It begins with the stately pillars, the lavish flower arrangements and a formal greeting. By the time you and your bags are whisked upstairs into one of the few remaining grand hotels in America, you already feel different.
It's hard to express what this feeling is, a feeling of pampering and privilege, perhaps. A feeling of having arrived. Even in the land of equality, these are feelings everyone should get a taste of from time to time, but we usually don't in the hustle-bustle of modern life.
From California to New York, Michigan to Florida, America's grand hotels are distinctive in their architecture, histories, and traditions. They were built as retreats for Americans made newly prosperous in the industrial age. These were newly minted gentility, folks with money to carve out leisure time, and lake steamers and railroads to whisk them away.
Today, what America's remaining grand hotels all share is a sense of occasion. You don't just pull up to the hotel parking lot expecting a convenient stopover on a long, arduous journey to somewhere else. Here, the hotel is the journey.
By Betsa Marsh for The Saturday Evening Post
Casa Monica Where: St. Augustine, Florida A bit of history: The town of St. Augustine was founded by the Spanish in 1565 and remained under Spanish control for more than two centuries. Fun fact: The hotel is named for St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, the city’s namesake. The tab: Room rates in low season (January and June-November) range from $159 to $259. High season rates (February-May nd December) range from $179-$399. Contact: 888-213-8903; www.casamonica.com.
The Grand Hotel Where: Mackinac Island, Michigan A bit of history: Five presidents have visited the Grand Hotel— Truman, Kennedy, Ford, Bush, and Clinton. Fun fact: The Grand was the location for the 1979 movie Somewhere in Time starring the late Christopher Reeve, Christopher Plummer, and Jane Seymour. The tab: The resort is open May 4-Oct. 28. The weekday price ranges from $254 per person per night to $374 per person per night. On the weekends prices range from $274 per person per night to $399 per person per night in a Named Room. The fees include the Full American Plan (three meals included). Contact: 800-334-7263; www.grandhotel.com.
West Baden Springs Where: French Lick, Indiana A bit of history: Hotelier Lee Sinclair hired 500 men to work 10-hour shifts six days a week to build the domed building that every architect said couldn’t be built. Fun fact: The last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series was 1908—the last year they trained at West Baden Springs. In 2011, to break the century-plus drought, the Cubs requested West Baden’s famous Sprudel spring water shipped to spring training where it was sprinkled on the training field and on Wrigley Field in Chicago—to no avail. The tab: In off-season (January-April and November-December) a French Lick room for two starts at $189 and a West Baden room for two at $299. In peak season (May-October) a French Lick room for two starts at $189 and a West Baden room for two at $299. Contact: 888-936-9360; http://frenchlick.com.
Where: San Diego, California Opened: 1910 A bit of history: In 1939 the West Coast’s largest radio towers were installed on the roof. KFVW radio soon moved into the space, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered one of his first radio addresses to the nation from there. Fun fact: For the 2006 grand re-opening owners of the US Grant commissioned a $250,000 hand-milled carpet from Thailand and had it delivered by ship. The tab: Rates in December are $189 to $309 per night. Rest of the year, $289 to $589. Contact: 888-625-5144; www.usgrant.net.
The Greenbrier Where: White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia Opened: 1778 A bit of history: Because of its close proximity to Washington, D.C., a secret nuclear fallout shelter was built here in 1962. The shelter was big enough to protect each and every member of the U.S. Congress plus the executive and judicial branches. The government kept this secret for 30 years. The bunker is now open for tours. Fun fact: The healing—and odiferous—sulfur waters that first drew people here still bubble out of the spring under the green-domed Springhouse. The tab: January-April, November-December rates start at $245 per midweek night and $570 per weekend night. May-October rates range from $379 to $770. Contact: 800-453-4858; www.greenbrier.com
Mohonk Mountain House Where: New Paltz, New York Opened: 1869 A bit of history: On 2,200 lush acres surrounding Lake Mohonk in the Shawangunk Ridge, two brothers built this National Historic Landmark. The hotel has stayed in the same family to this day. Fun Fact: This picturesque resort was featured in the Stephen King novel The Regulators. The tab: Room rates range from $560 to $990 per night. January-March a Midweek Winter Getaway is $170 per person per night, based on double occupancy.
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