This review is written from the point of view of a middle-aged professional on vacation who travels and entertains a LOT for business and who is very familiar with 5-star hotels in Europe and the U.S.
The Hotel Donaldson is a unique, upscale hotel with some great amenities. It was clearly developed by someone with an attention to detail who thought through many of the finer points of hospitality, and it makes you feel as though you've really been someplace. It does a couple of things wrong (see below), but so many more things right and better than other hotels I've seen that I've forgiven it in hopes it can realize its true potential.
-each room is unique, decorated by an artist. Our room (#17) was plush with neutral tones, prairie-colored ceramic decor on the walls and sculptured - very restful.
-Groovy scandinavian design with lots of decorator detailing in shelving and display space you wouldn't expect from a hotel.
-amenities included Aveda products, free wifi, multiple flat screen TV's, a mini bar with tons of cool goodies at Fargo prices vs. big city prices (soda for $1.00!), PLUS a blissfully empty fridge we could put our own stuff in, stemless wineglasses for use and for purchase, and how about this thoughtful touch - written instructions for the alarm clock and other gizmos so that you don't have to spend half your stay adjusting to a new clock. There is also room service.
-even the key is special, attached to a handblown glass charm.
-room appointments included an extremely high quality mattress with excellent linens, a full couch, a very good desk area, a huge infinity overflow tub in the center of the room that - get this- fills from the celing! And a separate shower in the spacious bathroom. Closet was an enormous walk-in affair with bathrobe and slippers and lit inside.
-A generous continental breakfast is included with the room.
Our only complaint about the room was that the lighting came in one style - mood (underlit) - which meant that it was difficult to read or apply makeup. Bu the room was so unique and comfortable that we didn't dwell on it.
Now for the bad news. I agree with the restaurant reviewer who felt that you have to be from Fargo to be really welcome at the restaurant and bar. The bar was packed with locals - it's an obvious hangout - and the restaurant was having a special chef's night and was completely sold out. We were terribly disappointed as the theme was Danish food and we had just returned from Copenhagen - great customer service would have shot us an email a few weeks out encouraging us to book early to take advantage of this cool opportunity. Instead, we had to make other plans for dinner. We found this a little thoughtless.
The entrance to the hotel is poorly marked as well - we had to walk around the corner a couple of times to figure it out - all in front of windows full of Fargo residents staring at you from the bar and restaurant until we figured out that registration was on another floor. This "confused first-timer" show must happen several times a night for the regulars, but we thought a little signage for better wayfinding would have made a better welcome. Also, the doors are very heavy and completely manual - not conducive to toting in luggage.
The staff experience ranged from sloppy and unprofessional (RUDE) to sweet and friendly but untrained. Overall we thought that the attention to detail that went into this excellent property stopped at the staff training - we were "greeted" by a gum-smacking child with her feet up on the reception desk who did not respond to our greeting with anything but a long stare - and her equally classless and unfriendly colleague frog-marched us up to our room, shoved our keys in our hand and didn't explain any of the unique services and amenities. (We didn't think that she even understood what they were). Note to young ladies: middle-aged women do not enjoy being addressed snippily as "ok you guys." Later, though, we called for more pillows and met a friendly, professional young woman who clearly knew what she was doing and liked her customers. The early morning shift was two nice young men with no polish whatsoever but truly friendly and caring.
One of the coolest aspects of the hotel is the Sky Prairie bar - an outdoor rooftop bar - it was closed inexplicably while we were there, but the hot tub is up there too and there were no other guests up there at 6 am on a Saturday morning - a fine way to have your morning coffee, in the bubbles, gazing at the crisp North Dakota sunrise.
We'd definitely return (now that we know where the door is) to give the groovy, high-class rooms another chance in hopes that they've hired some more professional types who like customer service. It really is a special place that is completely unique.
P.S. Downtown Fargo is retro-chic with tons of locally-owned businesses, spotlessly clean, adorable shopping, and historical context. We had dinner at Juano's, which delivered lots of Mexican food in heartland style for a low price in an art-deco, neon lit (think Edward Hopper) room with a Rat Pack soundtrack. We liked it.
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- Also Known As:
- Donaldson Hotel Fargo