Liz and her husband, frequent travelers, have stayed in many hotels. They visited Yorkshire when hotels reopened post-lockdown in the UK.
Why Travel Now?
Like many people in Spring 2020 I got used to lockdown and felt safer staying at home than venturing out. Travel of any kind, especially involving a hotel stay, seemed like a risk too far. But we had a hotel stay booked pre-COVID-19. With hotels due to reopen in the UK in early July 2020, we had to decide—either use it or lose it. You can probably guess which option we chose.
As the old English saying goes: 'In for a penny, in for a pound'. After a few clicks on the laptop, a two-night stay in Ilkley had grown into a 13-night tour of Yorkshire, staying in seven hotels and catching up, socially distanced of course, with friends and family along the way.
Our tour started and ended at the Hilton Garden Inn Doncaster (four nights altogether). As we had stayed here previously, we came away with a clear 'before' and 'after' view of the changes this hotel had made as a result of COVID-19.
Post COVID-19 Lockdown Travel
Join us, as we explore the impact of COVID-19 on a stay at Hilton Garden Inn Doncaster.
- First Impressions.
- Getting Around the Hotel.
- Our Rooms.
- The Gym.
- On the Bright Side.
- Small Perks.
- Post-COVID Travel Tips.
- Final Thoughts.
1. First Impressions
As we approached Hilton Garden Inn Doncaster, there was little, from a distance, that differed from our previous visits. The roads were quieter than usual, but it was a Sunday afternoon. There were very few cars in the hotel car park. If we needed any reminder that the world had changed, all we had to do was glance at the hotel entrance.
The Entrance Got a COVID-19 Makeover
As you can see in the before-and-after photos below, big signs over the entrance doors—'IN' and 'OUT'—clearly indicated a one-way system. Chalk markings on the ground encouraged social distancing. There was a hand sanitizer by the door and there was an abundance of COVID-19-related signage inside the entrance.
On our first visit, in October 2018, we walked into a modern, high-ceilinged atrium, quickly spotting the reception area, which was set to one side. Across from it, there was a coffee bar area and a row of comfortable sofas. We could glimpse the racecourse through the windows at the back of the hotel, past the bar area and restaurant entrance. There was a business area to the side of the reception desk with computer access.
The atmosphere was relaxed. We were greeted warmly and check-in was quick and efficient. There was some small talk, vouchers were given for breakfast in the restaurant and a later checkout was discussed. This was what check-ins used to be like.
We dutifully used the hand sanitizer before entering. Once through the door, we were greeted at a distance by security with a clipboard. Our name was checked off and we were directed along a roped-off path towards reception. The sofas opposite reception had gone. The receptionists were shielded behind screens and access was barred to the business area and computers nearby.
There were markings on the floor in front of the reception desk, to encourage social distancing. Our details were confirmed as usual. The receptionist carefully wiped two branded pens, before pushing them towards us with two new COVID forms for us to complete and unusually asking us both to sign the check-in form.
We each had to answer questions about COVID-19. Had we had any symptoms, tested positive, or been with anyone who had developed symptoms or tested positive in the past 14 days? I wondered what the response would be if we answered 'Yes' to any of the questions, but I was not going to find out. The system depended a lot on guests being honest with their answers.
Read More from WanderWisdom
Forms duly completed on a high table nearby and handed back, a little normality ensued. Keycards were handed over in a wallet and we were given two bottles of water, before being directed towards the lifts, where more changes awaited us.
3. Getting Around the Hotel
There were hand sanitizers outside the lifts on every floor, as well as clear signage about the new lift etiquette. No more squeezing into packed lifts at busy times of the day. Usage was restricted to one household only. No shortage of room for luggage now. I wondered if we might experience increased waiting times for lifts, as a result of the restrictions. But a combination of low guest numbers and use of rooms only on lower floors meant that we never had a problem. There was the option of taking the stairs too.
We first visited this hotel within weeks of its opening in 2018. Corridors were painted in a light color and brightly lit with a modern feel to them. There was minimal signage and no notices stuck on the walls.
The bright, airy feel of the corridors had changed with the proliferation of COVID signage that had appeared on the walls. There was even a reminder to wash your hands on the door into the corridor from the lift area. There was certainly no excuse here for forgetting COVID social distancing and handwashing/sanitizing protocols.
4. Our Rooms
Previous visits to Hilton Garden Inn Doncaster had seen us assigned king rooms with racecourse views on the 7th and 5th floors. The rooms were modern, spacious, and well-equipped. Large full-length windows made the most of the racecourse view. Each room had an armchair so that guests could take in the view while sitting in comfort. A long desk area, complete with a swivel office chair, also housed a small fridge and a safe below it. The light wood fitted furniture, combined with the cream and mushroom painted walls to give the rooms a modern and contemporary feel.
Each room had a fully tiled, generous-sized shower room, equipped with modern white fixtures and a large walk-in shower.
We were assigned a Queen family room with a racecourse view at the end of the 2nd floor. The window was smaller and higher, as there was a parapet and flat roof area outside. We were surprised to see a cameraman along from our window (more about that later). It turned out that, due to low occupancy and it being the second night the hotel had reopened, only this floor was in use.
Spot the Difference
The armchair was replaced by a sofa bed to accommodate a family and the bed was smaller than those on the 7th and 5th floors previously. A bedside table was missing. A manager later explained that this was Hilton's policy post-COVID-19. One less surface to worry about I guess. Its absence was inconvenient over the 3 nights we were there.
Tea and coffee facilities were well stocked, as housekeeping would not be routinely entering rooms during guest occupancy. New cleaning protocols meant that after guests checked out, rooms were left for 3 days before housekeeping cleaned them and prepared them for the next guests. On more than one occasion we used our own bin liner to collect rubbish and then left it in an open cleaner's room.
Mugs had been replaced by disposable cups, which became unpleasant after a few drinks. Disposable beakers replaced glasses and instead of spoons, there were disposable stirrers. More cups and drinks, along with clean towels, and toiletries were obtainable from reception. Out of the 7 hotels that we stayed in, only 2 (Hampton by Hilton and Ramada) had proper cups.
All collateral had been removed. There was no hardback book about Doncaster on the table, no menus, or printed hotel information. Even the customary notepad and pen had disappeared, although the receptionist seemed happy for us to keep the pens that we had contaminated while signing in downstairs.
9 Days Later
Our second post-COVID-19 stay, saw us go up a floor. Room 310 was a King racecourse view. We had the armchair, full-length window, bedside table, and larger bed, as with our earlier stays, all be it on a lower floor. But the disposable cups were still a feature.
Thoughts on Our Post-COVID Rooms
Despite the minor changes in the rooms outlined above, it was possible to shut ourselves away in our room at Hilton Garden Inn and feel relatively safe and secure. Surprisingly so, given all the disruption caused by COVID-19 in the previous few months. The rooms were of the same good quality as before. We could almost kid ourselves that life was getting back to normal, apart from the helpful reminder on the back of the shower room door. Just in case we had forgotten how to wash our hands.
One of the high points of a hotel stay for us is the hotel breakfast. Forget the rushed bowl of cereal and a quick cup of tea at home. Nothing quite beats a hotel breakfast buffet, where you can linger and eat as much as you want, so much so that often we don't require any lunch. Of all the hotels we have stayed in, Hilton Garden Inn Doncaster came (note the use of the past tense) high up the list for its good breakfast offering.
We were greeted warmly, offered a choice of seats, and given a guided tour of the breakfast buffet. There was a choice of complimentary newspapers and one was brought to our table. We chose a seat by the full-length window for a view of the racecourse.