CLEARWATER, Fla. – A strong case can be made that Google Reviews, Trip Advisor and more can be strong research tools when planning a trip.

I read them and I write them. But they need to be taken with a grain of salt, or in this case maybe a pebble of sand.

I used a booker, as I often to for this last minute relaxation trip to Clearwater. A booker is simply one of those online aggregators which can book your flight, hotel, and even car rental. I’ve had great success with them.

I had one book this trip I got a round-trip flight for under $200 booked on Spirit Airlines. The AIRBUS jet was new, great smooth flight – had to pay for a bottle of water. The 300-plus seat aircraft only had 100 passengers so that was comfort in avoiding COVID, etc. But stewardes said a morning flight wa sold out.

The booker found a couple motels in Clearwater on special wih too-good-to-be true prices. (Yes, I know better.) I avoided the beach and jus wanted located in the city. The beach hotels are rightfully costly $300-$400 a night. So we booked this older smaller motel near the Philadelpia Phillies’ spring training complex. The booker’ best deal on a car was $100 a day. So I used a different booker and found a car for half that cost.

But the night before this trip I got curious about my motel booking. So I read a ton of online reviews and best characterization might be ‘Ahh-oh.” The reviews were mostly all terrible to horrible.

I called the booker Tuesday morning, hours from departure, and learned they could cancel but no refund on a pre-paid six-night stay. So there is one useful tip – check the cancellation policy dammit if someone else is booking your room.

And read the reviews anyway. Here is how it played out – I went to the motel and checked it out, epecting to find what I had read. It could use a coat of paint outside.

I was honest with the young man at a regrettable check in window. He checked and the reservation was canceled but no refund. The young man showed me what would be my room. It smelled fine, linens looked new, and bathroom was spotess. The room was okay for less than $100.

I stayed and next morning (today, Wed.) found the manager, who could only roll her eyes when asked about the online reviews.

“You know people book us because of price and get here and see we’r not on the beach,” she said with a smirk. “And then if one little thing is wrong they trash us. We’re not the Ritz-Carlton but we do our best for the rate.”

I also talked to some guests at the pool last night and none had anyhing bad to say about their room one woman said she and husband switched rooms because of noise in parking lot betweenn here and another value motel next door.

I had a quiet night – a little bit of a noisy air conditioner. Bed was fine even if bit too soft for my personal preference.

I checked out the free continental breakfast which did not appeal. But went next door to one of Clearwater’ iconic breakfast joint Lenny’s. More on Lenny’s later in week. The ladies waiting tables oozed southern charm. My greeter had a huge Dolly Parton-style blonde hairdo. I knew I was in the right place.

So on day one I was reminded to read online reviews skeptically. I told the manager that if my stay remainder of my stay is as good as first impression and first night, I’d write her a good review – not from guilt but because it would be earned.

Off this morning to checkout path to beach… it’s crazy out there … maybe grab a Ron-Jon shirt or hat and a grouper sandwich. Then it’ back to motel pool with my wine stash and a book.