At hotels, folks make best of it


Some came for business, making their reservations months ago for important meetings. Others came for pleasure, hoping to take in some romance along with the sights on a long Valentine's Day weekend.

And when they found themselves stranded at Baltimore hotels, staff scrambled to make sure they had enough food, clean sheets and entertainment for an unexpectedly long stay.

For John Hopkins, a retired fire captain from Sacramento, Calif., spending an extra night or two at the Marriott Baltimore Waterfront was a mere inconvenience. Hopkins and his wife, a trauma nurse, were in town all week attending a convention of mental health professionals, clergy and emergency workers who respond to disasters. This storm, Hopkins said, doesn't qualify.

"Maybe if I was in a tent or driving in a car with my wife 9 1/2 months' pregnant," Hopkins joked. "But if we have to be stranded, this is the place."

In addition to letting guests stay at convention rates, assistant front office manager Richard Moshenek found an open Blockbuster Video, bought nine DVDs and set up two banquet rooms with big-screen televisions. The movie marathon featured Jerry McGuire, The Princess Bride and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.

For the children, the staff got cardboard boxes to use as makeshift sleds, which families took to nearby Federal Hill Park.

"Some of these people are 3,000 miles from home. We're just trying to keep everyone as comfortable as possible," he said. "We might even have a couple of snowmen in front of the hotel by the time we're done with this whole thing."

Many hotel managers asked staff to stay overnight on Saturday to prepare for stranded guests. At the Renaissance Harborplace at the Inner Harbor, manager Paula Ford said she was glad the hotel took that precaution. "We have a lot of people leaving, attempting to go home, then coming right back," she said.

The hotel still had rooms yesterday - in part because of cancellations. "The people who are driving in, they can't get here. And the people that are here, they can't leave."

Most of the Valentine's Day crowd at the Turf Valley Resort and Conference Center in Ellicott City were locals who left early and thus were able to get home before the worst of the storm. But Steve Warrick won't be going back to his White Marsh home for at least a few more days.

Though he usually manages Alexandra's restaurant, Warrick was the hotel's manager on duty this weekend. On Friday, he packed for a three-day weekend. Now, he expects to stay until Tuesday. "In this business, you always have spare suits around," he said. "I was prepared for three days. But five days is going to be a push."

By early afternoon, many hotels at Baltimore-Washington International Airport were full. The airport's Sheraton International Hotel sold out all 201 rooms by late morning. BWI's Ramada Inn, AmeriSuites and Embassy Suites also were booked solid.

Hyatt Regency Baltimore staff used four-wheel-drive vehicles to pick up workers.

Though many Inner Harbor attractions were closed yesterday, several hotel managers said guests were hardly disappointed. For many, the snow itself was excitement enough.

"Maybe we'll just stay here and enjoy the sights of Baltimore," Hopkins said. "That is, whatever's not covered."

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