print-out I had made myself with pertinent travel information the night before; sure enough, it indicates the address of the building that I am standing in front of. But this does not appear to be a hotel at all, but rather a large office building. I keep walking up Pennsylvania Avenue toward 14th street when I notice an entrance on the cross street saying that this building was indeed the Marriot that I was looking for.

Besides being a bit tricky to find, the JW Marriot is a very nice hotel and is perfect for business travelers and tourists of the nation's capital as well. Guests are greeted by doormen that happily assist with luggage, directions, or any other bits of travel help you should need. Once inside, the grandiose lobby overwhelms guests with opulence; large crystal chandeliers, a nice restaurant, and impeccable styling are just a few of the things that caught my attention upon entering. Starbucks junkies will be happy to know that they could get their fix at the store located on the hotel's lobby level.

I absolutely loved the "smart elevators" in this hotel. Once a button is pushed for the floor, a screen displays which elevator (indicated by number) will be arriving to take you to your destination. Once inside the indicated elevator, you do not even have to push any buttons. This might be bad for people that like to change their mind about what floor they would like to go to, but I thought it was neat that I did not have to guess which elevator would be opening next and going in the correct direction. Perhaps I am easily amused though.

Despite it's outward appearance as an office building, the rooms at the JW Marriot were quite comfortable. Decor was well-done and very tasteful. Marble baths and updated mini-bars also make this hotel seem a bit more upscale than a typical Marriot chain.

The JW Marriot is very convieniently located just blocks away from the Mall and all the attractions of Downtown DC. The White House is literally a block away. It seemed to be in a very nice neighborhood as well; not a lot of riff-raff lurking outside at night thanks to the heavy area-presence of the Capital Police.

Getting to and from the JW Marriot is very easy especially if you are adept at taking public transportation. The Federal Triangle Metro Station is just across the street. However, if you do choose to drive to this destination and use the Hotel's valet service it can be a bit pricey. Unfortunately there seems to be no good cheap options for parking in this area; especially overnight.

I would highly recommend staying at this hotel if it is in your price range for your visit. I would encourage people who are on more of a budget to check out the deals and specials this hotel runs on occasion as well. I was able to get a room for much less than I would have expected to pay for this type of establishment thanks to a last-minute booking deal.
JW Marriott Hotel
1331 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, United States, 20004

Strange Trip: The Topaz Hotel

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by notso62 on August 28, 2008

Using Priceline to find cheap DC hotels has definitely yielded some mixed results this past summer. Perhaps the quirkiest hotel that I stayed in though must be the Kimpton’s Topaz Hotel. The oddities started from the time I spotted the hotel (it looks like a cozy apartment building nestled in Dupont Circle instead of the chain hotel I was expecting), but did not stop there.

Upon my arrival, the over-friendly concierge inquired about everything about my trip. "You’re staying for 4 days? Have you been to DC before? Business or pleasure? What area attractions are you interested in? Where do you like to eat? Do you like to go out in the evenings" Et cetera. I found it a little odd; I’m not one that likes to engage strangers in long conversations. I guess the staff was friendly enough, but it did seem more like an apartment concierge than a front desk; everyday I passed through the entrance after work they asked twenty questions about my day and whatever. I found this exceptionally strange for American hotel staff behavior; perhaps they were used to catering to a mostly European clientele that expects this level of interaction.

For the night staff’s level of curiosity, the morning staff was quite the opposite. Every morning when I would go out for my run at 5 o’clock I would return to find the doorman sleeping behind the desk. One morning I had to bang on the door for five minutes until he woke up and let me back inside! This was most annoying to me.

The rooms at the Topaz Hotel were very strangely decorated. Perhaps it’s because I just saw the new Batman movie, but I thought my room looked like something the Joker would have designed. Dark purple sofa, striped walls, harlequin print headboard, and ruby velour curtains created a strange mix indeed! The rooms came complete with cheetah printed robes and accessories. Despite my mostly mixed opinion of the décor, I did appreciate the fact that they hung Fedex envelopes conveniently in the closet for my use.

