I can understand why a vacation rental can appeal to a large family or group of friends, for whom a luxury hotel stay is otherwise unaffordable. It can be great to see family and friends and visit with them in a house setting, and often economics are a driving factor for a least some of the participants. But if the economics are taken out of it, there are a number of reasons why I prefer a luxury hotel stay over a vacation rental.
1. Arrive Anytime
With a luxury hotel, you never need to worry about whether someone will be there when you arrive at 2am–there's always someone at Reception, and/or a Night Manager.
With a vacation rental, arriving at 2am is just not on–you need to arrive between certain designated hours to be able to collect the keys and gain access to the property.
2. Welcome Drink and Cool Towel
Yes, I realize this sounds spoiled, but it's such a refreshing way to be welcomed on vacation in a warm place, with a cool towel and delicious welcome drink. One of the most memorable ones were these passion fruit drinks at Amankila. Good luck getting this welcome with a vacation rental, though.
3. Comfortable Beds
Granted, there may be the odd vacation rental with high quality beds, but I've never stayed in one with a bed that approached the comfort of a Four Seasons bed. Recently my husband was musing about how, when we arrive at a Four Seasons hotel or resort, something in him simply relaxes as he anticipates how great a night of sleep he'll get.
In contrast, what usually happens with a vacation rental is that either it's an old bed that's seen better days, or even if it's a relatively new bed, it's way too firm and we toss and turn much of the night.
4. Twice Daily Housekeeping: No Time Spent Cleaning
I like to be organized when I travel, and to keep things in the room relatively neat, but sometimes my family doesn't share my sensibilities and can be a bit messy. Fortunately, when it's a luxury hotel stay, there's twice daily housekeeping. In some Aman resorts, it's even more than twice daily, with unobtrusive tidying up anytime you're out of the room or villa for an extended period.
It's always a relief to come back and find the room or villa tidier and cleaner than we left it. The same, unfortunately, isn't true with a vacation rental (unless, say, it's a Four Seasons Private Residence or similar which enjoys housekeeping services). I usually end up trying to straighten up the worst messes, but I hate spending time on “vacation” cleaning up after others.
5. Bathrooms: Number and Quality
Any good luxury hotel bathroom will have double sinks, along with a soaking tub and separate shower, preferably a rain shower. If it's a suite, often it will have 1.5 or 2 bathrooms.
In our current vacation rental, as charming as the house is, there are just two full bathrooms, yet we have 12 people sharing the house (see the last point). And the bathrooms are very modest: just a single sink and a bathtub shower combo. The provided shampoo? Pert, which I don't think I've seen anywhere since the 1980s. At least I brought bath products from Four Seasons Lanai, which smell heavenly, but doesn't quite compensate for needing to rush, so as not to potentially inconvenience one of the 5 other people on our floor that may need the bathroom.
6. Ability to Change Rooms/Villas
One of the key advantages a luxury hotel has over a vacation rental is, should something go very wrong with the room, suite or villa you're in, say because of an issue with the plumbing, air-conditioning, construction noise or similar, is the possibility to move to another room or suite.
With a vacation rental, however, unless it's a Four Seasons Residential Rental or similar residence managed by a hotel, you don't have this option. You'll have to spend precious vacation time wrangling over the problems with the owner or property management company.
7. No Security Deposit and Less Onerous Cancellation Penalties
Luxury hotels in cities typically have just a one day cancellation policy, while resorts, especially those in remote locales or during high demand holiday periods, may have several weeks or even a few months when it comes to a cancellation policy. Still, these tend to be less onerous than many vacation rentals, none of which permit you to cancel a day before arriving, and many of which also charge a hefty security deposit. Because of that security deposit and the limited recourse you have to share negative experiences (many rentals are not on Tripadvisor) you start in a more difficult position when trying to negotiate a rate reduction due to problems experienced or the rental not being exactly as pictured.
8. Complimentary Kids' Club
While our son has just about outgrown kids' clubs, at least the ones for kids up to age 12, we have many great memories thanks to the wonderful kids' club staff at Cheval Blanc Randheli in the Maldives, Velaa, Amanpulo, Four Seasons Marrakech, Four Seasons Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru, Four Seasons Hualalai, Four Seasons Lanai, and others. It also meant that my husband and I were able to steal away for some snorkeling, swimming, or couple's time, or when I was traveling alone with our son, I was able to get some work done while he got a chance to meet and play with other kids.
A vacation rental is more of a change in scenery, since, unless you hire a babysitter or your children are older and can look after themselves, you still have all the childcare responsibilities, not to mention food preparation–which brings me to my next point.
9. Room Service and Restaurant on Site
As much as the luxury hotel itself, one of the key things I look forward to on a vacation or even when traveling for work is not having to go grocery shopping or cook any meals.
One of my biggest pet peeves about a vacation rental is that, unless you've rented a villa that comes with its own cook, generally you'll be having at least some meals in the home. That entails shopping for food, preparing it, and cleaning up–none of which I want to do while on vacation. I do enough of that on a day to day basis, so vacation is time for a reprieve.
And yet, during the few times we have done vacation rentals with relatives or friends, it usually ends up being (primarily) the women who do most of the ingredient shopping and meal preparation, with cleanup split about 50-50 between men and women.
10. No Freeloaders
This brings me to my final point. With a hotel room, you'll rarely have a relative or friend who attempts to come stay with you, at least if it's a single room, or a suite that really only has space for your family.
And yet, with a house, kids of relatives can somehow end up tagging along, while not actually paying anything, nor even helping in any way with meal preparation or cleanup. They may sleep on the couch or camp in the backyard, but either way, they always seem to be in the bathroom when you need it, and first to help themselves to food that they haven't contributed anything towards.
What, if any, are your pet peeves when it comes to vacation rentals vs. luxury hotels?
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