Hotel review – Choice Hotels Cambria Suites

Today is the first day of the Gadling hotel month. As Grant mentioned earlier, we’ll be posting our usual awesome content, along with a ton of great hotel related articles. We’ll kick the month off with a review of a brand new hotel chain – Cambria Suites.

Cambria Suites is a brand of the Choice hotels group, who also operate hotels under the Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites and Clarion brand names (along with a bunch of others).

The Cambria Suites concept is positioned as a “lifestyle hotel”, and their properties try to stand out in the busy market by offering upscale rooms and low prices. Rooms are designed to be 25% larger than the average hotel room, and each room has a separate living and work area.

New hotel concepts pop up all the time, and it is hard to develop a new chain that really stands out, so how well did the Cambria Suites perform? Read the rest of the article to see!
The hotel I reviewed was located in Appleton, Wisconsin. The property is conveniently located right off the highway and has plenty of free parking around the building. The hotel itself looks quite nice and features a large 2-story atrium and a covered entrance. The lobby area had plenty of (new) luggage carts which is a step above some hotels where you’ll only find one cart with working wheels.

The check-in area and atrium are bright and well designed, and while they may not be as warm and cozy as your own home, the decor does provide you with a welcoming attitude. Check-in was swift and I received my key to a room on the third floor.

On my way to the room, I passed the 24 hour coffee bar/cafe, more about that later.

The room is of course the most important part of any hotel stay, and I’m happy to say that the rooms at the Cambria Suites are incredibly well designed. As with most hotel rooms, the bathroom is directly to the right of the door. The hallway is home to a small bar area (no sink), but you do get a microwave, small fridge and coffee maker.

The room itself is split in half – the rear portion is where you’ll find a spacious desk, a wall mounted TV and a large sofa. The front of the room is for the bed. The room is divided by a nice wooden lattice work filled with some ceramics.

The desk area is quite large and whoever designed that area has obviously spent some time in hotels because there are 4 outlets right next to the desk (THANK YOU!). The desk phone is cordless, which means you’ll be able to take that really important call while sitting in the bathroom.

The desk has an Ethernet cord in a holder, and Internet speeds at the end of the day were quite good (>2.5mbit).

The best part of the in-room Internet service is that you can print documents from your own computer, and send them to a printer in the lobby. When you print, you pick your own PIN number, and simply enter that PIN downstairs to release the print job to the printer – brilliant! In addition to the wired Internet access, the hotel also offers wireless access throughout the property.

The bedroom is nothing special – you get a bed, a decent size closet and a flat panel TV. Still, the bed was very comfortable, and since the property was new, the mattress was not yet saggy and worn. There is an easy to program alarm clock with line-in cable and a spare outlet, which is perfect if you like to sleep next to your charging Blackberry.

The TV’s all have accessible AUX inputs and even USB ports for plugging in a USB drive for music and photo playback. The TV channel lineup in the Appleton location offered almost 100 channels, including HBO and multiple channels in HD.

The bathroom is as well designed as the rest of the room, but the real treat here are the Bath and Body works amenities. Seriously, coconut lime verbena and warm vanilla sugar amenities are so much better than most of the generic stuff I come across on the road. Needless to say, I snagged those bottles for my TSA friendly toiletries bag.

The bathroom has a shaving mirror, which is also quite rare nowadays. Under the sink is a hair dryer, and the shower has the usual curved curtain you’ll find in most other hotels.

The 24/7 coffee bar is surprisingly cool. I’ve wasted hundreds of dollars at hotel bars, and never really felt too impressed, but the cafe concept at Cambria Suites is different. The cafe serves Wolfgang Puck drinks (coffee, tea and cold drinks), an assortment of alcoholic drinks, warm dishes, sandwiches and deserts from the Cheesecake Factory.

The dinner menu features the kind of food you’d expect at a hotel – pizza, salads, pasta and sandwiches. We tried the chicken Caesar salad and a roasted chicken and garlic pizza. Each dish was about $10 and arrived in under 15 minutes. I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality – both dishes were huge and very well put together. Boxes are available, so you can enjoy leftovers in your room the next morning.

Breakfast is served in the same cafe and is offered a la carte or buffet. The breakfast buffet costs under $10 per person (kids under 12 are half price) and is a huge step above the usual hotel breakfast buffet.

The lineup has sausages, pepper bacon, various breads, fresh oatmeal and cereals. I would have preferred to see a free breakfast, but given the size and quality of the spread I didn’t feel too bad spending $10. (apologies for the poor photo, I did not have my flash with me during breakfast!).

The hotel is also home to a pool – though “pool” may be a little too generous for this amenity. It really isn’t suited for swimming a couple of laps, but it is sufficiently big to accommodate 8 or 9 guests who just want a quick dip after a hard days work, or a family with younger kids.

The spa is only large enough for 4 or 5 people, but like with the pool, at the end of a long day most people won’t care too much.

The fitness room is well equipped, and was very clean. Towels are everywhere and access to the pool and fitness room is restricted by room key readers.

The lobby is equipped with 2 Sony Vaio PC’s, both connected to the shared hotel printer. The connection here was also nice and fast, making it perfect for printing your boarding pass or sending out some last minute emails. This desk also has a spare Ethernet jack, so you can plug your own laptop in and work in the lobby instead of your room.

Behind the check-in desk is a guest sundry shop, selling everything from microwave meals to blank DVD’s and USB flash drives as well as a full assortment of ice cream, drinks and snacks.

I’ve regularly spent over 200 nights a year in hotel rooms, so I tend to think I know a thing or two about what to look for in a hotel, and I have to say I’m very impressed by the Cambria Suites. It is obvious from the small touches that someone put a lot of time and effort into the layout and amenities.

The staff at the Appleton location were fantastic, and I was greeted by smiling staff everywhere I went. The cafe is a real highlight of the hotel, and is miles ahead of what most hotels have to offer. Being able to order a freshly made lemonade and a great salad is a much better way to have dinner at the end of the day then heading to the nearest fast food joint and eating on your own in your room.

Rates at the Cambria Suites start around $109 for a room with king or queen bed and a sofa sleeper (room for 4 people). Suites start at $179 and provide 2 bedrooms and a sofa sleeper (room for 6 people).

All in all I’m very impressed and suggest that anyone heading towards a city with a Cambria Suites property check the rates. Properties located near an airport provide a shuttle service. I found the hotel just as suitable for a family with children as it is for a business traveler.