Quick Trip to Pensacola

My sister and niece are visiting at the moment and over the last few trips down they’ve done a lot of what a 4 year old can appreciate in New Orleans so it was time to venture out of the area. Over the last few years, we’ve sampled quite a few of the hotel chains with beach side locations along the gulf coast. This time it was the Hilton Pensacola Beach which suited our needs very well.

This trip posed a few new challenges for us. To start with, it was the first trip to the gulf coast beaches involving a stay for more than 2 people. It would be just a single night stay and so it needed to be a reasonable driving distance from New Orleans (Destin/Fort Walton was a bit further than we wanted to go). It was also made with just a few days notice.

While a bit further than we hoped, we found availability at the Hilton Pensacola Beach at 50k Hilton HHonors per night. While the price was higher than we’d have liked and a relatively poor award in value terms, we stood a strong chance at picking up an upgrade to a 2 bedroom suite given our status with Hilton, further improved by the fact that this location likely attracts more leisure travelers than business (and thus fewer with gold or diamond status). If we picked that up, it would turn out to be a very respectable award given our particular needs that weekend.

Thankfully, all worked out as hoped and without any prompting, we were upgraded.

This property was formerly a Hilton Garden Inn and apparently made the change recently to full Hilton status. The lobby and restaurant appear to have been recently redone and presented well though I didn’t get photos of common spaces. Service was friendly and quick at check-in. When our room wasn’t ready, a couple drink vouchers were offered though they were limited to draft beer. Works for me but might be a disappointment for some. Currently there’s no executive lounge (though they implied that was planned). There are workout facilities but I didn’t do more than take a quick peek inside.

Breakfast for two was offered via our Gold status with HHonors. This covered everything but the hot, cooked-to-order breakfasts (e.g. omlettes, etc) which were a $3 upcharge. I’m not sure if it’s policy or not but we appreciated that they didn’t charge for my niece. With 3 of 4 meals free, it was a good bargain for us to eat on site.

Of course, the main attraction is the beach. In this area, they’re excellent, with fine white sand and some slightly larger material (shells) in the first 10 feet of water that washes in with the tide. As is typical, they charge for renting the chairs and umbrellas but you’re free to drop your own towel and, I believe, put up your own umbrella (we keep saying we’re going to buy one). Additionally, the hotel offers 2 outdoor pools, one shallow and one that goes to about 5 feet, as well as a hottub.  An indoor pool is also available so plenty of water options.

We found the beds and linens comfortable but wished the carpet was a bit cleaner and the living room furniture a bit nicer. That said, it is a beach property and I think this is typical to slightly nicer than the others we’ve stayed in so it’s not the least bit out of the norm.

The area is pretty touristy but you go here for the beach, not the culture. With Pensacola so close though, there are probably better (non-tourist) dining options than many of the gulf coast locations though we didn’t get a chance to explore those.

All in all, an excellent stay when I factor in the upgrade gave us exactly what we were hoping for. Should we need a suite again for 4 again in the area, this will be one we’ll give some favor to booking.

One quick aside: I’m a big fan of keeping the miles off our cars so the morning before, I found that our local Hertz Convention Center location was offering full-size rentals at $19.99/day with minimal taxes. I only discovered that when I clicked the oh-so-obvious Discounts & Coupons menu bar right on their front page. The rate code meant I couldn’t get the triple Airtran credits I was hoping for but triple Hertz points were a good value for once. 450 miles on someone else’s car for  about $43 all-in while also earning ~$10 back in future Hertz points was money well spent.

Apologies for the relatively poor photos. While my wife has a better sense for composition, I took these and we forgot the nice camera so they were with my phone. Below, views from the living room out…

and to the beach below.

Back in the room itself, the suite featured two bedrooms of similar size, two full baths,

a full kitchen thoughtfully stocked with all the basics (even detergent and cookware),

and a dining/living room.

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