Prevent fantasy vacation from becoming a nightmare

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By Randee Dawn

A vacation is, in part, fantasy: We all long to get away from “it all” and escape into adventure or the lap of luxury – at least for a short time.

Resorts and hotels know this all too well, and play up to our expectations. You want beautiful people lounging around your pool? They have it! You want bright sunshine and uncrowded beaches? Say no more!

The thing is, that fantasy we’re hoping for is only rarely met in reality. That’s how the travel website Oyster came to be: They help those of us looking for our perfect escape get that dose of real world before we even set up a booking.

“Travelers are becoming more conscious about doing research ahead of time, and hotels know it,” says Jane Reynolds, Oyster editor. “People see photos on their sites and book it without doing any background research. They go without realizing that photos can be edited or skewed, or outdated.”

Oyster does that rarest of things: Examines at the highly-stylized, staged and populated marketing pictures on a resort or hotel’s website or pamphlets, then sends their experts to take pictures of what it’s really like. Up and running since 2009 (the company was acquired by Trip Advisor in 2013), Oyster has between 15,000 and 20,000 vetted vacation spots, and has become known for its reviews and “photo fakeout” pairings.

“We send hotel experts – photographers and reviewers – to every single property,” she explains. “We take photos so you won’t have any surprises when you get there.”

Reynolds has some key tips to help you see through the marketing to the real vacation you’re paying money for:

1) Look at the beds.

“A lot of hotels will put two double beds next to each other to make it look like a queen-sized bed, but it’s not,” she says.

2) Check your maps.

If the marketing photos shows the Acropolis just outside the hotel window, look on Google Maps to see if it’s really a five or 30 minute walk away – or farther.

3) Understand staging.

That big bouquet of flowers on the table? The hearty bowl of fruit? Probably won’t be there when you arrive. It’s called “staging,” that thing realtors always want to do when they sell your home.

4) Call the front desk.

You can usually get the full scoop on the place by having questions handy and calling direct to get the details.

5) What seems to be too good to be true, is.

Grand Palladium Bavaro oyster

“Depending on the price,” says Reynolds,” be wary of anything that looks too good to be true.”

Reynolds wants to emphasize that this isn’t a con game in most cases: Naturally, a business wants to put its best foot forward. “Some photos are just outdated,” she says. “Mid-range and all-inclusive destinations have so much maintenance and so many people coming in and out. Hotels are constantly going through renovations and reinventing themselves or a brand.”

Artisan Hotel oyster

In other words, understand the limitations of any outlet to give you the fantasy you want. And with a little research and a true dose of reality, it can be possible to have that perfect vacation after all!

Photo credit: Oyster.com

Randee Dawn is a contributor for InsureMyTrip and can be found at randeedawn.com and @RandeeDawn on Twitter.

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