Welcome to Hotel Hell.

While guides that rate hotels wax about the sauna, conference rooms, Health club, gourmet restauarant and business center, these are all features most travellers use only occasionally and could, if needed, go elsewhere to get. The guides often ignore the "kiss of death" defects that interfere with the primary and unavoidable uses of a hotel room: A good night's sleep, a chance to get clean, and sometimes just a private, quiet place to read, make a phone call, or watch TV. Here are the things we wish hotel guides would warn us about so we could avoid establishments with these features.  Telling me that this is a 4 star hotel doesn't tell me anything about the things I really care about when selecting a room.

Heating/cooling systems that won't maintain a reasonable temperature and constant sound level

Why is it that you only visit the places that say they never need air conditioning during their freak hot spell, when someone across the road is having an all night firecracker fest? All hotel rooms should have a heating/cooling unit that can be set to run the fan continuously and make only quiet humming noises when the heat/cooling cycles on/off. I believe the designers of those units which insist on shutting everything off when they think the temperature is "right", then come on with a set of clanks and booms when needed should be condemned to sleeping in a room full of these things for the rest of their lives. As an electrical engineer, I've never understood why heating/cooling systems need relays make a noise like a flyswatter. Indeed, I've never even seen relays like this, but often a quiet unit is made unbearable because ever time the compressor comes on it makes a noise like someone swatting a fly on a large piece of sheet metal.

The sound amplifying metal door

Again, I've lived in several houses and appartments and never encountered doors with the particular sound amplifying qualities of those used in many hotels. A whisper in the hallway sounds like someone shouting in your room. Why can't hotels seal and insulate the doors?

Flimsy sound transparent construction

The door is of course just one problem, but one that stands out as the weak link on some otherwise well constructed facilities. Also common are those hotels with walls that pass everything and floors/ceilings that instantly convert anyone walking in slippers above to the sound of a herd of elephants below.

The bomb in the toilet

No, I'm not kidding, and I'm not making this up. In 3 different hotels over the past 2 months I've encountered toilets that flush with an explosive blast (in one case kicking back the handle so hard it actually sprained my finger before I got used to anticipating it. Being naturally curious about inferior plumbing, I lifted the tank lid and discovered in each case the tank, normally filled with water, was instead filled with an odd assortment of pipes and a large black rubber mass that looked a bit like the bombs in the old cartoon shows. I have no idea what these things are, but they seem to be multiplying. The main problem, other than sprained fingers, is they make so much noise everyone in the building (if not the surrounding city) knows you just flushed a toilet. Not good when you are trying to be quiet at 3AM, or worse yet when 100 people all over the building are getting up and flushing once a night.

The wind ensemble in the plumbing

Bomb toilets are still rare, but plumbing that gurgles, toots, whistles, or otherwise makes obnoxious noises isn't. Why can't hotels simply encase all the pipes in enough sound deadening foam to slience them once and for all?

The New Jersey water torture

I refer, of course, to the "water saving" shower heads that dribble a trickle of random temperature water at you, while often gushing water at some other temperature out the tub spount at your feet. I don't mean to pick on the garden state, but this is a feature I first encountered often there while travelling, at a time when I also visited California, Colorado, Arizona, and other water starved areas where I always got "normal" showerheads. When I complained I was always told that water restricting showerheads were a state law in New Jersey. I believe the defect comes from sticking a water restricter (perhaps just a penny in the pipe) on plumbing not designed for it. I have nothing against saving water, but providing inadequate water to rinse the soap off, fouling up the temperature control to the extent you spend 5 minutes just getting it tolerable, and dumping gallons of water down the drain for every pint you can get on your head doesn't save water.

More Dim Bulb ideas

Another simple thing hotels have a problem with is lighting. Every hotel room needs a bright (>=150 watt equivalent) light near the bed and one near the desk (if it has a desk). Bad hotels often give you no bright lights at all, or stick them places like the bureau, where you don't need them. Few hotels actually put 3 way bulbs in their 3 way lamps, leading again to needless annoyance. Another question here is why hotels seem to be the lighting industry's guniea pigs for every new energy saving lighting technology? Many hotels now use compact fluorescents, some of which would easily double as strobe lights. An interesting twist I've begun to encounter is exotic lamps of some sort that start off very dim and gradually brighten. Invariably when confronted with this I'll turn on every light in the room in an attempt to get something brighter than a candle to read by, and 5 minutes later feel like I'm on a brightly lit stage. Again, Energy conservation is a very good goal, but isn't accomplished by giving travellers so little light in each bulb that they have to turn on every bulb in the room to get enough light to read by.

Let there be dark?

You would think it would be easy to make a hotel room dark, but it's not.  Often they have fancy "window treatments" that make it difficult to figure out which set of curtains is actually opaque to light, and can actually be pulled across the window.  Some hotels simply don't have an opaque curtain at all.  Even when you find the right set there are often problems, like being unable to get it to close the gap between the sides or around the edges, meaning every set of headlights from the highway shines in and always seems to be oriented to hit your eyes in bed. Many places whose curtains are otherwise adequate position them directly over the vent from the heating/cooling unit, meaning that every time the fan is on the curtains billow out into your room, trapping all the hot or cold air, but allowing all the light from the street to come in underneath.  If you are going to put them there at least give me a baffle of some sort to hold the curtains back.

