Is An “Upscale” or Resort Hotel Really Worth the Price?
When five people travel together, it can be a rather expensive adventure, especially when three of them are your own children. As my husband and I travel, we do our best to find places to go that aren’t overly expensive, but are both fun and enjoyable for all. Our favorite things to do as a family are to go swimming and go to the beach, which can be quite expensive even at the lowest priced places (a.k.a. cheap). Every now and then, though, we will splurge, just to get a specific amenity that may not be available elsewhere, like an indoor pool. So, after a quick March weekend get-away at the Westin Hilton Head Resort, we asked ourselves, “Is it really worth it?”
Here we were at the beginning of March and everyone had a bit of the winter blues combined with a touch of Spring Fever. We had the notion on Thursday morning to go to the beach and we needed a place that was within driving distance on Friday afternoon. We knew it was Spring Break time for many colleges and the “Redneck Riviera” just wasn’t all that appealing to us - we wanted to take our girls somewhere different. It was also cold, which meant we’d need a place with an indoor pool, just in case it was too cold to be outside. So, we settled on Hilton Head Island, did a bit of research and found a hotel with an indoor pool right on the beach.
Being the tech-savvy couple that we are, we made our reservations via the Internet, through a link on the Upromise website so we could accumulate college savings rewards for our girls. We chose one room with two double beds, including a request for a rollaway. We entered all the pertinent data – 2 adults and 3 children, ages 16, 13, & 10. Price? $149 plus taxes, plus a $10 “daily resort fee” charged by all the hotels in the area. Sure it would be a little cramped, but it was only for two nights and the most important thing was getting away.
Once we hit the road Friday afternoon/evening, we called the hotel to let them know we’d be arriving late and to verify their late check-in policy. No problems there, but the person at the front desk noticed that we asked for a roll away and promptly informed us that they couldn’t do that in a room with two double beds. Something about the fire Marshall having a conniption fit. So, after a quick talk with the manager, we revised our reservation to two connecting rooms, one king plus our original. Price? Now we were up to $149 for the first room and $129 for the extra room, plus taxes, plus all the other fees. The two rooms now were costing us $278 per night, when a Junior Suite costs $269. Unfortunately, they won’t allow five people to stay in a Junior Suite either. Well, it was just going to have to do and it would be a good thing for the adults to have a little privacy. Besides, it was too late to cancel now – we would lose our money from the first room and we were already on our way.
Upon arrival at the hotel around 11:00pm, we checked in quickly and received instructions on parking and finding the room. The hotel actually offered covered parking, which is a nice touch, but we had to walk a long way to get to the room. The elevator was on one side of the hotel and our room was on the other. Even when taking the stairs, it was still a long walk to the car, as the covered parking area only went under the front of the hotel. Yes, the hotel did offer luggage service to and from the rooms, but that is not within the budget of this family of five. We also tend to be the do-it-yourself types anyway, but there were no luggage carts available, so we each hauled our own suitcases and other items to the rooms.
Once we got our exercise for the day and made it into our rooms, we began to notice some of the other differences between the less expensive hotels and the “upscale” hotels. As we entered the rooms, they actually had real closets, not just an open area with a hanging bar. Each room also included two bathrobes for guest enjoyment (which were never used by any of us). The furniture was somewhat nicer too. The television was actually housed inside an entertainment center, instead of sitting on top of a dresser; the bed had a posted-bed look instead of the standard short headboard attached to the wall; and the bed linens were a crisp white, including down comforters and pillows – no tacky floral prints with matching curtains there. The big drawback for us was the refrigerator – it was completely stocked with snacks, drinks and spirits. If you took anything out, you were charged for it. There was no room for our personal beverages or possible mealtime leftovers (a.k.a. midnight snacks). We had to continue using our coolers, so we hiked our way to the ice machine, filled our coolers and settled in for the night.
After an interesting night’s sleep on those crisp white sheets, which really were crisp, as in stiff as a board, we awoke to the sun streaming into our room. The private balcony had provided enough privacy that closing the curtains was not necessary, but caffeine would prove necessary for me to be able to get out of bed. Sure the room offered complimentary coffee, but it was my least favorite coffee in the world – Starbuck’s. (YUK! I don’t know how people drink that stuff!) Give me some nice, generic hotel coffee and I’m happy. Fortunately, I had brought my own sweetener and the two rooms combined provided enough creamer to make the coffee drinkable. Next time, I’ll pack my instant, just in case.
