Empire State Road Trip During the Pandemic

Empire State Road Trip During the Pandemic 1
The outdoor pool at the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel, the only one of the three with both outdoor and indoor pools. Mary Gilman photos.

Three Hotels for a Safe and Sound Empire State Road Trip During the Pandemic

By Max Hartshorne
GoNOMAD Editor

Empire State Road Trip During the Pandemic 2
Chautauqua Harbor Hotel on the lake in Celeron NY.

We found a place we could go while almost the entire country is locked down and suffering quarantine blues.

Our trip to three New York State hotels, all part of the Harbor Hotels chain, worked out very nicely.

Empire State Road Trip During the Pandemic 3Nobody was afraid, no one went maskless in the wrong place, the staff at each hotel was helpful, friendly and made our stay enjoyable–and we were never afraid!

There was once a "Phoenix Wheel" on the site of the circular bar area of the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel.
There was once a “Phoenix Wheel” on the site of the circular bar area of the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel.

We took an Empire State Road trip, beginning with the longest car ride of the trip, 7.5 hours, from GoNOMAD’s headquarters in South Deerfield MA to Chautauqua Lake in Celeron, NY.

Welcome to Our Hotel

Empire State Road Trip During the Pandemic 4
Outdoor dining is available at the Chautauqua Harbor and all of the other Harbor hotels in NY.

Here, we met the masked-up staff, who were all friendly as they helped us check-in, but they weren’t bringing our bags to our room.  General Manager Henry Sirois even came out to greet us, which is always classy.  He gave us a luggage cart and after that, we were on our own.

Third Floor Water View 

Our third-floor water view room has a topnotch view of the lake and a balcony where we would enjoy morning coffee each day.  We learned during this trip in the pandemic era that hotel room cleaning is no longer really a thing anymore.

We could get fresh towels, but during our stays in all three hotels, no one cleaned our room, nor took any trash. It’s now up to the guests to leave the trash, or request towels and other things they need.

The hotel’s policy is stated on a handout we got, it clarifies that if a guest is staying multiple nights, on the third night they would come to clean the room and change the sheets.

Chautauqua Harbor Hotel

Like so many of the properties in David Hart’s family-run hotel empire, this hotel is located right on the water. The Finger Lakes are a wonderful part of New York state, each extending for dozens of miles from north to south. Chautauqua is about 75 miles south of Buffalo

Chautauqua Harbor Hotel

There are 135 guestrooms with over 12,000 sq. ft. of meeting space

Suburban setting located in a quaint lakefront community on the shores of historic Chautauqua Lake in Celoron, New York

The hotel opened in September of 2018.

Regional airport – Jamestown Airport – 7 miles/15 minutes

International airport – Buffalo Niagara International –  75 miles/ 1.5 hours

www.thechautauquaharborhotel.com

These are not the highest end of the price spectrum, but not a cheap Motel 6 either.  The weekend rate at the property was $641 for two nights.

Early Close, even on Weekends

When we arrived on July 9, the restaurant had been open for six weeks.  One of the results of the COVID was that the hours were cut, they close at 9 pm even on weekends.  The kitchen stops serving at 8:30 pm, be forewarned.

The outdoor deck that surrounds the circular structure (which was once an amusement park’s Ferris Wheel), is quite pleasant, and having to cut it short at 9 pm is a shame.

Dining Al Fresco

The meals we enjoyed at the hotel’s Lakehouse Tap and Grill were all on the spacious and shaded patio, which was exactly what we were hoping for.

We would find out later that each of these hotels offers basically the same menu for all locations during this time.  This is something that is being reviewed by management and may change over time. But for us, it meant that over six nights, we’d get to know every single item intimately since we would enjoy them more than once!

Panama Rocks

There are many interesting and one-of-a-kind attractions in this part of New York State. We ventured out into the small village of Panama NY, where the Panama Rocks Scenic Park offers a truly remarkable one-mile hike.

