By: Frenzied Femme
We have a deal with our kids. When they turn 13, they have the privilege of choosing the family vacation. Our daughter is 12 1/2 this summer, so we let her pick for her 13 year trip.
I will be sharing a series of blogs about the experience. I like to think of it as the good, the bad (almost), and the ugly. For a little explanation, the bad (almost) are things that I thought might go bad but ended up fine. I will share the experience through many different angles including both overall impressions and actual product reviews.
Our trip began in the US. We flew to the Great Barrier Reef, the the Outback, Sydney, Hawaii, and Los Angeles. We were there a little over three weeks, and returning home never felt so good. Of course, that was at 9 pm when I could sleep from exhaustion. 11 pm was a little different (too many time changes, and I was wide awake). The upside was, I was able to wash all the laundry and scrub the very empty fridge.
Staying in 5 different cities meant 5 different hotels. As with airlines and cars, these experiences can be distributed into the Good, the (Almost) Bad, and the Ugly.
Let's start with the Good. We didn't actually stay in Cairns (near the Great Barrier Reef). We stayed north about 20 minutes in a place called Trinity Beach. We stayed at a location called Coral Sands. It is not a hotel, but rather individually owned apartments. We had a 2 bedroom apartment. It also had 2 baths and a washer and dryer. The balcony was amazing as it looked over the pool directly to the Pacific Ocean. Granted, you had to walk across a road to walk on the beach. But, it was very convenient to watch the sunrise. The location was terrific located between Cairns and Port Douglas. And the staff was friendly and helpful.
Second on my list of the Good is the Residence Inn by Marriott at LAX. We arrived at 9:00 in the morning. I was not expecting a room but rather was looking for a storage location for our luggage while we toured the city. The desk clerk found us a room (an upgrade) and told us that we had 1/2 hour left of the complimentary breakfast. We (hungry after the red-eye flight) took advantage of the offer. This was not an ordinary "complimentary" breakfast. It was the most lavish spread I have encountered and rivaled much more expensive paid-for options. I loved the waffle station where they offered a variety of toppings (including the kid's favorite whipped cream). The staff was the friendliest I have ever encountered. They didn't just make us feel welcome, but they made us feel special. The only reason I have them listed as second it because of another guest. The room above us chose to bounce balls on the floor until 12:45 am. I know it isn't the hotel's fault, but it degraded from the overall experience.
The (Almost) Bad includes the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort in Waikiki. I had reserved a room in the Tapa Tower, but had requested and upgrade and early check in through my Hilton Honors. I received an email that I have received an upgrade to the Rainbow Tower and early check in per my request. I digitally checked in while in Sydney (as we were taking the Red-eye). When we arrived at the Hotel, I proceeded to the digital check in counter. I was on their list; however, our room had disappeared. So, no early check in and no Rainbow Tower. Because we were there early, they said they would prioritize our room and call us. They did not. So, we waited around until almost 3:00 when I checked again (because normal check in starts at 3:00). They were apologetic and gave us $150 in "make it right" resort credits. But, after this auspicious start, things went much better. The resort itself is amazing. They have a variety of pools (my 5 year old loved the pool slides). And, my husband really enjoyed the ocean. They had a salt water lagoon, but that was colder than the ocean. We spent hours on the beach which was pristine (if crowded). We were able to apply the $150 to the luau. It brought the overall cost down to a more reasonable range. Part of the luau purchase price includes 2 complimentary beverages. But, our waiter took good care of us. He gave us extra drinks and upgraded our leis to the live orchid versions (a real treat for the girls). We were seated right by the aisle where the performers entered and exited. They had a little fun trying to interact with the girls. I have a picture where the highlighted singer put her hands (to the girls' surprise) on their shoulders from behind them for a picture. As we went to check out at the end of our stay, we were once again looking for a storage location for our luggage. There are all sorts of warnings on the island about not leaving anything in your vehicle due to break ins. I took those warnings seriously. So, as we were at the bell desk storing our luggage, they mentioned that we should sign up for the hospitality suite. We were not flying out until 11 pm, so had planned to explore the island further. They let you sign up for a hospitality suite (20 minutes per registered guest) in these types of cases. We were allowed 1 hour 40 minutes. This meant we had a room for that time. We were able to shower, make tea, and relax after our day out (and one last trip their beach). So, even with the unpleasant beginning, I would stay there again.
The next (Almost) Bad Hotel was the Desert Gardens in Uluru. There was nothing really wrong with this hotel (besides all of the pools were way too cold). Because the only people who visit this area are the indigenous Australians and tourists (and by far more tourists), there are only a few hotels. And, they are all owned by the same company. That means they are all overpriced for what they offer. I would stay there again (but really, what option is there?).
There was one Ugly hotel. We stayed at the Holiday Inn in Darling Harbour during our visit to Sydney. It had a great location. But, it is not a great hotel. I'm not certain if it was our specific cleaning staff or indicate of the hotel in general, but it was really appalling. If they didn't make our bed every day, I would have wondered if they had even been there. They did not empty the trash every day. They did not vacuum until day 3 (of a 5 day stay). I know this because my son dropped crumbs on the floor on the very first day. I wondered if they finally were vacuumed up because it was the weekend and a different cleaning staff. They also didn't replace the cups/mugs. My husband ate corn flakes in a cup one morning. The corn flake residue was still in the cup upon our return in the evening. I could not believe the state of this hotel. I would not recommend this hotel.
Frenzied Femme is a workaholic mother of 3. She has reluctantly conceded membership in middle age, however is not yet a member of AARP. In her spare time, she feebly tries to maintain the house.