Make Suffolk your next vacation destination

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 11, 2005

A vacation at home. That’s how I like to describe my recent overnight stay at the Hilton Garden Inn and Suffolk Conference Center. Aside from my occasional glances outside my hotel window to look upon the Nansemond River, I had to keep reminding myself that I was in fact in my hometown of Suffolk.

That assessment is not by any means a derogatory observation of what preexisted in Suffolk prior to the opening of the Hilton, but this much is true: Suffolk is on to something-the gravity of which, in part, can be realized by stepping foot into the city’s newest masterpiece.

On Easter Sunday I arrived about 4 p.m. to check in. I immediately felt at home in the palatial lobby and was greeted by none other than front desk clerk, Jayme Ross. Jayme’s name should be used to define true customer service. With certainty, I know why she was hired. Ross, originally from Maryland, brings quite the jovial spirit to her job and she’s a great asset to the Hilton.

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She’s had the most interesting life, having lived in more than 18 countries in her 22 years as the child of a military father. A new mother, she moved to Suffolk from Churchland after learning of the hotel’s opening.

&uot;I made my mind up that I wanted to work here,&uot; said Ross, who also speaks Japanese. She studied hospitality and business management at Salisbury State University in Maryland, and plans to eventually return to school in the area to earn her degree.

Ross said she was also attracted to the Hilton Garden Inn because she sees it as a place that she can grow in the coming years.

While at the front desk, I met Stuart Smith, who works on the maintenance team at the hotel. Out of the blue a few months ago, Smith decided to move from Lancaster to Smithfield. He had nothing but high praise for the facility and his co-workers. Smith was nice enough to take me on a tour. He was quite the host, proudly displaying the hard work invested into the building. He was very accommodating, even staying a few minutes after his shift.

Back in the lobby about to enjoy dinner, Tracie Holland and Carolyn Fleetwood wanted to get an inside view of the hotel. They were quite impressed. Holland is the owner of Tracie’s Hair and Beyond, and Fleetwood is the supervisor of the city’s TRT bus service.

Another individual that made my stay interesting is Larry Mason, the food and beverage manager for the Hilton’s Constant’s Wharf Grill. He was kind enough to also provide me some additional views of the hotel, even taking time to take reporter Allison Williams and I up to the Presidential Suite, which was quite expansive with its own deck and a perfect view of Constant’s Wharf.

One thing I found quite common among the staff was the genuine interest in all facets of the hotel, and their eagerness to tell its whole story, not just the part they’re most in touch with.

The hotel room

As I traveled in the elevator to the fourth floor, I remained in amazement that a hotel of this caliber had finally made its way to Suffolk. I’ve stayed in my share of hotels over the years with the Doubletree in Charlottesville among my favorites. I felt a comparable level of comfort at the Suffolk Hilton, minus the beautiful view of the mountains. Rooms come with either a king or two double beds. My room had two double beds, a refrigerator, microwave, and complimentary in-room coffee, high-speed Internet access and a spacious work area. A large-screen television with pay-per-view options and Nintendo games were also a part of the package.

The beds were very comfortable with mattresses that will cradle your body providing a very good night’s rest.

The Constant’s Wharf Grill

My first meal at the hotel was dinner on Easter Sunday, for which reporter Allison Williams joined me. I enjoyed the

&uot;cowboy cut&uot; ribeye steak, mashed potatoes, and green beans. As a preface to my meal, I also indulged in the lobster bisque and a house salad with blue cheese dressing. Julie Bines, who lives in the Walnut Hills section of Suffolk, was a great server. Both Allison and I positively commented about her mannerisms and the fact that she asked us to check our steaks to ensure they were cooked to our liking. Of course, they were perfect and quite scrumptious.

Later, I met cook Tim Parker, 24, the interim chef, who lives in Williamsburg but stays at the hotel about four nights a week. The hotel was looking to hire a chef in the coming days. Parker said he’s used to wearing the chef’s hat at most places and has ended up running the kitchen.

&uot;It’s been forced on me kind of. Everywhere I worked, the chefs kept quitting,&uot; said Parker. &uot;I love cooking gourmet food.&uot;

The next morning, I made my way down for the breakfast buffet, which was quite impressive. Andrea Epps, a cook, prepared the perfect fried egg to accompany my sausage, bacon, and fried potatoes. I also enjoyed the wide variety of fresh fruit available. Before leaving, I thought I would be cheating the readers if I didn’t sample lunch.

So I did.

I had the delicious John Constance burger, named for the historical figure whose name is associated with much of downtown’s early existence. My server for breakfast and lunch was Constance Higgs, a lifelong resident of Suffolk. She also brings a great spirit to the job.

I cannot stress enough that there’s a common personality trait with the staff at the Hilton, and a magical blend of talent and charisma that parallels the beauty of the Hilton Garden Inn.

Other interesting people I bumped into

I met the Pruitt and the Shea families in the lobby and had a great time getting to know them a little. The Sheas are from Pennsylvania. Lori Pruitt, the daughter of Judy Pruitt, is considering the Hilton for her wedding reception. Judy Pruitt and Vicki Shea are sisters. I also met Alvin Ely and Barbara Richardson, who had just finished up dinner at the Constant’s Wharf Grill. I led them on a tour to my room.

I had about eight people in my room laughing and having a good time as if we’d known each other. They all were sold on the hotel and were certain they would be checking in at some point.

Overall assessment

I never thought I would say these words because we sure get tired of hearing city officials say this, but I must go there: It’s a good time to be in Suffolk. The Hilton Garden Inn is a fine example of that very point. I’m looking forward to taking my next vacation-perhaps not in a distant place but maybe Suffolk.

No one has to know, not even me as long as I keep the curtains pulled.

Luefras Robinson is managing editor of the News-Herald. She can be reached at 934-9613 or at