In mid-June, after 95 days of self-quarantine in New Jersey and testing negative for COVID-19, Michelle Gross and her husband decided to relocate to North Carolina to continue social distancing.
The couple made the drive with their two dogs and stayed at three hotels along the way: Hyatt's Quirk Hotel Charlottesville, Virginia; The Alexandrian, a Marriot hotel in Alexandria, Virginia; and the Kimpton Arras Hotel in North Carolina, an InterContinental Hotels Group hotel.
After taking notes and photos to document each hotel experience, Gross says that staying at a hotel was very different during the pandemic, but that hotels are working harder than ever to keep guests safe.
In compliance with state and county laws and CDC guidelines, every hotel has their own new set of cleaning protocols and procedures to ensure that guests' health and safety is prioritized.
It wasn't some profound moment of clarity or any sort of breaking point. When June rolled around and my family road trip from Paris to Provence — long since scrapped as a result of the coronavirus pandemic — loomed closer on my calendar, the weight of 95 days (and counting) spent quarantining in a one-bedroom apartment in Jersey City started to take its toll.
While the lavender-fringed fields and long rosé-filled lunches would have to wait, with COVID-19 cases perceivably on the decline by mid-June, and cities and states reopening in phases around the country, my husband and I felt the time was right to self-isolate elsewhere and decided to head south by car to North Carolina.
Traveling right now is a highly personal decision and I know full well that it is still a risky proposition at that. I've been reporting on how the travel industry and hotels in particular have been operating in light of COVID-19. According to a recent study by The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), while domestic travel has continued to tick up in recent weeks, hotel booking in smaller markets and towns are also on the rise. Hotels are taking employees and guests safety seriously, developing new cleaning protocols and consulting with leading health experts to mitigate potential exposure and risks at every turn.
Knowing we'd need to break up our journey, this was as good an opportunity as any to do some legwork and see just how hotel brands are living up to their commitment to keeping guests and employees safe. After much deliberation and many conversations of the "should we, or shouldn't we" variety, in the days and weeks leading up to our trip, we plotted our route in an excel spreadsheet so carefully that every pit stop and potential bathroom break were accounted for, along with a tab for local and state laws between here and our final destination.
After testing negative for the COVID-19 virus, my husband and I, along with our two dogs, hit the road. We stayed in three hotels in three small towns: a Hyatt, an InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), and a Marriott. While we still brought plenty of our own supplies including masks, gloves, and enough Lysol wipes to last a lifetime, we learned that every hotel is operating differently and has their own unique set of cleaning practices and procedures.
Here's a look at what our experiences at each hotel entailed.
The first stop on our road trip was to the recently opened Quirk Hotel Charlottesville in Virginia.
The Quirk Hotel Charlottesville is an 80-key boutique that's a part of Hyatt's loyalty program. We'd visited the original Quirk Hotel in Richmond, Virginia a couple years ago and love the brand for its art-centric attention to detail. Quirk Charlottesville, which just opened their doors in March before shutting down two-weeks later as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, had just reopened in early June so we were among the first guests to stay there. The cost was $239 per night plus a pet fee of $150.
Before arriving at the hotel, I was sent an email from Hyatt Hotels & Resorts with an online check-in invitation.
The online check-in invitation allowed me to update all of the information for our stay including my confirmation number, approximate check-in time, hotel address, and phone number.
We arrived at the hotel late Friday afternoon and upon check in were directed by the valet to the self-parking lot across the street.
online check-in invitation
The valet was wearing gloves and a signature Quirk mask which was a thoughtful touch. We we're told valet service would not be available to limit the possibility of contamination, which I appreciated.
After parking our car in the parking lot, we entered the lobby to collect our room key.
Checking in at the front desk, we were greeted by the front desk manager who stood behind a plexiglass wall. In addition to our room key, we were given a handout that included the hotel's protocols and cleaning procedures, which the front desk clerk quickly walked us through.
In the lobby leading up to the front desk, there were illustrated floor markers reminding guests to maintain social distancing while inside the hotel.
When we got to the elevator bank there was a small table with a sign and a box of tissues that was to be used for pressing elevator buttons.
The hotel is serviced by two elevators, and we noticed there was the same table-tissue set up on each floor of the hotel by each subsequent elevator bank.
When we arrived at our room on the third floor, we noticed there were no decorative pillows or blankets on the couch or bed.
Pre-COVID, these are always the first items I remove whenever I get to my hotel room as they're notoriously harder to keep clean, so I was relieved to find that Quirk had made the conscious decision to remove them.
The hotel, which is committed to sustainability, installed shampoo, soap, and conditioner as well as plenty of towels.
As part of their COVID-19 cleaning protocols, housekeeping would only be available upon request and we would need to vacate the room in order to receive service.
While the hotel's main on-site restaurant remained closed, the rooftop restaurant was serving food and drinks outside at a limited capacity and with all tables at a minimum of 6-feet apart.
