Emily and Alex Graduate Nashville rooftop Dolly Parton wire sculpture

Graduate Hall Pass Superlatives

This blog post is not endorsed or sponsored by Graduate Hotels. However, this post does contain affiliate links and we will earn a small commission from any bookings competed using these links.

When we were lucky enough to score a Graduate Hotels Hall Pass for July, 2021, we knew we wanted to take full advantage of securing a month’s worth of 4-star hotel stays for $500. We planned a cross-country drive starting in Southern California and headed to New York City before turning around again and heading back – this time towards Northern California.

Google Maps July 2021
Google Maps July 2021

We stayed in King Rooms at every Graduate property we visited. They also offer Queen Rooms and accessible versions of each. Some of them even have suites.

Which was our favorite?

This is the number one question we get asked once we tell people we went to 15 hotels in one month. And unfortunately, we don’t have a very satisfying answer! With 15 hotels in 15 different locations, it just leaves you with too many factors to compare. There were obviously locations we liked better and they didn’t necessarily correspond with the hotels we liked best. Overall, our favorite was probably Seattle. It just edged out Roosevelt Island, New York as our favorite location because the weather in July was simply more pleasant there. The room was nice and the view was almost as cool as New York’s!

But, as far as the hotels themselves, there were overall designs I liked a lot better than Seattle’s. My favorite overall design theme was probably Nashville, but the customer service there was awful! Like, so much so that I would suggest just going in to look at the lobby and not pay $220+ a night to get treated like a stale fart.

So, we decided to give you some of the pros and cons we had for each. Our Graduate Superlatives, if you will:

Graduate Tuscon

Emily at Graduate Tucson cactus lamp

Best Lamp – if you saw all of our Instagram Posts (also pictured in this blog post), you can tell that each Graduate property has its own unique theming, eclectic style, and sublime pattern mixing. This usually included a signature lamp, and Tucson had our favorite in the form of a cactus.

Best Shower – this shower just ticked all of our boxes. It was gorgeous, spacious, and already so colorful that we didn’t feel bad washing our vibrant hair in it!

Best with Pets – all Graduate Hotel properties are pet friendly, but Tucson was the only one to go above and beyond with treat and a frisbee for Elvis upon check in!

Graduate Fayetteville

Emily at Graduate Fayetteville pattern mixing

Best Pattern Mixing – first of all, Alex did not agree with me. He could not get past the camouflage carpet. And, while I am not a camo fan either, I have to applaud this boldness in pattern mixing. It’s not for everyone, but someone made me very happy with their choices.

Best Pool – the pool here was the biggest one we saw at any property (they are all pretty small) and it was the coolest because it was half indoor and half outdoor! You could swim under a window and be outside.

Best use of Neon – we saw a lot of neon in the Graduate decor across the country. But none held a cold cathode gas discharge to Fayetteville’s display in the lobby.

Cons – there were some taxidermy animals used as decor, and we just aren’t personally big fans of that.

Graduate Oxford

Emily Graduate Oxford

Best Parking – this was the only Graduate property that had their own surface level parking lot (not garage) that was entirely self-parking and entirely free. The lot was very big and there was lots of room for loading and unloading so valet or bell service is not even needed. This was the only property that did not charge us for parking.

Cons – this was one of the few rooms we stayed in that had a “beverage cooler” instead of a mini fridge. We didn’t really understand why because it was the same size as a fridge, but it didn’t get as cold.

Watch our complete hotel walkthrough video on YouTube:

Graduate Nashville

Emily Graduate Nashville

Best Overall Theming – when you are greeted by a tufted yarn portrait of Minnie Pearl when you walk in the lobby, and a shrine of Dolly Parton above your bed when you walk in the room, it leaves quite an impression. Add drapes that match my dress and my eyes start dancing. Every inch of the decor throughout the hotel was dripping in the perfect balance of decadence and diversion.

Cons – they know they have created the perfect hotel and they are resting on there laurels! The staff cannot be bothered by you. Please stop bothering them. You are positively boring and stupid and doing everything wroooong…. ughhhhh. Look, I am not even a mother and every employee here felt like my teenage child. They did everything from condescending us to flat out ignoring us. The valet was horribly disorganized and slow and then had the nerve to try to charge $40 a night to park our car in the employee lot rather than the secured garage. Also, they gave us a hard time for having too much luggage. I’ve never felt so judged in my life. But god this hotel is soooooo cooooool and I guess I’m not nearly as cool as I thought I was!

