Picking a hotel for our three-night stay in Gulf Shores involved some work. Though a popular vacation destination, the Alabama coast offers few “hotel” choices. That’s especially true for points and miles junkies. By my count: one Best Western in Gulf Shores, and one each Hilton Garden Inn, Holiday Inn, Hampton Inn, and Sleep Inn in Orange Beach just down the road. (A newly flagged Doubletree, the Island House, hadn’t opened by the time of our visit.) Coming to the beach to stay at a Hampton Inn didn’t seem worth it for the sake of points. So what’s the reason for the lack of hotel options? Gulf Shores is vacation rental central. I’m not big on vacation rentals, for a number of reasons. But rental outfit Brett-Robinson Vacations offers a hybrid option: the Phoenix All Suites Hotel Gulf Shores.
What makes it a hybrid? In the words of the owner, “the luxury of a condo with the convenience of a hotel”. Nice buzzwords, but would the experience match? As for price, we paid $156 per night for a “superior” 1-bedroom, 1 1/2 bath condo on the top floor. “Superior” referred to an enhanced view, as the condo itself is hotel standard.
Phoenix All Suites Hotel Gulf Shores
- 201 East Beach Blvd, Gulf Shores, AL
- Website: http://www.phoenixallsuites.com/
- Features: all rooms with Gulf view and balcony, free parking, fully-equipped kitchens, 24-hour front desk, limited maid service, free WiFi.
Directions: one block east of Highway 59 on Beach Boulevard (Highway 182). Gulf Shores itself is roughly 1 hour east of Mobile and 1 hour west of Pensacola, the nearest airports with frequent commercial service.
Dates of stay: April 25-27, 2017
Phoenix All Suites Hotel Gulf Shores – Check-in and Common Areas
One issue with beach rentals often entails limited check-in hours, sometimes at a separate location altogether. This is the first example of how the Phoenix creates a hybrid model. Here, check-in occurs onsite, with the office open 24 hours a day. We arrived around 5:30 pm, and the friendly agent handed us our keys within seconds. Finding the office is a tad tricky, though. Head to the elevators on the east end of the building, then head to the first floor above the parking garage.
I forgot to take a photo of the front desk, but you can enjoy this view to the north as you head to your room. The hotel has no interior corridors, so this is what you see headed to any room.
Unlike a full-service hotel, the staff does not provide assistance with luggage. However, several luggage racks and shopping carts are provided at each elevator bank on the ground floor. The shopping carts in particular came in handy, especially since we bought groceries later.
Phoenix All Suites Hotel Gulf Shores – Guest Rooms
As the name implies, every room at the Phoenix All Suites Hotel Gulf Shores is a suite. All suites feature the same basic layout: bedroom and main bath up front, kitchen in the middle, and finally the living room and balcony at the back. Some units also include two bunk beds and a half bath, increasing sleeping capacity to 6. Unlike hotels, the Phoenix charges a flat rate for the room – no additional charge for extra guests.
We selected a 1 bedroom, 1 1/2 bath unit for more space. The room layout basically features one long rectangle from the front door to the balcony.
As mentioned, the bedroom is located at the front of the unit by the door. Though a little small, it was quiet, and provided a comfy bed. The room also features Gulf Coast-themed artwork, in this case, a painting of a pelican.
A smallish TV occupies the corner. What it lacks in size, though, it makes up for with a location that’s actually useable. While lying down in bed, you can actually watch the TV comfortably. I’m amazed how many hotels get this wrong these days.
I found storage space in the bedroom lacking. The chest of drawers proved helpful, but there was little convenient space to stick a suitcase. Me, Prita, and mom personally pack light, but we found the lack of storage an issue with all the baby junk to haul around (though we did find a makeshift solution, as discussed later).
The master bathroom was also small, though functional. The biggest issue – lack of storage space again, as there’s no room at the sink to store a toiletries bag. The hotel provides only basic, non-branded amenities.
Moving on to the center of the unit, you’ll find the bunk beds. We ended up using this space to store all of the baby’s junk. The top bunk, especially, made a handy spot to stash things like laptop bags out of baby’s reach. These bunks appear designed for children. Perhaps a small adult could fit in a pinch, though.
All units come with fully equipped kitchens. This includes a decent set of utensils and cookware (even a blender). The kitchen was actually a big reason I liked this property. It made it so much easier to make and store formula and baby food, for one. Also, it gave my mom the option to make her own food. That’s a big deal for her; she’s vegetarian, and much prefers Indian food. Suitable options are therefore quite limited in this area.
The kitchen also includes a bar area. It makes a nice area to sit and read while munching on something. Though hard to see, there is a plug behind the fire extinguisher. I found that a convenient spot to plug in phones, as it’s out of baby’s reach.
The living room features a large-screen TV, sofabed, recliner, and dining table. Also included with the TV is a DVD player.
