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assistance ahead “Did you notice the crust?” This is not a question one wants to hear when talking hotel rooms. But it’s posed with utter giddiness when one is in room number 27 at the Roxbury in New York’s Catskills region; for this is “Mary Ann’s Coconut Cream Pie” room, a flamboyant space with a faux-meringue ceiling, a round bed and a hint of coconut in the air.

It’s the newest addition at the Roxbury, where room designs riff on movies and T.V. — Jeannie’s bottle, Charlie’s Angels, Maria’s curtains from “The Sound of Music.” You can book a “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”-inspired blue jewel box of a room, or stay in the grander Wizard’s Jewels room, with its yellow glass floor tiles, mural of poppies and ruby-slippered feet sticking out from under the bed pillows.

Bizarre Requests from Hotel Guests

It sounds zanier than it is. The Roxbury is big on style and comfort; it is not a hyperactive theme-park experience. From the nice toiletries to the bowl of wasabi peanuts at reception, the owners’ loving attention to detail is palpable. The proprietors are a pair of New York City refugees who took a gamble on a downtrodden roadside motel, transforming a den of disrepair into a cozy place to rest your inner Fred Flintstone.

It may seem like a radical juxtaposition — a place that unabashedly embraces lime green and meringue ceilings amid placid Roxbury, population 2,500. Yet the motel sits harmoniously here, beside a trout stream with a barn in spitting distance. In the stairwell, one of the first things I notice is the huge chandelier made of what looks like a thousand neon orange drinking straws. It does not seem wrong.

The charm is in the details: chocolates, fresh flowers. Munch fancy soy crisps in the glittery spa ($20 per person for unlimited visits during your stay), or pepperoni Hot Pockets ($1 from the office). Copies of the American Film Institute’s Top 100 movies are available in the free-to-borrow DVD collection, as well as vintage “The Addams Family” episodes. What’s your rainy-day game: chess, or Operation?

Over breakfast on the sun porch, the various weekend leaf-peepers and hikers compare notes and offer suggestions for future room themes (one 9-year-old’s contribution: Sponge Bob). If you’re lucky, you meet the people in room 27, the friendly couple from New Jersey who invite you to come check out the digs. You go. You notice the crust. Delicious.

– written by Deborah Bogosian

moneyTypically, we aim to showcase travel deals that save you money — like this half-price cruise to the Western Mediterranean. But a few deals for hostel dorm beds during the 2012 London Olympics (July 27 to August 12) were so frightening that we had to share.

Sites like Expedia and Hotels.com have policies dictating that you can’t book rooms more than 11 months out, which means they’re only now allowing reservations coinciding with the Olympics.

Here’s what we found: A 28-bed all-male dorm room at Palmers Lodge Hostel (just south of Hampstead Heath) is on sale for $157.50 per person, per night on Hotels.com — that’s about $4,400 per night for the whole room. (The rate includes 28 breakfasts.) That said, whichever bed you book in the hotel, be it in an ensuite double or an eight-person female-only room, the per-person price remains the same. (Hint: Palmers’ direct booking prices are significantly cheaper than those posted by Hotels.com.)

Want to stay at Hostel 639, a spot near Notting Hill, during similar dates? On Hotels.com, the per-person price for a night at Hostel 639 is equal to rates for a dorm at Palmers — but Hostel’s rates are two times what Palmers offers for a basic double with shared bathroom. That’s more than $500 per night for two travelers. Reserve a quad room today and you’ll pay $1,000 per night. Booking sites, including Hotels.com and Venere.com, have rates starting at less than $20 (includes taxes) for stays at the same properties this September.

These price hikes should come as no surprise, since news outlets have been reporting on soaring rates during the Olympics in London for some time. But perhaps we can be optimistic that the hoteliers are being, well, optimistic. Tom Jenkins, chief executive of the European Tour Operators Association (ETOA), told the Telegraph, “In Athens [host city of the 2004 Olympics], around 15,000 hotel rooms were sold. London has 125,000 rooms to sell. Such optimistic pricing in the face of such disparity is extremely brave.”

David Tarsh, another spokesman for the ETOA, has been widely quoted as saying visitors to London during the Olympics should wait until early next year before booking accommodations; Tarsh has predicted that hotels with unsold rooms will be forced to reduce their prices by that time.

Have you ever stumbled upon a hotel deal that was too bad to be true? Share it in the comments.

– written by Dan Askin

 Villa Mistral, St. JohnWhat do a private Caribbean island, a 16th-century Tuscan estate and the former abode of Frank Sinatra have in common? They’re all available on Jetset Homes, a new luxury vacation rentals booking site that kicked off today.

