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Every October, Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen and his wife try to plan a trip to New England to enjoy some fall foliage. The couple usually picks a bed & breakfast in small towns or villages in Vermont or New Hampshire, but this year, Nick stumbled across the Equinox Resort & Spa, part of Starwood Preferred Guest’s Luxury Collection. While the stay was far from perfect, the property is stunning and in a great area to explore all that Southwestern Vermont has to offer.
Originally built in 1811, Starwood’s Equinox Resort & Spa has 195 rooms and suites spread over five buildings and is surrounded by woodlands, making it an ideal home base for an autumn leaf-peeping trip to New England. Located near the heart of terrific shopping and dining in Manchester Village, it’s also a great jumping-off point for both Stratton and Bromley mountains.
Since I’ll be losing my SPG Platinum status at the end of this year, I figured that booking an award stay would be a great way to liquidate my remaining Starpoints and enjoy the benefits of status one more time.
When I checked on availability for Columbus Day Weekend, I was stunned to see standard-award rooms still available — even though revenue rates were $899 per night! (This was clearly a high-demand weekend, rates through the end of this year are still all over the place — as low as $209, but climbing up to $899 for New Year’s Weekend.)
As a Category 5 SPG property, I only needed 12,000 points for a free night. Factoring in the taxes and fees I saved by booking an award stay, I wound up with an incredible value of more than 8.2 cents per point.
Note that award stays at the Equinox also incur a resort fee of $35 per night, which covers valet parking, bottled water, wireless internet service, bicycles and use of the spa amenities (though treatments are extra).
After a lengthy, yet beautiful drive from the other Manchester, in New Hampshire, we arrived in Manchester Village, Vermont and pulled into the Equinox’s small front driveway just as the sun was setting. We were greeted by a cheerful valet attendant dressed in knee-high brown and beige argyle socks and matching knickers – this silly get-up was actually fitting for the old-time feel of the property. While the main building itself was an impressive size, the exterior of the property was modest and blended in nicely with the New England countryside.
We were promptly helped at the front desk and checked in to Room 326, a traditional queen-bed room in the main house (note that you can book king rooms as well as standard rooms at the neighboring Charles Orvis Inn using points). Unfortunately, given the popularity of the weekend, there were no Platinum upgrades available, though I was given my choice of welcome amenity and selected complimentary continental breakfast. We then told the valet attendant our room number, and he assured us that our luggage would be brought straight to the room.
Our room was situated on the third floor about halfway down the hall in the southernmost wing of the main building (though it’s worth noting that the elevator is at the far end, thus requiring back-tracking after riding up). Despite being listed as only 170-240 square feet, the room felt decidedly more open as a result of the 10-foot ceilings and efficient furniture placement. The queen bed was located straight ahead as you opened the door.
The room then opened up with a decent amount of floor space, along with a flat-screen TV, desk and armchair.
Walking farther into the room, the sink was off to the left and beyond that was the small, yet perfectly functional bathroom.
The bath amenities were from Elemis, a British brand that I’ve experienced at other SPG properties and whose products I quite enjoy.
The room was also equipped with two small features that I found to be quite practical and useful, especially considering the historic nature of the building. On one wall was a Wi-Fi transmitter, which ensured that we had a great signal throughout our stay. I have no idea if this was standard across all rooms or if we simply got lucky, but it was a great feature nonetheless.
Then, next to one of the nightstands, I was excited to see a six-plug outlet. More power outlets in hotel rooms was actually one of my weekly wishes back in August 2014, and it continues to amaze me when I arrive in a hotel room to find four occupied outlets on either side of the bed. I have to give the Equinox credit for ensuring that today’s connected travelers can stay hooked up and powered up during their stays.
The view out our windows was the southern service road leading around to the back of the property, one that remained gloriously quiet throughout our stay.
