All that glistens is not gold... A review of York Harbor Inn

On a trip to Boston at Easter 2004 husband and myself decided to explore further afield to Maine. On the way we stumbled across the Kittery Outlet Centres and stopped for a browse. If you can put aside the strange layout of the outlet centres which are spread out on either side of the busy main road for about a mile and a half you should enjoy some excellent bargain hunting. Don't even attempt to cross the road from one side to the other, just drive across and in and out of each individual outlet, the road is far too busy for pedestrians!. The usual suspects are represented there, RL, Tommy Hilfiger, OskKosh, Etienne Aigner, Old Navy, Timberland, etc. The best bargains to be had were in the OshKosh shop (if you have kids although they do have some good bargains in the adult section), Timberland and the Coach shop if you have a penchant for expensive purses or wallets (like me!).

We decided to go to York Harbor after browsing a guide book at a Kittery book outlet which said it was a great place to visit and it sounded nice. Having no maps we stopped at the first two hotels we came across, the York Harbour Inn and the Stage Neck Inn. How did we choose between the two? The Stage Neck Inn is more modern with uninspiring architecture outside and the York Harbor Inn looks like something out of Peyton Place. There lies the clue to why we picked the York Harbor Inn. All I can add is don't judge a book by it's cover!

We did a walk in and were told it was our lucky day as there was a special discount on the current rates with 50% off. Even with the 50% off the rate was in the region of $170 plus taxes. We were offered a choice of different rooms and rates in the main motel and the house they own next door. The receptionist was very helpful and had no problem allowing me to view the rooms before deciding even though some had not yet been cleaned from the previous occupants (when doing a walk in, always ask to look at the accommodation on offer before deciding, if any hotel refuses to let you see the rooms before checking in, don't stay there).

After dismissing the house next door (too creepy), I looked at a couple of rooms in the main building and we plumped for an attic room which was one of the more expensive rooms and we were told had it's own "private" balcony. The room was probably the best of the bunch, the other rooms were a tad dissappointing and although the room I chose was quite small the others were even smaller. The room which was decorated in traditional victorian style was at the front of the hotel and very near the busy road (Route 1). However upon walking out onto the decked balcony we discovered it was not quite as private as we had been lead to believe. The room next door also had access to the "private" balcony and the occupant of that room who was having a siesta, got the shock of his life when I loomed up outside his window. Needless to say we did not venture out there again.

Fortunately it was out of season so the noise from the traffic was bearable but in the summer it must be horrendous. The bathroom probably needed some refurb but was reasonably clean and sufficient for a weekend break. The TV in the room was unwatchable due to the poor reception. As it was pretty cold at the time of our stay the room felt quite damp and the heating in the room made a lot of noise when in operation.

There were at least two flights of very narrow, steep stairs leading up to the room so if you were infirm or disabled it would be completely inaccessible. As the Inn is old there was a lot of noise from the creaking boards etc, and I think if you were on a lower floor underneath other guests it would be quite noisy and claustrophobic.

The breakfast dining room is very nice and looks out onto the street, it is very bright and cosy. Breakfast which was self service was a slight dissappointment, the hot drinks were dispensed from flask like jugs and were always lukewarm or cold. At the time of our visit there appeared to be a problem with staffing levels. The breakfast could have been better for the room rate paid.

On the first night we visited the Stage Neck Inn for dinner. Immediately it was obvious just from walking into the lobby that our first impression gleaned from the outside of the hotel was wrong. The inside of the hotel far surpassed it's exterior. The lobby and common rooms were delightful. We ate in the more casual dining room and had a lovely table near the open fire which was crackling away and had a beautiful view out of the georgian style windows onto the water. The meal was absolutely yummy, my lobster sandwich was served with french fries and was the tastiest lobster I have ever eaten. My husband had a burger and fries which was just as delicious. Whilst the meal was relatively expensive, it was worth every penny. We felt that our initial dismissal of the Stage Neck had been a grave error and that it was far superior to the York Harbour Inn and there was no difference in the price, in fact the Stage Neck Inn was probably $10 dollars cheaper at that time of year for a walk-in.

On our last night my husband wanted to eat at the Stage Neck Inn again as our meal had been so delicious the night before. Unfortunately, fooled by the framed review from a newspaper about the "wonderful & innovative" award winning resident chef hanging on the wall of the York Harbor Inn and seduced by the glossy description of the refurbished bar which looked like the interior of a yacht in the basement of the Inn, I persuaded my reluctant husband who was less impressed with the Inn than me to eat there. Big Mistake. Whilst the bar looks very inviting when you first go down the steep wooden stairs, the clever decor in the main part of the bar deceives you into believing you are going to enjoy a unique culinary experience.

It was unique alright, upon ordering we began to think we had made a bad decision, the gentleman who served us was surly and uninterested. The beer was served in a wet glass so consequently was flat. My bowl of clam chowder was gloopy, salty and powdery and was very clearly either from a tin or a powder mix, the salt crackers served with it were stale. This was followed by the worse lobster sandwich I have ever encountered. The lobster was still icy and had obviously been hastily defrosted in the microwave and the lettuce and tomato it was served with had clearly been fresh at some time in the last 2 weeks. My husband fared no better and his burger was lukewarm and virtually inedible. The gentleman who served us was so surly and intimidating we did not feel that we could complain and meekly paid up and made a hasty exit. The price for such a mediocre meal was exhoribitant and worked out about $5 cheaper than the Stage Neck Inn which was far, far superior and more than justified the small extra cost.

The owner Gary Dominguez was very helpful and friendly as were the reception staff on the day we checked in. As the room was not ready, they took our bags for safekeeping and upon our return had helpfully lugged our fairly heavy suitcases up the two difficult flights of stairs to our room. Although the staff were very friendly and helpful on the day we checked in they were not quite so interested when I mentioned the appalling meal we had there and the not so private balcony upon check out. My polite complaint was totally ignored. We felt so upset by the experience in the basement restaurant that upon our return I sent an e-mail which was never replied to.

We would probably not stay at the Inn again. I think like all establishments that become popular and have no trouble attracting tourists (especially true of the York Harbor Inn as it is one of the first Inns you come when approaching York Harbor) they eventually begin to rest on their laurels and standards slip. We thought it was an average B&B for the price charged and would have been very unhappy if we had paid the full rate (although I still have serious doubts about the discount being 50% off normal rates, let's face it, it was out of season and the Inn was not full by any means). The Stage Neck Inn would probably be a much better choice even if a little more expensive. Whilst the York Harbor Inn looks very quaint and picturesque, appearances can be deceiving.

York Harbor was very peaceful at the time of our visit, we drove to York Beach which was very quiet at that time, there are some nice shops there and some of them had just reopened for the coming season. For anyone who likes silver jewellery there is a great little silver shop there where you can pick up some nice rings and earrings at very reasonable prices. Some of the shops are a bit touristy and the town is like many seaside resorts, slightly shabby and down at heel in some areas. A visit to the Cape Neddick lighthouse known as the Nubble lighthouse is worthwhile. It is easily found and is signposted off of Route 1 approximately halfway between York Harbour and York Beach. A visit at dusk is a must and at the time we were there due to the brooding weather it was very atmospheric. Would visit York Harbor again but not the York Harbor Inn.

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York Harbor Inn
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