River City Casino & Hotel St. Louis Missouri

Normally I don’t do reviews just because I’m asked. I have made it a policy over the years not to do paid reviews and to be very clear when something may seem like a conflict of interest. When River City Hotel bellman Jerry asked me to do a review on a well known website I politely refused – then stated I would do a review on my own website. Trying my best to explain why without going into to much detail.

After a cordial chat in which we both figured out our politics don’t match – he politely asked about doing a review. Explaining that the River City Hotel was a new property and could benefit from guest experience feedback. Unfortunately managers and the hotel industry are under the mistaken impression well known review sites are the end all be all. Granted the host of Hotel Impossible Anthony Melchiorri doesn’t do anything to dispel this way of thinking.

It has been shown over the years that many legitimate review sites are a bit of a con job. Paid for reviews, competition leaving negative reviews, paid for positive comments and companies have in some cases been able to get negative reviews removed – granted sometimes for good reasons.

There are most likely few people who aware of the games that have been played with reviews over the years. The general public still puts value in large well known websites that might not always have their best interest at heart. Hotel operations and other industries have been sold on the fact that these sites are the only thing online that matters. I’d agree they can effect the bottom line. What I won’t agree on is the overall quality of comments.

Of course many of these websites will swear by their integrity and claim that they have proper checks and balances in place. My opinion is history has shown differently.

Common sense also dictates that I’m not going to leave my opinion on some other website when I have my own. I can express my opinion without fear of a moderator edit of my comments. I’m also able to offer something in my opinion that is invaluable – actual photos or videos of the room I stayed in – also in some cases the property itself.

No matter what someone may think of my opinion – a picture or video gives the reader / viewer a visual representation of room / property quality. This is something most well known review sites do not offer as a feature for commenters.

Our first hotel stay at River City was several weeks after the soft opening. During check-in we were asked if we had stayed at the hotel before. When the clerk was told no – she made sure to get the door lock model out – to show us how their locking system worked. River City uses near field technology / RFID in their room keys and door locks. Instead of inserting a room key you just touch an area on the door to unlock it. Your room key also gives you elevator access and works the same way. Some credit cards work in a similar fashion. There have been some hotels that enabled using a cell phone to check-in / out and open room doors.

I’ve seen some guest having problems in the elevators with these keys and heard a few complaints about opening room doors. Personally I’m a fan of the technology and haven’t had a problem with it. I have seen just as many people frustrated with the old style slot / magnetic strip cards. Years ago a hotel in Spokane Washington had a type of USB stick that you would insert to get room access. I thought that was a novel idea – especially since we never had problems with it. No other hotel we have stayed at used this system.

A couple of years ago there were several news articles about security vulnerabilities in some cardkey locks. This may have been one reason new hotels are putting other locking systems to use. From my reading maintenance cost are a big consideration in choosing RFID cards. Some security experts have also expressed concern about RFID hacking. It goes without saying – if humans built it – someone can almost always find a way to break it / access it if enough effort is put towards the task.

During our first stay is when we first encountered Jerry. Very friendly and asked if he could help with our bags. We declined assistance. It wasn’t to long after we checked in that we saw him helping other guest to their room on our floor. From what I overheard he did a very good job of explaining the room features. When we came down to the lobby later in the evening – Jerry again made sure to interact with us. From what I have seen he does this with all guest.

The room we had during our first stay had areas in the bathroom especially the door to the toilet room and walls in that room – that looked like the painters may have rushed to get the job done. But the over all quality of the room was superb – which is what you would hope for from a newly built property.

My next stay at the River City Hotel took place December 10 2013. I was completely unaware that this was the evening Michael Bolton was having a concert and book signing. Even if I had gotten comped tickets – this wouldn’t have been a show for me. My level of play never earns comped tickets – just rooms – which works for me.

It was an adventure just getting to the hotel. Since I was coming down to play during the week I took Amtrak Lincoln Service to downtown St. Louis. Here comes my rant. Even though the Chicago to St. Louis Amtrak route is the third fastest growing line in the United States and even though there are multiple casino properties along this route – none of them have been willing to partner with Amtrak. Even properties that could use the business. Amtrak serves a large population demographic – I know from what I see and the conversations that I have had – casino visitors ride Amtrak. Yet casino owners and managers in multiple markets still are airline centric and refuse to consider working with Amtrak.

One exception to that rule will be Las Vegas Railway Express, Inc The X Train when it gets up and running. There used to be an Amtrak train that serviced casinos on the Chicago Illinois Indiana border. I’m not sure if that service still exist.

