Traveling during the covid epidemic offers several differing perspectives and our family seems to have lived through all of them. Should we go? Should we stay home? Stay local? Visit another state? For the better part of last year, we planned our August vacation to Canada. It became apparent that would not be an option. The Canadian border closed in the spring and remains closed.
We couldn’t help but notice that the rest of the country was not exactly cooperating in “flattening the curve”. It didn’t take long to make the decision to remain in New York State. We live here and we felt safe with the covid policies that the state has put into place.
Now that Thanksgiving is upon us, and Christmas not far off, if you are traveling, I hope you will benefit from our experience.
If you’ve decided to stay home, these will hopefully help you the next time you venture out.
Vacationing on COVID-time is *different*.
First, have a plan, have a second plan, and be flexible in all things. We decided on a location we’d only visited for a couple hours last year – Niagara Falls, located in western New York. We would spend one week; it would be an adventure. Customarily, we would change hotels mid-week. We did not. This was a direct result of covid.
We did many things outside: Niagara Falls State Park and the Falls, Broderick Park at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo. Though I prefer indoor dining, we ate outside at restaurants, coffee shops, and ice cream shops. We also visited three monuments that we may not have seen if I wasn’t looking for outdoor things to do.
Masks. You need more than one mask. Ideally, you should have one cloth mask for each day or at least two: one to wear, one to wash (and hang to dry).
Hand Sanitizer. Though you’ll find more hand sanitizer than you can ever imagine everywhere, a travel bottle of hand sanitizer is a must.
Hotels. I was very happy with our hotel. The prices did not seem to be any higher than a regular end of summer week. However, several amenities were not available or drastically changed. The pool and fitness center were closed, but vending machines and ice machines were available. I think they suspended the airport shuttle. We were required to wear masks in the public areas, hallways, elevators, and walking through the lobby. There were hand sanitizer stands next to every elevator on all the floors to use prior to pressing the elevator buttons.
The included free breakfast was a menu to choose items from, and then bring to your room, microwave, and eat there. It usually included a muffin, a fruit, water, milk, or juice, breakfast sandwich, yogurt, and other related items. There was no housekeeping unless you requested it. We did not. We chose to ask for necessary items at the front desk. These included new towels, shampoo, cups, toilet paper. They were extraordinarily nice and very accommodating. Considering the circumstances, I thought they did an excellent job.
Attractions. Many places were closed. Those that were open had restrictions. Masks required, hand sanitizer stations, 25%-50% capacity, 6ft. distancing between groups. Some displays – where placing your face close was necessary in order to see the item – were temporarily out of order. At interactive displays, we were provided with a sanitized mini stylus to use instead of our fingers. We returned them for cleaning when we were finished with the tour.
Due to reduced capacity requirements, several locations issued timed tickets. This combined with lower capacities meant that every day about mid-afternoon tours were sold out for the day, so this required going early, getting your ticket for later in the day and then coming back. Some places preferred that you buy tickets online and show the attendant the ticket on your phone.
Many places used directional arrows on the floor directing so people weren’t intersecting with each other. Many places would not accept cash. The Niagara Falls (NF) State Park as well as the NF Visitor Center only accepted credit/debit cards.
Contact Tracing. Many hotels, attractions, and restaurants asked for our name and phone number for contact tracing.
Restaurants. We felt comfortable at each location we ate at. One place, the Hard Rock Cafe, took our temperature. Due to lower capacity, we were required to wait…outside. If we got up to use the restroom, masks needed to be worn. Some restaurants had no menus and a QR code on the table allowed for viewing the online menu on our phones.
Shopping. Only some places offered samples, like chocolate or ice cream. Fitting rooms were closed as were some public bathrooms. A few places did not take cash.
One of the good things that I noticed was that as crowded as it was, it wasn’t that crowded. There was room to stand and move around on the Maid of the Mist boat ride, which is typically wall-to-wall people.
Because the Underground Railroad Heritage Center limited two at a time in the small gift shop, I was able to have a somewhat lengthy and very educational conversation with the attendant while I waited my turn.
People were both wary and friendly at once. There may have been a glare when you got too close to someone but it turned into a smile and a laugh as we both said “oops, sorry.” It was a delicate dance.
I didn’t know how much we needed to be out of our house. Overall, even with the changes and the restrictions, we still had a great vacation, and it was nice being out and about and almost-kind-of “normal”. Niagara Falls is one of those places that never gets old; we’re thinking about returning next year, although a trip across the border would also be welcomed.