Inns and bed and breakfasts can be a wonderful type of accommodation for a vacation or getaway weekend. Understanding how they work and the pluses and minuses of choosing them over a traditional hotel room is key to making sure your stay is both delightful and stress-free.
In New England, inns and bed and breakfasts are a popular choice and often located in historic homes full of antiques and unique furnishings. In other parts of the country and world, the term is more loosely used in describing a place to rest your head for the night and then move on.
In my book, inns are a delightful alternative to hotels and resorts. But they are not for everybody, and here’s the answers to some basic questions to determine if it’s the type of accommodation that’ll work for you…
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN INNS AND BED AND BREAKFASTS?
Let’s start by clearing up any confusion on the differences between inns and bed and breakfasts. And it’s not so much in the name as how they advertise themselves.
Firstly, there’s rarely any difference in accommodation. The personality of a bed and breakfast can be every bit as good as the charm of an inn. The difference is in the prepared meals. A bed and breakfast is just that… expect a bed… and a breakfast, but you’re on your own for dinner. But at inns, they’re set-up to provide dinner as well, although it’s usually an option, and not included in the quoted price. The listing will be very clear if dinner is offered. But assume its just bed and breakfast if nothing is mentioned.
In many areas of the world inns and bed and breakfasts are also called guesthouses. If at all possible ask to see a picture of the place, or visit their website, where one should be posted. A lot can be surmised from a picture of your potential accommodation.
ARE THEY RIGHT FOR MY KIDS?
Many inns and bed and breakfasts don’t accommodate young children. Sometimes the age and furnishings of the place are not appropriate for the fingers and playfulness of kids. But when an inn says kids are welcome, then you’d better believe they really mean they’re kid-friendly. Now there’s nothing wrong with that (I have two myself), but don’t expect too much peace and quiet and solitude.
Between those inns that ban children, and those that embrace them, you’ll find a number of listings that put an age restriction on children. For example, they’ll say something like: 12 or older, or above 6-years old. These places are also catering to a single or couple looking for a chance to unwind and free of noise and high activity. If you’ve got high-action kids then bed and breakfasts may not be ideal for your family.
WHAT SERVICE CAN I EXPECT?
Staying in inns is different than staying at a hotel. You shouldn’t expect a country inn to be like a Hilton, with hordes of staff at your beck and call, and soundproof walls. Also, having a party and playing loud music after 11:00 pm won’t win you any brownie points with your host or the other guests.
Remember… the innkeeper or host is there to provide you, and other guests, with a unique experience in unique surroundings, but to do that they’ll need your understanding.
WHAT’S THE USUAL CHECK-IN CHECK-OUT TIME?
Your host will go out of their way to greet you when you check-in. Usually when you reserve you’ll be told when their normal check-in and check-out times are. But most can accommodate your arrival and departure outside those hours.
But you need to let them know if you’ll be late arriving so they can arrange for you to get into the house (yes, the doors are locked after a certain hour), and to your room. It’s one thing to show up at midnight at your hotel – they’re staffed round the clock – but it’s entirely another matter to roll-in after 11:00 pm at a bed and breakfast, and expect your host to get out of bed and greet you smiling. After all, they’re probably making an early breakfast for everybody in the morning.
CAN YOU NEGOTIATE PRICE?
Just like hotels, the room rate for inns is negotiable. The main difference is unlike a hotel, the person on the other end of a phone is usually the owner of the bed and breakfast, and they can make the decision on the spot. All you have to do is ask in a nice way.
Just remember the innkeeper may only have a few rooms, to begin with anyway, and if you’re haggling over the last room then don’t be offended if they don’t give you a price reduction. But on the other hand, one room of a four-room inn without a paying guest reduces a host’s profit by 25%. So it’s always worth asking for a reduction!
HOW MUCH CAN YOU REALLY SAVE?
Most inns can book their weekends or popular seasonal period’s weeks in advance. For instance, in New England the fall foliage season makes rooms a premium, and most are booked many months in advance.
But outside these constraints filling the rooms at an inn during the week, particularly off-season, is much more difficult. You’ll get the best deals for bed and breakfasts traveling mid-week and out of season. Now contrast this with hotels that have the opposite problem, because they cater to the mid-week business traveler, but can’t get people in rooms at the weekends.
WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?
Here are a few extra tips to once you’ve decided an inn or bed and breakfast is the right choice for you…
Be sure to get detailed directions to the inn as many are converted homes and blend in with the surroundings, and don’t have neon advertising signs like hotels. When you call make sure you understand the cancellation policies as they are usually much more restrictive than hotels. And don’t forget your host is familiar with the area and can point you to attractions and restaurants not on any tour guide or map.
I love staying in inns. They have a lot going for them. Inns are usually very affordable, offer tons more variety than a bland hotel room, and are a great way to meet fellow travelers or vacationers.