Does booking through Hotwire or Priceline affect the quality of your accomodations?

The Good: Palmer House Chicago Loop

Over time I have been an avid user of Hotwire and on occasion Priceline Name Your Own Price. Obviously, I chose them to save money against their fellow online travel booking engines the likes of Orbitz and Travelocity or booking with the hotel chain directly (e.g. Hilton, Marriott, etc). As you know if you have ever used either Hotwire or Priceline, the name of the hotel you book is not revealed until the sale is final. If you are unhappy with the selection,  no changes can be made to such bookings short of a decree from God (just kidding, well kind of). In my case, not knowing the hotel ahead of time has worked out well at times (Chicago), but at other times (Ft. Lauderdale) as they say in German nicht so gut. Using Hotwire or Priceline can be a rather hit or miss endeavor, even when one uses the additional features provided by the sites such as star ratings, customer satisfaction percentage, and customer reviews.

The Bad: Ocean Sky Resort Ft. Lauderdale

But I digress to the main point of my post. Does one compromise their chances of a quality room when booking with Hotwire or Priceline Name Your Own Price? Through a synthesis of personal and other people’s experience (both acquaintances and 3rd parties unknown to me via travel forums such as fodors and tripadvisor) the reviews are mixed. More times than not it appears to be a matter of capacity. If the hotel is rather full, one should expect to receive lesser accomodations than his/her fellow guest who has paid more via an online hotel booking site such as Expedia or the hotel directly. Another factor could be the duration of your stay as one night surely will not carry as much bargaining weight as say a 3 or 4 night stay. Ultimately it becomes a matter of cost benefit analysis. Does having a small room dramatically decrease your enjoyment of the hotel or is sacrificing square footage worth it in terms of the hotel’s value regarding price, amenities, and location as was the case for me in Chicago?

The Ugly: Ocean Sky Resort Ft. Lauderdale

There are a couple of things you can do to prepare yourself for a Hotwire booking stay. Of course use their features of map, star rating, customer satisfaction rating, and customer reviews to make the best possible choice prior to booking. After booking and the name of the hotel is revealed, look for them on twitter, begin following them, and send them a message informing them of your upcoming stay. When checking in ask them what the capacity level of the hotel is so that if the room you are assigned is substandard and the capacity is less than full, you have a bargaining chip. Finally, tweet both positive and negative impressions of the room directly to the hotel using a hashtag before its name so it is public in the twitterverse. These are some of the steps I have taken to improve the quality of my stays via Hotwire and Priceline Name Your Own Price bookings. I would love to hear from you about other effective means to ensure the best accommodations when booking with the aforementioned companies.

Happy Hotel Hunting!

Cheyenne Mountain Resort-Colorado Springs

So my wife and I stretched out our Labor Day holiday over two weekends in order to find good value. We spent a night during the second weekend in Colorado Springs at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort. Honestly, I had booked the hotel rather quickly the night before and utilized Hotwire in order to do so. This of course meant that I didn’t choose this hotel specifically, but rather through a series of criteria such as star listing (4 stars), location, overall customer satisfaction (90%), and specific guest reviews. The price was excellent at around $90 I believe, and the guest reviews left me feeling confident it would be a good choice. After booking, when the name of the hotel was revealed to me, I immediately recognized it from researching possible stays for the previous New Years Eve festivities. That being the case, I definitely felt intrigued to know what this hotel resort was all about. 

We checked in around four or so, a little late for my taste, but which coincidentally coincided with the actual check-in time of the hotel. I don’t like how mountain hotels, or in this case foothill hotels, present such a late check-in time. I think it is a rip-off that we get considerably less than a full 24 hour stay. After checking in we had to get into our car again and drive to another part of the resort. The rooms are essentially positioned into mini-compounds providing a de facto barrier between the main hall/pool area and that of the Colorado Country Club immediately to the south. 

I found our room to have a nice layout and decor. It had a balcony with a cute patio table and chairs to enjoy the fresh air. However the view from there was less than stellar as our angle only provided a driveway underneath and a barren field across the way. The room itself displayed a floral motif with earthly tones that I found pleasing. Particularly nice were the curtains and bed headboards. Notice how I said “headboards”, that’s right you guessed it, the hotel expecting the Mrs. and I to share the room like a couple of college dorm mates. One of the casualties of booking through Hotwire I presume. What’s worse was the condition of the beds, suffering from what I call “weakitis.” The beds looked and felt wavier than the sea during high-tide. The night of sleep confirmed our fears, leaving my wife with a sore back in excess of a week. The rest of the accommodation was descent with a wet bar and mini-fridge next to the bathroom. The bathroom had separate areas for the sink and vanity, toilet, and shower, which is always a popular set-up for me.

