Should you really book that incredible travel deal right now?

Want to fly between Houston and Newark for $30? How about a $22 transcontinental flight? And a flight from the New York City area to London? That starts at a cool $111 all-in.
You don’t have to be an aviation analyst to know that that those prices are significantly lower than normal. You can also probably guess why with 100% certainty. In many cases, the low fares extend into the normally peak summer months, if not beyond. While no one knows how long coronavirus will have an affect on daily life around the world, the hope is that it will, at some point, lessen its grip.
So, should you be guessing when the situation will improve and taking advantage of some of the outrageous travel deals available right now?
Maybe. But also, maybe not.

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Avoid near-term travel
I don’t care if an airline is offering free flights right now: Unless you absolutely must travel to relocate to a better location for the duration of the outbreak, or for a medical reasons, no price is worth a leisure trip at the moment due to the priority of social distancing to slow the spread of coronavirus.
If you’re curious, here’s TPG’s official stance on travel at the moment:

The team at The Points Guy loves to travel, but now is not the time for unnecessary trips.
Health officials note the fastest way to return to normalcy is to stop coming in contact with others. That includes ceasing travel.
We support the travel industry and want to be there for it and encourage more trips, but only when the time is right.
Instead of traveling right now, we suggest this is the time to plan your next vacation. You don’t have to book yet, but figure out where you want to go and map out the right strategy for building up the right points and miles for those trips.
TPG can guide travelers through this process. We’ll share the news when it’s time to start booking, but at least for the short term let’s all do as much as we can to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and that includes hitting pause on travel.

Visit TPG’s guide to all coronavirus news and updates
Know the change policies
Once you start looking at potential travel deals further out on the calendar, you still need to be mindful of change and cancellation policies.
While no one knows when “normal” will return, if you spot an appealing travel deal for later in the year, just be sure it’s either so cheap you won’t mind walking away, or there’s a generous change or cancellation fee waiver in place. When it comes to booking airfare, most U.S. airlines are waiving change fees on future travel booked right now. I recommend booking directly with the airlines to cut down on the extra hassle you might encounter when reserving travel through a third-party site.
The change policies, however, aren’t consistent across the industry. They vary from airline to airline, from one hotel chain to the next, and you’ll find them to be vastly different from cruise lines to vacation rental sites. So, read the fine print before swiping your travel rewards credit card on a future travel deal.
Related: The best credit cards that offer trip cancellation and interruption coverage
Can you tie up more money in travel?
Even if the travel deal you want is changeable, think long and hard about whether now is the time to tie up more of your funds in travel. Changeable and fully refundable aren’t the same things, so carefully evaluate your personal situation in these ever-changing times before giving a travel company more of your cash.
If you’re using points or miles to book an incredible deal, that equation shifts since you can’t typically eat your miles or use them to pay rent — well, unless you’re cashing in for a fancy premium cabin award where the airline may indeed feed you pretty well once this event is over. If you’re using a travel voucher, miles or have the budget to put aside funds for future travel, that’s a very different scenario than if you are struggling to stock up your pantry with necessities.
For example, those normally almost impossible to book premium cabin awards might be more bountiful than ever at the moment. There’s probably nothing wrong with scooping up some of those awards for travel later this year as long as you’re comfortable with the change and cancellation stipulations.
Air Tahiti Nui business class awards are wide open (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
Do you know where you want to travel?
Six weeks ago, most of us were probably avoiding trips to Asia, as COVID-19 intensified there first. Then we canceled trips to South Korea, Japan, Iran, and later Italy and other parts of Europe.
Now, the U.S. has growing hot spots of its own, while some parts of Asia are (hopefully) beginning to round the corner of this crisis. Disney World in Florida, for example, just closed its doors to the public on Sunday night, while Shanghai Disneyland has been closed since Jan. 25. But as Cinderella Castle in Florida enters its period of darkness, Shanghai Disneyland is showings signs of a phased reopening. As the first step toward welcoming back guests, the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel, Wishing Star Park and some shopping, dining and recreational experiences have recently resumed limited operations.
Disney’s castle in Shanghai. (Photo by Dia Adams)
This one example shows that it’s hard to guess which parts of the world will be ready for tourists before others. So, before you book a travel deal, just think about whether you really know where you’ll want to travel. Of course, if you make very flexible plans, you may not need a crystal ball to start booking future travel.
Related: Should I travel? Advice for the coronavirus outbreak
Bottom line
I’m a deal hunter. I love the thrill of finding and booking a travel bargain. I’m also a serious supporter of the travel industry and want to see it emerge from the other side of this crisis in one piece.
But even I am being very conservative about booking new travel at this juncture, despite the tempting deals. There are just so many unknowns. There’s also the reality that I still have some travel already booked for later in 2020, so I’d rather wait and see if that happens as planned and apply those travel credits elsewhere if needed, than put any substantial amount of additional dollars on the table. That said, you may find me speculatively making some future award travel plans that I’m OK with changing if the situation warrants.
I’m not 100% opposed to picking up very inexpensive or truly refundable deals later in the year, and I’m much more likely to use miles or less flexible points to book some award travel deals than spend large amounts of cash — at least until we’re closer to the other side of this trying tunnel.
Featured image by SasinParaksa/Getty Images.

7 ways to save serious cash on holiday travel

Want to fly home (or far away) for the holidays? According to AAA, the average price of an airline ticket to fly home around the holidays is close to $500 per person. Checked bags — or even boxes of presents — can set you back $60 or more per trip if you aren’t careful. And if you need to book a hotel room to stay near your family, you’re easily looking at an additional $100 per night, if not more, depending on location.
Quick math says a family of four is in for a few grand in travel costs before they can say, “Ho, Ho — no way that’s too expensive, we’re staying home!”
Fortunately, we have more than a few strategies for saving money every step of the way, whether you want to find affordable flights or save money on bag fees and airport food.
Know how to look for cheap airfare
Despite headlines that suggest otherwise, you can find affordable flights out there, even for holiday travel dates — but you have to know where to look or you won’t find them.
TPG has a complete guide to finding cheap airfare, so I won’t repeat all the tips, but I’ll remind you of my favorite tool: Google Flights, which has a search option that doesn’t require you to put in your destination. This tool is good as gold if your holiday travel plans are still up in the air.
You can put your city as the origin, your preferred travel dates and then just leave the destination blank and see the prices it finds to points near and far.

Or, if you already know exactly where you need to go to trim the tree and break the bread, plug in your origin and destination, and use Google Flights to quickly scan for the cheapest travel date. During the holidays, having even one or two days of flexibility can swing the price over $100 in either direction.
Go where others aren’t
If you live in New York City, flying to sunny Cancun or Aruba during Thanksgiving may be appealing, but it could cost you more than $600 per person. Keep those swimsuits packed away in the drawer, however, and you could save about $150 each if you cross the ocean to London, Amsterdam and Milan instead. And there are plenty of great reasons to visit London — and the rest of Europe — during the holidays beyond cheaper airfare. (Think: Christmas markets and thin crowds.)
Tropical getaways can cost a fortune during the holidays, but from Houston, approximately $200 per person during Thanksgiving week gets you round-trip flights to Las Vegas, which is a great starting point for exploring great outdoors destinations such as the Valley of Fire, Death Valley, Zion and the Grand Canyon if Vegas itself isn’t your thing. They’re all a reasonable drive from Las Vegas, and you don’t have to worry about stifling desert heat during November and December.
Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada. (Photo by Matt Anderson Photography/Getty Images)
And travelers based in Los Angeles can spend around $300 round-trip to really skip town and go to Beijing or Shanghai, while approximately $400 on airfare can be the key to spending your holiday hunting for the northern lights in Alaska.
No matter where you’re based, good deals can be found by heading to offseason locales and setting your sights somewhere far from the crowds. Instead of a beachy retreat in the Caribbean or Mexico, or a classic holiday ski week — especially during the December holidays and the New Year — consider a European city break or a national park.
Related: Best places to travel in November
Don’t rule out first class
Here’s the weird thing about the holiday travel season: Leisure travel picks up, but business travel grinds to a halt. Business travelers are usually the ones snapping up first class seats on someone else’s dime or with their frequent flyer perks. So, around the holidays, it’s not that unusual to find first class seats that don’t cost much more than economy would if you pay with cash — and with miles, those first class fares may be cheaper than economy. This was true on the search I ran on flights from Houston (IAH) to Los Angeles (LAX) the day before Thanksgiving.
That nonstop flight is available for 30,000 American Airlines miles in economy, but the exact same flight in first class is just 25,000 American Airlines miles.

And on Nov. 26, American’s economy seats from New York-JFK to Miami International (MIA) aren’t available using partner miles, such as British Airways Avios. But you can fly that same route in domestic first class/business class for just 16,500 Avios, plus $5.60 in taxes and fees.
Related: How to fly American’s best business class seats domestically

Be a points pro
I know, your favorite airline frequent flyer program or using points at a fixed cash value is your warm and comfy spot. But this is the holiday season, when otherwise sane people line-up at Walmart at midnight to save a few bucks on a gadget or gizmo. This is when we cut down live trees, cover them in tiny lights and fake snow, and watch them die slowly over the course of a month in our living rooms.
Mostly, however, it’s the time to up your points game if you want to save a lot of money on holiday travel.
Learn about transferring those Chase, Capital One, Citi and Amex points to partners as it can be the difference between saving all your holiday dreams or emptying out your wallet. Want to fly to snowy Aspen before New Year’s Eve? That’ll cost you 10,000 Avianca LifeMiles from Houston — or more than $300 per person in each direction if you prefer cash. So transfer your miles to Avianca from Capital One, Amex or Citi and book that United flight without blowing your budget.