Why would I watch $7 movies and drink $3 cokes?

I often wonder whether the minibar and pay-per-view movie facilities now common in hotels are actually intended as guest conveniences, or simply ways of generating revenue through billing errors. It can't be as hard to get the billing right as it seems. Putting me through billing department hell trying to clear fradulent charges does not enhance my stay.

Telephone torture

Can someone tell me why the cheapest fleabag motel usually gives you free local calls and no surcharges on your long distance calls, while the big name fancy hotels often hit you with charges on every call, limits even on 800 calls, and other not-so-insignficant fees. Doesn't my $250 a night cover a few local calls?

Getting (dis)connected

Internet connectivity is increasingly becoming a key part of a hotel stay, and not just for the business traveller.  Hotels are responding by offering high speed internet, if you can figure out how to use it and sometimes only if you have plenty of cash.  The service, when it works, is usually quite good, but getting there is more than half the fun.  Why do hotels which don't charge for internet service put you through the 3rd degree in checking off on disclosures before you can get on line.  If you ever read one of those things you probably would never agree to it.  Worse yet though is the fact that these things often fail if the first thing from your machine that touches cyberspace isn't a web page request, and with so much software on modern machines constantly trying to "phone home", it's pretty likely that your antivirus will decide to update, windows will check for updates, or that virus that's still on your machine will try to send all your passwords to guam and foul up the connection before you get there.  The cost of internet service often follows the same pattern as the cost of phone service.  Cheap hotels give it away while expensive ones try to soak you for $10 or more a day.  The worst deal has to be the one I've been stuck with in Europe which charges by the minute with minutes only good for a small number of hours or days.  Guaranteed to make you buy too much and waste your money.

Where's the Juice?

Why is it that the electrical codes, thanks to the disinterested vigilance of the electrical contractors organization, IBEW, and power producers organziation, now require outlets for every 3 feet of wall space in homes, yet in a spacious hotel room you often find only 2 outlets -- One in the bathroom, and one burried behind the bed or bureau with at least half a dozen cords emanting from a lump of outlet extenders and tags warning you that if you dare unplug the TV they will assume you stole it and send the dogs after you. When will hotels realize that people are bringing more, not fewer electrical appliances, and provide at least 2 open outlets, one near the desk and one near the bed.

There is such a thing as being TOO helpful

There is a great Monty Python sketch where most of the staff of a restaurant commits suicide in front of a stunned couple in penance for having allowed speck of dirt on a fork. Some hotels make me feel the same way by leaving little notes about the housekeeping, messages on the voice mail, or what's worst of all, calling you up to let you know that because you had your "do not disturb" sign out they couldn't get in to turn down the bed. Can't these people just ignore the appologies and the personal touches and focus on keeping the black slime in the shower stall under control int the first place?

57 Channels and nothing on

While TV is a standard almost everywhere now, figuring out how to use that hotel TV without discovering you ordered a round of drinks for everyone in the bar while fumbling with the controls is always a trick. Most consumer sets have simple, responsive remote controls that allow you to channel surf at will. Why do hotels always replace them with clunky things that switch channels and volume only after a random delay, if you push the buttons REAL HARD, and only after making a lot of clunking and buzzing noises, and why do these thins always keep returning you to the movie preview channel. Maybe they are hoping some folks will just give up and order one of those dropouts from the film accademy rather than stay with it long enough to figure out where they put CNN or NBC.

Bed and Breakfast?

A free breakfast has become the defacto standard for cheap and midrange hotels (but again, the $250/night city hotel invariably wants you to spend another $20 for some stale toast and overcooked eggs in their restaurant).  Unfortunately, what you get is often impossible to predict.  For many, a hot breakfast only means that they have a toaster, with bread and toaster pastries of some sort.  Some give you a full buffet.  For a few, it's a sit down and order off the menu breakfast.  I think getting breakfast as part of the deal is a good thing on balance, especially if it has a reasonable set of choices and is self service (mainly because that means you won't have to wait for it).  It's also important to know when they start.   Most of the chain places start by 6:00, which is just fine because mostly when I'm in a hotel I'm looking to pack up and get out of there early, but the little places vary a lot.  We've stayed at lovely little motels on the west coast who can't understand why we would want to eat before 8:30 in the morning, even though that's 10:30 by my internal clock and long past our first tee time.  Some places have different hours on weekends.  I really can't understand that one.  The day of the week is irrelevant to most liesure travellers, and if anything they want to get going earlier in the morning than the business travellers, who usually can't start their business appointments before 9AM, while vacationers want to be up and doing as soon as the sun comes out.

Maximum Security Checkin

Why do expensive hotels make it so hard to check in? The cheaper lodgings often pre-print all the information from your reservation, take your credit card impression quickly, and often bill you on the spot, leaving you no hassle the next morning. High priced city hotels, in contrast always reauire you to fill in forms and always have long checkin/checkout lines which seem crammed with "people with problems". (One nice airport hotel in Newark invariably has a long line of passengers and flight crews often with limited English being put up due to cancelled flights, and never more than one person on check in duty, who is usually a trainee and doesn't know how to do anything hard.

Hotel ratings I'd love to see

With this in mind, the rating system I wish they'd use is a simple checklist: