What did they do when the lights went out?

Marvin Bond

We pulled into The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., about 4:30pm in late March. Though we were greeted with the hospitality the historic resort is famous for, it was easy to see that the Great Hall, as the lobby is known, was illuminated by minimal lighting. We’d arrived in the midst of a power outage.

All of us have experienced outages at home, but, for some reason, it’s not something you expect on a trip. When the desk clerk explained the outage, the first thing I noticed was that people were not lined up asking for more information or requesting refunds. Because the elevators couldn’t function, new arrivals like us were assigned rooms in the first floor wings and reassigned to other rooms later.

As the dinner hour approached, we headed to the Jefferson Bar and Restaurant, the less formal of the restaurants in the main hotel, where we ordered wine cheerfully served by a staff that explained this restaurant would only be serving cold items, but that the main dining room (where we had reservations) had a fully functioning kitchen. Diners were given the choice of eating in the main dining room, where the normal dress code was abandoned for the evening.

Tables in the large main dining room were lit only by candles, provided by a staff member who announced he was the romancer-in-chief. The romantic effect was enhanced when waiters arrived with complimentary champagne. When the lights suddenly flickered to life at 8:30pm, the commonly expressed sentiment was that it was almost a shame to change the mood. However, the return of heat after darkness fell was welcome.

We’ve never experienced a power outage while on a trip before, but it would be hard to imagine a better response. It’s easy to judge a hotel or resort on room cleanliness or service, but seeing the response during an unusual event may be a better measure.

I asked The Homestead’s managing director, Brett Schoenfield, about the response. He said, “This is America’s version of a castle, a 200-year-old facility that doesn’t have some of the bells and whistles of modern construction. When we lose power, we focus on providing the safest and most comfortable situation for our guests and staff.” Schoenfield heads into the recesses of the facility with the electricians and transmits updated information by email and voice mail to guests and staff.

What did they do when the lights went out? In my book, The Homestead earned an “A.”

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