As the old joke goes, I would love to rave about the Woodstock Inn in Woodstock, Vermont but cannot. Extensive fretting over how to approach an article on a recent three-day stay as this once (and future?)-favored destination led to deciding on a three-part series. This begins with current thoughts on reasonable hopes for ecstasy resulting in agony. Part two will give the hotel its due as to the property. Part three is an epilogue that discusses bigger issues as to luxury travel until Covid-19 is a distant horrific memory.
The big picture begins with booking a spectacular stay at a competing property in Massachusetts; my state still being on the Massachusetts "no-fly" list three weeks before my scheduled arrival led to discovering that I could travel to Vermont without both getting a swab to the brain and having to get the result within 72 hours. That led to booking a spa trip to the Woodstock Inn for the week before my scheduled trip to "Brand X."
An aside is that Massachusetts regulations prohibit many people from significantly contributing to the public fisc by paying lodging and meals taxes at a nearly empty luxury hotel where all take extensive precautions. At the same time, anyone from anywhere potentially can help spread Covid nationally and internationally under a provision that allows virtually one-and-all to pass through Logan or any other airport in the state.
A very nice young man with the Woodstock Inn reservations department provided 90+ percent certainty that he generously upgraded me to the Laurence Rockefeller Suite. His colleague verified this when I called to change my reservation to arrive a day earlier than planned. She said that “your room is my favorite” and also told me that someone was checking out of that room two days before my revised date. Among other things, both reservations agents told me that I would have a microwave. It seems that the two Rockefeller suites are the only accommodations with that amenity.
The second reservations clerk unequivocally told me that all rooms are empty two days between guests; I received conflicting information as to that policy on arrival and later was told that that was not the case. The rest of that story is that even a room that was empty the prior two days may only be cleaned right before the arrival of the subsequent guest.
A few factors for which the Inn is not responsible prompted leaving for the three-hour drive to the Inn at 5:15 a.m. These included excitement as to living like a Rockefeller and writing about that experience.
I thought that the room likely would be ready early due to the two-day policy. I also was prepared to be asked to wait.
I arrived at 9:15 a.m. to find that no one was at the front door, That was not a big deal, except for the fact that that allowed people to come and go without a temperature check. The first sign of trouble was the congenial desk clerk asking on which floor I wanted to stay. I mentioned the strong indication of the promise of the suite but got no response.
The desk clerk said that “my room” was empty and that he would ask housekeeping to clean it right away. I told him as I had told the two reservations clerks of my specific underlying hereditary condition that made a well-cleaned room important.
I returned an hour later to be told the room was not yet ready.
The problem started an hour after that on speaking with the front-office manager. He told me that the hotel had two rooms of the class to which I was upgraded and that neither were clean. His response on my mentioning the promise of the suite was that that goes for $1,600/night. NO word as to being sorry if I expected that suite.
I am confident that the reservation clerk did book me in the suite but that a manager overruled him. I will add that there were only 20 or so booked rooms of roughly 150 total rooms.
Because I had a 2:00 p.m. pool reservation and the athletic facility did not allow showers due to Covid, I was faced with either taking the lesser of the two rooms or not getting into the other one before my swim time. In hindsight, the FO manager could have offered to let me shower in one of the more than 100 empty rooms and check in after my swim.
The manager also could have offered to comp me lunch when I mentioned that I was tired and hungry. He DEFINITELY could have given me chocolates when I mentioned that the Inn website still lists them (and several other “paused” amenities,)
The FO manager did say that the better of the two rooms was at the quiet end of the hall. I did not know that my chosen one was across from the housekeeping closet and would have frequently slamming doors outside it.
My unhappiness at 11 a.m. prompted asking the woman in the gift shop to guide me to the executive office. Her response was to call that office. She learned that the general manager was off that day, but she took my cell number and told me that the reservations manger or another manager would call me. NO ONE ever called during my three-day stay or since even to ask if things were resolved.
On arriving in the room, it did not seem very clean. I also found two long hairs draped over the box of soap in the bathroom, On top of that, the dust on the base of the TV was thick enough to make my finger black.
This made me glad I brought Clorox wipes with me. I wiped down every surface.
The desk clerk was responsive to the issues and had housekeeping reclean the room while I was swimming. The room was much cleaner than before, and I actually could smell the disinfectant that I was told was used to blast the room between guests. On a related note, guests must sign a waiver acknowledging the heightened risk of Covid as to staying in the hotel.
On coming down the next morning, I overheard the desk clerk from the day before asking two women about their breakfast in the hotel restaurant and telling them that they had a surprise in their room. My assumption was that the women had had a check-in SNAFU and were comped breakfast and given a gift.
On going into the gift shop, I saw that Nancy the shop manager was there. Because she was a hotel manager, I told Nancy of my experience but asked that she not make an issue of it until I left so that I would not run the risk of being labeled toxic and required to leave. She made the generous gesture of later surprising me with a gift bag of Vermont goodies. I did not hear from a manager on the day of my check-out or since then,
I still paid roughly $450/night for my room; that is comparable to a night at the Mandarin Oriental, which prides itself on excellent service.
An Inn employee who would like to remain employed said “I fully agree” on my saying that the staff is wonderful but that management does not understand the current circumstances,
The Inn understandably has cut out housekeeping and turn-down service during the stay. At the same time, there is no reason that they could not leave still-promised chocolates in bags on the door each day. Additionally, they have not reduced their rates despite cutting way back on staff in ways that include no longer having a doorman back up the one bellman that works solo shifts.
The bottom line is that Inn management seems to be living up to the robber baron roots of the Rockefeller family that built the hotel and currently has the non-profit Rockefeller Foundation own it. Needless to say, the hotel is not currently run in a very charitable manner and is relying on its past to keep 'em paying a premium to come back despite a clearly stated risk to their lives.
This sucker definitely is not going to take another three-hour tour driving up there for quite some time.