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Practical travel advice
|Lani Teshima, editor|
Inns, Motels or Hotels: How to choose where to stay
Giving in to your children's request to go to Disneyland for your next family vacation, you start looking at various options for lodging... and are stumped. Should you pay premium dollars for a Disney experience at the Disneyland Hotel? Should you stay at a low-cost motel so you can spend more money on souvenirs?
How do you choose a place to stay? Where do you start?
The dollar cost you spend is not the same as the value you get from your stay. Balance your family's needs with what the lodging offers to see if you can find a good match, and avoid paying for extras you won't need.
In this month's column, find out what sorts of things you want to look for when selecting a place to stay.
The two most oft-mentioned factors in selecting lodging are price, and location:
Price : Be careful to note what price you are looking at. You might find coupons for discounts, but read the fine print! The price might only be good for certain days of the week (such as Monday through Thursday). Most hotels list their "rack rate" (the full retail price you would pay if you just walked up and asked for a room that day), but there are many ways to get a discount. These include:
This last one seems kind of silly, but you always want to ask if they have any discounts. Many places offer senior, corporate or government discounts (and most will never ask for proof at check-in).
Be careful of hidden costs as well. Do they charge for parking? Do they charge extra if you have more than two people in the room? Do they charge for a spare bed? Do they charge for amenities such as hair dryer or iron? Depending on what your extra needs are, it may be better for you to select higher-priced lodging that does not charge you extra on everything.
Location : Who was it that said, "Location, location, location!"? You would think that lodging closest to Disneyland would be the most expensive, but not necessarily so! There are quite a few nice accommodations within the immediate area. In this case, take a few things into account:
Beyond the basics of price and location, the following are additional considerations that might be important to you:
Continental breakfast : If you have a family, this is probably one of the most important (but often neglected) benefits a hotel can offer. By being able to start your morning with a nice continental breakfast, you can last longer in the park without feeling too hungry (with perhaps a small snack before lunch). And as we all know, breakfast is our most important meal of the day. Do the math. If you were a family of four who had breakfast in the park, you are looking at a minimum of $20 for some coffee, milk and pastries. If you have a sit-down breakfast at the Carnation Cafe, you will easily top $40 after tax and tip (not to mention taking an hour out of your park visit). Let's say breakfast averages out to $30 for you. If you stay at a place that includes a continental breakfast, you might be willing to spend an extra $20 per night and still end up saving money.
One of my favorite continental breakfasts was served at the Candy Cane Inn a couple of years ago. The inn opens up the pool room and has a huge spread that includes everything from bagels (there is a toaster), fruits, various sliced bread, pastry, cereal and juices. They give you a choice of cereal, including the colorful ones the little ones like. It's an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet and while you won't find eggs or sausages here, you will definitely appreciate the morning fare. In comparison, I have stayed at other nearby places that give you breakfast tickets upon check-in. These tickets are turned in for small pastries at the counter; barely enough to justify consideration when selecting a hotel. Tip: If the lodging advertises free continental breakfasts, find out what they mean.
Swimming pool : It might not be Miami in August, but those Anaheim summers sure get hot! There's nothing like a dip in the hotel pool in the hot afternoon to feel refreshed, and to take a break from your park-visiting. On the other hand, perhaps nobody in your family is much of a swimmer, and your idea of a refreshing break is to have a Fantasy Freeze (slush) at Toontown. A general rule of thumb is that a pool will add a bit to your hotel price.
A big water-fan even in the cooler months? Some of the hotels provide indoor heated pools as well. If your trip is in the winter, make sure to ask if the pool will be operational, and heated. Be aware that almost no hotel provides lifeguard services.
Children's pool : In addition to the main pool, some hotels provide a smaller, shallow wading pool for children. If you have a very young one whom you do not want in the main pool (even on the shallow end), make sure to ask if the hotel provides a wading pool. This is not always advertised.
Hot tub/Jacuzzi : Some hotels provide whirlpool Jacuzzis -- a very nice amenity at the end of the day for your tired and aching body... except that most people don't use it if it's out by the pool. I don't know why; perhaps because when it gets cooler late at night, most people don't feel like donning their bathing suits to go take a dip in some bubbling water. Some of the hotels provide in-room Jacuzzi tubs, which are very nice. Ask the hotel if this is available; if so, find out if it costs extra to upgrade to such a room. At the very least, check to see if your room has a bathtub. It will make bathing your little ones so much easier.
