30 August 2011

DoubleTree Hotel, Chicago - Review

2 / 5 stars

DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel
300 E. Ohio Street, Chicago

• easy to book via their website
• AAA discount
• good location
• quick check-in (middle of the night)
• free cookie!
• upgraded rooms (style/beds)
• accommodating staff
• nice, free shampoo
• soft mattress sheet

• preferred room gone within two days
• received smoking rooms, even though we booked non (then given an excuse as to the reason for ashtray presence)
• dirty/stained ceilings and comforters
• un-vacuumed carpet/bathroom floors
• screechy A/C fan (unfixed even after requested)
• soap instead of body wash gel
• dirty hair dryer filter, which died after one use
• missing 'do not disturb' sign
• over-bleached towels (typical...)
• non-working key

Reservations were easy to make, via the hotel's website, but in a matter of two days, I could no longer book a lake-view/ queen-bed room. I can't imagine they all booked-up that quickly. However, I got a small discount because I'm a AAA member, which reduced the price to match third-party sites (Priceline, Expedia, etc.). Rates were pretty decent, considering the location, too (north part of the city, two blocks from the pier).

Checking in was very quick, due to it being midnight on a Thursday evening. And you get a free, warm chocolate chip cookie, which was VERY good, even one day later.

The rooms were upgraded in style and beds since it became a DoubleTree on top of the Hilton brand, but unfortunately, that doesn't ameliorate the negatives I experienced all weekend.

Firstly, we had requested the highest level, non-smoking rooms... nothing fancy, but they stuck us on the 13th floor (about a third of the way up, street-view of some office building). Once I got in the room, I noticed a huge air filter, which seemed nice at first, but after seeing the ashtray with a book of matches on the nightstand AND bathroom counter, the air filter made sense. My travel buddy noticed the same thing in her room as well. We asked the front desk about it the next day and she said 'come back in two hours to talk to her supervisor; she's pretty sure that entire floor was converted to non-smoking' and asked us if it smelled like smoke. We said no, but what does that matter to someone who IS a smoker, lighting-up at any time of day or night, and it drafting through the hallways under our doors...

We never came back to ask about it, because that was inconvenient to our vacation plans. Anyway, I was beyond caring about the smoking issue, as I only got about 6 hours of restless sleep that first night, due to the A/C fan screeching every 10 minutes (so loudly that even my 1ft-away White Noise Maker couldn't drown it out). If I pushed on it, the noise stopped, so the three hours I was awake, I piled a pillow, my suitcase, and a chair on top of it to try and reduce the noise level. Also, the Nyquil I downed at 1am eventually took-over, so I slept from 4am to 8am. I finally turned off the A/C at 8am and got a couple more hours of warm, uncomfortable 'sleep'.

After we complained about the ashtrays that morning, I asked them to fix the fan as well. The desk chick nodded her head right away and said she'd put in a maintenance order— as if she had heard this problem multiple times. We came back to change/shower before dinner and got ready to leave at 7pm. I had the fan on for over an hour and heard no noise! I was so happy it was fixed. But... yup, right when I was leaving, it started squeaking again... no one had come to fix it, of course. I told the desk guy about it, and he said he'd check into it, and kindly offered me to switch rooms. I agreed, got a new key, and was told I had to switch my crap right away. So I run upstairs, prop open my old door, and go to open the new one (conveniently right across the hall)— the key didn't work. I had to run downstairs again and ask him to fix it. He did, and I ran back upstairs, and quickly threw all my shit (which was spread all over the room/bathroom) into my new room, which had a much better view!

I ended up forgetting my shitty/travel shower-cap, but that was it... at least I could sleep peacefully the second night. But like my old room, the carpet hadn't been vacuumed properly (I stepped on many hard things, bare-footed, ewws!) and there was hair all over the bathroom floor. I even found a pube attached to one of the towels, too... ya, gross!

I will say though, that the sheets were quite soft... though I don't like sheets so I tore them off the down comforter that was clearly not washed, but covered up by two sheets on both sides. The comforter in the first room was stained in many places, and the second one had a big cigarette burn on it. They clearly upgraded the hotel but not the beds... Anyway, I hate down-pillows cause they suction your ear to it and don't provide any neck support, but I didn't bring my pillow. Lesson learned that I can't survive 'just three nights' with crappy hotel stuff.

The second room also had a hair-dryer, as stated on the website, but it was so disgustingly caked with dust in the filters, that I wasn't surprised when it quit working after a few minutes of use. I had to borrow my travel buddy's instead. And this same room also didn't have a 'do not disturb' door sign, so I had to tear off a scrap of paper (of my own, because there was only a pen on the desk) and make my own sign.

So long-story-short, I will NEVER stay in a Hilton or DoubleTree hotel again.

07 August 2011

WoW: Cataclysm — Review

^Rrraawwwrrr Deathwing! :)

Since the Cata upgrade came out, my opinion has gone from meh to fun! At first I didn't like that all the towns and areas were so different, and all the quest chains I had memorized in 4+ years of playing became useless... cause change is hard! But once I kept playing, I found my rhythm and got used to all the updates (and even grew to love a lot of them!).

