Winter Break was rapidly approaching and I had to think fast. It was our Bi-Annual Daddy/Daughter vacation and being a Dad who prides himself on being creative I went online and began looking up vacation packages in the Florida Keys. Rooms were difficult to come by, except on the outskirts of town and flights were essentially impossible to attain. I then recalled how wonderful our summer vacations in Colorado were and recalled hearing so much about the Canadian Rockies so I contacted them and it became evident that the lodge I was interested in was both remote (perhaps too much so) and the temps were in single digits already.
So I began checking into the usual suspects: Bahamas, Jamaica, Mexico, many sub-par and all crazy expensive, especially the flights portions, with packages averaging in the $5,500-$6,000 range. (Very expensive for five to seven days of sunshine!) Needless to say, time was not on our side, yet the date was approaching fast. So I decided that perhaps the equitable thing to do was to peek into a Midwest vacation that my daughter and I could enjoy without ending up twiddling our thumbs. Wisconsin Dells? Been there, done that. This time we needed something fresh and new.
So after several days of searches and head scratching, a revelation popped into my head: “What about the Twin Cities?” Minnesota! While the weather was generally on the cool side (and that’s being extremely kind for winter), I recalled how congenial the people were. In fact, the “Minnie-Apple” as many folks have nicknamed it has attracted families from all over the US and all points in-between.
I decided it could be really fun to take my daughter, north and I’m talkin’ far north as in Brainerd to go cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling – three exciting winter sports that we’d never tried before. However, there was one key factor missing…Snow! Even up there in the “Hinterlands” as a good friend of mine Jane used to affectionately call it, the weather was surprisingly mild for end of December. So I ventured back onto the Internet and the first destination that popped up was The Depot Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel/Residence Inn (by Marriott) in Minneapolis.
Upon closer review, this hotel duo appeared to have something for everyone in the family: clean, stylish rooms, a great indoor waterpark for the kids, (bonus – someone thought of everything!) a nifty exercise area with the latest cardio equipment and weight training free weight and machines and TV’s attached to every cardio option so one could pass the time easily while listening to their iPod or watching their favorite cable networks. And the best news? Their exercise area was well maintained and didn’t smell like someone’s stinky old socks!
One of their best selling points: this hotel has history. The Renaissance Depot was once the Chicago/Milwaukee/St. Paul train station and believe it or not, the area where folks waited for their trains is now a full size hockey rink. Guests staying at the hotel could skate during extended holiday hours and gaze at the downtown city through the huge wall of glass windows overlooking Washington Avenue. So with one of our winter sports from our wish list in tow, I contacted the hotels General Manager, Scott Cross, who couldn’t have been kinder or more accommodating. Though our original intention was to stay in one of their 13 historical suites, they were still fine-tuning some final tweaks to some creative renovation work, so Scott agreed to put my teen daughter and I in a two bedroom, two master bath suite at the Residence Inn.
Perfect! The days of my exceptionally tall (just turned 13 year old daughter) sleeping on a twin pullout sofa bed while sharing a communal bathroom were officially over! Needless to say, we jumped on the opportunity to try a new city and were truly enthused about our upcoming trip.
Scott and his staff really set us up, putting us within convenient range of the elevator on the third floor. Their downstairs breakfast station provided a complete hot & cold breakfast with numerous delectable options, including eggs, both hard-boiled and scrambled, a variety of cold cereals, homemade hot oatmeal, freshly sliced fruits, tasty meats and hearty bagels, English muffins and so much more! Guests were invited to bring their appetites and take advantage of both breakfast as well as Happy Hour featuring a refreshed hot dinner menu Mondaythrough Thursday. The food was tasty, fulfilling, and their culinary staff couldn’t have possibly been friendlier or more accommodating.
During our stay, my daughter insisted we do what the locals do – take their version of our Chicago EL or Elevated train known as the Light Rail (Minneapolis’s version) to Minnesota’s famous Mall of America. Since Residence Inn is so well situated, we were able to stroll the short 2 and a half blocks to their transit system and shoot over to the mall for a complete day of amusement rides, restaurants we didn’t have back home in Chicago, and of course some moderate shopping.
