At Courtyard Newark-University of Delaware, the hotel room is the classroom


The Courtyard Newark-University of Delaware in Newark, Del., is staffed in part by college students in the school’s hospitality program. Fifty students work in various capacities at the hotel each semester. (Andrea Sachs/The Washington Post)
March 23, 2012

At the Courtyard Newark-University of Delaware, I wasn’t just a guest; I was an educator. My goal, besides a good night’s rest, was to teach the school’s hospitality students that travelers can be demanding, needy and clueless. This is real life, kids, so help me with the Internet connection already.

The 126-room property on Laird Campus, just north of the university’s nucleus, is a living classroom cloaked in the Marriott uniform. As part of the school’s hotel and restaurant management program, 50 students per semester learn the trade by working in every department of the hotel, including housekeeping, accounting, maintenance and front desk-ing. The hoteliers-in-training stand out like saplings in an old-growth forest.

Despite the chain’s noncontroversial style (blank facade and tastefully anodyne decor), CN-UD exudes an energy more frequently found at pep rallies and tailgating parties. In the parking lot, proud moms and dads visiting for parents’ weekend reunited with their offspring. Gift offerings of groceries and Gap bags exchanged hands. At check-in, a cheerful staffer provided me with a roster of activities, although I wasn’t sure whether he’d pegged me as a parent, a student or the older sister who still lives in the family basement.

After completing standard formalities, he informed me of the breakfast hours and the free WiFi. Unfortunately, he omitted a crucial piece of information — breakfast is not gratis — that later came back to bite me in the cinnamon-raisin bagel.

Before setting out to explore the collegiate surroundings, which included a residence hall, a green square and a sorority house, I inspected my private living space. My room on the third of four floors featured some homey touches, such as a vase of pussy willows, a two-person porch with chairs, and an alcove containing a young adult fridge (with crisper/freezer combo) and a coffee maker. A microwave sat on the desk, an ideal spot if you’re pulling an all-nighter and don’t have time to cross the room for popcorn. In the back left corner, I designated a red polka-dotted chair the La-Z-Girl.

Once settled in, I tried to go online but was confounded by the array of networks with similar names. Calling for help, I received swift guidance (they’re all good). Next, I attempted to use the microwave, unsuccessfully. I rang the front desk again.

“Is it plugged in?” asked the non-condescending voice on the other end of the line.

Give that boy an A for the right answer and a plus for not mocking my stupid question.

On my way out, I grabbed a pre-jaunt cup of coffee in the lobby. Again with the questions: When I couldn’t find a trash receptacle for the stirrer, I turned to a thin student who needed to eat more pasta. He opened his hand to receive my garbage. (He could just as easily have directed me to the bin beside the hot beverage station.) I jokingly asked if he could take my gum, too. He smiled and cast his eyes down at his extended palm. Bonus points.

The hotel is about a 10-minute walk to the main strip of restaurants, bars and shops. Its restaurant also feeds the people morning and evening, and a small on-site pantry sells a 7-Eleven meal plan of instant noodle soups, Hot Pockets, Lean Cuisine and Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink. The property is in the midst of a renovation (to be completed mid-April) that will add a full bar plus social pods set around a fireplace and TVs. While the hotel’s in fix-it mode, I also suggest repairing the thermostat in the fitness center, whose needle seems stuck on July in Florida. Alternatively, keep the heat wave and organize Bikram cardio lessons.

After losing five pounds in the gym, I was ready for breakfast the next day. I joined a scrambled queue of families at the hot and cold buffet. As I sat down with my bounty, a young employee came over to calculate the cost of my plate. I was surprised at her math skills (bread + fruit = $12.95), since I had assumed that the magic number was zero.

An older woman then sidled up to my table and informed me of a hospitality room with free food (open only during the construction work). She gave me the room number and a wink to take the strawberries and banana.

Sometimes experience trumps enthusiasm.

Courtyard Newark-University of Delaware

400 David Hollowell Dr.

Newark, Del.

302-737-0900

www.marriott.com

Rooms from $159.

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