I recently had the pleasure of visiting my office in Nashville, TN, and took the opportunity to make my first Starwood stay since the announcement of the merger. As a lifetime platinum at Marriott, I now no longer worry about hitting my 75-125 nights a year at Marriott, and that status gave me the freedom to try something new, albeit still inside the newly expanded brand family. Without that lifetime benefit in my pocket, I would never have ventured off to another brand. I know that’s a big deal to my fellow Insiders who are still in lifetime pursuit at Marriott, and I completely agree with staying in your lane until you have lifetime status sewn up, or until the programs truly merge and you get credit for stays at both Marriott and Starwood in a combined program.
An important side story, I boycotted Starwood for more than 10 years because I witnessed price-gouging (profiteering) off of Hurricane Katrina victims and the US taxpayer at the airport Sheraton in Houston, TX. I will share that story in greater detail over beverages with fellow Insiders sometime, but here is the quick gist. My company had negotiated a reasonable corporate rate with the airport Sheraton, and I stayed there 4-6 nights a month for over three years. When the disaster that was Hurricane Katrina happened in August of 2005, the good people of New Orleans ran for higher ground. The US government was willing to pay almost $300 a night for these folks who desperately needed shelter. Sheraton declared that the new going rate, and refused to honor its existing corporate rates. When the front desk supervisor told me I would have to pay the new going $300 rate, or they wouldn’t honor my reservation, I promised then and there I would never darken their door again. And, I haven’t, as I went to the Marriott down the road, and they’ve gotten most of my business since. Important for Marriott and its franchisees to note, I took all my colleagues’ business with me too. This wasn’t a one-man stand; we started a crusade against this Sheraton. So, this was a big deal for me to give a Starwood a try, but you can rest assured I will never stay at the Houston Sheraton again as long as I live.
Now back to my stay in Nashville… My flight arrived early, and it was pouring down rain. I needed a place to hunker down for a few hours before a client meeting, so I opted to try and check into the Westin early. On arrival, the valet quickly offered to store my bags while I tried to check in. Charles was on duty at the front desk, and after warmly welcoming me as a platinum guest (via status match), he shared that my room wasn’t ready quite yet. He made me a key to the executive lounge, and told me he would give me a call on my cell when he had a room ready. I should point out that the hotel was completely booked, as the SEC basketball tournament was in town that week, and this hotel was but blocks away from the arena. The lounge was spacious and nicely appointed with spectacular views of downtown Nashville. I made a cup of hot tea, grabbed a snack, and knocked out some calls in the lounge. Not twenty minutes later, I got a call that my room was ready and they had activated my room key on the app. I didn’t even have to go back to the desk – I just used my phone to get into my room. Very impressive start indeed!
Here are a few pictures of the room – it was a standard king room on a high floor that I found to be extremely comfortable and very well designed. The hotel is new, and everything about it was modern and fresh. I did notice that the view outside my window showcased the parking lot and there was a train running through the back end of that lot – more on that later.
There were lots of nice features in the room, from the decorative soaps in the bathroom to the bottle of wine, snacks, upscale coffee and tea bags to liquid coffee creamers…yum! Nice touches!
Realizing I needed to grab lunch before my meeting, I went down to Decker and Dyer (the downstairs hotel bar) and grabbed a grilled radicchio and apple salad with grilled chicken. I must confess it was the best hotel salad I’ve had in a very long time. The bar was staffed by Zack, Candice and Mechelle, and I found them each to be polite, engaging and quite informative about their hotel and Nashville.
Moving around and through downtown Nashville traffic during an event like the SEC basketball tournament proved to be quite the challenge. I wouldn’t recommend a business visit during a major event like this, as it added time to each morning and afternoon. I mention this because Nashville has nailed down a ten year contract with the SEC to host the men and women’s tournaments, and this would be a week to avoid in the future if I had to do it again. That is, of course, unless I managed to get some tickets to a few games. That said, the valet system worked great, as I was able to text the valet desk a few minutes before departure, and they had the rental car pulled up in ten minutes or so.
Local flavor abounds in Nashville from food to music to cocktails. I had too many great meals to mention them all here, but one remarkable example was Biscuit Love. I’m sharing a couple of pictures below, but it was an incredible biscuit with a piece of hot fried chicken, with melted cheddar cheese on top, and sausage gravy smothering the whole thing… Ok, there was nothing healthy about this, but when in Rome, right?!! I had to run an extra 3 miles to get rid of the guilt, but it was delicious!
The concierge lounge was great in the morning for breakfast, although it was always a little crowded. The young lady attending to the food and clearing the tables was all over it, and did a terrific job. The food offered a little variety each morning. As an example, I was surprised to find the scrambled eggs mixed with salmon and goat cheese one morning. I’m a traditionalist with my eggs, but I tried it and enjoyed it. The offerings included fresh bread, bagels, fruit, and bacon or sausage. It was a great way to start the day. It seemed this lounge could have benefited from a few more tables, as many folks had to sit on couches or chairs meant for lounging, while balancing breakfast on their laps or on small coffee tables not positioned well for eating. I also noticed that the lounge door was propped open a couple of times, so anyone who wanted to come in could have done so. Perhaps that was mitigated by the elevator key requirements, which probably blocked anyone without lounge access from getting onto the 27th floor. Again, it was a huge basketball week, as evidenced by the legions of Kentucky t-shirts everywhere, so perhaps the lounge was atypically crowded on this visit.
I like to keep up with my exercise routine while traveling, and The Westin Nashville makes that easy to accomplish. In addition to their outstanding fitness facility, they also offer to deliver running gear and shoes from New Balance to your room. What? I’ve never seen this at a Marriott… They encourage you to pack light, and just check out gear on your arrival. That sounds awesome! I might be a little squeamish about using a community pair of running shoes, but I loved the idea. Additionally, they had a three mile and five mile run plotted for those wanting to run an established route, and on Thursday mornings their running concierge leads a run for those guests wanting to join in. This is the kind of thing that will bring me back!
As for the beds, they were extremely comfortable, covered with fresh linens and were a welcome respite at the end of several long days. I mentioned the trains earlier, and they showed up every night… ugh! It seems the conductors are required to hit the horn as they come through downtown, and while I gave my best effort at ignoring them, I was awakened once or twice a night to the sounds of trains and whistles despite being fifteen floors up. I think the trains are a permanent nightly thing, so this is definitely something to factor into your sleep considerations. Maybe Starwood platinums get rooms on the other side of the hotel
On whole, my first SPG experience was a very positive one. The hotel was great, and the staff was outstanding! As I was leaving, I noticed that there is a lot of construction going on across the street from The Westin Nashville, and when I inquired, it seems they are building a JW Marriott next door. So, it looks like we will have several great new options all in the heart of Nashville, TN.