Exercise room : An amenity you will not find in the smaller motels and inns, the exercise room is geared primarily toward the business traveler who needs to work off the extra calories while on the road. Some convention-friendly hotels in the park vicinity provide an exercise room, including the Disneyland Hotel. Be aware that in general, these are not en par with your local gym and the equipment is not top-of-the-line. Hotels with exercise rooms like to tout them as a big feature, but unless you are a compulsive exerciser (who can't get a good workout by walking very fast inside the park), this is not a feature you need to be paying extra for.
Parking : Your most important question is, "Does the lodging provide free parking for its guests?" Believe it or not, the Disneyland Hotel does not (you do however, get a discount). If you must pay $10 a day to park your vehicle, you must add this to the total cost of your hotel stay. Additional considerations: Will you be allowed to leave your car at the hotel lot during the day while you visit the park? Do they provide indoor parking, or security at its entrance? If your hotel charges for parking, do you have in/out privileges so you can drive to the park?
Transportation to and from Disneyland : If a hotel is not within walking distance of the park, how early/late do the hotel's shuttles run? If you choose to dine at Hook's (at the Disneyland Hotel) after the park closes, how would you get back to your room? How many shuttles do they have, and how often do they run? Not all hotels use their own shuttles, but share with other hotels nearby. If this is the case your shuttle does not always take you to your hotel immediately. The extra distance or inconvenience might lead to frustration; you might want to spend a bit more to be close enough to be able to walk back and forth to the park.
Frequent flier/visitor points : Do you belong to a hotel or airline affinity club? If you are actively collecting points, it may be worth your while to stay at a hotel where you can get the most points. Check your points; you may have enough for a room upgrade.
Upgrades : Speaking of upgrades, you might consider requesting a room upgrade. For example, you might want to stay at a motel very close to the park entrance, but prefer rooms with full-size bath tubs or bigger beds. If the motel offers upgraded rooms, you might be able to enjoy the amenities of a higher-rated hotel room with slightly cheaper prices, and still be very close to the park.
Adjoining rooms? Many places allow you to stay in adjoining rooms, connected with an internal door. This is great if you want the kids to stay in their own room. Not all places will guarantee this when you make your reservation.
Studios : Another option besides adjoining rooms is to stay in a suite, or a studio. These rooms are usually configured with a mini-kitchen and a living-room area to allow you to save enough more money on your food budget. Your kids might manage fine on the fold-out sofa bed or a rollaway cot.
Extra people : Most hotels charge you a double-occupancy rate, assuming there are two guests staying in the room. If you have more than this, you may be assessed an extra fee (this can range, but I've seen it anywhere from $10 per night on up). If you are vacationing with a group of friends and you don't mind the sleeping-bag method, you could pack in as many as they will allow (but please, no more than that lest you get kicked out) and save quite a few bucks on your hotel room bill. If you do this, discuss beforehand how you will take turns using the bathroom. Eight o'clock in the morning is not a good time to find out your friend enjoys hour-long baths, especially if the park is opening in an hour!
Kids stay free : Many chains such as Holiday Inn, market themselves as "kid-friendly" and offer various incentives for you to take your children. Not only do kids stay free; some of these places will offer special children's kits, free kids' meals, and so on. Calculate the cost savings to see if this is worth it for you.
The most important thing to remember is that your choice should be a good value for you and your family.
Now that you have your list of features and amenities you, crack open your travel guide and see which accommodations suit your needs. Don't fret if you haven't purchased a library-full of Disneyland guides. Visit your local AAA auto club office for a free guide to California. This guide is probably the most comprehensive for hotel listings, anyway.
Most of the bigger hotels have their own Web sites, and many of the small-to-medium ones are on various online listings (and some do have their own Web pages). Many of these will provide close-up maps so you can see where they are in relation to the park entrance, and many will also offer photos of their establishment. Some things are difficult to gauge without being there in person, such as level of security or the view out of your room. But spending a few moments deciding what 's important to your family will make your decision-making task a bit less daunting.
"Ask the Baglady" is a regular feature of this column. You can contact Lani here to ask your travel-related questions! Don't forget to visit the Travelite FAQ for a comprehensive guide on how to travel with just one carry-on bag. [Clicking on the link will open a new window.]
