Saturday, July 16, 2016

Santorini, Greece: Blue Angel Villa and TravelKeys Vacation Rentals Stay & Post-Stay Experiences

Blue Angel Villa. The saga continues! I recently wrote about our booking and pre-stay experience with TravelKeys for the Blue Angel Villa in Santorini, and here I'll continue with a review of our stay and some post-stay drama. Quick recap: Shorty fell in love with the villa, which we then booked for 7 guests for 4 nights at $3,170.

Panoramic view from the rooftop of the villa - it was stunning.

Another quick disclaimer: I am not trying to nitpick the details of the villa in this review - I am just trying to give an honest review of what we were expecting from our booking process and what we ended up with when we arrived. The bottom line for us was that we were expecting something much different based on what had been presented to us, and when the reality didn't quite match, it was disappointing.

Were the views from the villa incredible? Absolutely.
Was I unhappy with our stay? Not exactly.
Would I stay there again, knowing what I do now? Maybe.
Was it the luxury dream villa that Shorty had found online and spent months thinking about? No.

Ok, disclaimer over... here was our experience!

We were met at the airport by two people holding a sign for the Blue Angel Villa, who led us to very nice air conditioned van... which then didn't depart for the villa like we thought it would. Instead, we waited for about 30 minutes while other passengers jumped on.

*1: Now, I am no stranger to hotel shuttles, and this is not by any means abnormal in most cases. But, the villa's websites (and TravelKeys' website) had promised PRIVATE transfers, which to me means that you're paying more to not wait while other people load in. We had rented the villa all to ourselves, so clearly the folks we were sharing the van with weren't going exactly where we were. Plus, we were exhausted from a long, hot day of exploring Athens, and all we wanted to do was shower and get dinner, so that extra time wasn't the most fun.

Once we were all loaded in, we headed towards Fira. The villa is located down a walking path from the main street, so the van pulled up at the hotel the other passengers were staying at. Brigitte, the woman who was the onsite manager/housekeeper, met the van. She apologized right away, as she didn't have any help in greeting us, so we all had to carry our bags down the villa. She also made sure to assure us that on the way up, someone would help us with our luggage.

*2: Santorini is known for its steep and winding streets, a fact that didn't surprise anyone when we arrived. But again, the price of the villa and the promises made were that everything would be "handled" for us, so it was another one of those miscommunications that unfortunately left a bad taste in our mouths.

The view from the top of the hill, and on the left, part of the pathway that leads from the main road in Fira down to the villa.  

We got to the villa, and it was lovely. It looks exactly like the photos on the site do. However, you'll note there are no images of the kitchen on most sites - this is because the kitchen is quite narrow and small of a space. Which is fine if you're not planning on using it for much - but we had been. Ever budget conscious, we had thought that we could prepare a few meals at the villa during our stay... that didn't happen.

*3: Santorini is a small island, and it's important to note that you are not allowed to put paper of any kind into the toilets. Also, the water is not good to drink, so you're only supposed to use the bottled water provided. 

The kitchen had a sink, an electric stove burner, a microwave, and coffee/espresso maker that we never quite figured out (us "dumb Americans!"), and a tea kettle. We were told to always use the bottled water provided, even for coffee & tea!

Our disappointment continued with the discovery of the bed situation miscommunication, but was countered by Brigitte showed us the lovely master bedroom with the indoor spa, which we were all very anxious to utilize! Unfortunately, when we finally did use it, the water was warm, but cooled off very quickly when you turned the jets on - and then didn't warm up again very quickly when you turned the jets off. We mentioned this to Brigitte the second day we were there, and she thoughtfully turned the heat up a little bit, but we still didn't use the jets again, just in case.

On the left: The master bed with the lovely mosaic spa doors.
On the right: The steaming hot spa - more on that in a minute!

Another thing that was missing from the what was promised on the site was access to laundry facilities. A couple of girls in our group had planned on doing laundry at the villa since "washer and dryer" were listed under the amenities, but when Shorty asked about them on our arrival, Brigitte said that the washer and dryer on site were only for her to use, and we would have to use the laundromat in town. In the end, Brigitte went out of her way after we showed her the website we had seen listing the laundry, and offered to do a load of laundry for Shorty on her own, which was so appreciated!

The rest of the inside of villa was more or less as we'd expected it to be, with the exception of a couple of small things that differed from the listings we had seen before we traveled. We quite enjoyed the fruit basket and wine that was waiting for us on our arrival.

*4: It seems like at this point, all of the things that were unclear or that we expected and didn't see when we went have now been clarified or removed from the websites, and the newest travel sites seem accurate now, which is good. The most clear and accurate one I've seen is on the Luxury Retreats page. (Though I can't speak to the villa having a 3D TV or glasses - we had a challenge even finding regular DVDs to watch and working the regular tvs!)

The villa didn't have a laptop when we arrived but when we asked about it, one was supplied. There was also no exercise equipment, which seems to have been pulled from most of the websites at this point, so that's good!

On the left: the loft and entry way (watch your head at the top of the loft stairs!)
On the right: the master bathroom shower.

On the right: The stairs going up to the rooftop.
On the left: The second full, private bedroom. 