Watch our complete hotel walkthrough video on YouTube:

Graduate Knoxville

Emily Graduate Knoxville

Best Bar – almost all of the Graduates we visited had a bar as unique as everything else about them. This one surprisingly had our favorite. It was a surprise because it did not seem like something we would like. And really the best part of this whole experience was being forced to try things we probably wouldn’t have otherwise chosen to do. Otherwise I guarantee you we would not have ended up in Knoxville in the first place.

The bar here is called Saloon 16, and it is not only a dedicated shrine to Peyton Manning, it is his own creation! He was responsible for the decor as well as developing and naming everything on the food and drink menu. We would consider ourselves whatever the polar opposite of football fans are… but let me tell you, it did not matter. Everything about Saloon 16 made you feel like Peyton’s personal guest in Knoxville and that was pretty cool. We found this all out because we had a great conversation with our absolutely wonderful server there. Thank you Saloon 16!

Best Bed – the bed here had the firmest mattress, which is more to our personal taste. But, I have gone on too long about Peyton Manning at this point…

Graduate Richmond

Graduate Richmond Exterior

Biggest Room with best layout for working – this room was the biggest we had out of all 15. Since we got King Rooms everywhere, a lot of the time it felt like the bed took up most of the space and there was no room around it. This room in Richmond had tons of space and a nice layout where you could even walk around the desk. 

Biggest gym – we used the gym in every property we stayed at and 13 out of 15 of them were laughably small. Richmond was the biggest gym by far, followed by Oxford. The rest were full of great equipment, but too small. 

Other good things – there is free street parking on weekends, a game room, and a rooftop pool and bar. 

Cons – the rooftop bar was way too crowded for comfort. The good and bad thing about some of these hotels are that they are some of the coolest places in the towns they are in. And, since anyone can go to the bars, they are sometimes overly crowded or hard to get into for hotel guests. 

Graduate Roosevelt Island

Elvis Roosevelt Island window skyline view

Best View – I mean, c’mon. This hotel is on an Island right in the middle of the East River, so you will get an amazing view of either Manhattan (pictured) or Queens. We all loved this view the best – including our little dog Elvis.

Best towels – yes, you really start to notice these things when you stay in hotels for more than two weeks. The towels here were fluffy and the towels everywhere else were scratchier. This may be because this is one of the newest properties to open and it had only been open a month when we were there.

The newness was a pro and a con. Obviously new means bright, shiny, and clean. But, it also means they haven’t worked out the kinks. The staff had not been fully trained. One of them didn’t know what the room rate was and another told us they would bring a microwave right up to our room. After about 30 minutes of waiting on a microwave, we called back to find out that there isn’t a single microwave in the entire building. But, the staff were super friendly and polite so it wasn’t that big of a deal.

Major CON – this is the only property we visited that did not offer free coffee to guests. It is also the most expensive, so what are you charging me $4 to pour me a cup of regular-ass coffee?

Graduate State College

Emily Graduate State College
Emily in King Room – we moved this chair from across the room for this photo!

Best Hallway – These hotels are themed right down to the hallways, and State College had the best one. It had wallpaper that looked like a library shelf and it was repeated up and down the entire corridor. It made it feel like a dimly lit academic labyrinth and that felt very on brand for the milder half of my personality.

Cons – this property was under major construction when we stayed and it was not disclosed before we booked. The air conditioners were barely working anywhere. We couldn’t even use the gym because it had no A/C. Also, the walls here were paper thin.

Graduate State College Hallway
Hallways in Graduate State College

Graduate Cincinnati

Emily and Alex King Room Graduate Cincinnati

Most Fun Decor – the designers of the Graduate Cincinnati invented a new oxymoronic style I will dub “contemporary nostalgia.” Everything in the lobby and common areas here reminded me of another time in my life and made me feel like I was re-living it in the present.

Cons – the A/C vent is way to close to the thermostat. Now, this is one that never would have occurred to us to even think about before we lived this month in hotel rooms. Hotel rooms are small spaces, and when the thermostat is right above where the A/C blasts out, it is never going to be able to read the true temp of the room. The room never got very cool… except that corner.

Graduate Bloomington

Elvis Graduate Cincinnati King Room
Elvis took the hot seat this time.

Prettiest College Campus – Graduate Hotels call themselves Graduate because they are all on- or very near – college campuses. The romanesque and gothic revival styles of the buildings on campus made me feel like it may be time to look into the PhD in Art History just so I could enroll. I mean, they have their own art museum and gallery on campus!

Indiana University Rose Well House Kissing Gazebo
Emily and Alex at Indiana University’s Rose Well House “Kissing Gazebo”

Graduate Iowa City

Emily Graduate Iowa City King Room

Best Welcome – the staff at Iowa City gave us the nicest welcome. They were so excited we had a hall pass and wanted to hear about everywhere we had been. They had even prepared a special welcome package for us when we got to the room which included a reusable water bottle, a drink sleeve, and some treats! They invited us to come chat with them at the front desk anytime. So sweet.

Cons – nothing to do with the hotel, but I was simply so tired from driving that I slept all day the one day we were here and you can see by the photo how much trouble I had getting up and going the next day. I literally don’t even have any further photos of this room or building!

Graduate Lincoln

Emily and Alex Graduate Lincoln King Room

Best curtains – let me clearly absolve Alex of this declaration by stating that he does not agree with me. He argues that he saw so much corn driving through the American mid-west that he now hates it in all forms. But, I think if you are Lincoln, Nebraska you just lean into that and put huge a graphic corn print on your curtains and on the bathroom wallpaper.

Graduate Seattle

Alex window view of Graduate Seattle skyline

Best Location – we love cities. We love the ocean. So, any city near the coast automatically has our attention. We also loved New York, but as mentioned at the beginning of this post, Seattle just has much more pleasant weather in July.

We also love seafood and coffee and cider and, well, Seattle has really good options for all of these things in abundance.

Best Hotel Room Layout – The King Room at the Graduate here was pretty spacious and was the only one with a little hallway from the front door. The bathroom and closet were off the hallway, so it felt a bit like a tiny apartment.

Best Floors – we also liked the big black and white tile floors here. New York also had hard floors, but the rest had carpet. We were not sure if this was a pet-friendly room thing or standard.

Cons – you could hear your neighbors through the walls. Maybe because of the tile floors. But it was loud and clear. Luckily, we didn’t have neighbors until our last day and they did not keep odd hours. I think we actually woke them up by getting up at 6am. Whoops!

Graduate Eugene

Emily Graduate Eugene

Worst Overall – I think I am still mad. Granted, just look at this photo. I am clearly past the point of exhaustion. I had driven about 6,000 miles by the time we stopped in Eugene for one night. First order of business when we got to town was going to the laundromat. You can begin to see why this was not our favorite stop.

Then, Graduate tried to charge me $19 to self park in their garage that wasn’t even secure. There was no gate at the entry and when we went to leave, the gate was raised. When I asked why I paid $19 for parking as a paying hotel guest when clearly anyone off the street could come get free parking they did not have a great answer for me so I got refunded.

I wish I could remember anything else from Eugene other than my sleepy blind rage. I guess this couch was cute… and we had clean laundry.

Graduate Berkeley

Emily in Haunted King Room at Graduate Berkeley

Most Haunted – it may just seem like we are running out of superlatives, but I’m not kidding. There was a ghost in here. I even took this photo as a dramatic interpretation of the events for this blog.

Alex can sometimes feel the presence spirits and he confirmed it in the hallway before we even entered the room. I felt creeped out before he even said anything for some reason.

Well, the first night I felt something touch me. Like, it kind of tried to hug me maybe. It felt like a large dog or a small human putting its weight on me. I then had sleep paralysis for a bit and once I could move again I was chilled to the bone. After about 30 minutes of being terrified, I convinced myself the pressure I felt was just gas and I went back to sleep.

The next night ghosty came back and kept sitting on the edge of the bed. When I would wake up and move my feet, they would go away for a while. But, then I would feel the edge of the bed dip again. And this time I was so hot! Finally, I pushed the covers down and the ceiling fan above the bed started rocking so bad it made a noise that woke Alex up.

Cons – haunted as f**k.

Let us know if you have any questions about Graduate Hotels or our experience in any of these cities. Thanks for reading!

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