Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mixed Vacation Lodging - What's Best?

Without even meaning to, our trip to Montana consisted of the ultimate mix of lodging. We started with a vrbo (vacation rental by owner), moved into motels along the remote parts of Glacier National Park, pricelined the standard hotel while in Missoula, then ended in a B&B back in Whitefish. What did I think?

It was the first time we had ever experienced a vrbo. Admittedly, I was cautious about it; how do you know what it will truly be like, and what if the place was a scam? One trick that I learned along the way, reinforced by another traveler, is to choose a vrbo that actually has customer comments. If you're conservative, as we are when it comes to lodging in places we aren't familiar with, this is a good barometer. Our Whitefish vrbo was called the Whitefish Homestead, and it was entirely delightful. It didn't have the modern uplift that many hotels are in the mode of doing, as evidenced by the palm tree wallpaper in the main bedroom, but for an equivalent price of a hotel room, we basically got a 2-bedroom apartment with the most amazing view of Whitefish Lake. Its location couldn't be beat. Walkable to downtown Whitefish, and with a great hostess who lived downstairs, who managed to keep herself accessible and yet not intrusive, it felt amazingly isolated. I slept solidly every night we were there. Awesome.

Motels, motels. I can't tell you the last time I stayed at a motel. But as I would learn on the East side of Glacier, not all motels are created equal. In Babb, where we wanted to stay close to the Many Glacier entrance, there's only one value choice. Yes, you could stay inside the park for a very pretty penny for sparse accommodations, but we wanted a great value, so we stayed outside - at Thronson's Babb. There, you can have the pleasure of spending your evening killing flies that seem to appear from nowhere, and find illicit drugs in the drawer right next to the Good Book itself. Yuck. The next day, we demanded $40 back - $1 for every fly we killed.

We skipped the next night in Babb and hightailed it to our next location - the Mountain Pine Motel. While not the lap of luxury, it was clean, quaint, friendly, and a great value. The benefit here was that the rooms were set up like a village of sorts, which lent itself to chatting with other visitors, and that is always one of my favorite parts of vacation. Perhaps it was because we enjoyed our East Glacier Park experience so much; perhaps because of Doris - the spunky 80-year-old matriarch of the motel who is hard of hearing and wears huge round white framed reading glasses. Whatever it is, I do have warm spot in my heart for that motel.

We moved on to the new Courtyard Marriott in Missoula. Eric pricelined it and nabbed the room for $70 per night - the best value we had all vacation. It was new, hip, clean, unused, altogether lovely. The hot tub, however, was the cool tub, the only thing that wasn't quite right. While I loved the amenities, there is something very impersonal with the hotel chain. No one really speaks or "hangs out." You stay to yourselves. Very different from our Mountain Pine Motel's informality which promoted engaging others, this was a very pretty room in which to lay your head each night.

We headed back to Whitefish and stayed at the widely acclaimed Good Medicine Lodge. It was a wonderful cross between the hotel amenities and the warmth and intimacy we felt at the Mountain Pine. The space was beautiful and comfortable. A pine tree was actually growing in the living room. The hot tub was actually hot. But there was something a little more formal to it all, where you felt like you had to behave yourself. The rambunctious night that Eric had with the hard-drinking, fun-seeking, adventurous world-traveling motorcyclists from England most likely wouldn't have happened at the Good Medicine Lodge. However, the cocktail hour was pleasant and encouraged everyone to meet each other. The first night, we met a group from France. The language barrier was an issue, but it didn't diminish the pleasant evening. The second night, we chatted with two other couples for hours. The diversity was fascinating, no topic was barred. Former FBI agent, Special Education Coordinator, Brand Director for the H1N1 vaccine, Guidance Counselor, Candy Maven, talking about terrorism, racism, flu epidemic, what it takes for students to succeed nowadays, and which place in town had good pizza. It was a great night. The only thing about a B&B is that your breakfast is dictated in the morning. Breakfast was a big deal during our stay, and while the food was definitely detailed and without exception, if you're watching what you eat, forget it.

The best? They all have pros and cons. Well, the motel in Babb only has cons, really, but if I had to choose just one, I'd take the vrbo. It had personality, great amount of space, and an unparalleled view. Ultimately, it was also the place that I felt the most rejuvenated, the most rested. I could sleep the whole night through, and that was no small feat.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

After living in Oregon and going to the coast, and now living in Colorado, and going to the mountains, I swear by VRBOs. They're awesome. You get so much more than in your average hotel. And it's perfect for weeklong vacations -- you can grocery shop and cook your own meals and save a bunch that way.