wander wisely all right (or, how travel reviews are so important in where to stay)

We’re taking a trip to the East Coast next month. I’ve already booked our flights and lodging, but now I’m going back and making doubly sure I want to stay in the places I’ve chosen. So I’m reading up on recent travel reviews.


One of the most magnificent things about the Internet is how easily information is disseminated. I love that people’s opinions are out there, ready for the rest of us to peruse and help make decisions. I double-booked one night of our trip and having tapped into May reviews on TripAdvisor, I know just which booking I want to cancel.

There are plenty of places to find reviews online, including booking sites like Expedia as well as hotel websites. Of the two biggest review sites, I prefer TripAdvisor over Yelp. I find the demographic to be closer to my own, whereas Yelp seems to sway toward younger folks, and the reviews on TripAdvisor typically are more substantive. I don’t care how late the hotel bar is open and that there is a hot waiter serving table 12 who’ll slip you an extra crudites if you flirt hard enough. I want to know if the rooms are clean, if the desk staff is helpful, if you get a good night’s sleep on a comfortable bed, if the immediate neighborhood is safe, if there are rooms with views and free WiFi, and if the parking is free and breakfast is served.

I’ve no time for reading about someone’s personal lamentation of how they arrived at the hotel at 1 a.m. after their flight got delayed twice (is that the hotel’s doing?) and they couldn’t get staff to carry their bags up to their room. In other words, I find little value in reviews that are so specific to one person’s narrative that they are not helpful to the majority of readers. If I were to arrive past midnight, I’d expect the hotel to be short staffed and I’d also expect to carry my own bags to my room.

However, if you are in a room in which blaring music from the restaurant next door keeps you up at night, please let the rest of us know so we can ask for a spot on the opposite side of the hotel–or pack earplugs.  Also let us know if the music is a nightly occurrence or due to a special occasion, like a wedding. Fill us in on whether you asked for a room change but were ignored (was the hotel fully booked, precluding a move?) and whether anything was done to rectify your disappointing experience.

Once, when staying at a high-rise in downtown Portland, Oregon, I came back to my room with my dinner to find a screaming baby in the room next door. The conjoining rooms were separated by a closed door, so quite a bit of noise traveled between the two. The crying continued throughout my meal, with the parents doing nothing, it appeared, to soothe the child. I had a feeling this would be a pattern and called down to the desk to request another room.

By the time I got off the elevator with my suitcase, I was presented with a key to an even nicer room. It happened to be movie night at Pioneer Courthouse Square, but I expected and even enjoyed the sounds coming from the venue below. Now, that’s a hotel review worth reading. I got an immediate positive response from the hotel desk and the noise I experienced in my second room was warranted–and completely muffled, I might add, by closing my window.

On this upcoming trip, after leaving Boston and tooling around Connecticut, I’m conflicted between staying in Newport, Rhode Island, overnight or driving up to Providence. I’ve booked hotels in both cities for the same day. The one in Newport is more expensive (by about $150 a night!), but it is in a lovely seaside resort. The Providence hotel, on the other hand, is in a historic building with many restaurants and sights within walking distance. Two different experiences that are equally nice.

After reading people’s opinions, I’ve settled on the Providence hotel, whose reviews average 4.5 out of 5, while there are plenty of examples of disappointed travelers who stayed at the inn in Newport. I’m getting a smoke-and-mirrors vibe from that place. It looks much nicer than it sounds, and the pluses seem to be for things we won’t be taking advantage of on our one night there, like the spa and the rooftop restaurant.

So thanks once again, TripAdvisor, for providing me with some feedback and sending my confused mind in the right direction.

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