The Maine islands offer a wide variety of unique and interesting lodgings, from the historic Island Inn on Monhegan and the Tidewater Motel on Vinalhaven, which straddles the changing tides, to the Keeper’s House Inn, a restored lighthouse station on Isle au Haut. Overnight visitors to the islands of Maine usually find more than just a bed for the night; they find memories that last a lifetime.
Marshall Chapman is starting his second season as owner of the Keeper’s House Inn on Isle au Haut.
“This year, everything seems to be pushed back about a month,” Chapman said of bookings, which are fewer than last June. “I think it’s because of the winter the Midwest and the East had; schools are out later.” Bookings for July and August are tracking more like last year’s.
The inn had been closed for five years before Chapman bought it. The previous owners ran it 1986-2008.
“Those were the halcyon years,” said Chapman. “I hope we can get those back.” It appears he is well on his way, with the Keeper’s House receiving some positive media attention. In the recent edition of Yankee Magazine’s Travel Guide to New England, the Keeper’s House was named editor’s choice in the Best Lighthouse Lodging in Maine category. On May 29, the inn was featured on the television game show “The Price is Right.” In addition, the inn and Chapman were included in a French and German documentary on the U.S. coastal states that aired in Europe on May 2.
“It would be interesting to see if that drums up any more interest in coming overseas,” said Chapman.
Similar to Chapman, the staff at the Island Inn on Monhegan has noticed a trend toward last-minute reservations over the last several years. In addition, stays have become shorter. Where guests used to stay seven days, they might now stay only two or three days. Owner Michael Brassard points out that a large percentage of his guests are repeat customers.
“Once they come often enough,” said Brassard, “they stay a week. Then they look for a cottage. That’s a major change. It’s a good news thing because people want to stay [on the island.]”
Colleen Hyland, owner of the Harbor Watch’Inn on Swan’s Island, has also noticed a slight change in the length of her guests’ stays.
“As far as people coming five to six nights, I guess that has cut back a little,” she said. However, Hyland pointed out that, as the only lodging on Swan’s Island, her inn serves more than one purpose. The inn offers two regular rooms, two rooms with kitchens, and an apartment. Hyland estimates that 40 percent of her business is monthly renters who come to Swan’s Island to work.
“Vacationers stay around three nights, people looking at property one night, people researching their family background, one or two nights.” Unlike many island lodging establishments, the Harbor Watch’Inn is open year-round. Hyland does not raise her rates in the summer, and has not closed since she bought the inn in 1999.
Island innkeepers say guests have to work harder to find them.
“It’s difficult to get here,” said Chapman, of the Keeper’s House. “We’re not an inn that’s set a little bit off the highway. You have to make a fairly concerted effort to get here. That being said, the people who get here are a little bit more forgiving, an expeditious sort. That’s just part of island living.”
Liz Lovell, manager at Nebo Lodge on North Haven, echoed that sentiment. “I think one challenge for some people is just understanding where we are, and how to get here,” she said. “But once that’s all settled, they really seem to be ready to take in what the island has to offer.”
And while every island offers something a little bit different than another, it is the characteristics unique to islands that guests most enjoy. On North Haven, “Guests love to eat at our restaurant, which is a huge draw for people coming to stay at Nebo,” said Lovell. “They want to have a unique experience and that’s what we try to offer them. We encourage guests to visit the island farms where the food they’re eating at the restaurant is grown, check out the North Haven Oyster Company, bike to the beach, take a day sail, or haul some traps with a local fisherman.”
Hyland says her guests at the Harbor Watch’Inn “like to sit out on the deck and have a lobster and enjoy the quiet. For so many it’s a novelty. They think they’re living on the edge or something,” by taking the ferry to the island.
On Monhegan, Brassard says that his guests “appreciate that it’s a working island. People are painting, people are fishing. It doesn’t have a manufactured feel.”
Crossman’s guests at the Tidewater Motel on Vinalhaven are most surprised—and delighted—by the informality of the island “when they discover that the key is on the desk and nobody is here,” he said. Likewise, “when they go to Vinalhaven Candy Co. for ice cream and find out they don’t take credit cards, and Josh [Elicker, owner] tells them just to send a check when they get home.”
At the Keeper’s House, Chapman finds his guests are “shocked by how much they get by coming out to the island that they don’t expect. The island pace, staying in rooms where they can hear the waves lapping on the rocks, the best sleep they’ve had in quite a while. It’s much more subtle. It creeps into your bones,” he said.