Disclosure: I was compensated for this post by the Harbor Hotels in New York but all opinions are my own.
These days we’re all spending a lot more time closer to home, exploring our own backyards. And what a great surprise it’s been! I spent 6 lovely nights on a road trip in Upstate New York with Harbor Hotels this summer and couldn’t have been more pleased. To be honest, I’ve had the chance to road trip around New York state in the past and never took the opportunity. I always wanted to go as far away from my home in Manhattan as possible, so a week of driving around my own state seemed superfluous when I could just hop on a plane and head overseas. Enter the pandemic, and obviously our world changed as we all looked to our own backyards instead of far-off lands. So off we went on a trip around the state. And pandemic or not, my preconceptions about the road trip could not have been more wrong.
Our journey took us to both the known and lesser known spots of New York state, travelling from Manhattan to Lake Chautauqua in western New York, where we visited the brand new National Comedy Center and one of the country’s most stunning national forests; then on to the infamous Finger Lake Region, where we discovered stunning waterfalls, crisp white wines and even a beer & cheese trail; and finally to the Thousand Islands area, where we stepped back in time to a bygone era of elegance and glamor while visiting the antique boat museum and Boldt Castle, which rivals any standard European castle. I could not believe the diversity of activities and sights to see along the way, not to mention the stunning Harbor Hotel accommodations we visited. A stay at one of these properties is worth the trip alone, each one impeccably located on the harbor front of a body of water.
In terms of health and sanitation protocols, the Harbor Hotels have really perfected safe travel during the new normal. Each Harbor Hotel has implemented strict new guidelines to help ensure the health and safety of guests, from mandatory masks in all public areas, to contact tracing in restaurants, to reduced capacity in the hotel overall. They also had timed and limited entry to the pool and hot tubs as well as plenty of hand sanitizer throughout the hotels. Cleaning services varied based on the region, from being limited to only once every 4 days to upon your request (provided you were out of the room and arranged it in advance with the front desk). In all cases, staff were always happy to bring fresh towels or toiletries to you upon request. Rooms are also cleaned on a deeper level after each check out with enhanced sanitation procedures. We felt safe and secure during the trip and were grateful for the extra attention to cleaning and sanitation which took place throughout the hotels.
Ready to embark on your own upstate road trip with Harbor Hotels? Read on to hear my full itinerary!
Day 1 – New York City to Western New York
Getting out of New York City is always a pain, but once you’re on the road you’re good to go. Make your way all the way over to Western New York with the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel as your destination. Be sure to leave early as it’s a long drive and you’ll want to have time to stop along the way at the Rimrock Overlook. Located in the Allegheny National Forest of northern Pennsylvania, the Rimrock Overlook is part of the Rimrock Hiking Trail. This 1.3-mile trail offers a scenic 1 – 1 1/2-hour hike from Kinzua Beach to Rimrock Overlook. From the overlook hikers are treated to outstanding views of the Allegheny Reservoir and surrounding hillsides.
Visitors to the overlook can explore the area’s giant sandstone boulders, crevasses and rock outcrops. A set of stone steps, with handrail, allow visitors to climb “up” the boulders to the overlooks. For those short on time or mobility, you can also drive up to the Rimrock Overlook and hike down to it in about 5 to 10 minutes.
Situated in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, the Allegheny National Forest is composed of plateau tops with elevations up to 2,300 feet. One of my favorite parts of road trips is stopping at interesting sights along the way, and this was definitely one of them.
Afterwards, continue on to the stunning Chautauqua Harbor hotel in Jamestown in Western New York.
This brand-new hotel is built along gorgeous Chautauqua Lake, a long skinny body of water just south of Lake Erie. It’s got an indoor and outdoor pool AND a hot tub (my happy place), all of which are open with certain COVID precautions in place (such as limiting the number of people at the indoor pool facilities).
The @chautauquaharborhotel itself is only 2 years old and the rooms are beautifully decorated. But the best part, as you can see, was the huge balcony fronting Lake Chautauqua. We enjoyed both coffee and wine from this stunning viewpoint.
The hotel also has an indoor restaurant/bar as well as two outdoor restaurants perched on the waterfront with gorgeous views of the lake. At night, soft music plays and gas fire pits beckon guests to lounge in Adirondack chairs while taking in some lakeside serenity.
