The Bed & Breakfast Experience – What to expect and how to choose
In 1990, to celebrate our 5th Anniversary, my husband and I stayed at our first B&B. We didn’t know much about them, this one came recommended by a friend. It was a beautiful, large, old Victorian Home in Frenchtown, NJ called The Old Hunterdon House. Our first real B&B type experience happened on our second day there. We did some outlet shopping and when we arrived back, the owner (sitting in the parlor drinking tea) said, “So what did you buy?”. Having traveled extensively as a travel agent, I had never experienced that. At first I was taken aback by the question. Very quickly, I realized that she considered us guests in her home and was just being warm. We showed her our finds, and that was the start of several stays with her. Unfortunately, several years later she needed to close, and the glorious house became a law firm.
We have since stayed in many types of hotels, but we are always drawn to a B&B. Your stay in one will be very different from a hotel. There are things you should be aware of before your first stay so that you aren’t surprised by the differences.
Start by browsing http://www.bedandbreakfast.
THE INN’S WEBSITE
Read it over carefully. It will give you all the information you need to know about the rooms: checking in, pets, kids, breakfast, etc. Check for what they offer. Do the rooms have a small fridge? A microwave? A fireplace? Do they lend bikes? Give out beach tags? Provide snow shoes? Some offer wine & cheese in the afternoon, others offer a light lunch. See what they have in the way of common areas such as a living room, library, game room, etc. Think about what is important to you and try to find an Inn that has most or all of what you’re looking for. Also look over their Facebook page, that’s a great place to ask any questions you have.
CHOOSING A ROOM
Since they have somewhere between 7-20 rooms, the website will give the details and availability for each and every room. Each room will be different, in size, decor, and amenities, so you’ll want to choose wisely. If you plan to spend most of your time outside the Inn, a small room will suffice. If you’re looking for a romantic weekend where you never leave the room, be sure it is comfy enough. Some B&B rooms are very small due to the age of the house, and space being taken away from rooms to create bathrooms. You don’t want to be in a tiny room that has just a bed if you’re planning on spending most of the weekend in the room. You’ll want at least a comfy chair, and preferably a couch. A 2-person jetted tub is ideal for such a weekend. Check if the rooms have TVs and DVD players. Some may only have a TV in the common room, and not in each bedroom. Some Inns have a DVD lending library.
Most are old houses and may have creaking floors, noisy plumbing and other aspects that you may find undesirable. If you are used to the comforts of The Ritz Carlton, a B&B may not be for you. Some Inns have added on a new building that is separate from the original house. In those, the rooms will be newer and more up-to-date, but still have the B&B charm. Most Inns won’t have an elevator, so be sure to request a ground floor room if you can’t walk up the stairs.
Some have just a shower and not a bathtub. Some rooms share a bathroom with other rooms. The website should be clear on whether your room has a private or shared bath, so check carefully. You’ll also see it reflected in the pricing.
There are Inns near the shore, in the mountains, and smack dab in the middle of a city, so consider what activities you may enjoy. While location is certainly important, the B&B experience is also very much about the Inn & the owners. Once you find an Inn you love, you’ll be hooked, and will find yourself going back again and again.
Tell them when you make your reservation if you have any food allergies or dislikes. They are not a full service restaurant and may not have a large variety of foods on hand. They would love to accommodate you, but if you tell them when you arrive at breakfast that you have an allergy, they may not have the right foods there for you.
Check their policy. Some don’t allow kids at all. Some allow kids age 12 and over.
Some B&B’s allow pets. They generally keep some rooms pet-free and always clean the rooms with pets thoroughly after each stay. If you have pet allergies, tell them when making your reservation and they’ll put you in a pet-free room.
B&B’s generally have beautiful grounds with gardens, bird baths, fountains, and places to sit. In nice weather, bring a book outside and enjoy.
If you arrive at breakfast and the tables are full, don’t hesitate to ask to join other people at their table. This is the B&B way. Many guests have been there before and have a wealth of information about the area. You may even wind up doing some sightseeing with people you meet.
The owners will have vast knowledge of what to do and where to eat. They may offer discount coupons to attractions, so check with them first before you buy tickets for a museum, show, botanical garden, etc. They may also be able to get you a restaurant reservation even if the restaurant is full. Many Inns are located near outlet shopping, so you may be able to turn your stay into an inexpensive shopping trip.
The owners live on the premises. Please keep in mind that this is not a hotel with a 24-hour staff. Of course you should call the owners in the middle of the night if you truly need them, but put a little thought into it first. If it’s 2am and you just want to borrow a DVD, keep in mind that you will be waking them up to help you.
Be careful with online half price deals. Read the fine print carefully before you buy. Some may be only for a mid-week stay, so if you can’t do that, don’t buy. They may also only accept reservations in the off season.
Check the websites below for reviews. Be sure to read the negative reviews with a critical eye. Are they complaining about something that was clear on the website and is common to most B&B’s? If so, you may want to skip that review. Another tip when reading reviews is to see if the person has written other reviews and check those. If they are negative about every place they review, they may not be the most credible.
The most important thing is to be realistic in your expectations. If you are expecting a high rise luxury hotel, and all the amenities that go along with that, you might be disappointed with a B&B. If you can open your mind to a smaller place, to meeting owners who will become your friends, and to having experiences that you will remember for a very long time, by all means start looking for your first B&B now!
Leave a comment with your experience. We’d love to hear!