For Families, Suites Can Be Sweet
Thu, 12/01/2011
Israel Correspondent
Every suite at the Island Suites Hotel in Netanya has a 200-square-foot terrace and a view of the Mediterranean.  Michele Chabin
Every suite at the Island Suites Hotel in Netanya has a 200-square-foot terrace and a view of the Mediterranean. Michele Chabin

Jerusalem — In the United States it’s fairly easy to find hotels that invite kids under 18 to stay for free.

While virtually all Israeli hotels provide complimentary accommodations to infants and toddlers in a standard room (most spas don’t admit kids at all), most charge a hefty fee for even a slightly older child.

Even worse, many establishments — including most of the largest hotel chains — insist that parents pay for an additional room, or at least a “family room,” for two or more children. That’s partly because standard Israeli hotel rooms are small, at least by American standards.

It’s no wonder, then, that suite hotels have become so popular in Israel, and not only with families. 

Suite hotels “are definitely a growing trend in Israel,” according to Mark Feldman, founder of the Ziontours Travel Agency in Jerusalem. “They cater primarily to people with children, although people without children take them for their larger size and the mini-kitchen many offer.”

Eli Ziv, director general of the Tel Aviv Hotel Association, said suite hotels in his city are especially popular with business people who want to host work meetings but feel uncomfortable doing so in a traditional hotel room-cum-bedroom.  

Most of the country’s suite hotels are located in resort areas like Netanya, Herzilya, Caesaearea and Eilat and offer one- or two-bedroom suites with a kitchenette and separate living room. Many but not all have on-site pools, a fitness room, and a dining hall or restaurant. 

Feldman said some of the country’s many upscale boutique hotels call themselves suite hotels, but that the rooms being touted as suites usually aren’t. 

“Boutique hotels are sprouting up like mushrooms after rain,” he said. “They have more character than traditional hotel rooms and are larger, but they charge around 20 percent more than traditional hotels at their level. A suite is a suite, not simply a larger room,” Feldman said.

In contrast, suites offered by suite hotels “are going to be cheaper than booking two rooms in a traditional hotel,” Feldman said, adding that hotels can’t always find two adjoining rooms.

So-called “family” or “jumbo” suites in traditional hotels “are very expensive” and don’t have kitchen facilities, he said. It’s worth noting that the kitchens of suite hotels generally aren’t kosher, so observant guests should plan accordingly.

Suites in a bone fide suite hotel are as spacious as a small Manhattan apartment. The Alexander Suite Hotel in Tel Aviv, which is within walking distance to the beach, offers a 450-square- foot Junior Suite (for up to three people), a 550-square-foot Luxury Suite (up to four people), and a 750-square-foot Super Suite for up to six. The ultra-deluxe 5,500-square-foot Diamond Suite would be appropriate for a wedding party. The Alexander doesn’t have a pool.

Before booking a unit, Feldman said, “it’s worth checking out” the hotel’s amenities and customer reviews on various websites, including Trip Advisor.   

My family failed to do that for a vacation in Eilat several years ago and ended up at a suite hotel with smelly, stained carpets and horrible mattresses. We were much luckier at a suite hotel we found by chance in Bat Yam, a sleepy coastal town just south of Tel Aviv. Though the rooms were small, the one-bedroom suite was clean and modern and the hotel boasted a beautiful indoor-outdoor rooftop swimming pool.

In September we spent a peaceful Shabbat at the Island Suites Hotel in Netanya, about an hour’s drive north of Tel Aviv. Guests of the hotel, we stayed in one of the two-bedroom units, all of which, we learned, are identically decorated in ultra-modern black-and-white decor.

Every single unit has two or three flat-screen TVs, sleek bathrooms, a massive 200-square-foot terrace and a head-on view of the sea below the cliff and the wind-surfers cruising above it.

After attending on-site synagogue services and eating in the dining room, we took a stroll on Netanya’s picturesque seafront promenade right outside the hotel. Wheelchair- and stroller-friendly, the promenade, which extends for miles, is the perfect place to walk, bike or roller blade or simply gaze at the Mediterranean.

The next day we headed to the beach, sun hats and water bottles in tow. Though the sea was just yards from our window, it took us 20 minutes to reach the staircase down to the shore (the hotel provides a shuttle to the staircase). On the way back we took Netanya’s beachfront elevator, set on Shabbat mode, to the top of the cliff.

In this case, the suite’s accommodations lived up to the hotel’s website and customer reviews.

Feldman suggests that, before booking, tourists find out whether the unit they want will comfortably accommodate the number of people planning to stay there.

Further, he said, “feel free to negotiate the rate directly with the hotel.” He suggests that people “do their homework” on various websites, to find the lowest price, and then ask the hotel if it can match it.

Feldman explained that hotels may be willing to lower their prices for tourists who book their own rooms in order to avoid the booking fee they must pay to other parties.

“The worse thing they can say is No,” he said.

When booking a suite hotel unit or traditional hotel room, Feldman said, it’s imperative to get the cancellation policy in writing.

“No one likes bad surprises.”