It may seem surprising that high-end hotels allow dogs but it makes sense when you think about it—give the customer what they need.  On a recent road trip down south our family chose to stay at the Omni Hotel in Richmond, Virginia.  While some cheaper hotels and motels allow dogs, you never know what you are going to get. The quality of some chain hotels can vary greatly from place to place. Based on past experience, we knew that the Omni would have the quality of accommodations that we wanted and allow us to bring our pooch.

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Arrival

Just because a hotel allows dogs doesn’t mean that dogs are actually welcome. I’ve stayed at hotels where it felt like they were doing me a great favor by allowing me to bring my furry family member.TMOM-disclosure-graphic

At the Omni, the staff fussed over my little dog (OK—she is the cutest dog ever) and when we arrived at our room there was, literally, a welcome mat. The mat incorporated food dishes which was a nice touch because we didn’t have to worry about getting our dog’s odorous canned food on the carpet, which in turn is appreciated by the following guest to the room.   It should also be noted that hotels generally have pet designated rooms and I have had experiences with subpar rooms in the past but our guest room at the Omni was like any other luxury room and
smelled dog-free.
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Amenities

We stayed in an Omni Club Room, which is located on the 18th and 19th floors of the hotel and requires key access.  For families with children who like to sneak out of the room to play in the halls, this feature gives you that added sense of security.

The club rooms also give you access to a private Club Lounge that features a complimentary breakfast and evening refreshments with beer, wine, soft drinks and house made hors d’ oeuvres but sadly for us these amenities were not available on the weekend but are open Monday night through Friday morning.

The hotel has a heated indoor pool and gym. For my family, a pool is a must. While my daughter may enjoy museums, historic sites and restaurants, we have found that a successful family vacation incorporates a little give and take. For instance, we go to the Civil War museum then we reciprocate by going for an afternoon family swim. Staying at a hotel with an all-weather pool at the ready allowed for an easy exchange.

Neighborhood

The Omni is located in the financial district on the edge of one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, Shockoe Slip. Interestingly, the district was also the financial center for Richmond in the 1600’s. A real benefit to staying at the Omni during the weekend is that the financial district is very quiet and it is easy to get around.

Much of Richmond, including the Slip, was burned by the Confederate army before the Union takeover during the Civil War. The area’s restored warehouses and taverns (one is a restored tobacco factory) house a unique assortment of exclusive apparel stores, galleries, and restaurants. The architecture, a favorite of mine, is predominantly Italianate style brick and iron front buildings. This, along with the cobble-stoned streets, gives the area its historic feel.

Walkability

Richmond is a veritable treasure trove of history.  The first English settlement was established in 1607 (established by the British Crown but not accepted by the native inhabitants that is) so that is 400 years of American history that began here.  Sure, there is a lot to see here but most attractions don’t allow pets. What is a pet owner to do? We found that the key to a happy pet on vacation is to tire them out in the morning so they are happy to snooze in the room while you are out in the afternoon.

The perfect solution is Richmond’s Canal Walk, which is about a 5 minute walk from the hotel. It extends for 1.25 miles (2 km) parallel to the old Haxall and James River and Kanawha canals. Several historical exhibits about the canals themselves and the City of Richmond are dispersed throughout the length of the restored portion of the canal.

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Work on the canal system began in 1784 and George Washington himself surveyed the digging of these canals—so you can image that he trod the same path as yourself a few hundred years earlier. The canals were heavily used in the early to mid 1800’s, but like everything else they were badly damaged in the Civil War.

In 1998, the city of Richmond began an extensive restoration project the canal which at that time was partially covered beneath paving and cement structures. Now visitors can take a walk and learn a bit about Richmond history while enjoying the beautiful scenery. The walk leads you to Brown’s Island, which was once the center of gun powder manufacturing during the war and is now a venue for summer concerts and year round events.

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

You can also trek further on to Belle Isle, once used as a prisoner of war camp it is now a park with many bike trails, and it even has a small cliff that is used for rock climbing instruction. Belle is accessible to pedestrian and bicycle traffic via a suspension footbridge that runs under the Robert E. Lee Memorial Bridge from the northern shore of the James River.

There are a couple of cafés with outside seating along the way if you need a rest and some sustenance. The Richmond Park Services graciously provides little bags at various stops so you can clean up after your dog (very important wherever you go). Walking the canal was not only excellent exercise for the whole family but there is so much to see and learn along the way. There’s a replica of a lock that shows how boats go through canals and on Brown’s Island in addition to a walkway that spreads out over the James River that chronicles the burning of Richmond during the Civil War. Of more modern interest, are several interesting murals painted on the back of the Power Plant building at 12th and Byrd streets near the end of the walk.

Brown’s Island is peaceful in the morning and a great place to throw the ball around. Coming back you can walk up to the E. Cary Street and for us we went quickly back at the hotel with a tired dog and enough time to have a little rest before we headed out to see some humans-only attractions.

Dining

Richmond has many dining options.  In recent years, the city has experienced some great urban renewal projects. Many old warehouses were converted into residential housing, shops or restaurants. The Boathouse at Rockett’s Landing is probably one of the coolest looking restaurants I have ever been to. The building, which was once the power plant for Richmond’s trolley car system, has spectacular views of the James River and a relaxing open floor plan that provides lots of light and air. It is located in the Shockoe Valley area, which is a 10 minute scenic drive from the hotel. The sushi looked really good although we felt compelled to try the local fish of the day and the crab puppies.

On our second evening we went to Acacia in the historic Fan district. Really, all you need to know is that the food is very good. According to my spouse, the soft shell crabs were the best he has ever had. As a bonus it has a nice ambiance with a modern and elegant décor.

The Omni Richmond was the perfect choice for our family weekend vacation.  It successfully accommodated all of our human and canine needs. Richmond is one of my new favorite cities because there is so much to see in a weekend and all the more reason to have to go back.

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

What to Know Before You Go

  • Check each Omni hotel for its pet policy.  The Omni in Richmond allowed dogs 25lbs and under.
  • We went in the early evening on a weekend and got a table without a wait but if you go after 7 p.m., I’d advise making reservations.
  • If you are a Starbucks fan, there is one conveniently located in the hotel lobby. We got up early each morning to walk our dog and found a great little café, the Urban Farm House that opens at 7am. There are seats outside where you can sit and enjoy breakfast with your pup.
  • The hotel offers standard valet parking at $20 a day (you can go in an out as you please). If you are on a tight budget, there is a parking garage across the street at $4 a night but you have to repay every time you leave.