At this point, you’re probably wondering about the mattresses themselves. Don’t worry. I’m getting there. The comfort level of the room left a little something to be desired as far as both the mattresses and the heat/air system are concerned. The mattresses really weren’t too bad. They were definitely thicker than the average and a lot more squishy that some, but we’re probably a little (make that a lot) on the picky side where that’s concerned. We have a sleep number bed at home, so we’re a little spoiled. As for the heat/air, you could only turn it on and set the temperature. You had no control as to whether it was in heat mode or air mode, and you couldn’t hear anyone talking over the noise of the fan. The room was too hot, too cold or just plain stuffy. We never found a comfortable point. One of those units where you press the different colored buttons is easier to use for regulating the temperature, either that or a regular thermostat. I don’t like being hot when I sleep and I don’t like being cold when I get out of the shower.
Speaking of the shower, it was nice. There wasn’t really anything special about it, but it did have a wide rim for shampoo bottles and the like along the back edge. Plus, the shower curtain rod was bowed out so the shower curtain didn’t get too close and stick to your body as you showered. (ICK!) These two things combined, made the shower area seem wider than most – a nice touch when you’re not toothpick thin. Unfortunately, this “nice” feature took away much-needed sink/counter area for a couple. I like to spread out my make-up and toiletries, which didn’t leave much room for my husband’s things. My husband also noticed something else – not only was the counter area smaller, but the sink was not near as large as the one at a Days Inn we stay in when we go to South Georgia. We couldn’t stand next to each other in front of the mirror over the sink either. Strange, maybe, but this was a big detractor for us. It made getting out of the room for the day take a lot longer.
Once we did get out of the room, it was so close to lunchtime that we opted to explore the island in search of a somewhat heavier breakfast, planning for an afternoon snack and an early dinner. We also needed to go to the grocery store – there was no way I was going to pay $2 to $5 for bottled water at the hotel, when the tap water was undrinkable and I could get it much cheaper at the local Kroger. I also thought the girls would enjoy some hot chocolate – our weekend excursion to the beach had turned out to be rather chilly. Popcorn would have been nice too, but with no microwaves in the rooms, it was rather pointless.
After our morning explorations of the local area, we decided to explore the hotel grounds – scoping out where we would spend our time in the sun and possibly breakfast the next morning. As with most hotels, the Westin provided multiple dining options. Unfortunately, we found that dining in the hotel restaurants would have been nearly as expensive as ordering room service, even though breakfast out had not been all that inexpensive ($50 including a $5 tip for the REALLY bad service). The grounds themselves were quite lovely, neatly manicured and well maintained, although we did notice that the interior of the hotel appeared to be in need of new paint – paint chips were prevalent everywhere.
After a quick trip to the beach itself, we opted to stay in the courtyard area - too much wind and not enough warmth for winter sunbathing. We found that the hotel provided two outdoor pools and one indoor pool, along with a hot tub and lots of deck area for lounging in the sun. Neither of the outdoor pools was heated, but the hot tub was nestled into a somewhat secluded area between the two, so you could spend some time outside in the water. On the other hand, the indoor pool was heated, but seemed to be a little on the chilly side, especially after being in the hot tub. Of course, my girls enjoyed it regardless, and my husband and I did get in for a little while later in the evening.
With hundreds of lounge chairs to choose from, we finally managed to find an area with lots of sun and very little breeze, making it perfect for our winter sunbathing. Our sixteen year old was in her bikini, along with the ten year old (trying to be just like her big sister). The thirteen year old (the one who is always hot) was bundled in her sweatshirt and towel, noting later that she was “freezing to death.” We were somewhere in between with sweatshirts and shorts for a brief period, but back to the long pants for a nap in the sun. It turned out to be a perfect day for reading or napping, while drinking hot chocolate to stave off the chill.
Once the sun started lowering on the horizon, we decided to head to our rooms, thaw our feet and get ready for our early dinner. After analyzing the eating situation, with seafood options and sticker shock possibilities, we chose an establishment that we knew from home. A chain whose offerings included the best steaks available, but also included some seafood sides to round out the selections and provide all five of us something we would enjoy (a feat in and of itself) – Outback. Not only would be almost guaranteed to have excellent food, but we also have a good idea how much it would cost long before we ordered. As with all Outback Steakhouses, it was a good thing we planned an early dinner, because it was already busy when we arrived, even though we didn’t have to wait for a table. And as we suspected, it was quite delicious and within our estimated cost range. It was definitely one of the few things worth the price.
