Inside the new and improved Courtyards by Marriott

Yes – you read the title correctly. This review is going to take a look at a Marriott Courtyard. By now, I’m guessing some of your are wondering what makes a review of a Marriott Courtyard special, any why we even bothered. Well, Marriott asked Gadling to come take a look at one of their recently renovated properties. I don’t have the numbers – but I’m guessing that Courtyards are probably one of the most popular hotel chains in the nation, so I took Marriott up on their invitation, and checked into the Chicago O’Hare Courtyard to see just how the chain has evolved.The lobby, bar and marketplace

Checking in was a breeze – as it should be. I was handed my room key and parking tag within minutes. The hotel clearly caters for all kinds of travelers, as the desk clerk handed my daughter two rubber duckies. We had not traveled too far to visit this property, but after a long flight, small touches like this can be a huge help when traveling with young kids.

The lobby is the best place to see just how the chain has improved their properties. Everything is spacious, bright and well designed. Of course, there is the obligatory collection of random crap art strategically placed throughout the area. Combined with a well laid out collection of sitting areas, the lobby is more welcoming than it used to be. Things have obviously been designed to welcome you, instead of just forcing you to check in and get you to your room.

The lobby area is also home to a cafe/bistro with full bar service and various snacks. Prices were quite reasonable (around $6 for a sandwich). This area certainly beats the old stuffy breakfast buffet desks found at other properties.

One really nice touch in the bar area is the addition or private seating areas with a personal TV. I’ve traveled a lot for business on my own, and I never really felt comfortable drinking on my own in the lobby. This way, travelers can sit on their own, yet still enjoy the lobby atmosphere. Very cool.

At the end of long day – you can purchase items from the marketplace. The selection was surprisingly decent, and a decent selection of alcoholic beverages and snacks were on offer, as well as several non-food items (medication, toiletries).

Towards the corner of the lobby is the boarding pass zone – two PC’s and laser printers are exactly what you need to check in for your flight. Thankfully, more and more hotels are putting these facilities in place.

Next to the boarding pass zone is a large flat panel TV with all flight departure information for O’Hare. Of course, as more and more of us use a smartphone with applications like Tripdeck, these screens are not always necessary, but still a very nice touch.

The local area smart panel is the toy I enjoyed playing with the most – it shows the news, weather, financial markets and local information, all on a massive touch screen. It can point you to the nearest restaurant or other attraction.

The business center is equipped with two (Windows XP powered) terminals. The speed was pretty decent, and the machines wipe themselves clean after use, (hopefully) removing any personal information collected.

Next to the terminals is an Ethernet jack for plugging in your own computer, which is obviously a good idea if you have confidential stuff to do, and no access to a VPN service you can use over the Wi-Fi network.

In this H1N1 world, I was pleasantly surprised to see hand sanitizer in the elevator. A quick squirt of this stuff may not protect you from all the nasty stuff out there, but after a long flight and cab ride, you never know.

The rooms

My room was quite spacious (rooms provided for reviews usually are). It consisted of a living room and a separate bedroom. Oddly enough, the configuration was setup for two queen beds. A fold-out sofa is present in the living room. Despite all the major upgrades in the lobby area, the rooms had not been upgraded as much. TV’s were still the old tube models. Carpets, beds and furniture did look recently renewed and were all in very good condition.

The desk offered everything you need to work – an Ethernet jack (speeds around 2100kb/s), 2 outlets in the lamp base and a decent bright light. As for the technology in the room – I could not locate any input jacks on the TV’s, which means you’ll need to watch stuff on your laptop, or pick something from the hotel channel lineup.

The bathroom was about as bland as they get – same bathroom style found in 1000’s of hotel rooms around the nation. I was quite impressed by the artwork on the towels and toilet paper:

Last time I saw art like that was on a cruise ship – someone put a lot of effort into those.

One final thing I’d like to point out was how well the water glasses were wrapped – as we read more and more about bad hygiene in hotels, I was happy to see someone put real effort into sealing the glasses. Of course, I have no way of knowing how clean they were when they were wrapped. Water bottles are $4 each, so the same kind of high prices found everywhere else.

Final thoughts

Rooms at this hotel are in line with most other Marriott Courtyard properties – around $90/night. This is a very good rate, especially for a hotel so close to the airport (with shuttle service).

I really liked the upgrades Marriott put in place. The lobby layout makes the hotel perfect for business travelers and leisure travelers alike. In-room Ethernet and speedy Wi-Fi (both free) are of course essential in any business hotel, and the Courtyard did not disappoint. The boarding area zone and interactive screen in the lobby are great tools for the frequent traveler.

The room was not as “upgraded” as I had hoped for, and could do with switching to better TV’s, but the room was clean, comfortable and the climate control and high speed Internet worked – things I really count on at any hotel.

Disclaimer: Marriott invited me to review this property, and paid for a one night stay. All opinions in this review are my own.