My new wife and I recently returned to the United States from our Honeymoon in Nova Scotia, and for the most part we found it be a wonderful place. However, one aspect of our experience there was horrific: the Island Inn in Ingonish.
A honeymoon near-disaster
We drove up to Ingonish on Cape Breton Island from Halifax after a fantastic stay at the Lord Nelson Hotel in Halifax. It was about seven o'clock in the evening, and we were eager to rest ourselves on a comfortable bed. When we pulled into the dirty gravel driveway, however, I sensed that the night would be anything but relaxing.
The photograph on the Island Inn's web page shows a charming, well-built house with clean white paint on a hillside surrounded by a large, well-kept lawn and trees. What we saw was a dingy, dirty-grey building with cheap siding, a series of mysterious pipes emerging from the outside wall and paint peeling from the porch with an unpaved parking lot with a small, scrubby yard, only a few feet from a busy road, a gas station, a car garage, and a tacky tourist stand. Is this what they meant when they referred to when they said "within close walking distance of commercial amenities"? I didn't see any other commercial amenities except for the cheap apartments twenty feet behind the back of the Inn, where residents played loud music long into the night.
Charming country manners
When we walked up the front steps into the lobby, we were stared at by a row of bored vacationers who sat on a sagging couch in front of a television set playing the some knock-off version of the Jerry Springer show. To get to the front desk, we had to walk through a small crowd of teenagers, some of whom were employees, and some of whom were their friends. At the desk was a middle-aged woman with a sour look on her face. After about 3 or 4 minutes, she finally acknowledged our presence with a curt "What do you want?" When I gave her my name, she snapped at me again with, "Well, it's pretty late. We thought you had decided not to come. We were about to find someone else for your room."
The chamber of horrors
As we made our way up the thin, creaking staircase, we saw a line of three dirty children holding towels over their shoulders, waiting for their turn to use the communal bathroom. "Lucky us," I thought. "I had the foresight to reserve a room with a private bathroom." Lucky us. When we entered our tiny room, I saw that the private bathroom had only a cheap plastic shower stall of the sort that usually gets installed in motor homes. The open stall was separated from the rest of the tiny bathroom only by a translucent shower curtain which had been partially ripped loose of the rings holding it to the rod above. A hand-scrawled note was scotch-taped to the wall, reading "Please put shower liner inside stall". Next to it, another read "Water temperature may fluctuate during showers. We apologize for any inconvenience."
Below an old mirror, the sink barely hung onto the wall, slanting at a 15 degree angle toward the shower. To the right was a rickety rack with thin towels and a small basket with orange plastic packets of shampoo. At my back I felt a chilly draft, and turned around to see that the window had been left open, allowing a slight rain to form a wet puddle on the floor beneath.
As I walked across the rolling floor to the scratchy-blanket-covered full-sized bed (I had ordered a queen), I looked at my beautiful wife's face and felt the panic start to rise. I could see that she was trying to think of something nice to say so that I wouldn't feel bad. "Ooh, honey," she said. "It reminds me of the youth hostel that I stayed at in Prague."
We rested our heads on the pill-covered pillows, the lumpy bed slanting romantically against the wall, we discussed what to do next. I told her I'd call some places back in Halifax to see if we could get reservations there instead. That was when I noticed that there was no telephone. When I went downstairs, the innkeeper said that I could use a pay phone in the hallway.
For about an hour we sat staring sadly into each other's eyes trying to figure out what to do. Could we watch television? No, there was no television in the room. All we could find was a pile of old Glamour magazines next to a tip jar for the housekeeping staff, so we sat on the bed, taking sex-quiz after sex quiz until 8:30, when we decided to try out the tiny seafood restaurant downstairs. We found out that it had closed a half-hour before.
The next morning I got up at 7:00 and drove down the road to a pay phone next to a National Park kiosk. With the rain dripping from my hair onto the guidebook I had brought with me, I called hotels, inns and B&Bs, slapping together a new itinerary for our honeymoon. After 45 minutes, I had lined up a new list of lodgings, all of which were rated at least with four stars. (When I looked at the listing for the Island Inn, I saw that it had not participated in the ratings process. Now I know why.)
I raced back to the Inn, got my wife out of bed, carried our bags downstairs, and went back inside only to tell the manager we were leaving. I told her why we were leaving early, reviewing in detail all of the reasons we found the Inn insufficient. Any reputable business would have offered me my money back, or at least canceled my reservation without any penalty. Not the Island Inn -- the manager not only charged me for the night we had stayed, but a $39 fee to cover a portion of the next night's charges as well. Thinking of my disappointed wife waiting for me outside in the car, I realized this was one fight I didn't want to stick around to argue about. I just wanted to get us out of there.
My only consolation is that word gets around. Any business that offers services as poor as those of the Island Inn will inevitably acquire a bad reputation. My hope is that someone in Ingonish will be able to buy out the failing Island Inn, renovate the property and operate it in a professional manner more suitable to the dignified beauty of Cape Breton Island.