After a full and complete day of food, fun, shopping and experiencing the music and laughter of thousands of families sharing the holiday cheer, we returned to our temporary “home” where an inviting roaring fire awaited prior to Happy Hour leading into the dinner hour.
Residence Inn-Minneapolis-Depot consistently provided all the “extras” that included all the important amenities while projecting the feel of cozy warmth, rarely found in a hotel associated with a big name. Yet Residence Inn is not your stereotypical hotel chain. Owner and CEO Gary Holmes quietly have cultivated the reputation as an innovator with an eye for honoring and restoring the past with an eye toward the future.
As President and CEO of CSM Corporation, Gary led his company from it’s humble beginnings as a property management company to it’s current powerhouse status as a business led by a risk taker who is now recognized nationally for his novel approach to design and development, quality management and extraordinary customer service.
So it comes with little surprise that Gary raises, renovates and restores residential, commercial, industrial and hotel properties across the US. Renaissance Depot was the perfect marriage of innovator with historical landmark and Gary has gone well above and beyond to preserve both the infrastructure and the lore of a Minneapolis classic by keeping both properties healthy and up to date with a nod to the good old days. Gary’s philanthropic contributions to various causes coupled with his volunteer efforts are indicative of his dedication to the communities where he does business.
Holmes has been the recipient of several awards including: University of Minnesota’s highest alumni honor: The Outstanding Achievement Award, culminating with Saint Thomas’s John Cade award for entrepreneurship resulting in Gary’s induction into The Twin Cities Business Hall of Fame. Recognized statewide for his outstanding work,
Gary Holmes and CSM have not lost sight of his original vision or the entrepreneurial spirit Gary needed to develop real estate for indidviduals, businesses and communities at large.
After about 3 minutes into our first conversation, General Manager Scott Cross’s upbeat attitude and enthusiastic approach caught on but what really intrigued me was his ownership mentality, attributed to the fact that Gary Holmes trusts Scott to run the hotels like they are his own babies. It was obvious that Scott didn’t need to consult with anyone “above” him to make executive decisions and it was not difficult to see why Holmes had complete and utter faith in Scott’s ability to run both hotels like a well-oiled machine while treating each and every customer like they were staying at his own Bed & Breakfast.
Having booked our stay through New Year’s, on the 31st my daughter and I were returning to our room to get ready for a wonderful meal and celebration and as we passed by one of the rooms on our floor, Scott was assisting one of the housekeepers, sleeves rolled up while vacuuming the room himself. How often do you find the GM of a group of major hotels performing last minute cleanup on the eve of a major holiday in a major market? Try next to never-this guy is special and it showed!
Cross worked for Residence Inn and CSM for a full decade. Previously, he was Director of Sales for 5 years and GM for 5 years. While holding a degree in Hospitality Management, Scott has worked in the hotel industry for 20 years. In his own words, Cross admits: “I enjoy Residence Inn’s brand because I get to interact regularly with our long-term guests. My first job in the hospitality industry was renting boats and cleaning the beach at my family’s resort. It was hard work and long hours but a great way to learn the industry.” It’s no wonder that Scott Cross is no stranger to getting his hands dirty and rolling up his sleeves. Cross has more than paid his dues and Holmes has to be the luckiest owner in the Midwest to have Cross at the helm of this historic, timeless, wonderful property.
On New Year’s Eve, we moseyed on over to the buffet at their signature restaurant, Charley’s. Unlike any hotel restaurant you’ve ever dined at, Charley’s attention to detail, friendly, professional service and most importantly, their outstanding 4-Star cuisine makes Charley’s a can’t miss whether you’re staying at the Residence Inn or a local in search of a delectable gourmet meal. The restaurant’s General Manager, Randee Douglass leaves no stone unturned: Warm, (once again) hands-on, attentive and fastidious about her clientele’s experience, customer’s are essentially guaranteed to walk out knowing they had a classy, enjoyable dining experience without zeroing out their pocketbooks. Fairly and moderately priced, Charley’s provides a tasty selection of soups, salads and a variety of creative entrée’s including fresh fish, seafood and some of the finest chicken and steak entrée’s in the Midwest.
