Enticing Hotel Tours Showcase Amazing Art, Haunted History, and More

by  Liz Webber | Jun 20, 2012
JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes
JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes / Photo courtesy of the property

Some hotels are merely a place to rest your head at night, but others hold fascinating tales of wartime refuges, remarkable wildlife, valuable art, and ghostly spirits that refuse to let go. Sign up to be amazed and maybe learn a thing or two on these exceptional hotel tours.

Until recently, most people had forgotten there was an air raid shelter underneath the Hotel Metropole in Hanoi, Vietnam. When staff discovered it during some routine work on the pool area, however, the hotel decided to excavate the bunker and restore it to its original state. Now, hotel guests can participate in nightly tours that highlight the shelter’s famous past residents – including Joan Baez, who recorded “Where Are You Now My Son” there in 1972 – and Hotel Metropole’s role during the Vietnam War.

An in-house historian leads groups through the Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club in St. Petersburg, Florida, each Wednesday through Saturday to reveal such nuggets as the unlikely origins of the hotel and President Calvin Coolidge’s preference to dine with the hotel staff during his visits. The tour costs $5 for guests, $10 for non-guests; alternatively, book the tour and a three-course lunch at Marchand’s Bar & Grill for $25.

New York City’s storied Waldorf-Astoria gives a Landmark Tour every Thursday and Saturday, with emphasis on the hotel’s Art Deco architecture, historical significance, and culinary prowess. The tour costs $50 and includes lunch at either Peacock Alley or Oscar’s Restaurant; call 212-872-1275 to book.

Discover Florida wildlife at Grande Lakes Orlando (home to a Ritz-Carlton and a JW Marriott) with guided bird watching on the resort’s 300 acres of grounds or a guided nature hike on a 2.5-mile trail through the golf club and protected state lands. Both tours include snacks and non-alcoholic drinks, while the bird watching excursion also includes a loaner pair of high-power binoculars. Prices range from $20 to $50 per person depending on duration.

Bird watching is also on the docket at the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa near Palm Springs, California, where visitors can uncover the area’s avian diversity on free daily tours. Lucky participants can also feed the resort’s resident flamingos.

From natural beauty to that of the manmade variety, Maui’s Grand Wailea guides guests through the hotel’s extensive international art collection each Tuesday and Friday. The free tours also highlight the resort’s Artists in Residence program, which brings in local sculptors, painters, and photographers to showcase their works.

Rome Cavalieri / Rome Cavalieri

The private art collection of the Rome Cavalieri encompasses 1,000 works spanning six centuries, from 16th-century Old Masters to Andy Warhol, as well as Beauvais tapestries and rare antiques. You could learn about what’s hanging on the walls through a free downloadable audio tour, but we recommend asking the hotel to arrange a private visit accompanied by a local art historian.

Permanently docked as a hotel in Long Beach, California in 1972, the Queen Mary offers a variety of tour options showcasing the ship’s history and haunted legends. Standouts include a descent into a Cold War-era Russian submarine (visit on weekends when United States Submarine Service Veterans are on board as docents) and after dark ghost hunting with a psychic.

You may recognize the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado from The Shining, and you can take a tour to learn all about the property’s own ghost stories. Or, take a spin through Estes Park on one of the hotel’s antique fire engines. Prices vary depending on the tour; call 970-577-4111 for information and reservations.

Start planning now for the popular ghost tours that take place at the Hotel Galvez in Galveston, Texas on Wednesdays and Thursdays each October. Participants will use an electromagnetic field detector and infrared thermometer to hunt for otherworldly spirits, then sit down to a three-course dinner at Bernardo’s Restaurant. Tour and dinner costs $35; overnight packages are also available.

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