Thursday, March 18, 2010
The Risks and Rewards of Booking Hotels Online
For this year’s March Break, we decided to travel to Montreal and Quebec City. Road trips are always more affordable and often more convenient than air travel, and we were travelling on a budget this time around. In this vein, we booked our accommodation through a website called Hotwire.com. The concept of the website, which I am still having trouble comprehending, is to have people book their hotel rooms, and other travel necessities, without actually knowing the name of the hotel you are booking (in essence, this is similar to the Priceline website). You pick your area, for example downtown Montreal, and then a list of hotels appears, with their star ratings and hotel amenities.
For the Montreal hotel portion, we were happy to find that our blind booking led to a stay at Le Sheraton on Rene-Levesque, which is within walking distance of the downtown shopping and restaurants. When we arrived at the hotel, we were impressed by the lobby and the atmosphere – it was very stylish, and had a business-like, professional tone (it was a Monday after all). The hotel bar, just to the left of the hotel entrance, looked recently refurbished, and was all modern, dark lines, with lots of glass to let in the streams of sunlight. The room itself was also nicely appointed, with a large flat screen TV, and a panel for all of your audio-visual hook-ups and needs. Overall, for just over $100, we were happily situated, comfortable, and were in for no unpleasant surprises.
However, moving onwards to the hotel in Quebec City, also organized through the Hotwire website, there were many unexpected things that made our stay less enjoyable than Le Sheraton. We were originally pleased by the look of the hotel Loews Concord on the web, as it appeared modern and unique with its rotating restaurant affording breathtaking views of the city. Indeed, the location is hard to beat; it is only a 10 minute walk to the Saint-Jean gate of the old city, and it is flanked on one side by the Plains of Abraham, a great place to take a stroll even in winter.
But, and it is a BIG but, especially for a high school teacher, the Loews Concord is not the place to stay over March Break if you are looking for a romantic, quiet getaway in Quebec City. From the minute we arrived until the morning we left, 48 hours later, our experience was punctuated by rowdy, mostly drunk high school students lingering around the hotel lobby and riding the elevators by the dozens. For sake of brevity, and I hope to make you laugh, here are the top 5 reasons not to stay in the more popular areas of Quebec over March Break:
5. You will get onto the elevator in the hotel lobby of a 28-floor hotel, and find that EVERY single floor button has been pressed.
4. You will find yourself wondering if you are in Mexico or Cuba, as the girls will try to pass 4-inches of material as skirts or shorts, even though it is March in Quebec City.
3. You will have to translate conversations at the bar for drunk, English 16-year-olds wearing green headbands, since March Break inevitably always falls on St. Patrick’s Day.
2. You will have to deal with the following things on the elevator: exclamations of “dude” and “oh my god!”; holding your breath as hordes of drunk teenagers sweat out alcohol; hearing complaints of teens with painful new tattoos; waiting patiently as they go in and out of the elevator, usually up or down one floor.
1. You will go to the ice machine room, the only one in the hotel, and get almost knocked out by the smell of ammonia, because someone has just peed in there.
Despite all this, we did find some solace in our room, and the view from there is one of the best in the country, no doubt (see photo). I also imagine that eating in the restaurant, with a 360° view of the city would be memorable and romantic, and likely far out of range of the teenager budget. And of course, Quebec city, especially the old town and rue Cartier, are both charming, rich in culture and history, and of course delicious food, so this is not meant to put you off going to visit; it is only to remind you to pick your time of year wisely!