When we sat down to plan our first family trip since the start of the pandemic, we knew we’d have to try something new. The size and composition of our group — four adults, two kids, and two dogs — would dictate our options. We were looking for drivability from D.C. (no one was ready to fly), a seaside walkway for strolling and teaching the toddlers to ride bikes, plus a dog-friendly town. Rehoboth, in Delaware, met the criteria, especially since pooches can romp in the sand and trot the boardwalk, and people can pedal the boards any time of day in the offseason.
Our menagerie was not likely to be welcome at the city’s inns or hotels. Although some accept dogs under 30 pounds, none allow pets as big as Lily, my 100-pound Newfoundland pup, and almost none take two. Lexa, my daughter’s 12-pound Westie, was part of our pack. That’s why we dove into the listings on a well-known vacation rental booking site with a healthy roster of family- and dog-friendly properties in Rehoboth.
We haven’t even gone on the trip yet, but we’ve already made a few newbie mistakes.
Our search turned up a four-bedroom, three-bath house that we dubbed Ocean Adventure in honor of our long-deferred vacation. It granted my daughter, son-in-law, their two kids, and my husband and me space to be together — and apart. The beachfront location would eliminate the daily drama of loading the car with two toddlers, two dogs, beach chairs, an umbrella and toy shovels, then circling for parking and galumphing to the shore laden with all our stuff. We craved simple.
Of course, we perused the property’s photos and glanced at the reviews. The five images revealed an older house with a sea view from the deck, a one-person kitchen, and ’70s furnishings that would make Edith and Archie Bunker feel at home.
No problem. We didn’t need fancy. But we did need clean, especially in a pandemic. Managed by a top-performing host cited for cleanliness, the property rated 4.9 out of 5 stars. Reassured, we booked the house.
It was the blankets that tipped us off.
A week or so after booking, we read the reviews more carefully. A former guest praised the host’s willingness to wash the blankets before her visit. What? Since the host had assured me that she followed covid-19 cleaning protocols, we assumed we would bed down under fresh covers. Not so: She fessed up to washing blankets only at the beginning of the season, a period that stretched from mid-April through mid-September. Eww. We, too, requested that the host wash the blankets before our arrival.
After that, we parsed the guests’ reviews and probed the host’s answers to our emails like wannabe Sherlock Holmeses. We needed to know if Ocean Adventure’s definition of clean matched ours.
You have probably guessed by now that it didn’t. When we asked about other bedding, the host said she had replaced a few pillows a year ago and she wasn’t sure when the bedspreads had last seen the inside of a washing machine. In response to my concerned queries, she volunteered to strip the beds, providing only the washed blankets. We took the hint. We’ll toss pillows into the car’s back seat, and we don’t need bedspreads at a beach rental.
Another guest mentioned “cloudy” sliding doors that impeded admiring the ocean across the street. You guessed it. Sliding doors are cleaned only at the beginning of the season. Remember, we booked a property rated 4.9 out of 5 stars from a top-performing host cited for cleanliness. She explained that a strong ocean breeze would spray the doors with salt. To us, that’s even more reason to wash the glass between renters, not to mention that the entrance to a deck with a sea view is likely to be a “high touch” area in need of scrupulous cleaning.
Our host did block guests from using the house the day before our arrival. That was nice, even if the gesture was probably made because no one had booked the place the Saturday (typically the changeover day) before our Sunday appearance.
Most mega-rental companies post cleaning protocols on their websites, but that doesn’t mean renters aren’t sometimes unpleasantly surprised. Or there may be domestic details that, like us, you simply take for granted. Keep in mind that what’s nonnegotiable for you may be someone else’s “So what?” The bottom line: If you want specifics about how your potential rental is cleaned, ask on the front end.
The same goes for how it’s stocked: Don’t assume that anything comes with your lodging. For example, Ocean Adventure’s write-up made no mention of linens and towels. Since all the condos, villas, houses, cabins and even glamping tents we’ve rented came with those, we assumed that our top-performing host supplied them as well. Nope. At $715 plus fees per night, we didn’t expect a bare-bones rental.
We learned the importance of carefully reading the list of amenities, and of asking the right questions. Towels and sheets were not listed as provided, so perhaps we should have known the cupboard was bare. Yet blankets, bedspreads and pillows were not listed either, and these did come with the rental. Since the description detailed dishes and utensils for 10 but no pots or pans, we envisioned hauling a box of basic cookware. Not necessary. The host replied that the kitchen came fully stocked. But not the bathroom: no soap, no shampoo, no toilet paper.
We are grateful to be heading to the beach with our family after a year that has been so difficult for so many. We’ll have a good time. The toddlers have new bikes to ride on the boardwalk. We’ll build sand castles, eat pizza, snack on Thrasher’s fries and breathe the salt air through our masks. Lily can rest her head on the packages of softgoods stowed on the back seat. We’ll tote a tub of cleaning supplies and spend the first hours scrubbing. What we forget to bring, we can buy.
Wiser, we will not give up on owner-driven rental sites. The homes fill a need, providing lodging that is otherwise unobtainable and often larger and more cost-effective for family groups than several hotel rooms or suites. The host quickly and honestly responded to our requests — and yes, we’re glad she agreed to wash the blankets. Without Ocean Adventure, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy a local seaside getaway with dogs, kids and plenty of living space.
Next time, to calm our fears and lighten what we must lug, we’ll book a property that comes with clean linens, towels, sheets, blankets and all the comforts of home — including toilet paper and soap.