- Hotels have been rolling out more unusual amenities to attract guests
- Not all luxuries are created equal, travel experts say
- Offerings include underwater speakers, turn-down poetry and faux butlers
They want you to sleep with them. And they'll do almost anything to make sure that you do. They are...hoteliers trying to win your business.
It used to be that a hotel could secure travelers' loyalty by providing the cornerstones of comfortable lodging: a great location, well-appointed rooms, dining and entertainment options and doting service.
But those days are long gone. Today's savvy 21st-century travelers routinely check out beach conditions via webcam, are accustomed to interiors decorated by celebrity designers and expect concierges to be quicker than Google and more discerning than Yelp.
Nabbing their allegiance is no easy feat.
As a result, hotels have been steadily upping the ante in trying to entice guests. Some pile on extra high-tech gadgetry to lure the geek-minded to their properties.
Others rely on showy design elements (peekaboo bathrooms), luxury amenities (1,500-thread-count linens), retro appliances (record players with a selection of vinyl), customized services (on-call butlers) and personal touches (nightly poems left on your pillow) to woo you.
Oh -- and your little dog too: some hotels have started to offer weekends of "pet pampering."
Now, we love imaginative indulgences as much as the next traveler, but some of these offerings are more head-scratchers than head-turners. We've scoured hotel offerings and discovered some hip trends you might like and some that are pure hype.
Check them out before your next check-in.
At beach clubs throughout the world, cabanas provided a place to stay by the water but get out of the sun. You could relax in the shade, have a drink and maybe play a game of gin rummy.
Now these little canvas enclosures have been upgraded to mini nightclub VIP rooms that offer full bar and restaurant service day and night. Renting for premium prices, they even boast Wi-Fi and widescreen TVs — because really, why should you have to watch a $12 in-room movie in your room?
Call us purists, but here's how we see it: pools are for swimming. Nightclubs are for dancing. Isn't it bad enough that most hotels have piped-in music that can't quite drown out the sound of kids splashing and screaming? Is anyone other than a synchronized swim team going to choose a hotel because it offers underwater surround-sound?
Thread count, the biggest hype in the bedding industry, is like SPF: when you reach a certain number, you should be covered. In terms of weaving, the best bedsheets are made from single-ply yarns and max out at a count of 400 threads per square inch.
Anything over that is probably made from two-ply yarns and is no more comfortable or luxurious -- in fact, these high-thread-count sheets are likely made from inferior fibers that feel heavier. If you want real luxury, choose a hotel that makes its beds with freshly ironed linens that are actually made from linen.
Good hotels have always provided high-quality down pillows for guests and alternatives for those who are allergic. It's a simple choice, really: feathers or foam. Unless, that is, you're staying at a hotel with a pillow menu. Because for some, sweet dreams are made only from a customized selection of Tempur-Pedic pillows, neck rolls, body huggers and buckwheat-and-lavender-filled cushions.
A chocolate on the pillow is a lovely gesture. A card with tomorrow's weather forecast and an in-room breakfast menu is thoughtful. But finding a poem on the bed is one step beyond. It makes us want to grab a pen and write a response: "Thanks for the candy, thanks for the card, please skip the poems, you're trying too hard."
Faux butlers and specialty concierges
We can't all be born with titles, but hotels have taken a page out of the royal playbook with the introduction of butlers to their staffs. While their job descriptions include the basics -- drawing you a warm bath and laying out your clothes -- some hotels now employ super-specialized staffers.
For example, there are e-butlers who help the hapless get online; BBQ butlers who grill your dinner; boot butlers to refresh your ski boots after a day on the slopes; and a sunglasses butler to clean and repair your eyewear. What's next? Our guess is an SPF butler to apply sunscreen to your nose.
In an attempt to make guest room baths more like luxury spas, hoteliers have been adding separate water closets, soaking tubs and glass showers — all of which we appreciate.
But then some began turning the idea of bathing into a floor show -- by putting tubs in the middle of guest rooms and adding glass walls that let roommates watch while you shower. There's no question that these facilities can facilitate intimacy between consenting adults ... but what if you're sharing a room with a work colleague?
Aromatherapy and chromatherapy
While everyone loves a room that smells clean and fresh -- we'd never say no to a spritz of lavender on the bed linens -- some hotels have begun pumping custom fragrances through the heating and air-conditioning system.
Others have embraced the option of chromatherapy -- mood-enhancing colored lighting. While kids and people who like to drink champagne in the bath probably love it, the idea of being rejuvenated by bathing in purple light doesn't quite hold water.
Years ago, only the cheapest chains and finest hotels would let you bring Bowser along. Now "pet-friendly" seems to have been replaced by "pet-centric" in hotels all over the world.
These properties go beyond the standard water bowls and walking services; they offer special check-in staff, plush pet bedding, toys, treats, room-service menus (which include pasta and meat, not just kibble), and doggie spa treatments including pet pedicures and a choice of in-room canine rubdowns.
Whether Fido prefers Swedish or deep-tissue massage is, of course, up to him.
Of course, a good night's sleep is paramount to a great hotel stay. But for some hotels, the golden rule of design -- first, do no harm -- seems to have fallen by the wayside when it comes to master beds. Headboards as big as billboards; mountains of pillows, spreads and colorful scarves; and bruise-inducing platforms, footboards and posts are now the norm.
The upside: wrestling with all the upholstery and taking a painkiller after banging up your shins will almost guarantee that good night's rest.