The highlight of the amenities as far as I’m concerned was Sunday brunch. They provided so many wonderful options such as sea bass, prime rib, Oysters Rockefeller and so on. The desserts were absolutely delightful and all you can drink mimosas added a nice touch. Be prepared to shell out a little coin for the buffet, with each person costing $30 to partake. We didn’t have to eat for the rest of the day so consider that as well. The pool area was quaint but heavily invaded by kids. Actually all the common areas were invaded as such causing the wife and I irritation when we were enjoying drinks and dinner in the bar and adjoining patio all the while witnessing kids running and screaming around us. I just don’t understand how the hotel lets that happen, let alone parents!

All in all  I would concede 4 stars for the Cheyenne Mountain Resort had it not been for weak beds, children allowed in the bar area in the evening, and a general vibe of unhappiness portrayed by many of the clientele. If the hotel can improve in those areas I have no qualms about rating it 4 stars, however being in its current state I would more likely rate it at 3 stars. The guests of the resort did have access to the adjacent country club for golf, tennis, and aquatic sports, which I must admit I only took advantage of its fitness center. So had I used more of those facilities my view perhaps would have changed, bumping it up to 3 1/2 stars. Regardless one non-negotiable remains, a 4 star establishment must furnish comfortably firm bedding!

A View from Manitou

Since we were only able to stay over for one night in Beaver Creek during Labor Day Weekend, we decided to make another overnight jaunt to Colorado Springs the following Saturday. We stayed at a place called the Cheyenne Mountain Resort, which I am planning to review next week. For now I wish to discuss a side excursion we made that Sunday before coming home to a cool little hippy town a few miles west of Colorado Springs. It’s name is Manitou Springs.


My wife and I have only lived in Colorado for four years but my understanding from the locals is that Manitou Springs is what Boulder used to be before it became overran by yuppies. That is to say a laid-back town at the foot of the Rockies with quaint little shops and cafes. A stew of various lifestyles co-habitating the same locale harmoniously without trying to impose their worldview onto others. My wife and I happily consumed all that we could see and hear in those few blocks of downtown Manitou Springs’ shopping and dining district. We felt so reinvigorated by its tranquil and pleasant surroundings.We were surprised by how much Manitou Springs reminded us of our former life in New Mexico. Some of the structures featured adobe-style facades and many shops specialized in selling Native American arts and crafts. It was like we had been teleported instantaneously to Gallup or Taos. Then in another instance, my wife would be taken back to her childhood in Sao Paulo, by the presence of little alleyways with other speciality shops. Manitou Springs even provided entertainment in the form of an old school midway, complete with  games like skeet ball and video games  drudged up from the depths of who knows where. Finally, the downtown area showcased a park with a children’s jungle gym and a little stage for performances while hugging the path of a beautiful little stream cutting its way through the town center.

I highly recommend an excursion to Manitou Springs if one is visiting Colorado Springs or even Denver for that matter. It is a perfect place to soak in some rays besides a lovely stream and accompanying flora. The shops and cafes are unique and inviting while the people remain laid-back and chill. If you like visiting hippy-esque communities during your travel escapades, consider dropping by Manitou Springs the next time you are in the area. You won’t be disappointed.

Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa


The Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa is a solid 4-star option for your mountain retreat. The location is ideal as it sits at the base of the mountain and hugs Beaver Creek Village. Many of the rooms face slope-side with small balconies attached  for your viewing and fresh air breathing pleasure. Speaking of the views, when I stepped on the balcony, I was immediately impressed with the water recreation amenities. Below our room lay the pool area complete with a medium sized pool, five jacuzzis, and a multitude of recliners to lounge comfortably. Now, any one who has spent time in the mountains in the Summer knows that the air temperature is much cooler than its valley counterpart. To adjust for this discrepancy, the pool remains heated while it is open. I happened to test out how heated the pool in fact was, being a day in the mid-60′s, and became pleasantly surprised by the luke-warm water. The pool  even featured a partitioned lane for lap swimming, in which I happily indulged.

