Road Trip, Day 1

~ The Empire State Road Trip, hosted by the prestigious Harbor Hotel Collection ~

Cover photo: Chautauqua Harbor Hotel

Pinch me. Are we really taking a trip after 15 lo-o-ong months of COVID lockdown? Ouch! I guess we are!

There’s no escaping that feeling of unreality, nor the sheer joy of traveling again, that both Pam and I felt as we headed up I-95. With U.S. ports still locked down, we are setting aside sailing for the moment in favor of land cruising. Our destination is western New York, where we’ll begin the Empire State Road Trip, hosted by the prestigious Harbor Hotel Collection.

Getting their invite was serendipitous, since before the pandemic struck we were planning to visit the Finger Lakes region of New York. Now we were finally headed that way.

On the first leg, we drove exactly 1,322 miles from our home base in Palm Beach to the parking lot of the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel, an imposing, 135-room luxury hotel on the shores of Lake Chautauqua in the small Village of Celoron, New York, population 1,200. The first surprise was the weather – gloriously sunny and in the upper 80s, warmer than we left in Florida. The sweaters and gloves could stay packed.

This would be our home for the next two nights while we explored things to see and do, which were in no shortage. Chautauqua Harbor is the newest addition to the Harbor Hotel group, which also includes properties in Watkins Glen and the 1000 Islands, both of which we would be visiting.

On arrival, the cheerful desk clerk presented us with an insulated travel bag containing fresh fruit, snacks and water.

Top of mind for all travelers these days are the COVID safeguards and protocols. On the trip up, we saw a wide range of measures. Some places were wide open, with little masking, while in others, dining rooms remained closed, with drive-through-only service. While New York had recently relaxed restrictions, the hotel had modified their normal procedures, such as:

— Daily housecleaning suspended for guests staying four days or less

— Nightly turn down service suspended

— Bell service on request

— Limits to the number of people using the pool or fitness room, and social distancing in the restaurant.

Hotel personnel wore masks at all times, but for guests who are fully vaccinated (we are), masks were optional.

With its beautiful lakeside location, and extensive banquet and meeting facilities, it’s the perfect location for special events and weddings. In fact, there were no less than three weddings going on while we were there, no doubt all delayed due to the pandemic.

We learned the nine acres the hotel occupies has quite a history. From 1894 to 1962, it was the location of the Celoron Amusement Park, called “the top amusement park of its day between New York and Chicago.” It featured four hotels, athletic events, top musical and vaudeville acts and a giant toboggan slide. Historic photos of the park can be seen in the hotel lobby.

Our room was spacious, with wooden floors and all the upscale touches one would expect, including Pam’s favorite – a big, fluffy robe. She also appreciated the daily coffee and tea service, available on each floor starting at 6 am.

Once we settled in, it was time to tour and explore. The hotel features two pools – one indoor and one outdoor. For dining, there’s the Lake Side Tap and Grille. No doubt the main attraction is the outdoor space, where you sip a drink in an Adirondack chair by one of the firepits, gather with friends at the Carousel Bar or claim a spot to view one of their spectacular lake sunsets.

One section of the lobby is devoted to a display from the National Comedy Center, located in nearby Jamestown. Established in 2018 to document the history of comedy, it has quickly been recognized as one of nation’s top museums. We’ll be visiting there tomorrow, along with the museum devoted to Jamestown’s most famous resident, Lucille Ball. (NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell also hails from Jamestown.)

But for now, time for dinner at Lake Side and cocktails to toast our first trip in over a year.

(Photos courtesy Gerry Barker)

NEXT UP: A visit to one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpieces, Graycliff, and the Lake Erie Wine Country, along with the Lucy Desi Museum, the National Comedy Center and the prestigious Chautauqua Institution.

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