My room was very clean and the mini-bar was surprisingly well stocked. My biggest pet peeve from my stay though was the housekeeper’s insistence on placing some of my items in the closet everyday. I looked through my suitcase eight times one day before I realized they had put all of my shoes in the closet. So it goes sometimes.

The Topaz Hotel has many amenities such as wireless internet and a free daily wine happy hour in its first floor cocktail lounge. Overall, I would say my stay was a bit strange, but I wouldn’t entirely mind staying here again. The price was reasonable and it was clean; those are the most important criteria for me in hotel selection. Oddities aside it wasn’t too bad.
Topaz Hotel - A Kimpton Hotel
Washington, United States, 20036

Under Construction!

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by notso62 on October 7, 2008

‘Roughing it’ at the Hyatt Regency? It doesn’t sound like an experience one would expect to have at the high end hotel chain’s establishment on Capitol Hill, but it was the feeling that multiple construction projects conveyed to me as a guest.

Walking in the front entrance, I was immediately diverted down a make-shift staircase to the hotel registration desk. Unfortunately there was no apparent elevator access to this area and I was forced to clumsily handle my baggage and navigate the incline at the same time. Once to the desk (which was more of a temporary kiosk as opposed to a bona fide registration desk), I was curtly greeted by employees that had to yell over the construction noise to give me my room information. Not that I blame them for being cranky; if I was expected to work in a construction zone without earplugs, I would be cranky too.

Once given my room assignment I had to walk along about a ½ mile of make-shift corridor to where the elevators stood. Exposed wires and HVAC duct systems are not what I would liken with pleasant public ambiance, which was ironically what the hotel’s conference services website touted. The construction people obviously didn’t plan their project to ease the burden on hotel guests with all their bags checking in. Elevators were at times shut off during my stay.

I must say that I would have been extremely disappointed if I had been a participant in one of the numerous conferences going on in this building. I really do believe that this hotel should have been shut down for its extensive construction project instead of trying to carry on "business as usual."

Things looked a lot better in my room than they did in the public areas of the hotel. My room was about a five minute walk from the entrance of the hotel (due to the construction obstacle course), but once inside there was no evidence of noise or mess that there was outside. Rooms were modernly decorated and the bathrooms offered higher-end toiletry amenities.

The Hyatt Regency is located about a ½ mile away from the Capitol Building and is only a short walk away from the Union Station Metro stop. Parking here is inconvenient or very expensive, but most tourist attractions are easily within walking distance.

I would not want to stay here again due to the fact that the hotel could not get its basic services functioning properly in light of the construction confusion. The concierge did not get me a Fedex that I had been delivered for me for several days. After my departure, my eyeglasses that were accidently left behind were never found (nor do I think this hotel maintained a lost and found during the construction project). It seemed like they did not care about how the project inconvenienced their current guests which left me wondering why I would ever opt to stay here again.
Hyatt Regency Washington
400 New Jersey Ave., NW
Washington, D.C., United States, 20001
(202) 737-1234

The Cafeterias at Rayburn & Longworth: Government Grub

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by notso62 on September 9, 2008

Unknown to many tourists; there are two fantastic places to grab a casual lunch inside our Nation’s Capitol buildings. The cafeterias in the Longworth and Rayburn House Office Buildings offer a variety of meals and snacks at affordable prices. Mostly Government employees utilize these facilities, but they are also open to the public. Both buildings cafeterias are accessible once you’ve entered the respective building through the security entrance. No admission charges apply to gain general entry to the buildings and the cafeterias are typically easy to locate on the building maps.

Both cafeterias are open most of the day (7AM-5PM) to provide snacks. From approximately 11:30 AM-1:00 PM they also offer prepared hot foods and salad bars. The cafeteria in the Longworth Building has a station for every single cuisine that you might think of- hot sandwiches, cold sandwiches, soups, pizza, burgers, Chinese food, typical hot entrees, et cetera. It’s quite overwhelming once you step inside to decide what you want since there’s so much to choose from. The cafeteria in the Rayburn Building has less of a selection and usually provides patrons with one or two entrée choices and the salad bar.

