Tuesday, 19 August 2014

5 of the Best and 5 of the Worst Places to Stay

Whether you travel light, long or on a budget can you think of your best and worst night's sleep? 
I have travelled in many different hotels, motels and hostels and though it's tough to pick my favourite 5 I could narrow it down to a one hand selection which offered a great nights sleep, great facilities and good vibes. With the good there is always the bad and I have selected 5 of my worst nights sleep, or if I slept well I just might not like the accommodation... they make for funny stories though! 

Here are 5 places where I would stay again in a heartbeat:

1. Pueblo Bonito Pacifica*****
Luxury All-Inclusive Resort, Cabo San Lucas - Mexico

We'll start from the very top, where I cannot go past offering Pueblo Bonito Pacifica my poll position. This resort in Cabo San Lucas offers all inclusive to adults only so unlike it's sister resorts in Cabo it isn't infested with children. It's beachfront and has two large pools to prevent you swimming in the dangerous currents. There is no doubt this place is luxury, but we managed to score a great deal on Expedia when combining flights from San Diego, which is the closest US city to fly out of. For 4 nights and return flights for two it cost us $800 each which in the scheme of all inclusive is great value. We stayed at the end of March over Easter actually, where the resort put on an awesome Easter egg hunt which included spa prizes and diamonds! We scored 2 free t shirts which made for great pajamas. My recommendation is to stay over a Sunday where they put on a killer Sunday Brunch with flowing mimosas included. Each night is a different theme by the pool, we most enjoyed the Mexican night of course. Shaun loved the morning tequila shots which are basically a replacement for espresso coffee in Cabo, followed by Mango Margaritas all shaken poolside. I unfortunately cannot stomach tequila due to a night out that turned to the toilet bowl... but there was plenty to offer for me that was exclusive of tequila.
Overall our stay here was romantic, fun and relaxing with other guests forming groups of friends, honeymooners and people travelling from all over the world. If we could stay anywhere in the world again, this would be it and we are already planning our next trip here already, and bringing friends along for the experience. 

The most exotic and spectacular place I've stayed - Ever!

2. Villa Skansi Backpackers House
Hostel, Backpackers, Hvar, Croatia

This is good as backpacking accommodation gets, this family host do everything right. We arrived here on a hot afternoon and went straight to the outdoor terrace to check in, and offered a drink on arrival (not spiked with alcohol but our newly-made kiwi friends brought that along to share). We waited for our key and enjoyed the Croatian sun on the wicker furniture unaware of the beauty of this hostel. While waiting I was stung by a European wasp, and without further ado my Magyver kiwi friends patted the bite down with some of that vodka and a little bit of ice to heal - right as rain - as we say. Our room was ready at this point, downstairs into a basement like area were the dorm rooms, ours at the very back next door to the decked out kitchen. The rooms and bathroom were above standard hostel quality, but what made our visit to Hvar so much more enjoyable was the quality shower which head 5 different heads. What hostel in the world offers luxury shower heads? It was the best showering experience I had in a long time, 2 months into my backpacking journey, it was welcomed. The family host just knew how to make it all work, offering such great facilities to their backpackers and all the contacts of the world to get a boat here, jetski there, or a bike from the house next door to the grocers. It felt like a home, and they had welcomed us. We stayed over a weekend, and we all put in money to buy lots of meat, and the husband and wife duo cooked up a mean Croatian BBQ. It was a fun beginning to our night there, but also symbolised our last night in Hvar. It was also sadly the owners last night with their family dog who had reached an age of no recovery. We ate our BBQ and raised our glasses in the air to Blacky and our family host for their welcoming and wonderful hospitality. This place is perfect for solo, couple or group backpackers looking for a welcoming and fun vibe in more of a Villa style than a hostel. When I return to Croatia in 2015, I will re-visit here with my hubby to share wonderful experiences again - Cheers Villa Skansi.  

Outdoor terrace with a view!

3. Salerno Motel***
Motel, Christchurch - New Zealand

We visited Christchurch 3 months after the devastating earthquake. Despite so many people telling us to rethink our trip, we are super glad we went and super glad we stayed in the city. There is no doubt it was eerily quiet, the motel owner was welcoming and let us know what to do in case of any tremors throughout the night. I was slightly hoping that I would be able to experience a low magnitude quake, and follow his instructions to remain calm and on the bed, where he would then come around and check on each of us, what a host. Apart from seeing the magnificent aftermath of the 2011 destructive earthquake, we spent 3 lovely nights here at what looks like a standard motel. But Salerno Motel is far from it. The rooms offer a pop of colour which themes the entire room, we had metallic silver and turquoise and I still remember it. With a massive spa bath to warm you overnight during our winter stay. The motel was right on Bealey St which is the boundary of the CBD but is still walking distance to the centre and the gorgeous Botanical Gardens. Christchurch is only a 3 hour flight from Sydney, so a short trip to revisit is well worth it and if I was to return to the South Island I would definitely stay here again. 

The contrast of beauty and destruction in Christchurch months after the 2011 Earthquake
Deluxe Spa Suite in Salerno Motel

4. Pan Pacific Singapore****
Hotel, Singapore, Singapore

There are so many people I know who have been to Singapore either in transit for a night or for a week long stay, so I had many offers of recommendations for our stay. I'm not one to stay in mainstream places like Raffles Hotel, but I was tempted to book the Marina Bay Sands, it was just far too expensive for our 3 nights. We booked Pan Pacific Singapore with Qantas Hotels when we bundled up our flights and earnt some cool points during our stay, as well as an awesome upgrade on arrival. What set this hotel on top for me was the location, design and hospitality. It was set on top of Marina Square which had a massive H&M to get well and truly lost in, as well as a two minute walk to the Flyer and the Helix Bridge over the Marina Bay. Our hotel room was high-tech and ultra modren with a spa bath, that was separated by a king bed overlooking out onto the Singapore Flyer. After a humid day exploring the cultural districts across the city, arriving back into the hotel is refreshing not just with it's airconditioned breeze, but the complimentary chilled beverage in the foyer to enjoy sitting in the floating pods of the indoor bar atrium. The class and elegance here reminds me of Changi Airport, where hospitality in Singapore continues from your arrival to departure. That is why when I return to Singapore, not if, we will stay here again as the perfect transit destination for a few nights (or more).

Our suite at the Pan Pacific Singapore

5. Oasis Hostel Lisbon***
Hostel, Lisbon, Portugal

Featured on Europe's Famous Hostel's list, Oasis was literally an oasis location to stay in Lisboa. I recommend to majority of backpackers to use Europe's Famous Hostels list for many major cities when they book their stay, because Oasis was our first experience booking from this selection and is now tried and true for me and many other EFH hostels across Europe. So thanks EFH and Oasis for the novice experience that turned me into a fully fledged EFH booker. I first arrived here after a week long trip on a friends couch in London, followed by a hell-hole journey in Paris, then a magnificent few days in San Sebastian. I was still new to and learning about the backpacking world, and it was the third country I was visiting outside the familiar UK. I speak a little bit of Portuguese (the Brazilian version) so I was already excited to show off these skills to the locals. It turns out I speak a much more polite version than the locals. Arriving here I made some incredible Canadian and American friends, who I am still in touch with to this day, and who joined us to south Portugal for another few nights. This hostel offers friendly vibes, and great facilities to share set out with only small groups, so it is friendly enough to make friends, but not crowded enough to enjoy your space. They serve Sangria most nights and this was my first try of my now addicted Sangria and specifically red wine - I owe it to Portugal. The outdoor courtyard of this place is somewhat fairytale, with its lighting and vine covered brick walls that enclose you in, all to bring you closer to new friends. Here I played my first game of Flip Cup with my Canadian and American friends, got lost climbing the extremely steep yet narrow roads, and enjoyed breakfast of your choice each morning in the main kitchen. Overall Lisbon is an under-rated city, and I will return here, with my accommodation of choice back at Oasis to make new friends, hopefully for life.

Bathroom for one room, kitchen and living for two - always enough space in Oasis
Fantastic friends made in Portugal

Now onto the bad. Here are the 5 worst places I have stayed for many reasons and here's exactly why...

1. Vancouver Ramada Inn
Hotel, Vancouver, Canada

I don't know how to put this. Ramada, a quality hotel chain right? Offering accommodation around the world for a good night sleep. There is no denying that this hotel specifically didn't have too much wrong with it. The room was a little small, but not too bad for comfort. The hot water was tempermental, but not enough to ruin the shower. The bed was extraordinarily comfortable, and just perfect for a 28 hour journey to get there and sleep. And here is where it went all wrong. 
My husband and I begun our 7 week honeymoon in Vancouver, to watch some ice hockey, get a few runs in at Whistler and show me his old stomping ground. We were staying at the Ramada for one night after we landed in from YVR at 11:00 pm, then moving onto another hotel near English Bay for the rest of our 5 night stay (thank god we did). We had a shower and freshened up after the long haul flight, cheapest option was SYD - LAX - SFO - YVR a total of 28 hours, so we were on minimal sleep. Bed was all we wanted. I forgot to mention we were on the 5th floor of the 6th floor building. The hotel rooms stop at the 5th floor where the penthouse belongs to a personal owner. Shaun was knocked out cold sleeping before I even touched my head down onto the pillow, he did not witness half of what I am probably unable to share with you. But he was awoken 2 hours later by me at 2:45 am pleading with him to do something about the noise. The noise I am referring to was a Ménage à trois occuring in the penthouse directly above our bed including two females and an overtly loud arrogant man (the personal owner who apparently has lasted for over 3 hours). I heard everything, including one female being dropped, or falling on her bare behind which vibrated our entire room. I was at breaking point, I shook Shaun awake and said how can you sleep through this! Generally, I wouldn't care and Shaun said what I originally thought, how can I stop people from you know, having sex. But 2.5 hours in, with ridiculous (fake) noises and on no sleep I was beyond caring. I rang the reception at 3:00 am and said "Excuse me, but there are terrible noises coming from upstairs on the 6th floor and I am unable to sleep". A bell boy was sent up to do the unthinkable, ask a resident of the building to keep his rendesvous down as he is disturbing the guests. You know what his response was. Girls you're making too much noise. No you arrogant twat you are speaking far too cocky (pardon the pun) and loudly who cares if your having a 3-way keep it to yourself until you can brag to your friends tomorrow. Needless to say I was too embarrassed to mention it the next morning at 8:00 am that I had had less than 5 hours sleep. But I was glad to get out of there for the rest of my Vancouver stay, and never again will I return. 

On 5 hours sleep we still cheer for the Canucks, just backwards with the Aussie Flag.

2. Mission Valley Resort San Diego
Not a resort, San Diego, California

Unlike Vancouver, we were towards the end of our 7 week honeymoon so we found this place on booking.com where we could pay on check out. It was in Mission Valley, halfway in between San Diego CBD and Seaworld so a balanced location. We had a car to get around, and they offered free parking. The pictures on the website looked pretty good, we like to book places with an outdoor pool and spa so we thought it would do.
We arrived and almost immediately knew the pictures do no represent the true identity of this dodgy 'resort'. I won't go into too much detail because I do not want to speculate about what I really think this place is for. We arrived in the afternoon and were pretty buggered from the road trip from Las Vegas across the desert and bypassing LA (during peak hour). We lied down on the bed, TV on and ready to plan out the next 3 days in San Diego cautious of money at that point of the trip. Shaun and I were relaxing on the bed having a laugh trying to unwind, when my eye is caught by something in the corner behind the door. A dark patch in the carpet. Is it unravelling carpet? Maybe a dead rodent? Go and check it out Shaun. There nestled in the corner of the room lay this...

A previous guest left behind some personal belongings - they match the style of the carpet
A phone call to reception produced free breakfast for our 3 nights stay and a cleaner to arrive in our room. He came stocked with a clear zip lock bag, he was definitely collecting evidence. After the SDPD left we considered changing rooms, if not "resorts". But we knew we were on a budget and would have to suck it up. I struggled to get 100% comfortable sleeping in that bed. The morning we checked out, approximately 3:00 am to make a 6:00 am flight to Cabo, we realised why there was a leftover garment in our room. With an array of Escalades and SUV's parked all over the joint, all disappearing before anyone would usually resurface from their rooms to explore the beauty of San Diego. Just a tip, do not stay here no matter what the pictures look like. It ain't that pretty.

