In With the New: InterContinental Washington DC – The Wharf

Every year, I plan a weekend trip to a different destination with my parents. Coming from a big family with lots of nieces and nephews, it’s a rare opportunity to spend quality time with them by myself while showing them the traveling life that I love. Given our shared interest in history, our nation’s capital was a logical choice.
We were especially interested in seeing a new development in Washington, DC, called District Wharf. Though luxury isn’t my normal style, my parents like their comforts, so I picked the new InterContinental Washington DC – The Wharf for our annual trip.
I already had IHG Platinum status from my IHG Rewards Club Select credit card. But in anticipation of an upcoming stay at the InterContinental Thalasso Bora Bora, I purchased IHG Ambassador status for $200 to take advantage of the guaranteed upgrade.
Unfortunately, the InterContinental – The Wharf had too many room categories (a trend that Richard Kerr breaks down here), which severely devalued upgrades.

As you can see, with seven categories of room types, a one-category upgrade wasn’t too exciting. Regardless, the balcony sounded appealing, so I booked a premier river-view room, which would upgrade me to a promenade room.
For my four-night weekend stay, I used the 4th Night Free benefit on my Citi Prestige card. I called the Citi Prestige concierge and named the exact room type for the dates I wanted to book. I had them confirm the AAA rates I was seeing online.
It’s now possible to book through the Citi travel portal, but the rates I saw on IHG’s website were better than through the portal. The Citi concierge does not use the portal and books directly, so the rates you see online are the rates they can book over the phone.
After about 30 minutes, with much of it on hold, I was booked. Shortly after, I received an email confirmation from both the Citi Prestige concierge and the InterContinental. The Citi Prestige email confirmed the amount I would be saving with my 4th Night Free benefit. That benefit saved me $273, the average nightly rate of my stay before taxes and fees.

I did, however, run into an issue with my booking that I didn’t notice until checkout. The rate I booked required the first night’s deposit two weeks before my stay. When that date came, IHG charged the card on my IHG profile, which was my IHG Rewards Club Select credit card. Somehow, when the Citi Prestige concierge made my booking directly with IHG, my Citi Prestige card wasn’t actually used.
At the hotel, I told the front desk I needed the charge from two weeks prior put on my Citi Prestige card. It took another 30 minutes for her to sort it out, and a rather long checkout line had formed behind me, but I eventually got my entire stay charged to my Prestige card, and my statement was credited four weeks later.
A big appeal of this hotel was its location in the newly renovated District Wharf area overlooking the Potomac River and East Potomac Park. While half of the Wharf was still under construction when I visited, the area around the InterContinental was completed.

The hotel entrance was so nondescript my parents’ taxi drove by it several times. (The meter was still running, so I’m not sure if that was intentional. I downloaded Uber on their phones the next day.)

The Wharf had great proximity to other areas in DC — it was less than a mile south of the National Mall. There was a free shuttle bus that picked passengers up a half block from the InterContinental every 20 minutes and made stops at L’Enfant Plaza Metro station, the National Mall and L’Enfant Plaza Shopping Mall.
(Image courtesy of District Wharf.)
Entering the hotel, I was immediately greeted by the front desk and concierge.

As a Platinum elite, courtesy of the no-longer-available IHG Rewards Club Select card, I was offered a welcome drink from the bar — a nonalcoholic drink, beer, wine or sparkling wine. Gold elites were given the same options except sparkling wine, and Spire elites were given the additional option of a cocktail. Though the IHG Rewards Club Select card is no longer offered, the IHG Rewards Club Premier card comes with the same Platinum status.
Between the check-in area and the lobby, the hotel’s signature staircase led to the mezzanine.

The lobby had several sections of comfortable and varied seating. The floor-to-ceiling windows brought in plenty of natural light, even if the weather was pretty miserable most of my stay.

When I exited the elevator at the mezzanine, I felt like I was entering a funhouse maze.

The staircase leading up to it was beautiful, but the mezzanine had only banquet rooms and event spaces.

The fourth floor held all of the promenade rooms.

My 340-square-foot, two-queen-bed promenade room actually felt a little tight, although the mattress, sheets and pillows were incredibly comfortable.

There was a chair, table and lamp crammed into a tiny corner. The table and lamp were actually pressed up against the curtain. It was a slightly claustrophobic and not very practical space.

There was also very little room between the bed closest to the bathroom and the wall. It was impossible to walk along that side of the bed without rubbing against both the wall and the bed. If two people slept in that bed, it’d be pretty uncomfortable getting in and out of that side.

The room featured a 50-inch smart TV, which was plenty big for the space.

One complaint from my parents was that there weren’t dresser drawers to unpack their suitcases. One dresser, for example, held glasses and the minibar. The InterContinental must have decided that drawers were rarely used and that the space could be better allocated. I never unpack into dressers at a hotel, so I would agree with the IC, but if you’re old-school like my parents, keep this in mind.
The Nespresso machine was refilled with pods every day. My dad, however, would have preferred a regular coffeemaker. He ended up going next door for his coffee.

