New Year's Eve, Wolverine to Chicago and back

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Michigan Mom

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We can debate the wisdom of even taking this trip in light of Omicron, or preferably not - the trip was taken. My son and daughter, who are cautious people by nature, really wanted to go, and with Covid cases exploding in Michigan, we didn't feel as if it would be any less safe in Chicago. So what follows is my TR of our family trip to Chicago over NYE, which was a fun annual tradition for us pre-pandemic,with the usual reporting of the good and the not so good.

Departure
Wolverine services having been restored, we are back to 3 trains daily between Detroit(Pontiac) and Chicago. Our coach seats out of Ann Arbor were booked well in advance, and I put in a lowball upgrade bid. It was a week or so before Thanksgiving, and BC out of Chicago was only $69 I think? As opposed to $40 in coach so I decided to spring for BC on the return. Especially given this was part of our family Christmas present. We monitored the Covid situation and agreed to reach a consensus on whether or not to cancel as things got closer. The day before departure, Amtrak sent the Covid screening email, which while nothing is perfect, is a great idea and is obviously better than not doing it. Reporting of any Covid-like symptom is enough to be able to cancel without penalty, and I applaud Amtrak for not incentivizing sick people to travel. All travel companies should continue to do this, and if a few people take advantage so what if they do.
NYE morning and we were on our way. There was a pretty big crowd on the Ann Arbor platform, and boarding was the usual level of disorganized and hectic. The conductors only said to turn right or left, and as the train started moving, people were walking up and down the aisles in different directions, looking for empty seats. The 3 of us each had aisle seats near each other, so our hopes of being together and one across the aisle weren't going to materialize. I really, really wish Amtrak would let us reserve seats on the corridor. VIA certainly does. Anyway, we didn't converse with our seatmates beyond greeting, and also avoided any food or beverage, as the goal was to get to Chicago safely. Mask compliance was good, the car was quiet and the ride was relaxing even without being next to the window. And, it wouldn't have mattered much as the windows were grimy. Amtrak includes as part of its marketing that views come standard with every ticket, so if they're going to market that, clean the damn windows. I noted that on the email survey following the trip.

Arrival
Arrival into Chicago Union Station is always exciting. Those first views of the city skyline followed by disembarking on the dimly lit platform, then heading into the bright station, feels as promising today as it did 20 years ago. There was a different sense, though, with the Covid situation, that we would just be passing through as quickly as possible. I look forward to the days when we can enjoy the station atmosphere without fear of disease, we just aren't there yet.
We regrouped off to one side near the ticket counter area, where passengers were headed up to Canal Street. It was close to 3 pm and our hotel room was ready, so we preferred not to walk in the cold with our luggage. We followed the crowd up the escalator and saw that people were crossing to the other side of Canal, so Uber and Lyft might have been moved over there. My son checked the app. It might have been due to a price surge from our train, but Uber/Lyft both showed a fare of $25 to get to the hotel, not counting tip. There were no cabs in evidence, although I think the covered area when you first go outside might be a cab stand. If so, GREAT setup for bad weather. I had an idea. We walked around the corner, to Adams St., adjacent to the Metropolitan Lounge. There they were - taxicabs! We were on our way. Ten bucks and change. We gave him a $20, still a savings over Uber. I am very happy to return to using cabs in Chicago again. Whether it's driver shortages or price hikes on the Ridesharing apps, there is simply no incentive to use them, at least in downtown Chicago.

Our Stay
Mixed bag, you could say, although on the whole a delightful trip. We had our hearts broken of course, on NYE, with our Wolverines getting beaten by Georgia. It did lessen the pain that we weren't just sitting at home, and we tried to look at it as having played with house money. They still had a great season. Getting outside and walking is the best way to get past a disappointing loss. Especially with magical views of downtown to distract us.

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anumberone

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Nice review. Too bad this latest bout with Covid messed with all your previous plans. Glad you were able to do your due diligence and take the trip. Too bad about the Wolverines, they got jumped on early and couldn’t get it done. That’s why I never bet on sports, I can get over a loss, one team has to, I just don’t like putting out cash for it.
 

ScottR

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Did you see the fireworks NY Eve? They were billed as the biggest display in Chicago history, and the low clouds were lit up nicely! Unfortunately that was about that!

