Since the pandemic shut down travel around the world, By The Way has been encouraging readers to “travel from their couch,” from virtual museum tours to hotel-inspired recipes. But let’s face it: Quarantine isn’t exactly the vacation of your dreams. The meals are repetitive and leave a lot to be desired (is the chef even trained?), and no matter how many times you put out the Do Not Disturb sign, it never works (other guests, a.k.a your kids, are always barging in).
So we asked our readers and staff to review their homes like a hotel, and they did not disappoint. We heard about dog butlers slacking on the job and tiny innkeepers who refuse to wear clothes. Here are some of our favorites, from hilarious to heartwarming.
Not as it seems
Kerry Parrish, Garner, N.C.
Atmosphere is trendy and up to date, but the thermostat updates daily to 85 degrees as if no one is supposed to be here. A 3-foot squatter keeps eating all the complimentary continental breakfast before anyone else has a chance, and the coffee ran out two days into our stay. On a positive note, the very relaxed resort attire is appreciated, though as indicated by the squatter, I was unaware this was a clothing- optional resort upon check-in.
Stuck in a circus with a toddler ringmaster
Austin Graff, Washington, D.C.
It’s a circus and the doors lock from the outside. Once inside, you’re never leaving. You’re at the mercy of a toddler who’s barely out of diapers. Advertisements promising “fine dining” and “relaxing massages” are false replaced with half-eaten chicken nuggets and any stillness interrupted 1,134 times a day. Docking a star for false advertising. Wake-up call is at 5:30 a.m., and there’s no slow start to the day. The ringmaster whips you into shape from the moment you wake up, forcing you to enter a world of mind tricks. One minute you’re in a jungle hunting down “biting tigers.” The next you’re driving to Javier’s birthday party. Within minutes, you’re at the swimming pool learning how to swim. Forget stopping by the concierge’s desk. These games last the entire day, until the ringmaster kicks and screams into bed by evening. Only then does the house come with chilled wine, chocolate and all the Netflix you can numb your exhausted brain with. Sleep a few hours and you’re back at the circus. The ringmaster never rests. Adding a star since the ringmaster is cute.
Great place; terrible birds
Natalie Compton, Washington, D.C.
Super charming! Drawback: There’s a gang of birds that gathers for some sort of bird a cappella practice every morning around 5:30 a.m. No earplugs provided on the side table for guests. I’ve resorted to sleeping next to headphones so I can pop them in and blare music when the birds start screaming at dawn. Really have to crank up my volume because these birds are WAILING. 5 stars for the stay. You can’t blame the place for the birds shrieking through the neighborhood. If you stay here pack earplugs!
Called the health department
Tyson Anderson, Salt Lake City
The continental breakfast was ok. It was a little sparse on selection but they did have French toast. The problem with this place was that I noticed some of the guests at the breakfast bar were in their bath robes. HOW UNSANITARY. I reported this to the hotel manager but she didn’t seem too concerned. I’ll be submitting a report to the local health department.
Kat Brooks, Falls Church, Va.
Comfortable accommodations in a quiet neighborhood. Food is decent if you like home-cooked meals at odd hours. Housekeeping really needs to step up their game, though. The place is a mess. Staff seems distracted by their tiny manager. He’s cute, but he cries a lot and frequently falls asleep on the job. Gave an extra star for the dogs. Both are certified good boys.
Quiet, natural getaway
Leah Debber, Gorman, Calif.
Quaint little retreat set against the beautiful mountains of the Los Padres National Forest. Early spring is the best time to visit as everything is in bloom. Loads of wildlife to watch and if you have any questions, an on-site environmental scientist is there to answer them. Limited WiFi availability, but you get enough reception to survive. You will have to gather your own fresh water once a week though, which seems strange for a hotel. There’s also all-you-can-eat fried rice and a cat that you can walk on a leash. All in all, 4/5 stars, would recommend.
