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TinotopiaLog → Westin Great Southern Hotel, Columbus, Ohio (26 Jun 2005)
Sunday 26 June 2005

Westin Great Southern Hotel, Columbus, Ohio

We recently passed through Columbus, Ohio, and we stayed at the Westin Great Southern Hotel there. On balance it is Not Recommended.

The Good:

  • Westins have very nice beds. Quite comfortable.
  • The air conditioning was more than adequate to the task, and quiet.
  • The building is old and interesting, and they have even gone to the trouble of putting together a little collection of historical photos in the lobby.

The Bad:

  • The room was comically small.
  • When we first came into the room, there was a mysterious yellow liquid in the bottom of the ice bucket.
  • One of the two showerheads was missing.
  • Guest parking is expensive.
  • There appears to be nowhere to buy newspapers etc. in the hotel
  • Bad breakfast
  • Bad lighting in the lobby
  • Absurd Internet access policies

The Westin Great Southern Hotel was built in the 1890s as the Great Southern Fireproof Hotel and Opera House. This fact leads directly to two of the problems with it, one really a quibble and the other quite important.

The lobby is today fitted with (I believe) a reproduction of the original chandelier. In keeping with the up-to-dateness (in 1897) and fireproof-ness of the whole building, the chandelier ran on electricity, not gas. The Westin people are to be applauded for maintaining this special feature of the building, but the truth is that the thing gives terrible light. Imagine 100 clear-glass (i.e. not frosted) light bulbs hanging about 30 feet off the floor and lighting a room that’s probably 100 feet square. In case you can’t imagine that, let me inform you that by today’s standards, it’s terrible light. It looks like the building was originally built with a glass roof on the lobby: this must have improved matters greatly. Today, the ceiling is composed of milky glass panels with what seem to be fluorescent tubes behind them. Unless you are the kind of person who hangs out in hotel lobbies all day, this isn’t a big problem: but it leads to a bad first impression as you come through the door.

The second, and major, problem that comes from the building’s age is the size of the ordinary guest rooms: they are absurdly small, smaller than you’d find in the cheapest motel out on the interstate. This is not uncommon with old hotels: back in the day, king-size beds were not common, and I get the distinct impression that hotel rooms were altogether more spartan than they are today. When you try to cram a television (in its giant armoire), a huge bed, an armchair, a desk, etc., etc. into a hundred-year-old room, you run out of space in a hurry.

This super-wide-angle panorama makes the room look much larger than it is:


There’s not enough room between the (very shallow) desk and the bed to fit a chair in there; there’s nowhere to put your bags where you’re not going to trip over them. And the closet… well, the closet is just ridiculous:


The closet is so shallow that all you can do with it is hang a couple of things sideways, i.e. with the hangers turned so they are more or less parallel to the rod. Most of the space in there, though, is taken up with an ironing board, a luggage-rack that can’t be used in the room for a lack of space, and what I can only assume is a safe without a door:


What you’re supposed to do with an ironing board in this room, I don’t know: set it up in the corridor, perhaps. They may as well give you a javelin in case you wanted to practice throwing it in there.

So the room is too small. This is annoying, but I can’t really complain about it too much. The room was built over a hundred years ago, when people used it much differently from the way they do today (most of the rooms in the hotel originally didn’t have their own bathrooms, to begin with). Unless you tear out walls and turn every pair of rooms into a suite of two small rooms (which would be impractical), the options are: tear down the building or put up with the dimensions. On balance, I’m glad they left things alone.

The remaining problems, though, are entirely the result of Westin’s inattention to detail.

First, the mysterious liquid. After we’d been there a little while, I grabbed the ice bucket to participate in that great American hotel ritual, The Getting Of Ice. All American hotels, no matter how grand or how humble, provide unlimited free ice to guests: and I have never stayed in a hotel so fancy that the guest was not free to fetch his own ice from a machine stashed somewhere near the elevators. People will put up with hotels charging $2 for a local phone call, but a place that didn’t offer vast quantities of ice gratis would soon find itself out of business. Canadians scoff, but most of the United States is quite a hot place, and the business with the ice is one of the things that knits us together as a nation.

So there I am, humming ‘America The Beautiful’ to myself and thinking about Free Markets and Apple Pie, when I hear a sloshing noise from the bucket.

Upon inspection, it turned out that someone — possibly Osama himself — had left a few ounces of some yellow liquid in the bucket.