So instead of having shuttle service ( I’d pay for this or at least tip decent ) I had to take a cab. Do to weather my train got in late and right at rush hour. On top of that I had to wait for a cab. Which is unusual – normally St Louis Amtrak station has a good amount of cabs waiting. Unfortunately I got the one cab driver in the St Louis area who didn’t have a clue where River City Casino was. For some reason he started taking me out towards the Hollywood Casino ( formerly Harrahs ) – I politely tried to hint to him that he was heading the wrong way. He didn’t have GPS and my Garmin was in the trunk.

As far as I am aware St Louis MetroLink electric light rail transit system does not run in the direction of River City. So I don’t think that is an option. MetroLink is just a few steps outside of Amtrak station.

After a ton of drama and waiting in traffic we get turned around. Honestly this cabby must have been overworked, stoned or it was his first day. I had to guide him the whole way. Believe it or not when we finally get to the hotel this driver charges me the full fair – no apology or anything. Of course he got no tip.

At least when I got to the check-in counter that process went very smooth and I was in my room in record time. Jerry must have been off on Sunday – he told me the days he worked a few days later – but I have since forgotten. The video above was taken during my second visit.

About three minutes into the video you hear the phone ring. I would assume this was the obligatory call to ask if everything was alright with the room. While I fully understand the reason for these calls and that most people see them as taking that extra step – many times they just annoy me. Most of the time I haven’t had time to get settled, freshen up or even fully look over the room to know if all is well. Only a few places I have stayed at in the past couple of years – still make the effort to place these calls.

You might be amazed how many casino hotels DO NOT offer an in room safe. Granted for serious amounts of cash or valuables you should use a hotel safety deposit box if that service is offered. In room safe is a nice feature – especially in a casino.

River City offers two levels of wireless internet ( Wi-Fi ) in their rooms. You have the choice of basic for free – which from my experience will be sufficient for most users needs. But if you want higher speed you can pay just under $10 to upgrade to their premium bandwidth. The network runs fairly smooth.

One thing River City offers that many hotels DO NOT nowadays is outlets. They offer a ChargePort at the desk – but lamps have outlets also. In-lamp outlets aren’t my favorite – but they are better than nothing at all. In many hotels it is impossible to find an outlet to plug your laptop or device into by the bed.

If I remember correctly there was a good selection of television channels. Casino hotels in the past were bad about offering channel options. I’m sure the thought process was this would get guest to order pay-per-view or to head back down to the casino floor. The LED television in a picture frame is a nice touch. I’ve seen a few properties try to “fancy” things up this way.

Since this hotel is only months old – you would expect clean air vents. That is the case from what I have seen. It is amazing how many hotels – even higher market – that do not clean room air vents. Especially in bathrooms.

Many hotels are still using traditional incandescent light bulbs in their lamps and lighting fixtures. From what I’ve seen – River City uses mostly CFL’s ( compact fluorescent ) – these bulbs contain a very small amount of mercury. I’ve not come across to many hotels that have put LED light bulbs to use. Even though the cost have come down greatly and they have a much longer service life – without mercury.

I always find the conserve energy cards in most hotels sad yet funny. Hotel properties are really hypocritical when it comes to being kinder to Mother Earth. The reuse towels cards are more about reducing hotel cost – which is fine by me – than conserving water. While public restrooms in the casino may have low flow faucets – rooms rarely if ever do. I covered the light bulb aspect above. No green roofs, no solar panels, no small scale wind turbines – I have yet to see a casino or hotel I would take seriously when I read these in room cards. Very few if any hotels offer true recycling – I always carry mine home in my bags. Some casinos in Las Vegas are good about composting food waste.

Although some of those options are costly on the front-end they almost always reduce operating cost over the lifetime of the property – so they are well worth the initial investment.

Off that rant and back to the room. One of the simplest but coolest features is the DO NOT DISTURB light. No stupid paper hanger to get lost or a door card to stick in a slot – also to get lost or taken by some drunk playing a late night joke. Inside the room you have two buttons to push. When you choose DO NOT DISTURB there is a light next to your door in the hall that lights up – letting your preference be known. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that put a smile on your face.

When you don’t mind being bothered there is a doorbell that will offer a pleasant tone inside the room when pushed. The Four Seasons St Louis also offers a doorbell.

Some guest are big fans of iHome audio devices in rooms. I’m not an Apple fan and some of the iHome models are just a pain to use. I had one recently where I couldn’t figure out how to reset the clock and it was the only one in the room. I always prefer ease of use and functionality to hassle and aggravation.

The in bathroom Electric Mirror television I have only seen in the St Louis area. I first came across this technology at the Ameristar casino in St Charles Missouri. Pinnacle Entertainment owner of River City recently purchased Ameristar casino properties. They were the original owners of Lumière Place in downtown St. Louis – which they have now sold.

As the video shows I had a very hard time getting the Electric Mirror television in my room to work. The one at Ameristar Hotel also was a bit flaky at first boot. During my recent stay at the Four Seasons St Louis their in bathroom Electric Mirror booted right up and a working channel was displayed without any fuss. When this piece of technology works it is really cool. You can even see the picture fairly well through mirror fog after showering.

