Check In. Weird Out. Strangest Hotels in the South Posted by: Aaron Stearns | 0 Comments
It’s pretty common to get a funny feeling from staying in a hotel. And it’s understandable. Even after you’ve lifted the mattress cover 17 times to check for bed bugs and finally smothered yourself in the heavenly synthetic down duvet, you’re still sleeping in someone else’s bed. Any good hotel will try to fight the heebie-jeebies by showering you with luxurious amenities or feigning homey normalcy — if normalcy is beige and white and you’re afraid to walk barefoot on the carpet. However, some hotels take strangeness and run with it. With anomaly as their best amenity, they turn themselves into main attractions instead of just pit stops along the way.
Weird wonder that it is, the South boasts many of these eccentric inns. We’ve rounded up its strangest stays, from 21 feet under the sea to all the way to the moon’s crusty craters — and almost everywhere in between.
Jules’ Undersea Lodge (Key Largo, FL)
You won’t find Jules’ Undersea Lodge, named in honor of Jules Verne, author of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. You will, however, have to don a wetsuit and descend 21 feet to find the entrance. Once inside, you may find things a little less than lodge-like. The facility used to be a research laboratory, and it looks like the staff has taken what was once a pretty bare bones setup of low-ceilinged rooms connected by tunnels and livened it up with aquatic-themed décor. It’s kind of how we imagine living in a space station would feel, except you get excited when sea creatures peek into the windows at you.
Rates: Enjoy all of this solo with an overnight stay for $675.00. Or go as a pair with the JUL for Two Package which includes their world famous Pizza delivery dinner from Tower of Pizza, a family owned and operated local Italian restaurant. Don’t worry about your dive gear. It’s included in your package. Go even bigger by upgrading your dinner experience with Florida Lobster or filet mignon for an extra $180.00. Group economy packages are also available starting at $300.00 per person. In addition to all of these goodies, you can also earn yourself a PADI specialty certification by taking the Habitat Specialty Program. Check it out here.
The Inn at Christmas Place (Pigeon Forge, TN)
Some people are really serious about Christmas. Those people stay at the Inn at Christmas Place, where Christmas joy is a 365-day-a-year affair. The inn resembles a German castle nestled in the Smoky Mountains; but it’s the interior that fascinates vacationers. Boughs of holly, sleigh bells, wreaths in every room, Christmas trees galore and a live singing Santa performing jingles summer through winter months … you have to really be possessed by the Christmas spirit to sign up for this.
Rates: Enjoy Christmas cheer any time of year starting at $89.
Notable Amenities: In addition to the live singing Santa, there is also an outdoor pool with a 95 foot figure-eight waterslide and a famous, striking glockenspiel. Find out more about the Inn at Christmas Place.
Biltmore Estate (Asheville, NC)
Right now we’re scheming to smuggle in some Edwardian gowns and a troupe of butlers and maids to Biltmore Estate so we can live out our “Downton Abbey” fantasies. The 178,926-square-foot, 250-room mansion and its English gardens were built in the late 1800s to resemble a European chateau. Unfortunately, you can’t sleep in the actual Biltmore House; but Biltmore Inn is on the estate, and its decadent rooms were inspired by English and French manors. Leave the servants at home — the hotel and spa staff will take care of you — but no one will protest if you pack a petticoat.
Rates: Rooms at Biltmore Estate start at $299.00. The inn also offers several special deals and packages like the Father’s Day special and the Biltmore Concert Series package.
Notable Amenities: Adding to the wonder of this estate is the complimentary overnight shoe shine and a variety of special amenities packages you can order ahead of time.
