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January 26, 2009

What to Expect When Expecting a Good Hotel

Lounge
Be honest with yourself: Is this
your idea of roughing it?

by Ondine Cohane

Between November and April I tend to live a pretty nomadic lifestyle, traveling both for work and to visit friends and family. On a recent trip to the Mayan Riviera (as I mentioned in my last entry), I stayed in numerous places, both high-end and low-key, so I thought a lot about the importance of managing expectations when booking into a hotel.

I am comfortable in both luxury spots and more rustic getaways, but I'm frustrated by false advertising or heedless service. (Even if a place costs a couple hundred dollars, the people who work there should make sure guests are having a great time.) Before I commit, I take care to look for places that give a specific and accurate sense of what to expect, and then I make sure those descriptions match my needs and wants. So, how do you go about safeguarding your expectations before devoting time and money to a getaway?

Here are some tips:

* More often than not, when you hear word of a hotel opening, the news comes from someone who has found out about a noteworthy spot but hasn't yet seen the property. If you want more of a safety net, wait until a place has been reviewed in a list like Condé Nast Traveler's Hot List, where incognito writers fan out over the world and come back with the best openings of the year. Readers' choice awards and polls are a good secondary tool to editor and writer reviews. Keep in mind that smaller properties won't always make their way into polls, so don't rule them out if they don't appear.

* While TripAdvisor should not be your only evaluation tool, I do find it useful. If a place gets either extremely bad reviews or reviews that have a consistent theme (it's noisy, the service is snotty, the food is cruddy), it's something to pay attention to. One bad review may indicate a cranky traveler who is way off, but 20 usually signals a real problem.

* Finally, be honest about your own needs. Are you really still a maverick traveler, or did your vibe with hostel-like conditions disintegrate upon college graduation? Do you really like eco-chic places where the generator can go out at night, or is your idea of communing with nature more like a walk from your air-conditioned room to the pool along manicured trails? Do you want to go to an emerging destination where the hospitality sector is still uneven, or do you prefer to be in a well-oiled place with a long tradition of tourism?

We all have a responsibility: Hotels need to be honest about what they can and can't provide, travel writers and publications have a responsibility to provide honest evaluations, and travelers need to be realistic about their expectations. Personally, if I keep all of these things in mind, I end up pleasantly surprised--both in new destinations and those I know well.

Recession special: Food & Wine Trails, owned by Larry Martin and chosen this year by Condé Nast Traveler as the world's top wine cruise travel specialist, has announced discounts and cruise credits of up to $1,000 per person for some of its 2009 wine cruises. Look for the July 4 to July 14 cruise with Franciscan and Simi wineries, the July 14 to July 25 cruise hosted by Napa Valley's Silenus Vintners, and Robert Mondavi's cruise from September 4 to 16. Also, the Food & Wine Trails brochure say that "prices start at $2,349 per person including free round-trip airfare," and "bookings made by March 1 will receive prepaid gratuities worth up to $396." Go here and then click on "Winter 2009" to read the newsletter and find out more about these deals.

Further reading:
* Wendy reveals what you need to know before you nab a so-called cruise "deal" on the Perrin Post.
* Condé Nast Traveler's 2008 Hot List
* The 2009 Gold List: The best places to stay in the world, selected by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler
* Word of Mouth: The buzz worldwide

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Prices and other information were accurate at press time, but are subject to change. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.

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