I really should really know better. Luxury hotels in the Caribbean are for honeymooners, not solo travelers. I would have been better off at the Westin and I bet the wifi would have been faster too. But I was so pulled in by the Eden Roc Cap Cana. The photos online, the reviews, the private pool…everything was so tremendous that once my overworked brain found a (relatively) good deal on Splendia, I had to book it. And I did book it. And I confirmed with them my name and that I was traveling alone for a few days before my cousin’s wedding and wanted some peace and quiet to hang out and brush off the jetlag.
Still, the envelope in my room read “Mr & Mrs. Passportdelicious” and everywhere I went, the staff wanted to know if my husband was joining me. “Nope, it’s just me,” I would chirpily reply before delving into whatever dish or cocktail they put down in front of me.
Traveling solo in some parts of the world requires firm belief in oneself. Yes, it does.
I wanted to like Eden Roc. And I did, kinda. But it wasn’t my favorite hotel ever which at this price, it really should have been. (There’s a Grand Hyatt in Doha that currently holds pole position.) Here are my pros and cons of my stay at The Eden Roc Cap Cana…
I loved the golf cart that came with my villa. Me and the golf cart had a lot of good times, driving around Cap Cana, checking out the new construction.
The bartenders in the bar were the sweetest and nicest to me and made me all sorts of lovely rum concoctions.
The bath products in the room were really really nice and in plentiful supply.
The TV in the room was huge. If you’re into that sort of thing.
The beach was lovely and small and private. People online complain about this, but I really liked it.
I got a really good gel manicure at the spa.
I had a “private” plunge pool.
Cool iPad that controlled the lights in the room. (Although sometimes, I just wanted a switch.)
The hotel slippers were cute and green.
No Dominican rum in the minibar! Seriously…where am I??
Staff on the beach were fairly absent and had shorter-term memories than I do. I just wanted some water. One day, it never arrived. The next, it arrived ages later.
The pool area was seriously lacking in atmosphere and waitstaff, although the club leading into the pool was gorgeous and the staff there were friendly and nice.
Dearth of bottled water. You are not supposed to drink the tap water at Eden Roc but you’ll be lucky if you get two bottles of Dasani a day. Small bottles.
Late-running turn-down service. I was ready to crash by 8 pm and turn-down still hadn’t arrived by then, meaning I missed out on additional bottled water. (I suppose I could have called and asked for some, but I didn’t.)
$20 surcharge for room service. Seriously? I think when you’re paying this much for a hotel room, $20 extra for room service is a joke. Especially when there are golf carts.
My gel manicure cost $65 USD.
SLOW wifi, particularly during peak periods at breakfast and dinner. Again, if you’re paying this much for a hotel, the wifi better be the super-super-fast kind. (My speed tests at Hotel Wifi Test — my new favorite website — came in at a very average 2.5 mbps.)
My private pool was surrounded by wasps. Also, re the “privateness” of the “private” pool, anyone could have walked into the pool area at any time. And indeed they did, on my first morning when they were cutting the grass and spraying for bugs and on the 2nd morning when they were cleaning the pool.
Housekeeping took at least one hour to clean my villa. Yes, I counted. I came back from the beach one afternoon to see that housekeeping was inside my villa. So I drove around and around and around on the golf cart waiting for them to leave. Finally, after an hour, I gave up and just went inside. They needed about ten minutes before and then they were done.
Food was only so-so. At this price, I wanted to be wowed. I wasn’t.
So in the end…would I do it all over again? No. I mean, the golf cart was fun but I bet I could have equal fun somewhere else for a lot less money. The golf cart was just a bonus. Pay attention to my upcoming post on my stay in Santo Domingo for more on this topic.
A recent spate of hotel stays has me thinking about the little things that bother me in hotels these days. When I’m in a hotel, I want an escape! I don’t want to be annoyed. Here’s what’s been bothering me lately. What bothers you?
No clocks: Where are they in hotels? Are we that reliant on our iPhones that hotels don’t need clocks anymore? I find this particularly annoying when I am getting ready before a big day of meetings. I want to keep one eye on the clock as I am ironing, blow-drying, etc. Impossible in a lot of hotel rooms today. Why?