If you just can’t shake the idea of ditching your turkey and cranberry sauce for sunny Aruba, JetBlue might be your answer, as you can book a one-way flight on the Monday of Thanksgiving week from New York-JFK to Aruba (AUA) for 9,100 points and just $15. If you don’t have JetBlue points right now, that’s not a problem. You can transfer them from Citi ThankYou, Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards to fill your up TrueBlue account.
Eagle Beach in Aruba. (Photo by Marc Boettinger/Getty Images)
Leave early or stay late
Want to pay 32% more for your holiday flights? Go home on Sunday. If you want to avoid that Sunday surcharge, Hipmunk advises travelers to sneak out early or stay an extra couple of days. Whether you depart on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or fly out last-minute on Thanksgiving morning, your savings will be significant if you leave the Friday following Thanksgiving. Even Saturday departures are significantly less expensive than those turkey-stuffed travelers flying on Sunday. You can also save on the front-end of the trip if you head home for Thanksgiving on Monday or Tuesday instead of waiting for Wednesday.
While we’re talking about travel dates, yes, Thanksgiving and the week of Christmas and the New Year are very busy and often pricey. But those first couple weeks in December are slower than normal and there are outstanding deals to be had if you’re OK taking your holiday trip sandwiched between the most popular travel times. There are other timeless travel tips that still hold true, too. Among them? It’s almost always cheaper to fly on the holiday itself.
Last year, Expedia reported, travelers saved roughly $100 by flying on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve versus travelers who began their trip the Saturday before.
Photo by Mikhail Starodubov/Shutterstock
Ship it or pack it?
It can cost $30 to $50 for a standard checked bag on a domestic flight. Ideally, you have a way around those fees thanks to elite status or with the right credit card in your wallet, but if you don’t, that adds up. If your bag is overweight or oversized, it adds up even faster.
For example, a 50-pound bag would cost at least $90 to check with Spirit Airlines, as it’s overweight by a good 10 pounds. However, in the case of our test flight from Houston to New York, you could ship it via a UPS extra-large simple ship box (up to 50 pounds) for about $24. If you don’t want to shop around yourself, you can use the site LugLess to price out and purchase shipping for your stuff with services ranging from DIY dropoff to doorstep pick-up and delivery.
Shipping won’t aways be cheaper, but it can be. Even if shipping isn’t cheaper, it will usually be easier than lugging extra stuff and waiting around at baggage claim. Just be sure to allow some buffer delivery time around the holidays.
Fill up for free
It’s a known fact of life that airport food is expensive. Sure, you can pack your own snacks and sandwiches from home (and huge high fives if you do), but you may have enough going on around the holidays without slicing grapes and melons before heading to the airport. If you get to the airport hungry or thirsty, remember there are 28 restaurants across 21 U.S. airports where a Priority Pass lounge membership that comes with select credit cards may buy you and your friend(s) or family a free meal.
Whether you’re starting your journey or connecting at an airport such as Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), Boston (BOS), Miami (MIA) or St. Louis (STL), pack a Priority Pass membership that didn’t come with an Amex card, and get around $28 per person worth of free food — usually at least one or two guests is allowed a $28 food allowance, too.
Eat at Landry’s in Houston’s Terminal C for free (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
If you do have The Platinum Card® from American Express, swipe your way into one of the Amex Centurion Lounges across the country in airports such as New York-LGA, Philadelphia (PHL) Miami (MIA), Las Vegas (LAS) or Houston (IAH) and visit the buffet or bar with up to two guests at no extra charge.
Related: Best credit cards for airport lounge access
Bottom line
The holidays are a dichotomy of extremes — it can be a magical time to travel, relax and spend time with family, but it can also be stressful, harried and expensive. Our goal is to help you minimize the stress and expense that can come with holiday travel. Since the holidays fall around the time of year that winter weather picks up, be sure and book the trip with a card that conveys trip insurance (or buy your own) in case you hit delays or cancellations. You’ll also want to ensure that your PreCheck, Global Entry and/or CLEAR memberships are up to date so you can get through airport security faster.
Cheaper holiday travel is a very real thing, as long as you are strategic with when you fly, where you travel and what type of rewards you use to help you get there.
Featured image by Bernd Ducke/Courtesy Munich Airport

The Private Island You Can Book With Points: A Review of Scrub Island Resort, Spa and Marina, Autograph Collection

It was February. Winter had been gray, nasty and long, and my family had traded the cold/flu/plague back and forth for weeks. We needed sun and an escape from the sniffles. The night before our planned departure, a long-awaited parents-only trip to Scandinavia in winter suddenly seemed like a terrible, horrible no good, very bad idea. We’d be leaving sick kids behind to go to another continent. We were exhausted. Snow boots sounded awful, and it all felt wrong (even if it was a great business-class redemption).
So we canceled at the last minute. We had grandparents lined up to watch the kids back home, which meant we were still determined to go somewhere — just not across the Atlantic and not for that long. As lovely as Sweden and Denmark might have been, we wanted somewhere closer, warmer and with clear blue water.

As long as we were being picky, we also didn’t want to go to a busy “resort factory,” didn’t want every single meal to cost a small fortune, and were looking for a destination with a good February weather forecast and last-minute availability.
Okay, so we were a little picky.
Given the criteria, the destination quickly became very clear — a points-friendly hotel on its own private island in the British Virgin Islands. Specifically, our new four-night destination was to be Scrub Island, a Marriott Autograph Collection property that just reopened a few months ago after undergoing repairs from 2017’s Hurricane Irma.

While we had been to the US Virgin Islands before when we stayed at the Westin on St. John ( which also recently reopened after the hurricane), this was our first trip to the British Virgin Islands (BVIs). Boy, were we in for a treat.

In This Post

Booking
We booked our stay at Scrub Island about 24 hours before departure, which I’m guessing isn’t the norm. Rooms at this resort can be booked from 60,000 Marriott points per night for a standard hotel room that is around 375 square feet in size; the resort is comprised of 26 guest rooms and 26 one bedroom suites. There is also a collection of ten villas that range from two to six bedrooms. As you would guess, those options cost more. I’ve seen one-bedroom suites for about 100k Marriott points per night, but often the larger accommodations are bookable either with cash or with 60k Marriott points per night + a cash co-pay.
The Room
There’s still construction happening, as three new villas are currently being developed with a scheduled opening for this year.

Our rate with a AAA discount was just over $400 per night. TPG values Marriott points at 0.9 cents each, so we would have been a little under that redemption rate given cash prices if we had used points. (I also have other plans for my remaining Marriott points, so this time we went with cash and earned points.)
There also is a $30 per night resort fee per adult. I was surprised when I realized it was a per person charge; that’s a new one for me.
If I had the Citi Prestige® card I could have used that to get the fourth night free. Getting that card is absolutely on my 2019 credit card plan for just this reason.
Should you wish to book a five-night stay on Scrub Island, Marriott points would be an attractive option since the fifth award night is free. If you book at the current 60k per night price before the property jumps to 85k points per night on March 5, a five-night stay would cost you 240,000 Marriott points (plus resort fees).
You can even lock in a Points Advance reservation now, then work on earning enough points to cover the stay, as long as you earn them at least 14 days before check-in.
With both the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express® Card and the Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express® Card you’ll earn 100,000 Marriott points after you spend $5,000 on your card within the first three months of card membership until April 24.

Location
We came here for the location, and it did not disappoint. Scrub Island is about a five-minute (free) ferry ride away from the island of Tortola and the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport (EIS) on Tortola. (Tortola is about 18 miles from St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands and roughly 130 miles east of San Juan, Puerto Rico.)

To get here from Houston, we flew United nonstop to San Juan, then connected to a very small Cessna on United’s partner Cape Air to go the final 35 minutes to Tortola. We could have used 35,000 United miles round trip to book Saver awards to San Juan then purchased just the Cape Air segments for Tortola, but there wasn’t a way to redeem United miles for the whole journey. Since there weren’t a ton of last-minute options available, we paid cash for our tickets, then used miles from our Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to offset the price a bit.

Another option to get to Scrub Island is to fly to St. Thomas on airlines such as JetBlue, United, American Airlines or even Spirit Airlines. From there, you can take a ferry to Road Town in Tortola (prices are around $60 round trip for adults). This could be a more budget-friendly option, as I’ve seen Spirit flights as low as $70 to St. Thomas.

You can also use as few as 7,500 British Airways Avios to fly on American.

As I’ll explain further, I think the very best way to enjoy a visit to Scrub Island is to make it part of a longer trip to the Caribbean that could include other stops in the Virgin Islands such as St. John, St. Thomas and St. Croix — or even nearby islands such as St. Kitts and St. Martin.
Check-In
After landing in Tortola and clearing customs and immigration (which was quick and painless), we headed out of the small airport and saw a man with a Scrub Island sign standing outside. While we weren’t on his list (presumably because we booked last-minute), he was happy to provide free transportation in a large van for the roughly one mile journey to the ferry dock. While this all started smoothly, apparently we missed the ferry, circled back to the airport to get more passengers (who never arrived), then zoomed back when the ferry unexpectedly reappeared. It was all a little weird, but fine once we were actually on the ferry steaming towards our temporary island home.
While getting to Scrub Island from Houston certainly took less time than it would have taken to get to Scandinavia, when you add in two flights and a ferry, it still takes a while. By the time we arrived at the resort, it was dark and we were hungry for dinner. Luckily, we were greeted on the dock with some very tasty rum punch that we enjoyed while being escorted to our room: number 1712 on the ground level.

I have Marriott Platinum status, but no room upgrade was offered or requested. I did, however, inquire about breakfast and was then provided vouchers for a free continental breakfast each day. (It turned out to be more valuable than just that.)
The Room
Our room at Scrub Island was clean and well air-conditioned, the mattress and sheets were extremely comfortable, the towels were soft and the water in the shower was usually hot.

Oh, and the view from our windows wasn’t half bad. Really, what more do you need on an island?

The bathroom was plenty spacious with a double vanity plus both a shower and soaking tub. Housekeeping came every afternoon while we were out and did a great job of tidying up. There is a small fridge in the room that they would restock with two included bottles of water each day (as a reminder, though, we were paying a $60/day resort fee for two adults).

If you are hoping to watch TV at night, note they do not have cable at the moment. (Your best bet would be to log into Netflix if you have an account.) Thankfully for those who have to stay somewhat connected, the Wi-Fi worked fine in the room.
I don’t know what Scrub Island was like before Hurricane Irma, but post-reopening I can say that while the bones of the room and hotel grounds are good, things remain a little rough around the edges, like these light switches found in the spa.

None of this was a dealbreaker for us, but it’s time to mention a few things beyond the lack of cable TV. For example, there are literal gaps in construction in some spots, including in the bathroom.

As you walk around the hotel grounds, there are some broken glass doors, broken fixtures, missing light switches, dingy and rusty corners, etc. The bathroom door near the pool didn’t really shut and certainly didn’t lock (or at least I was afraid if I could get it locked I’d never get out).

There’s still construction happening on some villas and some homes on the island have not been repaired at all. Scrub Island is open for business and our room was more than fine, but if you need perfection, opulence and finished corners (literally), consider yourself warned that this may not be your spot — at least for now.
Food and Beverage
Cardamom & Co
On Scrub Island you have three on-island dining options, in addition to room service. The priciest option, and the one we started with the first night after check-in, is the resort’s signature restaurant, Cardamom & Co., located on the top floor of the main building. It is indoors and only open for dinner. While reservations are recommended, we didn’t have one and it was fine.
On the menu you’ll find salad, seafood, steaks and handcrafted cocktails.

We enjoyed the lobster, fish, mojitos and a salad. Dinner for two with one drink each plus tip came to $195 all-in. We were not particularly enthused by the stir-fried veggies, but the rest of the food was fine to good and served with a side of friendly service.
That said, as the days went by, we found other food we liked at least as well, if not better, at lower prices.
For starters, Donovan’s Reef Marina Bar and Grill is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This is an open-air restaurant near the pool.

Belgian Waffles
American Breakfast
While we didn’t try lunch or dinner here, we did enjoy breakfast all four days using the coupons given to us at check-in as a reward for our Marriott Platinum status. We were entitled to two complimentary breakfasts per day as long as we selected from the Continental Breakfast ($10), American Breakfast ($17), Belgian Waffles ($16) or Banana Pancakes ($17).

Of the choices, the American Breakfast was the best deal of the bunch as it was ‘free’ and you got a coffee or orange juice with it, though not both. (Coffee and OJ were each $4 if ordered individually.)
The ‘free’ Platinum American Breakfast
If we wanted something else, other entrees were offered at a 50% discount, which was more versatile than first advertised and very helpful in starting out the day on a decent budget. One day I did get the shrimp and grits at 50% off (normally $23) and it was really good.