We ended up moving the coffee table and recliner out of the way to give Ashok more room to crawl around. That allowed him to crawl literally from one end of the unit to the other without interference. Trust me, that comes in handy big time.
The most important question, though – do the accommodations gain the baby’s seal of approval? I’ll let this picture speak for itself!
Phoenix All Suites Hotel Gulf Shores – Balcony
All rooms at the Phoenix All Suites Hotel Gulf Shores feature balconies Gulf of Mexico views. Not all views are created equal, however. We paid an additional $11/night for a “pano” suite. Basically, these are rooms on the southwest corner with a partial wrap-around balcony, providing views in two directions. Surprisingly, the Phoenix charges the same rate for all “pano” suites, regardless of floor. The 9th (top) floor suite was available when I booked, so I selected it.
The balcony itself provides seating for four, though only one table.
And the view – boy, the view. We got to look at this from our balcony every day.
Ashok really loves water, and he couldn’t get enough of the view.
But what really sets the “pano” suites apart is the wrap-around view to the west. Especially from the top floor, you enjoy an unparalleled view of the sunset. Luckily the weather cooperated on our first day in town. What a way to kick off a beach vacation.
Hands down, that’s the best $11 a night I’ve spent for a room upgrade.
Phoenix All Suites Gulf Shores – Other Amenities
I stupidly forgot to take pictures of the pool, but the hotel has a very nice one on the ground floor, next to the parking garage on one side and the beach on the other. Given that late April is still low season, the pool didn’t see much action. Then again, with the beach literally a few feet away, I don’t know how much traffic it sees, even in peak season.
The hotel provides free WiFi in all rooms, which was reasonably fast. Again, YMMV if visiting during higher occupancy. I did find the unit to be clean and well-maintained.
Other amenities reflect the hybrid hotel/condo approach. You can get coffee at the front desk, but like a condo rental, breakfast isn’t included. In addition, there is no on-site dining of any kind. However, with a full kitchen, you can head to the grocery store and whip something up on the cheap. Meanwhile, maid service strikes a middle ground between a hotel and a rental. The property provides complete service every three days. On other days, units receive “touch-up” service. This includes washing the dishes and a light dusting, but not new linens or a full kitchen cleaning.
Phoenix All Suites Gulf Shores – Location
All beach properties in Gulf Shores use proximity to Highway 59, the main road leading north to Interstate 10 and Mobile, to describe location. Using that criteria, the Phoenix All Suites Gulf Shores wins the grand prize. You’re just one block east of Highway 59, providing convenient access to everything in Gulf Shores. The Hangout, the Alabama coast’s premier entertainment venue, is right next door. Several other popular local bars and restaurants are easy walking distance. The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is 10-15 minutes north. Publix, Wal-Mart, and Winn-Dixie supermarkets are 5-10 minutes away.
Of course, what about beach access? Just head through the pool area, and the wide, white sand beach is all yours.
Phoenix All Suites Hotel Gulf Shores – Other Considerations
Naturally, staying here earns you zero hotel loyalty points. In addition, if your credit card awards bonus points on “hotel” stays, the Phoenix does NOT qualify. That’s because Brett-Robinson codes as a property management company, not a hotel.
Finally, be warned that the Phoenix is also NOT eligible for the Citi Prestige 4th night free benefit. Citi excludes “vacation rentals”, which means any property listed by a property management company. FWIW, I called and confirmed that the same restriction applies to condos listed through Wyndham Vacations or Choice Hotels Vacation Rentals. Your options really are limited if you want to use that benefit in the area.
Phoenix All Suites Hotel Gulf Shores – Final Thoughts
For me, the view alone made the Phoenix All Suites Hotel Gulf Shores worth the price of admission. But in general, if you’re not ready for the whole vacation rental thing, the hybrid concept provides a good way to test the waters. A condo rental with an easy button, if you will. You do pay more – but not that much more, once you add in hidden fees, like cleaning fees, with condos. You also can’t beat the hotel’s location right off Highway 59. It’s literally possible to do nearly anything without taking the car out, which is huge in my book. The fact the rooms are kid-friendly is icing on the cake.
I get that the lack of loyalty affiliation makes this a deal killer for some. Certainly, if you’re redeeming points for a vacation, your options are limited. But if paying cash, ask yourself this: if you’re headed to the beach, do you really want to stay at a Hilton Garden Inn or Sleep Inn just for the points and elite qualifying nights? Especially given that you’ll pay more for the privilege?
The inability to use Citi’s 4th night free is a bummer. But, the price I paid was a good $40 cheaper than the Hampton Inn in Orange Beach, and that wouldn’t have even included an ocean view. Even with the 4th night free, the total price difference comes to less than $30 for a 4-night stay. That’s not compelling enough to stay at a lesser chain hotel, in my opinion.
This post is part of my trip report series about our first vacation as a family to Gulf Shores, Alabama. Click here for the trip report index and introductory post.