Safes that are small and poorly positioned: If a safe doesn’t fit a laptop these days, what’s the point? I’ve seen some safes that can only fit a wallet and a cell phone. Safes should also be installed at eye level. During my recent hotel stay in Manchester, England the other weekend, the safe was maybe 18 inches off the ground. A pain in the ass. I learned the downsides of low safes the hard way back in Singapore last year; I left one of my camera lenses in the safe and the cost to FedEx it back to me in the US was more than the value of the lens. (So I let the hotel keep it.)
Expensive hotel wine: Hey, sometimes I just want a glass of wine at the end of a long day. If you’re going to charge me $18 USD for a glass of wine, I’m going elsewhere.
Internet I have to pay for: In this day and age, you shouldn’t have to pay for Internet. Okay okay…if you want to do that thing where the 2.5 mbps connection is free and the 25 mbps connection requires payment, I’m okay with that. But don’t make me pay for slow.
No outlets by the bed: When I travel, I’ve got my iPhone, my iPad and multiple cameras that all have batteries that need to be charged. I like to keep everything I’m charging all together so I don’t lose anything. Give me ONE SOCKET by the bed that’s not under a damn nighstand, please!
No bottled water: I just need one bottle. Just one. Generally, I’m okay with drinking tap. But in some countries, I’d prefer not to. I’d really like to have at least one bottle available for free.
Beds that dip: I carted a mattress around the world for nearly 20 years. It was still a perfectly fine mattress when I got rid of it before I moved back to the UK. No dips. Why do hotel beds dip so much? Do elephants stay in hotels and have a lot of sex?
No slippers: I do not like hotel carpet. How frequently do you think they deep-clean hotel carpets? Not often enough, in my opinion. I bring my own flip-flops generally but I appreciate hotel slippers.
No hooks in the bathroom: Sometimes I wonder how other people live. Do you just throw all your sh*t on the floor when you take a shower? I like to hang things up. I need at least one hook. Preferably two.
Shower curtains: I hate shower curtains, particularly in hotels. They always manage to smell like mildew.
No conditioner: I guess hotels cater more to the male business traveler who apparently doesn’t need conditioner. I need conditioner, or otherwise, my hair looks like a rat’s nest. I’ve taken to bringing my own small bottle, but really, I would prefer not to.
Chintzy towels: Hotel towels should be nicer than my towels at home. I must have really good towels because even though I use them daily and wash them twice a week, they are still in excellent shape. What happens to hotel towels that makes them so chintzy??
Unpredictable maid service: Sometimes, you knock on my door at 8 am and want to clean my room. Sometimes, you don’t show up until 4 pm. I would ideally like to live in a world where I know approximately what time maid service will arrive. Is there an app for that?
Pricey hotel laundry: Washing my drawers should not cost me $6. Even $3 is a bit pricey. Hotels should have a washer and dryer available for guest use!
I plan on updating this list frequently. I might even add your contributions! Talk to me people…what bothers you about hotels these days?
Over the Christmas holidays, I read my friend Matt Kepnes’ book, How to Travel the World on $50 a Day. I first met Matt back in 2009 in Chicago at a mini travel-blogging conference after BlogHer. He was — and is — living the life that most of us can only dream of, traveling the world and running a successful website all at the same time. Matt, if you ever need a personal assistant, you just let me know.
You should definitely check out Matt’s book if you have a chance. It made me think a bit differently about the things I spend money on when traveling, and that alone made it worth the £9.74 investment. So when I was looking for a hotel in Helsinki, rather than my usual large business-class hotel that earns me points or the luxury boutique hotel with expensive soap and iPhone chargers and bluetooth speakers, I went with the design-led-but-still-cheap Hotel Helka at £59 a night. And while that’s certainly not the $50 a day that Matt gets away with, it was a lot better than the £150 a night I probably would have spent otherwise. Matt, it only took me six years to adopt your principles, but I’m getting there!
I also experimented with a new booking site in making my reservation. It’s called Kaligo.com and their (very good) gimmick is that you can earn additional frequent flyer miles with your booking. This was my compromise with myself…cheaper hotel, but get more miles. Plus, I booked my stay using my BA Amex so I got even more miles there. I have the BA Amex Premium Plus Card, which gets you 1.5 Avios for every £1 you spend and 3 Avios for every £1 you spend direct with British Airways or BA Holidays.
