Pandemic Travel Interlude: Avis Drama, Lower Hudson Valley, Tarrytown House Estate, and Sheraton Tarrytown

I said my next post would begin my trip report of my February/March 2020 trip to Japan, but I changed my mind. Instead, I’ll give you a quick report of some travel I did this summer.

Being in isolation for months, living alone and working from home, was rough. My grandmother passed away from COVID at the beginning of the pandemic and I couldn’t attend her funeral; I adopted a dog that attacked me and left me 29 wounds on my arms. Work has been very busy and stressful. So, when in July, it seemed safe to travel from my place in DC to my parents on Long Island, I gladly took the opportunity.  Since I was renting a car for the trip, I figured I’d tack on something outdoorsy on the way back.

The trip was overall very successful, with the only kinks at the very beginning and at the very end.

An Avis Debacle

Line at Avis

Waiting….

It started when I got to the Avis in downtown DC on Saturday morning at around 9:05am for my 9:00am reservation. There was literally a line of 20 people down the block, waiting in the hot DC July sun. After about 35 minutes waiting, I was finally beckoned inside, where there were two agents. I had my license and credit card ready, and handed them across the plexiglass counter, expecting a “So sorry for the wait,” but instead just “Avis or Budget?”  I said Avis, he took my stuff, and disappeared.

The agent then reappeared and said “What are you doing here?” “Um, I just gave you my credit card and license.” “Oh, right. Wait outside.” Um, ok. I went back outside, and then the other agent beckoned for me to come back in. So, I did.  “As I came inside, the guy (whose mask was on his chin) shouted “I SAID WAIT OUTSIDE.” I was not pleased, and an argument ensued. “I told you we don’t have a car for you and you’ll have to wait.” (He did not. I would have remembered if someone told me they didn’t have a car for me despite my reservation.)

So back outside I went, at around 10:00am, someone else on the line, which was still down the block, told me the guy wanted me to come back inside.  I did, and he handed me a printout showing a pick up time of 13 minutes earlier, and told me to wait outside for someone to bring me the car.  Ten minutes later, the car was finally brought out – a 2019 Volkswagen Passat not with 368 miles as indicated on the printout, but 36,850 miles. I asked the guy who brought it out to me if he could adjust that in the computer, as well as the checkout time as it was now a full half-hour off. He said I’d have to wait on the line again. I muttered I’d never rent from that location ever again. He responded, “I don’t blame you.”

At around 10:15, I finally was headed back to my place to load the car for the drive. It was no surprise that weeks later I received a notice of a speeding ticket in the mail from Avis, for a speed camera at around 10:30am that day.

Thankfully, the two rentals from other DC locations I’ve had since have been much more pleasant.

Tarrytown and the Lower Hudson Valley

My parents live in Northeastern Nassau County on Long Island. While there are some nice places to hike and relax on Long Island, they tend to be farther east, and the beach towns remained very expensive in summer 2020. So, I looked at options in the Hudson Valley, which would take me not too far out of the way for the drive back to DC. I was particularly interested in hotels that had grounds where I could have a real “vacation” experience, not just a Courtyard Marriott by a strip mall.

In the end, I ended up finding a great rate at the Tarrytown House Estate- in Westchester County, which was much closer than I’d have anticipated going (around $115 per night including taxes). But it worked out great and was convenient enough to lots of outdoors stuff plus downtown Tarrytown itself.  Unfortunately, the good rate was only available the first two nights, so I figured I’d stay elsewhere the third (Saturday) night before driving back down on Sunday. I had originally planned on staying at the Doubletree in Tarrytown, which is right by the Tarrytown House and has nice grounds, but last-minute switched to the Sheraton—a mistake I’ll get to.

About half of my activities over my time in the area were at the Tarrytown House Estate. But I’ll briefly mention what else I did.  From my parents, it was only a 75-minute drive to the Rockefeller State Park Preserve, where I picked a disappointing trail – the Eagle Hill, Spook Rock, and Big Tree Double Loop which was boring, without any real views, and lots of mosquitoes. There are a lot of other trails in the park, I just chose poorly. It was very easy, though- paved the whole way- and I did the 2.8 miles in just over an hour.

Hiking at Eagle Hill trail

On days 2 and 3, I had more successful outdoors experiences.  I started my Friday afternoon with a nice easy walk/hike along the Hudson on the Rockwood Hall Trail, a 3-ish mile loop that is also considered part of Rockefeller State Park, a bit north of Tarrytown. There were great views, and though it was crowded, the trails were quite wide so it was easy to social distance.

