We just planned a last minute trip to Mexico—flights and rooms booked 24-hours prior to departure (record time, even for me). As I reviewed the various hotel and condo/home rental options, I revisited the pros and cons of each category for a beach vacation.
Number of Onsite Amenities
Popular beach areas are filled with hotels with long lists of amenities and services. There is also a growing list of condo/home rental options in resort complexes with similar amenities to the hotels, meaning you get the additional private space and access to onsite things to do (noting that conversely, many hotels have rental homes on property in addition to standard rooms).
The bottom line is that access to amenities is no longer always an easy point of differentiation.
There may be a pool at your condo, but this is different than having pool staff offer snacks and fruity drinks. Daily housekeeping, concierge services, room service, i.e. people to help you do things are plentiful at hotels—especially higher-end properties. Of course, these services are costly and a big part of why hotels are much more expensive when you are comparing apples-to-apples in terms of quality.
A beach holiday for me is synonymous with relaxation—if I’m in my condo cooking and cleaning every day, I’m dangerously close to a re-location instead of a vacation = same work, new place. Again, there are more and more rentals with daily housekeeping, but this is still different than having access to the full staff of a hotel.
This is a key difference between the options. There is not a “right” choice here—it depends on what you feel like handling for a given vacation.
With very young kids, having a kitchen facility of some kind makes daily life easier—the trade-off is apparent here, you may be pampered at the pool but stress levels rise if every meal has to be in the restaurant, not to mention that eating every meal at a hotel restaurant is very costly.
The benefit of the kitchen, however, is impacted by the location. In Italy, part of the fun of being there is shopping in markets and making simple meals out of their wonderful, fresh ingredients. In Mexico and other beach venues, shopping and cooking on my own is less appealing—not to mention stressful—if I’m worried about food preparation hygiene. That said, many higher-end rentals come staffed with cooks, but this is expensive for a single family.
For extended family or group trips, home rentals are a great value, especially for meals.
Clearly, you get more living space in a rental than a hotel for the same money—meaning, $300 for a single hotel room per night may cost the same or more than a 3-bedroom home. In addition, the position of the accommodation for the price is very different. This is the crux of the debate for me in beach venues—I love staying right on the water, but this is cost-prohibitive in many hotels vs. an on-the-beach rental for the same money as the “garden” view hotel room.
This is a hard one—if you exclude the other factors above, the rental option is the clear winner (assuming the quality level is the same).
Our 6-year-old loves kids' clubs—we love them too because this gives us a chance to relax, guilt-free (assuming he likes the program). Many beach hotels have daily kids' programs and activities. In a standalone rental, kids don’t have the opportunity to meet and play with other children. Condos in resort complexes have the social aspect, but it is more difficult to find options with year-round, structured kids programs and activities.
We just have one child so this may be the single most important factor for us on the beach—if we want to get any down time, we want to stay on a property where he has a safe and fun place to go.
We ended up going the hotel route for this trip and we are thrilled. There is no “right” answer—it depends on what you want to experience for a given trip. I watched a group of 8 adults come into the lobby of our hotel the other night and they mentioned they were staying in a fully-staffed, fabulous, rental right on the ocean. That said, they clearly envied our ability to enjoy the extensive, gorgeous hotel grounds. A trade-off indeed—the debate continues.