Our room displayed a delightful decor of dark stained wooden doors, tan walls, and mix-match of chairs and ottomans. There were a few pieces of tasteful hotel quality artwork, and an oversized dresser with a standard flat screen t.v. on top. The previously mentioned balcony was the rooms greatest feature in my estimation. Now on to the not-so-hot side of things; the bed, my kingdom for a

Notice the “waviness” of the mattress.

 proper bed. My wife immediately noticed upon entering the room that the bed appeared wavy. Which later on we confirmed as not having the firmness of a quality mattress. To complicate matter further the pillows were limp, my head sinking through them like a knife slices warm butter. I can put up with a variety of small nuances during my stay at any particular accommodation, but one non-negotiable remains, a good night’s rest. Unfortunately our bed at the Park Hyatt was unable to fulfill this requirement, thus leading me to lower its overall rating 1/2 of a star to 4 stars despite how it is presented as a 4 1/2 star at Expedia, and the likes. I will say to Hyatt’s credit that when I tweeted to their handle Hyatt Concierge regarding my dislike for the bed and pillows, they quickly responded apologizing for it and offering me an upgrade on my next stay at a Hyatt.

Other features worth noting at the Park Hyatt include a descent, yet pricey restaurant, a fitness center, which unfortunately I was not able to utilize due to my poor night’s sleep, game area, and fire pits where guests are treated to nightly s’mores and roasted marshmallows. This hotel definitely caters to families but thankfully children weren’t running around wild which so often occurs at family hotels. Finally, the customer service was excellent from the bell hops to the front desk attendants to the restaurant/bar staff. They were always pleasant and very accommodating. To wrap things up I would like to pose a question to you, the readers. Do you find that the caliber of mountain hotels are the same or different to those in city centers?

Beaver Creek Village

Last week’s post talked about how I found a last minute Labor Day Deal to Beaver Creek, a ski village next to the town of Avon, CO and only 8 miles away from Vail. Despite living in Denver now going on 5 years, it was my first visit to Beaver Creek. We arrived at our destination, The Park Hyatt Beaver Creek around 3:00 p.m. on Sunday. The drive in being relatively smooth with sparse traffic and the occasional brief rain shower to cool things down and give an autumn-like feel to the air. Even some of the trees had began changing colors, which is quite early for this time of year. I attribute this premature phenomenon to the rather hot and dry Summer we have had and are still experiencing. 
Upon pulling up to valet at the Park Hyatt (which was included free in this smashing deal), the attendant welcomed us and advised us that we still had a few hours left to enjoy Beaver Creek’s rendition of Oktoberfest. What an added bonus! My wife and I thought as we surrendered our car to the attendant,grabbed our bags, and gave the gentleman a small tip for his services. My wife waited in the lobby as I checked in at the front desk. The front desk attendant, a nice young lady, found my reservation instantaneously but was trying to assess me the $25 resort fee, contrary to what the travelzoo deal had offered. Thinking ahead of time that this may occur, I pulled out documentation of the offer displaying in print the waived resort fee, with which the attendant happily obliged. My wife and I took the elevator up to the third floor, locating our room with ease. While freshening up and getting ready for the Oktoberfest, I took pictures of the room and of the view for this blog. Nowadays I make sure to do that first as it is a hassle to make the room look presentable later on. 
It was so great to eat German street food! The little village square was littered with booths selling everything from bratwurst to Göstl, a sort of hot salad with potatoes, pork, and cabbage. There were also traditional German pastries of which I cannot recall the names at this time and of course hundreds of people carrying around traditional steins of German and local Colorado beer. For those that don’t know, Colorado is a mecca for great local craft beer!
In the center of the square a covered stage appeared, where traditional German music and dances were being held. Many in the crowd danced to their heart’s content and the general vibe was one of tranquil enjoyment I must say. I couldn’t think of a better way to wrap up this Summer season. The most amusing part of the festival for me happened when children competed to make the best sound on the long Swiss horn, called an Alphorn. It surely looked like you needed a lot of wind to make that thing blow! The culminating event of the Oktoberfest involved a performance by the Bon Jovi cover band called Bad Medicine. I am not a cover band aficionado per se, but to me the band played well, sounding and looking eerily like John Bon Jovi. I wonder if they were local or actually toured nationally as a cover band. So all in all the Oktoberfest was a great kick-off to our Beaver Creek Labor Day Weekend festivities. Next time I will discuss our accommodations at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa. I leave you with this question to ponder; When and where was a memorable Oktoberfest you spent? 