Rockwood Hall Trail

Rockwood Hall Trail

Rockwood Hall Trail

I had wanted to do some kayaking on the trip, as well, and Hudson River Recreation offers kayaking and other watersports in the area. It’s all on pretty placid water, so nothing like my kayaking experience on the Ping River in Chiang Mai last year.  I probably should have gone with their rentals at the Tarrytown Lakes (a reservoir), but instead with their location at Croton Point, an inlet off the widest part of the Hudson, about 25 minutes north of Tarrytown. You had to pay a parking fee for the county park, which has a small beach. Part of the beach is roped off for launching of water sports. I had booked online in advance and picking up the kayak took only a few minutes. You had to keep your mask on until you were in the water, which is fine by me, and I spent a leisurely hour paddling around the inlet. It was relaxing as I got farther away from the beach, where a lot of rambunctious families were just milling about on their kayaks, close to one another and playing bumper kayaks.  I successfully stayed out of the water.

Kayaking at Croton Point

Kayaking at Croton Point

Kayaking selfie

Kayaking at Croton Point

On Saturday, I did a guided tour of the grounds of the Lyndhurst Mansion grounds, Jay Gould’s former home and probably the most famous robber baron home in the area. At the time, you could either buy a day pass to the grounds, or buy a ticket for a guided “landscape” tour which included grounds access.  The tour itself was pretty uninteresting, but the grounds were indeed beautiful. I regretted not bringing a picnic blanket and lunch, but definitely worth walking around the historic grounds, which are right on the Hudson in Tarrytown.

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I wandered around Lyndhurst after the tour for a bit, before heading into downtown Tarrytown for lunch, which was actually my only restaurant meal outside my hotel of the trip. New York was still on no-indoor-dining at the time, and Main Street’s limited outdoor restaurant dining was pretty crowded, as a lot of folks were daytripping from Manhattan. I was able to get one of two tables outside of Pik Nik BBQ, where I had a massive, tasty smoked chicken lunch, which left me with leftovers—a rare occurrence. It was a little expensive for what it was – $22 for chicken and two sides – but I was happy to support local business. And the people watching in what remains a small town was enjoyable. Since this was New York, mask usage was ubiquitous and no one complained.

Main Street, Tarrytown

Tarrytown Main Street

Pik Nik Tarrytown lunch

Mmm….food

In the afternoon, I did another short hike- Turkey Mountain– a pretty, steeper 2-mile loop hike up a hill,  about 25 minutes north of Tarrytown. There were great views of the surrounding area at the top.  There was also no one on the trail at all, so very easy social distancing.

Turkey Mountain summit view

Turkey Mountain summit

Vista of Turkey Mountain

View from Turkey Mountain

I definitely could have done some longer hikes on the trip, but I am glad I left plenty of time to just do nothing.  But the area really is pretty and perfect for social distancing, and a great place for a local vacation within the New York metro area. Although much of the outdoors stuff I did was north of Tarrytown, the Tarrytown House was an excellent base, and the drives were all scenic.

Tarrytown House Estate

In picking a place to stay, I hoped to find a resort-ish property, with things other than a basic room. A lot of those properties in the Hudson Valley remained closed throughout the summer, and a lot of the ones that were open were very expensive. The Tarrytown House Estate provided a nice balance.

King Mansion, Tarrytown House Estate

King Mansion, Tarrytown House Estate

The property is a 26-acre estate in Tarrytown, blocks from Lyndhurst. There are several separate buildings. Most of the rooms are in a 1960s-era two-story block, lacking much character. There are also about 10 rooms in the King House Mansion, built in 1840.  The King House also has the hotel’s restaurant.  Around a central lawn (“sculpture garden”), there are a few other historic buildings, used for events.

Tarrytown House Estate Sculpture Garden

Tarrytown House Estate grounds, hotel rooms on right

Check-in is in a “new” building in between the King House and the main bank of rooms. There were spots on the floor for social distancing and plenty of sanitizer, and plexiglass between me and the agent. I wasn’t sure if there would be a resort fee, since the hotel’s own website showed one, though Orbitz did not. There wasn’t, though, and I was given a letter laying out a variety of amenities and activities. The agent said they were only doing breakfast on weekends, which was a grab and go, and said I could reserve one one-hour slot at the pool for the next day.

I didn’t take any pictures of my first-floor room in the newer building, but it was fine. My room faced the lawn, but shrubbery kept too much interference from people walking by. The room had been recently renovated, and had a king-size bed and a good desk for working. There was a refrigerator and a Keurig in the room, and there was plenty of lighting. My only complaint was that I heard lots of noise from both the rooms above and the hallway.

The check-in letter had mentioned that they had moved fitness equipment outside for use by one of the mansions used for an event space. So, I went and checked it out, and it was a little gross—a big hamper with a bunch of random equipment. There were wipes and bottles of water too, but not a model of hygiene.

Outdoor fitness equipment

The patio the equipment was on had a lot of tables and chairs, though, and it made for a nice place to sit out and read. On my second night, I ate dinner from a local supermarket out there and watched the sun set over the pool complex.