A simple breakfast for two here took about an hour each day, and not because we are leisurely eaters. These are the islands, so prepare to enjoy meals and activities on island time. If you don’t get your coffee refilled on the first try, it will come on the second or third. That isn’t really a criticism, just a reality. Plan accordingly if you are trying to catch a ferry or have an excursion scheduled. Otherwise order, enjoy the view, and the food and drinks will come when they come.
The third dining option on Scrub Island is the most wallet-friendly: the Gourmet Market & Cafe. This is essentially a well-stocked convenience store that also sells deli sandwiches, pizza, coffee, pastries, etc. (You could even buy your own deli meat and bread here and make your own sandwiches if you were feeding a family.)
Marina Deli and Market at Scrub Island

Josh and I enjoyed some solid $9 toasted sandwiches, plantain chips and local root beer for lunch one day from the market and split a $22 pizza for dinner one night.

You could pick up a bottle of wine and pizza from the market and have your own outdoor dinner and drinks for two under the stars for less than $40, which isn’t bad for a resort in the BVIs.
I must mention two other dining choices, even though they technically aren’t on Scrub Island. One is to take the free ferry just two minutes away to Marina Cay, where you will find the famous Pusser’s. Pusser’s as it used to be was wiped out by Irma. They have reopened with the same painkiller drinks and the same five-star sunset, but for now are operating out of a tent.

We loved Pusser’s so much we went for both a dinner and a lunch, though dinner at sunset was our favorite of the two meals thanks to the views and more extensive menu.

Prices here were about $12 – $19 for lunch entrees and $22 – $38 for dinner entrees, though some appetizers could have been subbed in as an entree at slightly lower price points.

An even cheaper nearby dining alternative was to take Scrub Island’s free ferry to the same dock you would use to get to the airport, then walk about 50 yards to one of the two restaurants/bars at the marina. For lunch one day at the option nearest the ferry dock, we shared a small basket of jerk chicken and a total of three drinks for just $16. Mixed drinks here are literally half the price of those on Scrub Island and just as enjoyable.

The ferry comes once an hour, so you could potentially get dropped off, eat your meal in under an hour, then hop right back on the next boat.
Amenities
The only resort on Scrub Island is the Autograph Collection hotel, but not everyone on the island is a resort guest. The island is home to Dream Yachts and has a bustling marina with a couple dozen fancy boats docked there for a night, a week or however long. That means the island has some amenities not only to meet the needs of overnight hotel guests, but also those who are boating from one island to the next. That includes a full dive shop called Dive BVI that offers day trips to other islands to snorkel, go diving, etc. Group snorkel trips start at $50 per person.

There is also a boat rental station where you can rent little RIBs and go on snorkel tours. We paid $185 for one of these tours for the two of us and had a guide take us on a 2.5-hour tour to a solid snorkel spot. The tour was fun but would have been more fun had the water been less choppy — we got bumped around like jumping beans!

If you want to get on the water without paying for a tour or boat, the hotel resort fee covers the use of kayaks and stand-up paddle boards to enjoy the turquoise water.

Back on land, there are a few pools, a waterslide and a hot tub. Two of the pools and the hot tub are all in the same area, just on different levels. This is where you will find basically all of the families on the island, as the kids gravitate towards the water slide.
Scrub Island pool and water slide
You can order drinks by the pool with a push of a button and there’s also a swim-up bar right by the slide.

Near the pools is a small beach with a water trampoline.

There’s no designated adults-only pool on Scrub Island, but if you head to the other side of the island, you’ll find a spot that seems to attract adults more than families. The North Beach (they’ll take you in a buggy or it’s a pretty healthy walk) has a relatively long beach, a small pool and another bar.
The North Beach on Scrub Island

Frankly, all of the pools were too cold for my liking in February (I’m a Texan and like warm water), but the vibe on North Beach was very chill and calm. There are much better beaches in the BVIs, but if what you want is a nice view, cool breeze, some quiet and maybe a beach drink, this is a solid spot for a couple hours.
North Beach on Scrub Island

For a workout on your trip, there is a well-stocked gym near the marina.

Unless you need to stay on a flat surface to get your heart rate up, however, I recommend just going for a walk or jog. The incline getting to the top of the island was more than enough of a daily workout for us! Seriously — some spots are hilariously steep but the views are worth it.

On previous trips to the Caribbean, I’ve had a string of bad luck at spas. In fact, for a few years, I stopped getting massages in the Caribbean completely as too often they were disappointing considering the price. I’m not sure what made me try this resort’s Ixora Spa, but suffice to say I went in with low expectations.
Spa on Scrub Island
Instead, I enjoyed my massage so much I went twice.
The spa has some unfinished corners, but the outdoor plunge pool was absolutely gorgeous (though still too cold for me to get in). More importantly, both therapists we used had good pressure and were very skilled at helping us relax and de-stress. The prices aren’t cheap, starting at $140+ for a one-hour massage, but we very much enjoyed our time in the spa.
Plunge pool at the spa on Scrub Island
Each day we were there, the resort had one scheduled and included activity for guests to participate in, such as a sunset cruise, a tour, yoga, etc. We signed up for a sunset cruise and were looking forward to it, but ultimately missed the boat by 30 minutes. While the activity card in our room we received at check-in had the correct 5pm departure time, the breakfast menu we saw every morning said the cruise departed at 5:30pm. We thought it was at 5:30 and it was long gone when we arrived. Others who did catch the boat ride said it was a fun time.
Sunsets in BVI are epic
Families should note that on Scrub Island there is no kids’ club, along with no available babysitters, and no kid-focused planned activities. Perhaps this will change in the future, as they did have some available babysitters before the hurricane, but for now, there’s really just the pool, the beach and some floaties.

Perhaps because the resort is not as family-focused, there are no rails along the marina, there’s lots of water and plenty of steep stairs everywhere. I’m personally glad our 3-year-old wasn’t with us. While there were some families at Scrub Island, I found this resort to be best either for adults or for older kids who are ready to enjoy snorkeling, hiking and exploring the nearby islands with their parents. (That said, if you wanted to make it work for a family, it is certainly possible.)
Overall Impression
We went to Scrub Island in search of sun, serenity, outdoor activities and beautiful water. It didn’t disappoint on any of those levels. While the hotel is on a private island, you aren’t isolated the way you would be somewhere like the Maldives. The free ferry every hour can take you off the island, helping with both exploring and staying on a food budget.
I recommend Scrub Island despite it still being a little ‘scrubby’ around the edges. But I don’t recommend coming here and just staying on the little island. Use it as a home base to go to nearby Virgin Gorda and explore The Baths, to snorkel, and to see the world-famous beaches on other spots in the BVIs.
We enjoyed our time on and off Scrub Island – photo from Virgin Gorda
If what you want to do is just veg-out at a full-service beach resort for a number of days (and there’s nothing wrong with that), there are probably better spots to consider. (For example, you could just park it on nearby Puerto Rico at the St. Regis Bahia Beach.)
The service at Scrub Island is friendly, but not always prompt or super responsive. The on-island beaches aren’t overly spectacular. The pool is nice, but not huge and there aren’t separate spaces for families looking for fun and adults looking for quiet. The standard room is fine but not somewhere you want to while away the days.
You should come to Scrub Island if you want to use or earn Marriott points while being stationed in the middle of some of the most gorgeous water and islands on earth.
Scrub Island’s number one amenity is its location, so use that to your advantage, then return to your room each night get some good rest in the middle of paradise before starting your next island adventure.

As for us, we’ll make it to Scandinavia one day, but I don’t at all regret skipping it this time for a winter break in the sun.

Stay on Points and Kids Ski Free at Hyatt Place Keystone

Using hotel points to stay on or near a ski mountain can save your family hundreds or thousands of dollars over paying with cash. On a ski vacation, families need convenience, but during the peak ski season, convenience usually comes at a steep cost. Thrown in the cost of lift tickets for the family and … a ski trip can cost even more than Disney World, easily. However, there is a way to save on lodging and lift tickets for a very reasonable number of points per night.
The Hyatt Place Keystone in Colorado is a Category 4 Hyatt property where you can use the Hyatt Category 1 – 4 Hyatt awards you earn each year with the World of Hyatt Credit Card to book a stay, or you can use just 15,000 Hyatt points per night. This is a great value compared to ski season cash rates that can be $300+ during peak times. There is a $25 resort fee at this property, but when staying on points at any Hyatt, you avoid paying resort fees.
My family has visited this property twice since it opened and underwent a renovation and rebranding a little over a year ago, and enjoyed our stay not just because of the award rate, but because you get a whole host of Keystone Resort extras when you stay there. This includes free lift tickets for those 12 and under. That’s right: Use points to stay near the mountain for “free” and have your kids ski free at a truly family-friendly resort.
Kids Ski Free coupon
Inside the Hyatt Place Keystone
The Hyatt Place Keystone is a couple hours from Denver on I-70 — at least during decent weather. During nasty winter weather, it can take longer and even become pretty treacherous at times. Just watch the weather and drive carefully if you aren’t used to snow and ice.

The Hyatt Place Keystone is located in a building that used to be known as the Inn at Keystone and then underwent a big renovation before re-opening in late-2017 as the 103-room Hyatt Place.

The lobby and bar area look fresh and modern and haven’t been overly crowded during either of our two visits in both 2018 and 2019.

Check-in was fast and efficient on both trips, though on neither stay were we proactively upgraded even with Hyatt Globalist status. The standard rooms are around 300 square feet and perfectly fine on a short stay, but did get cramped for a family of four with lots of bags and ski gear.

We did appreciate the couch in the room that is in addition to the two queen beds. Your crew (or stuff) can spread out a bit.

The room didn’t have a defined corner area for the couch the way you will find in most new-build Hyatt Place properties, but it was otherwise a standard Hyatt Place room with clean, comfortable beds and mountain themed photos.
The bathrooms are not the highlight of the hotel. Standard bathrooms here have one sink with plenty of counter space. However, the stand-up showers did not get much attention during the renovation. There have also been no tubs in any of the three rooms we have stayed in at this property, including a suite and rooms with two queen beds that are presumably booked frequently by families. This is a bummer for families who have little kids who are used to baths.

Speaking of a suite, on our most recent stay we booked two standard rooms (one for us, and one for grandparents). The first room was ready for early check-in when we arrived early around noon. As we waited for the second room to be cleaned, I checked the Hyatt app and saw that suites were still for sale for that night. I asked the front desk if there was any shot of an upgrade to a suite for our second room, and after doing some checking I was told that it was available. So if you have status that entitles you to a space-available upgrade here, don’t be afraid to ask.

The one-bedroom suite at the Hyatt Place Keystone was much more spacious than a standard room with a full-sized living room and second bathroom. This was much better for arranging our ski gear than in a normal-sized room.  
Hyatt Place now requires that you book your stay directly with Hyatt to enjoy free hot breakfast. If you are using points, this is a non-issue as you have to book direct, but lots of guests at this property booked via third-parties based on conversations I heard at the front desk.
Technically, they were not entitled to breakfast, though in practice there was nothing preventing them from making a plate as there were no signs or people preventing this on the morning I was there.
Hyatt Place Keystone free breakfast
 

The breakfast I enjoyed here in 2019 was better than in 2018, and featured real eggs, some delicious potatoes, sausage and (not so great) churros.

For the price and speed, breakfast was above-average. On ski mornings, having a fast and filling breakfast before hitting the mountain is very important.

Note that while plain old coffee is free, if you want a fancier drink from their espresso machine at the bar, that will cost you a few dollars. The Hyatt Place Keystone has a small business center where you can print your boarding passes and there are lockers available for your ski gear. If you want an apres-ski dip, you can find multiple hot tubs on various levels of the hotel, though none looked especially inviting to me.