Last Minute Labor Day Deal!

 

Beaver Creek , CO Landscape

Beaver Creek , CO Landscape (Photo credit: baba1627)

For the last two weeks I had been searching frantically for a Labor Day weekend trip into the Rocky Mountains. My two target were Steamboat Springs and Breckenridge. I tried a variety of searches through the usual suspects; Travelzoo Supersearch, Kayak, Expedia, Hotwire, and Priceline. I used different travel combinations such as leaving on Saturday and coming back on Monday, leaving on Friday and coming back on Sunday, and even shortening it to one night to offset the jacked-up hotel prices for the holiday weekend. That was just it, I couldn’t find a deal justified in my mind where the price of the hotel matched the value.

View at the Beaver Creek Village.

View at the Beaver Creek Village. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Tuesday of this week I had all but given up when a light shone at the end of the tunnel. I went back into Travelzoo and instead of using Supersearch, I went to Travel Deals, clicked on hotels, and then chose the Seattle and Mountain West region. Low and behold a deal had been found! There it was about three options down the page, a stay at the 41/2 star Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa at 60% off. Where the price showing at other travel search engines showed $259, we got it through this special for $109. In addition the deal offered free valet parking, a waived resort fee ($25) and 25% off spa treatments. All in all we are looking at a savings over $200 a night. The only catch was that the deal begins today, so we delayed our trip a little bit.  Regardless, I am just so pleased we were able to find something, this being one of the busiest travel weekends of the year. What was your most memorable holiday travel deal? Next week I will return to begin breaking down my stay at the Park Hyatt and the accompanying village of Beaver Creek.

New York, Baby! Pt.3: The New York Public Library

Front Entrance of the New York Public Library Schwarzman Building between 40 and 42nd St and 5th Avenue

When most people thing of the top tourist spots of New York, they are immediately consumed with images of the Empire State Building, Central Park, Rockefeller Center, Grand Central Terminal and the like. Having a solid three weeks to reflect upon my personal touristic highlights of Manhattan, one particular experience rises above the rest. In the waning hours of my first expedition to the Big Apple, my wife and I paid a visit to an awesome place of learning known as the New York Public Library.

One of two lions guarding the front steps and entrance

What an unbelievable structure! When facing the entrance from the 5th Avenue sidewalk, one instantly notices two larger than life lions guarding both sides of the front steps. The massive building is done in a classical style, resembling a great structure from Ancient Greece or Rome. There were also absolutely ornate ceilings through out the library and rooms decked out with all types of canvas paintings, mostly old portraits by American standards by even a few artists I had heard of before. The library also showcased an original Gutenberg Bible, considered to be the oldest one known of in the New World. Despite being an older structure, the library was light an airy, providing a welcome reprieve from the humid August heat on the busy streets outside.

Main Hall of the library

If the library itself wasn’t enough to impress, a really cool free exhibit lay in wait on the main floor directly past the front entrance. The exhibit, called Lunch Hour, was a tribute to the history of lunch in New York City. It had relics and photos demonstrating street foods such as hot dogs and pretzels, the influence and spread of ethnic foods across the metro, and even the first type of “vending machine” dining that New Yorkers utilized for a quick meal on their lunch breaks. You may not think that a subject like lunch could captivate your interest, but my wife and I spent a good hour or so walking through the exhibit while learning a lot and being thoroughly entertained.

Ethnic Foods become more wide spread for lunch

The vending machine New Yorkers used in the 1st half of the 20th century

This last installment concludes my posts about my initial visit to New York. I must say going there I didn’t know what to expect but upon leaving I couldn’t help but wondering when I would return again. There is so much left to see and experience in the Big Apple. The next time I hope to get farther into Brooklyn as we only made it as far as Dumbo. So I would like to begin gathering ideas about what to do and see for my next visit there. What places or experiences are the most memorable for you regarding your travels to New York? Stay tuned for my next investigation into the Rocky Mountains once more for a little Labor Day Weekend R&R to a town that shall be revealed later.