Below are some of my thoughts. Note: there won't be much raiding or dungeon comments, because I'm a quester!


This was probably the area that got the biggest revamp in all upgrades/patches since Burning Crusade. At first, my OCD was pissed because you couldn't go into any random town and collect piles of quests, then be all efficient while in the field. But once I got used to it — and worked on the Quest Achieves — I came to love it!

• Linear Questing- now when you visit a town, you might only have two to pick up. Once you complete those, you continue the chain or visit another NPC who needs your help. This allows you to be efficient in the field without so much back and forth to specific areas. I also think this upgrade will make noobs happy because it's easy to follow the storyline. Once you complete the quests in a town, you can move onto the next one without feeling like you're missing a few in the previous area. I assume they did this upgrade so people would actually pay attention to the story of a quest chain, instead of running into town, grabbing everything, and finishing as fast as possible (though I still do this, so sorry Blizzard!). The linear aspect also makes it easy to get the Quest Achieves, as there are less 'drop quests' to worry about missing.

• Field Questing- you now turn in quests while in the field, instead of having to run back and forth to your NPC. It's quite nice! Once you complete the first part of the chain, the info box pops up and you can complete/accept a quest right there. [Note: this isn't for every quest... just a handful that require a lot of field travel.]

• Enemy Targeting- after accepting a quest, any enemies you have to kill for said quest, will have their 'names' show up in red above their heads, which makes them extremely easy to find in the field, with many forms of distraction. (This is probably one of my top three improvements to the game overall.)

• Pop-Up Window- sometimes when you have to kill a boss, the quest info box will pop up with an image of the boss, so you know what it looks like; other times it's your NPC, which is also pleasant in regards to the storyline.

• Quest Assist- I think this was part of the Lich patches, but I actually use the built-in quest helper that comes with the game now, instead of having to download the Addon and worry about upgrading it every time a new patch comes out. (However, even Blizzard's quest helper can be as buggy as the Addon version.)

• Dungeon Quests- are now (mostly) gathered right inside the front door, so you don't have to visit multiple towns and have them clogging up your quest list if you can't get to the dungeons right away. And on a side note, normally the dungeon quest-giver will either follow you in the field when you complete the first part of a chain, or they'll meet you at the end of the dungeon after the last boss is down. (However, this doesn't happen all the time... I think it's mostly with low level dungeons, to help the noobs.)

• Drop Quest Items- now generally drop with your first kill of a specific enemy group. This helps you when you're a high level doing the quest achieves, so you don't have to take the time to loot every single enemy for a new quest chain.

• Flying Vehicles- when you receive a quest that you have to use a flying vehicle for, instead of having to kill/bomb as many enemies as you can in the small amount of time given, you can now hit a 'return to camp' button once you're all done.

• Short Cinemas- occasionally when you accept or complete a quest, a short 'film' will take over and give you more perspective of the quest story or boss you have to kill. (It's not amazing, but it's nice to take a short breather and forces you to understand why you're helping the NPC.)

• Environment Changes- sometimes after you do a certain quest — like saving a village from faction attackers — once completed, the environment will change to reflect the storyline you helped out with. For me, this gives the game an even bigger interactive component and makes me feel like my questing is actually affecting the WoW world.

• Killing Elites- now instead of having to find other (usually rude) players to group up with, the NPCs who gave you the quest to kill a boss at the end of a chain will actually meet you in the field and help you defeat said boss. Or they'll give you some potion or weapon to dispel the elite power the boss has, allowing you to complete the quest chain without saving it for when you're higher in level. Or occasionally the elite's health won't be very high at all, or their damage will be minimal, so you are able to solo the quest with ease.

• Enemies- I feel like they are more spread out now, instead of clustered so close together that you can barely survive a gang-rape episode while just trying to complete a quest. They also seem to rez faster so multiple players can be in one area at a time and not have to sit and wait for everything to rez, or go somewhere else.

• Bosses- a skull icon on your mini-map will be where the boss is, or will spawn/rez, so you don't have to fly through the entire field to find your target.

• Pet Assit- now instead of having a pet 'auto kill' button (along with 'defensive' and 'passive'), it changed to 'assist' so you don't have to command your pet to attack on your first enemy hit. When you change a target, your pet will also change with you.

• Cliff Jumps- an 'about damn time' upgrade, now when you jump off a ledge or cliff, your pet will shift/jump with you, instead of running all the way back to the ramp/stairs and aggro'ing piles of enemies in the process. Tanks will appreciate this very much. :)

• Bugs- are now trackable as Beasts!

• Aspects- your Hawk aspect will remain on when you mount/dismount, so you don't have to push that damn button each time. Also, all your aspects available to you appear at the bottom left corner, above your action keys, like your pets action keys. This saves a lot of action bar space!

• Auto Shot- you can now run/move and shoot arrows! No more standing in one place and disrupting your auto shot build-up time if you bump the movement keys.