The next thing that surprised some of our group was how the breakfast was delivered. From the emails with TravelKeys, Shorty and MM had gotten the impression that the breakfast we would be provided with would be a "hot" breakfast. Instead, we were delivered eggs, yogurt, honey, bread, cheese & cold cuts, and some cereal and milk.

*5: We are not naive enough to imagine that we paid enough for a chef to come in and cook us breakfast every day. But again, based on what we were expecting from our experience before booking, breakfast was a letdown. If breakfast had been pitched as a do-it-yourself continental, this would have been fine!

The only other huge issue we had were the spas. The villa boasts two spas, but when we arrived, we were informed that the spa on the roof was not warm. I wasn't present for that original conversation, so I don't know if we were told it was not heated at all, or if it just wasn't heated for us, but regardless, this was a huge bummer. We had all been looking forward to checking out the evening sunsets while drinking wine and soaking in a hot jacuzzi.

Wouldn't this view be amazing while drinking wine from the warm comfort of a spa??? (Oia and Skaros Rock can be seen in the distance of this view!)

When I asked Brigitte about it, she said it wasn't heated, then the following day, she said she would be allowed to heat it for us for one day of our trip. That was kind of upsetting to us, because if it could be heated, but just wasn't, then why was it being advertised and what were we paying for? Anyway, we selected Tuesday for it to be heated, our last day at the villa, since we were planning on spending more time hanging around Fira that day. She said she turned it on for us on Monday, and by Tuesday it still was only luke warm, to our dismay. Since all the reviews we've seen pop up on TripAdvisor since our stay note that the spa was hot, it makes me think that the owners were simply trying to save some money by not heating the spa when the weather is cooler.

Oh lovely jacuzzi, how we wish we could have utilized you! 

*6: One word of caution - if you're planning to stay at the villa and you're not sure-footed or you have children, be extra careful. There are lots of steps that sneak up on you, the floor can be slippery (especially if your feet are wet on the tile), and the steps to the roof are really steep!

I had a little bit of vertigo hit me the first time I went down these stairs! 

The morning we were leaving was a bit crazy - the gentleman that Brigitte had lined up to carry our luggage up the stairs arrived late because of some thing or another, and the car was already waiting to take us to the ferry, so the poor man grabbed two of our bags and ran off. We were worried about being late, so the rest of us just shrugged and started up the hill with our bags - up the rocky, four flights of stairs and pathways. Again, Brigitte stepped up and helped out, and about halfway up, the gentleman came back to help, but once again, the experience didn't meet the expectation.

The one shining part of our stay was Brigitte. She was really amazing - helpful beyond requirement, and just a very nice, lovely person. I sincerely hope that the villa's owners understand what a gem they have with her.

Our post-stay experience was probably what left us the worst taste in our mouths of the entire experience. After experiencing the following, I would never be able to recommend using the company TravelKeys to book a vacation rental.

One of the things that TravelKeys promotes themselves with is this concept that they're "here for you, non stop." They boast 24 hour complimentary concierge while you're traveling, which we found to be incredibly lacking. Actually, it was completely absent.

On the evening we arrived, April 23, Pascal from TravelKeys reached out to Shorty with a standard "we hope you're enjoying your stay" email. The following day, Shorty drafted an email response that went over the discrepancies we'd discovered - the beds, the breakfast, the spa, etc. We expected a prompt reply - and never received one. Literally - there was never a response whatsoever from TravelKeys, until weeks after we returned and three of us posted reviews on their Facebook page (the only place we could find online to review them) expressing our concerns.

The biggest reason we reached out to TravelKeys (other than their complete lack of a response during our stay) was because when we posted reviews on TripAdvisor, a couple of us (me, MM and Shorty) received not-so-friendly responses from Penelope, the manager of the property. One of the many things she refuted was that we'd been charged extra for breakfast - this was absolutely untrue, as we clearly paid an additional fee/night for breakfast. That either means that we were completely ripped off by TravelKeys for the breakfast fee, or there's a huge miscommunication between Penelope and the groups that are responsible for the rentals.

About a week after the Facebook reviews were posted, a sales person reached out to Shorty to "discuss" the issue - only then he flaked on the first meeting they set up, finally spoke to her weeks later and promised to "look into the issue" and "come up with a plan of action."

It's been almost three months since our stay now, and Shorty has yet to hear anything from him again.

It's a bit disgraceful to see a small company who promotes themselves so much as being "customer focused" to seemingly completely disregard a situation where the customers had an issue.

Overall, if we had known what we were in for, it would have been a different experience. The villa is a lovely property, and would have been thoroughly enjoyable if it was what we were expecting.

Outside of the rooftop jacuzzi not being on, it seems like the villa's manager, Penelope, has taken steps to make sure that the sites promoting the villa are now accurate and leave no room for misinterpretation. And, the views from the villa were truly amazing and unforgettable.

Dawn on the morning of Shorty's birthday - an amazing view to start a new year! (And yes, you can even see the moon!)

Amazing sunset on our last night in Santorini.

If you're interested, you can find the individual reviews we wrote about the villa on TripAdvisor (and the interesting responses we received from Penelope) here:
My TripAdvisor review
Shorty's TA review
MM's TA review
KBelle's TA review

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