Shelter from the storm
Lisa Dorenfest, Mexico
Whether you are circumnavigating the globe or sheltering in place, sailing vessel Amandla has it all. A fully equipped kitchen with two freezers and a fridge, propane stove, full stores, and watermaker allow the Italian chef/skipper to keep the one-person crew well-fed and hydrated. Eco-friendly, the vessel is powered by the wind and sun, allowing its two occupants to minimize their carbon footprint.
Amandla currently offers a 360-degree view of Marina Palmira, but will soon be surrounded by jaw-dropping vistas in the Sea of Cortez during the upcoming hurricane season. The electronic library is filled with books, magazines, movies and training courses to expand your mind. If you prefer board games, many are available, but you will have to let the skipper win occasionally to keep up morale. In port, build endurance by walking around the empty marina docks, cycling to grocery stores or dancing in place while singing out loud. On passage, the sea provides a natural gym: trimming sails and keeping balance while living at a 15-degree angle builds upper body strength and abdominals. And a meditative sense of calm can always be found at sea or at anchor.
This property is fully booked for the foreseeable future.
A unique experience
Julie Holzhauer, Naperville, Ill.
The rooms are spacious and seem, at first glance, to be clean enough. I don’t think they’d pass any kind of white glove test, though. The staff are horrendous. Three of them spend a good amount of time fighting with each other (loudly), one wants to sit on my lap all the time, and another just lays on the couch all day. The only functional staff member is only available from 5 to 10 p.m. I had to cook my own meals (though the refrigerator and pantry were stocked with fresh options), and often had to clean up not only my own dishes, but also those of several staff members. What keeps this from being lower than 3 stars, however, is the fact that the staff are all fairly forthcoming with both hugs and laughter.
Nirvana no more
Kathleen Lominack, Greenville, S.C.
Arriving at Chez Lominack in the late evening, I was less than thrilled to see that the highly touted cocktail hour had been wrecked by a band of angry Lilliputians, apparently belonging to the owners. Not only was the valet nowhere to be found, the owners seemed to have drunk all the cocktails themselves, leaving nothing for the guests. Can’t say that I blame them, though.
The Lilliputians seemed restless and on the verge of a revolt; definitely not the peaceful retreat we had envisioned. Nevertheless, we decided to stay the night since it was getting late. However, we were abruptly awakened at 5:47 a.m. with a finger to the eyeball asking US to fix breakfast for a few of the staff members! I couldn’t believe the nerve of these folks; self-absorbed and totally clueless that WE were the guests!! Additionally, the lobby was overrun with toys, including several pointy Legos, which happened to also be strategically placed on the floor as we were getting out of bed — ouch!! Chez Lominack leaves much to be desired in the way of rest and relaxation and makes one yearn for the comforts of the Four Seasons.
Great view. Lackluster amenities.
Brad Japhe, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
When we checked into our Hawaiian bungalow at the beginning of March the staff couldn’t have been friendlier. The bed was made, the linens fresh, there was plenty of toilet paper. But by the 2nd or 3rd week of the stay we noticed something was off. Amenities became sparse (good luck finding paper towels around here); room service now consists primarily of ramen — although there oddly seems to be a newfound glut of freshly baked bread. The only daily turndown is on the television volume during Trump’s daily briefings. And the laundry service is nothing to brag about, either. Though this isn’t a tremendous drawback if you elect to wear the same pair of sweatpants for weeks on end — or, so I was told by another guest. Our private butler, Alexa, is always there whenever you call her. However, I find her disembodiment to be staggeringly inconvenient. Also, at times I get this creepy sense that she’s *always* listening to our conversations.
Now onto the bad parts. Waterside accommodations ought to be relaxing. Yet I find the incessant shore-pounding of the waves to be wholly redundant. It’s like, “Okay, we get it already! Splash, splash!” Even more disheartening: On our lanai, the ethereal hues of the setting sun — ranging from lavender and fuchsia to burnt amber and sometimes even Navajo sandstone — are partially obscured by these inconsiderate palm trees, swaying obliviously in the evening breeze. The whole scene feels like it’s just pressuring me to learn the ukulele.
