It’s been well over a year since I left New England and the confines of Northern New England. As the administrator of the Distinctive Inns of New England (DINE) I was in the process of visiting all ten of the DINE inns last March when the pandemic hit hard. I remember sitting in the Grafton Inn thinking that surely by June this situation would be over. From there I traveled to the Rabbit Hill Inn and received the gift of a roll of toilet paper (cheerfully delivered by a stuffed bunny, of course) as a turndown gift. I was grateful at the time, as toilet paper was in short supply for months afterward. Oh, what we know now that we didn’t know then!
Recently, I had to travel to Alaska to take care of a family member having surgery. It was the first time I’d left the security of New England and what an eye opener it was. I’m anxious to get out and travel again, but with Covid still surging in some places, and people from all countries milling about airports, I was nervous. I’d received my first vaccine, which gave me small consolation, but still I double masked and sanitized constantly. I’d visit any of the DINE inns for getaways now, especially after seeing the comparison between East and far West Coast attitudes toward Covid. Cleary the ten DINE member inns take their state guidelines seriously, exceeding the requirements for social distancing, sanitization, mask wearing and food preparation. I was shocked at the lax or non-existent concern for Covid safety I experienced in rural and urban Alaska. It gives me new appreciation for the rule following and safety conscience that DINE innkeepers have for their guests, and for the consideration of mask wearers in the East to keep us all safe.
Of course, not all those people or businesses we encountered exhibited a lax attitude, but many did. Alaska has an extensive screening process when deplaning in Anchorage, including recording of every passenger’s health insurance policy numbers. While testing isn’t presently mandatory to enter Alaska, it sure felt like it was all but required according to the screeners who also helped passengers complete extensive documentation. Yet, once outside the airport, the prevalent attitude was different.
While it felt odd, and even daunting to venture indoors into a restaurant, we had no choice when we were asked to meet with friends who had no concerns about eating indoors. In fact, in a week of spending time in Alaska’s largest city, we never saw any evidence of attempts to provide outdoor dining, fire pits or other alternatives to indoor dining. Perhaps it was because it was Alaska and still very cold, but it seems it was due more to the restaurants not feeling a need to provide alternatives to their guests. It was the first time we’d been in a restaurant in more than a year, so after quarantining upon arrival, we went armed with masks and plenty of sanitizer.
I was shocked to enter the crowded restaurant and realize my husband, son and I were the only people wearing a mask. No servers wore masks, and no patrons either. In fact, I could see all eyes looking at us, and smaller children pointing out our masks to their parents. Even our friends mumbled reproach under their breath, but loud enough for us to hear. That’s when the difference between our attitudes hit home.
I was afraid to take off my mask and doused my hands with sanitizer; another move that drew rebuke. We had to remove masks to eat but were careful to return to the security of our masks immediately afterward. I never thought about a mask being a security blanket, but I’ve never felt more protected by a simple mask than I did then.
While I know that many travelers don’t believe in masks or even in the facts that science tell about Covid, I’ve always appreciated the sometimes reticent and often heartfelt willingness of travelers to wear masks in New England. We are incredibly grateful for those who’ve traveled to DINE properties during the pandemic, believing in the innkeepers’ care in keeping guests safe and rooms sanitized for romantic getaways at their inns. We are elated that guests are beginning to make plans for spring, summer and fall getaways to DINE inns as vaccines roll out throughout the country.
The 10 DINE innkeepers have learned many important lessons and new procedures because of Covid, while mask requirements may eventually wane, many of the new protocols will remain in place because they just make sense. A commitment to safe travel will remain the mantra of not just the Distinctive Inns of New England, but for the travel industry in general for the future.
Soon, once herd immunity is reached and the majority can be vaccinated, we will hopefully all start feeling safe to travel to DINE country and enjoy eating at DINE inns and surrounding restaurants. Please know that masked travelers will always be welcomed at DINE inns now and in the future.
Connecticut: Inn at Harbor Hill Marina in Niantic