A So-So Stay At Westin Denver Downtown And Some Holiday Tips If You’re Coming To Denver

As a in pursuit of lifetime status with both Hyatt and Starwood, I’ve been dedicating all my paid stays to Hyatt this year and all my award stays to Starwood.  Roughly a year ago now, SPG made some pretty significant changes to their program.  2 of the ones that are relevant to this post are the recognition of award stays in tallying total stays or nights for status and new platinum levels for staying 50, 75 and 100 nights.

Before SPG changed these qualifications, you could earn top-tier (Platinum) status by accruing just 25 stays or 50 nights in a year.  A stay encompasses the total number of nights you spend at one hotel sequentially.  For example, check-in on Friday, check-out on Monday and that’s one stay (and 3 nights).  So, it was possible to stay just 25 nights at SPG properties (by virtue of 25 one-night stays) and earn SPG Platinum.

That changed this year with 3 new tiers.  There are now extra benefits at 50, 75 and 100 nights stayed in one calendar year.  I’ll be detailing those more in a future post on hotel programs, but suffice it to say that based on a bunch of award travel, I was flirting with 100 nights as I headed down the home-stretch this year.  So, I decided to switch one of my Hyatt stays to the Westin in order to pick up a few more nights and make the push for 100.

I’ve never been head over heels about the Westin Denver Downtown, though it is one of the nicest SPG properties in the Denver market (Westin Westminster is the best, IMO).

Upon check-in, I asked if they had any suite upgrades for Platinums available.  I’ve been upgraded very few times I’ve ever stayed here, so I wasn’t expecting an upgrade.  The front desk agent spent about 5 minutes on the phone and in the back office checking on some things, but ultimately ended up giving me the answer I expected, no upgrade.  Not the end of the world, but I’ll be curious to see if this behavior changes any in 2013 when I have hit 100 nights.  This is one of the benefits SPG is not very consistent on delivering, causing many Platinum members to have to fight for upgrades.

I received a corner room, which is essentially just a standard room, though likely to be more quiet since it’s at the end of the hallway.  That’s my preference, so I at least got the best regular room I could get.  The rooms at this property are in a really good state of repair.  While this property does have a few shortcomings, they take pretty good care of the rooms.

A standard room is comprised of a comfortable bed, two side chairs and a relatively large work space.  The Westin has had flat-panel TVs for as long as I’ve been staying there as well as some HD channels.  The rooms don’t have refrigerators but they do have minibars.  These come in handy as there’s no gift shop/retail store to buy things like juice or bottled water.  There is a Starbucks in the lower lobby but it closes fairly early.

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The bathrooms are sizable and well-lit.  No-fog mirrors are a nice touch.  Westin used to feature two shower heads (the Heavenly Shower).  I always enjoyed that, but the water conservation movement saw them disable the second shower head a couple years ago, then finally remove it in some properties I’ve stayed at.  I haven’t had many Westin stays this year, but this specific Westin has changed out the old Speakman showerhead with a rain shower head.  I’m a big fan of these, so this was a pleasant surprise.

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Another component of the Westin Heavenly Bath is the Heavenly Bath Sheet.  In a standard King room, the normal standard I’ve observed is one Heavenly Bath Sheet and two slightly lesser quality towels.  But, one of the problems with this implementation is that on multi-night stays the housekeeping staff normally replace the Heavenly Bath Sheet with a regular towel the first time they clean the room.  This was the case during my stay.  Not a biggie, but this doesn’t seem like a difficult benefit to deliver consistently yet it’s something I run into quite a bit.

There’s a sticker on the bathroom mirror (and another poster in the elevator) advertising the Westin Workout program.  A brief aside here, I’ve never really understood this.  Essentially, for $5 they’ll loan you workout gear, including shoes, shirts, shorts and sports bras.  While I guess it might free up space in your suitcase if you didn’t have to pack sneakers, I’m not wild about borrowing bowling shoes let alone a pair of sneakers an unknown number of people have sweated in.  The sports bra sounds a bit worse to me.  Kinda like a woman wearing someone else’s bathing suit?

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Are there any women that have used this service?

Anyway, back to the Westin Denver.  I also ordered room service twice for dinner during my stay.  This was a mixed bag.  I had a shrimp with lemon dish that was very simple but prepared well.  It had baby tomatoes and avocado and was a good mix of flavor, texture and temperature.  I ordered calamari one evening.  While the presentation (in a cone) looked nice, it meant that the order came up without a lid on it and was cold by the time I received it.  Cold fried calamari is not my thing.  I ordered crab cakes the first night but the communication broke down somewhere between the person I ordered from and the delivery person because they never made it.  The server was very apologetic and offered to get them for me.  But, it was fairly late at that point so I passed.  I did try them later in my visit and found them to be decent.  I had a glass of Chandon Brut Classic with one of my meals and the Ridge Three Valleys Zinfandel the other night.  The Chandon is a good middle-of-the-road sparkling wine and the Ridge is a pretty tasty red zin.

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The hotel has a small but well-equipped fitness center with an indoor-outdoor pool and outdoor hot tub.  The gym has mostly new equipment and a half-size basketball court.  Because there aren’t a ton of pieces of equipment, you’ll need to get down there before 7am if you want your first choice of cardio equipment.

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The hotel has a bar and restaurant in the lobby, pretty standard Westin fare.  Overall, the property is in good physical shape.  Customer service is okay, not great.  It’s a clean, comfortable hotel to stay at when traveling to Denver, and it’s centrally located.

Properties like the Westin Denver are not the primary reason to be loyal to SPG, IMO.  It’s well-located properties like Sheraton on the Falls, or aspirational properties like the Hotel Danieli in Venice or St. Regis in Rome.  But, a property like the Westin Denver can help you earn points for that aspirational vacation.

However, this year has been a different strategy for me.  My spending on the SPG Amex card has yielded plenty of points for award stays, and those award stays now count towards Platinum status.  The current sign-up bonus is 25,000 points after spending at total of $5,000 on the card.  That’s enough for 2 nights at the Le Meridien Barcelona, or 5 days at the Westin Nova Scotian.  I do NOT get any commission if you apply for the SPG Amex, I just think it’s an absolute staple in your wallet if you want to enjoy great hotels around the world.

Holiday Activities In Downtown Denver

I spend most of my time in Denver working, so I don’t hit the streets often enough to have a ton of experience with things to do when visiting Denver.  I did stumble on a couple of things during this last trip when I left the Westin to walk to a local Walgreens to pick up a few things.  For those that haven’t been to Denver before, there’s a main thoroughfare that’s been shut down to pedestrian access only as well as free bus service (the 16th street mall).  As I came out of the Westin and walked towards the mall I came across an ice skating rink that had been installed right at the intersection of 16th street and Araphoe in Skyline Park.

The ice skating rink is scheduled to be there until Valentine’s Day and skating is free if you bring your own skates.  Rentals are only $2, so an affordable family activity if you’re looking for fun activities outdoors.

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Right across 16th street was the Denver Christmas Market.  It featured a bunch of international shops with various Christmas items for sale and some other specialty booths, such as food and even one place making hand-blown glass ornaments and other creations.

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