When I travel, I love to stay at B&B’s.
I’m not just saying that because I own one – I’ve been staying at them for about twenty years. This was with some initial hesitance, though. In the late 90’s, my boyfriend at the time convinced me to try them – they were cheaper, and we were young and short on cash. The places we stayed at varied. One had nice-ish accommodations, but the host seemed overwhelmed. You could not find her when you needed her, and requests for help seemed to throw her into a tizzy. She did not have a set breakfast menu, so breakfast came in the form of boxed cereal. Another B&B had beautiful accommodations, served gourmet breakfasts, and the hosts were fascinating to talk to. However, there was only one shared bathroom for all the guests. This is something that really didn’t work for me, as I am always up in the middle of the night. By the time I would put my glasses on, find a bathrobe, and stumble down a strange hallway, I would be wide awake. And even in the middle of the night, there was always another guest tapping their toes in the hallway, waiting for the bathroom. I am sure my middle-of-the-night-glamorousness was a treat to behold too.
Fast forward about ten years, and the B&B’s I was staying at seemed to be getting better. In a recent visit to England, for example, I stayed at some gorgeous historically designated B&B’s. Depending on the grade of their designation, some maintained the exterior, but were able to modernize the inside of the building. They offered king-sized beds. Ensuite bathrooms. Contemporary and upscale seating – not a horsehair couch or a doily in sight. Truly the best of both worlds – historic charm, and modern amenities.
Added to that, the hosts were gracious and helpful. They were happy to chat with you if you wanted, or to leave you in peace and quiet. They seemed to know if I was feeling social or not, and were focused on making sure I enjoyed my stay. Full of local information, they gave fantastic suggestions for activities or restaurants. I was even invited to join a dinner party one night, and had an absolute blast. Another host discovered my love of single malt scotch, showed me his impressive collection, and we shared a wee dram or two. These special memories were a wonderful part of my holidays, and this really could only have happened at a B&B.
Now, as a B&B owner, I am on the other side. Ken and I want to give our guests the best experience possible, and client’s needs vary. Some of the people who have stayed with us were B&B virgins, and didn’t really know what to expect. Some were seasoned B&B veterans. But virgin or veteran, here are a few things you should consider when booking your B&B stay.
1. Know exactly what you want in a B&B. For me, it’s a house that catches my eye – and my definition of this depends upon exactly where I am. In England, it was a historic house with modern touches. In California, it was a snazzy, contemporary beach house. I must have a king-sized bed with an ensuite bathroom, and approachable, easy to reach hosts. I enjoy meeting other guests, so a communal breakfast table is just fine for me. You need to figure out what suits your needs best. Everyone has different “must-haves” and there are a variety of B&B’s to suit all needs.
2. Get recommendations and do some research. Ask friends if they have a B&B they would recommend – but keep in mind that what your friend really likes may be different for you. When you have settled on a possible place, go to their website to get a feel for the property and owners. Check out their social media links, and critically read their TripAdvisor reviews. Call or email the owners if you have any questions.
3. Understand that each area has different regulations for B&B licensing. For example, those lovely dinners that I had with my hosts in England aren’t possible for me to do at my B&B in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Under the terms of licensing here, we can only serve breakfast. Luckily, there are lots of terrific places to eat here in Niagara, so that doesn’t pose a problem.
4. Try to plan as much of your trip ahead of time. Ask your hosts for recommendations and suggestions. Your hosts live in the area you are visiting, so they are a great source of knowledge for restaurants and activities. They are happy to point you in the right direction, or to help with your trip planning. Niagara-on-the-Lake can be a very busy place, so if there is a particular restaurant you want to try, it is best to book as soon as you can. Many restaurants have online booking, so it is an easy thing to accomplish. If you are planning a visit to the theatre, a wine tour, or culinary tour, it is best to book those ahead of time too, to avoid disappointment. That way, as soon as you arrive, you can relax and just be on vacation! No last minute scrambling.
5. Let your hosts know at time of booking if you have any food restrictions, allergies or special requests. Even if you think there is no way your host would be serving a food that you cannot have, it is important that you tell them all restrictions ahead of time. They want to make you happy, so if you can’t eat eggs, for example, they want to make sure you still get a breakfast you will delight in. Sometimes this requires a bit of extra planning, so your hosts appreciate knowing as soon as possible.
6. Finally, realize that this is a business. That means there are things like cancellation charges and refund policies. Many B&B’s also require deposits at time of booking. If you don’t show up for your reservation, the B&B has lost revenue, so there will be a charge for a no-show. Make sure you understand and are okay with all of the policies of the B&B you choose before booking. This prevents any potential misunderstandings.
Staying at a bed and breakfast can be a very unique experience. With some research, knowledge and communication with your hosts, you have the basis for a wonderful vacation. When you find a place you really like, it can feel like you are visiting with old friends. What a special way to travel.