Hotel Zaza (Dallas, TX, and Houston, TX)
With a name like Zaza, extravagance is expected. Basic guest rooms are top-of-the-line, but it’s all about the concept suites and the Magnificent Seven suites at Hotel Zaza. Concept suites range from the “Shag-a-delic,” with its groovy, purple shag carpet and love beads, to “Out of Africa,” complete with a mosquito net-inspired bed (it’s way fancier than it sounds), a mounted wildebeest head and a “rainforest shower.” But forget all that. Let’s talk about the jaw-dropping, pinch-me-I’m-dreaming Magnificent Seven that make you want to say, “Screw sightseeing. I’m ordering room service.” There is a Hitchcock-inspired suite, and a “Crouching Tiger” townhouse, and have you seen the zebra print throne in the “Rock Star” room?
Rates: Rates start at $329.
Notable Amenities: If you can ever leave your room, also enjoy being pampered to perfection at the ZaSpa.
Find out more on their site.
El Cosmico (Marfa, TX)
That’s not a mirage on the horizon; that’s the sun glinting off Airstream trailers and the pointy tips of teepees rising from the desert. Marfa, Tex., is a small town — we’re talking population 2,000 — but its eccentric reputation rivals that of the weird capitol of America, Austin — and El Cosmico is Marfa’s bizarre basecamp. You can bring your own tent, but why squander the chance to sleep in a luxury teepee, renovated trailer or expertly decorated safari tent? Don’t worry, there are bathrooms. There are even wood-fired Dutch hot tubs. And the outdoor kitchen, dining space and other communal areas will ensure you make contact with genuine Marfans. Or you could just tilt your hat over your eyes and nap in the hammock grove. It’s more than acceptable to keep to yourself and soak up the desert sun.
Rates: El Cosmico has plenty of options. Trailer rates start at $110, safari tents at $65, and $80 for teepees. Tents and scout tents start at $15 and $40. respectively.
Notable Amenities: To top it all off? You can head over to the lobby lounge for wireless internet.
21c Museum Hotel (Louisville, KY and Bentonville, AR)
Don’t be alarmed if you open your door to get the paper in the morning and find a 3-foot-tall, red, plastic penguin staring back at you. It’s just a sneaky, mobile exhibit at 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville. Each night, the many penguins of 21c change locations to keep you on your toes. They’re not the only dynamic detail at the luxury hotel. 21c is known for its permanent and changing art exhibits and installations that have included a 30-foot-tall golden replica of Michelangelo’s “David,” a convertible car covered in mirrors, an homage to emigration in the form of a bench/sculpture shaped like stacked suitcases and countless other thought-provoking pieces and collections. That’s why every visit is unique.
Packages: Experience what 21c is all about with one of their packages. Dine with Art or snag a Romance Package.
Notable Amenities: As if the art exhibitions and installations weren’t enough, you can see even more original art in each room.
Beckham Creek Cave Lodge (Parthenon, AR)
We like to think of Beckham Creek Cave Lodge as the hobbit hole of our dreams. Built into a wall of beautiful rock dripping with stalactites and lit with the same gold, glowing kind of lights you see at tourist caves like Blanchard Springs, the owners have complimented the mysterious natural beauty of the cave with uber-chic decor and modern luxuries like foosball and shuffleboard tables, gold leather sofas and a bidet. We’re a little ashamed to say that, although there are swimming holes and waterfalls nearby, we probably wouldn’t be able to pry ourselves out of the lodge’s grotto-style bathroom. It’s opulent.
Rates: Beckham Creek has a two night minimum requirement starting at $450.
Notable Amenities: Each bedroom has a luxurious bath – some are jacuzzis.
Hotel Monteleone (New Orleans, LA)
It was William Faulkner’s favorite hotel … Tennessee Williams wrote it into “The Rose Tattoo” … Truman Capote claimed it as his birthplace. There is no place better than Hotel Monteleone at capturing the romanticism of hot, passionate New Orleans as the beating heart of Southern literature, and within this truly grandiose hotel, the Carousel Bar and Lounge — and its libations — undoubtedly fueled many monumental works of fiction. The 25-seat, circus-style merry-go-round makes one revolution every 15 minutes, so don’t expect the psychotropic “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” experience — though we can’t guarantee you won’t wobble out of there after too many Corpse Revivers.