Who could put a price on this experience?
Debbie Esposito, Harbor Springs, Mich.
Day 30 at this B&B: The food is good; SpaghettiOs are a specialty and guest favorite. The guests provide entertainment with bickering and fighting over TV shows. There is suspense: Who will have to go to the grocery store next and risk death? There are daily activities: cleaning, laundry and giving the cats their pills. You never know when you’ll lose a finger or get cat scratch fever; such adventure. One of the guests insists that we all do a tabata workout daily — really what could be more fun? But most importantly, every morning we get up to catch a glimpse of the sun — but it is just snow. It’s everywhere. It never ends. Every f***ing day.
Wildlife viewing, up close and personal
Sandra Russo, Gainesville, Fla.
I no longer have to go to Africa to observe wildlife sleeping. Do you have any idea how much your own dogs and cats sleep all day long and in what places and positions? Gone are the days of watching lions sleep in Kruger, tracking lilac breasted rollers or searching for wild dog pups. Instead, I have my own pride (four cats), flock (three birds) and gang (three dogs) to watch. They make wonderful coworkers, although the level of fur and hair has risen dramatically since housekeeping has been suspended.
Dean Kaiser, Blacksburg, Va.
For years we have saved and paid for vacations that might be just a bit beyond our budget, where we could be certain that everyone else there was judging us. We have discovered that home was underrated. We do have a great view of the Blue Ridge, we got the old hot tub bubbling, we are decent cooks, and we can hike out our back yard. Most importantly, the dog is highly nonjudgmental. We try to ignore daily taunting from the cat. Dog, please bring us more wine. Good boy!
Homey vibe and home-cooked food
Stefanie Samara, Gainesville, Fla.
While boasting of amazing views of bird life, this home is unfortunately decorated in a style which can only be described as “hand-me-down,” with a Sears catalogue dining table from the 1940s and bookcases salvaged from a chain store’s closing sale in the 1980s. Despite the decorative flaws, the accommodations are homey and welcoming, with a lived-in vibe that helps you relax. While the other resident works from home, feel free to enjoy the super-fast WiFi, sunbathe naked in the backyard, or indulge in the hundreds of books and movies. The highlight of any visit to this location is the food — whether breakfast, lunch or dinner, you can be assured of the finest lacto-ovo-pesco-vegetarian cuisine available, sourced from local farmers and vendors through a strict no-contact protocol. Lovers of sci-fi fantasy and cheeses will revel in this home’s offerings. One quirk, which may be off-putting for some particular visitors, is the toilet paper with no center tube, which sits on the bathroom counter between uses. Serious bathroom aficionados may want to bring your own rolls.
Highly rated boutique hotel that doesn’t measure up
David Smutny, Arlington, Va.
Great first impressions, but ultimately disappointing. The hotel is small, boutiquey and charming, in that shabby-chic way that only terribly expensive hotels can pull off. I think we were the only guests! We’d heard Tom and Gisele might be coming but never saw them. The concierge, “Bella,” greeted us. She was short, gray and well-groomed. Her English was nonexistent, but we love trying foreign languages when we travel!
Unfortunately, the service deteriorated quickly. Our room has not been made up in days, despite hanging the little thingy on the doorknob without fail. The hotel’s highly rated restaurant is good, but they take the idea of “charming cooking classes” too far. Fun, yes, but every meal?!? I wanted to shout “That Michelin star won’t award itself!” We never saw the chef, despite repeatedly asking for him to stop by, and the concierge stared hard at us every meal. Thankfully, the hotel bar is open 24 hours!
Virtual magic no substitute for real magic
Elizabeth MacGregor, Vienna, Va.
I booked three nights at a Walt Disney World resort to take part in the Star Wars Rival Run Half Marathon this weekend. In the end, the experience did NOT live up to my expectations.
