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Monday, June 22, 2020

What to Expect From Our First Hotel Stay after COVID at the Costa d’Este in Vero Beach, along the Treasure Coast of Florida.

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted ALL OF US,  but few more than the travel and hospitality industry. As the world slowly opens up again in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, hotel stays are set to be different. Some favorites have to be changed or stopped - goodbye buffet breakfasts - and hello to new protocols introduced to ensure that travelers and staff feel safe and protected. Here are some of the ways in which  we expected our first stay in a hotel since shutdown of the world began, and what actually happened.  We will follow with a review of the hotel itself:  the Costa d'Este in Vero Beach, Florida. 

The sleepy seaside village of Vero Beach has a secret. This Florida beach town, known for its year-round cultural arts scene, is home to another hidden jewel, a place where summer romance sizzles to a Latin beat, surrounded by fantastic restaurants, museums and theaters.

This was an exciting trip for LTD! Not only were we able to visit a hidden gem near one of our favorite meaningful museums, the National Navy SEAL UDT museum, but it was our first trip out after the COVID-19 pandemic caused a worldwide shutdown of most travel.   

Generally it is accepted that hotel stays will change in several ways after the COVID-19 pandemic, and we expected the differences during this stay.  Here is what we expected and what happened during out stay.  

1. Cleanliness

We believe it will be key for accommodation providers to openly display this information to help set accurate expectations and bring travelers additional reassurance as they search, book and begin to experience the world once again. Larger chain hotels, such as Hilton, have published an extensive guide to their COVID-19 initiatives.  We expected a clear explanation of the enhanced cleaning procedures at check in but that was not provided.  When I asked later after our arrival what to expect for cleaning and housekeeping services, I was told that to limit entry into guest rooms, housekeeping would not be entering the rooms to make the bed, empty trash, replenish amenities, clean or change towels except every 4th day.  After two days I did receive the "Welcome Kit" that had more information about enhanced cleaning services and lack of daily room maintenance.  This kit also included a mask, hand sanitizer garbage bags and little else.  The hotel was very good at providing the items we needed replenished and taking our garbage that we placed outside the door, but we wish that we didn't have to ask to find these things out.  Here was the "Welcome Kit" we received, and if you look closely you will see items were missing.  We believe these kits could be very useful and we recommend all hotels provide them.  

Also we suggest that ALL hotels have an informational page on their website outlining enhanced cleaning and hygiene procedures - the Costa d'Este does not have this but it would be easy to implement.  Frequent locations for hand sanitizing stations should be present within the facility, and the Costa d'Este had some placed throughout the hotel, but we would like to see them at every elevator location on every floor which we wasn't the case.

2. Dining

You probably know that we love the American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts program.  One of our favorite things to do while traveling is to have a luxurious European buffet breakfast to get our day going when traveling.  It will be a long time until you experience this again!  The breakfast buffet will likely become a thing of the past.  Most restaurants are offering "grab and go" options or a limited menu to be served.  We didn't expect to find self-service ice machines either, but the Costa d'Este had them...

3. Technology

Some hotels such as are implementing enhanced technology to allow for touchless operation of items in the hotel room such as check in, communication with front desk, door lock, lights, television, internet etc.  For example through the Marriott app, you can checkin or contact the front desk for extra towels, or other needs without having to touch the room phone.  Or Viceroy hotels are using Amazon Alexa in some properties to control the technology in guest rooms, and contactless or low-touch solutions around check-in and payment for goods and services is one of the recommendations of the US Travel Association. There were no such offerings at the Costa d'Este.

4. Fitness

With gyms being some of the last locations to reopen after the pandemic (for good reasons!) we expect that hotel gyms will be likely either not opened or drastically changed with things like time-slots or spaced machines and enhanced cleaning services. 

At the pool guests should expect at least six feet of distance between lounge chairs. According to the most experts, swimming pools should be safe against microbiological hazards as long as they’re chlorinated properly and operated according to standards. It is recommended to follow government advice on social distancing in the pool, and that enhanced disinfection procedures should pay particular attention to door handles and surfaces.  Unfortunately, we didn't see any of these procedures at the gym, the pool and even saw servers at the pool with masks around their chin rather than covering their faces. 

