Resort hotels: are they worth your money?
“I deserve it. It’s been a long time since I’ve taken a vacation. I never do anything for myself…”
I used to think the purpose of vacation was to pamper myself and relax. You work long hours, day in, day out for a year maybe more and these two precious weeks are your only respite. Not to mention that according to Project: Time Off, Americans still don’t use all of their paid vacation days essentially donating money to your employer. But I digress… Either way when it comes time to book that vacation, you want to go all out, right?
We hadn't been on a proper vacation in a long time. So while planning a trip to Malta we didn't give a second thought to booking the Westin Dragonara Resort. Perched on the waters edge in the seaside town of St. Julian, Malta. The lobby featured gigantic, crystal chandeliers, an opulent grand staircase and views of the Mediterranean Sea. "This is vacation." This is what we deserved.
I feel foolish thinking back on it but we didn’t realize until we were already in the hotel and being told of all the wonderful things it had to offer that we had not planned to spend any time in the hotel. We wanted to see Malta. Our days were booked. So why were we staying at a luxury resort hotel?
Had we asked ourselves a few simple questions we could have avoided spending unnecessarily on something we didn’t need.
Do I plan to eat at in-house restaurants?
We all like to go to fancy restaurants on vacation. With their world class chefs serving dishes plated like works of art and made from fresh, local ingredients. Are you getting the culinary experience you traveled for?
The Westin Dragonara has 4 restaurants: indoor, outdoor, seaside and poolside and even a themed buffet to add a little fun and whimsy to your vacation. Sounds great but you can also eat visit Marsaxlokk, a local fishing village, for straight out of the water seafood, or at a family run Italian restaurant for homemade pasta and bottle of the local wine with the total for two was the same price as the buffet was for one person. The buffet price did not include beverages other than soft drinks.
We did eat at the hotel once and the food was excellent but we wanted to try more traditional Maltese dishes made from rabbit (well, hubby did) and the pastizz, which were no where to be found on any of the hotel menus.
Do I plan to use the health club?
How many of us use the gym while on vacation? Hours of walking or biking around the city is usually exercise enough.
At the Westin Dragonara, health club means a two-level fitness center which includes state of the art equipment, indoor pool, sauna, steam rooms, jacuzzi, fitness classes, personal trainers and amazing views throughout. Most of which are “free of charge,” meaning you pay for use in your room rate.
Do I plan to order room service?
At any luxury hotel, room service is going to be available 24-hours a day and consists of more than just burgers and fries.
One morning, after sleeping in, we ordered breakfast to the room. Since I didn’t plan on using the gym I opted for the yogurt parfait ($8) from the “fit and light” menu and hubby ordered the pancakes ($10) and coffee. When the food arrived my yogurt and fruit parfait was in a champagne glass and hubby’s pancakes were...tiny. Now we're hangry and out $25 (including the coffee, tip, etc.)
The next morning we high-tailed it down the street for coffee and pastries for the grand total of $5. Wallet happy. Stomach full.
Do I plan to book activities/excursions through hotel?
Resorts typically offer their own excursions or with the help of a concierge provide vetted options for sightseeing and include “conveniences” like complimentary shuttles to and from. Convenience comes at a premium and if you're not a planner, it’s helpful. We booked our trip to Gozo through the hotel and let me tell you, they picked us up at the hotel dock, which was fantastic. The boat was smaller than what other companies used, meaning fewer people, which is always a plus in my book. But at the same time, the same excursions could be found in the tourist areas for less.
Does service matter?
If you are self sufficient and rarely ask anything of anyone at a hotel, if you make your own bed (or not), then you may not care about the overall service you receive during your stay. One thing that sets luxury hotels apart is the overall service. They make you feel welcome and important. Can you get this elsewhere? Sure. But on vacation you want that guarantee. Hubby and I are sticklers for good service but sometimes we really don’t care. Hand us our keys and direct us to our clean room and ignore us. We know when to expect it and when to turn the other cheek.
How much time will be spent at the hotel relaxing?
For our trip to Malta, our initial answer was, no time at all, so to make our stay at the hotel worthwhile we cut out a few activities and added time to enjoy the pools, and hotel lidos, spending two, half days, laying by the pool and taking a dip in the occasionally choppy Mediterranean Sea.
There is nothing wrong with treating yourself. Our vacation in Malta was amazing including our stay at the beautiful Westin Dragonara but if you're not going to take advantage of what you are paying for then why? And the “conveniences” can increase your budget significantly. Remember everything that is offered at a luxury resort can be done elsewhere at a fraction of the cost.