The trouble with TripAdvisor: How much can we trust the travel website?

The trouble with TripAdvisor: How much can we trust the travel website?

Just how much should we trust TripAdvisor? Pat Fitzpatrick puts the website to the test on holiday — but also in his native Cork.

I like the look of La Juanita Cuina Fresca. It’s a back-street restaurant in Palma de Mallorca, where you can sit outside under the laurel trees on a warm evening and eat whatever the owner guy got in the market that day.

At least that’s what it says in a two-year-old travel piece in the The Guardian. I tell my wife we’re going there on the Saturday night.

She smiles and says: “You’re the one that likes to do all the planning.” Jesus, the pressure.

We’re going away for three nights, it’s our first time abroad without the kids, one bad restaurant experience could be enough for me to get a one-star rating from herself. She’d be silently disappointed, which is by far the worst kind of disappointed in my experience.

That said, I love planning a holiday, it’s like a really enjoyable puzzle. The main reason I love it is TripAdvisor. I know people moan about fake reviews and all that, but people will moan about anything. If you doubt this, spend five minutes on TripAdvisor.

And there’s the strength of it. There’s no hiding place with TripAdvisor, if there’s something off about a place, more than one person will put it in a review.

Unless of course they’re Irish and afraid that the waiter will track them down somehow using the dark web and say: “But you told me the food was ‘grand’ and left a 20% tip.” The mortification.

La Juanita Cuina Fresca rates 4.5 on TripAdvisor, placing it in the top 10% of restaurants in the city, based on 163 reviews. Of these, 147 are either excellent or very good ,while six rated it as ‘terrible’. I like those odds — six cranks is on the low side.

There are two one-star reviews in English. The first is from a guy who arrived late, and they’d run out of food. Serves him right. The other review is by Dustin from Texas, who said it was a waste of time because the food was below par.

I look at Dustin’s other reviews — the first one is a five-star rating, featuring a photo of his girlfriend and the heading ‘Awesome Ride’. Crikey — no one told me TripAdvisor had turned into Rate your Partner.

OK, it’s actually a review of a Quad Bike tour company in Marrakesh, Dustin and the missus look like nice people, but my guess is we might have a different taste in food.

So, I’m happy with my choice on the Saturday night. And then the nagging anxiety pops up — it’s been a while since we went on a city break, what if TripAdvisor has lost its mojo recently, like Game of Thrones and Adele?

I decide to do the reverse TripAdvisor. It’s a great way to check if the reviews are still reliable — just look up your favourite local place and see what people are saying about it.

My current favourite in Cork is a tapas place on Douglas Street called Iberian Way. Please don’t go there, it’s hard enough to get a table as things stand.

It has 4.5 stars from 115 reviews. There are a couple of 1-stars in the first two pages of reviews — one of them seems a bit stuffy and the other one is so odd I think it might be for a tapas bar in another dimension.

Anyway, job done. I’d go to Iberian Way, based on TripAdvisor, if I was coming to Cork, and I’d be delighted with my choice. More importantly, so would my wife.

I don’t book anywhere for the Friday night in Palma, because you know the way it is with Irish people, we tend to get langers drunk on the first day of our holidays and it can be a bit of a drama then getting yourself ready to go out and eat. That said, I have my eye on a tapas place called Bar Espana that has earned 4.5 stars on TripAdvisor and rave reviews all round.

I don’t bother looking up pubs on TripAdvisor before we go — it isn’t great at finding you a good boozer. A quick look at their top 10 bars in Cork doesn’t fill me with confidence — I’d agree with three of them, at a stretch.

The signs aren’t good for Palma either. The third most popular bar is The Manchester Pub, run by Darren and Tracey. That sounds like a pilot for a sitcom on Channel 5.

A quick word about some English people on TripAdvisor: The vast majority are sound sound people, just like yourself. The rest headline their reviews with ‘Bloody Rude’ and say:

I appreciate we’re in a foreign country but is it too much to ask that the waiter speaks English when I shout at him for the third time, looking for brown sauce.

If you can find a place that irritates the latter, your best bet is to go there night after night.

Anyway, bars in Palma. Other than the Examiner, obviously, my other go-tos for weekend break ideas are The Guardian and Telegraph websites.

Their stuff seems to be aimed at haggard middle-agers who have managed to persuade themselves they are still under 40, which sounds a lot like myself and the wife. (The court notes her objection to this description.)

As luck would have it, or else the internet has taken snooping to a new level, The Guardian and Telegraph published nightlife guides to Palma just before our break.

Both of them focus heavily on rooftop bars, which are a thing around the city. This is tempting and intimidating. I want to have a cocktail in the sun and look at the Mediterranean, I’d be a fool not to.

But reading about places like the Sky Bar at Hostal Cuba Hotel makes me wonder if they’re really for me.

All the descriptions suggest these places are popular with young, urbane, aristocratic party dogs who like cocktails I’ve never heard of. I’m not sure how a 50-something pale-skin from Kinsale will fit in around the next Prince of Liechtenstein.

Pat Fitzpatrick and his wife following the TripAdvisor recommendations on a holiday in Palma.
Pat Fitzpatrick and his wife following the TripAdvisor recommendations on a holiday in Palma.

And I don’t need to be reminded that I’m more aching hip than achingly hip.

My guess is we’ll go for one or two roof-toppers early, before getting back down to street level, where we belong.

My last bit of research involves breakfast. This is vital — we’ve all seen that hungover and hungry couple bickering over where they should go for breakfast.

It’s the most important meal of the day in more ways than one — a quick breakfast in Palma search on TripAdvisor tells me I’d be a fool to miss the Rosevelvet Bakery, down the street from our hotel. My preparation is done, I’m ready to go.

Two hours after we arrive at to the hotel, I actually feel like crying.

I’d forgotten the golden rule of going to Spain — the only places open in the afternoon are tourist traps that are really good at opening packets of food, frying them and then charging you a fortune to eat them off a plastic table.

At least the people watching was off the scale, so we settled for trying to figure out if people were British or Irish based on their sunburn.

Things took a turn for the better when we found out there’s a rooftop bar in our hotel, the Innside Palma Center.

I didn’t spot the Prince of Liechtenstein up there, it was mainly people my age in swimwear sweatily trying to catch a bit of sun.

We didn’t let them put us off a cocktail or two.

After that, TripAdvisor took control. We made it to Bar Espana later, a bit gin rowdy and starving.

The food was off the scale delicious, the wine was better, we both fancied our waiter and the bill was about 40 quid. Go there if you go to Palma, just make sure you book.

Breakfast was so good in the Rosevelvet Bakery the next morning, we went there for the next two mornings after that. Later that night, we went to La Juanita Cuina Fresca, for the make-or-break restaurant experience.

It was a small place with a set menu, cooked by the owner, all seafood, there was a soup in there and baby squid and broad beans and a dessert with sesame and yoghurt which should be made illegal it was so good.

I’m no food writer, but the chef was flopped down taking a break outside the restaurant as we were leaving, and I was this close to giving him a hug.

It was one of the best meals of my life, my wife loved it too.

I’ll definitely go there on our next trip — unless TripAdvisor tells me to go elsewhere.

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