These cafeterias are extremely busy during the lunch hour when Congress is in session. You will often see Congressional Pages with their arms full of lunch orders for their offices running about. The Longworth cafeteria tends to be busier than the Rayburn version, so if you need to have a seat in the cafeteria you might want to pick the latter. During tourist-seasons when Congress is out of session both cafeterias are fairly deserted, making them ideal places to eat if you happen to be exploring in that area. You could always buy your lunch in the to-go version at either cafeteria if you prefer to eat outdoors. Outdoor tables are available inside one of the Rayburn Building courtyards.

These cafeterias are social places where groups go to meet or people on their lunch-hour go to relax. I didn’t see any small children running around or people acting raucous so keep this in mind if you plan to bring company that they should behave accordingly.

Prices in both cafeterias are very reasonable. There are discounts for government employees, but even without these discounts a full lunch (including a large salad, bread, a yogurt, a cookie, and a Gatorade) did not top $7. There are checkout lines dedicated to government employees with pay passes which should be avoided by tourists, but otherwise the masses are free to mingle here. Perhaps you could ask your state’s Congressperson to lunch?
Rayburn Cafe at Rayburn House Office Building
Southwest of the Capitol
Washington, D.C.

Public Transportation in DC

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by notso62 on September 22, 2008

Being one of those people that is fortunate enough to be able to walk to work everyday, I cringe at the thought of driving around a city that seems difficult to navigate. DC is one of those cities that I feel is better suited for public transportation and walking rather than rental cars. I made the mistake of renting a car during my first visit and had difficulty finding parking for it during the days when I was exploring sites and during the nights. The hotel valet was very expensive, but this seems to be the going-rate for night parking in the downtown area.

Alas my last few trips I have foregone the rental car route and have found it very easy to get around DC without a vehicle. All three large airports in the area are convenient to some sort of public transportation. MARC service (Maryland commuter rail) is available from BWI to DC’s Union Station. Shuttle buses are available every half-hour from Dulles to the West Falls Church Metro stop and back. Regan (National) Airport has a metro stop right inside one of its terminals.

DC’s metro system is one of the most sophisticated in North America. On every platform are lighted signs letting people know when the next subway will be arriving and its destination. Subway service is very consistent and well-timed; even in non-rush hour times I never waited for longer than five minutes for a train. I personally am not a fan of "exit fares" (additional fares that must be paid on the way out of a station) and the fact that one cannot eat or drink on the subway (in Boston this is not the case), but overall the DC metro system earns high marks for consistency and service. One-way fare tickets within the downtown are about $2, to reach the suburbs it can get up to $7.

Downtown Metro stops are not very far from each other; I don’t recall ever walking more than a half-a-mile without running into one. They are also located conveniently near area attractions (Capitol Buildings, the Smithsonian, Federal Triangle) so are perfect for tourists. Most stops are handicapped accessible with elevator and escalator access as well.

Shuttle Buses from Dulles are $10 for each direction to West Falls Church. If you buy the roundtrip ticket from the kiosk in the Dulles airport (by Exit 4 on the Arrivals level) you can save a few dollars. This is a great way to get to and from Dulles also because the shuttles use dedicated lanes and do not get stuck in as much traffic as you would if you tried renting a car or taking a cab from here.

I found it very interesting to learn that there was a cap to the amount cabs can charge fares if staying within downtown DC. Cabs are still expensive and probably should be used sparingly, but it’s nice to know that they do have some laws in place to prevent tourists from "being taken for a ride".

With a little advance preparation, even the most novice user of public transportation could plan out their itinerary without needing a rental car. The DC Metro’s is a great site for area transportation maps and schedules. There are also various other resources online for planning purposes. Some good websites include those of area airports (they often give public transportation directions both to and from) and the Maryland and Virginia transportation authority websites. You’ll never need to spend extra money and sit in traffic again!

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