Rates: Hotel Monteleone‘s rates start around $150.
Notable Amenities: Had a long day? Relax in the rooftop heated pool while soaking up the breathtaking views of the downtown New Orleans skyline.
Falling Waters Resort (Bryson, N.C.)
North Carolina is an outdoorsman’s paradise. That’s why visitors are trading the steel beams and bricks of commercial lodging for the fabric-wrapped, wooden lattice walls and natural air conditioning of yurts. A yurt, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a sturdy sort of tent that originated in ancient central Asia — they’ve experienced a recent surge in popularity among North American hippies — and Falling Waters Resort has an entire “village” of them on the edge of the Nantahala Gorge. These aren’t the bare bones yurts of yore; amenities include outdoor decks, skylights, French doors and a lot of the basics — oh, and access to some of Appalachia’s finest white water and zip lines.
Rates: Yurts start at $89.
Notable Amenities: Check out the canopy tours starting at $69. Find out more here.
Chattanooga Choo Choo (Chattanooga, TN)
The 1941 jingle “Chattanooga Choo Choo” was an ode to the grandiose luxury that used to be a ride on a railcar, and the song’s namesake hotel succeeds at capturing that old time Victorian elegance. One hundred years ago, Terminal Station in Chattanooga was the area’s busy locomotive center and the end of the line for decadent overnight railcars. Long after modern modes of transportation made travel by rail obsolete, Terminal Station was dusted off and reinvented as the lobby of the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel, where vacationers can overnight in restored railcars — minus the jostle and creak of wheels hitting the tracks — and surrender to that catchy tune we already can’t get out of our heads.
Rates: Rooms start around $150.
Notable Amenities: Chattanooga Horse Trams carry you from Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel to Miller Park and back.
Moonrise Hotel (St. Louis, MO)
One night at the Moonrise Hotel and you’ll think they hung the moon. Because they did. Right on top of the building. Homage to the big ball of cheese in the sky doesn’t stop there. The moon’s many phases are depicted on the lobby walls, and moon art hangs in the rooms and within Eclipse Restaurant. Doing the Moon Walk on the multicolored, lit staircase just rocketed to the top of our bucket list.
Special Suites: Moonrise Hotel features 10 Walk of Fame Suites all themed and named after stars from the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
Notable Amenities: Go check out the rooftop lounge and bar
The Land of Oz (Beech Mountain, N.C.)
You’re not in Kansas anymore. Yes, smartass, you’re in North Carolina; but you’re also in Oz, and you have rented out the ENTIRE EMERALD CITY all for yourself. That’s right. The Land of Oz, a ‘70s-era Wizard of Oz theme park complete with Yellow Brick Road, castles, gazebos, a waterfall, statues of munchkins and mushrooms, spooky trees with faces and a (fake) purple horse, is no longer operational, but you can rent the whole park and stay at Dorothy’s House, a cozy cottage outfitted with antiques and knickknacks Aunt Em would have coveted.
Rates: A stay at Dorothy’s starts at $135.
Notable Amenities: Dorothy’s house is tucked away at the top of Beech Mountain. Check it all out here.
Wildwood Inn (Florence, KY)
Some people can afford to travel the world and see all its wonders. Those who aren’t blessed with deep pockets settle for the Wildwood Inn, where they can stay in the Aztec Jungle room. Or the New York Central Park room. Or the Utah Canyon room. Or the Venetian room. Or the Arctic Cave room. The list goes on. You can even travel through time with the Happy Days room or the Western room. Or you can just stay in Kentucky with the Speedway suite, where you can sleep mere inches away from a real racecar. We recommend renting a hut in the African Village, but we’ll look the other way if you go for the Cupid Suite with the heart-shaped tub.
Rates: You can stay at the Wildwood Inn for as low as $69.95.
When she’s not writing, Stacey Bowers is hiking, climbing and exploring her home state of Arkansas, (poorly) planning her next adventure and making jewelry for Bang-Up Betty. El Cosmico photo by Nick Simonite.