Perhaps the first question that comes to mind when a travel writer starts reviewing new hotels during a pandemic is “What kind of Best Exotic Grand Budapest Room with a View of Marigolds nonsense is this? Should I even be staying in a hotel?” Trust me my friends, I had the same worries. Before packing a suitcase for a look at some of the Boston area’s newest hotels, I posed the question to the experts.
Are hotels safe?
“I’ve stayed at a couple of hotels over the past year, and I’m generally not too nervous when I’m there,” said Dr. Shira Doran, an infectious disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center. She said droplets from previous guests or cleaning staff are not lingering in the air when you arrive in your room.
“There’s virtually no transmission from person-to-person if they’re not in a room together,” she explained. “It doesn’t transmit that way. I’m not all worried about going into a room where someone has been before me, ever. I know that the hotels I stayed in made housekeeping service optional, but I wouldn’t worry about that for the same reason. I would just want to make sure that we’re not in the room at the same time.”
We also know that transmission via touching objects is not the danger we believed it was in the early days of the pandemic.
“We understand that transmission through fomites, which is the term for getting the virus from touching surfaces, is not the main driver of spread,” said Dr. Diego Hijano, an infectious disease specialist from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “You can always clean objects in your room yourself if you want to take precautions, but I wouldn’t be worried if I walked into a room and grabbed the remote that I would get the virus. But it’s safe and easy enough to grab a disinfecting towel and go through the room if you want, but you really don’t need to.”
That said, hotels are taking great pains to publish their cleaning protocols to lure lodgers back to fill beds. So if you have concerns, check the website or phone your hotel. Once at the hotel, look for multiple hand sanitizing stations (especially placed near elevators) and signs enforcing masking and social distancing. Limit your time in indoor shared spaces.
And now that the safety questions are out of the way, let’s check out some hotels. I reviewed two new hotels that have opened during the pandemic, and one that has undergone a $20 million renovation. I reserved the rooms just as anyone else would (through a third-party booking website) and paid the same nighty rate as the general public. There were no freebies.
I need to offer the caveat that unlike in the past, my reviews do not extend to lobbies, bars, restaurants, and other common spaces. In the name of safety, I either stayed in my room, or strolled outside, but was forced to forgo my usual hotel lobby bar adult beverage. Thank you for your sympathy and understanding.
Pros: Comfortable rooms with a soon-to-open rooftop bar. Cons: Some street noise in rooms.
The Lowdown: 907 Main is Central Square’s first boutique hotel, a sign of either gentrification or progress, depending on your worldview. When I reached my room there was a bucket of ice with three cans of Italian beer chilling and a bowl of potato chips and dip. I had been discovered. The management of the hotel realized a Globe travel writer was on the premise and left the refreshments. But this writer cannot be won over with beer and potato chips (I’m a Veuve Clicquot and ginger snaps kind of guy), so please know that this review has not been compromised. The hotel was recently named one of the top 15 hotels in Boston by Condé Nast Traveler. The exterior of the 1867 building is nearly the only original part of the structure still intact. The rickety interior was gutted and rebuilt with stylish results.
The Experience: In concept, the idea of a boutique hotel in Central Square makes as much sense as Barbra Streisand leaving James Brolin for Machine Gun Kelly. But 907 Main oddly works. The trick is that it’s not a frou-frou boutique hotel, but there are just enough details, such as bits of gold tile in the bathroom, they say “Hey, I’m kind of fancy.” My room had an amazingly comfortable king bed, the floor was blond hardwood, and the lighting was much better than the lamps I’ve been staring at in my bedroom for the past six months. If “professorial chic” can be considered a design term, then I would apply it to 907 Main. If it’s too chilly to explore the neighborhood or eat outside, you can get takeout and watch the 55-inch TV in your room. There is a restaurant in the hotel (the Dial) that is currently open. The restaurant has a 3,000-square-foot courtyard where you can eat outside, yes, even during the winter.
Coffee maker in room: No, however coffee is served to guests at the front desk.
Pet friendly: Yes, with a fee of $50 per stay.
Room service: Yes, socially distant, from the Dial restaurant.
Gym: No, but ask at the front desk about fitness options in Central Square.
Breakfast included: No.
Parking: Available within walking distance at 55 Franklin St., 260 Green St. Garage, 30 Pilgrim St. Garage.
What I paid: $184.70 (includes tax and fees).
907 Main St., Cambridge, 617-354-9907. www.907main.com.
Pros: Great location. Cons: Rooms are slightly sterile and generic.
The Lowdown: Hyatt Place/Seaport District is an all-around solid contender that does a splendid job of straddling the fine line between offering a good location for either work or leisure travel. The hotel is directly across from the Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion, so when (or if) the concert season begins again, it will be incredibly convenient to roll back to the hotel after a concert. On the other side of that coin, noise from the venue may be an issue. During my stay the Seaport was dead quiet. There’s a rooftop terrace at the hotel, but it was a little too chilly to be outside.
The Experience: Check-in was cheery and personable. The desk clerk pointed to the empty bar across the lobby and told me it was open. She was not only checking in guests, she was also tending bar. The hotel felt nearly empty. The positives of staying off-season in Boston during a pandemic is that hotels are quiet and rates are low. The room was comfortable and was the only hotel I stayed in that had a mini fridge in the room (thank you). I appreciated touches such as multiple power outlets and USB ports on either side of the bed. It really steams my rice when hotels don’t address the technology needs of travelers, so I applaud you Hyatt. The bed was comfortable and the bathroom well-designed with a spacious shower.
Coffee maker in room: Yes.
Pet friendly: Yes, with a fee of $74 per stay.
Room service: No.
Breakfast included: Yes.
What I paid: $188.90 (includes taxes and fees).
295 Northern Ave., 857-328-1234. www.hyatt.com.
Pros: It’s an Intercontinental, so it’s posh as heck. Cons: Some service glitches.
The Lowdown: The Intercontinental Boston arrived in 2006 to much fanfare and was given a $20 million face lift last year. Guest rooms and corridors were part of that overhaul, and the rooms are now rendered in calming shades of blue, lavender, and beige. While the room itself was beautiful, I did have a couple of questions. The dreaded toilet-side telephone, a vestige of the pre-cellphone world, was still in place. But why? There were a pair of sliders above the bed that open the bathroom into the sleeping area. My guess is that it allows guests to watch TV in the bathtub. If that’s the case, why not ditch the sliders and add a flat screen to the bathroom? These are very minor points, but it’s an Intercontinental, so my fine tooth comb was out and active.
The Experience: I arrived with a plan to valet the car, but when I drove up there was no one around. I sat in my car for close to 10 minutes waiting, but didn’t see anyone. There was a garage, but the sign on it read “Valet only.” I went inside to check on the valet situation, but there was no one at the front desk. I thought maybe reception had been moved during the renovation, but it hadn’t. I drove a few blocks, found on-street parking, and when I returned there was someone at the front desk so I could check in. On the plus side, the hotel allowed me to check in about two hours early. The room was incredibly comfortable, quiet, and relaxing. While it was freezing outside, I curled up with takeout and watched “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” In other words, a perfect Friday night.
Coffee maker in room: Yes.
Pet friendly: Yes, with a fee of $100 per stay.
Room service: Currently unavailable.
Gym: Currently closed.
Minibar/refrigerator: Yes, but minibars are currently locked.
Breakfast included: No.
Parking: Self parking is $44.
What I paid: $218.30 (includes tax and fees)
510 Atlantic Ave., 617-747-1000. www.ihg.com/intercontinental/boston.