Back to Kaligo…here is how they describe themselves on their About page…
A brand you can trust and enjoy, Kaligo.com is a leading global hotel booking platform that rewards customers with incredible miles & points across a wide range of favourite loyalty programs.Launched in 2014, Kaligo offers great rates and a large selection of 300,000 properties across more than 200 countries.
While I saw lots of attractive offers on Kaligo.com for my Helsinki stay — two nights at the Hilton Helsinki boasted 3200 British Airways Avios — per previous, I chose the much more moderate Helka Hotel, which included a bonus of 700 Avios. I was very focused on saving money this trip and The Helka cost me just 59 quid a night. Kaligo’s confirmation noted that I should receive my Avios within six weeks after my stay. I just checked my Executive Club statement and the 700 Avios arrived five business days after I checked out of the hotel.
I can’t think of a reason for not using Kaligo for all my hotel bookings now. If I can get extra miles…why not??? (Although please note that booking through Kaligo may mean you can’t otherwise earn points on your stay.) Sure, I am also a member of Expedia’s Reward Program in the U.S. but to be honest, I have totally no idea how it works. (Fodder for further investigation, of course.)
I liked the Helka overall, but I will admit…I missed my luxury bath products. Also, the bed was not the most comfortable one I’ve ever slept in. That being said, the hotel breakfast was awesome — why is it that tourist class hotels include breakfast but luxury hotels do not? The bar area was also pretty cool. I basically tried to spend as little time as possible in my hotel room.
Here’s my little video tour of The Helka…
So in summary…I would definitely use Kaligo.com again for sure. And, thanks to Matt and his book, I will definitely be more price-sensitive when choosing hotels in the future. More money to spend on me!! And all the Marimekko and Iittala in Finland…
Check out these other articles for more details on Kaligo.com:
Things happen in your life that you don’t expect. Like your father moving to Tampa. The west coast of Florida is full of Harley Davidsons and mustaches and motorcycle cops. My dad is a khaki -and linen shirt kind-of guy who likes to dance the mambo. Hmmmm. But here he is, in Tampa. And British Airways actually flies direct from Tampa to London so here I am too.
Downtown Tampa is a city that time forgot. I try to take a walk around town and it depresses me. Maybe I’m in the wrong part of town. I hear the museums in Tampa are great. But there are a lot of homeless men on bicycles and frankly, I’m not feeling too comfortable. I go to the drugstore, CVS, to stock up on particulars, and a down-on-his-luck-kind-of-guy follows me around and spends a little too long staring at my purse. He hasn’t seen a shower in a long time.
But my hotel, Le Meridian, is lovely. Really really lovely. I’ve booked it on Starwood points, the best points ever, and all is good with the world. It’s a little like Design Within Reach threw up in the lobby of this former courthouse, but hey, I can’t get enough of Herman Miller or Knoll myself so there’s that. Jason at the front desk is the loveliest of chatterers and offers me a free drink voucher at the bar after I check in. My room service breakfast is a little late one morning, and the *gloriously* well-dressed restaurant manager delivers my poached eggs and polenta himself and then tells me it’s all on the house. Life is good.
Tampa is a puzzle. Given how full my returning flight to London is, many people must like it here. Next time, I’ll stay a little longer and see some more things. Maybe drag my dad to a museum or two. We shall see. But one thing is for sure…I will definitely be returning to Le Meridian. It’s pretty gorgeous.
$465 (garden view king) Inc 10% service Ex 18% tax
$880 Ex taxes and fees of 24.5%
$895 (oceanfront) Ex taxes and fees of 25.8%
$589 Ex 10% service Ex 18% tax
$620 (oceanview) Ex 10% service Ex 18% tax
$635 (garden view king) Inc 10% service Inc 18% tax
My step-cousin is getting married in the Dominican Republic in 2015. I am pretty excited about this because I know I will be ready for a beachy holiday soon. I have always said I am not a beach person, but after falling in love with the Bahamas these last few years, I am a convert. I love love love (love) turquoise water. Instantly calming. I don’t need to lie on the beach. I just need to look at it.
