YORK HARBOR, Maine -- Sometimes hotel websites can be helpful, and other times they can be misleading. The latter proved true as I prepared to visit the York Harbor Inn over a busy holiday weekend.
When I called for a last-minute reservation, this popular Maine inn was almost fully booked. The available ''deluxe" room was a stretch for my budget, but I signed on with the promise I would be bumped to a standard room if they had any cancellations.
Secretly, I hoped I wouldn't be downgraded. The website's descriptions of deluxe rooms included phrases like ''larger rooms," ''ocean view," and my favorite, ''Jacuzzi." The photos showed quilted beds and seemingly spacious, light-filled rooms. I arrived with my suitcase full of expectations: of leisurely soaks in a magnificent bath, with all manner of lotions and potions and miniature sweet-smelling soaps. I was more than ready to steep in the lap of luxury.
We arrived at night and checked into an average- to small-sized room with sloping eaves and a double bed tucked into a dormer. There wasn't much space to maneuver around the bed after we dropped our luggage, but I thought, OK, cozy works for me.
Then I opened the bathroom door to find what had to be the smallest bathroom in the history of the world. Or so it seemed. Then I did something I've never done before: I got a tape measure from my car.
The bathroom was 7 feet wide by 33 inches deep. The shower stall was 33 inches square. Plus the shower rod was rusted and the plastic ends were moldy. Fortunately, my companion and I are on the slim side, for we had to fold ourselves like origami to negotiate the 5-inch space between the mini sink and the toilet. The ceiling height in both bedroom and bath was just shy of 7 feet, leaving my companion a mere 6 inches between his scalp and the plaster overhead.
I called the desk to see if we had indeed been downgraded, but was told no. The deluxe rooms, if you read the website carefully, have either a Jacuzzi ''and/or" a water view. In the morning, we opened the shades for our view, but could see the water only if we climbed on the bed, turned around backward, and peered through the metal posts of the headboard. Ah yes, there was water down there.
York Harbor Inn is in the York Historic District, listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The inn's history stretches to the late 19th century, when railroads and trolleys brought vacationers to this part of coastal Maine. It's an attractive spot, across the street from a path that leads down to a small public beach.
There are four buildings on the property. Both the Main Inn and the Yorkshire Building, where we stayed, have a quaint charm that most people imagine when they hear the term ''New England inn." In other words, four-poster beds, patterned wallpaper, steep stairways, pitched roofs, and many little window panes.
If I were to visit again, I'd stay in the inn's Harbor Cliffs Bed & Breakfast, a former sea captain's house converted into seven spacious units. (Though this would mean upgrading to a ''superior" room, which costs even more than ''deluxe.") I was particularly charmed by a second-floor room (No. 302) that had both New England simplicity (wood floor, four-post bed, delicate sheer curtains, pale blue and white color scheme) and a dollop of luxury (working fireplace, large windows with an easy view of the water, an enormous bathroom with Jacuzzi).
The fourth building, the Harbor Hill, was built in 2001, though its white-shingle exterior blends seamlessly into the historic district. This building also has seven guest rooms, though the interior is the antithesis of a New England inn image. With lush carpeting throughout, heated marble bathroom floors, oversized dark English beds and armoires, it feels more like a corporate anywhere-in-the-world deluxe hotel. If you like this level of anonymous comfort, go for it. You can get your quaint and charming fix out in the streets of York.
The friendliness of the hotel staff made up for small disappointments in our stay. Every person we encountered was gracious, perky, gregarious, helpful, and seemed personally concerned about our experience. Even the owner made us feel special by leaving a handwritten note welcoming us to our room, along with a bottle of wine.
The wine and a five-course meal were part of the holiday package we purchased. On regular weekends, dinner is available in the dining room, and lunch and dinner in the Cellar Pub.
The nicest part of the complimentary continental breakfast is the dining room itself. Actually a series of small rooms that stretch along the front of the inn, the tables have cloth linens, fresh flowers, glassware and china, and views of the water. Entering the room with the sun streaming in felt like stepping back in time to a more gracious era.
But the breakfast buffet was disappointing. The advertised ''special baked goods" were ordinary. Other choices were packaged cold cereals, packets of instant oatmeal, fruit salad, English muffins, and bagels. Surely someone in Maine bakes muffins every morning. A small extra effort could lift this breakfast from bland to distinctive.
We ended up having a great weekend, even though the ''luxurious accommodations" touted on the website didn't live up to my grandiose expectations. When I got home, I went online to double-check my memory. There was our room, looking quite grand. So now when I view hotels online, I think of a variation of the warning on my car's rear-view mirror: Rooms in photo may be smaller than they appear.
Necee Regis is a freelance writer in Boston.