Portsmouth, Virginia Marriott Renaissance Hotel: very grand public spaces, expensive, good for conferences
Written: Jun 23, 2012 (Updated Jun 25, 2012)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Every guest room has a breathtaking waterfront/harbor view of Elizabeth River. Architecturally: unforgetably monumental.
Cons:Expensive lodging, food. $10/day parking. Very hard guest room floors (for exercising). Understaffed dining room
The Bottom Line: On a quick visit to Portsmouth? Stay elsewhere. Want a grand river view while at a conference: pick the Renaissance. Locals are proud of its "pomp and circumstance" public rooms.
NOTE on amended review: I wrote this update today, Monday, two days after the original. I am back home in Black Mountain, North Carolina. I have changed little, corrected typos and initially misrepresented facts (e.g. elevators reduced from four to three) and added an anecdote. Otherwise, it's still recognizably the original -- warts and all. TPK 06/25/2012. END NOTE.
Today is 10:30 p.m. Saturday June 23, 2012. I am sitting before my laptop computer in room 822 of the Marriott Renaissance Portsmouth, Virginia Hotel & Waterfront Conference Center. Most of it was built in 2000, with major renovations in 2009. My wife and I have spent three of our four scheduled nights and days in this in some of its parts larger than life facility, attending the annual conference of the International Association of Torch Clubs (IATC).
This facility bills itself as Portsmouth's only four star luxury hotel and the only hotel directly on the waterfront on this side of the Elizabeth River (Norfolk is on the other side). The Renaissance is 16 storeys high, with 244 guest rooms and five luxury suites.
According to the hotel's website our room 822 occupies 315 square feet. I stepped it off as 12 X 8 steps (not paces) with an average step size of probably 2 1/2 feet or a bit more. That space encloses two double beds, bathroom, closet, work desk, chest of drawers/refrigerator with flat screen TV atop. Two chairs (one at work desk, one a comfortable, non-plush soft but stained chair under a high fluoroscent reading lamp) with no side table to rest room-made coffee on.
More about this room ere all too long.
As I write in June 2012 from my perch in guest room 822 there are three earlier reviews already up on epinions.com.
-- The first is by redoubtable Top Revewer in Hotels & Travel Thomas Barnes. It dates from January 2002 and rates the hotel FOUR STARS. The review is unusually valuable because Tom watched the Renaissance rising day after day in the year 2000
"from a bare patch of dirt to a striking new focal point for Portsmouth's restored Olde Towne historic district. Each day, I would peer out from my 14th floor balcony next door to see it progress from raw steel to Tyvek boards to bricks and mortar."
(NOTE: I think I see Tom's former residence or office from my own room 822. He enjoyed a great view but the nearby construction noise must have been deafening!)
He added that the city government of Portsmouth
"bet over $25 million to build the hotel, as the centerpiece of its dedication to preserve Olde Towne."
(NOTE: not being keen to make a major research project of mine own review, I have not verified that dollar figure. But local residents working our Torch Clubs Convention who, like Tom Barnes, watched the Renaissance being built, have described it to me as indeed a very expensive, high risk project, something like a partnership between the city government and Marriott Corporation -- more properly Atlanta's Stormont Trice Development Corporation -- with the city of Portsmouth bearing most of the risk).
One local resident lamented to me the passing of this hotel's ample, ground level predecessor -- a parking lot -- where she and various organizations used to mount well-attended outdoor events. Reviewer Tom stayed here in 2001 or early 2002, only "about a month after the hotel opened" and he lived more grandly than I -- in a luxury suite.
I cannot praise Thomas Barnes's review too highly. Dare I assume that you will kindly read it before studying in detail my modest update from a decade later?
-- The second epinions review dates from June 2006 and is by no longer active reviewer sociology professor lernerj. Jennifer spent nine nights here and rated her experience TWO STARS. Her cons:
"Humid rooms; dirty carpet; bad food."
She recommended that readers NOT stay here.
-- Epinions reviewer number three is also no longer active navyofficer whose review title is "Lousy!" and whose ranking is ONE STAR. His/her main complaint in a short review is:
"The food was terrible and expensive"
and that in virtually every way his experience was far too expensive for what was delivered.
-- Now comes reviewer number four, yours truly AOHCAPABLANCA/Patrick K.
Travel reviews are not my strong point, so I am quite grateful to my three predecessors (especially the first) for their honest perspectives.