The just-launched rental site, which can be found under the “Homes” tab on Jetsetter.com, currently offers more than 200 luxury properties worldwide. According to a press release from the company, “Jetsetter’s inventory of vacation homes is located around the world, with a high concentration in the Caribbean, Mexico, the American West, California, France and Italy. Size and price vary from a five-bedroom house in Crete for $310 per night to a palatial 14-bedroom mansion on a private Caribbean island for $53,000 per night.”

How Private Sale Travel Sites Could Save You Money

The release also reports that Jetset Homes will feature flash sales for a handful of its luxury listings on a weekly basis. The site will slash prices of five to 10 rental properties by 20 to 50 percent each week.

It looks like even more savings are on offer in honor of the big launch. When I logged onto the site this morning, a coupon popped up touting $500 off my first Jetset Homes booking. (A minimum five-night stay is required, and the savings are automatically deducted at checkout.) Here’s what the coupon looks like:

jetset homes coupon

A $500 coupon sounds like an astonishing offer to a plebian sale-sniffing traveler like myself. But considering the astronomical nightly rates of the places listed on Jetset Homes, there’s no reason to reach for that credit card without some careful budgetary consideration. The listings on Jetset Homes, which feature big, colorful photos, are excellent fodder for travel fantasy. (Play “Which One Would I Book?” during your lunch break.) However, a week’s stay at one of these spots could cost as much as a Prius.

There is one way to stay at a Jetset Homes property without selling your vehicle. For traveling groups, Jetset Homes may actually offer reasonable prices, and some of the houses listed on the site can sleep up to 20 people. For example, a night’s stay at Casa Kimball, a clifftop estate in the Dominican Republic, sells for $2,800. But the property can fit 20 travelers within its two-building, eight-bedroom expanse. Is there a family reunion, group getaway or destination wedding on your horizon? Split the cost among 20 and each guest will only pay about $140 per night for his or her accommodations.

Jetsetter is a members-only private sale travel site. So, whether you want to stare at pretty pictures or sell your Prius and book a stay, you’ll have to join to get access to the luxury listings on Jetset Homes.

Would you book a stay with Jetset Homes?

– written by Caroline Costello

hotel front desk receptionEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our newsletter.

With the vast majority of properties offering some form of online bookings these days, picking up the phone to book a hotel may seem so … last-century. And yet, sometimes there are benefits to calling the front desk and talking to a live human being.

As we advise in Choosing a Hotel, “Calling a hotel directly … might get you a room at the last minute or during peak travel times. National reservations desks often have a cap on the number of rooms they can fill at any given hotel, with the rest left to the specific hotel staff. Those working at the front desk have a better sense of the hotel’s capacity and will be more likely to check for cancellations or no-shows. … Avoid calling in the morning or mid-afternoon, when front desks are busiest.”

While you’re on the phone, you can also ask for information that might not be readily available online, such as which rooms or floors have better views, how safe the neighborhood is if you’re arriving after dark, and which amenities will be available in your particular room.

If price is a concern, this is your chance to negotiate for a better deal. Ask if the hotel is currently offering any specials, or if they have discounts for seniors, AAA members and the like. The worst they can say is no.

See more ideas for lowering your hotel rate.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

computer vacationIs your obsession with the “Real Housewives” franchise interfering with your hygiene? Has your spouse ever referred to your Blackberry as “that tramp”? Do your travel photos consist mostly of images of you posting travel photos to Facebook? If you answered “yes,” a digital detox package could help.

According to the Wall Street Journal, legions of hotels are offering digital detox packages to cure gadget-obsessed guests of their technology addictions. These packages encourage travelers to dump their smartphones, laptops and other vestiges of modernity in the lap of the hotel concierge (or, in a less dramatic move, to just leave them at home), in exchange for certain perks.

How do the hotels manage to wrench perfectly good iPads out from under the restless thumbs of wired travelers? They sweeten the transaction with discounts — and the occasional copy of “Anna Karenina.” Writes the WSJ, “Typically, they ask travelers to surrender their electronic devices upon check-in. In return, concierges provide them with old-fashioned diversions, from board games to literary classics. (Most, but not all, also yank TV sets and telephones from ‘detox’ rooms.)”

