I am a budget traveler, a backpacker. I can be described as cheap, but I prefer the term frugal.
In spite of this, we recently splurged on a 5-star hotel in Dubai. We’d just finished 64 days of traveling through India, sleeping in budget hotels and suffering from forlorn pillows, lumpy beds, and sweltering rooms in the process. I got a good deal and I thought it would be a nice treat – a reward – for successfully making it through India.
As soon as we arrived at the hotel we felt out of place. The bell staff took our backpacks to our room, the staff opened doors for us, and at reception they seated us in comfortable leather chairs during the check-in process. It was mid-afternoon and beautiful women in expensive cocktail dresses walked by. It was all very surreal.
Once in our room, Kristi opened the mini-fridge and discovered a cornucopia of alcoholic drinks, soda and food. She read off the prices to me, and as I did some quick exchange rate calculations in my head, my jaw slackened and cuss words seeped from my mouth.
Minibar Prices Converted to Dollars
- 12 oz. Soda $5.50
- 12. oz. Heineken Beer $10
- Half Bottle of Wine $50
- 12. oz. Orange Juice $7
- 2 oz. bottle of Whisky/Gin/Rum $24
I was blown away, but just assumed that the prices were inflated for the convenience of being in the mini-bar. I quickly learned that was not the case.
Before dinner, we toured the hotel and studied the menus displayed outside the on-site Japanese, Italian and Indian restaurants. All the entrees cost about $50, each appetizer about $30 and all the beers were $10. I was shocked at the prices. It was my birthday, and we were tired after arriving from India, so we decided to indulge on ONE meal at the hotel. We decided to eat at the Japanese restaurant, which featured an all-you-can-eat, and perhaps more importantly, all-you-can-drink buffet. The cost was $50, which was a true bargain compared to the other options.
The Sheraton loses money on the Bells at the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet
All-you-can-eat buffets always promote overeating as people try to get their money’s worth, but we set out to do harm to the restaurant’s bottom line by devouring everything we could with savage intensity. I saw other customers go back for seconds, but we went back for fifths, sixths, and sevenths. The servers and bussers looked on in amazement, swooping in to clear away our dirty plates as soon as we finished one course and pushed back from the table to dutifully go in for more.
If you’ve ever seen Man vs. Food, the Nathan’s 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest, or watched a hungry lion eviscerate a zebra on the Discovery Channel, then you will have some idea what it was like.
I focused on the sushi and ate approximately an entire salmon plus a family of tunas. The oceans were begging me to stop. In the meantime, I managed to guzzle down four beers. I finished it off by eating four deserts and a bowl of pineapples. Kristi ate just as much food as I did, but it was more impressive because she weighs
110 112 lbs compared to my 175 178.
Since the beers cost $10 each, by drinking four of them the net cost of the food was only $10, if one chooses to look at it that way, and I did choose to look at it that way. I felt like I got a $10 all-you-can-eat buffet even though there was $40 worth of binge drinking involved. Somehow that felt better.
Back at the room, Kristi sprawled out on the bed suffering from being overstuffed. I didn’t feel too full, but when I looked at myself in the mirror my reflection looked something like a snake that had just swallowed a pachyderm.
The next morning I awoke with febrile cravings for raw salmon, wasabi and beer. I suppressed those desires and ventured out into the city to see what other nearby restaurants I could find. The breakfast buffet at the Sheraton cost $34 so I wasn’t about to eat there.
Just outside the hotel I found an assortment of reasonably priced restaurants and a kiosk selling coke for 50 cents, or 1/10th the price of the Sheraton. We had an excellent lunch at a Pakistani restaurant that consisted of dal fry, chicken kebabs and three parachute sized nan breads. Total cost: $8. As we ate, Kristi revealed that she too was having impure thoughts and sinful desires to eat the Japanese buffet again. I confessed my gluttonous thoughts as well, and we decided to do the buffet one more time.
We returned to the buffet for dinner and set forth, mentally and physically prepared this time, to annihilate the buffet. We managed to eat more food than the first night and put down just as much beer, which was probably one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.
We did see one man walking through the buffet with seven small desert plates balanced precariously on one large plate. “Don’t look at me!” he said jokingly. He too was feeling the need to get his money’s worth. It made us feel better about ourselves.
I can understand a luxury hotel charging more for food and beverage, but 10 times the price that can be found right outside is outlandish. Almost no one ever became rich by wasting their money, but the clientele of the Sheraton evidently had no qualms about dropping $5 on a can of coke, $34 for breakfast or $100 per person for dinner.
Being rich has its rewards, but it isn’t cheap.
-Do you have any similar experiences of staying in a place that was fancier than normal for you?
-Have you ever eaten your body weight in sushi?
If so, I’d like to hear your stories in the comments section.
Between an ex-wife with a large amount of… uh… resources, and working for Ritz-Carlton for several years, I experienced this quite a bit. I **hated** it at first, then eventually just tolerated it. Never truly enjoyed it though – too much white trash upbringing to feel good about it. Well, OK, I enjoyed the spa at the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch. That place is fantastic! But I typically just feel uncomfortable in hotels like that. I’m much happier in a place like a Marriott – nice, very comfortable, but no over-the-top service.
Nicest place was probably the Sofitel Buenos Aires. Or maybe The Ritz-Carlton Naples. Or a boutique spa hotel in Scottsdale that I don’t remember the name of.
Now of course I’m back to lower budget places to fit my new reality!!! And enjoying the hotels more too…
I don’t feel comfortable at those places either, but Kristi does – at least until I start to complain about the prices. Rich people lose their independence – they can’t carry their own bags, get their own taxis, etc.
I’m pretty darn comfortable with the physical facilities at those places – the marvelous beds, the beautiful decor, thick walls that block all outside noise, incredible spas. But the service makes me uncomfortable. I hate feeling pressured to tip some guy $2 because he opened my taxi’s door. And bathroom attendants just creep me out.
What’s most offensive to me is the over-the-top places in developing countries. The staff is making a pittance, but the hotel is charging $400/night – more than they would in the US. I’ll step off that soapbox before I get all worked up.
Reblogged this on vienaqui and commented:
Exceptional cultural foods and photographs
OMG, hilarious. Go you and Mrs Bell!!!
Ha! Great story, Jeff! I really like “The oceans were begging me to stop”. Fifty dollars is not bad for all you can eat sushi, though. I’m pretty cheap, myself, but when my brothers – both long-time sushi veterans – take me out for sushi the tab goes well beyond $50/person. Once again, your story defied my expectation: I was sure the binge would be followed by an epic purge.
The buffet was actually a really good deal. I think before we learned about the buffet, we were in shock over the $20 appetizers, $10 beers and $35 entrees we saw at the other three restaurants, not to mention the $7 cup of coffee I had earlier that day.
But you have to keep in mind we’d just spent the last two months in India, where we routinely ate huge meals for $3 total and stayed in rooms that averaged about $20 per night. Most days we didn’t spend $50 combined for the whole day.
When traveling for long periods of time, we’ve had similar experiences. We call it a “Gypsies in the Palace” event. And this is particularly true in the Middle East. However, you handled it with aplomb, and I give you high praise for your 4 beer solution. Well played!
Gypsies in the Palace – I love that term! A few years ago in Morocco we stontaneously took refuge in a Sofitel for two days. At one minute we were suffering at a filthy bus station, the next minute we were in the “palace.”
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