What is travel and a hotel stay like during this lockdown? It’s a question I never expected to be able to answer because my plan was to stay home whenever possible.
Last Saturday, we got a piece of paper shoved through the door that I might have ignored as it looked like junk mail. Luckily, I didn’t get the mail, my husband did. And he looks at things properly before deciding what to do with them.
This piece of paper said the power company were switching off all power to the houses served by our local substation so they could do “essential maintenance.”
There were dates. Dates. Plural.
If you’re in Florida or Arizona, you need to know Northern Ireland is very cold and dark right now. It goes dark at about 4:30pm at this time of year and on top of that, it’s windy and freezing. We live on top of a hill in a remote area so there aren’t even any street lights. We can’t have a fire because the chimney is blocked up. And our heating and cooker require electricity.
The weather was forecast to drop to 4 celsius overnight on Thursday but it actually dropped to 4 during the day (not the predicted 8). I didn’t check at night but my guess is it reached zero.
My husband and I both work from home. We did before the pandemic. Without electricity, there’s no broadband and we can’t charge our laptops. Without electricity, we are losing money. I don’t think this is a good reason to stay at a hotel by itself but it’s certainly problematic when the power is off.
So, overall, we had a lot of reasons why we couldn’t stay at our house.
I was so annoyed because as it stood earlier this week, we had been told lockdown was lifting the day after our power would be restored. So to my mind if they’d just waited, we would have been able to solve this a lot more easily.
Unfortunately, there was announcement at some point that the lockdown is becoming more extreme from next week and I think a lot of places are not choosing to reopen in the interim. I’ve written a post on places that ARE open where you can take your baby. Early experiences are so important and they’re missing out on so much stimulation which they need for brain development.
Anyway, with a baby and no electricity in winter, I looked up the rules for travel because this was an emergency that was making our home uninhabitable.
It’s largely a free country and I needed parking so we settled on the Hilton in Templepatrick as it’s driveable to jellyfish’s nursery. Also it had a swimming pool. I wasn’t sure if the hotel pool would be open, but if not, I would fill the bath for the baby to splash around in, instead. The hotel restaurants (including breakfast) were closed and everywhere can do takeaway only, so with mine and jellyfish’s milk issues, eating was difficult.
I was still hoping for the pool. He’s never been swimming, because of the way this year has(n’t) been handled by the rulemakers.
So we arrived at the hotel and it turned out the pool was still open and so was the gym (this is no longer the case from Monday in our ever-changing and nonsensical world) and they were quite busy.
We went swimming a total of three times. Two swims were with the baby and one was while he was at nursery. I also used the gym to do some running on the treadmill.
When he realised he was in a swimming pool, the look of awe and wonder on the baby’s face was worth the effort we had to go to so we could find all the floaty inflatable stuff small babies seem to need in swimming pools (Argos has them). He outgrew his first two swimming costumes (0-6 months and 6-12 months) before he ever got to wear them, which is so sad.
Everything was very distant and hygienic. The staff were welcoming as much as was practical, but they were generally not at the front desk. Daytime was sort of like how late-at-night usually is at a hotel. With screens in front of the desks.
What was the same as normal at a hotel during lockdown:
There was still a coffee machine with coffee available 24/7.
The lifts were working.
The room had all the usual toiletries (although there weren’t enough for two people so I wish we had brought some).
The changing rooms at the pools were the same as usual. I don’t know if additional cleaning took place or if it was always quite a clean environment.
The golf course was still open.
Parking was normal (honestly though, I feel like some parent with child spaces near the entrance would have been good because there were about twenty disabled bays). Parking was free though so that was good.
The rooms were cleaned to a high standard and came with everything I would expect for the price and location.
What was different at a hotel during lockdown:
The main doors to the hotel were locked and guests had to use one designated entrance.
Guest bedrooms were sealed with special stickers so you knew no one had been in the room since it was cleaned/sanitized.
The TV remote also had a special sleeve to show it had been cleaned.
