This year’s Gold List of our editors’ favorite hotels, resorts, and cruise ships in the world is created by teams in New York and London. It spans six continents and 48 countries. They’re gold as in exceptional. Gold as in classic. Gold as in brilliant. Gold as in you’d do it all tomorrow.
Edited by: Erin Florio, Rebecca Misner, Fiona Kerr, and Rick Jordan.
Contributors: Jesse Ashlock, Rodney Bolt, Lauren DeCarlo, Paulie Dibner, Mark Ellwood, Erin Florio, Lanie Goodman, Adam H. Graham, Annie Hanley, Rachel Howard, David Jefferys, Jenny Johnson, Rick Jordan, Tabitha Joyce, Fiona Kerr, Sarah Khan, Steve King, Jane Knight, Mike Maceacheran, Lee Marshall, Rebecca Misner, Jen Murphy, Aoife O’Riordain, Ed Peters, Alex Postman, Corina Quinn, Candice Rainey, Susannah Rigg, Cynthia Rosenfeld, Lindsey Tramuta, Maggie Shipstead, Charlotte Sinclair, Toby Skinner, Melinda Stevens, Nicky Swallow, Janice Wald Henderson, Stephen Whitlock, Stephanie Wu.
All listings featured in this story are independently selected by our editors. However, when you book something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
The good news is that summer 2021 is on track to feel very different from summer 2020. If the vaccine roll out continues to be successful, Americans should be safe to travel and gather with certain precautions. With this in mind, hotels across the country are gearing up for what is expected to be a phenomenally busy season.
Like much of the travel industry, hotels had to recalibrate, swiftly and suddenly, as the pandemic set it. “Last summer was difficult,” says Amar Lalvani, CEO of The Standard International. “No one knew exactly how to operate.” But with a year of best pandemic practices under their belt, hotels are swinging open their doors with more confidence this summer, to a market hungry to get back out there. You shouldn’t expect your annual stay at, say, Ocean House in Rhode Island to feel exactly as it had in the years before, but you can assume it will feel more familiar than it would have last year. Just remember, this renewed sense of optimism doesn’t mean you can leave the mask at home. Here, what you need to know.
Word is that hotels are filling up fast. “We are starting to see a surge already,” says Tina Edmondson, global brand and marketing officer of Marriott International and Condé Nast Traveler Advisory Board member. Edmondson attributes the demand to longer booking windows. “Early in the pandemic was all about searching on Monday for a stay on Friday, that is all people could plan for.”
But as the vaccine rolls out, that window gets longer and longer. As early as March, Marriott’s 30 brands, which include St. Regis and JW Marriott, have been seeing bookings into September. At cozy Surfrider in Malibu, owner Emma Goodwin says that their daily bookings report in February was six times the average and that, as of March, the hotel was already 90 percent filled for May with bookings through October.
It’s also worth noting that many hotels are continuing to operate at a lower capacity for safety reasons, which makes competition even stiffer and forces rates to climb more quickly as bookings pick up. If you can’t get the days you want, Mike Minchin, chief marketing officer at Auberge International says don’t give up. “People do cancel. Call the hotel or keep checking the website.” The best advice? Be flexible with dates. “This is the summer to stay Sunday through Thursday,” says Minchin. In other words, use your vacation days.
‘Flexible’ has new meaning
If there was one silver lining for travelers last year, it was that nearly every booking was fully flexible and refundable. Though we can expect most properties to honor credits through the end of this year, conditions will start to change. At Auberge, whose retreats include Utah’s Lodge at Blue Sky and Austin’s new Commodore Perry Estate, booking is still flexible but Minchin says this will shift as demand continues to increase. Edmondson echoes this. “There will be periods of time across the Marriott portfolio where we will have to be more strict for pragmatic purposes, but the goal is to provide flexibility.” Ask in advance what the conditions are before you book to avoid any surprises.
Last year the American Hotel and Lodging Association rolled out its five-point Stay Safe guidelines, which outlined mask wearing and other protocols to keep staff and guests safe. At press time those protocols remain in place, though it is up to the individual hotels to implement.
“People are so ready to travel, so it is important to know if the hotel is properly staffing and preparing,” says Traveler specialist Cara Chapman, whose expertise includes luxury resorts throughout the United States. Before booking always check the hotel’s website to see what COVID-19 protocols it’s following, and if you have specific questions, call the front desk and speak with someone directly. If you really want to take the hassle out of researching the property, consider using a travel specialist.
Spot the differences
After a year of operating under COVID conditions, hotels are better at finding ways to package safety measures with appeal. “We have smart, thoughtful use of space that feels fun,” says Lalvani. At The Standard’s West Village location in New York City, the hotel’s famous Le Bain pool has been transformed into a restaurant space with music; at the East Village spot across town, the penthouse with its large terrace, previously used as an event space, is now a new guest social area with peloton bikes. “Nightlife is not as robust right now, so we reconfigured,” says Lalvani.
At Atlanta’s Hotel Colee, ‘privacy’ means being being able to book exclusive use of the pool deck for two hours. There are six new open air places to eat and drink at the Moxy in South Beach this season, while at perennial favorite the Ocean House in Rhode Island, their Afternoon Tea service will now happen inside individual, custom-built greenhouses on the lawn. Demand and capacity means that booking any services in advance of your stay is recommended, and properties like Solaz in Cabo offer new pre-trip video conference calls so that guests can talk through and secure everything they want to do.
Something else you’re likely to notice: COVID has fast-tracked the emerging touch-free technology that was already budding in the hotel industry pre-pandemic. Marriott will be unveiling a pilot program for contactless arrival and slowly introducing a contactless grab-and-go marketplace for snacks across select properties. The Standard goes several beats beyond this to introduce STAN, a virtual concierge that can be used for everything from asking for more towels to making reservations. “It’s not just for convenience,” says Lalvani. “It is also because hotels are more thinly staffed.”
Be good out there
On that note, it is important to remember that hotel staff have been working their own version of the frontlines since the pandemic started, interacting with guests throughout the day and ensuring safety practices are being followed. Even if the state or country you are visiting has dropped mandatory mask wearing, please follow the house rules of the hotel you are staying at. Also, lower capacity means lower tips for staffers like housekeeping and servers. If you can, please be generous with gratuities and remember to be patient. Many hotels have been forced to cut staff as a means of staying afloat during the pandemic. Those on the floor may be bearing a heavier load as they work hard to make sure your stay is comfortable and especially safe. “I don’t think there is a family in America who has not had a member work in hospitality,” says Ocean House general manager Antonia Korosec. Being kind and considerate to each other goes even farther right now.
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