5. Check-in

Where they are not executed on a self-service basis, changes to check-in procedures may include the installation of social distancing floor decals, front desk sneeze guards and hand sanitizing stations. Some hotels may require guests to take temperature checks before entering the hotel or while staying there.  The Costa d'Este had sneeze guards, but the desk staff often bent over to speak though the openings if a guest couldn't hear well, weren't wearing masks and handled our id's and credit cards directly.  

6. Minimalism

While we love the luxury touches in hotel rooms and have blogged about it many times like our visit to Milan, it looks like minimalism will be the way forward in reducing the number of items that need to be disinfected. This means possibly waving goodbye to complimentary pens, paper, magazines, maps and guest directories, and other items that we love but are not crucial to the room.  The Costa d'Este was supposed to include this in their "Welcome Kits", but didn't have them in the kits we received. 

7.  Masks

It has become controversial whether individuals should be wearing masks.  It is our opinion that all hotel staff and servers should be wearing masks.  We also would like to see more enforcement of patrons wearing masks as well.  Masks should be provided by the establishments (we received one mask per room for our stay at Costa d'Este which arrived on the day we left), and patrons should be wearing them in common areas in our opinion, where social distancing is not possible. For example, the lobby of the Costa d'Este is so small that one cannot social distance and we repeatedly had to walk through this area.  There were only one or two guests wearing masks during our stay and maybe more would have if they were provided by the hotel! 

Now let's get on with our review! 

1. Location

The Costa d’Este Beach Resort is conveniently located on a pretty, palm-lined boulevard in a lovely area of small town Vero Beach. The Vero Beach Museum of Art and Riverside Theatre are a 15-minute walk, and there are several restaurants within a few minutes' stroll, plus a Saturday farmers' market less than five minutes away on foot. There are five golf courses within 15 miles of the resort. Vero Beach Marina is just over a mile away, and the Vero Beach Country Club is three miles off. The Kennedy Space Center is within an hour-and-a-half drive, close enough for a phenomenal day trip. For military aficionados, the National Navy UDT museum is a twenty minute drive. Look for our in depth review of this museum, which is great to visit any time of year with adults and children, but for a real treat, look to attend the muster celebration every November for live demonstrations that will please everyone! The nearest airports are Melbourne, West Palm Beach and Orlando.

2. Check-in

We were greeted promptly and checked in without difficulty from a very accommodating employee behind a sneezegaurd, who was helpful to get us two rooms next to each other as we were traveling with an elderly family member. We checked in around 4 PM however one room was not ready due to the "enhanced cleaning" for COVID-19. Our bags were escorted to our available room by the bellman wearing a mask. The bellman doubles as the valet, so this was a little strange, making us wonder how long it would take to get our car from valet during our stay. The only other noticeable thing was that the bellman squeezed into the elevator with us, which in our opinion should not occur during the COVID-19 pandemic. The biggest frustration was that we were told to check back in an hour or two to get the key to our second room, which we did, only to find our another guest was put into our second room. There was no choice except to move us all to a lower floor or move one room to a lower floor. Since this was a downgrade, we decided to move only one room. However this was little disappointing and inconvenient. The front desk seemed a bit frazzled that Sunday on many fronts as we stood in line we could overhear the numerous customer concerns. Furthermore, as we moved luggage to the second room, a staff member greeted us with food and champagne, only to find out it wasn't ours....It would have been nice to receive an orientation to the changes with COVID-19, which was posted in general terms on a placard at the front desk.

3. Rooms

While we love the beach, ocean front rooms can be hard to maintain. The resort opened in 2008 and there are some nice characteristics of the rooms. Overall, the decor is teak and marble, but it is dated and could use some maintenance and updating. The biggest benefit of the marble floors is cleanliness and reduced mildew smell from the moisture of the ocean. Marble floors are not very cozy however, and some touches that could be added to make the room more soft could be small throw rugs by the bed and at the doors to the rooms to reduce sand and grit on the floor and potentially in the bed. Even during COVID-19 these could and should be washed between patrons. We asked for two bath mats to put by the bed which were left at our door.

The bed was very comfortable with good pillows to match the size of the bed. We found the room temperature to be exceptionally comfortable even with the sliding glass doors open.
The television was fine with a limited channels, average sized screen. We have come to expect streaming or casting services at most resorts which was not provided so you can cast your own programs from personal subscriptions like YouTube TV or Netflix for example. Only pay per view movies were available. With a $30 per day resort fee, streaming services should be included.
In room coffee is provided and complimentary coffee is also available in the lobby restaurant in the morning. An in-room safe and refrigerator are available and you had to request coffee be replenished daily due to modified housekeeping services.