The room’s brown and beige decor maintained the resort’s traditional New England charm while infusing a contemporary and updated vibe. After a day of leaf-peeping, the foliage-inspired rug brought in a sense of the outdoors, and the plush bedding was especially welcome after a few hours of beer drinking at the area’s Stratton Mountain Beer Fest.
In addition to the rooms in the main building of the Equinox and the Charles Orvis Inn next door, travelers can also choose from the self-described moderately priced options of the Inns at Equinox, three separate buildings with unique accommodations and access to the amenities of the full resort. However, only rooms in the main hotel and Charles Orvis Inn are bookable on SPG.com, so you won’t earn points (nor can you redeem points) for stays in the 1811 House, Townhomes or Dormy House.
While New England is flush with bed and breakfasts, one major drawback is their relative lack of amenities, especially in comparison with a major hotel. Fortunately, the Equinox didn’t disappoint in this regard. The resort has three restaurants on-site, including Colonnade, where breakfast is served from 7am-11:30am every morning.
The Platinum benefit here included the complimentary continental buffet for two (normally $18.50 per person), and the spread was quite extensive, including fruit, bagels, toast, traditional apple cider donuts, yogurt, some fantastic granola and a meticulously labeled cheese platter (the Cabot cheddar was the clear winner). We were offered the full buffet for an additional $5 per person each day of our stay (and took them up on it a couple of times), but all breakfast charges were wiped from our bill at check-out.
Of course, the clear highlight of breakfast was the fantastic views of Mt. Equinox.
The other two restaurants are Chop House, a rather expensive steakhouse that serves just dinner, and Marsh Tavern, which offers a more casual setting with unique lunch, dinner and pub fare menus — and is listed on OpenTable. We spent an evening at Marsh Tavern (while my mom and sister, in town from New York, watched Evy) and had a fantastic meal. I especially recommend the Equinox Shepherd’s Pie, which is made with braised beef, chicken, duck and Vermont-cheddar mashed potatoes, though the jalapeño jelly and cornbread from the complimentary breadbox were also terrific.
You can also grab a pre- or post-dinner drink at the resort’s Falcon Bar, which includes a massive outdoor seating area complete with a large gas fire pit, perfect for the brisk fall evening.
The property also boasts a large indoor recreation complex with a beautiful indoor pool, fully-appointed fitness center and serene spa. We didn’t get a chance to experience any of these (instead choosing to explore the foliage and visit Hildene, the home of Abraham Lincoln’s son), but the common area of the spa seemed like a perfect place to relax your cares away.
Just east of the hotel across Route 7A is the Golf Club at Equinox, an 18-hole award-winning championship course. Guests may make tee times as soon as they have confirmed reservations, though sadly the course is not a part of the golf benefit provided to holders of the Citi Prestige Card (believe me, I looked!).
The common areas of the property were also extensive, with multiple fireplaces, sitting areas and even rocking chairs on the front porch overlooking the scenery.
All of the resort’s delightful aspects aside, our first two hours on the property were very disappointing — and set the tone for our entire stay.
I made our booking several months in advance and requested a crib in our room. About a week ahead of the stay, I received an email from the concierge with information about the property and recommendations for things to do. I responded to confirm our crib request, as well as to request a small refrigerator in our room for my wife’s breast milk, and I received an immediate reply indicating that both were now on the reservation.
Fast forward to check-in. The front desk agent saw no fridge request on our reservation, but said he would add it. He also said that the crib should be in the room, but to call if it wasn’t. When we got to the room, there was no crib, so we called down and notified the front desk agent, who promised it would be right up.
After waiting more than an hour, we called down to check on the status of our requests, only to be told that they had no more refrigerators for the evening. I asked to be transferred to a manager and pointed out my confirmed request from the concierge, but she claimed there was nothing they could do. She also said that they were working on our crib request, but claimed that they had an unusual number of young children staying over the weekend and wasn’t sure she would be able to procure one.
