Hotels versus apartments

Hotel London

Hotel room @ Melia White Hotel in London

A hotel room or an apartment?

That’s the lively debate Tammy was having with her fellow traveller, Dave, earlier this week.

He was freshly returned from London where his Hilton superior hotel suite had been upgraded to VIP status.

Naturally, Dave was keen to defend the joys of instant room service, fluffy slippers, hot and cold running freebies and a room large enough to host a party with a group of burlesque dancers.

Meanwhile, Tammy was busy defending the virtues of apartments with their independent living, cheaper costs and likelihood of having a charming outdoor terrace.

In the end it was an honourable draw.

But it did set me thinking about the pros and cons of  different types of holiday accommodation.  I’d be interested to know what you think…

Hotels rule

Boston hotel

Westin Hotel lobby in Boston – large enough to house a Jumbo jet

* Room service 24 hours a day. This is a huge bonus if you’re staying in a decent quality hotel.

It’s very useful to be able to roll back to your hotel at 12 midnight and order a huge steak and chips or Pina Colada.

On the downside, I’ve eaten some rotten meals in hotel rooms. One cold, congealed and over-priced duck a l’orange dinner in a Harrogate hotel springs to mind.

Then again, I haven’t had the privilege of eating room service in London’s Dorchester, Mayfair or Park Lane hotels so pehaps I’m staying in the wrong places?

Unfortunately, budget hotels can’t rise to the challenge when it comes to 24 hour service unless you’re very lucky – another black mark for hotels.

* The full English (or American).  A cooked breakfast is a big selling point of hotel living.  It’s even better if it’s delivered direct to your door so you can watch breakfast telly wearing your free bath robe whilst eating bacon & egg lying on your king-sized bed.

But a word of caution… my recent experience of  hotel breakfasts has been very variable.  One B & B in Cambridge recently offered up two fully burnt breakfasts which were inedible. How the hell can you ruin bacon and toast?

City hotels increasingly rely on hot buffets which are fine when the food is fresh but not so brilliant when it’s dried out and tastes like cardboard.

Even continental breakfasts are getting smaller and more expensive as if  ‘nouveau cuisine’ was back in fashion.  Sorry, a stale pastry or muffin does not a breakfast maketh…

I’d also argue that the price of breakfast is ridiculously high in a lot of hotels.  You’d be better popping over the road to the nearest cafe or coffee shop.

* Facilities – OK, top hotels have a gym, pool and the rest…but you have to really offer the whole deal to beat an apartment. Many apartments now have shared pools and leisure facilities so can compete with quality hotels… and some offer gym and pool access.

Tony at the Boston Westin Hotel

Tony wears his bath robe in Boston

* Freebies – I love those little extras and treats that you get in expensive or boutique hotels. You know, the special hand-made soaps and spa treatments, the sewing kits, the shoe polishing sets and the free bath robe (if you’ve lucky).

However, hotels seem to be cutting back on these ‘luxuries’ so dream on… let me know if you’ve enjoyed any interesting freebies recently.

* Practical help – hotels are great at sorting out travel stuff from taxis to chauffeur driven cars to the airport.  Some are even good at booking tickets for shows and events. Top end hotels will satisfy your every whim – within reason.

But is that a reason to opt for an expensive hotel above an apartment?  A recent stay at a Rome apartment illustrated how clever owners are now offering those very same services – nothing was too much trouble.

* Location, location, location – many hotels secure the best locations.  The luxurious Gritti Palace in Venice is in a breathtaking position on the iconic Grand Canal… whilst the Fairmont Hotel in Banff overlooks shimmering Lake Louise.

The Hotel De Rissie boasts jaw-dropping views which makes it George Clooney’s favourite haunt when in Rome.

For mere mortals it’s a different story though. Budget hotels are often tucked away in the back streets or less desirable neighbourhoods of town.

Recent trips to a Ramada Encore on an industrial estate in Acton, London – and a garret room on an outlying estate in Venice are proof that you have to pay to stay in the best locations.

Boutique in Berlin

Boutique in Berlin

Next time, I’ll be staying somewhere within walking distance of eating places, pubs and local attractions!

A good alternative can be the bourgeoining boutique hotel which often offers an interesting location, ‘unique’ features and a laid-back ambience.

The rise of ‘art hotels’  is part of this phenomenon especially in historic quarters in cities like Berlin, Vienna, Rome and London.

But a word of warning…  increasingly ’boutique’ seems to be a watchword for minimalist = cheap furnishings which fall to bits when you sit on them.


* Independence!  Apartments have the huge bonus that you don’t need to worry about what time you come and go or the dress code. The best thing is being able to  lounge around the apartment doing your own thing – as long as you don’t upset the neighbours with your partying or late night music.

Aurelia Vatican Apartments

Rome’s Aurelia Vatican Apartments – a better option for visitors?

Another plus is that the hotel cleaner isn’t constantly haranging you to vacate the room every morning at 8:00 so they can tidy up.  Many apartments also offer a daily cleaning service as part of the package but I’ve found there’s less pressure to get into your room at the earliest opportunity.

* Cost – it’s generally cheaper to stay in an apartment compared with a hotel room. Many apartments are well furnished and offer a suite of rooms which can cater for anything from 1-10 people. If done well, an apartment can be a ‘home from home’.

There’s also big  savings to be made on eating out. Apartment living offers the flexibility to either cook in the flat or go out for a posh dinner.  Generally, I aim for a balance of 4 nights cooking in the apartment to 4 nights eating out.

On the down side, it’s fair to say that hotels generally provide a much wider range of accommodation for one or two night breaks.

On the apartment terrace - Italy

On the apartment terrace – Italy

* Location – generally there’s a wider choice of apartments in unusual locations or small villages. I’ve stayed in a picturesque Colorado town where there were no hotels and an apartment in an Umbrian villa with stunning views and a pool .

* Space – one of the big plus points of apartments is the amount of space. Recently, I spent a night rattling around in a two bedroom en-suite apartment in Birmingham with a huge living room and two bathrooms – it was half the price of a hotel room in the same street.

* Local culture.  I’d argue that apartments can provide an enhanced cultural experience than large hotels because they are better integrated into their local communities.

Staying in an apartment makes you engage with local shops and people as I found on a recent Italian trip when we had great fun shopping in the local butchers, bakers and grocery.

OK, there were a few ‘lost in translation’ moments with the language. Note to self – ‘basilico’ means a cathedral whilst ‘basilica’ is basil so it’s best to ask for the latter in the greengrocers!

Italian food shop

Wild boar for dinner?

Latest trends

Apartments are increasingly competing with hotels for short-stay tourists so are prepared to negotiate over shorter stay periods.

Hotels are pushing even harder to offer packages and deals that incorporate fine dining, concerts, theatre shows and events such as Wimbledon, the Open Golf and the Olympics.

The bottom line is to do your research, listen to other hotel users & reviewers, and weigh up what works for you.

There’s no one solution that fits every traveller.

But I’m still creeping towards the idea of the apartment and the freedom it brings.

And it saves waiting in a giant queue at the hotel check-out and the problem of sorting out the mini-bar and porn channel bill that some idiot has put down on your room number.

I’m sure that hotel ‘champion’ Dave will still disagree though…

What are your thoughts of hotels versus apartments?  Let me know.

Boston Westin

Boston Westin Hotel

Categories: General, Italy, London, UK, USA

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