And if you manage to tear yourself away from the fire pits, you certainly won’t be able to leave your bed, which was by far the comfiest hotel bed I’ve had in ages. I loved all three of the Harbor Hotels we visited, but the location of this one was by far my favorite.
Day 2 – Exploring Western New York & Lake Chautauqua
One of the biggest surprises on our 6-night Empire State Road Trip was our visit to Western New York. Apart from Niagara Falls, this region receives far less tourists than the other parts of New York State, which is a real pity.
Not only does the region have the amazing new @ntlcomedycenter (more on that later) and the @lucydesimuseum, but it also has beautiful lakes such as Lake Chautauqua on which the @chautauquaharborhotel is situated and it fronts Lake Erie.
Architecture fans can visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Graycliff Estate @marketatgraycliff while those seeking something more natural can explore the Allegany State Park mentioned above. This 65,000-acre gem has scenic views, hiking trails and a crazy set of rock stairs which seem like something out of Lord of the Rings.
Among the plethora of choices, we decided to explore the National Comedy Center on our first morning in Jamestown. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect upon arriving here, apart from knowing that this was the first museum dedicated to the art of comedy.
Well, I couldn’t have been more impressed. The theory for the creation of the museum was this: every other art form has its own dedicated center of appreciation, why not comedy? And so, the National Comedy Center was born.
The entire museum is done in an interactive format, so you see comedy that’s appealing to you! Upon arrival, guests use computer screens to enter their favorite comedians, movies and tv shows. From here, your type of humor is calculated (e.g.: satire, slapstick, etc.). As you move forward through the museum there are a variety of interactive exhibits where you scan your badge which now has your comedy genre loaded into it. You are then shown skits, clips and more from the type of comedy you like best, seeing only what you find funny! It was an absolute hoot, and we were laughing so hard the entire time.
You also learn about the history of comedy and the important contribution of comedians to the First Amendment right to free speech. Remember those silly episodes of I Love Lucy where they couldn’t say that Lucy was pregnant (despite her being married in real life and the show)? Lucille Ball and numerous other comedians helped pave the way for the ‘say and do anything’ type of comedy we have today and made huge contributions toward expanding our right to free speech. As a lawyer, I found this absolutely fascinating and a largely unrecognized contribution by our comedic heroes.
The National Comedy Center also has tons of great props from comedy’s past – like Seinfeld’s puffy shirt and Lucille Ball costumes, and other hilarious gags, like a fart bench, a green screen where you can put yourself in a comedy music video, and a laugh contest where you have to try to make your opponent laugh with one liner jokes. There’s even a comedy club where guests can perform stand-up routines by their favorite comedians in a karaoke style environment.
We ended up staying way longer than expected and were completely blown away. From the laughs to the history to the pure appreciation for the art of comedy (which, by the way, has been largely unrecognized in the past), the National Comedy Center is a must see. I would go back any time!
Next up we headed back to basics with a walk in the woods at the @panamarockspark. Hike along a scenic half-mile long ridge where 60-foot-high rocks form crevices, passageways, and caves hidden in an ancient forest! The formations at Panama Rocks are surrounded by a one mile long, easy (Class 1) hiking trail, but most guests enjoy going off the main trail to explore. Whether you take a casual hike in the woods or climb through the countless passageways, caves, and crevices, your pathway is up to you! Guests can also search for Panama Pete’s lost treasure – a throwback to when the rocks were a real-life hangout for counterfeiters and robbers.
Day 3 – Chautauqua to Watkins Glen
Check out of the @chautauquaharborhotel and prepare for your trip to the @watkinsglenharborhotel.
Along the way, be sure to stop in the small town of Cuba, NY to visit the Cuba Cheese Shoppe. I’m a huge fan of cheese, so I was really excited to check out the iconic stop.
The cheese industry has been a part of Upstate New York for many generations. Numerous small cheese factories studded the countryside throughout the late 1800’s. Farmers took turns in hauling a week’s production of cheese to Cuba which was then shipped by canal or railroad to New York City and other markets. The price for cheese was established at a meeting at the Kinney Hotel on West Main Street in Cuba each week. While ice from nearby Cuba Lake provided the means of refrigeration until the late 1930’s.
