- Some guests may find the "discovery" theme heavy-handed and silly.
- No pool
- Nightly fee for Wi-Fi (free for Kimpton InTouch members)
The most striking thing about the 236-room Hotel Marlowe in Cambridge is that its design all hinges on a theme of "discovery." The decor and art all hint at nautical exploration, space expeditions, or introspection. Compasses and leopard prints are everywhere. The hallway carpets reminded me of a child's spaceship pajamas: a smattering of stars and moons on a dark blue background. The hotel, which is run by the Kimpton chain, even has a motto: "Columbus, Magellan, Dora -- they've got nothing on Marlowe. We recognize that life is about discovery -- new places, new things, new people, even discovering yourself."
Let's just say the hotel isn't exactly subtle. Whether you like the effect or not, if you look beneath the Marlowe's heavy-handed theme you'll find a hotel that prides itself on surprisingly good service, large and playful rooms, and an array of free perks that includes a nightly wine tasting, morning coffee, and bike and kayak rentals. The surrounding area is both scenic (across the street from the Charles River) and a bit dull (not much to do), but the Marlowe is actually quite central; Boston and Cambridge are equally accessible.
All of which adds up to a great value. The comparably priced Hotel Commonwealth in Beacon Hill is classier, but the Marlowe is better for families. The Royal Sonesta Hotel, just across the street, is a bit cheaper and has a nice indoor/outdoor pool, but the Marlowe is far more comfortable -- the kind of place to settle in by the fireplace in the lobby and ponder your latest discoveries.
Terrific and attentive service across the board
The Marlowe successfully strives to provide guests with prompt and friendly service. Hardly had I paid my cab fare when a Marlowe bellman lifted my bags from the trunk and loaded them onto a cart. He accompanied me to the front desk, whereupon I checked in and was transferred, along with my bags, into the care of another bellman who escorted me to my room. There, he set up my suitcase on a luggage rack and explained some of the room's features. None of this was all that novel, of course, but it was seamlessly conducted and made a great first impression.
There were a few slip-ups in the course of my stay, but nothing major. When I called to request evening turndown service, a front desk employee kindly took my name and room number, but for whatever reason the hotel staff never made it up to my room. Also, I took advantage of the hotel's free overnight shoeshine service, which promises to return your shoes by 6:30 the following morning. Well, when I woke up, no shoes. I called the front desk to inquire and was told that whoever collected my shoes neglected to note my room number, so they were holding the mystery shoes at the front desk, waiting for me to call. My shoes were promptly delivered to my room.
A scenic but somewhat dull location near the Charles River in Cambridge
Situated to the northwest of Boston, just across the Charles River, Cambridge seems at once part of and distinct from the city. Cambridge provides much of the classic and academic -- some would say dowdy -- imagery for which Boston is known: stately red brick townhouses; the sight of rowers launching from ancient boathouses on the banks of the Charles; the elite atmosphere that envelops Harvard, the nation's oldest university. And yet Cambridge virtually buzzes with energy; biotech companies, countless startups, and the studious whir of college-town activity combine to make it one of the country's most vibrant intellectual centers. Cambridge is also home to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and just as Harvard exudes a musty air of the American establishment, MIT proudly embraces its brand of nerdiness: Where else do you find a street named Galileo Galilei Way?
The Marlowe is located in Cambridge across the street from the Charles River -- a scenic but somewhat dull location, without much activity nearby. That said, it's actually quite central; Boston and Cambridge are equally accessible. On the same block as the hotel is the Cambridgeside Galleria Shopping Center, a large mall with stores, coffee shops, and restaurants including Macy's, Starbucks, Cheesecake Factory, and Borders.
The Marlowe's 340-square-foot rooms are cozy, with hints of silliness.
How many leopards died to make the Hotel Marlowe possible? Thankfully, none. But leopard-print fabrics are given a lot of prominence in the hotel's standard 340-square-foot rooms, from the carpet to the fuzzy blanket at the foot of the bed to the adult- and kid-size bathrobes. The overall effect feels partly romantic and partly like it was designed specifically for kids. But the rooms also feel just plain comfy, with plush pillows, a deep armchair, high-end electronics, and lamps that dim.
The Marlowe understands something fundamental about human nature: People like free stuff. There's a free nightly wine tasting and free coffee and tea in the lobby each morning from 6:30 to 11. When I entered my room, I found a coupon tacked to the bathroom mirror for half off a bottle of wine or dessert at Bambara, the hotel restaurant -- not a bad deal at all. Guests also get 10 percent off dinner at Bambara if they charge it to their room. The hotel offers free kayaks and bicycles so guests can explore the area, and it maintains a library of books, which can be delivered to your room. Among the titles: Huck Finn, Romeo and Juliet, The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, The Namesake, Holes, Goodnight Moon, James and the Giant Peach, Beowulf, Make Way For Ducklings, Ramona the Brave.
The Marlowe loves all pets. Really.
The Marlowe is enthusiastically pet-friendly. The hotel has even hosted a penguin and a sloth. There's a dog bowl with treats and water outside the front door of the hotel, and guests can order treats from room service.
The Marlowe is one of Cambridge's most family-friendly hotels.
The Marlowe's large 340-square-foot rooms are accommodating to families, and some kids will enjoy the KimptonKids welcome gift and the child-size animal-print robes in the rooms. The hotel also provides kids' comment cards and a list of kid-friendly activities in the area.
A nice restaurant is just off the lobby.
Bambara, adjacent to the hotel and accessible through the lobby, serves creative American cuisine such as roasted shallot meatloaf or triple pumpkin risotto. It's casual and relatively sophisticated, with an open kitchen, hardwood floors, and a U-shaped central bar. The crowd is a mix of couples out for a nice dinner and people watching sports at the bar. When I entered my room, I found a coupon tacked to the bathroom mirror for half off a bottle of wine or dessert -- not a bad deal at all.
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