When you stay here, you also have access to the Keystone Lodge and Spa’s fitness center, pool and hot tub. We didn’t use any of those amenities and opted to just leave our rented ski gear in the car overnight so we could drive to and from the base of the mountain. If that isn’t a good option for you, there is a free Keystone shuttle bus to the lifts and around the resort.
Location of Hyatt Place Keystone
While we didn’t use the shuttle on our stays, let’s talk a little bit more about the location of the Hyatt Place Keystone. You can catch the resort shuttle bus right out front of the hotel and use it to take you pretty much anywhere within Keystone, but you could theoretically also choose to walk to the mountain in the morning if you were heading up from the Mountain House base. It is probably further than I would want to walk with kids and ski gear, but it is technically doable at about 1/3 of a mile from the door to lifts.

The red Keystone wagons make lugging your ski gear and kids so easy.

On our 2019 trip, Grandpa dropped us off at the drop-off parking lot right next to the gondola, so we didn’t have to use the red wagons.
Free Kid Lift Tickets and Night Skiing
The Hyatt Place Keystone is a solid mid-range hotel option for you to use points to say close to the mountain, but it is the extras that make it the best deal in family skiing. First, having your kids 12 and under ski free when you stay at least two nights is really an outstanding offer. I can confirm that award reservations are eligible for kids ski free. A one-day child’s lift ticket at Keystone costs around $72 – $92 per day per kid, but by staying at this property you can totally avoid that expense. I’ll also add that we are 2/2 in having this offer honored on one-night stays.
In addition to free kid lift tickets, your group also all gets free night skiing on the day of arrival. Adult night skiing tickets were selling for about $80 per person during our visit in 2018, but we got them 100% for free! Night skiing ran from 4pm – 8pm, and on our mid-March 2018 visit (after the time change), the sun was still up at 7pm when we called it quits to head to dinner. It was “night skiing”, but without it actually being dark or cold.

Staying at the Hyatt Place Keystone also gets you one hour of tennis court rental, one yoga or fitness class per registered guest, free ice skating on Keystone Lake, 20% off of ice skating rentals, and admission to the Keystone Nordic Center. During the summer, you can get nine holes of golf after 4pm on your day of arrival, a guided mountain hike, and a gondola lift ticket for those 12 and under.

For a family, that is literally hundreds of dollars worth of quality inclusions at a place where you can stay for just the cost of your Hyatt points or Chase Ultimate Rewards points from cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve transferred to World of Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio. Having used points at a wide variety of ski-friendly hotels, I feel confident saying that the Hyatt Place Keystone offers the very best deal out there for skiing families who like to use their hotel points. It doesn’t hurt that the nearby Keystone Resort itself is my favorite ski mountain for families (don’t miss the Kidtopia ice fort).
Keystone Kidtopia Ice Fort
We’ve stayed at the Hyatt Place Keystone twice in the last nine months, and I am 100% confident we will have more visits in the future as long as it remains such a great value both in terms of points and included extras.

Living the Dream: A Review of The St. Regis New York

No one needs a luxurious hotel stay in a historic property with loads of world-class attractions and shows within easy walking distance, but darned if it isn’t fun every once in a while. Being greeted by the doorman, enjoying afternoon tea from the butler, grabbing a cup of hot cider from the lobby for the four-block walk to Central Park and so much more is your (temporary) reality when you stay at The St. Regis New York.
My family recently enjoyed our second stay at this Marriott property that exudes classic Manhattan charm dating back to when the shiny golden doors first opened in 1904.

Just as parents don’t at least officially have a favorite child, it’s hard for me to name a favorite hotel, since I like so many for different reasons. But if I absolutely had to pick one property as my top points-friendly pick in Manhattan, The St. Regis New York would get that nod, especially for a visit around the holidays.

In This Post

Booking
Expect a cash booking at The St. Regis New York to set you back at least $1,000 per night. That wasn’t within my travel budget, so we used 60,000 Marriott Rewards points instead. TPG valued Marriott Rewards points at 0.9 cents each, so that was still $540 worth of points per night, but it was better than cash rates.
The hotel is bookable at that 60,000-points-per-night award rate until early 2019, when it will increase to a Category 8 property costing between 70,000 to 100,000 Marriott Rewards points per night, depending on the season. Until early 2019, when those award chart changes occur, you can lock in stays at 60,000 Marriott Rewards points per night for as far out as the schedule will allow, which is a little under one year in advance.
You can earn Marriott Rewards points to fund your next St. Regis stay via the Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury card, Starwood Preferred Guest® credit card from American Express Marriott Rewards Premier Plus credit card and Starwood Preferred Guest® Business credit card from American Express.
Families looking to use points should note that the standard rooms are 430-square-foot king superior rooms that come with a small sitting area and a couch. The hotel does have rooms with two double beds available, so my advice is to contact the hotel directly if you need two doubles. You can also call Marriott Rewards and check availability and pricing for nonstandard award rooms.

Location
For a holiday trip to New York City, like the one we enjoyed just after Thanksgiving, the location of this Midtown Manhattan hotel, on East 55th Street and Fifth Avenue, couldn’t be beat. This put us one avenue off the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route, four blocks south of Central Park, four blocks north of Radio City Music Hall and five blocks north of Rockefeller Center (and the famous tree).

Of course, we were also surrounded by stores and shops every which way we turned in that part of Manhattan. I love other parts of NYC (such as Union Square) for some trips, but for others, this location can’t be beat.
Browsing around Fifth Avenue during the holidays (Photo by Ben Zucker/The Points Guy)
Check-in
The lobby of the St. Regis New York was not a sterile afterthought, but a bit of a classical masterpiece. Really. Don’t forget to look up, down and all around in the lobby when you go, as it is timelessly beautiful.

And for luxury we could taste, we didn’t forget the complimentary hot chocolate and cider directly behind the lobby near the elevators each afternoon.

After soaking in for a minute that we were actually lucky enough to be staying here (again), it was time to check in. If we weren’t on Cloud 9 already, things were about to get luckier, as our award room had been upgraded from a standard room to a 975-square-foot Madison Suite. This was not one of those rooms that’s called a suite but is really just a room — it was a two-room, two-bathroom suite. It sells for a few thousand dollars per night should you wish to book it with cash.

We had also booked a second room for a portion of our stay for Grandma and at least one of the girls, as we obviously couldn’t fit five people in the standard room we had originally booked. The hotel had changed our king room to a room with two double beds, which was perfect for our needs (though obviously not guaranteed).
At check-in, we were also informed of the $50-per-day destination fee. I already knew about this fee and had decided to not get worked up about it long ago, but it is gnarly to have to pay $50 per day on top of your points. This particular destination fee gave us the following use-or-lose credits daily: $50 food and beverage credit to use for room service, restaurant or bar (but not minibar); $50 dry cleaning and laundry credit; $25 hair-salon credit; free local and long-distance calls; two tickets each day to the Metropolitan Museum of Art or Museum of Modern Art. Note that we couldn’t accumulate multiple days worth of credits for one blowout meal — they had to be consumed (or lost) one day at a time. So go have that drink in the bar or order that room-service omelet.
Rooms
Let’s start at the top with the Madison Suite. In St. Regis fashion, our butler was expecting us and met us in the elegant hallway to take us to our room and help us get situated.

I was absolutely floored at how many square feet we were going to enjoy in NYC for the next couple of days. When I was in grad school at New York University, I lived in a room in Brooklyn that was less than 100 square feet, so having almost 1,000 square feet at our disposal was hard to comprehend.

That said, the decor would not be for everyone. It was very old-school, with lots of brass, deep tones, rich textures, marble, chandeliers and furnishings that looked like they might be from your rich old uncle’s house.

The decor wasn’t what I would want at home, but it fit The St. Regis just fine. I mean, who wouldn’t want to lounge under a chandelier for a couple of days?

The bed itself was more than fine, a fluffy, white, delicious pile of sleeping heaven for kids or adults.

Thankfully, the old had met up with the new, as there were power outlets next to the bed, though I would have loved access to a few more, as we ended up with devices plugged in here, there and everywhere.

The living room was down a short hallway from the bedroom and well-used on our stay. We not only had the four of us in town, but also my mom and, on the first night, four family members visiting for the evening from Connecticut.

The living room utilized the same rich, bold decor (complete with chandelier) and contained a sitting couch with two chairs, a small desk, TV and several end tables.
   

We ordered takeout the first night and made great use of the sitting room for eating, laughing and watching the kids play.

Since room-service breakfast was included, as I was a Platinum Marriott Rewards member, and we also ordered room-service dinner one night, we actually used the sitting portion of the suite for a number of meals, making it a very practical space on this trip.

We were beyond spoiled with two full bathrooms in the suite at opposite ends of the entry hall. Each featured a separate tub and shower.

The bathrooms very much carried with them the old-school decor, this time in the form of marble and wallpaper emphasizing gray, black and white with accents of gold.

The water pressure and temperature was fantastic, along with ample soft robes and towels that were adorned by The St. Regis logo, naturally.
A strange element of the bathrooms that seemed easy to rectify was that the toilet paper was far from what you would expect from a luxury hotel. That’s a little thing, but one that seems easy to get right and is noticed when it is wrong.
To ensure we had enough space, we also booked a room right across the hall that had two double beds. My oldest daughter and Grandma Points shared this room one night and found the beds to be just as delicious as our large king bed, though I do wish the beds were queen beds, as doubles are tight for most families.

Even the more standard rooms such as this one had sitting areas and offered significantly more square feet than your average NYC hotel room.

Food and Beverage
Let’s begin this topic with the reality that meals, snacks and beverages at The St. Regis New York were expensive. Yes, coffee, tea and the like could be had for free, but once you got beyond that, we had to be ready for sticker shock. Case in point: the $23 child’s macaroni and cheese from room service — and that was before tax, tip and room-service fees. (And yes, it was cheesy amazingness that tasted way more decadent than it looked.)

We didn’t only eat macaroni but splurged on an entire room-service dinner one night that came to a couple hundred dollars for three adults and two kids, even with modest orders and no alcohol or desserts. Since we had two rooms that night, $100 of the charge came off via the destination fee ($50 per room), but still, it was Manhattan St. Regis-level prices. 
The room-service food in general was above average, with breakfast being my favorite of the meals we enjoyed. In part that was because the American breakfast was complimentary with my Platinum elite status, but it was also delicious and presented in such a lovely way. Each morning, the table came with a rose that matched the orange juice.

While the included breakfast wasn’t technically for a family of four, as it was two American breakfasts, once the bread basket was thrown in (also included), there was more than enough to go around for all of us.
We didn’t make it to the King Cole Bar on our trip, but it is a spot you really shouldn’t miss for the full St. Regis New York experience. Rumor is, the Bloody Mary is epic. But don’t plan on bringing your kids in there while you enjoy an evening cocktail, as it is 21 years and up, with proper attire required after 4pm.
Image courtesy of St. Regis
There was also the Astor Court, which did permit children but was still quite fancy. And I mean fancy as in there was a harp being played on our afternoon visit. A real harp. Suffice it to say, my kids did not go in that restaurant, though I snuck in there for a coffee and macarons while shooting photos for TPG. It was a delightful place that made me feel pretty darn fancy-pants for a few minutes, but not the kind of place where I’d necessarily want to bring multiple toddlers in high chairs.
Photo by Ben Zucker/The Points Guy
Amenities
The St. Regis New York was not heavy on physical amenities such as a big pool complex, golf course or rock climbing wall — it was, after all, in the middle of the concrete jungle. Though there was a 24-hour gym on the 19th floor as well as an on-site hair salon, the best amenities of the property were the people.
Each room had access to a butler who could assist with everything from bringing complimentary tea or coffee to the room to unpacking and repacking to having your shoes shined to arranging for clothes to be cleaned or pressed, and everything in between.