We had to book the hotel for the wedding way, way, way in advance. My family is flying in from New York and Florida and my original idea was to fly to either JFK or PBI or FLL (we try to avoid MIA) and meet them there and then fly onwards to the DR with everyone. I didn’t really like this idea though because I knew I would be a jetleggad mess for the entire trip and it would probably mean a lot of waiting around in airports. BUT THEN…I discovered that British Airways flies direct to the Dominican Republic from London! Score. Done. So I’m flying in a few days before everyone to relax and become a normal, non-jetlagged person. I could stay at the hotel for the wedding…but I get bored after more than a few days in one hotel.
So I decided I needed a hotel for a solo stay where I could rest my weary, jet-lagged head before the party began. The tricky thing about a lot of hotels in these sorts of places is that they are really geared towards honeymooning couples, so you need to stay away from the Sandals of the world. I started working on a spreadsheet of all my hotel choices. I love making spreadsheets. Long-term readers know I love math and I love data. I love to make tables to compare things.
Important criteria in selecting my hotel? You will laugh but they were “Design-ness,” “nice beach,” and “nice pool.” I was slightly price agnostic because I wanted a treat. I’m also not a huge fan of all-inclusive (lots and lots of mediocre food), so that wasn’t important either.
I started searching, using the site with the broadest range of hotels: TripAdvisor. Originally, I had 11 hotels on the list. 11! I will spare you the gory details. For the purposes of this piece — to show you the pretty large price differential between booking sites — let’s say my three top choices for a two night stay from May 4th through May 6th are…
Eden Roc at Cap Cana
Tortuga Bay Hotel Punta Cana
Zoetry Agua Punta Cana
In looking at these three properties on different booking sites, I was pretty surprised by what I found.
Firstly, taxes and fees are tricky. You REALLY have to read the fine print to see what’s included. It’s not consistent within a site or across properties. Jetsetter was even more strange because they never clearly write out what the tax rate is and what the service charge is. They just give you a “taxes and fees” line item to look it and I just deduced the overall percentage from there.
So I found myself making two tables. The first included the list price per night along with whether taxes or fees were included. Then I created a new second table. This table included the full price (with taxes and fees) along with any other details I could glean from the site about what was included in the rate.
Also hard…making sure you are comparing the same room type. For example, if you look at the column for the Tortuga Bay hotel, Jetsetter only offered the high-priced ocean-front room, not the cheaper ocean-view room. Sometimes, like with Zoetry Agua, the price gap between booking sites was so huge, I had to assume I was missing something regarding the room type I was comparing.
Not included in my analysis…whether or not the rate was a non-refundable rate, which generally gets you a discount. I am going to the DR come hell or high water, so I didn’t care too much about whether a rate was non-refundable or not. I just looked for the cheapest rate overall. That’s what’s included in my table above.
Extra amenities were hard to discern on each site. For example, I really had to look hard to determine whether or not breakfast and airport transfers were included . To make this sort of comparison — along with the comparison of the “all in” price I mention above — here is the second table I created.
$1126.40 Breakfast included.
$992 (oceanview) Breakfast included.
$357.12 (garden view king) All inclusive.
$1126.40 Breakfast included. Round-trip transfer included. Golf-cart included.
$793.60 (oceanview) Breakfast included. Round-trip transfer included. Golf-cart included.
Expedia made very little mention of any extras — if they did include round-trip transfers, for example, I couldn’t find mention of them in the fine print. And why did some hotels seem to include golf carts in their rates on some sites but not others? I was confused.
In the end though, what I enjoyed about my analysis is that for each hotel, there was definitely value to my comparison shopping and comparison analysis. If I had booked, for example, Zoetry Agua on Splendia’s site and seen the Expedia rate later, I would have been really ANGRY. Likewise, if I had booked Eden Roc on Expedia and then seen Splendia’s rate, I also would have been angry. A very interesting exercise all around. You’ll have to wait a few months to see if I ended up at any of these properties. But my point is…SHOP AROUND.
Other things that I didn’t do but I should have:
Gone direct to the properties and checked their prices.
Checked all the prices for each hotel listed on TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor has that neat feature where it will show you which sites offer the hotel and what the rate is.
Any other thoughts? What are your favorite booking sites? Travel agents? Tips for getting the best rate?
Important caveat about everything I wrote above: Hotel prices change regularly. I ran my searches the morning of December 21st, US time. If you try to reproduce my results, you may be unsuccessful. Also, although I tried to be really organized in my data collection, it did get a bit confusing at times. If you think I’ve made an error, let me know and I will review.