Online reviews: Take it with a grain of salt

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Online review sites have been around for several years, offering seemingly unbiased reviews by folks who say they have actually stayed at these properties and who took the time to register with the service and go online to write the review. That sounds great and very legit, but is it?

Within the past year, one very famous service has taken to adding notations to its listings, noting that they can't vouch for the veracity of the review. That's because allegedly, some of their "unbiased" reviewers have been paid to post flattering reviews of certain properties - and unflattering reviews of a competing property. On a wide scale.

And even hotel sites themselves are fairly notorious for rounding off the rough edges of a property.

Case in point: my husband and I were looking forward to our first trip to the South Pacific a few years ago on a travel agent educational trip to the islands of Tahiti and Moorea. We excitedly researched both properties online, looking at the great pictures of that gorgeous Tahitian water and the beautiful areas around the hotels themselves.

The hotel on Tahiti was just fine - everything was as represented - but on Moorea? Not so much.

The rooms were very basic - no interior pictures were on the site - but that was okay. The website had also featured glowing descriptions of their restaurant and pictures of a pretty waterside pool. Upon arrival, we found out the restaurant had been closed for over a year after being damaged during a typhoon, and the pool? The access ladders had been broken for a couple of months, but they were "working on it."

To this day, I consider it a real tribute to the beautiful island of Moorea that we still look back on that trip with great pleasure. The hotel was the pits, and I have been warning people away from it ever since, but the location was simply breathtaking and I would love to go back.

So what can you do to make sure your travel dreams don't become a vacation nightmare?

By all means, use the web for research

Check out as many sites as possible for a given hotel. You can even check the review sites, but keep in mind folks who have a bad experience at a property are far more likely to come home, sit down and write a negative review than folks who had a positive experience.

And don't forget to visit the visitors bureau sites! They're a great resource for hotel information, and usually very reliable. Using the Irish Tourist Board as an example, they visit the various hotels, farmhouses and B&Bs frequently, to make sure they meet their standards.

Talk, talk, talk

If at all possible, talk to people who have actually been to the destination - family, friends, neighbors, co-workers. And here's where I wave my flag for travel agents - talk to us.

Travel agents do just that - we travel. We love to be able to offer first-hand knowledge of a destination, to recommend memorable activities and terrific out-of-the-way restaurants. We use the web as research tool too, which is how I know we're very competitive with the online companies where you never speak to anyone.

The web is a fantastic tool for researching your next vacation. But it's just a tool. You can't take everything you see or read at face value. Take those additional steps to make sure your travel dreams stay that way.

A couple of fun things this week?

October 9 - October 18
From $1999.00 per person, double occupancy!

Thanks to those who have already held space on this wonderful trip, I have only one Inside Stateroom left in my group! I still have several Ocean View Staterooms and plenty of Balcony Staterooms still available if you want to upgrade.

The rate includes round trip air from Phoenix, all airport/pier/hotel transfers and a post-cruise stay in beautiful Barcelona.

We depart Barcelona on October 10 on Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas - ice-skating at sea, anyone? - and we'll be making stops in some of the most beautiful ports in the Mediterranean. Check out the itinerary:

Magical Meditteranean
Oct. 10 -- Barcelona, Spain -- Depart: 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 -- Cruising
Oct. 12 -- Naples, Capri, Italy -- Arrive: 7 a.m.; Depart: 7 p.m. (Docked)
Oct. 13 -- Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy -- Arrive: 7 a.m.; Depart: 7 p.m. (Docked)
Oct. 14 -- Livorno (Florence/Pisa), Italy -- Arrive: 7 a.m.; Depart: 7 p.m. (Docked)
Oct. 15 -- Villefranche (Nice), France -- Arrive: 7 a.m.; Depart: 7 p.m. (Tendered)
Oct. 16 -- Provence (Toulon), France -- Arrive: 7 a.m.; Depart: 5 p.m. (Docked)
Oct. 17 -- Barcelona, Spain -- Arrive: 6 a.m

This cruise vacation offers incredible value - all your meals are included! - and you'll unpack one time to see parts of three beautiful countries! For more information on this trip, you can also visit my agency site: I hope you come with us!


Cancun has some terrific rates if you can head down there in the month of February:

Royal Solaris Cancun - from $849.00 per person, double occupancy!

Gran Caribe Real - from $989.00 per person, double occupancy!

RIU Cancun - from $1069.00 per person, double occupancy!

All packages include round trip air from Phoenix, airport transfers and six nights all-inclusive accommodations (all meals and beverages, including alcohol, plus non-motorized water sports and gratuities). Mid-week travel offers the best rates, but weekends are available for an additional cost. Air taxes are additional.

The Gran Caribe Real is offering Junior Suite accommodations at this rate and the RIU Cancun is offering Ocean View rooms, so check your calendar!

And finally - I'm hearing word of a sale for the Caribbean. I'll keep you posted! By air, land and sea, we're planning your next vacation at TravelationOnline! Give us a call at 602-252-1140 (or toll-free at 888-751-2032 if you're outside the Metro Phoenix area codes of 602, 480 and 623). You can also reach me directly via e-mail at I look forward to hearing from you!