If that were not enough, the on-site concierges were helpful and knowledgable. We could visit them to get our included museum tickets, help with printing boarding passes, restaurant reservations or whatever our hearts desired.
While we did not use this service, there was a Bentley house car available on a first-come, first-served basis for complimentary drop-offs within a 10-block radius of the hotel.
Outside of the butler service, my favorite amenities were the ones for kids. “St. Regis” may not scream family-friendly at first glance, but they take their Family Traditions program seriously. When they arrived, my two girls were each given a gift — a stuffed animal for our youngest and a bag and cap for our oldest.

While nothing is guaranteed, we have usually received similar gifts when checking to St. Regis properties with our girls both in and out of the United States. In addition, this time, the kids were given a checklist to complete and turn in to the front desk for a surprise. There were also vouchers to visit the on-site gift shop and pick out a prize of their choosing! On our visit, the selections in the shop were largely various candies, which they of course loved.
 
Last but not least, the girls received evening cookies one night in their room. These little touches don’t cost the hotel very much, but they make a very big impression on families and are quite common across the brand.

Overall Impressions
The luxury and opulence here is something firmly out of my cash price range but still within reach, thanks to 60,000 Marriott Rewards points — at least until that award price increases in early 2019.
If you just need a bed to lay your head, keep on moving, as this is not the place for you. But if you want to step back in time into an age of doormen with hats and butlers with tea, and plan to actually enjoy your hotel while also exploring the surrounding area, then consider The St. Regis on a future trip to Manhattan.

Do know ahead of time that even if you stay on points, your stay will not be cheap. Not only is there the $50-per-day destination fee, but you will likely want to tip your butler and the doormen. If you order anything not included in your rate or via your status benefits, expect your final bill to start growing at a rapid rate.
The St. Regis New York will never be my go-to Manhattan hotel, as it is meant to be savored on special trips and it is just pretty pricey. But I love the hotel and hope to continue to periodically visit this special spot with my family, on points, of course.

Mountain Majesty: Dunton Town House in Telluride, Colorado

To celebrate the big 1-0 anniversary this year, we flirted with the idea of going somewhere far away but ultimately decided on two smaller getaways. The first without the kids was courtesy of Hyatt award nights at the Miraval Resort and Spa outside of Tucson, Arizona. But for the second half of the celebration, we wanted somewhere that was much cooler in early September than Texas. We were also craving a touch more adventure than could be found at a spa retreat.
That’s where Dunton Town House in Telluride, Colorado, came in.
Exploring near Telluride
Booking
Telluride is a small mountain town of fewer than 2,500 residents with few traditional hotels and virtually no large properties. Since it is a ski town, there certainly are places to stay, but it’s a town that can sell out of lodging options during big events. We happened to decide to visit Telluride during the annual film festival, which almost landed us an anniversary weekend spent in a rental car. 

Thankfully, our preferred bed and breakfast, Dunton Town House, had a last-minute cancellation. Dunton Town House opened in late 2016, making it the newest lodging in Telluride, though it is far more bed and breakfast than hotel.

Rates vary by room type and season, from $350 to $700. Our room, Reh, was one of the larger rooms, and we paid the highest festival rate of $550 per night.
While I am fairly certain I have seen Dunton Town House on sites like Hotels.com in the past, I couldn’t find it listed there when we booked. If you can find the property on Hotels.com, you could earn 10x miles by booking via Hotels.com/Venture and paying with your Capital One Venture Rewards credit card. Alternatively, you could use miles from your Capital One Venture Rewards credit card or Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard by charging the travel purchase to those cards.
We booked our stay directly with the hotel and earned 3 points per dollar on the travel charge by paying with my Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Location
Dunton Town House was in an absolutely ideal location for exploring Telluride, roughly a block away from the free Telluride Gondola and about two blocks away from Telluride’s main thoroughfare, Colorado Avenue. We were easily able to walk to all of our meals, some hiking trails, shops and more. Despite its central location, we heard virtually no street noise at night, even with the windows partially open.
When we arrived on a Friday afternoon, a farmers market was set up right in front of the property.

Check-in
Dunton Town House was not a big hotel but rather a high-end bed and breakfast that houses a maximum of around 10 guests at any one time. Our host for the stay met us out in the street to help park the car when we arrived and continued to meet all of our needs for the duration of the weekend visit. There was not a traditional formal check-in process, but rather a tour of the home and a rundown of ways we could relax and enjoy ourselves there during our stay.
The main area of Dunton Town House, where breakfast is served.
The keys to the room were real keys, we had a direct line to our on-site host, and we felt right at home from the moment we walked in the front door.

The Room
Each of the five rooms at Dunton Town House was unique. Our room was a king room on the ground level, accessed by walking through the entry room of the house and then back out onto an exterior hallway.

“Reh” means “roe deer” in German, and the deer theme was carried throughout the room, with accents on items such as pillows and curtains.

There was a large couch, dresser and TV.

The TV remained in the off position at Dunton Town House.
The bed felt large even for a king and was comfortable enough, though the pillows were quite floppy and it took two or three of them combined to get decent head support.

My favorite thing about the room was simply cracking open the windows and feeling the cool early-September mountain air chill the room. Add a cup of hot tea brought to us by the host and you have my version of vacation perfection.

Our room had a relatively large, bright and white en suite bathroom with two pedestal sinks and lots of cozy towels.

There was a shower/tub combo, but the tub was deeper than most. If you have any mobility issues, getting in and out may be a challenge, but I found it perfect for soaking after a long hike. The shower pressure and temperature were good and easy to control.

There were a variety of high-end Aesop bath amenities available in the bathroom in addition to two thick robes with the Dunton logo.

Food and Beverage
An included continental European breakfast was served each morning from 7:30am to 10am. Breakfast quickly became one of my favorite times of the day, as it was a true joy to chat with the other guests and the host. We often stick to ourselves on vacation, but the warmth here made us want to sit down and chat with other travelers over coffee.
Breakfast consisted of pastries brought in from a Telluride bakery, fresh berries, yogurt, granola, sliced meats, cheese, bagels, jam, orange juice and coffee.

The food was laid out on the main table, and you could make and refill your plate as often as you wished. I found the selections to be plenty varied for a weekend stay.

As a coffee lover, I was particularly impressed that the coffee was made using a Chemex, which we first learned of last year while staying at the Andaz Costa Rica and have periodically used for our own morning coffee routine ever since.

Though breakfast is the only meal served at the Dunton Town House, you could help yourself to the well-stocked fridge and pantry, which held wine, beer, soda, candy and fruit, for no additional charge.

There were also bowls of beef jerky, granola bars, chips and fruit set out on the main table each afternoon.

Factoring in the breakfast, snacks and drinks we enjoyed at Dunton, the $350-plus rates weren’t quite as painful as they were at first glance.
Amenities
There weren’t a lot of amenities to speak of at this small bed and breakfast, but there were a couple of things worth a mention. First, we were told they’re actively looking into putting in a small heated pool. They don’t like the word “hot tub” and want something a bit more sophisticated, so fingers crossed.
There was a common room above the breakfast area where you were free to watch TV, play games, read a book or just kick back and relax, which is exactly what we did. There was also a room for your skis, boots and winter equipment.

The host himself was an amenity of sorts, as he was great at making local recommendations, reservations and could even coordinate activities at their sister property, Dunton River Camp, about 90 minutes away. If we had stayed another day, I would have almost certainly booked the $100 full-day fishing trip, which included fishing on the Dolores River, lunch at the farmhouse deck and access to their hiking trails.
Overall Impression
Though no children were present on our stay, large families can book out the entire five-room property at a discount, and children 2 years and up can stay in the in the rooms for an additional $100 per night. Though the website states no rollaways, we were told in person that rollaways could be an option for families, so I’d inquire directly with the property.
I would not hesitate to book a stay at Dunton Town House with just my two girls on a future ski trip to Telluride, as the property is steps from the gondola that takes you up the mountain, but it may work best for a couples getaway. 
Enjoying a 10th-anniversary hike in Telluride.
We enjoyed our stay immensely, and the only thing that made leaving OK was looking forward to a return trip. This historic home with its warm and personalized service would be special anywhere, but in the middle of a magical place like Telluride, it was just about perfect. A summer visit was idyllic, but I hope my next visit is during the ski season so we can take full advantage of the gondola.

Many of our stays are at chain properties in order to leverage miles and points to stretch our vacation budget. However, there is a time and place for everything, and a 10th anniversary was the perfect time to slow down the pace, let in some fresh mountain air and enjoy our time at Dunton Town House in Telluride.
All images courtesy of the author.

The Top 5 Tips for Disney World First-Timers

FastPass, FastPass+, Minnie Vans, monorails, Park Hoppers and dinglehoppers. Though it promises to be the Happiest Place on Earth, Walt Disney World’s sprawling kingdom and complicated patchwork of programs, tickets and terms can make even the most worldly traveler yearn for the simplicity of trying to buy an AC 3-Tier bunk from Rameswaram to Jalandhar City without speaking a lick of Hindi.
But fear not: TPG is here to boil down Disney World’s essential tips so that even newbies will be “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”-ing down Main Street, USA in no time.
1. Crowd Calendars Are Your Friend
Whether you’re using Undercover Tourist or Touring Plans, you’ll want to consult a crowd calendar so you know what you’re up against. With all the festivals, marathons and other events that come to Walt Disney World, crowds can vary greatly. It’s going to be busy no matter when you go, but how busy? That’s what crowd calendars are for.
2. But FastPass+ Is Your BFF
Whether you’re staying on site and can book 60 days out or can only book 30 days ahead of time, you’ll want to use the FastPass+ system to snag three of your favorite rides each day. (FastPass+, which you can think of as FastPass 2.0, has replaced the old FastPass system, and people tend to use “FastPass+” and “FastPass” interchangeably.)
The most popular rides won’t be available on the day you arrive at the parks. Heck, some rides won’t even be available 30 days ahead of time. Those long lines can be painful. Use FastPass+ wisely.
3. Take One for the Team
If you’re a family of four or more, consider an annual pass for one member of your group. A five-day Park Hopper ticket will set you back $500 per person. For an extra $350, you can purchase an annual pass and get a 20% discount on most dining and merchandise, free PhotoPass downloads and free parking. And, if you can schedule a second Disney vacation within a calendar year of your first, you can get two sets of tickets for the price of one.
4. Tap, Grab and Modify!
Savvy FastPassers graduate to the next level using this technique when grabbing their fourth (and subsequent) FastPass+ selections. Tap into a current FastPass or grab whatever is available in the My Disney Experience app. Then work to modify what you’ve reserved to get the ride or time you really want. It’s better to grab a FastPass and change it than keep searching for the perfect one.
5. Save the Magic
Disney World is a fabulous place for adults and children alike. But once you’ve told your kids you’re going to do all these great things, they may actually expect that’s what will happen, word for word.
The reality is that rides will break, thunderstorms will rain on parades and other issues will pop up. Tell your kids just part of what you have planned. Get them excited, but set expectations low enough so they can be blown away, not disappointed.
Bonus Tip
Order those picture-perfect princess dresses from Little Dress-Up Shop, as, unlike many dresses sold in the parks, they’re not itchy, they’re affordable and machine-washable.
A comfortable princess dress is key.
Featured photo by Shutterstock.com.

