Big Chains vs. Mom & Pop Hotels: Which Do You Prefer?
If you asked me on any given day whether I prefer to stay at a chain hotel or a mom & pop hotel or bed–and–breakfast, I’d probably answer that of course I’d rather support an independent business, especially a hotel that has lots of local flavor or that reflects the personality of the family that operates it.
But if you’d asked me this past weekend, when I checked my family into an independent resort on the Jersey shore, I probably would have answered, with a touch of snark, just the opposite. In this case, the catalyst was simple: When we arrived at our room, the bathtub was filled with sand. Presumably, this was the same beautiful white sand that adorned the beach just over the dunes, but borne via bathing suit or bare feet, it had lost most (okay, all) of its appeal on its journey from beach to bathroom. I was torn. A little sand never hurt anybody, right? But what ELSE had the staff failed to clean before our arrival? Overreacting just a touch, I ordered my daughters, “Don’t touch anything!” We asked to switch rooms and were accommodated immediately. Well done, in terms of customer service, or at least damage control.
But the minor insult stayed with me. We’ve been visiting this little shore town for about five years now. The beaches are gorgeous, the boardwalk is tidy and super–fun for the kids. The town has no chain hotels and, without exception, every stay has involved some kind of low–level inconvenience or discourtesy at a mom and pop establishment—mix–ups over check–out time, failure to deliver the complimentary breakfast they promised, or just ignoring our requests for extra towels. I found myself tossing aside my buy–local aesthetic and wishing that there was an affordable chain, like DoubleTree or Holiday Inn Express, on the beach. I would have gladly traded the homey décor and friendly staff for a measure of cookie–cutter predictability
In Budget Travel’s annual Readers’ Choice survey, our readers consistently tell us they, too, prefer the big chains. We’d love to hear more. What is it about a big chain hotel that attracts you?
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Argentina's Evita is Celebrated in New York
Calling all Evita fans, this year marks the 60th anniversary of the death of Eva Peron, the political activist, second wife of Argentinian President Juan Peron, and the most celebrated woman in Argentina. In honor of her death, the Evita Museum in Buenos Aires has brought portions of their exhibit to New York for the first time ever and the 1978 musical, Evita, has returned to Broadway. If you're in New York, check out the musical—it stars Ricky Martin and Elena Roger (who just so happens to be the first Argentinian actress to play the role of Evita on Broadway). Prices start at $67 for rear mezzanine seating and can be purchased in advance via Ticketmaster, but if you're looking to save money, you can also try for same-day discount tickets at one of the TKTS booths—there is one in at 47th street Times Square (it's located under the red steps), but I prefer the one in downtown Brooklyn as there are fewer crowds and you have a greater chance of scoring the tickets you want (get there by taking the A, C, F, or R to Jay Street-MetroTech and then walk to the corner of Jay Street and Myrthe Avenue). You can also see exhibits from the Evita Museum in Argentina, which are on display through September 28 at the Argentinian Consulate in New York (12 W. 56th St. between 5th and 6th Aves, cnyor.mrecic.gov.ar, open 10 A.M.-5 P.M. Mon-Fri). I strongly recommend it for anyone who is even remotely interested in Evita's legacy—it's free and there are at least 50 works on display, including paintings, photographs, and articles of Eva's clothing. Look for the portrait by Tiziano Fabris on the second floor (shown here)—it was painted on parquet flooring from one of the houses that Eva helped to build for the poor of Argentina. Heading to Argentina this year? Michael Luongo wrote a fantastic article in the New York Times this March detailing the best places to follow in Eva's footsteps in Buenos Aires. SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: 13 Vacation Rental Sites Tailored to Your Tastes Amtrak Makes a Comeback 11 Spectacular Vacations You Should Book Right Now
To Charge or Not to Charge: The Hotel WiFi Debate
Budget Travelers rejoice! Accor hotels, a major international chain, has just eliminated fees for WiFi at 500 of their hotels, The Telegraph reported last week. That's certainly refreshing news considering that some of the largest hotel chains in the U.S. have been contemplating charging more for Internet lately. According to USA Today, hotels that currently offer WiFi for free—including Wyndham and Ramada—are toying with the idea of giving guests the chance to upgrade to higher bandwidth internet for a fee (lower bandwidth service will still be available for free). Marriott International Hotels already offers a tiered connection service. The hotels claim that more customers are using data, which is driving up their prices—hence the need to pass on the charge. Still, it's always struck me as odd that the more you pay for a hotel room, the more likely you are to be charged for WiFi. W Hotels, for example, has rates that start at $499 per night* and charges $14.95 a day for Internet—and that's not even per room—that's per device! Four Points by Sheraton, on the other hand, has rooms starting at $339 per night* and gives away its internet for free. Interestingly, both of these brands are owned by the same parent company—Starwood. It makes me wonder if the theory is that guests who are willing to pay more for a room are willing to pay more for everything. Before I book a hotel, I always ask if Internet is included and if it's not, it makes me think twice about staying there. I'll bite the bullet if I'm getting a great deal on the nightly rate or it's a hotel I've been crushing on for a while (yes, I do harbor hotel crushes). What about you? Do you think about Internet charges before you book a hotel? And, more importantly, would you be willing pay more for a faster Internet connection when you're traveling for fun? In the meantime, a nod to the chains that still offer complimentary WiFi: La Quinta Inns, Four Points by Sheraton, Peninsula Hotels, and now, of course, Accor. *Prices are based on a weekend in October in a midtown Manhattan property for both brands. SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Do You Book Last-Minute Travel? Is It Time to Start Using a Travel Agent Again? 8 New Websites That Will Help You Find the Perfect Hotel
How Do You Stretch Your Summer?
