Lodging, Hotels, Amenities, Deciphering It All

*this is not a sponsored post, this is based on my extensive knowledge of lodging and these are my opinions. As always I only offer products and ideas that might help each consumer.

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We travel a lot, as a family, and me just with the kids, and I am forever planning where we are staying based on so many different criteria.    Over the last month we have stayed in over 6 hotels for 3 night plus stays with kids.  Our travel has been for work, hockey, and pleasure and while my need for lodging changes state-to-state, the need for comfort and amenities does not.  What makes a great stay at a hotel? Sometimes it’s just the little things.  Our most recent stay at The Country Inns & Suites with a membership to Club Carlson made for a comfortable weekend jaunt.  We have stayed in extended stays(The Residence Inn) and in the regular hotels(The Country Inns & Suites).  Consider this your buyer beware on hotels, lodging and what you get for your pricing.

I have been talking to a lot of moms this weekend as we are off on a hockey playoff series and what I am learning is the small things make large differences among hotel chains and among our pricing tiers.  My top two contenders for favorite lodging remain with the Country Inns & Suites and The Residence Inn, each offer great amenities, staffs and clean facilities.   Here are a few things that make up price differentials in all the brands, chains and facilities.  Make sure you are actually comparing apples to apples before you make a decision based on price because you will arrive and find lots of things missing  if you don’t verify it all first and you could potentially end up paying more than you actually planned on.

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Room Refrigerators – Do you have on in your room? Are you getting one? Is the refrigerator included in the price of your room or is there an upcharge? If you are staying at the Hampton Inn you are paying $20 per refrigerator, per night! You may find yourself paying only $99 for a room, but add the fridge in and guess what, you are now paying more than you would have to stay at a Country Inns & Suites and even The Residence Inn.

Microwaves – these are a nice plus in a room, especially if you have a refrigerator. Bring along a few foods that you can toss in the microwave and you have instant meals, especially if you are in a pinch for time  and just don’t want one more fast food sandwich! Many chains don’t offer this as a room option so be sure to see if yours does.

Separate Beds- are you getting ONE king bed, one room, 2 beds, 2 double beds, a sofa bed, a junior suite, or a regular suite?  Do you know what you are actually staying in and has the minimum been confirmed?  How many people can be in your room before you are charged more? How many bathrooms are in your room? Is your room a suite? Are there sofa beds? Do you pay for additional bedding?  What are the charges for different bed sizes, suites, extra rooms, etc. This area is one you must study in depth to get the best pricing.  Can you get away with a couch and a bed or do you require more? 

A suite would be anything that has more than one room, offering additional sleeping areas(sofa sleeper) and often some form of a kitchenette.

Coffee Please – Are you getting an in-room coffee maker so you can enjoy a freshly brewed cup of coffee before you face anything outside your room? Are you paying for the coffee maker? Is the coffee maker complimentary? Is the coffee marked that you will be charged for using it?  Does your front desk area offer freshly brewed coffee 24/7 and little treats like fruit and cookies? In fact, most places don’t offer treats like this, but places like the County Inns  & Suites and The Residence Inn absolutely have front desk treats and coffee round the clock, which is perfect to help those weary travelers, and kids that love last minute treats!

Water bottled and left in the room definitely comes with charges.  We were most recently in one of our hotels and the bottled water, left in a kitchenette in our room was $2 a bottle.  Think of the bottled water like a mini bar stocked with prices that accompany it.  Use only as needed and do note that most of the hotels are located in areas where stores are.

Check Out Options – Are you supposed to get up and be out by 10a? Don’t laugh there are places that want you out by 10a, and there are others that will bend over backwards to help you out.  I know because The Residence Inn was great to work with for the hockey tourneys as we needed extended check out time and were granted such.  The Country Inns & Suites made it very workable as well and we spoke with the front desk and were graced till 1p to make a decision. With the Country Inns & Suites it was all easy because we belong to Club Carlson which has extended check-out times, in our case till 2pm.  

Reservations – Have you just ever been in the predicament of not knowing if you need the hotel for more than one day? DO you reserve for the next day or do you need to make separate reservations in order to be able to cancel? With hockey tourneys and playoffs elimination is the fear factor.  Will we be eliminated from staying at a hotel or will we have some place to stay if we remain in the tourney or playoff? If you don’t make a reservation you are doomed to win and then have nowhere to stay but if you do make a reservation and have to leave you are now stuck with a possible hotel bill.  Fact: Hampton Inn you need separate reservations and if you need more than one night, but are uncertain, get ready to check in one room and check back in at 3 with another room.  Don’t push your luck for a late check out because they are not too formidable to the idea(know this first hand).   The Country Inns & Suites will totally accommodate you without making it difficult(at least our experience at State College).  Tell the front desk what you have brewing, possible occurrence of not needing a room, but the other possibility of definitely needing a room, and make reservations which can be cancelled until 6p of the reservation! Definitely one of the easiest places I have ever had the pleasure of checking in and out of without ever leaving my room! Again, check out Club Carlson and gain a free membership by signing up online.