Keep an eye out for the rest of our Disney stories during Disney Week at The Points Guy:

The Best Points Hotels Near Disney World in 2018
TPG’s Ultimate Guide to Disney World
In the Shadow of the Mouse: Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista – Disney Springs
9 Things Families Should Know Before Visiting Disneyland
Later on Tuesday we’ll have “Renting Disney Vacation Club Points: Saving Money at Disney.”
You’ll learn on Wednesday “How to Use Points to Purchase Disney Tickets” and discover “The 10 Best Disney Thrill Rides Around the World.”
Thursday will bring “Disney World Without Kids: 10 Ways to Enjoy an Adult Trip to Disney” and “10 Things Kids Will Love at the Disney Aulani Resort in Hawaii.”
And Friday closes out the week with “Eating Healthy at Disney World” and Summer and Ed’s firsthand report on “How to Ride Every Disney World Ride in One Day.”

Passing Grade: Universal Studios Loews Royal Pacific Hotel

My family has been visiting the Walt Disney World Resort at least annually since before our first daughter was born. But despite it being just a few miles away from Disney World, Universal Studios Orlando wasn’t really on our radar until recently. This is largely because Universal Studios generally has a greater appeal for the teen and tween crowd rather than the little-kid category that we had been squarely occupying until the last year or so.
My oldest daughter in full Harry Potter mode
We now have a third grader who is very into Harry Potter and no longer as interested in princesses and Mickey Mouse as her younger sister. So on our summer trip to Orlando this year, we added time at Universal Studios to our agenda for our tween traveler. It’s safe to say we are now a two theme-park family, as the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was everything we hoped for and then some.
The success of this trip was in part due to staying at the on-property Loews Royal Pacific Hotel, which included Universal Express Unlimited Passes to attractions within the World of Harry Potter and beyond.

Booking
Universal Studios has six on-property hotels that are somewhat divided into tiers similar to the Disney World deluxe, moderate and value properties. At Universal, the designations are known as Value, Prime Value, Preferred and Premier. These designations can be very important, as the hotels in the Premier category include express unlimited passes for every registered occupant of the room. These passes are worth their weight in gold.

Express unlimited passes for Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida start at $89 per person per day each. The price can easily come close to double that figure on peak days. For a family of four, that could mean $356-plus per day just in passes.
Welcome to Universal Studios, say goodbye to your money.
Heck, on the day I visited Universal Studios in August by myself to check out the new Universal Aventura Hotel, the unlimited express pass cost a staggering $149 per person — just for the pass. If you want Universal Express Unlimited Passes, it can be much more cost-effective to simply book your stay at a pricier hotel that includes them rather than buying them outright.
Universal Express Pass sticker shock: Those prices are per person.
During the Daily Getaways sale earlier this year, there were two-night stays at Loews Hotels available at a variety of their properties, including the Loews Royal Pacific at Universal Studios. The package for a two-night stay was $325, and the fine print said there were blackout dates but did not list them. Since they weren’t listed, I crossed my fingers in hopes would be a small number of excluded dates and purchased the package the second it went on sale. Within a few more seconds, it was completely sold out, as there were only 20 available.
Fast forward a few weeks to receiving the certificate and, unfortunately, the blackout date list was much longer than I hoped. In fact, everything from June 30 to Aug. 5 was blacked out, as were lots of other dates, including Nov. 21 through Nov. 25, Dec. 25 through Jan. 3 and April 13 through April 27.
That was a really big problem, as July was our window to travel. Thankfully, I pleaded my case to Loews, offered to co-pay to use the certificates during July and ultimately was given assistance in using the certificate on our desired weekend. In other words, I got really lucky. That said, if blackout dates include entire chunks of the year rather than a few dates here and there, I would recommend including that information on the purchase page to avoid confusion and disappointment.
Regardless, thanks to the annual Daily Getaways sale, we scored two nights at the Universal Loews Royal Pacific and up to three days of unlimited express passes for our family of four all for just $325 total. This was significantly under half the usual selling price for a two-night stay at this property during the summer.
If you can’t get your hands on a Loews Daily Getaways deal next year and you’re staying for four nights, an easy way to save money would be to book with your Citi Prestige card to get the fourth night free. If you’re paying with cash, you might want to use your Chase Sapphire Reserve to earn 3x points for the stay. If you want to use Chase Ultimate Reward points to book a Universal Resort, you can go that route.
Loews Royal Pacific is typically available via Hotels.com. This means you could earn 10x miles by booking via Hotels.com/Venture and paying with your Capital One Venture Rewards credit card.
Location
The Loews Royal Pacific was on Universal Orlando property within walking distance to the Universal Studios theme park, Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Universal CityWalk. That said, when you go, your feet may thank you for saving those steps and hopping on the free boat right outside of the hotel. This boat took guests right to CityWalk, as close as you could be dropped off to the park entrance. In other words, this was a Five Star Universal Studios location.

Entering the Loews Royal Pacific Hotel, we crossed a substantial bridge over tropical foliage and blue-dyed water. Immediately, we were transported to the South Pacific. It was a dramatic entrance that set the stage for the theming that was to come inside.

Check-in
The 1,000-room hotel had a distinct South Seas theme, which made it sort of like Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. We arrived at check-in around 4:30pm, and our room was ready, as were artificial leis for each of us.

Check-in was swift and uneventful, but most importantly, we were handed our personalized passes, similar to Disney FastPasses but usable over and over again to wait in much shorter lines than if you didn’t have express passes. These passes were good the day of check-in, during our stay and on the day we checked out. The Loews Royal Pacific property was generally the least expensive of the three Universal Studios hotels that included the passes at no additional charge.

The Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Portofino Bay Hotel round out the other two resort options with the passes included.
Room
Our base-level room with two queen beds was around 335 square feet and decorated in grays, whites and reds, just like the rest of the hotel.
The Loews Royal Pacific originally opened in 2002 but was renovated from 2015 to 2016. It still appeared fresh and modern when we went.

The bathroom had a separate vanity area separated from the toilet and bathtub by a pocket door, always a plus when traveling with multiple people.

You could tell that the bathroom had been renovated relatively recently, and it served its purpose for the four of us just fine.

All in all, the standard room was comfortable for a family’s theme-park vacation. It wasn’t anything extraordinarily special, especially factoring rates that are usually north of $300 per night, but the room itself isn’t supposed to be the main attraction of a theme-park stay.
My only complaint about our room was that the air conditioning didn’t get as cool as I would have liked. I was obsessed with how cool the air conditioner made the room at the (newer) nearby Universal Studios Loews Sapphire Falls on a stay a few months earlier, and had been looking forward to the same nighttime chill after a hot day in the park.

There were club-level rooms and suites, but I didn’t experience them firsthand, though I do have my eye on the Jurassic World Kids’ Suite for a future trip. You can find a more affordable family suite at Universal’s Aventura, but without the theming or Express Passes.
Universal Studios Loews Royal Pacific Jurassic Park Kids’ Suite. (Photo courtesy of Loews Royal Pacific Resort)
Food and Beverage
The Loews Royal Pacific had a weekly luau, a pan-Asian dining room, character dining on Sunday mornings, a sushi bar and more. I must confess that, aside from grabbing coffee and juice from the grab-and-go morning set-up, we didn’t eat or drink anything at this property, as we were busy enjoying the Harry Potter restaurants at Universal Studios and a dinner at a nearby CityWalk restaurant.
Sorry Royal Pacific, we ate with Harry Potter.
I was not impressed by the grab-and-go breakfast selections or prices I saw at Loews Royal Pacific, but I think we missed out a little by not eating dinner at the property. They had a children’s buffet and Bali-style play area in their Islands Dining Room that sounded pretty cool. We’ll add that to our to-do list for our next trip to the area.
Amenities
The best amenity (other than passes) was the large lagoon-style pool, which had a zero-entry section, a separate baby pool, a Royal Bali Sea interactive water play area, lifeguards, life vests, cabanas for rent and organized poolside activities.
    

This was truly a great pool for families, especially those with younger kids. Disappointingly, there was no waterslide at this pool. On a positive note, the unique “ship” at the Royal Bali Sea pool made up for the lack of waterslide.

While we did not make use of it, there was a kids camp available in the evenings for potty-trained children from 4 to 14 for $15 per hour, per child. If you didn’t get all your steps in while exploring the theme parks, there was a 5,000-square-foot gym.
Overall Impression
For family visits to the Universal Studios and Islands of Adventures theme parks, the location of the Loews Royal Pacific can’t be beat. The parks are an easy walk or boat ride from the hotel, the rooms are renovated and more than adequate, the pool is great for young families, there are several on-site dining choices and most importantly, it is often the least expensive of the three Universal Studios hotels that provide included express unlimited passes. This is a key point for all Universal Studios visitors interested in the passes, but even more so for families who need multiple passes.

At the risk of sounding spoiled, while I loved the location and benefits of staying at the Loews Royal Pacific, I didn’t completely love the hotel overall. This may be because I’m simply obsessed with Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, but Royal Pacific felt like a distant stepsister to Disney’s version. The service at Royal Pacific was neither bad nor great, some areas of the hotel felt dark and older than they should have, and I found myself wishing I were at the brighter, newer and cheaper Universal Studios Loews Sapphire Falls nearby.

However, we scored a tremendous deal for a summer weekend at Royal Pacific thanks to the Daily Getaways sale and the included exclusive unlimited passes (which are not included with a stay at Sapphire Falls). If the passes aren’t important to you, I recommend Loews Sapphire Falls over Royal Pacific. But if you’re one of the many families that wants those passes for a relative bargain, staying at Royal Pacific is likely the best way to get them, especially at Daily Getaways prices.

Is the Disney Club Level Worth the Extra Cost?