The selection of cheese at the Cuba Cheese Shoppe was impressive. They had tons of both local and imported cheese and even homemade cheese curds (as used on the Canadian favorite- poutine)! It’s definitely worth a stop on your next #upstate New York road trip!
Architecture fans can visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Graycliff Estate @marketatgraycliff while those seeking something more natural can explore the Allegany State Park if you haven’t already. This 65,000-acre gem has scenic views, hiking trails and even rock stairs.
Check into the gorgeous Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel with views over Seneca Lake (one of America’s deepest lakes). Located in the heart of the Finger Lakes Region, the quaint town of Watkins Glen offers easy access to a Wine Trail, a Beer Trail, and even a Cheese Trail! Plus, the Watkins Glen State Park in just a short walk away where you’ll find beautiful hiking trails along a gorge canyon that you’d never believe was in New York State.
The hotel fronts Seneca Lake, with its lovely boats of all sizes and a gorgeous dock with an iconic red boat house that’s a must see for any photographer.
Additionally, the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel has a beautiful bar and restaurant, an indoor pool and hot tub as well as elegant banquet rooms. We took full advantage of the beautiful terrace overlooking Seneca Lake and couldn’t resist ending our day with a soak in the hot tub.
Once again, entry to the hot tub is timed and only upon reservation with the front desk to ensure guest numbers are limited.
Day 4 – Exploring Watkins Glen
Today is your day to explore the Finger Lakes region. Begin your day with a stroll in the Watkins Glen State Park, accessible via a short walk from the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel. The park has
recently undergone a $6.5 million renovation with educational displays and a new viewing area where visitors can enjoy a panoramic view of a dramatic waterfall. Take a quick loop past a lovely stream and cascading waterfalls or go deeper into the canyon where there are hanging bridges and lush forest.
Next, take a boat cruise on Seneca Lake with Captain Bill’s. Enjoy an hour-long tour on the luxurious Seneca Legacy. This hour cruise takes you around Lake Seneca, from the dock just outside the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, to the middle of the lake, and back again. You’ll pass green hills and waterfalls and get a true sense of the size of this grand lake. You’ll also learn some of the history of Seneca lake and the surrounding area while enjoying a magnificent view.
After, bring your palette, because it’s time to taste wine. Visit the lovely Lakewood Vineyard just down the road from the Watkins Glen Hotel. Here, you can not only taste high quality wine in a gorgeous setting, but also embark on a tour of the production facility located on site. I always find it interesting to learn a little more about the background behind each vineyard and their actual production process before diving into the tastings. Of course, the wine was delicious too! Afterall, Lakewood has award-winning locally produced wines made from estate-grown grapes. There is plenty of space for social distancing while you tour the grounds of this family-owned winery.
In fact, we visited several vineyards during our trip through the Finger Lakes Region of #NewYorkState and all were taking plenty of sanitation precautions- such as using disposable tasting glasses and refraining from pouring from the bottle to avoid splash backs. We felt completely safe and the whole experience was the perfect escape from NYC.
Be sure to have a sundowner at the beautiful bar in the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel. Whether you’re dining indoors or out, this elegant spot is the perfect way to finish the second leg of your upstate journey.
Day 5 – Watkins Glen to the Thousand Islands
Check out of the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel and head to your final destination – the Thousand Islands Harbor Hotel.
This luxury hotel is right on the banks of the St. Lawrence River – the dividing line between Canada and the US. The region is famous for its @antiqueboatmuseum, @boldtcastle (a German-style castle), and of course, the hundreds of islands dotted along the St. Lawrence.
The hotel had a big, beautiful lawn fronting the river with lots of gas firepits, and tables and chairs to drink, dine or simply watch the river flow by. And let’s not forget the indoor pool and hot tub which I took full advantage of! I was the only one in there every day, and that was fine with me!
Day 6 – Exploring the Thousand Islands
It’s a princess kind of day today, because you’ll be visiting @boldtcastle, the full size Rheinland castle in New York’s 1000 Island region. Built in 1900 by George C. Boldt, millionaire proprietor of the world-famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, @boldtcastle is located in Alexandria Bay, on picturesque Heart Island. The private island on which the castle rests is accessible only by boat from the Boldt Castle yacht house. The castle has beautiful gardens and tons of great photo spots, being built on the St. Lawrence River in the heart of 1000 Islands.