Sunset over the poolhouse

Tarrytown House Estate Sculpture Garden

On my first night, I had a reservation at Goosefeather, the restaurant in the King Mansion, which had just reopened that week. It’s an upscale/modern take on Cantonese, helmed by former Top Chef contestant Dale Talde. The restaurant had seating inside and out at the time, and I had a seat on an outside deck, which overlooked large garden seating.  As the waiter told me, it was the best seat in the house, as I got a beautiful view of the sunset. Alas, it was also right under a very loud speaker, making reading hard. I was probably the only solo diner at the place, and the vast majority of diners were not hotel guests. The menu wasn’t great for solo dining-more family style. My appetizer of wings and entrée of fried rice was so much food that I had leftovers for a very hefty lunch the next day. The food was really good, though.

Garden dining with sunset view

Dining at Goosefeather

chicken wings

Goosefeather wings

I had my pool reservation for noon the next day, and unfortunately it was the worst weather of the weekend that hour, so I didn’t even go into the small pool. They had an attendant checking off people and taking temperatures before you entered the pool area, and the seats were pretty spaced out. The people nearby were pretty loud though. Starting at 1pm, you could order food and drink at the pool bar, but I was gone by then. (They had told me that I could leave at the end of my slot and then if there was space in the 1pm slot, come back in.)

Pool, Tarrytown House Estate

Pool, Tarrytown House Estate

On weekends, a local gym was holding outdoor fitness classes in the sculpture garden, so I took advantage of that on my second morning.  It was a good HIIT style class, and was a mix of hotel guests, spread out, and gym members. The hotel provided mats, wipes, and water bottles. And since the class overlapped with the short breakfast window, staff dropped off breakfast bags on a table, which had a yogurt, fruit cup, corn muffins, jam, and butter.

Tarrytown House Estate outdoor gym class

Morning gym class on the lawn

In all, I definitely would stay here again, and recommend the hotel as an easy getaway from New York that really feels like much farther away.

Sheraton Tarrytown

Finally, I spent my last night at the Sheraton Tarrytown. As noted above, I was originally supposed to stay at the Doubletree Tarrytown, but it had its own mixed reviews. A few days before I left my parents’ Marriott dropped its prices at its three Tarrytown properties- the Courtyard, Sheraton, and Marriott. All three are inland from the water and in strip-mall/office park land, but it was only one night and I knew I’d hit the road in the morning. The Sheraton and Courtyard were the same price, and the Marriott a bit more. I couldn’t find much info on the properties, but I figured the Sheraton was a full-service property and would be nicer than the Courtyard. Big mistake. The Sheraton was…gross.

Sheraton Tarrytown

The Sheraton Tarrytown

The Sheraton is located in the parking lot of a shopping center, with a big supermarket. The hotel looks more like a Courtyard or a Holiday Inn than a Sheraton.  Check-in was a bit awkward. The entire lobby was pretty much closed, with the restaurant in the back roped off and dark, and plexiglass check-in counters extended beyond the normal desk. The agent kept her face mask hanging on her chin the whole time. She told me I’d been upgraded to a club room as a Gold member…but the club was closed. There was a Starbucks off the lobby, though.

On my way to my room, I saw that the “club” was just an area right off the elevators on the top floor, where there was a microwave and some dining tables. Throughout my stay, people were just sitting there, treating it like a lobby.

The Club, Sheraton Tarrytown

The Club, Sheraton Tarrytown

The room itself was adequate, though on the small side. The furnishings had been recently renovated, and the bed was comfy. The only issue with the room itself was the temperature control.  There was a sign on the unit by the air conditioner that said “Use wall thermostat.” So, I did. I couldn’t understand how I was completely freezing with the wall thermostat set at 75 degrees.  Finally, in the middle of the night, shivering, I just adjusted the temperature on the unit itself, which had been set at 65 degrees.

Club Room, Sheraton Tarrytown

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What made the stay gross, though, stemmed from I think the very low rates the hotel was offering. At one point, there was an empty Shop Rite shopping cart just hanging out in the hallway. At another time, a plainly intoxicated man was sitting against the wall right outside my door, with a barf bucket and no mask – at around 2pm in the afternoon.  (The manager said they were “taking care of it.”) And both times I went to use the microwave in the “club”, there was other food sitting in it—the first of which had already started to grow mold. It definitely did not feel like a Sheraton property. And on checkout, the same agent had her mask hanging off her chin, and the manager was walking around the property similarly.

Breakfast bowl

Inside the microwave, not a ringing endorsement of cleanliness

While I’d consider a local vacation in this area again, I certainly would not stay at the Sheraton.  Even putting aside the COVID changes, the property itself is not what you expect from a full-service hotel, like the Marriott in the same shopping center, essentially.

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