The Disney Club Level. What does that really mean? Does it mean you have access to Disney employees (cast members) who plan your trip for you and hand you your daily agenda and a hot coffee each morning as you head out to the parks? Is it an actual room that everyone hangs out in each evening while smoking Mickey candy-filled cigars and recalling the day’s top rides and events? Until recently, the Disney Club Level was still a mystery to me — the only thing I knew for sure is that it carried an even bigger room reservation price tag.
As it turns out, paying extra for a Disney Club Level room does entitle you to some extra perks and services beyond that of a standard Disney room reservation, largely in the form of food and drinks offered in the club lounge. Note that the Club Level is not available at every Disney resort, but it is available at the Deluxe Disney Resorts including:

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
Disney’s Beach Club Resort
Disney’s BoardWalk Inn
Disney’s Contemporary Resort
Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
Disney’s Yacht Club Resort

Buy discounted Disney tickets here through MickeyVisit.com

In This Post

We stayed on the Club Level this summer at the Contemporary Resort. Our trip to the Magic Kingdom to celebrate our littlest turning three-years-old came during a hectic time, so we decided to pamper ourselves a bit and see if Disney Club Level was worth it over the cost of a standard room. I mean, in my line of work you can justify some travel expenses to yourself under the guise of “research”, so one day I called up Disney and had them upgrade our previously booked standard room at the Contemporary to a Club Level theme-park view. Let’s not talk (yet) about how much that increased the price of the trip, but it certainly ticked the final price tag up a few notches.
When we arrived to check-in at the Contemporary after a long day at Universal Studios, we were personally escorted up the elevator to the Club Level floor. I’ve never been escorted anywhere in a Disney hotel, so things were off to a good — and noticeably different — start.
On the Club Level, known as the Atrium Club at the Contemporary, there’s a large desk just after you exit the elevators where we were able to sit and complete the check-in process before being personally escorted to our room. The only place I can recall being personally escorted to my room by someone who was not helping with luggage was at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. Within 10 minutes of arrival to the world of Disney Club Level, I was a bit taken back by the level of service.
Check-in desk at Disney’s Contemporary Club Level
Aside from being hand-held through the check-in process, what I couldn’t wait to experience was the included food and drinks. We’ve been known to spend some money on food and drinks at Disney, so I wanted to see just how good the Disney Club Level food and drink offerings were (or weren’t).
Rewind to a month or so earlier when I had the trigger on the Club Level upgrade. The agent on the phone had told me I was in for a treat on Club Level at the Contemporary, and that I had to make myself a plate of dessert, grab some cheese and wine from the Club and retreat to my room for our own personal fireworks viewing party with the TV playing the same music as in the Magic Kingdom. We arrived around 9:00pm, so were just in time to make his suggestion a reality that first night. It was every bit as much a treat as he said it would be.
Cheers to Club Level at Disney’s Contemporary
Evening Offerings at The Contemporary
I’ll start with the evening Disney Club Level offerings we enjoyed at the Contemporary, because those were the food and beverage items we liked the most. In the evenings, “Contemporary Flavors” are served from 5:00pm – 7:00pm and Cordials with Mini Desserts are served from 8:00pm – 10:00pm.
The question almost everyone will probably have about Disney Club Level is whether you can turn the included food options into dinner? The answer is likely yes — though personally I wouldn’t want to do that every day. However, if you’re spending the extra cash for Disney Club Level, it makes sense that you want to cut meal costs where it makes sense to help offset that splurge.
In the evenings, I was told that the food offerings at the Contemporary’s Atrium Club come from the hotel’s The Wave kitchen, but this will vary in each Deluxe Resort’s Club Lounge based on their on-site restaurants. In the evenings, there were sliced meats, cheese, (delicious) rolls, cold vegetables, shrimp appetizers, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly jars, a hearty beef and potatoes dish and more. The options rotated a bit each evening we were there, so you could get some variety over a multi-night stay.
Disney Contemporary Club Level evening appetizers
Disney Contemporary Club Level evening appetizers
Disney Contemporary Club Level evening appetizers
Disney Contemporary Club Level evening appetizers
Mac and cheese isn’t pretty… but the kids love it.
There’s no question there was plenty of food to create a dinner for kids or adults in the club, but the problem is that Disney has so many great dinner experiences, you may not just want to eat in the club lounge every night. Even if you don’t eat dinner at the club lounge, you can (and should) come back a little later for dessert.

From cookies, to cakes, macarons and mini dessert cups, evening desserts were a strength of the Contemporary’s Club Lounge.

If you like an evening beverage to go along with your mini-dessert cup, the Contemporary Club Lounge offered the following included beverages: La Luca Prosecco, Francisean Chardonnay, Meiomi Pinot Noir, Chappellet Cabernet, Bud Lite, Sam Adams IPA, Yuengling and Heineken.

They also had four different spirits on hand, if that’s your preference.

Breakfast Offerings at the Contemporary
Coffee service blessedly starts bright and early at 6:30am (and lasts all day), but continental breakfast doesn’t start until 7:00am and lasts until 10:30am. This is almost too late of a start time for food in my view since some parks open as early as 7:00am on certain days.

With the exception of the warm oatmeal, Disney Club Level breakfast consisted only of cold items such as fruits, pastries, sliced meat and cheese, yogurt, bread and hard boiled eggs.

I was more than happy with yogurt, granola, fruit and maybe a croissant before heading to the parks, but breakfast isn’t very exciting in the club lounge and the options didn’t seem to rotate as frequently as dinner. Still, when time is money (and it is at Disney), being able to get your coffee and first meal of the day just steps from your hotel room is a welcome treat before heading to a park.
Lunchtime Offerings at the Contemporary
The Club Lounge at Disney’s Contemporary serves Lite Bites from 11:30am to 4:00pm, but don’t get excited about this at all unless your palate is similar to that of my eight-year-old. These lite bites are Skittles, pretzels and Goldfish-level snacks. Kids will like them, but this is in no way a lunch replacement opportunity.

On the plus side, you can visit the Club Level refrigerator throughout the day for Fanta, lemonade, apple juice, Coke, Sprite and Diet Coke. There were auspiciously no bottled waters in the fridge, though apparently they are available upon request.
Disney Club Level Service and Extras
Our favorite aspect of Disney’s Club Level at the Contemporary may very well have been a cast member named David. If you’ve ever stayed on the Club Level at the Contemporary, you will know him as the man with the on-point Mickey Mouse vocal impression. He can do several Disney impressions, and was beyond entertaining for our girls. He was fun, gracious, knowledgable and a real treat to see each evening of our stay.
While David was fantastic, we didn’t have the best luck with service from some of our actual Club Level requests of other cast members. We tried to set up a Minnie Van to the airport via the Club Level (to review it), and after over 30 minutes of trying, ultimately they weren’t able to make that happen. I also inquired about the program to purchase extra FastPass reservations on Club Level and they weren’t 100% clear or knowledgable on that program either. On the flip side, we were also able to get a late check-out at noon thanks to working with the Club Level status after “the computer” denied our initial request to leave one hour later than scheduled. I highly doubt that request would have been honored if we were not on Club Level and had staff advocating on our behalf with housekeeping.
The staff on the Club Level were all kind and professional, but on my limited Disney-related inquiries, their batting average was a little lower than I would have expected. That said, they were all very sweet to my girls and a joy to see at the beginning or end of a long Disney day.
Bottom Line: Is Disney Club Level Worth It?
While it will vary a bit at each resort, the Disney Club Level evening food and beverage offerings are good, the breakfast offerings are workable and there are some true standouts on the staff. So, is Disney Club Level worth it? The answer will lie in what “worth it” means to you while at Disney. If “worth it” means enjoying as much convenience and magic as possible while at Disney World, then it may very well be worth it. If it means you’re spending more in one area to save in another, then the answer is… “it depends.”

For a randomly selected date in late August, the Contemporary is selling its base-level Garden View Rooms for $353+ per night while a standard room on the Club Level is $623+ with theme-park view rooms running about another $50 per night above that price. Our July dates were similarly priced. I’ve seen the price differential between Club Level rooms and standard rooms to be a bit less at some other resorts, such as Animal Kingdom, but Club Level will often be at least a $200+ per night upcharge over an entry-level room.
Will your family save at least $200 – $250+ in food and beverage costs per day by having Club Level access? Potentially, but only if your family typically enjoys a few beverage and pricier meals per day and is happy to shift their drinks, breakfast and dinners to Club Level and away from the other options. However, if you’re usually spending $200+ per day on meals and drinks at Disney, you’re probably enjoying at least one character or themed meal for day. Meals in Club Level are not a replacement for true experiences like ‘Ohana, Cinderella’s Royal Table, Be Our Guest or Chef MIckey’s, so even if you’re saving some money on the cost of food, that may be coming at the expense of some pretty cool Disney experiences.
However, you’ll probably save at least some money by enjoying what the Club Level has to offer, so it’s fair to factor that into the equation — just be realistic with your estimates. We still ate at the Polynesian, Chef Mickey’s and had breakfast included with our Early Morning Magic package during our Club Level stay at the Contemporary. While we enjoyed the included food and drinks at our fingertips, it didn’t replace all of our Disney meals by any stretch, and it will never replace lunch since the mid-day offerings are very sparse.
Obviously, the less you pay for Disney Club Level, the greater its value, so let’s look at some ways to reduce the cost a bit. As with other Disney Resort rooms, you can use Chase Ultimate Reward points earned from cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve to book rooms with Club Level access by using this work-around. You can also book your Club Level rooms directly with Disney, pay with your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard, and then use the points from those cards at a rate of 1 cent per point to cover the charges.
Another good idea for a four-night stay would be to book via the Citi Concierge and pay with your Citi Prestige Card to get the 4th night of your Disney Club Level stay for free (other than taxes or fees).
Staying on Disney’s Club Level does make you eligible to purchase three extra FastPass+ reservations at a cost of $50 per person, per day on stays of three nights or longer (everyone in the room must purchase that package). You can book these FastPass+ rides 90 days in advance without park or ride restrictions. This would virtually guarantee yourself prime time access to Avatar Flight of Passage, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Slink Dog Dash, Frozen Ever After or whatever rides interest you most. That’s a ton of extra money on top of an already very expensive hotel stay, but it’s a way to guarantee yourself more top-tier rides without purchasing a VIP tour.
Disney World is expensive, and at a stay on Disney’s Club Level adds even more to your final bill. Club Level isn’t at all necessary for a great family trip to Disney World, but if you have the budget for the splurge and want the best that Disney has to offer, you may want to consider the Club Level for your next trip to Disney. I don’t anticipate all of our future Disney stays to happen on the Club Level, but it also wouldn’t hurt my feelings at all if we make it up there again at some point.

Inside the Newest Hotel From Universal Orlando Resort: The Aventura

Universal Orlando Resort may not have as many annual visitors as its Mickey Mouse-themed neighbor down the road, but it is big and growing — rapidly. In 2017, the Universal Studios Florida theme park was the 10th-most-visited theme park in the world with about 10 million guests. For reference, Disney’s Magic Kingdom had about double that number in the same year. However, the number of visitors at Universal Studios is increasing faster than at the Magic Kingdom, and that doesn’t even factor in the new Universal Volcano Bay water park that opened in 2017, or Universal Studio’s neighboring park, Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

All together, the three Universal Studios Florida parks had an annual attendance of over 21 million visitors last year. Those thrill-seekers need somewhere to sleep at night, so it makes perfect sense that Universal Studios has been busy expanding their portfolio of on-property hotels. The Loews Sapphire Falls Resort opened in 2016, Universal Surfside Inn and Suites is scheduled to open in 2019, and Universal Dockside Inn and Suites is scheduled to open in 2020. The Universal Aventura Hotel rounds out that list of lodging projects, and the doors officially opened at Universal Studio’s newest hotel on Aug. 16.

I was curious about this brand-new hotel, so I booked a trip for opening day to see how it stacked up against its neighbors.

Universal’s Aventura Hotel is a 600-room, 17-story hotel that isn’t exactly what you expect when you think of theme-park hotels. It has a sleek and minimalist design, there is virtually no theming, no characters and no waterslide or kids club. But there’s a rooftop bar, a fire pit and an upscale food court called Urban Pantry that serves sushi, poke, gelato, udon noodles, prosciutto pizza and much, much more. Don’t worry, though, this new hotel has a few things for the kids, too.

