As the world shut down for travel, we were as disappointed as everyone else when our international adventures came to a halt. Instead, we decided to venture to Colorado for our Summer vacation. There is a fabulous resort on the Western boarder of Colorado that I wanted to try & this was the perfect chance. It is located in remote canyons, so a perfect place to social distance. Not to mention that is only has 58 casitas, so we knew it would not be overcrowded based on the amount property they have. First we had to get there! It is located about 5 hours from Denver so I knew we did not want to drive immediately to the resort after flying We decided to take a short stay in Vail to explore the area as well as see how the COVID restrictions affect the destination. On our return, we stopped in Grand Junction for the evening and caught the Amtrak train back to Milwaukee. Taking Amtrak had been on my list for while & this also seemed like perfect timing. We could have our own compartments to remain socially distanced from the other passengers. It was an adventure for sure! Here are some highlights including the measure that were taken while traveling during the pandemic:
We flew non-stop on Southwest from Milwaukee. Masks are required in the airport. Prior to passing through security, your temperature was taken. We have TSA pre-check, but neither line was long to pass through security. Limited services were available, however, the gift shops were open to purchase snacks and drinks if needed. We did purchase Early Bird Check-In, however, the boarding did not go in order. They boarded 10 passengers at a time, so we were in the first group, but not lined up like you normally do with Southwest. When we boarded, the flight already had passengers seated from another destination. Normally MKE is not a connecting city for Southwest, however, they combined flights due to the limited amount of travelers. The 4 of us had two rows, with a center seat between us. It was a crowded flight, but there was at least one empty seat in each row. We were asked to keep our masks on during the flight, unless you were eating or drinking. I did wipe down the seats, arm rest, tray tables, seat back, seatbelts, air vent, window shade and anything else I thought we might touch.
Upon arrival into Denver, we located our bags and made our way to the waiting car rental transfer van. There was only one other family in the transfer van. Check-in process was normal, except for mask wearing of course. The car appeared very clean, but I still wiped down the high touch areas of the car. We were off for the two hour drive to Vail.
We stayed at the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort. I was familiar with some of the protocols that Marriott had put into place, so was very comfortable staying there. At this time, Colorado mandated a maximum capacity of 50% for hotel guests. The hotel offers 323 rooms but was well under the 50% capacity. Marriott installed plexiglass at the front desk & if you needed ice, you could collect it at that time. They pre-bagged it so you did not need to use the common ice machine. They required masks while inside and asked you to limit the elevator use to your family members only. Hand sanitizer stations were also positioned outside the elevators. They were not cleaning the rooms during short stays, however, it can be requested if needed. They require you to be out of the room for at least an hour before an attendant can enter.
It was a holiday weekend, so not all the stores were open. Those that were, limited the number of shoppers inside. For example, the very small Lululemon store only allowed 4 guests at a time. That seemed to be the only store that accumulated a long line! We hiked and enjoyed the fresh air, without masks, but while walking around town, masks were worn.
We enjoyed the beautiful drive to Gateway, Colorado and thankful that we split the trip up. We stopped along the way for some provisions as we knew there would be limited options upon arrival. We arrived early to Gateway Canyons Resort and Spa, so enjoyed their on-site car museum. The resort is the brainchild of the founder of the Discovery Channel, so he has 50 of his personal cars on display. Admission is complimentary for resort guests.
Masks were required indoors, inside restaurants but overall, you could walk the expansive grounds without having to worry about seeing another guest. There were 3 large pools in which guests stayed distant from one another. There were times that we were the only family in the pool! They offered nice cabanas, first come first serve, with wait staff to deliver food & drinks to you. Many walking and hiking paths are available around the resort. It was quite warm during this time, around 100 degrees, so hikes were limited to the early morning or evening. The resort also offers on-site excursion. We took the Atomic Heritage ATV tour & learned about the local Uranium Mines and toured some old cabins.
Our final hotel night was in Grand Junction at the Tru by Hilton. Hilton also has great protocols in place for their properties. Instead of self-service breakfast, they assist you with the items you'd like. This location was perfect to explore Grand Junction on foot and within walking distance to the Amtrak Station. We also enjoyed a float down the Colorado river while in Grand Junction.
Our Amtrak train was running a bit late. Technology is great as we could see exactly where our train was and the estimated time of arrival. Our train started in California and it has been dry in that area so the trains had to travel at a slower speed to reduce sparks that might cause a fire. The hotel allowed us to spend the extra time there versus in the train station. It was nice to be able to limit exposure to others during this time.
Upon boarding, our cabin attendant, greeted us & showed us to our roomettes. The kids had one across from us, so it was quite nice to be able to shut the doors between us! As always, we wiped everything down. Our attendant advised that we needed reservations before using the dining car since they are limiting the number of guests. They had every other table marked off. We attempted to eat there upon boarding, but they had already run out of the most popular items. Luckily we had brought some things along with us but it was not enough to get us through the entire trip. I made plans to grab extra food upon arrival into Denver.
If you want a scenic train ride in the US, the California Zephyr is a fabulous choice between Grand Junction & Denver. It follows the Colorado River, in which we saw many people rafting along the way.
Our estimated time of arrival into Denver was 8pm. Most of the restaurants near the station were closed or closing early due to COVID. I found an option that would work for all of us, HopDaddy Burger Bar, which was to close at 8:30. I called in our order & advised we were arriving via train. However, by the time we arrived into the station it was already 8:30. Luckily they were still answering their phone & I advised I was on the way. They said it was not a problem as they still have customers outside, so we were very lucky to have burgers to enjoy for dinner that evening.
Our cabin attendant arranged our bedding for us. It was quite cramped, but I slept fine strapped into the top bunk with ear plugs in. I can't say the same for my husband. The kids were not planning on sleeping, so thankful we were not in the same roomette. In the morning, we woke up in Iowa, having slept through Nebraska. Upon arrival into Chicago Union Station, we ended up only being 1 hour late, so it was good that we originally had a two hour layover before transferring to our final train to Milwaukee.
Since we flew from Milwaukee to Denver, we left our car at the Milwaukee Airport Train Station. Unfortunately they do not have bag handlers at this station so we had to check our bags to downtown. My husband and the kids exited there & I rode the train on into downtown with our bags. Unfortunately, our bags did not make it with the short transfer time in Chicago, so I went back the next day to collect our bags.
Overall it was a great trip with lots of memories made. It think the kids are a bit closer now, having to bunk the same train compartment for 29 hours!
Please reach out if you are interested in your own USA Adventure, whether via train or plane. Special amenities are also available when booking the Gateway Canyons Resort and Spa with Via Travel Service.
Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
Full American breakfast daily, served in restaurant (shows as a credit of $60 on the guest folio)
One $100 USD per room/per day Adventure Credit that can be used for any activities booked directly with the Adventure Center. Credit can not be applied to air tours or driven rentals. (not valid on room rate, no cash value if not redeemed in full)
Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability