Before any trip that my family takes I start researching, to an almost obsessive extreme. I love to see the pictures that a business chooses to include on their own website. However, I spend a lot more time on other websites that allow customers to provide candid reviews. Recently when my family and I took a vacation right before the start of the school year, I didn’t follow my own advice. I didn’t read reviews of the property from objective sites

Vacation Research Tips:

A family's stay at the Holiday Inn Resort in Pensacola

The Holiday Inn Resort in Pensacola. Photo courtesy of Allison Taylor.

Before I tell my specific story, I’d like to share four tips that you and I can apply for future family travel. Might as well learn from my adventures: good, bad and sometimes ugly.

Here are some things to remember when you start sifting through reviews:

  1. People always can find something to complain about: What you should be watching for is consistency in the complaints. Did five different people complain about smoking being an issue at a non-smoking hotel? Then there might be a problem.
  2. Research the establishment objectively: This can be a hard thing to do especially when you set your sites on a certain place. Keep in mind that some of the negative reviewers haven’t had time to cool off yet.
  3. Know what you need from a hotel: Based on the reviews that you have read good, bad or indifferent, you have to decide what things you can live with and what issues are deal breakers.
  4. Let the establishment know: As a consumer you have every right to politely bring issues to management’s attention. They can’t be everywhere at all times. As cheesy as it sounds, knowledge is power, so let them know what is going on.

I was allured by the pretty pictures that were on the website and in two clicks my family and I were booked for a four-night stay – which cost right around $1,600 with taxes and fees.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Pensacola Beach Resort in Pensacola Beach, Florida and boy we were excited for our trip! The pictures grabbed my family and me before I had time to back the bus up and do some proper research.

Let me tell you about our stay so that you as a potential consumer have information to make an objective decision should you decide to stay at the property.

Our Experience With the Room:

On the day that we checked in my husband and I took our luggage and 5 million stuffed animals that my children insisted on bringing up to our room. The kids were so very eager to hit the beach, going from the balcony to their bed and back to the balcony again.

As we were changing to go out to the pool/beach my husband came out of the bathroom holding the tray that the toiletries sat on. There was an unused cigarette on the tray. Neither one of us smoke. Our balcony was littered with ashes and another cigarette butt.

The bath products provided at the holiday inn in Pensacola beach were a nice addition

A cigarette left by another guest in a non-smoking room at the Holiday Inn Resort Pensacola Beach. Photo courtesy of Allison Taylor.

This was concerning for 2 reasons. First, when you arrive to your non-smoking hotel to find that housekeeping had missed a few things, cleanliness issues start to arise. Second, upon checking in there was a paper that I had to sign, it was a reminder that the hotel was non-smoking and that if evidence of smoking was found in our room that we would be charged $250.

A leftover cigarette was not a welcome site at the Holiday Inn resort in Pensacola Beach

An unwelcome site at the Holiday Inn Resort Pensacola Beach. Photo courtesy of Allison Taylor

Not wanting a potential $250 charge on my card, I made my way downstairs to the front desk. I explained my situation and asked for the room to be cleaned again. I had questions about the overall cleanliness of the room considering what we found upon arrival, specifically asking for the beds to be changed. I am weird about hotel beds.  I was assured that it would be taken care of and was given complimentary breakfast vouchers for the stay, which was very nice.

When we arrived back to our room from swimming our room had been cleaned – and by cleaned I mean the evidence of the cigarettes were removed but the beds were untouched. I know this because the bed that my kids had chosen for their own was still rumpled from our initial arrival.

Back downstairs I went. Going back downstairs was a hard choice for me because I hate to cause issues. However, I felt like the manager needed to know what was going on. This time I was given a $75 credit for the restaurant located inside the hotel. Again it was a very nice gesture, but didn’t make me feel any better about my room.

Our Experience With the Hotel Amenities

The pool area is extremely busy during their peak season. My children aren’t very strong swimmers and there were people in the hotel provided floats (used for the lazy river) all over the pool, most oblivious to what is going on around them. My husband and I had to constantly stay on top of the boys and weren’t able to give them much freedom.

the lazy river and pool at holiday inn resort in Pensacola Beach

The Lazy River and pool area at the Holiday Inn Resort Pensacola Beach. Photo courtesy of Allison Taylor.

This might not have been a problem for other families with older kids, and there is a good chance that the pool area might have worked just fine for my family when the hotel wasn’t fully booked.  However, the pool area in general, especially the lazy river, had trash all around it. People are allowed to eat and drink in the pool and there were hardly any trash receptacles so there was trash collected around the pool area.

The restaurant was incredibly slow. When arriving to dinner to a pretty empty restaurant we were informed that the wait for food would be 30 -45 minutes. This is difficult for families who are traveling with small children like we were. The pro that outweighs the wait time was that kids eat free in the restaurant. This is a great way to cut costs while on vacation, assuming that you don’t mind to wait for a while.

The hotel rooms are very small, it was very cramped for our family of 4.  The cost during peak season can range from upwards of $400 per night, which can be pretty cost prohibitive for a family vacation.

Our stay wasn’t all negative, we ended up having a great overall time as a family on our vacation. Chances are when you read about the downsides that my family experienced, there were probably some things that didn’t seem like a big deal to you.

Have you had any rough hotel experiences that prepared for the next time that you picked a hotel?