Front Desk Staff – are the people you have dealt with short-tempered or friendly? Do they pay attention to your kids or are they kid-deaf? Does the staff seem like they will answer questions or do they seem like they  might bite your head off if you ask even one more question? I push the envelope all the time because I am often traveling solo with children and I have questions about the area, shopping and dining.  What I have found is The Country Inn & Suites have exceeded what anyone could ask for, as the MANAGER even offered to take us to the hockey and pick us back up! Yes, you heard me, he offered to get us there and pick us up as long as we were not going to need shuffled beyond that! I have to say thanks! I need places that will allow me to ask questions, help me navigate a bit and let me know anything else I might not be aware of without pulling the information from them.

Parking- is there a parking lot for your car? Is there a valet service or are you free to come and go as you please, when you want? Are you paying for parking and do you have unlimited access to your car? We have been in every situation from $36 a day parking at the Hard Rock Hotel to free parking at the Country Inns & Suites.  We ask and read the websites because this makes a huge difference in your real price tag.  I can also tell you that it takes a toll on timing as many hockey parents staying in a valet parking hotel had to get to the lobby 30 minutes ahead just to make sure their car would come up on time! Unnecessary stress. Parking at hotels is not always free and you always park at your own risk.

Pool – does your facility have a pool? Is it working and able to be used after 6p? Is the pool heated and is there a hot tub? Is there a lifeguard? Is the pool indoor or outdoor? Are the times too limiting to be advantageous to use?

Does your hotel have WiFi? Does the WiFi work? Laugh as you may, but just because a place boasts WiFi does not mean that it works all the time.  I have been very frustrated in a few places we have been staying lately because the WiFi is either over-used or does not work in every room.  It is hard to need your laptop, iPad, iPhone and not have the WiFi to get the work done.  Is there a charge for the WiFi? Yes, many places charge for their WiFi or you need a code for it.  We have been in at least 3 hotels that have charged and since I needed it, I paid, but how ridiculous.

Breakfast- fill up those bellies or fill up your wallet and go out? Which will it be? Breakfast included is becoming a bit more common among facilities but not all breakfasts are created equal.  Are you getting toasts, and cereal with some coffee or are you getting warm entrees as well as toasts, pastries and fruits? Is breakfast offered for 2 hours or 3? Can you take it with you or do you have dine there? In The Residence Inn, we saw many people being sent off with containers to go(how nice) and in the Country Inns & Suites it is dine in.  The breakfast at the Residence Inn and the Country Inns & Suites is very similar.  However, in places around us, breakfasts are dine-in, and very limited.  Call and see what the menu is.

Every room comes with a price tag, all rooms are not equal nor are all chains.  Make sure to check if you are eligible for discounts with your AAA cards, and make certain to subscribe to all the clubs that the hotels offer like Club Carlson, Marriott Rewards, etc. Remember brand loyalty has its benefits.

DIY Bathroom Install ~ Series Part 1 ~Planning

*This is not a sponsored Post * bathroom, diy, toilet, shower, floor, ceiling, ikea, kohler, armstrong, family With life moving faster than I can keep up with, the kids are growing by leaps and bounds and my boys and daughter are always battling it out over bathroom rights. There is only so much a mom can do, and in our house it has come to the point that we must add another bathroom, which will ease up the time schedules the kids have created to use the bathroom. My daughter is at the age where makeup, nail polish, hair styling accessories, and every known shampoo and bath gel are coveted by her, whereas the boys just want some counter space for their toothbrushes. Meet our cement floor, walls and area that we are about to convert into a 10×10 bathroom. I have shopped until I have dropped and I have chosen KOHLER & Sterling Bathroom Products. The boys have decided that they are moving themselves into this bathroom, and we are fine with this, but we also made our decisions of products based on the boys.

My choices in the bathroom reflect a bit of what is trending now as well as what products are most water efficient. One of my largest concerns was budgeting this all out and there are plenty of ways to create the bathroom of choice without killing our budget.  In addition, I did not need a Taj Mahal installed in the basement, as it needs to be practical and usable.

While I will share the products with you at a later time, I can tell you that KOHLER offers quality products at in many price l. Our floor is a a floor chosen for its rugged look but ease of installation. The floor from Armstrong, looks like luxurious stone but it is actually a vinyl tile that will clean up with ease after showers and use.

