Despite what many of my friends and family seem to believe, I do not spend all my time gallivanting across the globe. Sadly I have a day job that you can typically find me at Monday through Friday, toiling away under harsh fluorescent lights. On occasion my job requires me to travel a bit, though I’m confined to a ten state region within the American Midwest as I noted when I posted my photo essay of Ladysmith, Wisconsin.
A few weeks ago I found myself being shipped off to Minneapolis for a five-day business trip. While some might not be thrilled with the destination, I’m actually a big fan of the city. A stroll through the wonderful parks along the Mississippi River or jogging across the Stone Arch Bridge over St. Anthony Falls are two great ways to spend a summer evening. There are even a few restaurants in the Minneapolis downtown core that I really enjoy.
Typically when I stay in Minneapolis for work I have booked the W Hotel at Foshay Tower. The government rate was not available at the W this time around though, nor was it available at any of the other Starwood properties near the W. The only Starwood hotel offering a government rate just happened to be the Aloft Minneapolis, located a bit east of the downtown center in the Mill District. I’d never stayed at an Aloft property and watching to broaden my brand loyalty horizons a bit I figured I would give it a shot.
The Aloft Minneapolis is located on Washington Avenue, which was difficult for me to access when coming from the airport in a rental car. I ended up shooting past my exit since it wasn’t clearly marked and had to make a winding u-turn in order to get back to where I needed to be. Unfortunately the Aloft Minneapolis does not have a parking lot for guests. While there is a parking garage located directly across the street, I found parking in the lot to be less than satisfactory. While the daily rate wasn’t too high ($8), since the garage is affiliated with the nearby Guthrie Theater, they add an additional $8 surcharge on nights when there was a “special event”. Perhaps it was just bad luck, but I had to pay the surcharge 3 out of 4 nights parking at the facility.
The hotel’s location in the Mill District is a mixed bag. It has excellent access to the Guthrie Theater and the parks lining the Mississippi River. The Stone Arch Bridge and Saint Anthony Falls are less than a 10 minute walk from the hotel. One thing I did not like about the Mill District was that restaurants seemed to be woefully lacking. There were dining options available, but being so close to the Guthrie meant that the prices were aimed at diners who were out for a fancy evening. Since the Aloft does not have an extensive dining menu (no room service or restaurant, only a small cafe), I ended up having to get food delivered in the evening 50% of my stay.
This was going to be my first stay at a Starwood property with SPG status. While I have enjoyed Starwood properties for years, I never invested in their loyalty programs. As I mentioned in my Best Western Plus Coconut Waikiki review, I have been dabbling with hotel loyalty for most of 2012. Armed with status, I wanted to see if the experience would improve at all. Unfortunately I was not impressed with the service provided by the front desk at the Minneapolis Aloft. As soon as I walked up to the desk, the agent said, “If you’re trying to check-in, you probably can’t get a room. You know that we don’t allow check-ins till 3 PM, right?”
Oh. Okay. So it’s going to start off like that, eh?
I tried to remain friendly and handed over my credit card. She clicked away on her computer for a few moments and then said, “Well it looks like we have one room I could let you have right now, but that’s not our normal check-in time, just so you know….”
I’ll take what I can get, but certainly a lackluster introduction to the Aloft brand.
The staff, fortunately, was much more helpful and friendly during the rest of my stay. Each morning when I walked out to my car on my way to work I was greeted with a smile and cheerful “Good morning.” Check-out was smooth and quick, and the desk agent made sure to wish me a safe flight and asked if I needed a cab to the airport.
The Aloft Minneapolis skips any efforts to have a restaurant and instead has a grab-n-go concept area called Re:Fuel. Think of the refrigerated area of your local Walgreens/CVS/Rite Aid which features prepared sandwiches, salads, and other snack foods. That’s exactly what this looks like. A few sandwiches, salads, and granola bars thrown in with a small selection of drinks. In the morning, hot sandwiches on english muffins are offered, kept hot wrapped in foil on a warming plate. Overall, it was convenient and the food was up to par for what you’d expect from this type of set up.
The concept of the room seemed to be “loft living” in a modern city setting. There were lots of blonde wood finishes, stainless steel, and playful light and dark color accents across the space. The fixtures in the bathroom looked very modern. The space was open though I felt like there could have been a bit more lateral space.