Their New Year’s Eve buffet was unlike any buffet my teen daughter and I had ever experienced. Instead of “cheaping out” with an overage of common carb-based appetizers and pastas, each and every entrée choice was first-class, rich in presentation and unmatched in taste. Randee and her staff rolled out everything from healthy veggie and salad options that allowed their guests to really create the ultimate fantasy salad along with a great variety of Italian pastas, fresh-cut cold fruits and more. Each dressing was tastier than the next, which made it difficult to choose-a good thing!
The primary entree options included mouth-watering chicken, succulent ribs with a zesty but sweet BBQ sauce; lean, Chef carved Prime Rib, a robust pasta with giant meatballs and the freshest Trout this side of the Mississippi.
For the grand finale, Randee presented the largest variety of cakes and irresistible cheesecakes ever assembled at one celebratory meal ever.
Everything from Blueberry to Key Lime to Caramel/Praline and even Strawberry cheesecakes & pure chocolate decadence. Needless to say, my daughter and I sampled about 4 of them-How could we resist?
Charley’s staff was hands-on without over-doing it and on their A-game each time we dined there, not just during New Year’s Eve. Their wait staff seemed genuinely happy to be there and knew the menu inside and out-quite reassuring, especially when dining out with a teenager. Their staff made it seamless and were happy to make recommendations. Whether you’re a guest of the hotel or a first-time visitor to Minneapolis, Charley’s should easily be on your to-do list. It is an unforgettable dining experience.
During our stay, Scott was generous to extend an invitation to ice skate each day, which provided us with the opportunity to enjoy indoor winter skating at it’s best. Scott openly admitted that their rink had one of it’s best year’s ever-well deserved considering how kid and family friendly the Depot Minneapolis crew treated their patrons. What is it with Gary Holmes and what’s his secret for finding great hires??? One of the not so well kept secrets is Scott Cross and his Team. If good management starts at the top, Holmes has struck gold with the dynamic duo of Cross and Douglass.
As Winter breaks go, Residence Inn-by Marriott receives 4+1 extra stars for their unmatched attention to detail, top-flight customer service, what felt like unlimited food and family friendly entertainment options, and general good vibes created by Scott Cross and his attentive staff.
What I anticipated as a comfortable stay, morphed into an all-inclusive, simply because of the Holmes/Cross philosophy, which pervaded their establishment. Our room was tastefully appointed, with a classy combination of antique history with all the modern conveniences of a high-end condo. Two bedrooms, two full baths, separation so my teenage daughter and I could maintain our privacy without feeling claustrophobic, a full kitchen with all the accouterments, and a warm, inviting living room with all the modern creature-comforts of home-perfect!
Their housekeeping staff was energetic, enthusiastic and eager to please, and made each guest truly feel like they were their only guest. Scott’s enthusiasm clearly carried over to the entire building, that was evident and once again, customers seemed genuinely happy with their decision to stay at Scott and Gary’s hotel.
The recap: The Depot/Residence Inn by Marriott is a beautifully maintained year-round facility that welcomes guests from anywhere in the US and treats them like family. Pricing is reasonable and budget friendly for both individuals and families. Their food options are plentiful and most packages include snack and breakfast/dinner options so active children and families are well taken care of. Their signature restaurant Charley’s is 5 Star quality without the 5 Star pricing: moderate and quite reasonable. Tip-top management and an owner in Gary Holmes that genuinely cares about each and every guest who walks through the doors and will bend over backwards to ensure, comfort, cleanliness and satisfaction. Tremendous service that begins at the top with Scott Cross the best General Manager in the business and trickles down to his entire staff. Depot/Residence Inn by Marriott is a must-try “destination” that everyone should experience with it’s unbeatable, award-winning team.
We’re already mapping out our return trip to Residence Inn-Marriott in Minneapolis for this summer. Stay tuned!
For more information and to set up your summer reservation for this affordable, self-contained paradise go to: www.thedepotminneapolis.com or try the hotel toll free at: 1-866-211-4612 or 612-340-1300.