As a Platinum member, I find this quite disconcerting, especially when she said, “Only our Gold and Platinum Guests were given priority for refrigerators and cribs.” When a top-tier elite makes a reservation several months in advance and specifically requests a crib, I expect that request to be honored.
It bears mentioning that the manager was able to track down a pack-and-play for us in place of a crib, though we had to wait another 30 minutes for it to arrive. She also arranged for a cooler with ice for the first night (though not without my prompting) and managed to track down a refrigerator for our second and third nights.
We also encountered issues with our luggage. After notifying the bell stand of our room assignment, we were assured that our luggage would be brought straight up to our room — but 30 minutes later, still no luggage. I called the front desk and was assured that it was on its way, but after another 15 minutes, it still hadn’t been delivered. My wife then went down to the lobby to find our bags on a cart unattended, and only when she attempted to take one of the bags herself did a bellman appear to help. I understand that late afternoon is a busy check-in time, but waiting more than 45 minutes for luggage to be delivered is (in my opinion) simply unacceptable.
The final straw came on Sunday, our second full day at the resort. After our daughter’s morning nap, we left our room at 12:15pm and returned at 5:30pm. During that time, we received no maid service, despite specifically removing the Do Not Disturb sign from the door. When I again called guest services and asked to speak to a manager, I was told that the housekeeper likely came by early (they start at 9:30am on Sundays), saw the Do Not Disturb sign and moved on to another room.
My issues with this are two-fold:
- As a luxury resort (charging $899 per night, mind you), how is it that housekeeping makes a single pass before giving up on cleaning a room that day?
- As a manager, when I call to complain, your first reaction shouldn’t be to make excuses – you should come up with a resolution. Only after I pressed did she offer to waive our resort fee.
These interactions left a really sour taste in our mouths, but all of that was wiped away at dinner. Aside from the fantastic food, we were also approached by Peter, the resort’s Director of Operations, midway through the meal. He had heard about our frustrations and wanted to meet us and hear more details. We explained our situation, and not only was he completely understanding of our perspective, but also offered to comp our dinner as an apology for the poor service we received.
It’s really astounding how much a small gesture can turn around a negative experience. It wasn’t so much the free dinner (the bill would’ve been less than $100), but the empathy with which it was offered. Peter has clearly been in the hospitality industry for some time and understood how we were frustrated, and this simple act really impacted our overall view of the property.
On the whole, even with our service disappointments, we had a terrific time at the Equinox.
In all honesty, it felt like the hotel was simply unprepared for the rush of guests over Columbus Day Weekend. Whether it was waiting for the breakfast buffet to be restocked or the fight to get a crib and refrigerator in the room, it just seemed like the resort was understaffed. However, I must applaud Peter for his understanding, as he really helped turn around our perspective on the property.
Would I stay here again? Absolutely, though with a couple of caveats:
- I strongly recommend avoiding it during future Columbus Day Weekends.
- I wouldn’t go back for a romantic weekend without the kid(s). I figured we would be in the minority with our 10-month-old, but we actually fit in quite well with the multitude of other families with small children!
While my stay was booked using Starpoints, I did charge the incidentals to my Citi Prestige Card to earn 3x ThankYou points per dollar spent. However, another great option is the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, as you’d earn 2x points per dollar spent at the Equinox. The card is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 25,000 Starpoints after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months, good enough for two free nights here.
Have any of you ever stayed at the Equinox? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments section below! While Citi announced some negative changes to this card back in July — including a lower sign-up bonus, the elimination of Admirals Club access and the end of the free rounds of golf benefit — one of its most valuable perks still remains, which is the 4th Night Free perk. This benefit alone can save you thousands of dollars a year if you use it to its full advantage.
While Citi announced some negative changes to this card back in July — including a lower sign-up bonus, the elimination of Admirals Club access and the end of the free rounds of golf benefit — one of its most valuable perks still remains, which is the 4th Night Free perk. This benefit alone can save you thousands of dollars a year if you use it to its full advantage.