What does a Cold War bunker, underwater research laboratory, and a legendary fashion designer all have in common? Answer: They’re all associated with hotels you’ll be adding to your bucket list soon.
Some hotels are just a place to catch a few winks and a shower. Others, on the other hand, are a full-blown, once in a lifetime experience. To call them “hotels” also feels somewhat inadequate since they’re so unconventional. Pack your sense of adventure and curious nature, my friends: we’re about to embark on an incredible journey.
Okay, so no longer technically named the “Versace Mansion”, this over the top Miami luxury hotel is the former home of legendary fashion designer Gianni Versace. The sumptuous boutique hotel now goes by the moniker Villa Casa Casuarina, and it’s every bit as opulent and indulgent as you would expect. Villa Casa Casuarina sports 10 suites, including Gianni’s master bedroom suite and Donatella’s Venus suite. Views overlook Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, and the Thousand Mosaic pool. Amenities include exclusive access to the pool (I’m guessing everyone in South Beach tries to go there whether they’re staying there or not?), a rooftop lounge, Onyx Bar, and Gianni’s at the Villa restaurant. Decadent? Yes. Luxurious? Yes! Subtle? Not a chance.
Jules’ Undersea Lodge
Another Florida hotel but this one drastically different from the Versace Mansion–and you’ll need SCUBA certification to get there! Jules’ Undersea Lodge is located at Key Largo Undersea Park where you can take SCUBA diving lessons in a protected lagoon. The structure itself once as a research laboratory in Puerto Rico before being transported to the United States. According to Jules’ Undersea Lodge owner Ian Koblick, this is the first and only truly undersea hotel and that “waking up to view a pair of angelfish looking in your bedroom window is a moment you’ll never forget.”
The lodge is set up into three main “compartments”: a wet room entry where divers can shed their gear and take a hot shower, a bedroom compartment with two bedrooms, and a common area with microwave, refrigerator, and TV equipped with an Amazon Fire Stick and plenty of DVD’s. There’s also an intercom and round-the-clock staff to assist guests 24 hours a day. Luxury packages include a “mer-chef” that dives to the lodge to cook and serve a gourmet meal! You can also have surprise flower arrangements and cakes delivered for birthday and anniversary celebrations. Famous guests of Jules’ Undersea Lodge include former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler, and Jon Fishman of Phish (I had to save myself from writing cheesy jokes about that last one). And in case you’re wondering, the lodge is named for Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea author Jules Verne.
Located in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, the Greenbrier is a National Historic Landmark and the only hotel you’ll find in the world that has it’s own Cold War bunker. Yes, you read that correctly: The Greenbrier served as a secret relocation center for United States Congress members in the event of a nuclear attack during the Cold War and Cuban Missile Crisis for about 30 years. Thankfully, the bunker was never used and was declassified in 1992. You can now reserve a tour of the bunker, which I have done and is hands-down one of the most interesting and eye-opening experiences I’ve ever had.
The Greenbrier has plenty of history, bunker notwithstanding. Many US Presidents and dignitaries have stayed in the Greenbrier’s luxury accommodations, including both Presidents Bush, Richard Nixon, JFK, Dwight Eisenhower, Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, and John Tyler. They even referred to The Greenbrier as “the Summer White House”. How cool is it that you can sleep where the Presidents have slept?
Plenty of celebrities have visited the Greenbrier, with Lionel Richie, Jennifer Garner, Charles Barkley, Brooke Shields, Jessica Simpson, and Shaquille O’Neal all staying here on the same night. How’s that for star power? The Greenbrier is also home to professional golf and tennis events annually. And I haven’t even mentioned the classic Dorothy Draper interior design, the famous mineral springs and spa or the world class dining!
Capitol Reef Resort
In my personal opinion, pretty much any time you can stay in a National Park is a memorable experience. Capitol Reef Resort located in Capitol Reef National Park in Torrey, Utah takes that a step further with some seriously unique accommodations. They have beautiful cabins, but you would probably expect his sort of lodging in such a park. What you may not expect are teepees and Conestoga wagons, though! The covered wagons are gathered around a fire pit among the red rock cliffs of Capitol Reef. The Conestoga wagons and teepees are outfitted with more creature comforts than they had historically, but still no TVs. But you’re supposed to be telling stories around the campfire, not watching TV, right? The most important feature they do have is access to private bathrooms. Capitol Reef Resort’s website describes it as “58 acres of paradise” and I think they’re right. Guests can enjoy the outdoor heated pool after a long day of horseback riding or llama excursions. Or you can take a 4×4 Jeep tour of the cliffs if horseback touring doesn’t sound like your cup of tea.
Animal Kingdom Lodge
We all know that Walt Disney World is full of “Disney magic” but it also features some pretty unique accommodations from cabins and treehouses to contemporary hotels with views of Magic Kingdom park. One of the most unique hotels at Disney World, or anywhere for that matter, is Animal Kingdom Lodge. Animal Kingdom Lodge is actually composed of two different “sister” resorts, Jambo House and Kidani Village–and both are amazing experiences! Animal Kingdom Lodge has a combined 46 acres with four different savannas. Thirty different species call Animal Kingdom Lodge home, including giraffes, zebras, gazelles, impalas, kudu, and cranes (there’s a guide sheet in every room and plenty of markers around the resort to help you identify the 250 different animals on property).