When you arrive off of the elevator bank, you're greeted by a poster-size sign that cautions about limiting the risk of COVID-19
Food and drink menus were only available using a QR Code to eliminate the use of printed menus.
The rooftop serves specialty thin-crust pizzas, wood-fired dishes, and drinks. We opted for the house specialty, an Appalachian-inspired pizza which comes topped with BBQ sauce, and locally sourced vegetables and meats.
The hotel is also home to an on-site art gallery that starts in the lobby and extends throughout the ground floor.
It's one of the coolest features of staying at a Quirk Hotel and provides such a great way to experience and appreciate art in a safe and controlled environment.
The hotel also houses a coffee shop and breakfast area and provides plenty of outdoor seating with tables spread apart.
After Quirk, the next hotel on our road trip was Kimpton Arras Hotel in Asheville, North Carolina.
The Kimpton Arras Hotel is located in the heart of Asheville. In addition to the hotel's pet-friendly policy, we chose to stay here because of Kimpton's pledge to the IHG Clean Promise program which includes a contactless check in process, verified sanitation in guest rooms, and deep cleaning on high touch surfaces. The cost to stay here was $233 per night, and there was no pet fee.
Unlike Quirk Hotel Charlottesville, valet service at Kimpton was available during our stay, however we decided to forgo valet and self-park in the hotel's lot in the AC Marriott Hotel next door to avoid any potential issues with cross-contamination.
When we checked in, we were greeted in the lobby by a plexiglass front desk area and markers on the floor along with signage and plenty of hand sanitizer. Signage along with markers on the floor were common throughout the lobby area to remind guests to stay six feet apart.
Hotel staff greeted us wearing masks, and we were handed a guest sheet outlining the hotels COVID-19 protocols and priorities from behind the plexiglass shield.
The front desk manager placed the key cards and treats for our dogs on a front desk tray so there was indeed a contactless exchange.
In the main elevator bank, you have to select your floor number on a keypad that will direct you to the corresponding elevator.
There was a sign on the outside of the elevator bank reminding guests to limit the elevator usage to two people or one family. Once inside the elevator, you don't need to press any buttons.
When we got to our room, we found the screen queued to IHG's "Clean Promise" which was available to read at our discretion.
The information provided on our handout listed all of the same information but was a nice reminder for how our stay would look a little different in light of the current climate.
In the bathroom, there were no amenities save for a single bar of soap on the counter for washing out hands.
There was a sign next to the soap saying we would need to call to request any other amenities during our stay which would be delivered and dropped off for a contactless transaction, free of charge.
While the bed was devoid of decorative pillows and blankets, the couch did have two decorative pillows on it, which I immediately removed.
That evening we had light dinner and drinks on the outside patio of the hotel.
The main restaurant area was closed, but menus were made available on large TV screens on the right-hand side of the restaurant.
I checked out of the hotel on my phone after being sent my folio.
In the lobby, there was a large bowl made available for contactless key return, along with a sign about the keys being sanitized.
The last stop on our road trip was The Alexandrian in Alexandria, Virginia.
A stately Autograph Collection hotel in the heart of Alexandria, Virginia, the hotel is part of Marriott's expansive portfolio. We used our Marriott Bonvoy points here, but $125 per night is the rate we were quoted, plus a $25 per night pet fee.
There's no valet option here, so after self-parking in the garage, we made our way to the lobby.
Once again in the lobby we were greeted by a large plexiglass barrier at the front desk and handed a one-sheet explaining the hotel's cleaning protocols and procedures.
On the floor throughout the hotel's grand lobby, floor markers emphasizing social distancing were placed strategically throughout.
In the elevator, a sign about Alexandria's physical distancing was a nice touch.
When we got to our room, I was elated to find a handwritten welcome note along with a package of Autograph Collection branded antibacterial wet wipes and masks.
This was the only hotel on our trip to offer this type of amenity, which I think is a nice touch.
Our room was as spacious as it was lovely and devoid of decorative pillows and blankets, I was relieved to find.
Our room was facing the hotel's inner courtyard and looked down on the on-site restaurant that had just reopened for outside dining only.
On the last night of our trip we had dinner at j20, the hotel's southern themed restaurant and whisky bar.
There were only a few patrons all spread out across the patio, but it proved to be a nice place to sit and enjoy a spicy pineapple margarita and pulled pork fries. After dinner, we went back to our room and enjoyed a bottle of wine mask free.
While staying in a hotel may look and feel different in the wake of coronavirus, there's something to be said about enjoying a bit of normalcy in times like these. On our drive home, we learned that several southern states — including North Carolina, where we'd spent the bulk of our time — had spiked in coronavirus cases.
We're back in Jersey City now, going on Day 7 of a state-mandated 14-day quarantine. I think travel for most Americans is going to look and feel a little different for the time being — and a lot of what the future holds still remains to be seen.
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