In this post, I review the Graduate Iowa City, a hotel located in the heart of Iowa City, Iowa. We’ll talk through the background of this stay, our check-in experience, our very interesting King Suite, and what we think of this hotel going forward. Read on to see how we review the Graduate Iowa City.
About This Stay
This two-night stay was part of a family trip to Iowa for Thanksgiving. We’ve actually stayed at the Graduate Iowa City several times before, though after this stay we’re looking forward to exploring alternatives.
Prices at Graduate Iowa City vary throughout the year. The major factor we usually encounter is Iowa football. If Iowa football is at home when we visit, the hotel is busier and more expensive. When Iowa football is away, it’s usually a pretty chill experience.
For example, Iowa hosts Michigan on December 2. A 2-night stay at Graduate Iowa City from December 1 to December 3 booked on Booking dot com goes for $538 (total) in a King Room and $938 in a Family Suite. A few weeks later (no football game), those prices drop to $338 and $478.
This year, we booked directly through the hotel and paid just over $500 for two nights in a King Suite. We opted for this room so that Zoe would have a sofa bed, rather than a regular queen bed. While the privacy of the separate suite rooms was a factor, we were more driven by wanting Zoe to have as short a journey from the top of the bed to the floor as possible (read more about hotel stays with toddlers here).
(Disclaimer: My dad gifted us this stay. I don’t think this impacted this review, and I think the hotel is reasonably priced relative to its competition.)
Arrival and Check-In
We arrived at around 8PM after Thanksgiving dinner. No one was at the desk, so we tried ringing the bell and calling twice. Another group was also waiting to check in, though they had retreated to a seating area in the lobby (I felt bad later realizing we’d effectively cut them).
After a few minutes, someone showed up to check us in. I forgot it was a holiday, and I’d like to say I’m grateful for anyone working at all. That said, she wasn’t at all apologetic for leaving the desk completely unstaffed, without any signage or a note.
It’s probably understandable that the hotel is understaffed on Thanksgiving night, but there’s no reason to not at least leave a sign saying you’ll return shortly (Okay, on the one hand, what other alternative is there? Of course the person will be back shortly. On the other hand, online check-in is a thing at many hotels, and some hotels do have restricted front desk hours, so a sign is advisable).
Our Room at the Graduate Iowa City
We stayed in a King Suite. This is a two room suite with 1.5 bathrooms.
The sofa bed wasn’t made (I’m fine with this, but good hotels should inquire as to whether it should be prepared beforehand), so I went ahead and put it together.
The sofa bed itself was okay. The pieces didn’t quite lock in place, but no amount of stress I put on the folds moved things much (i.e. I wasn’t worried about it randomly closing on Zoe).
I noticed immediately while walking around in my socks that an area by the door was wet. When you travel with a toddler, it’s not uncommon for water to get spilled. But this felt larger than anything Zoe would have done, and there was a distinct mildewy smell to the room. More on this later…
In any case, we didn’t have time to change rooms, nor was availability even guaranteed since there are probably only a few King Suites at the hotel.
One could quibble about the aesthetic of the room. Emily put it best—the aesthetic of the Graduate Iowa City just doesn’t scale well to suites. At a smaller scale in a regular hotel room, it’s really fun. At a larger scale, it looks pretty tacky.
That said, nothing about the pictures on the website suggested the suite was going to look like the Four Seasons. To paraphrase Dennis Green, the room is what we thought it was.
I don’t have any major complaints about the functionality of the room, but there is a bigger-than-minor issue—the doors between the two rooms of the suite.
These doors had glass panes in them with privacy stripes. But they didn’t accomplish much. Light still got through, and if one room was dark you’d easily be distracted by the other room. The first night, we put Zoe to sleep, went into the other room, and immediately heard a shout of “WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN THERE?” We turned and, yup, you could see them sitting up in the bed, looking straight at the doors.
Probably the best way to handle this would just be to add curtains to the doors. The doors were better than no doors, of course, but I’d prefer the option to block out light completely.
In the past, we’ve stayed in a room with two queen beds. Here’s a quick look at that, mostly so you can see why we think the aesthetic looks more charming at a smaller scale:
Fitness Center and Pool at Graduate Iowa City
The second floor of the Graduate Iowa City has an indoor pool and fitness center. It’s an awkward setup, with some room doors adjacent to the pool area. I’ve also never seen the pool uncovered. Maybe it’s a seasonal thing, but why is there an indoor pool that’s covered in the fall?
The fitness center is well-stocked, but some of the devices could use an upgrade. Last year I had a problem with one of the bikes and had to use a different one. This year, I got on a treadmill, started it up, and the screen went black.
I got off the treadmill, got on another one, started my run…and then the treadmill I had just gotten off of started going.
Maybe it’s a result of the ebbs and flows of guest counts at the hotel, but my gut is that this fitness center has way too much stuff and way too little good stuff. I get not wanting to replace every treadmill when it ages, but replace two so that when the fitness center isn’t too busy, guests can have a good experience.
Poindexter Coffee is a cafe attached to the Graduate Iowa City. We’ve never had a bad experience here, and it’s our usual spot for breakfast during our stays. We had a good avocado bagel and some good waffles this time. Coffee’s fine, too.
REDUX: Our Leaky Room at Graduate Iowa City
The final morning of our trip, Emily went into the living room to wake up Zoe and heard a steady “drip drip drip”. When we turned on the light, we found a gigantic bulging leak in the ceiling, along with other wet spots around it.
Now, I’m not sure what had been going on earlier. Somehow the floor under this spot was wet when we arrived, but we managed to not notice any dripping. Then, over the course of two nights, this dripping bulge appeared.
In any case, we decided immediately on seeing this that we were happy to have prepared for a quick morning exit, and we GTFO of there.
We’ve always liked staying at the Graduate Iowa City, but next year we’ll be looking at other options in the area. The fun aesthetic and good cafe go a long way, but the delays checking in, outdated fitness center equipment, and leaky room put a damper on our short stay.