On my favorite road trip down California’s Highway 1, the Southern California wine country around Solvang is a great stop over – and on our most recent trip, I picked the Holiday Inn Express in Solvang. I like this limited service chain, as they are very reliable, offer modern rooms and a good breakfast – so I was surprised and disappointed to find an older hotel conversion in the brand. Read my review to find out why conversions often are not a good thing for guests!
Location: A road trip and wine tasting don’t go well together, so the location of this Holiday Inn Express is a major plus. It’s right in the little town of Solvang and you can walk to a number of wine tasting rooms and restaurants, leaving your car safely in the hotel parking lot! Solvang is about 2 ½ to 3 hours from Santa Monica at the Southern end of my California Highway 1 road trip, making it for an easy-enough drive despite the crazy LA traffic.
Service/Rewards: Check in staff was proficient in their task, but not very friendly. I was on my way to the room quickly and had all the necessary information about the hotel and town. Housekeeping had prepared our room well, it was clean and stocked with all supplies. The restaurant staff had a hard time to keep up with the busy crowd during breakfast: Items started to run out well before the breakfast was over, tables and the buffet were not as clean as I’d expect.
The front desk didn’t recognize my IHG Rewards Club Platinum status at check in, there was no welcome amenity and despite having multiple room categories (unusual for a Holiday Inn Express), there was no upgrade available either. IHG Rewards Club points didn’t post correctly, so this was a “fail” rating across the board from a rewards/elite member perspective.
Room: The room was the real disappointment on this stay. While all of the Holiday Inn Express I’ve stayed at previously were either new-built or renovated ground-up, this property was one of the “quick & easy” conversions of an older hotel and they had apparently done only the minimum necessary to meet the IHG brand standards. The room decor and furniture seemed to be from the 80s/90s and well past its aesthetic sell-by date. In addition to the big and comfy king-size bed, it featured chairs and table in a seating group, a work desk with chairs, flat-screen TV, fridge and microwave.
The bathroom was split, with the sink outside in the bedroom and the shower-over-tub combination and toilet in the bathroom. The bathroom was tiled in beige/brown tones and shower had a curtain with a curved rod, all of it clean and in working order.
Restaurant/Amenities: The Holiday Inn Express has a small pool next to the main building, with some loungers and a wooden fence. You’ll also get a small hot-tub. It’s nicer than most motel pools and a pleasant enough place to relax after a road trip or some wine tasting. There is no gym, but a laundry room. The hotel has free covered parking, which I consider a plus in the hot sun!
The breakfast included follows closely the Holiday Inn Express standards, with fruit, cereal, pastries and hot meats and eggs. There is also coffee and juice, for a complete and filling breakfast. The quality was average for the category. The room and buffet were too small for the size of the hotel, making it crowded and unpleasant. It would be easy to fix that problem of limited space in an older hotel by extending the breakfast hours, but that was not to be…
Bottomline: As you know from other reviews, I’m not a fan of hotel conversions and this Holiday Inn Express is another example why: You get an older hotel with rooms in need of renovation that do not barely meet the brand standards, staff that doesn’t care about the IHG Rewards program, resulting in an overall experience below expectations for the brand. You still pay the premium for the brand, with a price of $145/night during our stay (or 25,000 IHG Rewards points). Paying the brand premium without any of the reliability or benefits is not good value and I wouldn’t stay at the Holiday Inn Express Solvang again. You are better of at an independent hotel for better value – or the much nicer Marriott if you want to stay at a branded hotel. This is the kind of experience that ruined the Holiday Inn brand for me for over a decade – let’s hope this was an exception and not the new rule for Holiday Inn Express.