The minibar was pretty limited and, of course, way overpriced. With a Walgreens around the corner, there was no need to indulge.

In an otherwise tight room, the desk area was adequate. It was by no means roomy, but it had enough space to work, and anyone sitting at it wouldn’t be in the way of others.

The main feature of the promenade room was the large balcony that overlooked the Wharf’s promenade.

The balcony was large enough that it could — and should — have had some sort of seating or furniture. Although the weather during my visit was mostly poor, it was still a wasted balcony.
I asked at the front desk why there wasn’t furniture on the balcony, and the attendant responded with a shrug. I asked if they would be adding balcony furniture, and she didn’t know of any plans to.

This was the most disappointing part of the stay. I paid a premium to book a room type that would upgrade to a promenade room, and we ended up barely using the balcony because my parents had no desire to stand around out there.
To top it off, the landscaping was poorly maintained. It took everything my mom had in her to not start pulling weeds. The balcony next to us was in even worse shape than ours.

I snapped one sunset photo on the first and only nice evening, as the hotel overlooked the Wharf Marina and the Washington Channel section of the Potomac River.

The room had two plush bathrobes. The disposable slippers weren’t nearly as comfy, though. There was also a shoehorn and shoe polish.

The bathroom featured a spa shower with great pressure, rainfall shower head and multiple additional shower-head settings. I was happy with the shower, but my mom said she would have rather have had a bathtub.

There was also a well-lit vanity area with many mirrors and an outlet.

Another lighted mirror hung above the large sink area.

Agraria San Francisco supplied the soaps, shampoo, conditioner, lotion and body wash.

The ice machine on our floor was broken, which you wouldn’t expect at a 1-year-old hotel.
I enjoyed the one sunny afternoon at the rooftop pool. The spectacular views were much better from the roof than they were from my fourth-floor room. Also, there was seating to actually relax and admire for a while.

To the right, you could see the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. Directly opposite the Wharf was the golf course in East Potomac Park and the Pentagon beyond that. In the distance to the left, you could watch planes take off and land at Reagan National Airport (DCA). Unfortunately, after the first day, it was rainy and cloudy. On a clear day, though, the rooftop pool featured one of the best views in DC.

Nighttime was nice up here as well, but the pool bar Waves wasn’t staffed after the rain moved in. Normally, the pool and bar would be seasonally open until 9pm.

The gym was plenty big, with more than enough exercise machines and dumbbells and nice views of the Wharf Marina for treadmills and stationary bikes.

The hotel had been open for over a year, but the spa still wasn’t during my stay. However, I did confirm with the hotel that it was open when I wrote this review, although the website wasn’t updated yet.

There was a small business center. Internet here cost an absurd $5 for 10 minutes, and printing was $1 per page. It was free to print boarding passes, however.

The Wi-Fi throughout the hotel was fast and free, as it should be in domestic hotels.
Food and Beverage
The InterContinental had one full-service restaurant called Kith and Kin. They also served light fare at Waves on the pool deck and the Watering Hole across from the IC, and there was room service.

Breakfast wasn’t too busy, even on a weekend, but we gave it a shot. The Kith breakfast was an unexciting eggs, bacon, potatoes, coffee and juice combo for a steep $24. The Kin omelet was average but more reasonable at $14, but $6 for coffee bumped that price up. My mom went for the granola and yogurt ($14) and wasn’t too thrilled about her juice costing $8. Nothing in this breakfast was the least bit inspiring and justified the premium price tag.

With all of the other options on the Wharf, we all agreed this would be our last meal at the Kith and Kin. A half block away, Kirwin’s had reasonable dinner fare, and an Irish pub was honestly more our style. The rest of our breakfasts came from a gelateria next door that was much more reasonably priced.

The atmosphere of the Kith and Kin picked up quite a bit on Saturday night, however.

I cashed in my welcome drink for a sparkling wine, which was the highest value I could get for it. It was clear, though, that their specialty was craft cocktails.

There wasn’t an empty table or booth in the restaurant.

Some of the crowd even spilled out into the lobby.

The dinner menu, admittedly, had a much more enticing selection. Most mains were under or around $30. Choices included braised oxtails, jollof rice and a large raw-bar plate for $38. Even the vegetarian options looked intriguing. After our breakfast, though, my parents were uninterested.
If you’re looking for a bit of DC history with your meal, head two blocks north along the river to the Maine Avenue Fish Market, which has been selling fresh seafood for over 200 years.
Overall Impression
The hotel showcased a lot of new hotel trends, both good and bad. The good was in the common areas — the lobby’s assorted seating and large windows were inviting, and the rooftop pool bar was the perfect sunset spot. The bad was in the rooms — two queen beds were too tight, the balcony was poorly utilized and unkempt, and the seven categories of rooms severely devalued my Ambassador upgrade. My parents would have preferred drawers, a tub and a regular coffeemaker in the room, although I was indifferent on the first two and liked the Nespresso machine.
Also, with all the great dining at District Wharf, eating at the hotel at a premium wasn’t necessary. The location may have been the best part about this hotel, which was a free 10-minute shuttle ride to the National Mall.