Booking
Universal Studios has four categories of hotels: Value, Prime Value, Preferred and Premier. The Universal Aventura Hotel is considered a Prime Value hotel, which seems to mean that it is one of the more affordable options without being too bare-bones. The Universal Cabana Bay Beach Resort is the other Universal Orlando property in the Prime Value category.
For my stay, in keeping with its Prime Value designation, rates for the Aventura started at $116 per night for a standard 314-square-foot room. I wanted to check out the Aventura 575-square-foot Kids Suite that started at $216 per night. On opening night, the Kid’s Suite was $289 or more per night, and I made the booking directly with Universal’s site, as availability was going quickly by the time we locked in our plans.
The Aventura Hotel is typically available via Hotels.com, so you could earn 10x miles by booking via Hotels.com/Venture and paying with your Capital One Venture Rewards credit card. This was just a quick stay to review the hotel, but if you were planning a four-night stay for a real family vacation, you could book with your Citi Prestige Card to get the fourth night free.
While we’re on the topic of booking this property, note that I purchased same-day, after-2:00pm, discounted Universal Studios theme-park tickets from the hotel concierge during my stay. I charged the ticket to the room and then earned 3x points per dollar on the room charges by paying with my Chase Sapphire Reserve at checkout. Depending on where you purchase theme-park tickets, they don’t always code a a travel charge, but charging to the room is a surefire way to ensure they charge as travel.
Location
Universal’s Aventura Hotel was on the Universal Studios Orlando property and easy walking distance to the new Universal Volcano Bay waterpark. To get there, I exited the hotel from the back of the pool area. To get there early in the morning before the pool area opened at 8:00am, I had to exit from the hotel lobby and walk around the property to access Volcano Bay via a walkway that went underground and then popped up right at Volcano Bay’s entrance.

 

If I wanted to get to the Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure theme parks, I could’ve theoretically walked the entire way from the Aventura or walked to nearby Loews Sapphire Falls and taken a complimentary Universal Studios boat from there. The easiest option to get from Aventura to the two main Universal theme parks, however, was to take the free Universal Studios bus that stopped right in front of the hotel every few minutes.
The bus went to the Universal CityWalk entrance, where you had to clear security and then enter the main CityWalk area. From there, the Universal Studios entrance was about a two- or three-minute walk for adults, slightly longer for small children.
Check-in
Immediately upon walking into Universal’s Aventura Hotel, I noticed a difference from many other theme-park hotels: It was big, bright, airy and simple. That wasn’t inherently good or bad, but it was significantly different than many Orlando properties I had stayed in previously, where a main goal of the hotel (other than a place to sleep) was immersive theming.

The check-in desk was fully staffed on opening day, and while the process was a little slower than my average hotel check-in, everyone was professional, and I assume the speed will increase with time. The room type I reserved was ready for my 1:00pm arrival, which wasn’t too surprising, since no guests were there the night before.

The Room
The Kids Suite was on the ninth floor at the end of a hallway that featured carpet that looked like rainbow-colored fidget spinners. Interesting carpet selections aside, the keycard opened up the door on the first try, and what awaited inside was a thoughtfully designed space for families. The end-of-the-hallway location likely contributed to a calm and quiet night with no through traffic.

The entry to the Kids Suite was a relatively long and narrow hallway that passed the bathroom and took you into the first of three partially divided spaces.

This first space, the largest of the three, had a work desk, chairs and the king bed.

The walls were massive glass windows, so the TV was mounted from the ceiling instead of the wall. These massive windows were the perfect viewing spot for an evening Orlando thunderstorm or the nightly fireworks displays nearby.

Next to the bed was a tablet from which you could order pizza, gelato, salad or beverages. You could also request items such as a crib, more towels or a blanket without picking up the phone. The tablet featured a chat option with hotel staff and the ability to sign onto your own Netflix or Prime Video accounts and then display those shows and movies on the in-room TV. Wi-Fi was strong and free of charge.

The first part of the room was more than fine for a value-oriented hotel, but what came next was what got me really excited for families. The second part of the suite was sectioned off by a three-quarters wall and a curtain you could open or close to fully section off the final quarter of the space. Behind that wall was the best hotel invention ever, a kids room within a suite.

This smaller room within the suite had two twin beds and its own TV. It wasn’t a true separate room with a door, but rather a semi-private space removed from the main living area. There you could (theoretically) put the kids to bed, shut the curtain and still stay up past 9:00pm! (I didn’t bring kids this time.)

Beyond the children’s sleeping area was a third small space that was a total surprise to me. It had a third TV and a small couch that pulled out to a little bed.

This area would also be a great place to put a crib, if needed. Or you could just use it as a play space for your kids and not junk up the main portion of the suite with all their trinkets and crumbs.
The bathroom in the Aventura Kid Suite was equally as intelligently designed, with a double vanity, bathtub, a separate shower and a room for the toilet. As long as you’re all (very) comfortable with each other, multiple family members could be doing various bathroom-related tasks at the same time.

Considering the kids suite was just 575 square feet, I was completely impressed with how designers used the space. This should be the standard for how hotels use affordably priced suites to actually meet the needs of families rather than simply providing a larger space that still only has one real bed.
On a minor but somewhat less positive note, I was not a raving fan of the bedding in the suite. The bed and pillows were comfortable enough, but the comforter was stiff. Going up a notch on sheet quality wouldn’t have been the worst decision, either. In contrast, the towels were softer and thicker than I would have expected.

A final note about the room: There was a dorm-sized fridge with no minibar items clogging up the space, so it was all ours to use as we wished.
Food and Beverage
The Aventura Hotel at Universal Studios did not have a traditional sit-down restaurant or a full room-service menu. Honestly, it really didn’t need that. The Urban Pantry food court had multiple unique ordering areas with something to please everyone from a macaroni-eating toddler to a 20-something hipster who somehow found themselves at a theme-park hotel.

My favorite space in the Urban Pantry was the area for sushi, poke and noodles. I tried, and loved, the tuna poke that rang in at about $10 and was good to the last grain of rice. It wasn’t the best poke on the planet, but it was certainly the best I’ve ever had at a theme-park hotel. In fact, it was the only poke I’ve ever seen at a theme-park hotel.

On my next visit, I’ll try out the noodle bar where you can choose your noodles, vegetables and protein for $15 and then select whether you would like the ingredients stir-fried or served in a broth.

There was a burger station with grab-and-go burgers and fries, or you could order from the menu for a fresh batch.

There was also a pizza station, gelato station and a carving section with options such as rotisserie chicken, macaroni and cheese, Brussels sprouts and roasted cauliflower. Prices ranged from $10 to $15 for an entree at the Urban Pantry.

Urban Pantry’s breakfast included breakfast sandwiches, waffles, eggs, bacon, ham, biscuits, pastries, yogurt parfaits and a variety of other am favorites.

On the lobby level was also a full-service Starbucks that accepted payment via the Starbucks app and Starbucks gift cards but did not accept mobile orders yet.

The room-service menu at Universal’s Aventura was limited, consisting of salad, pizza, gelato and cookies that you could order from the tablet. I ordered gelato via the tablet at about 10:00pm, mostly to test how the process worked. OK, and to eat the gelato. It was 11:30pm before it arrived, as they were reportedly “very busy,” and that delivery only occurred after I followed up via chat about an hour after the order was placed. On the plus side, there were no mark-ups for room service other than the tip. That meant no delivery fees, no included gratuity fees or anything extra, just a $6 pint of chocolate gelato plus tip at my discretion.

Almost 90 minutes to get a pint of ice cream to come up nine floors was a little excessive, but I was a big fan of the reasonable room-service prices! Other Aventura room service prices ranged from $4 for a cookie bag to $15 for an adult-sized pizza.
Starting at 4:00pm, guests could head up to Bar 17 Bistro and take in the 360-degree view of Orlando while ordering cocktails and bistro bites. Children were allowed, as long as they were accompanied by an adult. Beer was $6 to $8, and cocktails were about $14.

I can personally vouch for the Dew Point Hooligan cocktail, made with sake, club soda, simple syrup, lemon juice, cucumber and raspberry. It was light and refreshing but also packed a little bit of a punch. Fun fact: My beverage also had the distinction of being the first drink served at the rooftop Bar 17 Bistro on opening day.

I didn’t try the food at Bar 17 Bistro on this trip, but the menu included $7 rice and noodles dishes, a $10 beet-and-fig salad, $12 bao plates (for three buns) and $18 wagyu sliders.
The wind blew consistently on the open-air 17th floor, but the menus were printed on paper that kept blowing away, so I hope that heavier menus are in the works. Otherwise, a rooftop bar at a hotel in this sort of location is an unexpected and very grown-up treat.

Amenities
Universal’s Aventura Hotel had an outdoor pool and a splash pad, but the pool area was tame by theme-park standards. There were attentive lifeguards, but the pool was on the smaller side, with no slides, toys or much of anything beyond refreshing water to swim around in.

The pool area itself was also pretty minimal in foliage or decor, so it didn’t feel like you were in any type of tropical oasis, as you might at Volcano Bay. There were a few palm trees, but that was the extent of the pool’s surroundings.

In short, there was a pool that your kids will probably enjoy because kids like pools, but don’t come here expecting an over-the-top pool experience. Adults, take note of the outdoor bar near the pool area as well as the neighboring fire pit.

On the second level of the Aventura Hotel was a nice gym and, more interestingly, a virtual-reality game room.

I only peeked into the VR room, but there was what looked like a cash register, so I’m assuming these games come with a pay-to-play fee just as games in a traditional arcade do. The VR room was open in the evenings and was staffed by a knowledgeable and friendly staff gamer who did her best to convince me to put on a headset and start playing.

While not an amenity per se, staying at the Aventura Hotel enabled you to get into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter or Volcano Bay one hour before the parks’ scheduled opening. However, staying here did not get you Express Passes, a perk reserved for the three Universal Premier hotels, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Portofino Bay Hotel.
Overall Impression
Universal’s new Aventura Hotel is a hotel within a theme-park resort, but it’s far from your typical theme-park hotel. It’s an interesting blend of sleek and sophisticated, but in a budget-friendly and accessible way. It’s not a hotel designed just for kids, but it is one where kids could certainly stay and have a good time.
At the Aventura Hotel, you’ll find an emphasis on technology and staying connected, with strong and complimentary Wi-Fi, the VR game room, in-room tablet ordering and various charging devices sprinkled throughout the property. I mean, if you don’t post about your Universal Studios vacation on social media, did it really happen?

The Kids Suite, in particular, is a real slam dunk for families. The only problem I’ve found with the suite is availability, as there are many dates where this room type is sold out. Book well in advance if you want to stay in a suite that sleeps up to five in three different defined spaces that are separate, but not too separate.
From a location perspective, the Aventura Hotel is not in as great a spot as the Loews Royal Pacific that we stayed in last month, but keep in mind that Universal Studios is a more compact place than Disney World. This means even the furthest-out hotel isn’t really all that far from where you want to go.
My biggest barrier to booking the Aventura for our own next Universal Studios trip will be that staying here doesn’t get you Express Passes, which are extremely pricey for a family of four to buy a la carte.
Universal Express Pass sticker shock: Those prices are per person.
That isn’t a fault of the hotel but rather a booking strategy we like to employ. I enjoyed my stay at the Aventura Hotel more than the pricier (and older) nearby Royal Pacific, so if Express Passes and a smaller pool aren’t major issues for you, I’d likely pick this new property over the older and pricier one. There are some new-hotel kinks to work out, but if you want to stay at a new and reasonably priced hotel near the Universal Orlando theme parks in a property that doesn’t feel like a theme-park hotel, the Aventura may be the new spot for you.
All photos by Summer Hull / The Points Guy