• Call Pet- there's a new feature that allows you to summon any pet in your stable, without having to visit the Stable Master. You can also tame new pets while just dismissing your current one, instead of stabling. The more slots open up as you level.

A lot of these bullet points are huge time-savers. I feel like Blizzard wanted to make questing easier and leveling much faster, so you could hit the level cap and get to explore the dungeons for gear, thus being able to defeat the upgrades' boss without consuming hours upon days of your time.

• Authenticator Key- you don't have to enter your key code every single time you log. Your account recognizes the place you normally log, and therefore, decides against unneeded security.

• Bags- they auto-open/close when you visit a vendor now! (Also one of my favorite upgrades. It took me forever to get out of the habit of hitting 'shift-b' after clicking on the Repair NPC...)

• Flying Mounts- another favorite upgrade that saves loads of time, you can now mount up in water and fly out!

• Pop-Up Text- either in the field or in a dungeon, often you'll get pop-up text to help you defeat a boss or use a quest item when it's more confusing. This used to be an AddOn, so it's nice to have built-in now.

• Towns/FPs- I feel like there are more towns/flight paths scattered throughout all areas, so you don't have to do so much running. And flight paths are now pre-labeled on area maps and colored to which faction they belong to. This helps you find the village you need to visit, without using WowHead or memory.

Lastly, you often receive 'free passage' to the next FP destination via a quest giver or FP master (if you don't already 'know' it). This saves loads of time running via roads and dodging enemies.

• Worgen- = woot! :D

• Inside Jokes- if you played long enough with the previous three patches, you'll notice some pretty humorous updates they took with old NPCs or towns... gotta love Blizzard's sense of humor. :)

Raceway flag-girl, Daisy, is now a bartender/innkeeper. :P

• Mounting View- as long as you don't hit your right mouse button, the camera view will adjust to be above you and your flying mount, but not affect your direction in any way.

• Dungeon Maps- are now automatic when you enter a dungeon! The quest helper even aids you while inside, too.

• Toon List- you can now move your character names up or down in the list, which makes my organized brain very happy. :)

• Underwater Aids- if you're in an area that's mostly water-based, generally you'll receive a buff from quest NPCs that allow water-breathing, or you'll receive items to help you travel in it, or every time you jump into the water, you'll automatically get breathing/speed 'items', so there's no panic of losing breath or needing potions to survive while questing.



• Item Equip- quest items you need to equip will still replace your helm/weapon. I think they need to fix this, cause if you don't remember to place your helm/weapon in a special bag slot, you might sell it by accident. (Yep, did this with my 85... it sucked. Bye-bye good helm!)

• Forced Chain Questing- 95% of the time, you can't skip into a different town and gather piles of quests; you have to do the chain from the previous towns in order to move on, especially if you want to ensure access to ALL the quests available.

• Quest Items- extra ones you loot stay in your bag long after you've completed it and handed-in the quest amount required. This isn't a new thing, but I think it's something REALLY annoying that they could have fixed by now.

• Quest Turn-In- unlike the Pro section where I mentioned the NPC that follows you so you can turn in your dungeon quest at the end, well sometimes you have to run all the way back to the entrance to the same NPC, who sits and waits for you to finish. This is a big waste of time, especially in large dungeons, and can often be detrimental if you were in a group and you come across Pats on the way back.

• Aspect Dismount- I used to hit one of my aspects when I wanted to dismount, instead of shooting or hitting the mount key, but now either the aspect will activate while you're mounted (kind of a Pro), or it won't allow you to change it until you dismount.

• Pet Presence- another annoying mount patch is that your pet doesn't disappear anymore when you mount up (land and flying). So once you run/fly super fast ahead of your pet, it lags behind and eventually disappears, forcing you to Call it again when you encounter an enemy instead of relying on it appearing after a dismount.

• Change Sucks- my favorite dungeons/areas are all different now... (Example: SFK is now riddled with undead or whatever, not worgen, and the sweet-ass music that used to play while in there is gone.) :(

• NPC Voices- seems like there's a lot more voice-over talk done by NPCs/bosses... it's not needed, and sadly, most of the voices are ill-casted! It just makes me uncomfortable.

• Outlands/Northrend- so amongst all these awesome Pro's listed above, Blizzard seemed to completely ignore Outlands and Northrend in the process. Questing is still the same and the dungeons don't have all the helpful tips or NPC quest-givers at the beginning. It's quite a shift when you get used to the nice upgrades from level 1 – 58, then go to Outlands and be jolted back into the past way of doing things.


So, clearly a lot more positive's than negative's, but still lots of room for detailed improvement, IMO. :)

01 August 2011

White Tulip

Fringe S2 Ep18 has to be one of my top three favorite episodes of the series so far. It's well-written, even-paced, and focuses on two characters' similar struggles with a decision they made in the past. Discussions of time-travel and the ever-popular science/god debate are coherent, and the two final scenes at the end are the most amazing gestures of humanity I have ever seen in science fiction!