Here’s an example: The Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel is offering a special promotional rate for guests who turn over their electronic gizmos at check-in. The hotel’s “Zen and the Art of Detox” package includes accommodations and kayaking lessons for nightly rates starting at $199. Before you get to your room, the hotel staff will remove the TV, phone and iHome dock station, and replace such contraband with “literary classics.” If you leave the hotel during your stay, a staff member will follow you and pelt you with Jane Austen novels whenever you come within 500 yards of an Apple store or a Starbucks with an Internet connection.

Are we so obsessed with megapixels and apps that we need someone to drag the flat-screen out of the hotel room and confiscate our phones before we can relax?

I must add, removing the phone from the hotel room could be a safety hazard. If someone breaks in or you choke on your dinner, how do you call for help? Are you supposed to ring some kind of antique service bell? I suggest bending the rules a bit and smuggling an extra smartphone into your room in case of emergency. (Try baking it into a cake — this seems to work in prison movies.)

What’s your take? Would you book a digital detox vacation package, or is this kind of thing just a silly marketing ploy?

– written by Caroline Costello

hotel room man laptop bedEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our newsletter.

You’ve shopped around, read hundreds of reviews, scrutinized neighborhood maps and finally booked a great hotel — with a great rate to match. Now you can sit back, relax and dream about how fantastic your stay is going to be, right?

Wrong. If you want to get the lowest possible rate on your stay, your work isn’t necessarily done after you’ve made your initial booking. As we recommend in Get the Best Hotel Rate, “Once you’ve booked your hotel, don’t just rest on your laurels. Call back or check online in another month or so and see whether rates have gone down. If they have, cancel your booking and rebook your stay at the lower rate. (Read the hotel’s cancellation policy carefully before doing so to make sure you won’t have to pay any penalties.)”

Yapta.com is well known for monitoring airfare and alerting travelers when prices drop, but the site recently added hotel tracking as well. Before or after you book, you can select specific hotels for the site to keep an eye on. If the rate drops, you’ll get an immediate e-mail, enabling you to act quickly to make or change your reservation.

Of course, you may be out of luck if you’ve already put down a hefty nonrefundable deposit on your hotel, or if the property has a stringent cancellation policy. But if you’ve got a little wiggle room, checking for falling rates is an easy way to trim your vacation budget.

Don’t miss 14 more ways to save on your hotel.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

On a recent trip to Vancouver, I stayed in the trendy West End, in a high-rise building overlooking Coal Harbour and the North Shore Mountains. Breakfast was free, as was high-speed Wi-Fi. Stanley Park, the convention center and the bustling attractions of downtown were just a 10-minute walk away. And I only paid $55 a night.

I found my room on Airbnb.com, a site dedicated to short-term room rentals. Airbnb’s listings are a combination of vacation rental and homestay; the site’s 50,000+ hosts around the world offer everything from a bed in a spare room to an entire condo or house. Amenities vary widely; during my stay, I slept in a spare room and shared the single bathroom with my host and another guest.

Was the experience worth it? You bet — but I did have a few hiccups along the way.

vancouver apartment bedroom view

The Good: The affordable price was the most obvious perk, but I also loved the opportunity to live like a local, quite literally. I was given my own key to my host’s apartment building, so I came and went as I pleased — and got to pretend that her swanky city view was mine, all mine. I chatted with my host over breakfast, borrowed her hair dryer and helped her polish off a delicious blueberry cobbler from the local market. And it was nice to have someone to talk to after a day of sightseeing, especially since I was flying solo on this trip.

The Bad: The flip side of the “having someone to talk to” coin is that you might not always want to talk to anyone. I didn’t realize just how much I enjoyed the freedom and privacy of a hotel room until the night I came home exhausted and had to make polite small talk with my host’s other guest, even though I wanted nothing more than to hole up with my laptop for an hour or two. There’s also the (in)convenience factor; because we were in such a small shared space, I found myself tiptoeing around and adjusting my normal shower schedule to avoid waking my newfound roommates.

Airbnb and Beyond: Tips for Safe, Legal Vacation Rentals

The Ugly: On the second night of my stay, an argument flared up between the host and her other guest over toilet paper. Yes, we were down to our last precious square — but who was to blame? I took cover behind my laptop screen as the fight blazed beyond the two-ply into the guest’s general dissatisfaction with her room and accusations of false advertising in the host’s Airbnb listing. Voices were raised. Threats to call 911 were made. And finally, at 11:30 p.m., the guest was told to pack her bags.

Of course, an incident like this is rare, but it illustrates the way a personality clash in this sort of living situation can make or break your stay.

