One time I took a cruise out of Miami with a group of friends, and we stayed at a "budget-friendly" hotel.
There were no towels. There was no soap. One of the beds split in half.
It was the only time I've ever been rude to a front desk agent (I must've asked for towels seven times, each with increasing volume—and I never received them.) And, yes, I did fill out the survey they sent out afterward (an unwise marketing move on their part).
Words of wisdom? Don't pick a hotel just because it's cheap. Instead, take a look at Hipmunk. There's so much information in one place, essentially doing all the research for you—let's just start with the highlights on our make-believe Florida vacay.
Best budget option: The Mayan Inn, Daytona Beach, $100/night
When the description of a room states, "A coffee maker adds a bright touch to your morning," you know exactly what you're in for: the basics. Although you probably should've known that with the price. This is a no-frills option for your beach vacay and one of the cheapest hotels in Daytona. It's minutes from the boardwalk, so if you're going for a shoestring vacay, this is how to do it.
Best bang for your buck: Sheraton Suites Orlando Airport, $140/night
The benefits of this hotel are many: right on one of Florida's many lakes, shuttle service to and from the airport, lots of restaurants nearby, and, reportedly, a killer breakfast buffet. The hotel has great reviews, and the rooms have a modern, clean look you wouldn't expect from a mid-market chain.
Best combination hotel — cheap(ish) yet chic: The Conrad Miami, $190/night
For a semi-reasonable price, Conrad kills it. Rooftop pools (and drinks), great location, good restaurants, spa services, and a breakfast buffet? I'm in. And it has a chic, modern feel, without the resort price tag. The rooms will make you feel like you're splurging way more than you actually are.
Most artistic flair: Shelborne Wyndham Grand South Beach, $215/night
If you're more into aesthetics, check this place out—it's 21st-century-meets-1950s-retro, and the renovation just finished in 2013. Or if you're more into the finer things in life, this spot has an infinity oceanfront pool where you can even rent air-conditioned cabanas (to lounge in between watery jaunts to the pool-side bar). There's even Italian sheets!
Most luxurious: Sandpearl Resort, Clearwater Beach, $350/night
Roman tubs and bathrobes meet fully furnished deck and oceanside views. Instead of impressing its clients with unnecessary brouhaha, it takes the basics and does them well—like the fact that there's an on-site market, in case you never really want to leave (you can just swim in the lagoon pool). If you're looking for a place to relax, this is a good start.
All this information is available at one spot: Hipmunk. I personally appreciate the reviews combined with the prices from the different hotel booking sites—sometimes there's HUGE differences in what you might pay. And then there's the map, showing you exactly what (and where) you're in for, and everything around you—a one-stop-shop for everything related to hotels.
All this goes to show that Hipmunk is super useful when it comes to planning a vacation, and that's why we paired up with them to spread the word. We would never endorse something we don't love, and we obviously love that little chipmunk.
Photo by Tony Brooks