Much of the castle has been restore to include interior furnishings and decor similar to what was present when the Boldt family lived there a century ago. The castle also has beautiful gardens and tons of great photo spots. Since many of us cannot visit Europe right now, a tour of this German-style castle in #upstatenewyork is a great substitute!
Access to this stunning castle is by boat from the Boldt Castle Boat House or various other tour operators. Tickets for a self-guided tour are $10 for adults, or $13 to visit both Boldt Castle and the historic Boldt Castle Yacht House. Please allow at least 1.5 hours for touring the Castle.
After, check out the nearby @tiwinery for a cute photo with these beer-toasting lederhosen-wearing Lego-man and sample some wine in their lovely barn or the nearby tasting tent.
Your last stop of the day should be the Antique Boat Museum, another spot that was incredibly interesting. This museum is packed with over 300 unique and beautifully preserved boats and thousands of artifacts, including the James Bond Style Hacker Craft boats, historic kayaks, and even a full-sized houseboat once built in 1903 for hotelier George Boldt, and late owned by the McNally cartography family. Your ticket even includes a cruise on the St. Lawrence River in a sleek 30′ triple cockpit Hacker Craft for a unique 45-minute ride on the River, where you can live out your James Bond dreams in style. Whether you’re a boat lover or not, this is another interesting and unique stop not to miss on your next NY state trip.
Head back to the @1000islandsharborhotel your four-diamond hotel a short distance away on the stunning St. Lawrence River for dinner and a night cap.
Day 7 – Homeward bound
Check out of the 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel (I won’t fault you if you take another quick soak in the hot tub as I did), before departing home. Along the way, check out the nearby Clayton Distillery with its huge Made in America painting on the side of a barn. They make great quality liquor and offer free tastings.
If you need a dinner stop on the way back into NYC, I highly recommend The Tailor and the Cook in Utica. This farm to table restaurant offers high quality gourmet food in an historic setting.
Ready to start your upstate road trip with Harbor Hotels? I personally, can’t wait to do it all again soon!
Safe Travel in the New Normal
I’d be remiss if I didn’t address in greater detail the one question looming in everyone’s mind right now. 𝑾𝒉𝒂𝒕’𝒔 𝒊𝒕 𝒍𝒊𝒌𝒆 𝒕𝒐 𝒔𝒕𝒂𝒚 𝒂𝒕 𝒂 𝑯𝒂𝒓𝒃𝒐𝒓 𝑯𝒐𝒕𝒆𝒍 under the new normal?
As indicated above, I stayed at three different Harbor Hotels in July of this year and all have implemented important changes to help guests feel safe and comfortable. Here’s what to expect:
- Although it varies by region, rooms are typically not serviced during your stay. However, the hotel will gladly provide clean towels, new toiletries, etc. In some cases, rooms could be serviced upon your request but only when you were not in the room and after scheduling the servicing with the front desk.
- You must wear a mask in all public areas of the hotels except for in the swimming pool or while seated at a table in the bar or restaurant. Swimming pool capacity was limited by the front desk via a wait list/sign in sheet with the pool being locked unless opened by the front desk staff. You do not need to wear a mask in your room or on your balcony.
- All hotel staff wear masks at all times.
- Rooms definitely felt extra clean and staff put extra care & time into the cleaning process.
- There was a happy excited energy in the hotels and both guests & staff seemed happy to be back at it.
Overall, it was a real pleasure to get into a #HarborHotel again and I’d certainly recommend it!
A trip worth taking!
One of the silver linings of the past few months has been finally taking the time to explore our own backyard, and this trip Upstate was no exception. I wouldn’t have undertaken such a road trip a year ago (generally preferring to travel internationally not domestically), but I’m sure glad I did. #Upstate New York is truly special, and I can’t wait to go back.
Disclosure: This is a sponsored post written by me, @lighttravelsfaster on behalf of the Harbor Hotels in New York State.~Eileen Rhein from @lighttravelsfaster