Our trip to cf.Objective() 2012 started on Tuesday. We arrived in Minneapolis in the early evening, and after some minor issues with SuperShuttle (i.e. the counter girl falling asleep and not telling us the driver had arrived and was waiting), we arrived at our hotel around 8. The venue for the conference was the Hyatt Regency on Nicollet Mall. It is in the process of finishing a major renovation, and I've seen comments on other blogs and that Twitter thing that it is a great hotel to stay in. Alas, we didn't get to find out.
For state employees, such as myself, we will only a set per diem amount for a hotel stay, which for the Minneapolis area is $121 a night. So we were happy to see that the conference organizers had negotiated with the hotel to have some rooms available at that government rate, versus the $169/night regular attendees would pay (which was still WAY below the usual rates for that hotel). Alas, when our business coordinator called to book our rooms, she was told we didn't qualify for the government rate. Issues with the way the state of Texas can act sometimes, we are still a government entity, so yeah, we do. I contacted the folks at Best Meetings and they got it straighten out, so she tried again to book our rooms and then was told they had no more available at the government rate! Um….okay, so why didn't you just say that in the first place?
It was annoying and we ended up switching to the Millennium Hotel, which is directly across the street. They gave us the government rate even though they had no room block for the conference or the like, which was a primary criteria in choosing a hotel. The location, of course, was as ideal as we could get to without being in the venue hotel (they were even connected by a skywalk – which seems to be a common feature in the downtown area). The Millennium was a comfortable place. The bed was large and plush, the seating chair was comfortable, and the view was great (we were on the 12th floor). The hotel is clearly showing signs of age, with some peeling wall paper and rust in a few spots, but it was clean and met our needs. The staff was also super friendly throughout the hotel which is a big bonus IMHO.
My only big complaint is that they charged for Internet access in the room. $9.95 a night to have slow, broken wifi in my room. Seriously?? In this day in age when I can go stay at a $50/night place and get free wifi that works, I get cruddy wifi that I pay a small fortune for in a place costing 3-4 times that?? I guess I should consider myself lucky in some regards, 1 – I am getting reimbursed for the costs and 2 – apparently the Hyatt was charging $20/night. @_@ Once the conference got under way, there was completely free wifi in the session rooms, except for one room which was a complete dead zone (wifi was “connecting” but never giving an IP). No idea what was up with that one room – both rooms beside it and the hotel's restaurant had strong signals and I could connect to the wifi no problem. In either case, except for the dead room, the cf.Objective() free wifi was way better than our hotel's paid one. At the Millennium, I was unable to FTP nor access the SVN on our servers, even though I successfully connected with the VPN and could FTP to my personal sites. So dealing with work issues back home had to wait until I was between conference sessions (or sometimes in them) on the better wifi that actually worked.
Regardless of whether you were in the Hyatt or the Millennium, the location was awesome for getting around without having a car. Nestled in the heart of downtown Minneapolis, there were tons of dining and shopping options within walking distance, as well as a seriously well interlaced bus system (yay electric hybrid buses!) and a light rail system that had a stop nearby and went a variety of places. We rode it twice out to the Mall of America – which has a freaking mini-amusement park in it and an aquarium! And Hello Kitty fans, two words: Sanrio Store!! There is also an awesome Lego store with huge Lego models and a wall where you can buy any color lego in any of the regular shapes. Too fun!
One of the perks of travelling is trying new foods, so we made it a rule that we would not eat at any restaurant twice, which were easily able to keep. In fact we had some places on our “to try” list we just couldn't fit in – not enough meals LOL For future travellers/attendees, my quickly recommendations on food within walking distance the area (or light rail):
- Hell's Kitchen – seriously yummy breakfast, the scrambled eggs were perfectly velvety and the cornmeal pancakes were so good! – $10-20/person for breakfast
- Tucci Bennuch – Italian place in the Mall of America, uses local sourced ingredients, all fresh made, and OMG that baked spaghetti is so good!! – $20-30 for dinner (can do reservations online)
- Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse – teppanyaki grill where you can enjoy seeing very friendly, attentive waitresses in adorable kimonos, a fun cooking show, and they have some tasty fruit drinks (with or without spirits) that come in cute porcelain mug (I got the Neko) – $30-50/person (can do reservations online)
- Fogo de Chao – Brazilian Steakhouse where you sit down, and folks just keep offering you delicious meats prepared the “gaucho” way, caramelized bananas, pão de queijo (a tasty cheese bread), mashed potatoes, and fried polenta. When you have enough, flip a card to take a break, then flip it back to get more coming in. It's expensive, no lie, but an experience worth trying at least once! – $60/person
- Ping's Szechuan – it may not look like much from the outside, but OMG so good! Warning, the egg rolls are insanely huge – try the hot pot, it is delicious! Bring a big appetite, they feed you big here – $10-20/person
The Minneapolis-St. Paul airport is rather nice, IMHO. It is nicely designed, with pretty floors and lots of eating options. Security was a breeze – no big, raise your hands, full-body scan. Certainly nicer than Houston, anyway, and was less stressful to get around in versus Dulles. They have some cool touch-screen helpers through out the airport listing all the dining places, shopping, etc with a “how do I get there” feature that draws you a map from your current location there. Very helpful! In Houston, the only map of the airport seems to be in the back of those airport magazines you have to get from the plane or going to their website – not helpful at all if you are flying out!
Anyway, in the next post, I'll actually start getting into the conference content. 🙂