Managing Your Souvenirs
For some of us, souvenir-shopping is an integral part of our vacation. This is almost certainly the case when you visit the Happiest Souvenir Shops in the World, right on Main Street in Disneyland.
How can you buy lots of souvenirs and manage to lug everything back home? Here are two easy ideas:
Buy small, flat things such as books, CDs, postcards. These will easily fit into your bags.
Have your souvenirs shipped home directly from the store. The merchandise will be properly packed, and arrive safely in your home.
The Most Hapless Place on Earth?!
Speaking of having your souvenirs shipped home, I was one of those hapless souls who ended up spending most of Saturday, May 20, standing in various lines at Disneyland (starting at 5:30am). I thought I was attending the Pirates of the Caribbean (PotC) special event, but I discovered once I got to the park that it was actually a merchandise sale for collectors. I'm still trying to figure out how the park made off with my $65 for my privilege of standing in line for hours, while I managed to see only one attraction (the Pirate of the Caribbean, after a two-hour wait, at 11:30pm). Lunch? No time; standing in line. Dinner? No time; standing in line!
I had not requested to have my PotC special merchandise shipped home, because I wanted to make sure I could inspect all of my purchases carefully, and pack them up myself for my long drive home. When they were not able to produce all of my goodies by evening's end on Saturday, I was told to return the next day. Like a good Disneyland guest, I returned faithfully the next day, only to be told that my goodies were going to be shipped to my home, sight unseen!!! Ack!!!
Not a good idea, folks!! You must visually inspect all the merchandise you purchase while on your vacation, before they ship it to you.
Properly Shipping Those Souvenirs
Here are some tips for having your souvenirs shipped home:
Make sure that what you see is what they ship. That is, make sure you are not just looking at the display model. Make sure you visually see the product that will be shipped to you. This is to ensure that the actual product you buy is the same as what you saw, and that the display model is not somehow nicer. For example, many furniture display models are finished, while the same item in a box is unfinished. It's okay if the item is unfinished, but you need to know and see that.
Make sure when you sign off on the shipping, that you see the total bill, including whatever shipping and handling fee they charge. Some places will tack on ridiculously high handling fee that add a hefty sum to your total.
Find out what shipping method they use, and see if you can obtain a phone number where you can get your package tracking number. You will be able to follow your package as it travels to you.
If the store is shipping the product to you because the store is out of stock, find out when they expect the product to come in. Get the clerk's name and the store's phone number so you can follow up once it reaches the time when the product should have arrived in the store.
Make sure you pay with a credit card in case there are any disagreements regarding your purchase. You have more consumer rights and can refuse the charge in the worst case. Note: Your bank's ATM debit card with the Visa/MasterCard logo does not offer the same consumer protection as a credit card; I do not recommend you use it for these kinds of purchases.
...unfortunately with the chaos of the Pirates event, I was not able to follow most of my own advice!
Kudos go out to all the wonderful Cast Members who worked so hard within their limited constraints and lack of coordination / communication to try to keep tempers from flaring totally out of control. Thanks go out to the event folks in charge of putting together the wonderful Panel Discussion presentation at the Fantasyland Theater.
A message for park management: For the next event, folks, please place more emphasis on the presentation and show, and provide express shopping for those who don't want to buy really expensive merchandise. Don't file the packages in the back based on our last names; file everything by order number so CMs can easily file and pull out orders as they are called out by number. I really love the park and don't mind not going on every ride, but I cannot stand for hours in the hot sun without any of the queue theming and entertainment you're so good at providing for all the other queues.
Related reading here at D-I-G:
My conversation with Al Lutz in Sue Kruse's column, "Pirate Event: Another Stampede in the Making?", regarding some of the initial trepidations about the Pirates of the Caribbean event planning.
"Yo Ho, Oh-Oh: A disaster detailed," a look at some of the problems with the event.
Contact Lani Teshima if you have any travel tips or questions about trip planning.
A Hawaii ex-patriate, Lani is a technical writer for a San Francisco Bay Area software company.
When Lani is not managing the copy editing tasks here, you can usually find her at the gym, slogging away those slow miles on the treadmill as she trains for the WDW Marathon (held in January). She also maintains her internationally recognized Travelite FAQ.
In the occasional spare moment, Lani and her husband, Alexour MousePlanet CEO and MouseAdventure event coordinatorattend baseball games, and drive down to Disneyland in their 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid (which gets 50mpg).
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