While Outback was wonderful it really had nothing to do with our original question – Is an “upscale” or resort hotel really worth the price? Before answering that question, there are a few other things to cover – Internet access, views, elevators/stairs, fitness facilities, pets, vending machines and maid service.
As mentioned previously, we are a somewhat tech savvy couple. We both have laptop computers and enjoy taking them with us on trips. While many hotels don’t offer any Internet access at all, many of the mid-scale ones do offer free access, including a Hampton Inn and Suites in Augusta, Georgia. Not the Westin. Internet access would have cost $9.95 per 24-hour period, beginning when first logging onto it from the room. No Internet for us, but the laptop was handy for downloading pictures, which brings us to the views.
When I mentioned the private balcony earlier, I failed to mention that our view was one of trees and what seemed to be a golf cart path. If you tried really hard, you could see the water, way off through the trees. On the other hand, the beach provided some beautiful sunrise photo opportunities, including plenty of seagulls. You can see some here on my site.
While we had no problems with the elevators when we arrived at the hotel, we did have to wait quite a while to get onto one when we were trying to leave. My two younger daughters and I managed to get on the fourth elevator going down, while my husband and our eldest waited until the sixth one to go down - everyone seemed to be leaving at the same time. Also, our girls informed us that one of the other elevators in the hotel made some rather scary noises as they rode it back to our rooms one time. Most of the time, we used the stairs because it wasn’t worth waiting for an elevator or the walk would have been even further. One thing I should mention here, though, is that there were LOTS of stairs and that the stairs could be rather steep at times. While there were plenty of elevators and handicapped ramps, they weren’t always convenient to the specific areas where one might choose to go. For example, the indoor pool was on the opposite side of the courtyard from the handicapped ramp and there was no elevator anywhere close to its access points.
Along with the pools, there were fitness facilities that included weight machines, treadmills and such. There was also what appeared to be an aerobics or yoga room. While nice, they aren’t always family friendly – most are restricted to adult use only and since we were getting plenty of exercise on the steps anyway, we didn’t even bother looking at what was offered.
While we did not partake of this next benefit, it is of special note would be that the Westin Hilton Head Resort is a pet friendly hotel. Many hotels don’t even allow pets, but we often need such, as one of our dogs does not do well with sitters. The pet fee is in keeping with the fact that it is a resort - $100. Comparing this to the $10 or $15 we normally pay – well, you should get the picture.
As noted earlier, the rooms provided a fully stocked refrigerator of snacks. This in turn, means that there were no vending machines to be found anywhere on the hotel grounds. If you didn’t like what was in your refrigerator, tough – you could order room service or get in your car and find a local convenience or grocery store. Some people like Coca-Cola, some people like Pepsi. There are both in my household, but not in the hotel room refrigerator.
Now, we come to our final area for evaluation – Maid service. This can be a pet peeve for me, because I really like my privacy. When I leave the “do not disturb” sign on the door, I don’t want anyone going into my room. I don’t care if they know I’m not in the room - do not go into my room – period. The Westin failed miserably in this area. When we left for breakfast Saturday morning, the maid was outside in the hall. She asked us if we needed anything and we told her we did not. When we returned from breakfast, we immediately noticed that she had been in both of the rooms. That is the biggest violation of a guest’s privacy that I can envision and will probably be the deciding factor in our ever returning to any Westin hotel in the future. Not to mention its impact on the question at hand - Is an “upscale” or resort hotel really worth the price?
After evaluating all the factors, from the beds, bathrooms, and kitchenettes to the grounds, pools, views and other amenities, we have decided that it’s definitely not worth in excess of $600 for two rooms for two nights at this particular hotel, for our family. The deciding factors were the maid service (don’t ever go in my room when the do not disturb sign is on the door handle), the microwave/refrigerator (they must be available in all rooms), the vending machines (let me make my own choices, without the fear that my child will choose something when I’m not looking), and the restaurant prices at the hotel (“sticker shock” doesn’t even begin to describe it). Indoor pools are nice, but they are available at mid-scale hotels. Beachfront is nice too, but that too is available at the mid-scale hotels. Finding the two together is optimal, but not necessary, so we will make future travel plans with these thoughts in mind. Of course, we should probably do a little more analyzing and investigating before we determine if all of the “upscale” places aren’t worth it, but unfortunately, we’re a family on a budget and the “upscale” hotels just aren’t normally in our range, unless of course, someone else is paying. :-)