- No on-site restaurants or room service
- No pool
- Noise can be an issue, especially on weekends
- Valet parking is pricey.
An all-suite property in a historic building with minimal service and tons of family-friendly activities
Only in Boston will you find a Marriott Vacation Club housed in a landmarked building with a history that dates back to the mid-19th century (it was erected in 1847 and functioned as, well, a custom house, serving as a point of entry for clipper ships). Up until the mid-20th century, it was the tallest building in Boston, and its clock tower is still a distinctive feature of the city's skyline. (Guests thirsting for more of the building's history might enjoy the mini-museum located in the hotel's rotunda.) Marriott purchased the building in 1997 and operates it now as a time-share, with roughly half the 84 rooms available to hotel guests.
With its spacious suites and exhaustive activities program, the Custom House caters largely to families. Huge, 650-square-foot, suite-style rooms were given soft renovations in February 2009 and, though not particularly design conscious or state of the art, they're comfortable and clean. As of January 2010, the rooms also boast HD flat-screen TVs and free wireless internet. Decor is vaguely nautical, with dark wood furniture and upholstery in blues and golds. Rooms are designed to accommodate a passel of travelers, and feature a master bedroom with a four-poster, pillow-top king bed, a sparkling white kitchenette (with microwave, mini-fridge, silverware, coffeemaker, toaster, and blender), a four-chair dinette, and a sitting area with a foldout couch, HD flat-screen TV, complimentary WiFi and DVD player. A door between the sitting area and the corridor leading to the bathroom and master bedroom affords an added level of privacy for guests using the foldout as an extra bed. Quarters above the 7th floor have stellar views: My 18th-floor perch afforded a spectacular panorama of the harbor, Faneuil Hall, and the Zakim Bridge.
Traditional hotel services and amenities are fairly sparse here, however. Though a concierge is supposedly on duty daily, the desk was unoccupied when I visited multiple times. There's no room service or on-site restaurant; just a 2nd-floor space serving continental breakfast that transforms into a performance area with a tiny adjoining bar at night. And there's a small, 24-hour fitness center that's not particularly up-to-date.
But what the hotel lacks in amenities it makes up for with an array of family-friendly activities that run the gamut from guided historic walks to T-shirt making workshops to Spanish guitar performances. The game room on the 24th floor, with its arcade games, air hockey and pool table, can keep restless kids busy for hours. The building's top-floor observation deck offers a bird's-eye view of the city, plus a views of a bird's eye -- a webcam tracks the activity of the Peregrine falcon family that nests in the hotel's clock tower.
The Custom House is uniquely suited to families and travelers with extended stays. Beware of weekend stays, however, especially on the lower floors: Proximity to the bars along State Street means that things can get noisy, a complaint that visitors during my stay shared.
On the eastern periphery of downtown Boston; two blocks from the waterfront and steps to Faneuil Hall
Centrally located two blocks west of the harbor, the New England Aquarium and Christopher Columbus Park, and directly south of the tourist mecca that is Faneuil Hall, the Harborside is an ideal home base for tourists, with easy access to dozens of restaurants and bars.
A top pick for vacationers with a clutch of kids
The name says it all. The Marriot Custom House is a vacation club, and as such, has dozens of planned activities for adults and kids every day of the week. Guided history tours, fitness walks, and sports packages (all of which can be arranged through the concierge), not to mention nightly live musical performances that cater to adult guests, are all on offer. A rotating lineup of kid-friendly activities (recent example: a T-shirt decorating workshop) keeps pipsqueaks occupied.
All of the property's 84 guest rooms are suites that can easily sleep four or more, with one master bedroom featuring a king-size bed and a living room with queen-size pullout couch. Kitchenettes and a dining room table make it easy to eat in on the cheap.
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