Panama Rocks Scenic Park is a one-of-a-kind hike in deep woods around boulders and rock crags. Mary Gilman photos.
Panama Rocks Scenic Park is a one-of-a-kind hike in deep woods around boulders and rock crags. Mary Gilman photos.

It’s a twisty, down, and around hike through giant natural rock formations with crevices, overpasses, and tunnels through rocks. website

Another great hike in this region is the Long Point State Park on Route 43 in Bemus Point, about 20 minutes from the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel, on the other side of the 27-mile-long Chautauqua Lake.

Lucy adorns many buildings in her hometown of Jamestown NY.
Lucy adorns many buildings in her hometown of Jamestown NY.

We were looking for a place to eat lunch and walked into the small Panama Diner.  A perfect choice–not so much.  When we saw both the cook and another patron not wearing masks, we decided not to have lunch there. Sorry not sorry, these days, it’s not really a discussion, as the pandemic rages all over the U.S.

Lucille Ball’s Hometown: Jamestown

Did you know that I Love Lucy has a connection here in western New York?  Indeed, the most famous person to ever come out of the sad city of Jamestown is Lucille Ball, and the city celebrates her with a Lucy and Desi Museum, right next door to a replica of the original Desilu Studios.

Rich Ryan explains how the National Comedy Center came to be, near the large display featuring George Carlin's work.
Rich Ryan explains how the National Comedy Center came to be, near the large display featuring George Carlin’s work.

The other very much worth visiting attraction in Jamestown is the National Comedy Center, which was built in 2018 and paid for by hundreds of comedians, TV stars, and the state.

A Fantastic Museum

The center has been a big boost to both the Harbor Hotel chain and the city, and they market the comedy center with visits to the Lucy and Desi Museum. We spent more than two hours inside the center on a steamy July morning, and it was a treat from beginning to end.

The visit begins with a short multiple-choice survey on the kinds of comedy that makes each visitor laugh the most. Then with this programmed wristlet, you can tailor the stand-up and other comedy to hear what you think is the funniest.

It doesn’t always work, but it’s a neat way to enjoy the many aspects of humor–from the daily newspaper comics to comedy movies, stand-up, and television.

Watkins Glen State Park offers spectacular water views on a short hike up and around these natural rock formations.
Watkins Glen State Park offers spectacular water views on a short hike up and around these natural rock formations.

Watkin’s Glen Harbor Hotel: The World’s Best Water Hike

The town of Watkins Glen is famous for its auto racing track, and the town is claimed to be where the sport of American road racing was revived after WWII, in 1948.

The Seneca Legacy was once a ferry on Cape Cod, now it plies the waters of Seneca Lake, at 35 miles long, the longest of the Finger Lakes.
The Seneca Legacy was once a ferry on Cape Cod, now it plies the waters of Seneca Lake, at 35 miles long, the longest of the Finger Lakes.

For many decades the auto racers used local roads and streets just like in Monte Carlo, but after a series of accidents, the big four-mile track was built for the races instead.

But besides the racing track, the actual Watkins Glen is a spectacular state park and a hike like no other. You traverse a long bridge and then you wind your way around a series of waterfalls that are absolutely amazing!

The Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel is nearly identical to the other two properties, a wide expanse of rooms overlooking another scenic lake, but this hotel has no outdoor pool. Still, we had fun swimming and meeting some of the other guests in their indoor pool.

Pandemic Seating Arrangements

Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel

104 guestrooms with over 6000 sq. ft. of meeting space

Suburban setting located in the heart of Finger Lakes Wine Country on Seneca Lake in Watkins Glen, New York

The hotel was built in 2008.

Regional airport – Elmira Corning Airport –  17 miles/ 25 minutes

International airport – Greater Rochester International Airport –  87 miles/1.5 hours

idwwww.watkinsglenharborhotel.com

This hotel offered us a lesson in navigating the post-COVID environment.  We had a banquet scheduled that brought all of the journalists together in an indoor events hall.

