I booked a suite a suite at this hotel sort of last minute as we decided to go to SeaWorld. I read through the reviews of the hotel before booking and found that everyone seemed to be happy with the hotel for the most part and we had just recently stayed at the HIE in Salinas, which was a good experience as well.
As previous reviewers have indicated, the staff is excellent at this hotel. I think every single staff member I walked by during our limited stay said hello and asked how we were doing. That really is a nice touch and appreciated. We were checked in quickly by Jose at the front desk and he let us know the best place to park in the underground area. We stayed in the second building, not the building where the registration desk is.
We had Suite 326 on the 3rd floor, so I was happy we wouldn't have people above us, as a previous reviewer had complained of the noise coming from above, however, I'm not sure what would be worse, the noise from the people above you or the horrendous noise from the freeway. Granted, I realize that HIE can't regulate nor control the traffic on the I-5 freeway and I knew it was close, but our room literally faced the I-5 freeway and the sound of the cars and semi-trucks using their JAKE brakes as well as what seemed like racing street bikes ALL NIGHT LONG was almost unbearable. Once I finally did get to sleep, it was fine and I only woke up a few times during the night, but I literally didn't fall asleep until after 1am because of the noise from the I-5. If possible, when booking a room, ask for a room that is not on the freeway side. Loud is an understatement, and it didn't matter that we had the windows closed and the black out curtains drawn. It was just plain loud.
Room was...okay. I am trying to not be too picky because I'm not reviewing a 5-star hotel, I'm reviewing a Holiday Inn Express and so some things that bothered me aren't real deal breakers when it comes to what I consider a budget-ish hotel. But I did take a couple pictures of things that I think did change the way I felt about an otherwise decent and clean room.
The room was quite large, with a huge living room area with a flat-screen TV, microwave and fridge. There's also a little mini-bar area with a small sink. There is bathroom with door access from the living room and a door off to the bedroom where there was a comfortable King Size bed. Another small closet with an iron and ironing board in there. This room is pretty small with the King size bed and literally the older lower wall unit air-conditioner almost touches the bed on the far side near the window. This was another issue, because I felt that it was either too cold or then too hot if you turned it off because the air conditioner pretty much blows right onto the bed..strange, but nothing they can really do about that given the size of the room and the bed.
There was a jacuzzi tub that looked as if it would fit 2 people easily, although we didn't use the tub during our overnight stay. It was just me and 3 children. There is a separate shower with a glass enclosed shower that sort of reminded me of an RV shower, with it's odd black metal and glass, but it was clean. The tile around the tub needed a little attention and that is one of the "little things" I mentioned above that when my eyes caught it, made me sort of not like the bathroom. It looked as if the tile was damaged and then somehow sloppily regretted, or something to that effect. Again, just cosmetic, but if they would fix a few of these "aesthetic" issues, people would overlook a lot more. It almost made it look "dirty" even though it was clean. They've gone to the effort of updating the rooms in this hotel but some little things like trim, chipped tiles and odd "painted on" grout in some areas take away from that fact.
One other thing to note, at least in this suite in room 326 is that there is a large skylight in the living room area. We did not notice this at night, as we got to the room late and when it was already dark. This is almost directly located over/next to the sofa bed. I had made sure to close all the black out shades in the living room and the bedroom so we could sleep in a bit, and with 2 of my kids on the couch in the living room and my youngest in bed with me in the bedroom, I had left the door open so I could hear them, etc. Well this morning, around 6am, I woke up to a bright light in the living room area and yelled for the kids to turn off the light so we could all continue to sleep. I got no answer so I got up and that is when I realized that it was NOT a light on in the room, the room was literally being flooded with light from that skylight. It was bright as day in there and the fact that we had closed the black out shades made no difference whatsoever. I had to laugh at myself for even closing them, not realizing we had a huge "window" to the sky with no covering. Oh well, we probably needed to get up early anyway to start our day, however, if you have people using the queen sofa bed in the living room, be aware that you will be woken bright an dearly by the sun whenever it decides to come up. (see picture I am including that I took from the bed of the bedroom, just because I thought it was so funny that I had thought the kids were up early and playing with the lights.)
Breakfast was typical HEI fare and the coffee was hot and good. As I said, aside from a few minor cosmetic details in the room that just struck me wrong, there was nothing wrong with the actual accommodations but the noise alone from the I-5 freeway is enough to keep me away. Sad really, because the staff is top notch. I used frequent flyer miles to take care of the room, but I would have been very disappointed had I paid $200+ for a suite and got the room we had.
TIP: Choose and/or BEG for a room NOT near the I-5 freeway side. I don't see how in the world some of the people who left the rave reviews about always staying here got any sleep while they were here.