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Sunday, December 26, 2004; Page P01

Room keys

Oh, You Wanted Water?

CoGo reader Albert Diaz of Rockville enjoyed his recent stay at the Skyland Resort in Shenandoah National Park but was dismayed to find on checking out a $4-per-day charge for water.

"What's next? A linen charge? An electricity charge? A carpeting charge?" he asked CoGo in an e-mail.

In fact, concessionaires on National Park Service land frequently buy water and electricity from the government, and when the utilities cost more than in the private sector, are allowed to pass along the difference. Most build such charges into their rates but are not required to, said Robbie Brockwehl, a concession property manager for NPS.

Mike Slowinski, general manager of Skyland, says the resort formerly built the water charge into its room rates, but this year broke it out. He said Skyland then reduced its room rates by $4, so guests are actually saving money by not having to pay taxes on the surcharge. "When you book, the reservations agent will tell you. You'll see it at check-in, and it's in our advertising," he said.

CoGo called the Skyland reservations line, asked for a room and was quoted rates of $89 and $102 per night. "Does that include everything?" CoGo asked. "It doesn't include food," the agent responded. "But is that the total charge?" CoGo persisted. "That's the room charge," replied the agent. Not until CoGo asked specifically about surcharges did the clerk mention the water charge. Even then, the dollar amount wasn't provided.

Brockwehl said her office has gotten only one complaint about the Skyland surcharge. Consider this the second.


Send Me in Coach

CoGo has long been a fan of the cheap alternatives to Greyhound buses between Washington and New York City, frequently hopping on a Washington Deluxe, Today Travel or Dragon Express coach for $20 one way ($35 round trip). Last week, returning to D.C. from Manhattan, CoGo tried the newest bus on the block, Vamoose, leaving from West 31st Street near Penn Station at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday.

One difference was immediately apparent: Vamoose divvied up passengers into two coaches according to which of its Northwest dropoff points they wanted: 40th and Albemarle streets NW ( adding a neighborhood to the cheap bus circuit), or 14th and I streets NW. Washington Deluxe, by comparison, uses the same bus to drop passengers off at both its stops.

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