Small inns beat big chains in

four beach towns


Marine Villas
Marine Villas, Hollywood, FL

By Silvana Ordoñez, Sun Sentinel
Published: June 24, 2011

If you think the big and famous chains have the top hotels, consumers ranking inns on the biggest travel website say the opposite.

Travelers' reviews on the website gave the No. 1 spots to small, little-known inns in Broward and Palm Beach counties: Alhambra Beach Resort in Fort Lauderdale, Marine Villas in Hollywood, Royal Flamingo Villas in Hillsboro Beach and Wright by the Sea in Delray Beach.

These lodgings offer an intimate setting and personalized service that most renowned hotels in high-rise buildings don't offer - which is what attracts travelers, according to their TripAdvisor reviews.

  • Other sites offer reviews as well, from Yelp to Fodors to But TripAdvisor has not just become a guide for travelers, but also a guide for hotel managers and owners to check their popularity among guests - and in this case, a way to maintain their top ranking.

What makes travelers rank these small hotels #1?

Alhambra Beach Resort - Its quiet location near Fort Lauderdale Beach and its retro look makes this 10-unit property appealing to many.

But what sets it apart from most other hotels is its owner's interaction with guests, which makes a lot of them come back, said Matthew Crescitelli, owner since 2004.

"We try to treat everybody as if they were family, and we try to be there for every need they have," he said.

Alhambra Beach Resort is No.1 of 133 hotels in the area.

TripAdvisor has been crucial for Alhambra Beach Resort's success. In the last two years, business has doubled thanks to the site, said Crescitelli.

He checks the site regularly because it helps him know his guests' needs: "We know what they're expecting next time they come."

To stay on top of the list, Crescitelli offers continental breakfast, free internet access, free parking, beach chairs and beach towels. Standard rooms are $89 and $139 in high season.

Marine Villas - Located in Hollywood Beach, this upgraded family-run eight-unit property has small one-bedroom units and studios with a full kitchen.

Most guests who visit are looking to relax and feel as if they were home, said Diane Struyf, owner since 1986.

Guests often praise the property in their reviews, and Struyf acknowledges it.

"Every year we try to do something better, whether it's new flat screens, new pots and pans or new hurricane glass windows," she said.

The pink and white hotel is No. 1 of 62 hotels in the area.

To enhance guests' experience, Struyf and her family try to spend one night in every unit to see how their guests feel in each room. And if there is anything the room lacks or needs to get improved, they will fix it right away.

Struyf also attributes Marine Villas' top ranking to its location and pricing. Prices range from $85 to $140, depending on length of stay and type of unit.

Royal Flamingo Villas - The former condominium transformed into a vacation resort in the 1970s has 40 single units each with a private patio and barbeque.

Janice O'Boyle, resident manager for 23 years, credits its customer service and location near the Intracoastal Waterway and Millionaire's Mile in Hillsboro Beach for making Royal Flamingo Villas a travelers' favorite.

"Royal Flamingo Villa is a pretty unique property," said O'Boyle. "People love to fish off our intercoastal waterway."

Guests don't go to the resort just for vacation. They also go there to do their weddings.

"It's a very romantic and tropical setting," she said.

To cultivate rankings on TripAdvisor, O'Boyle makes customers a priority.

"I make sure to introduce myself as their manager, and make sure that their needs are met - positive and negative."

Royal Flamingo is on top of 33 hotels in the area.

She also conducts monthly meetings to see how service is being delivered and what the staff can do to improve.

Wright by the Sea - A close rapport with guests makes this oceanfront resort stand out from big hotels, said Jack Anastas, manager for 10 years.

"I don't think bigger hotels have the one-to-one contact with their guests like we do," he said.

A lot of guests at the Delray Beach hotel have been going there for years. Some, who are already adults, have been going since they were kids, said Anastas.

Wright by the Sea outranks 20 hotels in the area.

TripAdvisor has brought many new guests. Anastas keeps an eye on their rankings and works to maintain it at number one: "We keep the place clean and looking real well."

Located right on the ocean, Wright by the Sea has 29 studios and one and two-bedroom units. Ocean view studios are $125 and $ 200 in high season.