I had a great time NYE in Chicago…even saw a “Broadway“ show.

sorry about Michigan…I certainly have zero interest in another Alabama Georgia game…not watching that.
 

Michigan Mom

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Sticking to my current policy of not divulging hotel names until the pandemic effects are over, I will say on the whole, felt good about our stay, even though Covid has been known to be transmissible in the air in hotel hallways. However, it is still so much a different world. From what I've been able to observe, hotels are trying to live up to promises of cleanliness. I still see empty hand sanitizer dispensers but rooms and bathrooms have been clean. We didn't leave the room without our masks, and hotels obviously require them for anyone in public areas. It's not the ideal way to experience Chicago, but we elected to get only carryout meals/sandwiches and have them in our room. The new Chicago vaccine ordinance was scheduled to go into effect on the 3rd, right before we left. More on that in a bit.
After the game and an evening stroll, we got ready for bed. Downtown was very busy, and the weather was mild enough that people were out and about. NYE has never been a holiday I care much about, and oddly enough the kids developed the same tendency :) Anyway, the walk was beautiful. Back at the hotel, we were all asleep before midnight. The hotel had extra security measures in place to avoid raucous noise from the rooms, and they did a great job. I did hear some comings and goings in the wee hours but that's as good as can be expected for NYE. It's also an older building and the soundproofing not the best in the world. The next night was even more restful and we enjoyed sleeping in.
We stuck to our game plan, armed with our proof of vaccination cards, of hitting the sales (spent one entire afternoon at Macy's) and exploring, occasionally going indoors to warm up. After the snowstorm on New Year's Day, a cold snap settled in and walking outside for any length of time was a challenge. Good locations for escaping the bitter cold include the Bloomingdale building at 900 NMA (awesome Christmas tree too), Northbridge, and Block 37. The latter indoor mall is relatively new, I think, or some of it is new construction. It's connected to an AMC theatre, Red and Blue CTA stops, and various little shops and eateries. Very close to Macy's.
On Monday we were planning to get the famous banana puddings from Magnolia Bakery and take to our room, only to find a sign on the door that they were closed until Wednesday, in order to be ready for the new vaccine requirements. There were some other closures here and there as well, so evidently businesses were not ready to hit the ground running after the holiday. Earlier in the morning we had gotten takeout breakfast from a fast-casual type of place without anyone asking for the cards, and it was almost empty (big change from the weekend). The new ordinance is supposed to apply even if you are just picking up, and maybe it didn't actually take effect until Tuesday the 4th, but we also picked up a pizza Monday evening and no one asked for anything. Speaking of which, can I just say,you can never go wrong getting pizza in Chicago. People may disagree on which is the "best" - they're all good. Not to mention, quite economical for a family or group. And nothing goes better with football for sure. We found it pleasant enough to relax in the evenings with the games that were on, that we were not invested in emotionally.
Some additional hotel notes. As noted earlier, we are not there yet :) What really sticks out to me are all the little things, nothing that ruins your day but a lot of little service failures. Not enough towels in room, only one half roll of toilet paper, also had to ask for soap. Coffee maker in room but with no regular coffee or condiments for it - just packets of decaf. Burned out light bulbs. Again I won't name the hotel but it's not a budget property by any means, and this sort of lack of attention to details (ESPECIALLY for the price) will become really kind of unacceptable in time. Pandemic or not, they can afford to hire more people. Housekeepers also seem weary, and working odd hours - vacuuming hallways at 9 pm one night... next day vacuum cord stretched across our room door from the outlet it was plugged into down the hall. Also maybe holiday effect. Or greedy people at the top. Anyway, it was still a getaway that we needed and really enjoyed.
 