This hotel could be a good option if you’re looking for modern chic luxury at District Wharf. And prices are sometimes very reasonable, dipping well below $200 a night. But I wouldn’t recommend paying for an upgrade. While we had a fantastic weekend overall, none of us found a whole lot to love about the InterContinental Washington DC – The Wharf.
All images courtesy of the author unless otherwise noted.

Take Monday Off. Tell Your Boss This Is Why.

Summer may be winding down, but summer Fridays don’t necessarily have to end with the season: Experts now believe that multiple short vacations throughout the year may be more restorative than one longer grand tour.
In the past, researchers have suggested that the ideal amount of time off is eight days at a time. But Jonathan Alpert, a Manhattan-based psychotherapist and performance coach, believes that three- or four-day getaways are more refreshing because they typically come with far less planning, expense and hassle than major vacations. “Clients often tell me they want to go as far away as possible for as long as possible,” Alpert said. “But then it takes a day to get to their destination, they run into issues accessing their email in a remote place, and inevitably, they get so stressed planning it that they aren’t able to truly disconnect.”
Alpert analogizes the impact of taking one long vacation to the long-term effects of binge sleeping: Sleep deficit during the week can tempt you to make it up by sleeping all weekend. But while you may feel well-rested afterward, binge sleeping doesn’t make up for the lost health benefits that come with getting a full eight hours every day. In the same way, vacations work similarly: One long trip may feel great at the time, but taking multiple shorter getaways allows you to enjoy the same vacation mindset more frequently throughout the year.
The American working class seems to agree with Alpert, since weekend trips have risen in popularity in recent years. According to a December 2017 Enterprise Rent-A-Car survey, 85% of Americans ages 25 and up stated that they planned to take at least one weekend trip in 2018 – up seven percentage points from 2016’s survey results. Nearly 50% survey responses further cited stress as a top reason for wanting to take a weekend trip.
In previous years, research has suggested that long weekend vacations don’t offer modern workers enough time to to reap the benefits of paid time off, because employees increasingly work longer hours and bring their work devices with them. However, the Enterprise survey showed that the vast majority of vacationers wanted a “true escape” — no work emails to read and respond, with limited or no access to social media and news updates, especially political news. Alpert believes that unplugging for short stints several times throughout the year can go a long way toward providing that escape.
Here are some compelling reasons to book that fall weekend trip right now:
Shorter trips require less planning
A 2018 survey by Project: Time Off, people often find planning vacation logistics to be a daunting task. However, three- to four-day trips require far less advance planning. Driving becomes a much more feasible option in many cases, which can offer additional flexibility and spontaneity.
Shorter trips are more job-friendly
Shorter trips also mean less time away from the office, resulting in less of the dreaded email inbox pile-up. “If you’re away for 10 days, sometimes it can take people a few days to get out of the work mode and settle into vacation mode,” Alpert told NBC News. “What I also find with a lot of my clients is that, a day or two before the vacation is set to end, they start to get really stressed about going back to work.” Instead of hoarding your annual PTO, allocating it in shorter bursts throughout the year makes it easier to maintain overall work productivity while getting regular rest and recharge time.
It’s easier to disconnect on short getaways
No matter how much we may crave that “true escape,” it’s difficult to unplug ourselves from our phones, tablets and laptops. Modern devices are explicitly designed to be addictive; research shows that scrolling through Facebook or Instagram delivers tiny hits of dopamine to our brains. Shorter trips offer the opportunity to try leaving our work and personal lives at home on a “digital detox.” A recent study found that avoiding Facebook for a timespan as short as five days resulted in lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
“It’s hard for people to disconnect for 10 days,” Alpert said. “Three days is easier to accomplish. It’s a more attainable goal. When you only take a couple days away, you’re setting yourself up for success.”
Shorter trips cost less money
Another major perk in favor of long weekend getaways is that they automatically cost less by nature of the trip duration. Travel hackers especially have an advantage here, since it’s relatively easy to commit to a mistake-fare trip with PTO days that aren’t already budgeted for a massive year-end trip.
At the end of the day, research suggests that we experience our biggest boost in vacation-related happiness during our anticipation of the trip. “So much of what brings happiness and pleasure to people is being able to plan and look forward to creating memories,” Alpert says. “If you have more of those in a given year, it’s only going to help people to feel happier.”
Featured image by Shutterstock.