We’ve all been there – you find that perfect hotel, fall in love with it, imagine yourself ensconced in your room or by the pool or glass in hand at the bar, and are just about to book it when your fingers type in that oh-so-easy web address, and suddenly you find yourself face to face with reviews telling you that it was a holiday from hell, that the rooms were filthy or the staff rude. Stomach in knots, head full of images of squalid rooms and receptionists shouting at you, you try to forget about that “perfect” hotel, and look for somewhere else. Somewhere that TripAdvisor likes.
Now, I won’t deny that TripAdvisor has its uses – for a start, it can be a great way of hearing about little places that aren’t yet in the guidebook or flashy enough for magazines and other, more stylish, websites. But it’s important to keep it in perspective – anyone can publish a review on the site, so what you’re reading could actually be a review by someone on the hotel’s staff, from a competing hotel, or even from someone who’s never been there. There is no way of knowing that the person who is writing the review has actually stayed there, or if it is a truly honest reflection of an experience.
In addition, even when a hotel has great reviews, it won’t necessarily mean it’s right for you. One of our biggest disappointments on our honeymoon was a hotel we chose based on TripAdvisor reviews – though our cottage was lovely, the actual hotel was a bit too staid and old-fashioned for us (and the food was like something out of the mid-20th century); all of the other guests were at least twenty years older than us, and they loved it – which is great for them, but suggests that all the people who raved about it on TripAdvisor probably didn’t fit in quite the same demographic as us.
If you go on wedding website forums, you’ll inevitably see posts along the line of “just booked our honeymoon hotel, but read awful reviews on TripAdvisor“, in which the poor bride feels sure that her honeymoon will be ruined because of these reviews. Now, I can’t guarantee that any hotel won’t be rubbish, but I’m pretty confident that a honeymoon is more than just about the hotel, and if you’ve chosen the hotel in the first place then it must have seemed pretty special – and bad reviews on TripAdvisor don’t mean that it’s wrong for you.
So here’s my tips for planning your honeymoon without stressing too much about hotel review sites:
- Sure, look at TripAdvisor, but don’t obsess over it – remember that the reviews aren’t gospel (or even necessarily real), and that one person’s castle is another person’s worst nightmare.
- Take reviews with a pinch of salt. If you look closely at a lot of reviews, you’ll find that a lot of people don’t really understand the kind of place they’ve booked. So they’ll complain about the lack of electricity in a place that’s “eco-friendly” and has no mains power, old-fashioned decor in a hotel that’s known for being as it was at the turn of the 20th century, or about sharing a bathroom in a hotel that has no en suites. These things are all easily anticipated with a bit of research (or just by looking at the hotel’s website) before you book.
- Trust your instincts – the best places we stayed at on our honeymoon were ones that I found myself and knew I just had to stay at. They looked so perfect that even bad TripAdvisor reviews couldn’t have kept us away – and, in the event, they more than lived up to expectation.
- Speak to professionals – find a decent travel agent who you can trust, and who’s personally visited your destination, or check out independent, professionally-reviewed accommodation websites such as i-escape and Mr and Mrs Smith – i-escape are particularly good as they list pros and cons for every property they feature.
- Once you’ve found somewhere you love and, especially, once you’ve booked it – keep away from TripAdvisor. Checking out your hotel after you’ve booked your honeymoon is just asking for trouble.
To prove my point about TripAdvisor, all you have to do is look up a hotel you’ve stayed at and loved. Chances are, someone will be on there complaining about it.
Photograph courtesy of Alex Proimos