Spice the mouse was spinning happily on his exercise wheel, untroubled by the move that the Meyer family was making to escape the cold and dark.
But unlike most families, Melissa and Carl Meyer, their three kids aged 7, 5 and 3, two mice, two cats and five fish, were not going from a house without power to a hotel. Instead, the Meyers were fleeing their Windsor Locks hotel, where power had gone out Saturday afternoon.
The family is waiting to close on a house they bought in Simsbury — they moved to Connecticut from Tampa six weeks ago because they decided they wanted to live in that school district. The Meyers waited in line 90 minutes at a gas station to fill up the minivan so they could drive to Carl's brother's place in Westchester County, N.Y.
Thousands of Connecticut families have moved into hotels to get warm, and many more have tried and failed to secure room reservations.
The mismatch between supply and demand was exacerbated by the closing of many hotels. Three hotels off Day Hill Road in Windsor — a Hilton Garden Inn, Marriott, Courtyard by Marriott — were all closed. At the Hilton Garden Inn, a sign on an easel in the entryway said the hotel was closed under order of the fire marshal due to lack of power. In Windsor Locks, the Homewood Suites signs said simply: "No power, no hot water, no rooms."
Robert L. Brown and his wife tried 20 hotels on Sunday and tried again with 10 hotels on Monday, hoping to find a warm bed. Their Bloomfield home has no light, heat or even running water, because they use a well.
Brown said he took a shower at his brother's house, which has power, but his brother was hosting his grown children and grandchildren, and could only offer a couch or floor space for the night. They'd rather tough it out at home.
The surge in business is good news for hoteliers, who have not returned to pre-recession vacancy rates. A worker at the Bellissimo Grande in North Stonington said the 164-room hotel was nearly empty Monday morning, and by late afternoon, they were almost sold out, with just a handful of rooms left, starting at $79 a night.
Some guests were angered that their costs started going up on Monday, and accused companies of gouging. But weekday rates are always higher than weekend rates in Hartford. Brien Fox, vice president of sales of the Waterford Hotel Group, which owns 17 hotels in Connecticut, said that typically, downtown Hartford hotels cost $139 to $179 on weekend nights and between $259 and $339 on weekdays, because Hartford is a business travel destination, and demand is higher during the week. Hotel room charges change depending on how full hotels are.
"There's been no price change based on the storm," Fox said, and he said the hotel staff are trying to make things special for families, hosting trick-or-treating and pizza parties on Halloween.
The scene in downtown Hartford hotel lobbies, usually populated by men and women in suits with briefcases and flight crews, was very different Monday, with elderly women in wheelchairs and on walkers, adults with mental disabilities and their aides, children in Halloween costumes excitedly taking candy, babies in strollers, and lots of dogs, including a beagle puppy shivering in his owner's arms as he came in from the garage.
Some hotels without power in Windsor Locks stayed open, even without heat or hot water.
The Doubletree by Hilton, also without heat and hot water, used generators to power piped-in music and lights. It also was able to serve hot food. With sunlight streaming in through large windows, customers said they were warm enough.
The Doubltetree's general manager, Carol Sikora, wearing a flannel shirt, said the hotel was the only one along Route 75 serving food. She said the hotel was not full, but was not taking more people because of the limited service. "Everybody has been so calm and friendly and enjoyable," Sikora said. "It's been a great experience."
Gary Rankin, a NASA engineer from Houston, flew in Sunday for a week of meetings at Hamilton Sundstrand — which remained closed Monday. He said he planned to return to Houston Monday afternoon and would return to the United Technologies Corp. division next week.
"These folks here have been great," said Rankin, who had seen this much snow only once before, in Connecticut in the late '70s. "I definitely will stay here."
At the same hotel, Kenneth Gibson, a former Connecticut resident, arrived Friday for the funeral of his ex-mother-in-law in Bloomfield — but the funeral home has no power. Now he suspects he'll have to remain in town longer than planned. His daughter, who lives in Bloomfield, joined him at the Doubletree with her children. The kids, and a friend, played "Sorry," one of the many board games offered at the front desk.
Packing For Packed Hotels, Some Without Hot Water
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