When we entered the room, there were three tables with eight seats at each. A typical arrangement found at any wedding or business meeting. But no, this wasn’t going to work for COVID times, and many of the writers pushed back.

No problem.  The hotel staff rolled out two additional tables, allowing us to sit four to a table, and we were all a little more comfortable.  Adjustments made, no harm no foul!

Watkins Glen offers many fun tourist attractions, many of which were still open during our visit.  Wineries are famous here, with more than 70 wineries up and down the coasts of Seneca Lake. Thirty of these formed the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, which along with the beer trail of the same name, offer up handcrafted ales and wines made right here.

Not only wine but spirits are a part of the mix here. Finger Lakes Distilling opened in 2009, and there are also many hard cider producers, joining the trend that’s using up apples and delighting visitors.

1000 Islands Harbor Hotel, Clayton NY

The last stop on our Empire State Road Trip was north, about three hours drive, from Watkins Glen to Clayton New York. This drive takes you past the vast agricultural areas that dot this large sparsely populated part of the big state, past silos and farmstands, through tiny towns and cornfields.

A wooden boat is the best and funnest way to explore the 1800 islands that make up the Thousand Islands, between NY and Canada on an Empire State Road Trip..
A wooden boat is the funnest way to explore the 1800 islands that make up the Thousand Islands, between NY and Canada.

Clayton is the smallest of the towns we’d visit, and it’s located on the mighty St. Lawrence Seaway, so you get a view of passing ships, a parade of classic old wooden boats, and the various jet skis, motorboats and sailing vessels who constantly pass by.

Boldt's Castle is a popular Thousand Islands attraction.
Boldt’s Castle is a popular Thousand Islands attraction.

One thing that’s funny–the hotel here is nearly identical to the sister property in Watkins Glen. So you walk down the same hallways, see the same carpet, and know exactly how to get to the indoor pool and the gym, it’s identical!

The attractions here all revolve around the water, and one of the places we enjoyed visiting was the Antique Boat Museum.  It’s a sprawling set of buildings, with docks that house their collection of 300 antique boats and outboard motors.

A Spin in a Runabout

The best part of the museum is taking a spin on the grand Miss Thousand Islands III, a 2005 Hacker-Craft with a rear seat and a giant car motor.

La Duchesse, a two-story houseboat docked at the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton NY. Once owned by millionaire George Boldt.
La Duchesse, a two-story houseboat docked at the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton NY. Once owned by millionaire George Boldt.

We toured the lake on a sparkling morning feeling the breeze and seeing the many houses built on just a spec of land, and the boathouse of the magnificent Boldt’s Castle.

The story of George Boldt has been told a thousand times in the Thousand Islands–he built a gigantic castle for his wife, and then she died before she ever got to live there.

Boldt was a famous wealthy New York City hotelier who ran the ornate Waldorf-Astoria Hotel but loved to come up to these islands by train in the summer. He collected many boats, including his 110-foot houseboat which is docked at the Antique Boat Museum.

A Safe Place to Stay

Thousand Islands Harbor Hotel, like their sister properties, has a conscientious staff and management and they made our visit feel safe while allowing us to enjoy the beauty of this part of northern New York.  If you’re sick of being cooped up during the pandemic, we can wholeheartedly say that an Empire Road Trip will cure what ails you. Not COVID, just that boredom!

Some of the more than 1800 islands in the St Lawrence Seaway are just specs of land with houses on them. Mary Gilman photos.
Some of the more than 1800 islands in the St Lawrence Seaway are just specs of land with houses on them. Mary Gilman photos.

1000 Islands Harbor Hotel

 105 guestrooms with over 6000 sq. ft. of meeting space

Suburban setting located on the St. Lawrence River in the scenic 1000 Islands region of Clayton, New York

The hotel was built in 2014.

International airport – Watertown International Airport –  21 miles/ 30 minutes

www.1000islandsharborhotel.com

This trip was sponsored by Harbor Hotels but the opinions are the author’s own.