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Friday, August 14, 2009

Whoopie! A Trip to Lancaster's Newest Adaptive Reuse Hotel


I spent the last two days in the new Marriott on Penn Square, in lovely downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania (www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/lnsmc-lancaster-marriott-at-penn-square/ ).

First, I should tell you that I like Lancaster. Sure, I can get surly when stuck behind a slow moving buggy, and I'm trying to get to a 9:00 meeting. But generally, I like the plain people and their fancy desserts. I'm a big fan of whoopie pies, for example, and began thinking about them as soon as I got details on my meeting.

But Lancaster city is a little different than Lancaster County. It is a city, after all, and although it has some beautiful buildings, they are hard to enjoy when you're clutching your purse and running from a pack of laughing teenagers.

I didn't see the teenagers, but I felt them lurking around the corners as I pulled into the parking garage at 10:00pm, walked to the nearest stairs, and found myself dumped into a very dark section of Duke Street. There were no street lights at all, and I was soon running to the better lit part of the block, hauling my little weekender bag behind me.

I ended up walking (read: sprinting) around most of the block, and felt a little more comfortable as I closed in on Annie Bailey's, the little Irish Pub next to the hotel. That section of the street, even though it was just a half a block away from the garage, felt much safer...which is the effect that top-shelf whiskeys often have on Historic Travel Girl.

I finally found myself in the lobby of the Marriott, checking in to the new "luxury hotel." It had a nice boutique hotel feel, even though the lobby was huge (the hotel is in the old Watt and Shand building, which took up almost an entire city block). But the purple chairs and chic sofas didn't feel like standard Marriott, and the bar inside the front door had a pretty hip vibe for a town full of Amish people.

My room--which I was told was an executive suite, although it looked like the other rooms I visited during my time there--was larger than usual, and furnished with Marriott's latest color scheme of crisp white bedding with splashes of warm gold. The bath was their latest, too, with the tailored looking wallpaper, modern mirror and sconces, and granite counter.

And the nice Bath and Body Works travel sizes, that I immediately hid in my suitcase, hoping that the cleaning staff would replace them with a full set the next day (they did). As the lady in the commercial says...I haven't bought that stuff in years.

Outside of my own room, my favorite part of the hotel was the small balcony area on the second and third floors, which overlooked the facade of an 18th century brick home. The bowed wall on the building was gorgeous (and those bowed window panes were probably more expensive than my last kitchen remodel), and the crew did a nice job restoring the woodwork and copper roofing. I heard rumors during my stay that Marriott plans to turn the building into suites. That "building within a building" look reminded me of my last visit to the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, except those buildings were fake, and this baby was the real thing. Kudos to Marriott for spending the extra money to save it, and work it into the plan. It's a nice addition to the view outside many of the windows, where you can really appreciate the detailed plasterwork on the walls of the old department store.

Marriott also honored the past with an archeological exhibit on the first floor. It's close to the convention center (which I didn't get to see), as well as to the entrance to the parking garage, which is what I used when I checked out, instead of the scary sidewalk. It's really a nice set up, if only they invested in a few signs to tell you how to take advantage of it on the way in, and not just on the way out.

So, two days after my check-in, I returned home. All in all, it was an above average stay. I'd give it an extra star if they just added whoopie pies to the room service menu.