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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Wentworth By The Sea Hotel: Jason and His Argonauts Provide Perfect Lodging, Dining, and Spa

The third time truly was the charm at the Wentworth By The Sea Hotel on the small island of New Castle near genuinely historic (and New England trendy) Portsmouth New Hampshire. The only guilt related to taking all of the "just right" things from Baby Bear; the only flaw was not following personal advice regarding a fully rejuvenating trip there requiring at least five nights. The better news is that three nights at the hotel still does a great deal of good.

Two other highlights were wearing "indoor shoes" the whole time despite the snowy ground outside and the equally valued ability to charge items to the room allowing leaving my wallet in the room safe. These small luxuries greatly contributed to relaxing.

A year-old post on the first of three visits to the Wentworth provides a good sense of this hotel that dates back to 1874 but has reliable WiFi and several charging options in each room. A perfect example of both the service and the modern technology is the front desk providing a spare charger on your not-so-humble reviewer discovering that his no longer works. Being told to keep the charger was the icing on the cake.

Reading the aforementioned article provided memories of deja vu all over again in the form of severe winter storms being factors regarding both the desire to decompress at the hotel and travelling there between nor'easters. Fortunately, the weather behaved better than expected this year. Additionally, general manager Jason Bartlett and his fantastic crew (a.k.a. Argonauts) are magnificiently accommodating regarding weather-related reservation changes.

A relevant tale regarding the service and the weather is that the Wentworth was booked (and accordingly staffed) at 10-percent occupancy when one of the four-easters this March caused wide-spread power outages that led to last-minute 100-percent occupancy. On asking Bartlett in an interview for this article if he both cleaned rooms and worked at the front desk that night, he stated that he did not do either. He then praised his staff for meeting the challenge as he was confident that they would.

The sense of "been there, done that" also exists regarding the praise for the King Suite in the 2017 article. Repetitive thoughts regarding the comfort and modern luxury in that accommodation reinforce that it is the perfect spot to recover from anxiety related to weather and the many other ills of life. One difference is that the most recent watched Disney Channel fare was "Bizaardvark," rather than "Liv and Maddie."

The following photo of the suite living room provides a good sense of the Utopia there and of the joy of making the space your own. (Alas, the well-written rare book on the history of the Wentworth is a personal item; the better news is that there is SOME hope that the hotel will reprint it and make it available to guests.)

As spectacular as the suite is, going for a misleadingly named standard room only sacrifices the living room. You still get the posh and very comfortable bedroom and high-end bathroom.

An endorsement of the bed is the stay at the hotel being the first time sleeping through the night since an August 2017 visit to the Wentworth. Sadly, the king mattress and soft bedding are too large to smuggle out in a suitcase.

Salt of the Earth

The desire to follow the "I ain't goin' nowhere" pledge of the current trip contributed to eating every breakfast and dinner in the Salt Restaurant off the Wentworth lobby. The perfection regarding every aspect of every meal hardly made this a sacrifice. This reflects the pride and the work of restaurant manager Joshua, who wears the awarded hotel pin that recognizes his exceptionalness as an actual badge of honor.

The beef tenderloin with the whipped potatoes and the charred broccolini was so tender and perfectly seasoned to require getting it two of the three nights. The four-cheese tortellini with guzzle-worthy cream sauce the third night was equally good and only slightly less decadent. The wood-fired pizzas are planned meals for the next visit.

Fortunately, the ideal temperature and chlorine-level pool allows swimming enough to work off these gourmet feasts.

The below photos show various seating areas in Salt. The snowy weather made the window tables with the club chairs and the fireside space equally desirable. The domed ceiling is original to the hotel and allows the same form of eavesdropping as the Capitol dome.


Time in the hotel spa was a significant part of the plan and did not disappoint. This facility has the low lighting, soothing music, and subtly scented air that make these places great. There also are well-appointed locker rooms (complete with dry-heat saunas) that more than meet your needs in transitioning between this safe space and the real world.

Scott the masseur exceeded expectations regarding the two massages during this stay; he provided the ideal pressure and literally hit all the right buttons regarding tension points.

As nice as the current spa is, Bartlett shared that it is going to improve in the near future. He stated that the spa is going to be expanded regarding both space and services and further sound-proofed. Thought not promised, one can only hope for Jacuzzis and steam rooms in the locker rooms.

The Captain Speaks

Visiting with Bartett and touring the two-story suites that occupy the three observation towers was another highlight. The frosting this time was Bartlett stating with his gracious smile that I would need to try one of those accommodations sometime. This graciousness further proves that he makes head honcho Peter McDermott in the (reviewed) ABC soapy "Love Boat" style anthology drama "Hotel" look like the manager of a hot-sheets motel.