3. Albany Super 8
Motel, Albany, Up-state New York

After a 4 week road trip around New England into Canada, and through up-state New York, 
we were on the home stretch from Niagara to New York for our return flight home. Unable to make it in one leg, we stopped over Albany to stay the night. As Shaun and I have stayed in a range of hotels, motels, hostels and B&B's over plenty of trips we thought a night in a Super 8 couldn't hurt. It was literally a one night stop and there wasn't anything for us to see, as we would be gone first thing in the morning. We arrived here just before dark and before inspecting the room we went down the road for dinner at the only place that was open. One of those $8.00 all you can eat, you know up-state style, Golden Coral I think it was. I ate steamed vegetables and rice avoiding anything suspicious, mainly because of deep fried or health hazard precaution. Usually I eat many cuisines overseas, but America is the only country that has left me with food poisioning to date. Back at the motel room its late and we are ready to hit the hay. After a shower that would not warm up, I peeled back the sheets to discover the bed had all different hairs stuck to the fleece blanket. It's the middle of winter in North America, no hot water and no fleece blanket am I going to make it through the night? Bang! Bang! Bang! It's 10:30 at night who is at a motel room door? Maybe we aren't going to make it through the night. I make Shaun creep over to check the door. He opens it to the latch only. Oh, sorry wrong room says some random guy. I think I have watched too many American horror movies, it was the perfect setting for something to go wrong. We leave the next morning and as we are packing up the Jeep the town siren starts going off, we start rushing thinking OK we're evacuating now. And the town is silent, calm and going about their business. I still don't know if there was an incoming tornado (in the middle of winter I doubt) or someone on the loose, but the siren rang through the town for ages. On check out we wanted to complain about the hot water and us being unable to change rooms, apparently we were the closest to the hot water tank so should get the first dibs, poor buggers at the end... The receptionist gets out the complaint book. Dead set she heaves up a book as thick as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and opens it up to the back. It's like what haven't we heard before. 
So in the last 3 trips to North America, we have stayed at Super 8 once, and once only.

4. Peter Pan Hostel
Hostel, Rebibbia, Rome

Rome is spectacular, full of history and ruin. This place is nothing but ruin, and unfortunately represents a poor metropolitan Rome, surrounded by the graffiti that surrounds most of the city. Most hostels are expensive for a stay in Rome and EFH's top hostel was booked out, so I thought I would cut back this city and try somewhere different within my price range. There is a reason this place is $25.00 a night, and should be less! I get out at Rebibbia station and walk the short distance to the hotel, it was short enough to walk straight past a prison. Then when I arrived to this hostel I thought, is this a prison, or maybe it reflected more like a hospital ward. The wide hallways, with shared bathrooms with tubs that looked straight out of the One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Our room was in the basement, with a small narrow window just above ground, so we could escape if we needed to. There was just nothing going for this place, the staff were not interested, the kitchen was sterile in a way that was uninviting with tables and chairs, again straight from the hit Jack Nicholson movie. What really bothered me about this hostel was when departing I asked for a taxi call to pick me up and drop off to the Roma Centrale station in time for my departure to Bari. Usually I am happy to catch trains everywhere, but being so far out in the suburbs a taxi was quicker so I didn't miss my train. I head outside with my backpack on and wait for the taxi to arrive. 10 minutes. 15 minutes. I need to ask questions now. The receptionist didn't make the call. They make a rushed call to the taxi company and I walk out to the main road now to make the journey that little bit faster. In the end, yes I missed my original train, which meant I had to stay in Bari for an extra night and miss my original ferry to Athens. Come to think of it, I can again blame this hostel to the terrible experience I had on the back up ferry I took to Greece.

Prison-like Quarters in Rome
5. Sofitel Queenstown
Hotel, Queenstown, New Zealand

I thought hard about what was number 5 on this list. Mainly because of the dozens of places I have stayed they have been great, offered just what I needed and 5 out of 50 isn't too bad. So if I have to pick, it would have to be the top of the range Sofitel in Queenstown. The premises are prestigious, the location is spot on, and the amenities were top notch. It is the best bathroom I have ever had the pleasure of showering and bathing in, with heated floors, waterfall showerhead and TV set in the bathtub wall. Amaze-balls! The king bed was one of the best I've slept, and was finished off with two little balconies that were just above street level. I just plain didn't like the vibe. It felt pretentious, and I can't deal with pretentious. I can stay in resorts, 5-star quality but give me the humble smile and warmth when I walk in!!! The staff were all tightly lipped, and spoke French in a New Zealand city, offering a Bonjour/Bonsour on arrival, give me a Kia Ora!!! If I wanted the French hospitality I would gladly receive it in France, New Caledonia or French Canada. I like authenticity, and local flavour which I found this hotel lacked. Everything else was spot on, but if I were to return to Queenstown, it would be to visit somewhere a lot more laid back and run by a local. I only have myself to blame for booking it, and most would love the experience. It just wasn't for me.

I haven't offered links or photos to help describe these locations as I wouldn't recommend them to my readers. At the end of the day, book accommodation that best suits you and yourself as a traveller. You will always be slightly surprised wherever you book, and these experiences shape future visits and tell your story. 

Whether you're looking for the best quality budget hostel, the 5-star all-inclusive resort, and even the all-inclusive (sub-)penthouse magazine shoot, embrace the journey always. 

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