Editor’s note: The talented, versatile Deborah Nies writes the “Change from a Twenty” reviews about “cheap eats” restaurants for Madison on the Cheap; but she has a knack for finding deals in lots of unexpected places. This is her account of how she recently spent two free nights at the Schuster Mansion Bed & Breakfast in Milwaukee — and what she did to earn them.
Free. It’s a funny word. If you’re searching out deals that are completely free, make certain to check for an accompanying phrase like “no strings attached.”Recently, the Schuster Mansion, a bed and breakfast located near Marquette University in Downtown Milwaukee, offered a LivingSocial Escapes deal. The picture of the place – and the reasonable price for a two-night stay there – intrigued me, so I clicked over to their website to investigate further.
While perusing the room photos and pricing, I stumbled upon the Schuster calendar of events, and discovered this intriguing proposition: An opportunity to stay two nights for “free,” with strings, or rather tinsel, attached.
The ad said:
“Hanging the Mistletoe – Friday, November 16, 2012 – 4:00 PM
November 16 and 17 (Friday and Saturday) Time to decorate for Christmas!!!! Come stay at the Mansion for 2 nights ON US – for Free!!!. In turn, be a part of the fun with others as we decorate the whole mansion for the holidays. Call us for information.
I am not immune to indentured servitude for a free getaway, so I phoned the Schuster post-haste. I had to leave a message, but it was soon returned by the feminine half of the Innkeeping duo of Rick and Laura Sue. Laura Sue explained she needed several people to assist in the time-consuming holiday decorating. If we were interested in helping, they’d provide us room and board in trade. Seemed fair, and really how long could it take to decorate?
The Schuster Mansion is a gorgeous Victorian home with four suites and two rooms. Three “levels of service” are available to indicate how much of the B&B experience you’d like to experience. Premier service includes several special amenities and services, but does not include tuck-in at bedtime. Standard level is $20 cheaper and includes breakfast, but is without all of the personalized warm fuzzies featured in the Premier package. Want an economical “hit and run stay” with a bed, but without breakfast? The economy rates are $40 off the full-price Premier rates. Important note: The suites have private bathrooms; the two rooms share a bathroom.
We arrived at 4:30 p.m. on Friday evening, and were warmly welcomed by Laura Sue and her immediate family and the staff. She showed us to our room, Laura Sue’s Suite, and told us to settle in and then come on down for decorating. My companion and I were thrilled to discover we’d been placed in Laura Sue’s Suite, a four-room extravagance including a sitting room, and a sun room with southern exposure. Although we were reluctant to depart our suite, we descended the stairs to get to our duties.
Laura Sue told us our responsibility was to decorate the Ladies’ Parlor. As the two of us began unloading boxes and boxes (and boxes) of decor, other decorators arrived. We eventually formed a motley crew of 13 holiday helpers.
The word “Victorian” must translate to “more is always better.” Nutcrackers numbered over one-hundred fold. Icicle ornaments. Bulbs. Angels. Garlands. Wreaths. Greenery, Flowers, tinsel…aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! It was like a Christmas explosion of merriment.
My companion and I decorated for about two hours, and then joined the rest of the crew for a quick bite of pizza. We made small talk and learned a bit about one another. (I had a mental flash to the movie version of the board game, “Clue.” Remember it? An eccentric group of characters are thrown together in a mansion, someone gets offed, and they must figure out which one of them did the nasty deed. Yes, just like that, without the murder.)
We returned to our assigned rooms and continued decorating until 10 p.m., when Laura Sue insisted we stop until the next day. She indicated she thought we were really speeding along and were ahead of schedule. We all agreed to meet for breakfast Saturday morning at 8 a.m. Delightful breakfast service and delectable grub! We had a choice of a ham strata, apple delight with fruit compote, or crepes. In addition, we were regaled with freshly baked pumpkin bread, pecan french toast, juices, and coffee.No longer strangers, but rather united in a decorating sisterhood, laughter and conversation freely flowed. We hit the decorating hard from 9 a.m. until 11:45 a.m., and then stopped for lunch. Each person had brought snack items and we grazed until it was time to resume our tasks. I could see we were actually making progress by now. Chandeliers dripped with cherry red Christmas bulbs, garlands, and peacock feathers. Wreaths hung gaily in the conservatory windows. Christmas trees, big and small, twinkled merrily throughout the rooms.
We were offered the opportunity to take a side trip to the Pabst Mansion in the afternoon. Half of the group went and enjoyed it very much. I was among the other half who had decided to stay, continue decorating, and be done sooner. My companion and I switched out the everyday china and replaced it with the holiday china. We formally set the breakfast tables, and helped decorate the dining room. About 4 p.m., Laura Sue stopped and announced, “I think we are done.” Woot! WHOOP! Great joy all around. Not only were we done, we were ahead of schedule.
For our celebration we adjourned to a local pub named Oscar’s Bar & Grill. We had juicy, greasy, wonderful burgers with some thirst-quenching brews. We talked, and talked, and talked some more. Back home at the Mansion, people seemed loathe to retire to their rooms, even though we were all exhausted. We retired to the festive Ladies’ Parlor, shared some wine, and some stories.One by one, we eventually drifted upstairs to settle in for a long winter’s nap, for we didn’t have to arise early to decorate! We slept in a bit on Sunday morning, and then enjoyed breakfast at 8:30 a.m. Since we’d been advised to “leave when we like,” we left the Schuster Mansion about 10:45 a.m.
Bottom Line: Was it worth it? YES. We had a good time and made some new friends with people we wouldn’t have known in “our real lives.” We helped decorate a beautiful mansion with decorations that will be seen and enjoyed by hundreds of guests this holiday season. Want to be a part of the fun next year? Keep your eye on the Schuster Mansion webpage for details!
As they say, “what goes up, must come down.” Truism. Just as people flock to hang the mistletoe at the Schuster Mansion prior to Christmas, other volunteers flock to the manse to “undecorate” and pack away the mistletoe. Undecorating will take place on Saturday, January 12, 2013, with helpers receiving a free one-night stay. (And, yes, it takes more time to hang decorations than to take them down.) It is already “sold out.”
Interesting fun fact: The Schuster offers a traditional Victorian High Tea for $28 per person. Details, “Come sip 7 kinds of teas, as well as eat lunch with savories, scones and sweets. A bit of entertainment and a tour of the mansion. Reservations are a must – $28.00 per person (Tax included – not Tip).” Each month features a different topic and in the past has included talks on women’s fashions and lifestyles of the late 1800s. More information.
Address: 3209 W Wells Street, Milwaukee
Innkeepers: Rick & Laura Sue