When traveling, you want to look for hotels just like this one.

A year ago, our family was traveling full-time.

We sold our house, and lived alternately with family and in AirBnbs around the United States for 30 days at a time. It was seriously, a memory making year.

 Photo cred: Marcus Nelson

Photo cred: Marcus Nelson

Now that we're setting roots in one place and traveling part-time (you knew that right?), our accommodation options have been reinvigorated. Previously, we only considered VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) or AirBnbs, because you can typically work out a deal for longer stays directly with homeowners. 

In San Diego, for example, we stayed for a month in a 2 bedroom AirBnb located about 15 minutes from the beach for only $40/day.

Financially, staying for a month in a hotel was never an option. A bill for $100/day (a fairly inexpensive daily rate) added up pretty quickly.

But we're not staying for a month anymore. Now, we're traveling to an area and spending a few days.

So finding good hotels for the family is now on my radar. 

Luxury? Eww...no thanks.  

Luxury is awesome. It's something we all want, right?

Who says, "Luxury? Ewww...no thanks. I'll pass on turndown service, infinity pools, plush white robes, spa services, etc."

Not me. Ever. So, feel free to send me on vacations to test out luxury villas for you. I will take on the hard role of researcher...Just. For. You.  

Back to real life.

Let's be honest. We're budget-minded, family travel bloggers. The idea is to see places, to have adventures, to make memories...and to avoid refinancing our house in the process.

And more than that, it's been our pleasure to provide you with weekend getaway ideas and to inspire you to fit some adventure into your busy schedule.

Right now, choosing luxury accommodations for us means that we'd travel one week every 5 years! 

That's no where near our goal of traveling one weekend a month. That said, we've decided not to sacrifice adventure for whimsical things like an extra thick hotel comforter, a cool doorman, and a slick pool. The trade off just isn't worth it. 

But that doesn't mean we're looking to stay in Motel 8's either. 

So, what do we look for in a good hotel? What makes a good hotel stay for us?

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Here's what we look for, in no particular order:

1) Friendly and responsive staff

2) Clean, bed bug free rooms! (Side note: did you know there's actually a bed bug registry that you can check before booking a hotel room?)

3) Proximity of hotel to attractions, located in a safe area

4) Quality, complimentary breakfast every morning

5) A pool for the kids

6) Other in-room amenities, like coffee maker and refrigerator (a place to store left overs and snacks) are a plus! 

7) Affordability  

Here's a great example of what we're talking about.

Welcome to The Inn on The River!

This place was intentional with their messaging. It set a lovely tone for our stay.
This place was intentional with their messaging. It set a lovely tone for our stay.

Last week, we were in Pigeon Forge, TN. Someone recommended this place, and we verified it's standing as the #3 hotel listed on TripAdvisor for Pigeon Forge.

Reviews are an important factor in our booking process for any place that we choose to stay.

We were impressed with the amount of positive reviews this hotel had.

And it met everything on our criteria list! Woohoo!

 Indoor and outdoor pools right next to one another. 

Indoor and outdoor pools right next to one another. 

 Ahhh, breathe in the Smokies. 

Ahhh, breathe in the Smokies. 

Here's what we loved.

  • I think the quaint view of the water from the dining patio won us over most.  
  • Feeding the ducks and geese after breakfast.
  • Popcorn, hot chocolate, tea, and coffee available in the lobby.
  • At breakfast, they had french vanilla coffee creamer. They should get one extra star just for that!
  • You can catch the trolley to Gatlinburg right next door, so you wouldn't even need your car while you're there.
 River front view from many of the rooms. It's not a huge river, but it's peaceful nonetheless. 

River front view from many of the rooms. It's not a huge river, but it's peaceful nonetheless. 

 Breakfast on the patio before the wild day of adventure begins.  

Breakfast on the patio before the wild day of adventure begins.  

 25 cents for a handful of duck food.  

25 cents for a handful of duck food.  

 In our jammies after breakfast but the geese didn't mind.  

In our jammies after breakfast but the geese didn't mind.  

Here's what we didn't love.

 

 To  frequent travelers, limited access to plugs can be such an annoyance. I had to unplug the TV to fit my phone. And really, this is a 4-plug outlet. What purpose does the middle two serve?

To  frequent travelers, limited access to plugs can be such an annoyance. I had to unplug the TV to fit my phone. And really, this is a 4-plug outlet. What purpose does the middle two serve?

  • Wifi was slow. Which, to a blogger, is almost like the hotel saying, "we don't really have a shower. We have a spigot out front you can use." Wifi functionality is key, not just its existence.
  • There weren't enough plugs for all our devices. I think access to a multitude of plugs enhances any traveler's stay. When you can't find a place to plug your phone in, except across the room where your phone has to lie on the floor, that's just downright annoying. Or if you have to move dressers and night stands to locate a plug that's  cause for any traveler to grit their teeth a bit. 
  • The hotel is currently undergoing renovations. They were very good at communicating this throughout the hotel with signage. Staff was also very up front during the check-in process. None of the construction impacted our stay. 

No deal-breakers. 

Nothing detrimental to our experience.  

And then this... 

gave us warm fuzzies and helped us to forgive the minor inconveniences above.  

Check out the email I received as soon as I checked out. This responsiveness, this personal gesture of asking for my input made me feel like an important guest.

That's the key! That's the secret sauce to a good hotel. 

Sure, a lot of hotels reach out with surveys after your stay, what's the big deal?

After all your checklists are met, did they make you feel woo'd? If they did, you'll return...and you'll recommend them, luxury or not. 

For our family, this place won us over from the moment we entered until even after we left. 

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Don't ignore those smaller, locally owned hotels. Not only are they are a great value for family travel, many of them are gems.

What are your non-negotiables when choosing a hotel? What makes a good hotel stay for you?