Ask These Questions
1. Are there any additional fees? Some companies charge a cleaning fee, booking fee, and/or hot tub fee on top of nightly rates and taxes. These fees can add anywhere from $25 to $150 to your rental cost.
2. What's the cancellation policy? Some companies require a down payment at the time of booking and give a full refund only if you cancel within 30 days of arrival. In some cases, they may charge a cancellation fee or refund only a percentage of your deposit. Make sure to ask when you book your stay, and read the contract carefully.
3. What amenities are included? Many amenities, such as hot tubs and gas grills, are industry standards. However, make sure to ask about the things that matter most to you. Don't assume "game room" means you'll have a pool table, because you may wind up with Ping Pong or foosball instead.
4. What are the road conditions? Some cabins are reachable only by mountain roads so steep, narrow, and full of switchbacks that a few renters have turned back. Some unpaved roads may require four-wheel drive, especially in winter. Make sure to ask your rental company how they accommodate renters when weather makes it dangerous or impossible for them to reach their cabin. Get their policy in writing.
5. How often do you clean your hot tubs? Many companies we interviewed say they drain and clean their hot tubs after every guest departure. Ask to make sure. During your stay, do not remove the bromine filter because doing so could cause serious health problems.
6. Are your cabins on city water or well water? Several new cabin resorts are beyond the reach of city water lines. They must rely on wells that have occasionally run dry during peak summer months. This is a rare occurrence but worth considering when choosing where to stay.
7. Are your cabins located within city limits? Any structure built within city limits must pass building codes and thorough inspections. Outside city limits, building regulations are not as stringent. This may affect road grades as well as cabins, many of which are built on steep mountainsides.
8. What are the taxes? Some companies are said to unscrupulously jack up the local and state lodging taxes and pocket the margin as profit. The lodging taxes are: Gatlinburg (3%), Pigeon Forge (2.25%), Sevierville (2%), and Townsend (4%). Sevier County just passed a 3% lodging tax as well.
9. Do you have any discounts or specials? Many companies offer the fourth night and/or the seventh night free during certain months. Others offer discounts of 10% or more for large groups. A few offer discounts to repeat customers. Others offer deals on a case-by-case basis. Ask before you book to get the best rate.
10. What are the sleeping arrangements? Many cabins advertise that they can sleep up to 12 in a three-bedroom cabin. That means someone has to sleep on a futon, sleeper sofa, or bunk bed. Other times it means two double beds in one room. Ask to avoid unpleasant surprises.