What you might not have thought about is what to expect at your hotel. In the U.S.A., hotel standards are pretty consistent. You know what to anticipate at a Motel 6 and what to look forward to at the Four Seasons. In Europe, the lines are not so clearly drawn.
In order to avoid disappointment and frustration, it’s helpful to know what to expect during your European hotel stay.
Star ratings Travelers often assume there is a world-wide standard for hotel star ratings, but these ratings are simply general quality indicators and they vary by country, at least. On top of that, star ratings are usually awarded based on location or amenities, not both. That means you can stay in a 4-star hotel in the center of one of London’s best neighborhoods and still not have the amenities you might expect.
TIP: Research your hotel in advance if amenities are important to you. Otherwise, focus on booking a room close to the sites you most want to visit. Why waste time and money getting to the historic center of Rome from a Holiday Inn at the airport an hour away?
Room size European hotel rooms are usually smaller than those in the U.S.A., so if you want a bigger room, you’ll have to pay for it. Most hotels offer different room categories, often based on size or view. If you’re staying in the historic district of your chosen destination, then you’re likely in an historic property that’s decades—if not centuries—old. Probably at one time a residence, each room will be different from the next in size, shape, and décor.
TIP: Don’t compare your room to that of your traveling companions. Enjoy the unique qualities of your own space. If room size is important to you, ask for clarification before booking.
Bathrooms Not all European hotel rooms come with private bathrooms, so ask before booking. You may pay more for a room with a private bath. In older hotels, the plumbing may be interesting, to say the least. Some rooms may have a full bath with tub, others may have only a sink, toilet, and shower.
TIP: In some 3-star hotels and below, the “shower” may consist of only a showerhead near the toilet and a drain in the floor. Pull the shower curtain around you and plan on getting water just about everywhere anyway. If you’re concerned something might get wet that shouldn’t, move it out of the room beforehand. And then laugh about it when you tell your friends back home.
Single Supplement Most Americans expect a hotel room to cost a certain amount, period. In Europe, a solo traveler often pays an additional fee for the room, even if the space is especially small and holds only a twin bed. So, yes, you may pay more for less when traveling alone. Keep in mind, however, that travelers who share a double room are often paying per person, so they are paying more for their space.
TIP: If you’re traveling alone and want to book (and pay for) a full-size room, you can request a “double room for single use.” You might also consider sharing a room with a traveling companion. Many tour companies offer this option, and some may waive the single supplement if you’re simply willing to share a room, even if no one takes you up on it.
Breakfast Breakfast is not always included in the price of your room. If breakfast is important to you, ask in advance. Many hotels offer either a continental breakfast or a nice breakfast buffet.
TIP: A continental breakfast typically features rolls, jams, coffee or tea, and perhaps fruit and cheese. Dry cereals and milk may also be offered. A full English breakfast usually highlights British sausage, poached eggs, toast with marmalade, canned pork and beans, and tea. A full American breakfast probably includes eggs and bacon, but not the kind of thin, crispy bacon to which we’re accustomed. It’s okay—you’re in Europe.
Wi-fi Many hotels provide wi-fi service, but it can be spotty, and may only be available in the public areas of the property. This is because the buildings tend to be very old and the walls quite thick. You may have to pay extra for a connection, particularly in hotels with a higher star rating. You read that right. Hotels will often provide a computer or two for shared, free usage in a public space, so if you only need to send a quick email home, that option might work just fine for you.
TIP: Keep in mind that if you purchase 24 hours of wi-fi connection, that’s often actual usage time. You are not paying for only one day of access. You probably don’t need 24 hours of wi-fi during your stay, so purchasing less wi-fi time may be appropriate for you. Be sure to ask, however, just to be certain.
Air conditioning Many European hotels do not provide air conditioning, especially those in generally milder climates. If your hotel does provide air conditioning, it may not get as cold as you prefer. If air conditioning is essential for you, ask before booking.
TIP: In order to manage the cost of electricity, many European hotels limit the hours in which air conditioning is available. Alternately, they may have sensors on the windows, so that when the window is open, the air conditioning won’t work. In some hotels, if you set the thermostat below a certain temperature, the air conditioning will shut off completely. If you’re having trouble with your air conditioning, ask the front desk for help.
Room keys Hotels in Europe often require the key to be left at the front desk when you leave the hotel for the day. Consequently, the key fob may be enormous as a reminder that you don’t want to slip it into your pocket.
TIP: Your room key may also be required to turn on the electricity in your room. If you find yourself without power, check to see if there is a key-card slot inside your room near the door (and probably near the light switch). If so, place the key card inside and, presto, you’ll have lights!
Noise You’re delighted that your room is in the lovely historic center of your destination, until you try to sleep. You can hear the dance club down the street, the church bells ringing at midnight, the musicians in the piazza, or the traffic on the main thoroughfare nearby. Keep in mind that the vibrant life of a city can be noisy, and there’s not a tremendous amount a hotel manager of an historic property can do about it. It simply comes with the territory, so to speak.
TIP: If your hotel offers a courtyard side, those rooms might be quieter, but you may be losing an amazing view. If your room has windows and shutters, close them both. They can really help to block out the noise.
Bonus Tip 1: You may need to surrender your passport at the desk upon check in, though you should get it back within half an hour. Laws require hotels to register occupants with local authorities. You may be able to keep your passport in your possession if you show the original and provide a copy for the hotel to keep.
Bonus Tip 2: If your hotel has a concierge, use him or her. This person can provide you with great insider information on your destination and can make restaurant reservations and other arrangements for you. A money gift will be appreciated if they’ve worked extra hard for you.
Keeping these tips in mind will help you as you plan your stay abroad. Above all, don’t let a less-than-satisfactory hotel experience mar your vacation. After all, you’re in Europe!