Outstanding Hotel Experiences for the Non-guest
You have to make choices when you travel. Time, economics, and/or physical ability can dictate your itinerary. But be on the lookout for adding-in those once-in-a-lifetime experiences, even when you aren’t staying where they are offered. Many don’t realize that outside guests can often access exceptional offerings. Even if you are in town for a day from a cruise ship, you can often take advantage of these experiences, just be sure to book in advance with the hotel/resort directly. Here I describe just a few examples: the Hawk Walk at Ashford Castle in Ireland, High Tea at The Emperess Hotel in Victoria, watching the famous Duck Walk at Memphis’ Peabody Hotel, taking the Bunker Tour at the Greenbriar in West Virginia, and enjoying the Grand Hotel on Michigan’s Mackinac Island.
Hawk Walk at Ashford Castle | Cong, Ireland
We had an amazing experience on the Hawk Walk at Ashford Castle. We worked with a Harris Hawk named Aztec (and our instructor Alec) and spent an hour walking in the woods of the Ashford Castle estate.
It was actually like a page right out of a Robin Hood story, deep in Sherwood Forest. We got to see Aztec take off to hunt his own prey at one point. What a feeling to look eye-to-eye with a raptor and have him take-off and return to your gloved hand.
Alec was an excellent teacher, and you could tell he had a real love of the birds and what he was doing; we managed to learn quite a bit from him.
The program is run by Ireland’s School of Falconry, the oldest established such school in Ireland. We were guests at Ashford Castle where the program is based, you don’t have to be staying there to participate.
Tea at the Empress Hotel | Victoria, Canada
A perfect afternoon high tea at the lovely Fairmont Empress Hotel in our final port of Victoria, BC, Canada, was a fitting conclusion to the Alaska cruise I took with my mother. I booked the tea directly with the hotel. They offer extended evening hours in the summer months to accommodate the cruising visitors, many of whom don’t arrive until late in the day (as we did). Shuttle buses and taxis are readily available at the port and we grabbed a shuttle into downtown. For those who can, and don’t mind walking, it would be a beautiful and easy walk of 20-30 minutes. We walked around a bit and visited a few shops. Victoria was as beautiful as I remembered, but unfortunately, on this visit, we encountered quite a few older, aggressive panhandlers in the area.
Our leisurely stroll led us to the Empress, through their colorful manicured gardens, and into the historic tea room. The service was exceptional, the hot tea served in silver teapots, and the savories delicious. The experience lived up to its reputation and we enjoyed every morsel. Afterward, we checked out a bit of the street theater held regularly along the harbor (across the street from the hotel) and then grabbed a cab back to our Celebrity ship.
Duck Walk at The Peabody | Memphis, Tennessee
We were fortunate to arrive in Memphis in time for the duck parade at The Peabody Hotel. A surprisingly large crowd was on hand at 5 PM to watch the five Mallard Ducks line-up and, to the music of John Phillip Souza, march (waddle) out of their lobby fountain, into the elevator and to their penthouse home for the night. In the morning, we just had to see the ducks return to their fountain at 11 AM. We were staying at the hotel, but if you are visiting from another venue I’d arrive early to get a good seat.
Bunker Tour at The Greenbriar | White Plains, West Virginia
(No pictures allowed)
Remember those drills we had to prepare for a nuclear attack by the Russians? Well, we might have been hiding under school desks but out politicians had another plan. If there had been an attack during the Cold War, our government was going to evacuate Congress to a secure, fortified, and very secret, fallout shelter. Today you can tour this amazing site underneath The Greenbriar Resort. The 90-minute tour will cost you $39 per adult and $20 for kids 10-18; children under 10 are not allowed and reservations are required. Not guests should plan enough time to park, and why not stay for lunch? We did and it was delightful.
Buried 720 feet into the hillside the facility was completed in 1961, and maintained in a constant state of readiness for 30 years, by a firm working undercover under the guise of audio/visual support services. It ceased operation after being outed by a Washington Post article in 1992. The tour was amazing.
Rock on the Porch at the Grand Hotel | Mackinac Island, Michigan
Mackinac Island is like Disney World come to life. Walt had to have based his “Main Street” on this charming, historic town.
My husband and I wanted to come here for a loooong time. One Thanksgiving about 25 years ago, we saw the movie Somewhere in Time and loved what we saw. The Grand Hotel looks pretty much exactly like in the movie. We re-watched the 1981-movie before we left on our trip and by today’s standards, it’s really pretty humorous at times. So, if you watch it, be prepared for some sappy overacting along with the beautiful scenery.
We decided not to stay at the Grand Hotel and instead opted for a middle-of-town charming B&B, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying exactly what we wanted to see at the hotel. We had drinks in the Cupola Bar, and one evening horses Danny and Daisy pulled us in a “taxi”, half an hour through the woods to the hotel’s delightful Bavarian-style restaurant aptly named Woods. We walked the grounds, had ice cream, and enjoyed hanging out in a couple of the rockers on the expansive veranda. Then we got back on our bikes and rode off for other adventures.