Upon closer inspection, the liquid smelled faintly of whiskey, so it wasn’t too horrible. Note, however, the new ice-bucket condom that had been draped over the edge: someone on the Westin staff had ‘serviced’ the bucket without even checking to see whether someone had left, say, a turd in there.

A call to the front desk established that there were no other ice buckets in the hotel. Apparently they have n buckets, where n is the number of rooms in the place. Whatever. After a long and drawn-out process, it emerged that there actually was another ice bucket somewhere, and that it would be sent up. After about 35 minutes of what I presume was a frantic search through a vast pyramidal pile of assorted Hotel Equipment in the basement, a new ice bucket arrived along with vouchers for two free breakfasts. So far, so-so, I suppose. We got the ice (the new bucket was delivered empty for some reason, possibly so we wouldn’t miss out on the thrill of pushing the button on the ice machine for ourselves and succumb to the temptations of Socialism) and drifted off to sleep listening to the gentle sounds of melting.

Morning came, as morning will, and we once again found ourselves conscious. We were anxious to get out of that room, because it wasn’t really big enough for anything but sleeping and maybe a little ice-melting. I had set up my computer in the bathroom, partly because the counter in there was the largest flat surface available, and partly because the two free electrical outlets in there represented fully half of the free electrical outlets in the room.

Now, I’m a nut: I know this. I travel with my own power strip, because no hotel room has enough outlets for me. In addition to my computer, I carry three cameras, two cell phones, one Bluetooth headset, a wireless access point, a PDA, another computer, and an iPod, all of which have batteries, and all of which are products of the Connector Conspiracy inasmuch as each one requires a power adaptor that is fundamentally identical to all the others, but that produces a minutely different voltage and has a unique and strange connector on the end.

I can economize, if necessary: the iPod and one of the cell phones can be charged, in a pinch, by being connected to the Firewire and USB ports of my computer. When I’m spread out, though, I need at least ten AC outlets to power all my stuff. This room had four, two of them behind large or awkward pieces of furniture and the other two in the bathroom. There was no outlet, for instance, anywhere near the 16-inch-deep ‘desk’.

As I said, we were anxious to get out of there, so I hauled a couple armloads of electronics out of the bathroom in order to convert the room from a little tiled office and into a Place Of Ablution.

(The fact that there was no network jack in the bathroom wasn’t a problem, because the whole hotel is equipped with wireless Internet access. But that wasn’t an issue anyway, because I was using my Verizon BroadbandAccess card, because Westin charges you for network access on guest-room floors. It’s free in the lobby, so if you want to just wander in and suck up the bandwidth, that’s fine: but people who are paying the Westin $200 a night and up for lodging are not afforded the same convenience in their rooms. Interesting approach, that.)

Anyway, it was after unloading the computers that I discovered the business with the shower head. Westin has this whole ‘heavenly’ thing going on: the bed, which in contrast to most hotel beds is not horrible and uncomfortable, is the ‘Heavenly Bed’. The bath, similarly, is the ‘Heavenly Bath’. They even provide a ‘Heavenly Bath’ bathrobe — one, mind you, in a room with a king-size bed — as part of the deal.

Another part of the ‘Heavenly Bath’ thing, apparently, is that the rooms are fitted with not one but two shower heads. Unfortunately, in this room one of the shower heads was missing all together.

This wouldn’t really be a problem on its own. After all, I usually shower with only one shower head. Surely, you cry, I could manage to tough it out!

Well, I could have (and, as it happens, did), but this missing shower head was a bigger problem than that. It had just been broken off the stalk, leaving its water supply to dribble out at my feet. The resulting loss of pressure from the remaining shower head meant that I wound up doing a lot of gathering of water in cupped hands and then pouring it over myself.


Things break; I understand that. And I even understand how this particular shower head broke, because the remaining and presumably identical shower head was already cracked and on its way to failure, too. What I do not and will not understand is why this missing shower head was left to be discovered by me, a paying guest. The room had obviously been cleaned, and the bed made, before it was rented to me: why the hell had this missing shower head (and the problem with the ice bucket) not been discovered and fixed before I showed up? Just what am I paying for?

And all this is in a fairly expensive hotel, run under a brand that’s trying hard to be seen as the finest hotel chain in America that’s not gone in for the bath-butler school of false and useless ‘luxury’.