My very first impression after driving 395 miles for eight hours on a very hot day was that Renaissance Portsmouth Hotel & Waterside Conference Center had been deliberately designed by architectural firm Cooper Carr in order to make a flamboyant statement ("Portsmouth's Old Town is back!") through inducing overwhelming first impressions.
Long before Mary and I first walked and walked and walked and elevated and walked ourselves to Room 822 my imagination and memories were feverishly partnering, making comparisons with colossal structures that der Fuehrer's favorite architect Albert Speer had designed for Adolph Hitler or comparing with some of the moderately overwhelming, self-preening buildings, bridges, adqueducts and such like associated with Benito Mussolini in Italy or Antonio Salazar in Portugal. I had no reason to think "fascist," but such were my first impressions. Perhaps "Grand Central Station swaggering" is a more apt statement of architectural intention.
I dropped off my wife and a third member from Asheville Torch Club before the high main entrance doors to the hotel and then followed a cheery doorman's directions to the next door parking garage owned by the City of Portsmouth with plenty of places marked reserved for hotel residents.
I drove up to the garage's third floor, parked in slot 143, walked about 50 yards to the garage's elevator and descended to the first floor. Eventually -- as I became conscious of how long a distance guests have to walk anywhere in the Renaissance Hotel -- I came back and counted all my steps between one major spot and another.
I walked 48 steps from that parking garage elevator along a covered walk into the side door of the massive main entrance area into the hotel. There hung a massive, much publicized lantern to remind us of the sea.
Then, after turning right toward the still invisible, recessed check in desk I proceeded thither another 60 steps, then 70 steps more straight ahead past -- on my left -- a lounge, bar, restaurant down a long (nine steps wide) corridor also past -- on my right -- a massive side corridor leading to very large conference rooms along this grand, bent but otherwise basilica-like central hallway. This was reminiscent of the approach to Hitler's personal office in the New Reich Chancellery.
This final first floor trek brought us and our affable porter to the bank of three elevators. (My wife says to be sure to praise those lifts! We never waited very long and they were, it goes without saying, large.)
Then, having ascended to the 8th floor, after a final right turn, we plodded 53 steps straight along a human-dimensioned hotel hallway atop a rather plush carpet (repeating over and over three related, differently colored loud patterns reminding of cartoon Mickey Mouse silhouettes). At length we reached our room! Hurrah!
COMMENT: The extraordinary distances required of guests for indoor walking anywhere in this hotel is a favorite topic among us 150 Torch Club members from the USA and Canada attending the IATC conference.
First and enduring impression of end room 822 (our neighbor on the other side of the wall beyond our beds' headboards is the ice machine room): it is large! Time soon proved that I could do all my tai chi exercises at one end of the room (covering during all movements perhaps nine steps) without encroaching on my wife's simultaneous but less spread out yoga exercises. Thank you, Portsmouth Marriott! For I do not have that much unimpeded exercise dodging furniture in my own living room in Highland Farms Retirement Community in Black Mountain, North Carolina.
Otherwise, what more can I say about Room 822?
The bath room is, no surprise, large! It has a large counter top but only one sink. The otherwise ordinary bathtub is low rimmed, 15 inches from bottom to top, the toilet an inch higher. We soon discovered that the shower component could not be made to work. But this was quickly fixed next morning (Thursday) not long after 8:00 a.m. when the engineer came on duty.
Here are selected amenities , from among many, listed on the hotel's website for typical guest rooms:
"Air conditioning individually controlled in room ... Hairdryer ... Down/feather pillows, Pillow top mattress ... Premium movie channels ... Desk with electrical outlet."
Other Hotel Amenities:
"(additional fees may apply to certain amenities)
... salonBoarding pass print-out available ... Business centerBusiness services ... Coin operated laundry Complimentary in-room coffee or tea ... Complimentary newspaper in lobby ... Dinner delivery service from local restaurant ... Exercise gym ... High speed internet access ... Indoor poolOnsite laundryParking ... same day dry cleaning."
The architect's web site says:
"The landscape plan emphasizes the location’s nautical roots including a large public plaza in front and a small azalea garden for contemplation. In establishing an urban waterfront design vocabulary for Portsmouth, Cooper Carry provided planning, architecture, landscape architecture and environmental graphic design."
A couple more items I think worth noting:
-- The Renaissance boasts 23 meeting rooms of all sizes (including a striking 70-seat indoor "amphitheatre") for a total of 24,000 square feet.
