9 quirky U.S. hotel traditions

By Jill Becker, Special to CNNPublished 27th March 2014
Lots of hotels have traditions. Nightly happy hours or free check-in snacks aren't that unusual.
But the rituals at the U.S. lodgings we've listed here stand out above the crowd in our book, for either their quirkiness or sheer longevity. We think you'll want to join in on the fun.
Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club & Spa
Marco Island, Florida
The passing from day to night is also a cause for celebration at this southwest Florida beachfront retreat. Each day at sunset, crowds gather by the beach to watch a spectacle that includes the ritual banging of the gong (with one lucky guest chosen to do the honors), the traditional blowing of the conch shell and then a 15-minute performance by a group of Polynesian fire dancers. What better way to start to wind down after a day of fun in the sun?
From $189 per night. www.marcoislandmarriott.com
The Peabody
Memphis, Tennessee
Perhaps the most famous hotel tradition of them all is the twice-daily duck parade that waddles through the lobby of this historic downtown Memphis property, as it has for the past 80 years. At 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. each day, five North American mallards depart their palatial rooftop enclosure, hitch a ride on the elevator (under the guidance of the official duck master) and then strut their stuff across a red carpet and into a large marble fountain in the middle of the lobby, where they swim and splash for a bit until it's time to head back to their lofty penthouse. The Peabody's ducks are so famous, they've appeared in everything from an episode of "Jeopardy!" to one of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues.
From $219 per night. www.peabodymemphis.com
The Algonquin
New York
This landmark Manhattan lodging also has a resident species its guests have come to know and love: a fetching feline named Matilda. A cat has been a fixture at the Algonquin since a stray wandered into the hotel looking for food and shelter in the 1930s. There have been 10 cats in all, the females all named Matilda and the males all called Hamlet (a moniker that reportedly came from famed actor John Barrymore, who was playing the Shakespearean prince at the time). The current kitty, who was rescued from a local shelter in 2010, is a fluffy, blue-eyed ragdoll who, despite having pretty much the run of the place, often opts to hang out by the front desk, chilling in the lobby's plush chairs and greeting people as they check in.
From $269 per night. www.algonquinhotel.com
St. Regis Atlanta
The nightly tradition at this upscale Atlanta accommodation certainly has a lot of pop. That's because every day at approximately 6 p.m., either the hotel's wine butler or the general manager holds court outside the Wine Room and ceremoniously sabers a bottle of champagne to help celebrate evening's arrival. The practice of opening a bottle of bubbly with a military-style sword dates to the days of Napoleon and became a ritual here from the moment the doors opened in 2009. Wine master Jennifer Sollinger can even offer tips on how to saber your own bottle using an ordinary chef's knife.
From $650 per night. www.stregisatlanta.com
Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa
Lost Pines, Texas
Encompassing a 405-acre swath along the banks of the Colorado River just outside Austin, this resort makes full use of the gorgeous Central Texas landscape, presenting guests with the opportunity to participate in everything from kayaking and horseback riding to archery and trap shooting. One of the most popular on-site activities, however, is the weekly meet and greet with the resort's bovine mascots, a pair of longhorn steers named T-Bone and Ribeye. On Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon, guests who wander over to the Riversong Lawn hitching post can saddle up atop the beasts for a unique photo op that makes the perfect Lone Star State souvenir.
From $199 per night. www.lostpines.hyatt.com
Le Pavillon
New Orleans
The Big Easy may be known for menu items like beignets and jambalaya, but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are what visitors look forward to at this historic property known affectionately as the Belle of New Orleans. Ever since 1988, when a hungry guest got a late-night hankering for the nostalgic nosh, the hotel has put out a complimentary spread of PB&J sandwiches along with ice-cold milk and toasty hot chocolate. The snacking begins each evening at 10 p.m.
From $159 per night. www.lepavillon.com
Griswold Inn
Essex, Connecticut
Speaking of free food, this 238-year-old hotel, which is one of the oldest continuously operated inns in the country, is home to a longstanding but little-known tradition that rewards anyone arriving on horseback or via horse and carriage a gratis lunch at one of its three dining venues. One local resident even has his own time-honored tradition of showing up with horse and buggy for his comp meal every two years after hitting the voting booth on Election Day.
From $115 a night. www.griswoldinn.com
Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa
Lahaina, Hawaii
Centuries ago, Hawaiian royalty called this area of Maui home, including Chief Kahekili, who ruled over the land from 1749 to 1794. He was known for mastering the ancient sport of Lele Kawa, which involved jumping feet-first into the ocean from rocky perches up to 400 feet high. In honor of the man known as the King of the Spirit Leap, the Sheraton Maui presents a nightly retelling of his story, which begins with a loincloth-clad warrior lighting torches set at the edge of a lofty promontory and proceeding with a lei offering to the ocean below before taking a daring plunge -- this time headfirst -- into the surf.
From $359 per night. www.sheraton-maui.com
Westin St. Francis
San Francisco
As a one-of-a-kind amenity for its guests, this luxury property on popular Union Square washes every single coin that makes its way into its coffers. The custom began in 1938, when the general manager decided that all silver coins should be cleaned so as to keep the female guests' white gloves from getting soiled. Arnold Batliner, who was the official coin washer until he retired in the late 1980s, is said to have laundered an estimated $17 million in change throughout his tenure. Today, the job belongs to Rob Holsen, who spends an hour or so each week running the coins through a silver-burnishing machine in a small room behind the registration desk.
From $199 a night. www.westinstfrancis.com