After rinsing off most of the soap, we headed down to for our free breakfasts. About that, let me say this: had I been paying for these breakfasts, I wouldn’t have. The food was bland, and served in a fairly gloomy room. There was a fairly long wait (considering the emptiness of the room, and the buffetness of the breakfast) to be seated, and then to get our coffee and juice. The orange juice was bitter and acidic because it was from concentrate, and the syrup for the pancakes was corn syrup with a tiny bit of maple syrup thrown in for ‘flavor’. That’s okay, though, I suppose, because the pancakes themselves were like little wood chips — after you scraped them out of the chafing dish.

Westin-Oj Westin-Syrup

These things are fine at the IHOP — or at least expected if not fine — but I expect better from a large hotel. I’m not sure, but I think they were charging in the neighborhood of $20 a head for this fantastic repast.

After ‘breakfast’, we got the car from the parking lot and left. While I’m on the topic of parking, it might be worth mentioning that the hotel charges $20 a night for parking, despite the fact that it’s flanked on two sides by fairly cheap parking lots. Lord knows what they charge you for ‘valet’ parking, i.e. some guy driving your car the 150 feet from the hotel’s entrance to their own parking lot. If you don’t take advantage of the ‘valet’ parking, though, it’s inconvenient, because though the parking lot is directly adjacent to the hotel, there is no entrance to the building on that side. The main entrance is on a busy street with limited space for cars; the side entrance, where you can easily leave a car while you go fetch your luggage, involves a long, narrow corridor with non-automatic doors and stairs. The very architecture of the place makes one feel less like a valued guest and more like a mark to be squeezed for money.

We complained about the shower head while checking out, and the clerk said that she’d see what she could do about compensating us for our trouble. It seemed, though, that this might be difficult because we’d booked the room through Expedia. When you do this, Expedia, not the hotel, actually charges your credit card, and I gather that it’s difficult for the hotel to do anything about adjusting your rate. In any case, you effectively get punished for booking your room that way.

American Express informs us that there have been no adjustments to our charges, so I suppose that Westin assumes that either we’re not worth having as customers, or that this is about the experience that one is to expect from the Westin Great Southern.

Total damages: $187.68 + $20 for parking = $207.68. A poor value.


Apparently the Westin people agree that it was a poor value, because they’ve decided to refund our money. This is unnecessarily complicated, though: see Nicole’s comment below.

Posted by tino at 22:54 26.06.05
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Westin left a message for me on my work voice mail informing me that I am required to call Expedia and deal with them. I used the number she provided. This number was wrong. When I pressed the number for a customer service rep, I was told to refer to my itinerary and then I was cut off.

I called the number on my itinerary. I had to punch the 12-digit itinerary number into the phone and hold for a while. A representative came on and, of course, had to have me give the itinerary number again because the punching in is for no purpose, as usual. She talked to me and said she’d call the hotel. I held for a long while, and then a man picked up. He informed me that she’d shunted me into the main phone system and that I’d have to start over.

Argh. I started over. He said that he could process the refund at that time but that he’d have no proof for me that he’d done it because some system of theirs was down. I was told to call back later. That’s right — their system was down, I’d wasted many minutes of my precious time, and I would have to calll them back and START ALL OVER. They only give first names, and all calls are randomly routed, so there is no way to get the same person again.

I waited until 4:15 and called Expedia again. I punched in the itinerary number again. I waited. I got a different person, as expected. I had to read him the itinerary number again because, of course, that was just busy work and it was sent into the great void.

I had to explain to him everything that went wrong at the Westin, in spite of the fact that the hotel clerk had already conceded that I deserved something for my troubles. Her name, unfortunately, was inaudible on the message she left. I held for a very long time while he talked to the Westin.

When the rep. came back on the line, I was told that I was entitled to a refund. I asked how long it would take, and I was told seven to ten working days (!!!). I asked what proof I had that anything would be done and I was given a reference number.

I will have to report back after I see the results, whatever they may be.

Posted by: Nicole at June 27, 2005 04:57 PM

I have gotten my refund from Expedia. I’m not sure how long it actually took because they backdated it onto an American Express statement that had already been printed and mailed. The only way I could see it was to view the bill online.

I’m still switching to Travelocity. This has been way too much work to spend money.

Posted by: Nicole at July 22, 2005 11:02 AM