Michigan Mom

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Departure
So it's Tuesday morning, and early, we are checking out and heading back home. As mentioned in the beginning, I actually bought BC for this leg. My lowball upgrade bid on the outbound was not accepted (notification to that effect arrived a few minutes before departure). There was a cab in front of the hotel, and he took us to the station again for about 11$, gave him a 20. We headed to the Metropolitan Lounge, I hoped to grab a coffee before boarding. The agent at the door said something about there being no snacks (we didn't ask for any) and she indicated that it was about time for boarding anyway, and directed us to proceed down the hall to the track. The Amtrak employees by the track said it was a bit early to board, but let us wait near the track door, which was appreciated, with the other BC passengers waiting there. Soon they told us to go ahead and board the train. Conductors were just getting the stairs down and salted. We got settled in, 3 seats across, and the train left right on time.
The best thing about BC (other than unlimited coffee) was having seats together. And the windows were clean so we were able to enjoy the scenery. However, unlike our Coach leg, there was someone in the car who was noticeably sick. They kept their mask on but honestly the coughing and sneezing were not what we hoped to encounter on the train. I don't feel bad about saying that the person should not have been traveling and exposing us all to whatever it was. And it also shows that the policy is really kind of an honor system. We were glad to all have N95s. That was Tuesday, and so far so good, but I'll be nervous for another new days. Woke up feeling a little strange today so hoping it's not related. We have all received the booster shot or we would not have gone. Son and daughter not reporting anything.
Looking forward to more travel in 2022 - and the pandemic finally being in the rearview mirror.
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Dakota 400

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Again I won't name the hotel but it's not a budget property by any means, and this sort of lack of attention to details (ESPECIALLY for the price) will become really kind of unacceptable in time.
Covid or not, what you experienced is very unacceptable service even for a budget property. It's a hotel that I would never patronize again. And, if it is part of a national chain, a letter to their Corporate Offices would be in order, I think.
 

jiml

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Covid or not, what you experienced is very unacceptable service even for a budget property. It's a hotel that I would never patronize again. And, if it is part of a national chain, a letter to their Corporate Offices would be in order, I think.
I don't want veer too far off-topic, and you're not wrong, however even a cursory glance at recent hotel reviews will confirm that MM's report is all too common at North American hotels - especially the major chains. Among similar complaints are leaving one set of towels in the room and requiring a phone call for more. Many hotels have removed coffee makers completely - not just the supplies. Complaining to corporate will usually refer you back to the hotel in question, quote local restrictions and maybe get you a few bonus points in their plan. Bringing it up at the front desk will get you a one-word answer through the plexiglass... "Covid", while they hand you an apple and granola bar in lieu of a hot breakfast for your $300/night.
 

Michigan Mom

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Agree totally with both Dakota and Jimi. I'm reluctant to really complain much (beyond asking for stuff or for something to be fixed) because I have a feeling it will just impact the hardworking employees and not the decision makers.
The little service deficiencies take on even more significance during these pandemic times, because by necessity, people might spend more time anchored to their rooms.
I wonder if hotel food services will make a comeback in 2022.

One final Amtrak note, too. We were quite happy to be on not one, but two trains that departed and arrived on time. Watching transitdocs after our return, and notably yesterday, there were Wolverine delays attributed to mechanical issues - I wonder if the cold snap affected the engines maybe. We've been overall very lucky with the Amtrak service to and from Chicago over the years, but things do happen :)
 

SarahZ

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Pandemic or not, they can afford to hire more people. Housekeepers also seem weary, and working odd hours - vacuuming hallways at 9 pm one night...
My friend manages a hotel, and he has had a TERRIBLE time trying to hire enough staff. People either don't want to work with the public during Covid, or they want $18/hour for a housekeeping position. He would love to offer more money and benefits, but his hands are tied by Corporate.

The other trick that frustrates him is that, in order to keep collecting unemployment, people will accept an interview or even the job itself and then not show up. This happened to him over and over until just a couple months ago.

As such, his current staff is working all sorts of odd hours, and he does housekeeping duties on top of front desk, night audit, and his management duties. He actually lived at the hotel for six months because he was doing 16-24 hour shifts, and it didn't make sense to go home.

The entire service industry has been affected by this pandemic. I'm not sure how or if it will get better. :(
 
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Ever since a bout with bronchitis several years ago, I will have coughing fits most mornings. Although I know it's not COVID-related, I dread going anywhere too early in case I am overcome with a coughing fit and get stoned by the people around me who draw the wrong conclusion.
 

ScottR

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I feel for you. My dad had surgery many years ago, and has scarring of his esophagus as a result of being intubated For several months, and thus coughs, typically while eating. He can’t help it, always always wears a mask and it isn’t so bad, but it is really sometimes unpleasant to go out to restaurants with the Covid about, both for us and the people around who draw the natural I guess conclusion
 

Michigan Mom

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Yes, those are good reminders that every cough isn't because someone has Covid or other respiratory virus. Sounds of heavy congestion though, coupled with coughs and sneezing, signify the potential for something contagious, and I do wish to remain distant from that to the extent possible. Not going to stone anyone! :) Avoiding dining-in for the present because it seems most dining establishments have poor ventilation. I'd like to think Amtrak has better air exchange with the outside because there is always air leaking in the vestibules.
 