Tips: Communicate with your host early and often. If there are amenities that are important to you, ask about them before you book (my room, for example, didn’t have a TV or a telephone). If you enjoy your stay, consider giving your host a little token of gratitude, such as chocolate or other foodstuffs. (I bought my host an herbal blend from the Granville Island Tea Company.) And bring a backup plan — i.e., a few phone numbers for nearby hotels — just in case.

Learn more in Homestay and Farmstay Tips and Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

hotel door do not disturb signEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our newsletter.

We know that travelers judge their hotel rooms on a wide variety of criteria — like how great the view is (or isn’t), how comfy the mattress feels, and whether the Wi-Fi is a) functional and b) free. But did you know that your hotel room — specifically, where it’s located — could also determine how safe you are during your stay?

Here’s the scoop, from our own Hotel Safety Tips: “Don’t accept a room on the ground floor if you can avoid it. Many safety experts recommend staying somewhere between the third and sixth floors — where rooms are high enough to be difficult to break into, but not so high that they’re out of the reach of most fire engine ladders.”

It’s not something travelers should obsess over, but hotel break-ins and fires do happen — so taking a few precautions to safeguard yourself is just common sense. Before you book, call the hotel to find out what it does to protect its guests. Surveillance cameras, round-the-clock security staff and elevators that won’t take guests to upper floors without a keycard are all good safety measures to look out for.

For more ways to stay secure on your next trip, check out Money Safety and Seven Ways to Keep Your Stuff Safe When You Fly.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Miami BeachEvery Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: Save 25 percent on your summer stay at dozens of hotels across the Sunshine State. Travel between May 15 and September 30, and receive up to a quarter off the cost of your booking at participating JW Marriott, Renaissance, and Marriott hotels and resorts in Florida.

You’ll find a full list of participating properties on the Marriott Web site, which includes a bevy of beachfront resorts in locations like Miami, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, Orlando, Key Largo and Tampa that are eligible for the 25 percent discount. This is a fantastic offer for anyone seeking a pre-cruise stay for a sailing out of Florida, as a number of eligible hotels are located near cruise ports.

The Catch: Each hotel only has a limited number of rooms available for this promotion, which makes sense considering Marriott is advertising this deal under the title, “Get It While It’s Hot.” You’ll want to book early for best availability.

The Competition: Hotels.com is currently running a promotion on beach hotels, with discounts of up to 30 percent at select properties. The beach-themed bargain features a bunch of discounted properties in Florida (as well as other surf-and-sand destinations like the Caribbean, Hawaii and Mexico), but travel dates are limited. You must book a stay for travel through the end of May to take advantage of the 30 percent discount.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Hotel Deals.

– written by Caroline Costello

Hampton Inn CommercialSometimes you don’t want to know if something is clean or not (in my case, it’s just about anything I order in a restaurant). Other times, it’s all you can think about.

That’s the contention of a new Hampton Inn ad questioning the cleanliness of sheets in other hotel chains. Let’s take a look.

Effective, right? Perhaps, but according to an interesting piece by consumer advocate Christopher Elliott, it’s a little over the top. Writes Elliott, “Sheets are usually changed between guests, and sometimes state law requires it, but there’s no guarantee that they will be.” He does contend, however, that “it’s probably safe to say that all major hotel chains, including Hampton, instruct their housekeepers to change sheets between guests.”

Elliott indicates a few gray areas to keep us on our toes — for instance, what happens if a housekeeper sees a made-up bed but assumes incorrectly that no one slept in it the night before, then doesn’t swap out the linens? What-if’s aside, his overall conclusion is reassuring: “It’s possible for you to end up sleeping on someone else’s sheets. But if you’re staying at a major hotel chain, it’s highly unlikely.”

That’s the sort of thing I like to hear, though truth be told, I wonder about a lot of other things when it comes to hotel cleanliness. For instance, when’s the last time the bathroom was really scrubbed — and why is there hair in the drain? What’s that weird stain on the duvet? Actually, inasmuch as most hotels don’t wash bedspreads between guests, I try not to think about who — or what — was on top of that duvet before me.

Were those drinking glasses sanitized before they were placed in the room? Or were they left over from the last guest, simply rinsed out and deemed “ready to use”? Depends on where you’re staying. According to our guide on finding a clean hotel room, “It’s the law in both Missouri and Kansas that hotel room glasses and cups must be sanitized. Kansas’ law goes even further to state that washing of glassware must take place outside of the room.”

I have a friend who won’t go barefoot in a hotel room, for fear of what may be lurking in the carpet. I’m not that bad, but … well, now I’m thinking about that duvet.

– written by John Deiner