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Dolly Merritt: Vacation planning stalled

After a long winter and a very short summer, my husband and I recently decided to make plans for a winter family vacation somewhere in the Caribbean.

We contacted a travel agent indicating the only dates we could go because of our 12-year-old grandson's school schedule.

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Soon after, we received eight possibilities - all with five and six "golden apple" ratings, whatever that means. The agent cautioned us that time was of the essence in making up our minds since our chosen dates were during a prime week. Since we were planning this trip for eight people, I wanted to be sure there was something for everyone.

I figured, when in doubt, a simple click onto TripAdvisor - a website that offers hotel reviews and ratings - should help us make the big decision.

We eagerly read the reviews for the first hotel on my list, rated four stars out of five by more than 2,200 reviewers.

With those ratings, I was encouraged, especially when I read the first critique that said, "Amazing experience, fast check-in and friendly staff."

My enthusiasm was short-lived, however, as I scanned the page, coming across another opinion stating a long list of negatives that concluded with the words, "Pretty disappointed; staff not personable."

I deleted that hotel from the list and went on to the next four-star rating.

"My vacation was ruined when my cell phone was stolen on the first day I arrived, with the staff doing nothing about it," read one review in the midst of other glowing ones.

Still another rating about the same hotel exclaimed her misfortune of being robbed while she was asleep in her room.

I immediately scratched that one off as well.

Hotel Number Three had several good reviews but also several negative ones.

"The food and entertainment is mediocre but we had great service," read one. At this point, I considered the positives at the hotel like the availability of swimming with the dolphins and beautiful surroundings.

And then I read another complaint, citing moldy odors, a small beach and crowded pool areas.

I continued my quest of suitable hotels, digesting the good comments, such as "great beach," "good food" and "fun entertainment," along with not-so-good comments, like "blatant disregard for guests," "Do not trust the beef" and "found an insect in my salad." Really?

In the midst of my search, I surfed another alternative: rentals. Many of them were unavailable, though I wasn't sure that was the best solution for our family anyway.

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Ultimately, bug-eyed after two weeks of daily surfing on TripAdvisor, I narrowed our choices to two destinations, neither of which really thrilled us. Though our first-choice hotels were booked, I still wanted that family vacation.

We contacted our agent with the needed information only to find out the chosen hotel was completely booked.

No matter, we still had our very last choice. After all, it is all about family. No siree, it doesn't matter if the food's mediocre, the beach is small, the staff is unresponsive, the beef is bad and there's an insect in my salad. But that, our last-choice, hotel was booked, as well!

Goodbye winter family vacation.

Lesson learned: He who hesitates is lost.

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