-- The dining room is understaffed for breakfast by at least one person. Bad things happen at breakfast if you do not "wait to be seated." There is supposed to be a "seater" stationed at the entry desk who gives you your menu. But most of the time no one is there to receive you. You seat yourself and then have to beg for a menu.
-- The food has been good (except for inexplicably tasteless hominy grits at breakfast) although of no great variety -- both at buffet lunches and for seated dinners. The breakfasts were not included in our conference fee. A full breakfast buffet (strongly pushed by dining room staff, apparently to make work easier for them and for the hotel's delicate computer system) costs $13.95. And you might as well choose buffet, as everything a la carte is even less a bargain.
-- Elevators: impressive, capacious, fast, reliable.
-- Views of the river, the shipworks and Norfolk: outstanding.
-- When I wandered through the swimming pool/hot tub area, there were 16 children splashing and hollering in the uncharacteristically sub-colossal pool, with mothers and their purses strewn all around on dry land. A round four-seater hot tub was churning away like an active Yellowstone geyser (with no one in it). I was impressed by how new all the exercise equipment looked in the next door workout room: two treadmills, two ellipticals, etc. One man was lifting weights. There was, curiously, no shower in this four star facility. You simply toweled off and returned wet or damp to your room! Or you might dry off by sun bathing on a largish connecting terrace.
-- We had a citywide power outage early Saturday evening during a three hour rain, wind and lightning storm. The hotel's auxiliary power kicked in within two minutes. An electrical and rain storm raged for hours. Our conference was scheduled for a four hour river cruise with dinner and entertainment by young local opera singers. We started 45 minutes late because of the storm. The hotel is fortunate to have its own dock. That meant that our 150 attendees did not get totally drenched as we raced through a relatively heavy mere drizzle between gully washer downpours from a door of the hotel to our cruise vessel.
-- Local residents are very, very proud of this Renaissance facility and how it helped to revitalize Portsmouth's "old town." Yet to me the street and "neighborhood" in front of the hotel in both directions appeared eerily sterile. There was rarely any perceptible vehicular traffic. Nonetheless, that tangible, widespread local pride helps me lift my rating to four stars.
-- A staffer at the front desk told me that architectural schools with some frequency bring both teachers and students here to study and critique the massive entrance halls and main conference rooms. To me personally, however, it is space largely wasted on mere ostentation. But the local people love it. And Portsmouth is their town not mine.
-- One of our very senior female IATC members told my wife that she had complained to the very large staffer who cleaned their room the first day that he had done nothing in their room the next two days. He did not deny the charge, but responded so angrily and bitterly as he roughly did his job for them that she is afraid to lodge an official complaint, fearing possibly bodily harm in retaliation.
-- Our final banquet and best speech of 2011 among all American and Canadian Torch clubs was cut short by a happy, extremely boisterous, very large family celebration next door just beyond a thin sliding partition. During Q&A we finally surrendered because of the drums and gleeful shouting nearby! With 23 meeting rooms to choose from, who goofed in assigning these two rooms side by side: the hotel? local conference organizers? Let us live and learn lessons for our fourth Thursday in June 2013 conference in Columbia, South Carolina.
-- A retired local M.D. and native told me at the banquet (our table, alas, had butter patties but no bread -- ever!) of the hotel's alleged current financial challenges. Every one of a half dozen closely clustered cities in this part of Chesapeake Bay, it seems, is in cutthroat competition for a finite number of convention and tourist visitors. And some facilities are clearly overpriced.
-- Finally, when I returned to my room and shed my tux, I had to go through a once-a-day hotel-determined process of reconnecting to the internet (for $12.95/day). This time it didn't work. So I phoned the 1-800 number listed for wi-fi problems. And within five minutes I was back on line. At first I could not find this review draft but when I went to my epinions account page I found a slightly earlier version listed as "unpublished." I am working with it now.
I am personally underwhelmed by the hotel's "pomp and circumstance" architecture. But it made me do a lot of cool, at times frigid, indoor walking in addition to strolls in high 90s heat outdoors. Dining room staff seemed under no firm central control yet not notably flexible when responding to the unexpected. Two Canadian Torch Club members, for instance, never received a main course at all -- during two different meals. And there was considerable delegates' dismay at breakfast room procedures. But guest rooms are large. Views are fine. The locals are proud of the hotel. We had a great conference. And the Renaissance Hotel Portsmouth played its at times distracted but friendly part. I rate the Portsmouth Renaissance a weak FOUR STARS.
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