I ventured to SoCal, Southern California, or the OC, Orange County this month for the Active Minds National Conference. Instead of staying just for the conference, I decided I wanted to make a vacation out of it. It’s a long story… but I had a flight to Vegas I wasn’t able to go on during Labor Day, so I decided to pay the change flight fee and vacation to California. The conference took place in Irvine California, and our group was staying at the Hilton Costa Mesa (and shuttling to the conference). I had family about 20-30 minutes west in Long Beach, friends 2-3 hours northwest in Thousand Oaks, and friends about 40 – 60 minutes north in LA. Besides planning my flight (Nov. 12-19) I had NOTHING ELSE PLANNED. I didn’t know where I was staying or what I was doing after the conference (that ended Nov. 15th). I avoided planning anything because I didn’t want to get stressed out. I knew I had options- I could stay with my friends or relatives- but I didn’t get anything set. I am so thankful I didn’t plan anything because what I got out of my vacation was better than what I expected, or could ever think of myself. So here’s my story (as an Ode to the Hilton)…
When I first arrived at the hotel after the longest flight ever, I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to check in (it was 1pm and check in isn’t until 3). Thankfully a room was ready and we were able to go up to the room right away. How awesome. As soon as I got to the room, I had to pull out my laptop and get a homework assignment done (the time difference made all my online assignments due two hours earlier! Definitely didn’t factor that in….). Then, all of a sudden, there is a knock on the door. I thought, “come on, are we already in trouble?? Someone go hide in the bathroom!” Nope. Not in trouble. It was a bellhop bringing me a plate of fruit with a card, “for Ms. Mahoney, thank you for staying with us.” WHAT! This is awesome! This is totally going to be the start of a great trip. I brought in the plate of fruit, an apple, pear, banana, and grapes, and the girls DEVOURED it! I read the hand-signed card and was instantly felt “right at home.” From there, things only got better.
I had to talk to the front desk several times because of problems with my ahead-of-time payment… but it ended up just being a positive experience because I made great friends with all of the staff! I was talking to Teague, Front Office Supervisor, and told him why I was there (the conference) and that I was actually staying later with no plans of where to stay or what to do. He instantly started naming off all of these fun activities for me to do, great places to stay, fun things to see. And then… he was talking about getting me the hook up places- discounts, coupons, and freebies. Hell yeah! Now he’s talking. I told him I’d totally let him know my plan once I figured it out and see if I’d take him up on any of those offers.
Later that night, I came back from the conference a little bit early because I wasn’t feeling well, and decided to get stuff done in the business office… which was in the middle of the lobby across from the bar. (It was actually such an awesome set up). I called over a staff member, Michael Flowers, and asked him if I was able to bring a drink over to the business lounge. “Of course!!” he said. And so we started talking. Told him about the conference, he said he was working late because of the conference (the students would be getting back and wanted to go to the bar, so he had to stay to make sure everything ran smoothly). It turns out it was his birthday! So I made him an origami party hat and colored it blue (his favorite color) and he brought me a lemon drop drink from the bar. My group returned from the conference and we all sang happy birthday to him. He loved it. Then I asked if there was anywhere else quiet in the hotel I could go to to work on homework and he said he could get my into the Executive Lounge up on the 7th floor (you need a special keycard access to get in). Instead I ended up going to bed.
Then the following day Teague was back at the front desk, so I asked if there were any rooms at this hotel I could stay at. Turns out there were tons! And he hooked me up with a pretty good deal. So all in all, my trip turned out to be INCREDIBLY AMAZING. Best experience of my life. I was alone in Orange County, eating organic and vegan food, shopping local, and feeling like Eloise at the Plaza at this Hilton hotel. Here is a brief list of all of the ways the hotel ended up taking care of me by the end of my trip:
Parlor Suite on the Executive floor for the same cost as my double suite (like a $350 discount per night), free breakfast every morning ($19 value each day), free snacks/happy hour upstairs in the Executive Lounge, free wi-fi for the week ($10/day value), free drinks once my friends visited me (after the conference of course), a ride to a restaurant nearby (not a shuttle, a nice SUV ride from the manager), and so on and so on and so on. It was the best experience I could have ever asked for. I have never had such amazing customer service. I literally had tears as I was leaving because it turned out to be my favorite place on earth. I was joking that I would come back to live there…. but it may not be a joke one day. Although it was a 4 star hotel, it felt like a 5,000 star experience! I was treated like royalty and enjoyed every minute of it. And none of it would have been possible had it not been for the gracious, fun, personable staff. I hope to return very soon! The team was responsive, I got WAY more value than I paid, the maintenance performed on my room was fast and discreet (a bulb went out above my Jacuzzi), the housekeeping staff made my room more than beautiful each time they cleaned, the bellhops helped me with all of my luggage each and every time and made everything hassle free, Teague at reception went above and beyond to make my experience 100% amazing, the business center had the biggest workspace and awesome huge high chairs so I felt like a little kid getting stuff done, room service delivered delicious food every time I ordered, my bed was so comfortable I was able to sleep through the night (which never happens in my own bed), my Jacuzzi was so nice and relaxing, I could actually make the room as warm as I wanted, the balcony overlooking Costa Mesa was outstanding, the breakfast (smoked salmon, capers, lemon, cream cheese on a bagel) was my favorite thing ever! (that I ate every single day), the little glass jars of raspberry preserves were the nicest touch to put on my toast, and the elevators were gorgeous. Think about THOSE things next time you’re staying somewhere!