I’ve never accepted the notion that summer ends on Labor Day. Yeah, the kids are back in school and the highways and commuter trains are crowded with folks back from the shore. But the official beginning of fall—the equinox—isn’t until September 22 this year. And for some reason I have to remind everyone I know every year that September temperatures around the U.S. average in the 70s. That means you’ve still got at least a few weeks to make the season last. My family has a tradition of grabbing as many long weekends in September and October as possible. We’ll make one–tank escapes from our home in New York’s Hudson Valley to pay one or two more visits to the newly deserted beaches of Long Island’s east end and the still–warm waters of mountain lakes in the Catskills. Our spontaneous jaunts aren’t just to prove a point—they’re a chance for us to shake off some of the cares of the new school year and savor the mild temperatures and ever–shortening hours of daylight. My elementary–school–age daughters have even talked me out of my curious habit of taking them to the Central Park Zoo on the hottest day in July—now we opt for a breezy September Saturday when crowds are smaller and ice cream cones don’t melt before the first lick. (And if I can get the girls to stroll north from the zoo just a few blocks, I can even stretch that day trip to include a stop on Fifth Avenue’s Museum Mile.) What are your favorite September and October weekend getaways? Any tips for those of us who might want to follow in your footsteps? We’d love to hear your ideas! —Robert Firpo–Cappiello MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 33 Most Beautiful Places In America 12 Family Trips Budget Travel Editors Love 11 National Parks That Budget Travel Editors Love
Confessions of an Oscar Mayer Wienermobile Driver
What’s it like to spend a year driving around the country in a 27–foot Oscar Mayer Wienermobile? We interviewed driver Reese Brammell to find out. Q: Can you tell me your name? RB: Reese Brammell, but in the hot–dogger game, we go by aliases. I’m “Reese with Relish.” You’d be “Mustard Marc.” Q: What made you want to tour the country in a humongous hot dog? RB: I was in my senior year of college, and I realized I wanted to take a break to travel. I googled “fun things to do after graduation” and stumbled upon a blog that mentioned that the Wienermobile hires drivers every year. It was 3 A.M., and I immediately cranked out a cover letter telling them I’d “relish” the opportunity and here’s my “beefed–up” résumé. Q: What’s it like to drive a hot dog? RB: You feel like you’re in a parade. People always wave and honk—you have to get used to it. The first week on the job I thought people driving by were mad at me all the time. Q: It must be a nightmare to park. RB: We always travel with a partner, so if we ever have to do crazy maneuvering, one of us can get out and direct. We’re very careful not to scratch our buns. Q: How much do you hate the Oscar Mayer wiener jingle? RB: We have speakers on the outside that play the jingle all the time. Inside, we have our own radio. We have a nice little hot–dogger exchange, where we give each other CDs. If we’re going to a certain region, I like to make a mix of songs that apply to it. Driving out to California, I made a Beach Boys/West Coast rap mix. Going down to Georgia, I made a country album. It makes a long drive more fun! Q: What have you learned on the road that may help other travelers? RB: Online tools are fine, but the best advice comes from people who volunteer it themselves, the people who say: “Are you all locals? No? Oh my God—here’s what you have to do!” Q: Have you picked up any unusual regional hot dog recipes? RB: I went to the Carolinas, and I was eating a lot of coleslaw with barbecue. Someone asked me, “You know what we put on our hot dogs here?” I was joking: “Oh, I don’t know...coleslaw?!” And they said, “How’d you know?!” In Louisiana, they put on chili and cheese and crunch onions over the top. One little kid told me he put peanut butter and jelly on his hot dog. I think he might’ve been pulling my leg. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Confessions of a Cruise Ship Musician Confessions of a Flight Attendant Confessions of a National Park Ranger