Long before the hotel was built during one of our first visits to River City we ate at Burger Brothers – we had high hopes after looking at the menu. Unfortunately the meal didn’t sit well with either of us. On all visits since we have yet to try another burger there.

I am happy to report that our experience at the other restaurant offerings has been much more pleasant. We have had several meals at The Beerhouse. Before the hotel was in operation we had two meals at this venue. Both times at a table – the waiter and waitress that took care of us did their jobs very well. In my opinion the week spot for Beerhouse are the hostesses. I’ve eaten there on my own several times since – during hotel stays at their bar. Hostesses never seem to be friendly or engaging. The bartenders are very attentive to customers – calling regulars by name – food quality is good and not an overly long wait for it to arrive.

By far my favorite place to eat at River City is at 1904 Steak House. It is a long walk from the hotel to the steakhouse. You have to walk all the way through the casino to the very front entrance then make a right turn. Our first meal there was before the hotel was in operation. The second was during one of our stays after the hotel opened. I have eaten at the steakhouse bar – twice during my last stay in December. Each time the hostess on duty has been very polite and accommodating when making reservations or coming in for dinner. Our waiters have always provided us with a great experience. My two bartenders during my last stay were friendly and handled my meal order perfectly.

Hotel security seems to make a decent amount of trips on each floor – making sure everything is as it should be.

Staff at the gift shop are very courtesy and helpful. Although I’m not a fan of these shops closing. Always seems I’m wanting something from them after their operating hours.

Over time and after the hotel gets more use – it will be interesting to see how well it is kept up. Lumière Hotel – River City’s former sister property – is an older building that shows it’s age – even though I always see maintenance staff working hard. With so many guest in and out I’m sure this makes fixes difficult to schedule at times. If staff and guest aren’t reporting issues this also allows things to get a bit out of hand. So it will be interesting to see how River City’s hotel “ages”.

At this point the hotel is definitely at a high quality level. It’s new sister property Ameristar – compliment each other well. Ameristar might be just a step above with more room space, a refrigerator ( not offered at least in standard room at River City ) and a tub plus shower stall. That last bit is how the Four Seasons is setup.

Lets wrap this up from where we began – with Jerry. I was lucky enough to get a late check out on my last visit. The female early morning desk wasn’t to pleasant at first. But was kind enough to give me a 12PM checkout time and was a bit more friendly as I headed back to my room.

Since I had a 3PM Amtrak departure I had a bit of a wait in the hotel lobby. I took a seat on the bench across from check-in and did some reading on the laptop. When my battery ran out I couldn’t find an outlet. A large convention was taking place that day so I didn’t want to venture over in that direction to find an outlet.

A bit after the battery ran down Jerry comes over and strikes up a conversation. He had remembered me from our previous visit. After finding out I had a wait and my battery was dead he directed me over to the couch area. Of course just a bit after I sat down a large group from the meeting wanted to take photos in the same area.

When I headed over to the outlet – Jerry asked me when I would be needing a cab. I gave him a time and he said he would call and set one up for me. It’s little things like this that you don’t see in to many places anymore.

I headed towards the exit doors a bit before my cab was set to arrive. Closer to that time Jerry shows up to make sure my ride had shown up. Just a few minutes later the taxi arrives. Of course Jerry offered to handle my bags – but I declined and again thanked him for taking care of things – yes when he called the cab I made sure to provide a tip. Honestly that day I was running low on cash and couldn’t be more generous. The level of service deserved it.

Unfortunately employees like this will rarely get a raise from management. From my travels I can tell you good to excellent service is hard to find. From what I’ve seen Jerry tries to be this way with all guest. Maybe it is his personality to do so or maybe he knows tips add up to pay the rent – I’d venture a guess it is a bit of both.

Lumière Hotel valet Craig is the only person I’ve come across recently that matches that level of service. Julie on Amtrak – who rarely works the Lincoln Service route – gives the guys a run for their money. But genuine quality service is a rare thing nowadays.

For those of you who enjoy the outdoors – there is a paved walking trail right next door to the casino and the Mississippi River Greenway.

Even though they are sold in St Louis & Chicago – even though there is a Supercharger network in Normal IL – I still haven’t seen a casino decide to purchase a Tesla Model S for their limo – aggravating. Want to stand out from the competition? What your high rollers to see something different? Buy a Tesla!! High price on the front-end – with lower operating and maintenance cost over the life of the vehicle.

Yes everyone raves about the dual shower heads. The “rain water” one from above. Luxurious yes – but just like the huge tub at Four Seasons a mega waste of water. Funny thing is – a young man I talked to in Chicago Union Station claimed to work at River City – never seen him there – but he of course hyped the dual shower heads.

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