Oaxacajo

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Chicago
Sticking to my current policy of not divulging hotel names until the pandemic effects are over, I will say on the whole, felt good about our stay, even though Covid has been known to be transmissible in the air in hotel hallways. However, it is still so much a different world. From what I've been able to observe, hotels are trying to live up to promises of cleanliness. I still see empty hand sanitizer dispensers but rooms and bathrooms have been clean. We didn't leave the room without our masks, and hotels obviously require them for anyone in public areas. It's not the ideal way to experience Chicago, but we elected to get only carryout meals/sandwiches and have them in our room. The new Chicago vaccine ordinance was scheduled to go into effect on the 3rd, right before we left. More on that in a bit.
After the game and an evening stroll, we got ready for bed. Downtown was very busy, and the weather was mild enough that people were out and about. NYE has never been a holiday I care much about, and oddly enough the kids developed the same tendency :) Anyway, the walk was beautiful. Back at the hotel, we were all asleep before midnight. The hotel had extra security measures in place to avoid raucous noise from the rooms, and they did a great job. I did hear some comings and goings in the wee hours but that's as good as can be expected for NYE. It's also an older building and the soundproofing not the best in the world. The next night was even more restful and we enjoyed sleeping in.
We stuck to our game plan, armed with our proof of vaccination cards, of hitting the sales (spent one entire afternoon at Macy's) and exploring, occasionally going indoors to warm up. After the snowstorm on New Year's Day, a cold snap settled in and walking outside for any length of time was a challenge. Good locations for escaping the bitter cold include the Bloomingdale building at 900 NMA (awesome Christmas tree too), Northbridge, and Block 37. The latter indoor mall is relatively new, I think, or some of it is new construction. It's connected to an AMC theatre, Red and Blue CTA stops, and various little shops and eateries. Very close to Macy's.
On Monday we were planning to get the famous banana puddings from Magnolia Bakery and take to our room, only to find a sign on the door that they were closed until Wednesday, in order to be ready for the new vaccine requirements. There were some other closures here and there as well, so evidently businesses were not ready to hit the ground running after the holiday. Earlier in the morning we had gotten takeout breakfast from a fast-casual type of place without anyone asking for the cards, and it was almost empty (big change from the weekend). The new ordinance is supposed to apply even if you are just picking up, and maybe it didn't actually take effect until Tuesday the 4th, but we also picked up a pizza Monday evening and no one asked for anything. Speaking of which, can I just say,you can never go wrong getting pizza in Chicago. People may disagree on which is the "best" - they're all good. Not to mention, quite economical for a family or group. And nothing goes better with football for sure. We found it pleasant enough to relax in the evenings with the games that were on, that we were not invested in emotionally.
Some additional hotel notes. As noted earlier, we are not there yet :) What really sticks out to me are all the little things, nothing that ruins your day but a lot of little service failures. Not enough towels in room, only one half roll of toilet paper, also had to ask for soap. Coffee maker in room but with no regular coffee or condiments for it - just packets of decaf. Burned out light bulbs. Again I won't name the hotel but it's not a budget property by any means, and this sort of lack of attention to details (ESPECIALLY for the price) will become really kind of unacceptable in time. Pandemic or not, they can afford to hire more people. Housekeepers also seem weary, and working odd hours - vacuuming hallways at 9 pm one night... next day vacuum cord stretched across our room door from the outlet it was plugged into down the hall. Also maybe holiday effect. Or greedy people at the top. Anyway, it was still a getaway that we needed and really enjoyed.
The new Chicago vaccine mandate does NOT include take out/pick up. From the actual mandate "
The following individuals are exempted from the City’s Order and do NOT need to provide proof of vaccination:

Exemption:
  • Individuals entering an establishment for less than 10 minutes to order or carry out food, make a delivery or use the bathroom;
 

Michigan Mom

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Thanks for the clarification on the ordinance, much appreciated! We heard conflicting information.
 
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