But to get the inside scoop, I asked Keith Stephens, whose company runs the Mimslyn Inn in Luray, Va. The 82-year-old inn was closed for a year in 2007 while it underwent a $3.5 million renovation.
More than a facelift, the remodel created some larger suites by decreasing the number of guest rooms from 50 to 45. Nearly everything mechanical and cosmetic was upgraded, the hotel was made compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and now “when you turn the hot water on, as you would expect, there is hot water coming out of your faucet. You don’t have to wait for it to travel up from the boiler,” he said.
Before booking a historic inn, Stephens recommends doing a little research.
Check online reviews. But if you’re looking at TripAdvisor, remember that the star ratings are based on the lodging’s popularity, not the level of luxury. A historic inn with a four- or five-star rating means those who stayed there loved it, but in the case of historic properties, those travelers may be a self-selected group who pick places with a lot of character and are willing to overlook the lack of modern amenities.
If the property claims to be renovated, ask what was done.
Make sure you are clear on the terms used on the websites and in brochures. For instance, a “European-style hotel” often means one with a shared bath down the hall.
Do the rooms have individual climate controls?
Do the guest room doors have an electronic lock or a key? Keys can be duplicated for illegal re-entry, but electronic locks — while not fool-proof — are re-coded between guests.
Does the building have a sprinkler system or other fire protection?
Even within an inn, guest rooms differ, so ask for specifics about the room and bathroom you’ve reserved.
If you’ll need a cot for an extra guest, confirm it will fit in the room.
What is the view like? Does the air conditioning unit obstruct it?
How close is the guest room to the lobby and restaurants where noise might be an issue? On the other hand, getting a room on a top floor, away from common space, means climbing stairs if there’s no elevator.
If cable TV, Wi-Fi, coffee makers, hair dryers or cellphone service are important to you, confirm their availability.
Don’t assume the hotel has 24-hour dining options.
“Historic hotels that have maintained their historic character often don’t have the benefit and the ability to add everything that you can add in a modern hotel,” Stephens said.
Still, historic inns are often pricey, so many guests come with certain expectations, said Cassell.
“You can put all the information you want out there but people will hear what they want to hear,” she said.
Don’t I know it.