Our concerns and questions are non-ending:  Will the floor go down with ease? What is the trickiest part of the install going to be? Will there be any glitches in our DIY? How quickly can we actually install this whole bathroom? Should we use glass doors for the shower or should we use a shower curtain? We are installing this in all of our ‘spare’ time in between hockey tournaments, school musicals and work! Many of the products we have chosen are also easy to install so we will be able to let you know if they truly are easy to install. My husband will be doing the install from start to finish, with the assistance of only an electrician a bit of electrical work that we need. Stay tuned for this exciting series of Pittsburgh Frugal Mom Installs a Bathroom DIY.

Want a sneak peek into our project to see what we are planning? Take a look here.

Make Them Sparkling Clean

You would never know from the snow falling outside that Spring is right around the corner would you? I hear birds chirping, and I can see loads of deer prints through our yard, so the activity has started but what I don’t see are clean windows! I love when the sun intensely blares through the window and the floors are warmed from the light cast onto each tile in the kitchen.  Sun brings a smile to my face and makes me stir with creativity and launch into a bunch of new projects.  Clean windows that don’t have a fog on them on either side make me happy.  I do admit to being OCD in many aspects of life but windows brings a whole new architecture into the discussion when I look through one that is smeared, foggy, hazy or streaked.  Is there a one stop cleaning source that can brighten my windows, keep them haze-free and streak-free? There actually is, but it is not the product you might be thinking of.

For years I used cleaners that were incompetent at actually doing more than smudging and no I don’t believe WINDEX is a perfect cleaner.  All the knock-offs of that brand are not better they are just cleaners in a bottle that we pay at least $2.79 a bottle.  Wipes were the next best thing, as these sheets each offered a new chance to clean up the windows and see things more clearly.  Admittedly, I am guilty of purchasing these 24 packs of glass wipes and using them in one cleaning session as they make cleaning an obsession as they are so easy to use.  However, the cost of these glass wipe sheets are hardly conducive to a frugal purchase and you don’t get more than about one car window or one small mirror out of any wipe.

There just has to be an easier way to clean up windows and make them sparkle clean without over-spending.  My mom had forever used a cleaning solution that was ammonia, water and vinegar.  My eyes forever burned, but her windows glistened.  Not wanting to introduce that combination into my home I experimented with something my one Aunt had told me about years back when we first got married: “Dana, never throw away your newspaper, always keep it and  use it with a window cleaner.”  I listened to her, and I used to clean my car windows with newspaper religiously, then I looked at my hands, gloves and the mess that the paper transferred and this obsessiveness compulsive chic dumped those papers right into the recycle bin as that mess on my hands, and everywhere else drove me over the edge.  I will say this, the combination of window cleaner and papers worked very well, but the mess of paper print transfer is a bit hard to deal with.

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My final try has been the most FRUGAL attempt ever.  Now, I will tell you the smell on this is a bit gross, but the look is impeccably clean, sensationally clear and your windows will glisten without streaks. In order to achieve the perfect, clear, haze-free, glistening window or mirror gather the following supplies:

1)  100% cotton cloth – no spandex, no microfiber junk, just good old fashioned 100% cotton, like an old sheet.

2) 1 bottle of vinegar – White – any brand

3) 1 spray bottle  - empty, clean and waiting to be filled up with super solution!  Fill the bottle with the vinegar, that’s right, straight vinegar.

4) Spray the window, misting lightly, top, middle and bottom, in that order, so that it can drip to the level below.  (I told you I am obsessive)

5) Start at the top left or right and work your way across the window, flip your cloth and repeat all the way down.

6) When you have made it to the bottom of the window, then in a clock-wise, square motion, clean the most outer rim or the glass all the way around.

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7) Repeat on the outside(if you are doing windows) or just finish if this is a mirror.

8) As an added step, I always have a dust cloth with me and I clean the ledge and the blinds, but again this is just my obsessiveness and a way I feel complete with the project.

Your windows will sparkle, the light will bless your floors, walls, counters and everything else, just be warned, light shows dirt, so you know that means I am off cleaning again, tireless but happy. The use of vinegar as a cleaning solution is the most frugal find I have ever used and the results will astound you.  Get ready to put a little sparkle into your life with great, clean windows.

 

 

Express Pass Universal Orlando Vs. FP+ Disney Orlando

All I can say is WOW what a learning experience our most recent travel to the fun attractions was.  While we do travel to Florida, and the parks regularly, this trip was an eye-opener as I began really paying attention to time and how we spent it.  After taking my kids to Disney, Universal Orlando and LEGOLAND in the last week, I can clearly tell you differences between parks, staff, eateries and lines.   [Read more...]

Destination: Aquarium of Niagara ~ USA

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If travel had a middle name lately it would be Dana, that’s right, me! I have been up and down the East Coast over the last month, seeking out fun destinations, stops, lodging and attractions so why would this weekend gone by be any different? This weekend we traveled to Niagara Falls, USA and sought out all the fun stuff to do, even when it is cold outside.   [Read more...]