This past weekend, my husband and I took the kids to Washington, DC.  We drove down Saturday morning, checked into the hotel, and went to the National Mall.  We saw a huge protest about the Iraq war, went to a few museums, and then went back to the hotel and let the kids swim while we read books poolside.  It was a weekend that was totally unplugged except for watching a video on TV in the hotel room.  No computers, no cell phones, just us.

I have not felt so relaxed, so recharged,-so happy- in such a long time.   Why was this so great?  Well, besides the fact that the hotel was luxurious and beautiful, the peace and the simple pleasure of the children swimming while the sun set over the Jefferson Memorial in the background seemed like a perfect slice of heaven. (You can see pictures on my Flickr page).  Saturday was 52 degrees.  Today, it was cooler, and began to snow as we worked our way back to the hotl and then the car to head home.  The days were like Spring next to Winter- another juxtaposition of break versus returning to reality.

I kept coming back to the question- Why do I feel so rejuvenated from this short break, one I questioned the expense and need for it, at first? Was it spending time together after Matt and I have both been crazy busy these past few weeks?  Was it being out of our own environment?  Was it something about the type of hotel, and that the beauty and luxury help us feel spoiled and cared for?  Why was this 36 hour trip more restful than a week away?

I think part of it was the unexpected nature- this was a last minute plan.  There wasn’t a lot of packing, or a lot of scheduling done- we were going to go,  to hang out and explore.  On longer trips, the hassle of getting to the destination often subtracts from the pleasure, and lengthens the time needed to unwind afterwards.  The lack of planning probably worked to our advantage.  And the kids are finally of an age where an unplanned adventure of this sort suits them just fine as well.  This was what the british call a “mini-break”- and what a terrific break it was!

It’s made me reconsider what we consider a vacation.  Maybe shorter, but slightly more luxurious trips are worth more than a week at a more moderate, more like home setting.  While I think we still believe most hotels provide you with the same 2 x queen-size beds, cable TV and a bathroom, the level of service at the upscale hotels makes you feel special and pampered.  In a world where great customer service is becoming more and more rare, the refined atmosphere of the truly elegant hotels is always welcome.

Hotels seem to come in several ranges.  The bare bones, such as Motel 6 or Red Roof Inn, are essentially camping in my book.  The next level is the Hampton Inn-Holiday Inn Express- always a clean hotel, decent, and has a quick breakfast included.  Not posh. Not worth more than a single nights’ stay if you can help it.  It’s a slight step up from there to the Country Inn Suites and Courtyard by Marriot which are decent hotels, with some amenities- easy to stay for more than a day or two, or even overnight.  Then you get to the Marriott/Basic Hilton level, where the hotels are a bit nicer, more amenities, but it feels like a convention center.  These are fine hotels, but nothing I can get all that excited about.  I never really feel these are worth the extra money you pay to stay here over  a Courtyard/Country Inn type of place.

But then there is the level of the Mandarin Oriental/Ritz Carlton/Fairmont Hotel.  It’s not the marble bathrooms or increased amenities that make these places.  It’s the fact that the concierge recognizes you and say “Mrs. Hoffman, how was your dinner last night?” when they see you in the morning.  They ask if they can do anything for you, offering to call a cab, loan an umbrella, recommend something- they go out of their way to care for you as if you were family.  Every member of the staff is courteous and makes sure any question or concern is followed through.  They don’t do things just based on job description.  Your comfort and convenience is every member of the staff’s concern and mission, and it shows.

I used to think this level of service was oddly creepy- a little like they’re following you around- but I have gotten to really like and appreciate it.  I like being treated as if I am a friend and a guest, rather than a nuisance.  And I am beginning to believe these shorter, but more luxurious breaks are worth the money that could be spent on two or three nights at a lesser spot.  I come away from these breaks feeling refreshed and recharged, where often in the less posh spots, I feel like they were simply places to lay our heads for a night, not a destination in itself.

The bottom line is that if vacations are for changing your viewpoint, recharging the batteries and relaxing, the posh spots have it all over all the other choices you can make.  And I guess I’ve hit the point in my life where quality is mattering much more than quantity across the board.