Wednesday, March 16, 2005


Did I ever write about the nightmare of a room we had in Tampa? We got a great airfare deal to Tampa, then had to fly to Louisville the next day, so I searched for a good motel deal for that one night. I was surprised to find out that there are very few motels around the Tampa airport, especially ones that met all my requirements: cheap, shuttle to the airport, continental breakfast.

After searching the internet, I finally came up with a Howard Johnson’s on Dale Mabrey Dr. The price was $55, which was about $13 more than I had been able to find at an airport motel in Atlanta. That was when we thought we could just get off the plane in Atlanta and not fly through to Tampa. Anyway, at the last minute I decided to check the Howard Johnson site….sometimes the company’s own site can give you as good a deal as you can find through a search engine like Expedia.

The first thing I noticed on the Howard Johnson homepage was an offer to “find it for less and it’s free!” Amazingly, the search engine website did have the cheaper price, and I followed the fairly simple directions to claim my free room. Cool!

Just a day after I had submitted my request and verification via email, I received a confirmation email from the customer service department at HoJo, saying that my room would be free of charge. I printed out the email in case there was any problem when I checked in. Little did I know that the check-in would be the least of my problems.

Once we arrived in Tampa and had all our luggage, we looked for the courtesy phone to call the motel. I searched and searched, and saw a large board with lots of area hotels and motels, but the Howard Johnson’s wasn’t listed. Luckily I had some U.S. change with me, and luckily I had written down the phone number of the motel. I was especially glad I wrote it down because I later realized that the email from them didn’t give the phone number…not the local number OR the 800 number!

When I called the motel, I explained the situation to the clerk, and he said he would send the van over right away. When I asked why they didn’t have a courtesy phone, he mumbled some lame excuse, and I explained to him that I had just arrived from Europe, and that it was only luck that I’d had the change necessary to call them.

The van arrived not a moment too soon. We had to wait outside, and Tampa was having the coldest weather in five years! At least we both had our winter coats with us. The driver was friendly and courteous, and it was about a ten minute drive to the motel.

When we arrived at the motel, it was obvious that this property had seen better days. It was pretty run down looking, but for free, and for one night, we figured we could manage.

The desk clerk began the check-in process by asking for my credit card. I told him that I would prefer not to give it, since the room was free, and since I knew we wouldn’t be charging anything to the room. He then asked me if I had two rooms reserved. I told him no, just one, and asked if there was a problem.

He told me everything was fine, but obviously if he thought we had two rooms booked, there was already confusion. He said he knew about the free room, but then seemed confused. I told him I had copies of the emails, and he took a look at them. He asked if he could keep my copies, and I said no, I wanted to keep them for my records, but that he could make copies if he wanted to.

This all seemed a bit strange to me….since I had never contacted this property directly, the entire process had gone through the main Howard Johnson reservation system, and they should have made note on my reservation about the free room. What actually happened, I’m not sure. Eventually the clerk got everything ready, handed us our keys and gave us directions to the room.

We had several large suitcases with us, and would only need the two carry-ons, so we asked if it would be possible to leave the other suitcases somewhere safe. Our room was on the second floor and it just didn’t make any sense to haul all the luggage with us. The clerk was very nice and told us we could keep everything in the conference room, which would be locked. We thanked the clerk and headed for our room.

The directions we had been given seemed designed to give us the scenic tour of the property, but while we were looking for our room, we did notice how empty the parking lot was. This was mid December, and we guessed it was just a slow time, but really didn’t think too much about it. Later I would wonder “why this room?” and “why the second floor?”

When we finally found our room, it was obvious from the moment we opened the door that this “No Smoking” room had not been that way for long. Yuck!

Once the bags were in the door, I headed straight for the bathroom….and was amazed to see a HUGE chunk of porcelain lying on top of the tank! Further inspection revealed that it was from the back corner of the lid, and why it was just lying there is still a mystery. Okay, so we knew this place wasn’t’ going to be the greatest, but…..

As I came out of the bathroom, something caught my eye. It was the place where the smoke detector was SUPPOSED to be. Hmmmmm, seems like a fire code violation to me. Maybe the person who had been smoking in here had ripped it out.

I got my digital camera out and took pictures in the bathroom and main room. Then I tried to plug in my computer to download the pictures, and discovered that the plug didn’t work! And then I noticed that the lampshade was torn.

Maybe a nice hot bath would be relaxing before bed…..except there was NO PLUG for the bathtub! GRRRRR! AS a matter of fact, there wasn’t even a plug for the sink!

Okay, it was definitely time to turn out the lights and go to sleep! Guess what? The bedside clock didn’t work! Once we turned down the bed, we saw two pillows that had definitely seen better days. We had two standard size pillows on a queen size bed (which was supposed to be a king!) and these pillows were all bunched up, the way pillows get after you put them in the washer. The blanket wasn’t much better…if it hadn’t been for all those “pills”, I don’t think there would have been anything left!

This room could have been nice. There was an iron and ironing board, a coffee maker, a small refrigerator, and even a microwave. The desk and dresser we nice size, and the TV was a good size with a nice selection of channels, including two HBO channels.

The next morning we found the continental breakfast to be sparse, but once again, for free, it was okay. There was coffee and juice, doughnuts in individual packages, bread and a toaster, and cereal and milk. Unfortunately for me, the orange juice dispenser wasn’t working, but at this point I wasn’t too surprised.

We collected our luggage and asked to be driven to the airport. I didn’t complain about the room to the desk clerk…it was the same guy we’d had the night before, and I really didn’t think he’d be all that interested. I decided that it would be best to report the situation to the main office of Howard Johnson’s, to at least let them know what someone was doing to their reputation.

I sent an email to the customer service department and included the pictures I had taken. I received an acknowledgement from them almost immediately, and they said they would forward my letter to the owners of the property, and that I should allow about ten days for them to respond. After two weeks I notified the customer service department that I had never been contacted by the management of the property, but mentioned that I wasn’t too surprised.

I would like to know WHY they put us on the second floor (at the far end of the property) when the place was obviously deserted. I’d also like to know WHY our room reeked of smoke and WHY we didn’t have a king sized bed. I’d like to know what happened with the toilet, and the outlet, and the lampshade and the clock. I’d like to know about the bedding. And I’d REALLY like to know about the smoke detector.

The email from the customer service department gave us a general apology, and said they hoped we would stay with them again. Now I realize that not all Howard Johnson’s are as shabby as the one in Tampa, but they had their chance to impress us and they failed miserably. For us, this Howard Johnson represented ALL Howard Johnson’s, and we’ll NEVER stay in one of their properties again, free or not!


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