Animal Kingdom Lodge probably deserves it’s own post since there are so many incredibly unique experiences to enjoy here, and I did include it in my Most Unique Rooms at Disney World post. In addition to the animals, there are many other “must-do” activities around the resort, like the various African artifacts and art. Seriously, you could make an entire vacation at this resort without setting foot in a theme park! If you stay here, make sure you dedicate at least one day to just enjoy the resort without squeezing in park time. The pools and restaurants are also stellar here: there are actual flamingos by the Uzima pool! And Jiko is some of the finest dining on Disney property. You’ll be hard pressed to find anything like the Animal Kingdom Lodge experience in the United States. No wonder it’s a favorite of Disney guests, including my family. We’re BIG fans!
Chattanooga Choo Choo
It’s the train so famous that big-band crooner Glenn Miller composed a song about it: the Chattanooga Choo Choo! Back in 1909 when rail travel was all the rage, the Chattanooga train station was considered the “gateway to the South”. Fast forward several decades later to the 1970s and traveling by train was no longer in vogue, which led to a proposed demolition to the train terminal. Luckily, a group of investors purchased and saved the Chattanooga station in 1973 and it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. The terminal building now houses hotel rooms, while vintage Pullman rail cars from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s can be found nearby. On-site attractions include entertainment along Station Street, a comedy club, an escape room, shopping, dining, and the Glenn Miller Gardens.
The Canyon Inn
Want to step back even further in time than the Chattanooga Choo Choo can offer? Go back centuries, even eons, when you stay in the Grand Canyon Cavern Suite at the Canyon Inn in Arizona. Their website describes it as “one of the most unique places in the world to spend the night… 210 feet underground in a 65 million year old cavern, in the largest motel room in the world”. Despite being situated so far underground, the suite is entirely self-contained with power, water, and full bathrooms. Guests will also have amenities such as a small refrigerator, microwave, and TV. Other features of the Canyon Inn include the underground Cavern Grotto restaurant, cavern tours, ghost tours, and above ground accommodations featuring themed rooms, a bunkhouse, and the 1,800 square foot ranch house.
Mustang Monument Wild Horse Eco-Resort
Mustang Monument Wild Horse Eco-Resort in Wells, Nevada promises guests the truly unique experience of an “American Safari”. Some of the United States’ last wild Mustangs call the resort home, and proceeds from every stay directly financially supports protecting preserving these creatures. Who doesn’t love having their own adventure while contributing to the preservation of wild horses? Sign me up!
The lodging choices are pretty unique, too, and include luxury tipis and safari cottages well-appointed with designer decor and furnishings. Rates are all-inclusive, meaning the cost includes all meals, beverages, and house wine (tax and service charges are extra). Mustang Monument also offers a wide variety of adventurous activities including Wild Mustang Safari Adventures, rock climbing, guided historic tours and hikes through the desert. “Milder” activities range from spa treatments to authentic Native American beading and moccasin classes. According to Mustang Monument’s website, all activities are customized to meet guest’s needs. There’s also a Kids’ Club with activities for the youngest guests. And guests of all ages will delight in watching the wild Mustangs being fed at sunrise.
The Queen Mary Hotel
The RMS Queen Mary ocean liner ran a two-week express service between Southampton, England, Cherbourg, France, and New York City back in the late 1930s, as well as serving as transport for the Allied troops during World War II. Once the war was over, the Queen Mary returned to it’s transatlantic passenger service before being docked permanently in Long Beach, California. It then took on a new life as a hotel with over 340 staterooms for guests to enjoy. Much of the hotel features the ship’s original Art Deco woodwork and portholes. Paranormal enthusiasts will revel in the ghost stories with the Queen Mary reportedly being the most haunted hotel in America! Visitors not brave enough to stay the night can take a historical tour, have a drink at the Observation Bar, or dine at the Chelsea Chowder House. Looking for a luxurious fine dining experience? Check out their Sunday Champagne Brunch or Sir Winston’s Restaurant for five-star dining. Other experiences at the Queen Mary include shows by local musicians, comedy shows, and the Dark Harbor Halloween event.
Nestled in the Catskill Mountains is The Roxbury: a resort comprised of a Victorian mansion, retro hotel, and cottages. While Victorian mansions are hardly a dime a dozen, this resort doesn’t exactly seem amazing at first glance, right? It doesn’t take long, however, to realize that The Roxbury is probably the most creative entry on this list. I get the feeling that The Roxbury’s owners have super fun personalities. Anyone that can use neon lime green as an exterior accent color and make it look elegant and whimsical at the same time has some serious design capabilities, in my opinion.
The eight highly themed cottages include decor inspired by Wonder Woman, Galileo, Cinderella, King Arthur, Dracula, faerie forests, Clash of the Titans, and 1930s retro-style Hollywood glamour. Each one is totally unique, well appointed, and super immersive: for starters, the King Arthur “Pendragon” cottage features a 20-foot crown-shaped chandelier, “throne” chairs, circular stone walls, and other Camelot-inspired amenities. The “Faerie Forest” has many 3-D sculptural elements made of fallen cedar from the forest on the resort, along with mossy, fern-covered walls, twinkling lights, and a “Juliet” balcony fit for Tinkerbell.
Each room of the Roxbury Mansion is just as highly-themed as the cottages, and the themes are just as creative, if not more so. Inspiration for decor include the property’s frozen waterfalls during wintertime, the homestead of local Revolutionary War Soldiers, “The Pampered Postmaster”, and a firkin factory. If you’re like me and you’re a little rusty on your firkin history, a firkin is a barrel or cask used to store and haul butter and other goods centuries ago. And the themes work beautifully and will leave you wondering how and why they look so darn good. It also left me wondering where one would acquire a golden dragonhead water faucet, just in case. If it’s been a while since you’ve stayed in a bedroom themed around The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, then The Roxbury should scratch that itch for you.