3 things a night at Colonial Williamsburg taught me about coronavirus travel

Jul 21, 2020

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Editor’s note: As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. We will be here to help you prepare, whether it is next month or next year.

After my international trips fell through, including a much-anticipated Iceland visit, I decided to rent a car and explore the East Coast of the United States — first up: a week working from beautiful Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

While locals and tourists aren’t wearing masks nearly as consistently as I’m used to seeing at home in New York, the remote nature of the Outer Banks — combined with limited hotel options and a lot of space to yourself — makes it an ideal destination for anyone looking for some distance.

Getting here was another story, however. You could drive straight through — depending on where you live — or find a remote en-route hotel, but I decided to spend the night at Colonial Williamsburg, a destination I haven’t visited since I was a little kid. While less crowded than it may have been before the pandemic, the hotel I chose ended up being very busy — fortunately, almost all of the staff and most guests were properly wearing their masks.

I was drawn to Williamsburg, Virginia by Marriott’s hotel map. I have several extended free night certificates to use up by January 31, 2021, so I was looking for a high-end hotel that fell within my certificate’s 35,000-point nightly cap — ideally, one located about halfway between Philadelphia and my destination in North Carolina. I landed on a Category 5 property, in what we’ve recently declared to be Bonvoy’s latest “sweet spot.”

Marriott’s award map helped me find the Williamsburg Lodge, an Autograph Collection (read: high-end) hotel walking distance from Colonial Williamsburg. Parking was free, and masks are required at the hotel and throughout the historic area, just a few steps away — plus, Marriott’s “Commitment to Clean” helped me feel confident that I wouldn’t be putting myself at risk with an overnight stay.

With a completely free night (and free breakfast, thanks to my Marriott Bonvoy Titanium status), plus an attractive summer rate at Colonial Williamsburg of just $20 per day, I ended up with an incredibly affordable en-route getaway.

Still, the pandemic was front and center, which I appreciated — as much as many of us are hoping for a quick mental escape at the moment, it’s critical to remain vigilant, considerate and masked-up, especially whenever we leave our homes. Here are a few things I learned from my first pandemic trip.

Mask usage depends on region and enforcement

The hotel’s procedures were just one part of the equation. I found some great options in Virginia Beach as well, but I was worried about mixed mask enforcement there, especially on and around the beach. Colonial Williamsburg has their mask policy front and center, and capacity limits are significantly reduced for indoor components, with a maximum of 10 guests, even in large structures.

I found the experience to be exactly as promised, with the website stating “All guests are required to wear face coverings when indoors per Virginia Executive Order 63. The wearing of face coverings outdoors is optional but recommended. Face coverings will be worn by Colonial Williamsburg staff.” As a result, there wasn’t a moment that I didn’t feel safe on Colonial Williamsburg grounds. Re-enactors were wearing masks, even though they weren’t exactly a period fit.

Sadly, masks were really only worn where staff members were there to enforce the requirement. At my hotel, for example, I saw a mask-less guest interacting with an employee, without any mention of a mask. Stores have posted mask requirements, but I saw many customers choosing not to comply — in cases like these, you’re on your own to protect yourself, so I’d wear a properly fitted N95 mask at all times indoors (if you have one), or limit yourself to outdoor activities. Since N95 masks are still in short supply, I choose to wear an industrial version, which is not suitable for healthcare use due to its exhaust valve, covered with a surgical mask to help protect others.

Bring your own toiletries

If you’ve stayed at a handful of hotels over the last few years, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a setup like this. In a bid to reduce waste (and expenses), many hotel chains are embracing reusable toiletry dispensers. I fully support reducing our footprint, but I’ve often encountered empty dispensers, or, in the case of the Williamsburg Lodge, two of the three “topped off” with water, instead of refilled with soap and conditioner. Considering the hotel’s refill “solution,” and the cleanliness concerns that followed, I was left wishing I had brought my own toiletries and decided I’m going to make that a priority for future stays.

Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.
Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

With Marriott’s “Commitment to Clean,” and a pandemic that’s raging out of control in neighboring states, I was expecting greater attention to detail at the hotel. In addition to the dispenser issue, I stepped on a piece of cereal on the rug, noticed several hairs that weren’t my own and spotted a bunch of crumbs on the furniture. I called up and asked to move — the second room had full dispensers, but I noticed crumbs on the chair and more hairs on the floor. Hotels definitely need to step up cleanliness if they’re hoping to attract mid-pandemic guests.

It’s up to you to avoid indoor dining

In New York City, restaurants are not yet permitted to open for indoor dining, and I’ve long ruled it out as an option for myself, either way. Still, many people don’t seem to hesitate participating whenever it’s available, either without considering the risk of contracting COVID-19 at all, or deciding they’d rather brave the virus than expose themselves to a bit of summer heat.

I was hoping Marriott would offer room service or a to-go service as an option for elites, but that wasn’t the case at the Williamsburg Lodge. While the hotel’s restaurant was packed indoors, with tables surprisingly close together, only two people were sitting in the large courtyard outside. I maintained my distance, ate my meal quickly and was on my way.

Bottom line

Five months into the pandemic, it’s only natural for people to crave a return to normal life. Sadly, that simply isn’t possible without endangering ourselves and everyone else. And, as I learned from my trip, there’s a lot more we need to be doing to protect each other, throughout each trip and hotel stay.

I applaud Colonial Williamsburg for taking the steps necessary — wearing a large cloth mask all day can’t be easy when facing harsh sunshine and a heat index of 110 degrees — but hotels need to strictly enforce the new mask mandates they’re just now rolling out, and travelers must choose to wear a face covering on planes and anywhere else they can’t properly distance, to avoid contracting the virus or spreading it to someone else.

Featured photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

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