We have become quite the fan of the long weekend. Instead of using all of your PTO on one or two long vacations per year, why not spread it out so you can many opportunities to mentally disconnect and reset? During the pandemic, we enjoyed a few three- and four-day weekend staycations, and as life slowly migrates back towards a sense of normalcy we’re finding as many opportunities for weekend mini-breaks as we can.
We spent a recent holiday weekend at the Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa in Florence, AL knowing nothing of the town or the hotel and had such a great time!
But why the heck did we pick this random hotel in this random town in Alabama?
We’re big proponents of loyalty point programs as they let the spending we already do earn us extra rewards, allowing us to add elements of luxury to our travel or splurge a bit without breaking the bank. We had some Marriott points racked up and could easily transfer more over from our Chase Sapphire Reserve (the *best* travel credit card, imo, since the points can transfer to a wide range of travel partners including our preferred airline and hotel line). So I spent a couple hours on the website looking at every. single. hotel. in a three-hour driving radius, trying to find a semi-luxurious option with a pool and hot tub within our budget of available points, and the Shoals Hotel and Spa was the winner!
Using points usually limits your room options, but this particular hotel doesn’t have a ton of room tiers and to be quite frank, we did not care that much about the room since we wouldn’t have our little Mooch with us. Hotel amenities were more important and this place gave us what we wanted.
The goal of the weekend: to relax sans child. More specifically, I wanted to sleep in, finish at least one book, and spend some time in the water, pool or hot tub. And boy oh boy did this weekend deliver!
The hotel is beautiful, an old-fashioned style that you don’t see much these days. It’s not huge – only 5 or 6 floors – and all of the rooms face the same direction so everyone gets a balcony with a view overlooking the outdoor pool.
The room was small but not cramped, clean and well-furnished, with a decent-sized bathroom containing both a shower and a separate tub, and a cozy balcony that we spent a lot of time using.
The service was great, with friendly accommodating staff at the front desk, by the pool, and at the restaurants. There were plenty of activities to keep us and the many families there entertained — an indoor pool and hot tub, an outdoor pool and hot tub, yard games (we discovered we quite like badminton!), an onsite spa, a small arcade, and just a short walk away was a public park with a splash pad and an awesome playground.
Live music permeated the premises nearly the entire weekend, both inside the restaurant and poolside. We happened to be there for Memorial Day weekend, and got to enjoy the holiday fireworks show from the hot tub!
Swampers, the restaurant/bar on the main level of the hotel that offers a (mediocre) breakfast buffet and uninspired cocktails was moderately priced with perfectly fine food; nothing to write home about but it was convenient. We did splurge on a nice dinner at the 360 Grille, a rotating restaurant in the Renaissance tower, and it was worth every penny! The service, the flavors, and the views! We went early to avoid the crowds and enjoyed a leisurely meal, taking in the stunning views of the surrounding shoals area. Even if you don’t stay at the hotel, you could eat dinner here to take advantage of the aerial views!
What we did
A whole bunch of nothing. 😀
We slept in. I read and listened to audio books. We day drank. I napped. We spent a lot of time in the hot tubs and less time in the pool (the weather never really got above 85 so the water was prettttty chilly). We sat on our balcony and enjoyed the quiet. We stayed up way past our bedtime watching bad movies on TV. It was restful and peaceful and quiet and glorious.
Did we DO anything besides hang out at the hotel?!
I can’t go to a new town without exploring at least a teeny tiny bit. It would be a shame to not at least look around! So we did left the hotel property on our first full day in town since it was rainy and a bit chilly – e.g. not the ideal pool day. We went to the famous Fame music studio, touring the rooms where some big name music stars have recorded including Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Paul Anka, Steven Tyler, Alicia Keys, Demi Lovato, Band of Horses, and the queen herself Aretha Franklin!
The tour was jam-packed in the tiny building and felt a bit disorganized, but it was only $15 a person and a diverting way to spend an hour. Even just stepping on the floor where Aretha wrote and recorded her first hit, I felt this surreal energy. Definitely a must-see attraction for music fans!
After a quick bite at River Bottom Grille By Stanfield’s (the crab claws were super fishy tasting and the service not super friendly), we drove into downtown Florence and walked around the campus of Univ. of North Alabama which was lovely! The university has a small lion enclosure with the school’s mascot inside, so we hung out talking to Leo III for a while. (Unfortunately, Una, Leo’s pen mate, died last year.) Though the enclosure is much smaller than we’d like to see for an animal in captivity, it looked well-kept and clean.
Would I go back?
Absolutely! The 2.5 hour drive was easy peasy and beautiful. The hotel makes for a nice little luxury pool getaway, so we know we’ll be keeping an eye out for weekend specials or just using our points again. Hopefully next time we can go during a warmer weekend to take full advantage of the pools.
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