Tuesday Travel Trouble: That’ll be extra…

Last week I wrote about our visit to Normandy.  It was truly a wonderful add-on to our adventures in France.  But it sure started out rocky!  First there was the car rental snafu, but once we made it out of Paris in the rental, we figured we were home free.  If only we’d known at the time what awaited us at our “hotel.”

I’ve generally had good experiences with the various online travel agencies when it comes to hotels.  As far as the big names go, I’ve used Expedia, Travelocity, and Hotels.com several times.  I’ve even gone with some of the lesser-known (to Americans) online sites such as Booking.com (very good coverage, especially in Europe) and Venere.  And of course we’ve promoted the value of vacation rentals in the past from HomeAway and Airbnb—just as long as you know what you’re getting.

For this visit to Normandy, we’d decided to go with this place on Booking.com that offered two-bedroom suites with a small kitchen.  The pictures portrayed it as hotel-type accommodations, but the word Résidence made me think it was more of a vacation rental or apart’hotel.  Whatever the case, we thought it would work well for our family.  Unfortunately, we were a bit careless on the fine print.  While the website had definitely done a poor/incomplete job of managing our expectations, we could’ve taken some steps to minimize disappointment.

We first realized we had a lodging hiccup when we arrived on the open road out of Paris.  Getting on the road had taken longer than planned (doesn’t it always?), and we realized we were on track for a late arrival (~11pm).  As we reviewed the reservation confirmation, we discovered that check-in was from 5pm to 7pm.  We attempted to call the front desk to let them know we’d be late, but we only got an answering machine.  We started to panic, thinking we’d get to Grandcamp-Maisy and be stuck with no place to sleep but our car.  We called Booking.com, and while they were courteous and willing to make a call to the Résidence, they returned a few minutes later to explain they’d only gotten an answering machine, as well.

Grandcamp-Maisy is a tiny seaside town, so we were troubled at our prospects, but with a few phone calls, we eventually had a backup—there was one hotel across the port from ours that had an available room at a reasonable rate.  They said as long as we made it before midnight, they’d be willing to wait up for us and hold the room, even without a deposit.  That was encouraging—at least we’d not be on the street (or in the car) until morning.

When we finally arrived at our originally booked rental, there was an electric gate preventing entry.  Unsurprisingly, there was no reply via the intercom button.  There was a small sign that included a phone number “in case of emergency,” but as much as I felt like it was an emergency, I wasn’t sure the person on the other end would agree.  After some deliberation, we made the call.  The lady was kind enough, though not thrilled to hear from us so late, and gave us instructions for accessing our room.

WHEW.  We had a place to sleep.  But she also mentioned that there were no linens, because we hadn’t ordered any in advance and no one was there to get any for us.

WHAT?!  NO LINENS?

She was relatively unapologetic.  Apparently the website’s fine print mentioned that bed linens and towels “could be rented on site for an extra cost.”  Huh.  We decided we’d somehow make do, and we’d get linens in the morning.  Unfortunately for our youngest son, the same employee who would have delivered the linens would also have delivered a crib.  So…it would be a rough night of sleep.  The mattresses did have protectors on them, and there were a few blankets.  But no pillowcases and no sheets.  Definitely not what we’d bargained for.

When morning came, we headed down to get linens.  Oh look, the office is only open from 9-10am (plus from 5-7pm for check-in).  You can imagine how we were feeling by this point.  But wait, it gets worse!

At 9am, we headed back down to the office for our linens and to request a crib.  It was at this point we learned that the “extra cost” would be exorbitant.  18€ to borrow a set of twin sheets, 25€ for a queen set.  And towels would be another 10€ per set.  So for our family of six, the tally was close to $170 (we scrimped on towels).  And the toiletries shown in the website photos (you know, hotel shampoo and soap)?  They don’t exist.  I guess we’d just add those incidentals to the tab we’d ring up at the grocery store.

There were a couple of other downers about the place, like the fact that the laundry room was only open when the office was open (try getting your laundry down in those time frames), and the pool hours were lacking.

But we’d all admit that once we got settled, our pains and hassles were mostly forgotten.  The hotel was clean and well-kept, and the location was excellent.  We had a fantastic time exploring the coastline, from sandy fun to solemn remembrance to trench exploration and the circus.  Would we do it again?  Definitely.  Would we stay at the same place?  Only if there was no better option.  And in that case, at least we’d know what we were getting into…and probably bring sheets and towels along with us.

  • More and more these days, lodging websites are recognizing the market for vacation rentals or other non-hotel options. com has been particularly focused on expanding its selection of available “beds” by including B&B locations, hostels, and vacation rentals (in addition to hotels).  So look closely at the accommodation description and/or category so you know what you’re getting.
  • When a website says “for an extra cost,” don’t assume it will be reasonably priced. You may want to call the destination before booking to see whether the additional costs are going to make any savings you get with a lower room rate worthless.
  • If you’re going to be arriving late, it’s probably best to call. While in our case, the hours we could call were very limited, this is a rarity.  So as soon as you know you’re not going to arrive at a more standard check-in time (late afternoon or early evening), pick up the phone to let them know you’re still planning to be there.  Not only is it courteous, it also gives them a chance to make special arrangements for you (or get your expensive linens ready!).
  • If it looks like things are turning sour, explore backup options. We were so grateful for the hotel across the port keeping the light on for us.  It really put our minds at ease for that final hour of our drive.  They were similarly grateful that when we determined we would not need to stay at their hotel, we called to let them know.  Just remember the good manners your parents taught you—you’ll go far.
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