While wandering about the manicured 16-acre grounds at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park, I came across a formerly homeless veteran pacing back and forth, nervously practicing a speech he was going to deliver at the Homeless Veterans Summit. And that was just one of a handful of separate events taking place on a Monday and Tuesday in early November. There was also a 700-plus-attendee Society of International Affairs convention, a swanky reception for the Algerian Embassy, and a Veterans Affairs marketplace in a huge basement room with capacity for 2,000 people. Keep your head up or you could take a lanyard in the eye.
The Washington Marriott Wardman is that kind of place. Large enough for 1,335 rooms, 195,000 square feet of event space, three on-site restaurants, a small food market, an Illy coffeey bar, an Enterprise car rental, a FedEx office, a jewelry store, an outdoor pool, an extensive 24-hour fitness center, and a four-level parking garage. It was nonstop hustle and bustle with efficient staffers (and overzealous security) constantly on the move. Events turn over so quickly that tables and chairs are "hidden" under dropcloths in and around the elevator banks, just in case an impromptu board meeting breaks out. The Washington Marriott Wardman Park really knows how to handle a large group -- every convention-attending guest I spoke to said things were going off without a hitch.
If you aren't there on business, however, the Washington Marriott Wardman leaves plenty to be desired. For guests who don't plan on spending every waking hour in the hotel or Woodley Park, the leafy residential neighborhood where its based, the hotel is not in the heart of well, anything. The National Zoo is only a couple of blocks away and open every day of the year except Christmas, but the rest of the city's major tourist attractions are relatively far. (On the upside, there's a Metro subway stop basically on the Marriott's doorstep.) It's sleepy right around the hotel, so nightlife options require heading over to Adams Morgan or Dupont Circle.
The King Guest Room I stayed in was standard issue for a midlevel business hotel. At 275 square feet, the room was on the small side, and it had a few minor maintenance and housekeeping issues: The shower curtain was stained, the pipes under the sink leaked, and one of the sheets was ripped. On the upside, it was generally clean, the Marriott mattress was comfortable, and electronics included a 32-inch flat-screen TV, an iPod docking station, and a full AV outlet if speakers need to practice their PowerPoint presentations in bed.
The older Wardman Tower section of the hotel has a stately historical feel to it, and the lobby center offers a nifty homage to the Washington Monument and the Capitol, but the rest is garden-variety corporate. After the hotel underwent a $100-million renovation, everything appears well-maintained and modern, but not in any exciting or unique way. Across the board, the service was efficient, but far from personable or personalized.
Less expensive, more happening Dupont Circle options with more interesting rooms, and better restaurants include the Hotel Palomar and the Hotel Madera. Even chain hotels like the Embassy Suites Convention Center or the Marriott Washington make more sense for the hardcore sightseer. On the weekends, the Marriott Wardman could offer tranquil nights apart from the tourist-filled days, but during the week, it's all about conventions and their attendees.