A pretty pool does not make for a good hotel; buyer beware; multiple problems A review of Senator Inn & Spa

As a business traveler who stays in 60 to 70 hotels a year (and reviews nearly all of them on TripAdvisor), I've seen the some of the best and some of the worst. One of the most disturbing experiences is to stay in a hotel that gets good reviews on TripAdvisor and elsewhere, but turns out to be a very disappointing.

In the case of the Best Western Senator Inn and Spa in Augusta, I think there are three factors that contribute to the problem of a highly recommended hotel not being all it's cracked up to be:

1. A lack of good hotels in Augusta overall, so even a so-so hotel can rise to the top.

2. A pretty pool and spa, which is memorable and appealing, and gives traveler writers and reviewers something to focus on.

3. A history of winning awards ("Best 50 hotels in New England," blah blah). Hotels which win awards like that can sometimes adopt the attitude "lots of people like us, so who cares about the occasional customer who doesn't" and have see no motivation to improve the quality of their guests' experience. This was definitely the case when I shared some of my concerns with the manager. (More on that below).

Problems with this hotel:

- Room was tiny! I was stunned at how small it was -- so small they had to put the chest of drawers in the closet because there was no other place to put it. So small the bathtub was specially fitted to squeeze in a smaller-than-normal bathroom. So small it made me even question whether or not the "queen size" bed was actually a queen. If I had a measuring tape I would have been curious to check.

- Internet access. The hotel even advertises "property wide high speed internet access," but no wired or wireless high speed internet access was available in my room. I travel on business, and high speed internet access is a required feature. I wouldn't book a hotel that didn't have it in the room.

- Noisy housekeepers. Banging on doors at 8:00 a.m. and yelling, "Housekeeping." Doing the same thing again at 8:20, then at 8:40. Every hotel has housekeepers, but I've never been woken up before.

- Breakfast games:

Front desk staff says the complimentary breakfast ends at 10:00, but as it turns out breakfast is actually open to 11:00 a.m. When I talk to the manager, he describes how this is intentionally misleading -- they want to try to get people there by 10:00 because they are afraid of a big rush at 10:45. I've eaten in many hotels fifteen minutes before breakfast ends and I've never seen a big rush. It's a frustrating game they play, and I lost an hour of sleep I could have had because of it.

Breakfast is served sit-down and you get to pick from four options listed on a coupon. When I first arrived, the server asked what I wanted to drink. I said, "Juice." Woops-- juice isn't included in the breakfast option I choose. (If I wanted juice, I would have also had to get the "fruit cup," but I wanted the oatmeal instead.) Congratulations, I get to pay $2.09 for my juice. I can certainly afford to pay for my juice, but I hate the feeling of being nickled and dimed (without warning) when I order something that other hotels easily provide for free. The water glasses were dirty with spots.

Things that aren't as big a deal, but that other comparable hotels (in price) don't seem to have a problem with:

I called to ask for a later checkout, and they transferred me to housekeeping. Housekeeping answers the phone and suggests that I talk to the front desk. I said the front desk told me to talk to you. I ask for a later checkout and the person on the line says she needs to talk to the housekeeping manager. I ask for one hour later, housekeeping manager says a half hour. I've never had to jump through so many hoops to get a late checkout.

Cookies are available at the front desk upon check in, but you have to pay for them (again, not a big deal, but at a Comfort Inn or Holiday Inn Express they would be free)

Front desk staff often has to disappear to a back room to answer the phone, leaving the front desk unattended.

Hot water in the shower takes forever to warm up.

Room banged up in areas from lots of use (scrapes on the wall; missing paint.) Again, not a big deal, but not fitting of their reputation.

No luggage carts available in their second building for use.

With the exception of the small rooms, most of these problems are fixable. The problem is, when I approached the manager about them, his reaction surprised me. On the Internet access, he said, "There was nothing in your record indicating that you requested internet access." But why would I need to request that if there's standard information in our room, boasting about property-wide internet access? A more appropriate response would be, "You're right, we need to get a wireless router up on that floor ASAP."

As for the breakfast, his attitude was that I was lucky to have breakfast at all. Maybe he needs a little competition from a Fairfield Inn, with plenty of buffet options, plenty of OJ, and unlimited seconds. And they don't play games around the exact ending time. Or, if the Best Western is going to use a coupon system, make it worth a certain dollar amount -- we'd probably spend more money that way and both the hotel and the customer would benefit.

Marriott, Sheraton, and many other hotel chains have adopted a "100% customer satisfaction" guarantee that makes a big difference. Best Western clearly doesn't have it, and if you don't have that attitude, it's harder to improve. After a long conversation, the manager reluctantly took $10 off my total bill for my troubles. At a Sheraton, the front desk staff could have removed even more at the mention of just one concern. Again, it's not like I need the money, but they don't need the money either, so it becomes a symbolic gesture. It's a matter of "I'm sorry you had an unpleasant experience, here's what we can do." It's a good litmus test for how seriously a hotel takes concerns.

This hotel clearly does have lot to offer -- their pool is something to admire -- but too many little details are missed or ignored, and an unpleasant experience results. Whether or not they are able or willing to improve remains to be seen.

In the meantime, memo to Marriott: There's money to be made in Augusta. Business travelers need you!

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Senator Inn & Spa
396 reviews