The manner in which Bartlett responds to Trip Advisor reviews is a general manifestation of his good work. He writes specific responses to every five and one-star review, and NEVER turns criticism onto the guests as is the case regarding many counterparts at other properties.

He further noted that he and his staff "make every effort to accommodate guests' needs" and that they "try to be fluid." The final highly reasonable note on this subject was that "if a guest is genuine, we do what we can." An element of this is a guest being much less prone to get angry when something goes awry if the service provider is pleasant and friendly from the first interaction. This clearly is so at the Wentworth.

This discussion of hospitality included asking about the Wentworth getting a hotel dog; Bartlett responded that there were no plans to do so but that his dog might fill that role if he adopted one. He added that dogs up to 35 pounds were welcome but required paying a $75 fee. There are additional thoughts of creating a package of treats for canine guests.

A funny coincidence was meeting Bear the Schipperke as he was checking in that evening. We quickly established who was a good boy and who wanted a belly rub.

Wentworth history that is relevant to the talk with Bartlett is that current owner Ocean Properties purchased the (then dilapidated) property in the late '90s and completed a massive three-year restoration. Current Properties Director of Operations Tom Varley was the first GM. Although this hotel is a Marriott franchise, that corporation did not invest one cent in enhancing it beyond its former glory.

The Marriott role also relates to the reply of Bartlett when asked to provide general information about his most challenging guest. He replied that visitors with Marriott elite status "expect a lot" and sometimes negatively commented about the closet size and other aspects of the room. He added in a very friendly manner that "we are not a cookie-cutter Marriott."

The above comment reflects a strong preference of your not-so-humble reviewer. Historic hotels and B and Bs are favored because they are not cookie-cutter properties. Many Unreal TV hotel reviews refer to an episode of an ABC '90s "Seinfeld" clone with a forgotten name in which an ongoing joke is that the quartet of misfits discover on visiting several hotels in a chain that they are the same down to the staff and the guests. A personal pet peeve is staying in a hotel that could be in any city.

Additionally, I brought at least five days' worth of clothing in two large suitcases and two large tote bags on the recent trip to the Wentworth; the several folks who offered help with this load included the housekeeping inspector who saw me outside my suite.

I did not even fill half the closet, that closet had more than enough room for my luggage, and the dresser had a great deal of empty space. (Darn you "Modern Family" for making me notice the whisper-quiet gliding drawers.)  On top of that, most of toiletries fit in the bathroom drawers; the counter space was ample for the rest of it.

The final individual note regarding Marriott v. Wentworth relates to general customer service. Sheer stupidity by a third party ultimately led to accidentally debiting credit in one loyalty program and crediting my Marriott loyalty program with 70,000 points. The resolution included a statement that those Marriott points were mine to use.

A very aggravating subsequent effort to utilize the points resulted in learning that Marriott allowed them to essentially be stolen. Marriott refused to do anything to make this right. Bartlett personally strongly advocated for me.

Now returning to our primary topic, Bartlett managed the Properties-owned Sable Oaks complex before coming to the Wentworth roughly one year ago,. That resort near Portland, Maine has two hotels and a gold course. Proving himself in that role earned him the privilege of stepping in when the former manager resigned.

The aforementioned book on the Wentworth prompted asking Bartlett about his background. That tome noted that the strong appeal of the hotel included its history of having owners and managers that either were raised in the hospitality industry or had a natural talent for it. Current guests get the twofer of Bartlett having uncles in the "business" and his belief that "ultimately hospitality is just in my blood." He added that he "loves working with and talking to people."

Bartlett further enforced the vibe associated with the Wentworth in stating that the owners maintain the historic integrity of the hotel while "seamlessly incorporating modern style and amenities."

Shared enhancement plans in addition to expanding the spa largely focused on the summer season. Bartlett stated that the hotel planned to offer croquet and other family-oriented outdoor activity. This is in addition to plans to build a fire pit and otherwise increase the amenities at the marina suites.

Checking Out

As this lengthy article indicates, the Wentworth literally and figuratively is a personal "go to" place for breaks from the real world. Part of this reasoning is that visiting there avoids the high price and sense of being a prisoner getting processed in the big house associated with flying these days.

It also is nice to have flexibility associated with not having to catch a flight. On top of this, you can bring a great deal of luggage without paying a high fee for the privilege of waiting 30 minutes for it to show up battered and bruised while you get jostled at baggage claim.

The most apt way to wind up all this is a highly relevant happy note by Bartlett. He states that he "wants guests to leave happy, and want to return, and want to spread the word."

Anyone with questions or comments regarding the Wentworth or the general New Hampshire seacoast is strongly encouraged to email me; you also can connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

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