Immediately on your left when you enter the room is the closet and bathroom space. The closet is not enclosed, rather it’s a set of shelves/cubby holes built into the back of the bed’s head board. Two spaces are available at the bottom for holding shoes. Behind the curtain you will find an area to hold a suitcase (standard carry-on size, probably not ideal for anything larger) as well as a few clothes hangers. This area also holds the in-room safe, coffee/tea making amenities, and a magazine rack.
The bathroom vanity area is opposite of the closet/storage space. The mirror was large and wrapped around slightly onto the side of the wall. Directly under the vanity was a small refrigerator as well as a hair dryer. The white counter top was spacious and the raised sink basin was a nice aesthetic touch. In practice I found the sink basin rather problematic though. The faucet was perfectly fine for pour water into the bowl, however, if you wanted to stick something under the spigot (to wash your hands or a cup/toothbrush) the space was very tight and you often found yourself bumping into the basin walls. Form over function, and it was rather annoying.
The bathroom/shower area was set up nicely. The towel rack was located directly over the toilet and was well stocked with clean towels. Sadly the wallpaper application next to the shower was already peeling off, which indicated to me that either it was thrown together rather shoddily or the materials used for this low-budget version of the W brand was indeed low-budget.
The shower was spacious and typical of what you’d find in many hotels of this category. One of the nice features about the shower is that the wall section facing the shower head was made of frosted plastic. This meant that taking a shower in the morning when the sun was rising or right after work when the sun was going down bathed you in a golden light and almost left you with the impression that you were showering outdoors. One of the nicest features of the room were the bath amenities. They were similar to the W Hotel products since they were from the Bliss Spa line. The last time I was at a W Hotel the products were lemon & sage scented. I am not sure this is still the case, but the Aloft scent was marine (as in the sea, not the armed forces). I’m a big fan of ocean-scented products, so this was a big plus in my book.
Despite the modern features some of the fixtures in the room were decidedly retro. Pieces in the room such as the clock or some of the linens definitely had a bit of the “throw back” appeal one can find in many things these days.
The bed, overall, was comfortable. The air conditioning unit blew cold air directly onto the bed, which made for some chilly nights. I wasn’t able to find a happy medium in terms of temperature settings, so I ended up deciding that I’d rather be a little cold than a little hot.
The desk area was where I spent most of my awake time while in the room, and it served me well. The three things I really look for in a desk are a comfortable chair, spacious area for my laptop and other tech toys, and plentiful outlets to charge everything. This desk scored in all three areas, which meant I was perfectly happy while browsing travel websites, sending work emails, or updating my little corner of the blogosphere.
The room also had a multimedia box that allows the more tech savvy traveler to utilize the television to display media from other devices. Unfortunately I can hardly type, let along hook up my devices to a television, so this went unused but seemed like a nice feature for those who are more up to date with technology. I simply used it as a stand for my iPhone and iPad.
Next to the desk was a small couch which was visually nice but practically served absolutely no purpose. It was situated directly across from the bed, so unless you happened to be laying down the set up for a visitor trying to have a conversation with you was awkward. It would have been much better against the far wall that had nothing on or against it except a single picture.
To cap things off, the room did have a nice view of downtown Minneapolis.
WiFi at this property is free and very fast. I didn’t have any connection issues, and my devices all synced back into the network when I returned to the hotel.
The gym featured only a small number of machines (one stairmaster, two treadmills, and a bicycle if I recall correctly), as well as one weight resistance machine. Free weights were also available and mats were laid out for stretching and other types of exercise. Towels were provided, spray to clean off equipment, as well as cold water.
I did not use the pool though each day when I went to the gym after work at least one family with children seemed to be utilizing it. The W XYZ bar seemed very trendy, but I didn’t see many people drinking there during my stay and unlike many of the reviews on TripAdvisor, I did not find the music troublesome at all.
The Aloft Minneapolis is a solid offering from Starwood. The location is not ideal due to the odd parking situation, but there is the added bonus of being so close to the Guthrie Theater as well as the natural trails and parks along the Mississippi river. The rooms are comfortable and modern, though the concept of “loft” living means that some of the features are much nicer to look at than they are to use. The service from the staff started off a bit rocky but recovered immediately after and was friendly and helpful for the remainder of my stay. I still prefer the W Foshay Tower when it comes to Starwood properties in Minneapolis, and for my next business trip I would consider testing out the Westin before coming back to the Aloft. However, should the Aloft be my only choice, I wouldn’t be disappointed to book another stay at this property.
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