I was looking forward to staying at one of the newest and most luxurious Disney properties. You can imagine my disappointment when I discovered my lodgings would be nothing more than a suburban tract home. On the upside, it was quiet and parking was free, but on the downside, things were not as fresh or new as I had hoped. The theming was a little hard to discern; though I searched, I could not find any hidden Mickeys. The cast members were my own husband and son. The landscaping was not bad, but the property lacked swimming pools and spas.
On another note, the half marathon course left a lot to be desired. It repeated a loop — in my own neighborhood -- over and over. There were no fireworks, no on-course entertainment, no character greetings, no finisher’s medal or swag — there wasn’t even a start or finish line!
In sum, the magic was severely lacking for this running “vacation.”
The next time you are forced to self-isolate, check out this little gem
Jeanne Costello, Laguna Woods, Calif.
After arriving about 30 days ago, we are still impressed with the cleanliness and overall hospitality of Casa Costello.
High Points: Happy Hour. Great selection of wines and other libations out on the patio starting promptly at 5:00 … unless it’s any day ending in “Y.” Then it’s 4 … or 3 …
Things to Work On: Housekeeping. Spotty — not really sure what the schedule is, as some days the bed is made and dishes are done promptly. Other days, not so much.
Food: Not the same since the chef from Sardi’s left
Noise Level: Generally quiet, with the exception of the long-earred neighbor with the tail who barges in every morning at 5:40 demanding to be fed. Apparently, he still has somewhere to go every day?
Overall: An inviting, relaxing and welcoming environment in which to spend days on end. Thank goodness, because I’ve lost count.
“Just like home” theme goes too far!
Julie Vick, Boulder, Colo.
The hotel lobby was overrun with children and was playing a constant loop of “Baby Shark.” When I politely inquired about a babysitter, the hotel staff member laughed in my face and then asked me to figure out how to fix the broken printer. When I fixed it and handed them the Pokémon math worksheets, they told me I’d need to cook my own dinner. I would have given this place 1 star if it weren’t for the charming hotel dog, but they’ve taken the “just like home” theme a little too far!
I was told there would be zombies
Jon Chase, Washington, D.C.
Let me just start off with this: I try really hard to maintain a positive outlook in most situations, but this apocalypse sucks. Day 1 of lockdown, I was feeling great. I had all the necessities: non-perishables, alcohol and three Army standard-issue Bowie knives. I didn’t need to stock up on toilet paper because I took a note from our European cousins and invested in a bidet. But since then, it’s been one disappointment after another.
Forget everything you’ve ever been told about the end of the world, because so far it’s been downright miserable. There’s no zombies, no warrior tribes, no hunger games, just “90 Day Fiancé” marathons and $4 wine from Trader Joe’s. I bought these Bowie knives for nothing. In summary, this stay-at-home experience has not lived up to my expectations AT ALL. I would ask to speak to the manager, but I have a feeling that the people in charge have no idea what’s going on, and if they do they’re kind of just figuring this out the same way I am; one episode of “90 Day Fiancé” at a time.
Desperate in McLean
Rayne Guilford, McLean, Va.
So let’s just say — DIY is overrated. This place requires a LOT of you, ok? The cooking and meal prep — it’s on YOU! There are nice suburban views, and you can sit by the open windows and sniff the air like a dog, because you can’t leave much. You can look out and see the families scootering up the street, walking the pets, vectors all. The one thing they have at this place, and thank God, is a lot of alcohol, because let me tell you, you need it. You are REQUIRED to put on a brave face for the others, be kind, compassionate and even-tempered when it is actually killing you. So make the cocktails, break out the Scrabble and open a good book — maybe Sartre’s “No Exit.” Put on a good album, Eagles, maybe. “Hotel California.” And settle in for a long, long stay.
Frances Watthanaya, Phutthaisong, Thailand
Communal kitchen turned fish slaughterhouse. Shared bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. There’s a 10 p.m. curfew and free early morning wake up call from professional fighters.
Illustrations by Mike Ellis for The Washington Post.