PRO: Lots of activities on site mean it’s great for families. Historic and beautiful. Staff very warm and friendly. Self-parking is easy and free. Housekeepers’ tips included in the resort fee.
CON: Front desk staff were polite but bumbling. Expensive for what you get. Lots of kids running around. Dining options at the resort pricey and (reportedly) of inconsistent quality, though much more is available outside the resort. Check-in is at a very late 4 PM, but check-out is still at noon.
We stayed at the Greenbrier for two nights, to take advantage of a super-discounted Internet deal. Overall we enjoyed it, although there were a few annoying things, a couple of which would have been dealbreakers had we paid more or had it not been such an otherwise charming place.
We had feared that as a 30-something interracial couple, we might feel out of place in what we’d imagined to an enclave of very formal, elderly WASPs. We were pleasantly surprised. The guests ranged widely in age, and the staff, from housekeepers to managers, was very warm and genuine. The formality that must have dominated in previous decades is largely gone; we saw numerous guests in jeans in the upstairs main lobby after 5PM (in defiance of the official rule). The only people really dressed up were those eating in the formal dining room.
The Greenbrier is gorgeous inside and out--though the numerous expansions over the years have rendered it so vast that it can feel like you’re trying to find your way in a cruise ship. It seems to be in a transition period--from an era when mineral baths were enough to bring the like of Princess Grace, to one in which this legendary resort must bring in more guests and offer more and more activities just to compete with resorts in North America.
The Greenbrier is currently building an underground casino. For now, it means that the former main entrance is off limits while they dig up the grounds in front of it. The side entrance currently serves as the main entrance. It suffices, but just barely; the lack of a double set of doors means the check-in lobby often gets blasts of freezing-cold air in the winter. Moreover, there is always a gaggle of bellmen with their carts nearly blocking this entrance, which is the only entrance or exit available. Management should change this.
With all the service people constantly milling about the entrance, it was surprising that there were sometimes no doormen to open the door.
We were frustrated to find that our room was not ready at check-in, nor for a while thereafter, despite our repeated inquiries. But when I complained later, the operations manager apologized profusely and comped us a spa treatment--a very classy response that did a lot to smooth things over.
It was also surprising that we did not receive our bill under the door the night before checkout, as is the custom at most hotels these days. As it turned out, they mistakenly billed us again for the resort fee, which we had already paid in advance with our reservation. When we pointed it out, they corrected it. If only they had done so for my wife’s title, which they had put on the reservation as “Mr” and never changed. Ah, well.
I didn’t care much for the bellman system, whereby the man who greeted us on arrival took our two small bags, put them on a cart, and made a point of telling us that another man would take them to our room--as if to say, “You can tip me for lifting your bag two feet, from your hand to this cart.” I’m not tipping twice for bell service. Why doesn’t the hotel just have the first guy who takes your bag upon arrival take your bags to your room?
The room we finally ended up in was extremely spacious. The bed was very comfortable, with super-soft linens. There was a high-def widescreen TV with HBO. The bathroom was huge and sparkling, with two sinks (one with the toilet and one separate). The bath towels are the size of beach towels. There was a walk-in closet.
The wallpaper was bold—maybe garish to some but to us of a charmingly retro early-1960s-style quirkiness. (Same for the solid blue carpet.)
Alas, the safe was left locked by the previous guest, and for some reason, the hotel will not allow the handyman to fix it unless the guest is in the room. So we did without it.
The only real issue with the room was the heating system; it cranked out heat like you would not believe, even when we set the electronic thermostat very low. We finally resorted to setting it to cool, even with the outside temperature well below freezing.
The heating unit also produced (or perhaps merely channeled) an odd sound, barely audible in the daytime but very noticeable at night, akin to someone shoveling icicles or stirring a box of Legos. I suspect this sound may originate somewhere far below, in the depths of the HVAC system. I notified the manager and was told a handyman would fix it while we were out; we don’t know if he stopped by or not, but the a/c was still faintly, persistently noisy. We solved this by setting the fan to ON full time at night. That worked, though it finally got too cold, so I woke up and turned it off.
Be advised that on Sunday mornings at 8 AM, you will be awakened by the sound of church bells. It so happened that we were about to get up anyway, but had we intended to sleep in, we would have been incensed.
The bunker tour was led by a very knowledgeable and entertaining lady who was great at her job. The bunker itself? A bit underwhelming--especially at $30 a pop. The bunks that had been built for the members of Congress are gone, and most of the place has been rented out for data storage. So all you really get to see is a pump room, some showers, a briefing room, an auditorium, a long corridor, some vault doors, and a ho-hum mini-museum (with sample bunks). Interesting story and great tour guide, but the price should be no more than half of what they're charging.
The free movie in the ’50s-era auditorium, complete with free popcorn, was a nice perk, although some of our fellow guests were horribly behaved (talking, digging in a cup of ice, etc.). And the attendant hadn't bothered to clean the spilled popcorn and cups from the previous viewing.
It’s free to use the sauna and steam room, and both are fantastic. The indoor pool is huge, but there is no jacuzzi.
The gorgeous marble-floored main lobby features free coffee every morning, tea and pastry hors d’oeuvres in the late afternoon, and hot chocolate and cider in the evenings. Nice touch. There’s usually a big wood fire in the fireplace, and the piano is always playing. This main lobby was really what made the experience for us.
If you have a lot of money and have kids, this is your place. I can’t imagine paying $400/night, however--or even $300. That said, if you get a good deal on the rate, it’s fun to stay where presidents and royalty have stayed. And the presence of so many activities--from shooting and spas to golf and horseback riding--means you might not have to drive anywhere, provided you don’t mind the prices.
I think some attention to detail has been sacrificed with the Greenbrier’s increase in size over the years. The front desk experience is the weak point and needs a lot of additional training. But overall, the staff is very warm and friendly, and the building and grounds are magnificent.
Be advised that a “garden room” does not overlook a garden but the area that serves (as of 1/2010) as the entrance of the hotel (a circular driveway with a small landscaped area).
The Mason Jar restaurant is a two-minute drive down route 60 and has great country-style food. If it’s fried or comes on a bun, it’s delicious here--at least at dinner and lunch. (Avoid the Saturday breakfast buffet; the food looked very reheated.)
In the other direction, the small town of Lewisburg has a lot more to offer than White Sulphur Springs; we thoroughly enjoyed Food & Friends restaurant. Not gastronomically groundbreaking, but the food was very tasty, affordably priced (with pasta-based dinner dishes starting at $11), and served in huge portions in a very cozy, romantic setting.