The view from our room was directly ociean front and since we had an end room, we had a view up and down the beach. We overlooked the famous ocean grill restaurant as well, one of our recommended places to eat for nostalgia along the treasure coast. The rooms were quiet (but isn't everywhere in Vero Beach?) and LTD always advises requesting a high floor in any setting to avoid ground noise, however be aware that the floors are marble and most things make noise when moved across a floor. Ask for the 5th floor if possible and you will have no one over you to make noise!

4. Bathrooms

The bathrooms are one of the positives of the room. There adequate vanity space for travelers, and the walk-in marbled shower with a seat was a welcome surprise.  As you probably know, we HATE shower curtains!

Toiletries are by William Roam who creates high quality, American-made luxury hotel amenities in the spirit of modern American travel: refined but approachable.

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5. Fitness

Florida definitely has many options for fitness year round!  At the resort there is a decent fitness room with several aerobic machines, free weights, and other weight lifting machines.

Of course swimming in the pool or ocean could be your choice excercise.  The resort offers yoga on the beach at 7AM which looked amazing.  Certainly the area surrounding the hotel or on the beach is safe for walking or jogging. Bicycles are available for use as well.  There is a very long bike path between Vero Beach and beaches south of the resort along A1A.  When the water is calm, you can rent kayaks too!

The Spa was operating by appointment only and closed most of the time during our stay.

6. Dining

This Costa d'Este has two restaurants on-site, Wave Kitchen & Bar and the Cabana Bar. We enjoyed complimentary coffee from the Wave in the morning served by the hostess in a mask, but didn't have time to eat at either location.  Live music is played at the pool on weekends, but the in the restaurant it has not been started due to the pandemic and social distancing.  Menus are disposable as you probably know are required, but there was a decent amount of offerings.  The fare has a a Cuban flair due to the ownership by South Florida royalty, the Estefans.

Other restaurants that we recommend nearby:

  • Ocean Grill. Our room overlooked the legendary seafood and steakhouse on the beach. The landmark restaurant, Ocean Grill, is known for its consistent food and its precarious perch over the Atlantic Ocean.

  • Cobalt American Seafood Grill, the Cobalt Restaurant and Lounge is adjacent to the Vero Beach Hotel and Spa. Located on the 1st floor with a beach front patio and fire pit. Enjoy the sun and the sound of the waves on our patio with one of our signature cocktails or warm up by the fire on a cool evening. The Calamari appetizer is excellent. 
  • Little Jim's Bait & Tackle Fort Pierces's waterfront restaurant, with bait, ice beer for boaters. Live music with kayak, paddle board launch and marina at the Little Jim Park. Established in 1944 from an abandoned Navy guard shack…When the UDT (you know them as SEALS) moved out, someone moved in and started selling bait and beer! 
  • Cobb's Landing.  Waterfront, tropical-themed spot with a mojito bar & a seafood-heavy menu including tacos & pasta.
  • Mission BBQ It's a little bit of a drive to get here but we strongly support Mission BBQ in Port St. Lucie because of their support for the Military!  Their barbecue is fantastic and their company and staff even better!  
When you go to Vero Beach, we HIGHLY RECOMMEND visit to the National Navy SEAL UDT Museum in Fort Pierce.  It is a short drive down A1A from the hotel and it is the only museum dedicated to the SEAL community in the World.  

Bottom line:

We love Vero Beach because of the beautiful coast, peaceful vibe and nearby activities.  This was our first stay in a hotel following the COVID-19 pandemic and honestly, we anticipated more precautions than the Costa d'Este provided.  We felt exposed more than expected and we feel this was due to the lack of precautions of the guests, the large crowds due to full booking of the hotel and actions of some of the staff to bypass precautions like at check in or by servers.  The hotel itself is adequate but definitely not luxurious.  The rooms are dated and could use some renovations.  Costa d'Este's location is perfect however and you will find many great restaurants, shops, fitness opportunities and museums close by to keep you busy.  At times it feels like the hotel is competing with the nearby Kimpton Hotel, which may offer better rooms for a similar price.

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