In the gym, every second running machine was closed off with hazard tape.
There was hand sanitizer everywhere and a one way system in place around the gym.
Housekeeping only cleaned our room on request.
Pro: Fewer people in your room. Maybe it’s just me but I find it super annoying when I return from breakfast and can’t get into a hotel room because it’s being cleaned so it was nice not to have the hard decision about whether or not to put the (removed from the room) Do Not Disturb sign on the door.
Con: Hard to just get the bin emptied, fresh towels and more toiletries without making a fuss. And we were creating more rubbish due to having to eat takeaways.
The swimming pool had to be pre-booked and only allowed three groups in at a time. It was open to locals, too, so it was hard to get spots, but the fitness staff were really good and did call us about cancellations so we got to swim plenty, albeit at short notice. I wish we had known this pool was open, we could have joined the gym here and been swimming every week with jellyfish.
It was so, so quiet and the corridors were almost empty because there were so few guests. We were able to put our baby on the floor and let him practice his walking in the long, carpeted corridors every time we were going between our room and the lift. Over the two days, his walking became so much more confident and he was steadier on his feet.
After being in our tiny cottage, where he only has six foot squared to play in (including where his toys live), the long stretches and open indoor space were magical to him. It makes me a bit sad to know he’s been so slow to learn to walk because we couldn’t give him any space to walk in. He is fifteen months old and only started walking very recently.
The food situation:
I think this was the biggest issue, and anyone in an emergency where they need a longer stay would be really screwed. On the second day I basically had nothing to eat until dinner because I couldn’t rustle up anything dairy free.
Then when my husband ordered dinner that day, he somehow decided to order one main meal with no rice. For two people. And I had to remind myself that plenty of people around the world ate less than this in a day. In fact, when I was young and broke, I regularly lived off half a packet of biscuits. And that I should be grateful we had anything at all. I was still frustrated. But I was trying really hard not to be.
We ordered takeaways for our dinners both days. There was nowhere in the room to store/reheat them (no fridge minibar which surprised me, I was glad we brought our electric cool box to store open baby food).
There were also no facilities in the hotel to heat baby food at all so we resorted to stuffing the pouches in a cup of boiling water in our room. I was very glad Jellyfish is still breastfeeding because I have no idea how we would have sterilised bottles for him.
That didn’t heat them evenly and took ages so there were too many cold spots and jellyfish wouldn’t eat them. A microwave in the foyer would have made a huge difference to the comfort of our stay. I just kept thinking about all the food (and 3 litres of stored breastmilk) in our freezer that was defrosting while we were hungry. Boo. 😦
Jellyfish is at an age where he’s getting pretty light sensitive so as soon as he fell asleep, it was annoyingly lights out for all of us.
Overall, any issues we had weren’t really the hotel’s fault at all. I would definitely stay here again and if lockdown lifts by then, we might book here for Christmas. Every member of staff went above and beyond to make us feel welcome under impossible circumstances.
The problems I encountered are things that need to change at a policy level, wherein the government haven’t properly thought through how people are supposed to live if they can’t go home for whatever reason.
We made the best of a bad situation and were lucky to have the pool to go swimming in otherwise we would be stuck in a room with nothing to do to occupy a baby.
I feel like the upcoming change that closes down pools and gyms is throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and I want to see evidence that people are catching Covid from gyms and swimming pools, because looking at the measures already in place in those places, I just don’t believe it.
It just seems like they need to make up their minds. Can we be 1 metre away from people safely or can’t we? Do masks protect us or don’t they? Nothing makes any sense and the rules don’t match with what we’re being told is safe.
Overall, I was glad to get home again. Being away was stressful and I absolutely don’t advocate it unless you need to go. We tried to go to Tesco on the way home as we knew our fridge/freezer was basically done but there was a giant queue for some strange reason. I feel like we’re always behind in knowing what the rules are and what we’re supposed to be doing.
But I’m really glad there was somewhere we could stay when we needed it, and that jellyfish finally got to go swimming for the first time ever.