As a travel writer, I often get to stay in costly luxury hotels. However, when I’m traveling for pleasure—and on my own dollar—I opt for affordable, mid-range hotels that offer amenities like free WIFI and mini-fridges. And one of the best I’ve found is the Country Inn & Suites by Carlson in Bloomington, MN, just across from the Mall of America.
Country Inns & Suites is a franchise operation, but the Bloomington Mall of America property is owned and operated by Carlson, the company that began the hotel chain. They’ve just completed a $10 million renovation that’s modernized and elevated this hotel to the next level. And while Carlson can’t dictate the same kinds of upgrades and customer service to all of its franchise hotels, Country Inn & Suites Bloomington Mall of America is a great example of what a mid-range hotel can and should be.
In the Heart of It All
The 250-room Country Inn & Suites is conveniently located 15 minutes from the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport and just across from Mall of America (MOA), the largest shopping venue in the country. It’s also near the light rail line that whisks visitors into downtown Minneapolis ($1.75). For MOA shoppers wanting to experience the mega-mall’s 4.2 million square feet (another 750,000 SF currently being added) of shops, restaurants, aquarium, live entertainment stages, and giant amusement park, the hotel offers a discounted ticket package and mall shuttle every two hours. Guests can also walk across the parking lot to the enclosed skybridge that leads through the Radisson Blu parking lot and into the mall.
They also offer a convenient and affordable park and fly package for guests who fly out of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. Hotel shuttles deliver guests right to the right airline’s door.
Country Inn & Suites Bloomington MOA’s multi-million dollar renovation is impressive from a conservation perspective. During construction, they endeavored to re-use items like tile and toilets that still had life, improved the property’s energy efficiency with LEDs, EnergyStar appliances, and other eco-upgrades, and used Freecycle rather than the landfill to re-distribute usable building materials.
Their green commitment extends to day-to-day operations with soap and shampoo recycling through Clean the World that benefits an orphanage in Mexico. They’ve switched from throw-away plates and silverware to washable plastic plates and cups and real silverware. They’re also in the process of switching bath products to ones produced by Beekman 1802, a company that makes organic toiletries with no sulfates or parabens (preservatives). The hotel is Green Key certified and they’ve earned TripAdvisor’s Green Certification.
Country Feel, Country Friendly
According to Aurora Toth, Carlson/Rezidor Hotel Group Vice-President of Branding and Marketing, they opted for “the feel of a modern country home” and they’ve achieved it. From the daily newspaper to the free cookies and s’mores fixin’s and the personalized and friendly service, the hotel feels like you’re staying at the country home of a good friend.
A big part of their success is the company’s Be Our Guest training program that teaches that guests always come first. “We treat our guests like family,” says the hotel’s Assistant Manager Jodie Grannes. “We’re a hotel that was started on the B&B model and we’ve built our guest service on delivering caring, comfortable, and consistent hospitality.”
Every time I passed the front desk, staff acknowledged me with a friendly greeting. When I requested special services like photocopying or mailing packages, they did it promptly with a smile.
The renovated hotel’s color palette includes soft greys and beiges, including faux grey wood tables, desks, and headboards that resemble barn wood. The artwork–graphic plants and close-ups of ironwork details–is tasteful and understated. The upholstered furniture has clean modern lines and, with the exception of the occasional pop of red or yellow, comes in cool greys, giving the place a clean, updated feel.
The hotel features a cozy lobby with a gas fireplace and comfy couches that invite guests to sit a while. A coffee station provides hot beverages and cookies 24 hours a day. Just off the lobby is a business center with two computers and printer.
There are two indoor pools and two indoor spas (this is Minnesota after all) with plenty of lounges and chairs surrounding them. While the central location of the pools/spas and all the glass surrounding them made this spot a bit too public for me to enjoy, I was impressed with the handicap assistive lift chairs to help less mobile guests enjoy the facilities. There’s a small fitness room with a TV and aerobic and weight training equipment. There’s also a guest washer/dryer (credit card operated).
Business Class Amenities
My room was a Business Class Executive Suite on the hotel’s sixth floor. It featured a small living room with couch, upholstered chair, side table and reading light and 42” flatscreen TV. There was also a chair and desk large enough to actually work at with extra electrical plugs and USB ports for recharging phones. WIFI is fast and free for all guests.
While there was no safe (something business travelers like me have come to expect), there was a microwave, small refrigerator, and Keurig pod coffee brewer with Caribou Coffee (standard rooms feature Mr. Coffee makers).
The bathroom was modestly sized and featured granite and tile with a combo tub and shower. One amenity that’s part of the business class upgrade I loved was the lighted magnifying make-up mirror. Also part of Business Class level is the oversized yoga mat, exercise stretch band, and two fluffy robes.
The bedroom offered another 42” screen TV, a super-comfy king bed, lightweight duvet, clock radio, and lamps and side tables with electric outlets and USB port. The closet held extra blankets and pillows. AC/heat controls could be shut down and the windows actually opened. (I’m a not a big fan of AC, but I love fresh air even when it’s chilly.) Because this hotel is located near the airport, there was some occasional plane noise with the windows open, but I slept well.
A free “Be Our Guest Breakfast” is served every morning from 6 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. just off the lobby in a spacious serving area with two light-filled dining rooms. There are the usual cereals, fruit, juice, bagels, pastries, and yogurt as well as hot offerings like omelets, potatoes, oatmeal, bacon or sausage, French toast and biscuits and gravy that rotate daily. While it’s certainly not gourmet dining (anything kept on a steam table isn’t going to be), the Country Inn & Suites breakfast is a step up from the usual mid-range chain hotel breakfast. Guests in a hurry can pick up a to-go beverage, fruit and granola bar for the road. And, if you want a convenient alternative, IHOP is located right next door and you don’t even have to go outside to access it.
Real Bottom Line: Country Inns & Suites’ flagship Bloomington MOA property is a mid-range chain hotel that doesn’t feel like one. They’ve done a great job of modernizing this 20-year-old hotel into a sleek, comfortable accommodation that offers plenty of amenities that value-minded travelers look for. Their friendly, customer-first service and attention to detail like s’mores fixin’s make guests feel like this is a place to visit again and again. – Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor