NORTH CONWAY — There is a moment in your life, perhaps when gray hair starts sprouting from your scalp and snaking up the sides of your head like on a latter-day Bride of Frankenstein, when it’s time to act in a manner befitting your years. As an example, let’s say you drive more than three hours in rush-hour traffic from Boston to the White Mountains. The grown-up thing to do is arrive at your hotel, peel the desert-dry contact lenses out of your eyes, and burrow under a duvet.
When I arrived late at the Adventure Suites in North Conway, I was covered in Cheeto dust from my rest area dinner, and my only luggage was the bags under my eyes. I was prepared to act my age and sleep. But something magical happened when I opened the door to my room. (Cue the Disney soundtrack!) Burrowing under a duvet needed to wait.
I had booked a room called the Cave. I was well aware that Adventure Suites is a theme hotel. The 13 deluxe and super deluxe suites are based around zany concepts, such as a room you can drive your motorcycle into, a room that looks like a movie theater, something called the Love Shack, and another called the Sugar Shack. I’m generally immune to such gimmicks. I pouted through plenty of childhood meals at the Rainforest Cafe and Bugaboo Creek Steak House. With apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein, those places are as corny as Kansas in August.
But the Cave at Adventure Suites. Where do I begin?
I’ll start where all great adventures start, the five-person hot tub just off the kitchen. The Cheeto dust and stressful commute melted away in the water jets. Imagine if Fred Flintstone received a bonus from Mr. Slate and he took Wilma away for a fun weekend in New Hampshire. This, my friends, is what it would look like.
Stalactites hung from the ceiling. Sinister bats clung to those stalactites. Admittedly not the kind of thing you want to see when you wake up in the morning. Despite fatigue I bounced around because everywhere I looked there was another gewgaw or objet d’art. A giant bone sat in front of the fireplace, a baby pterodactyl nestled in an egg that changed colors in a high corner. There were cave paintings, a mounted dinosaur, and wooden saber tooth tigers glaring menacingly on ledges above.
If this had existed when I was a child, I never would have left the room.
I could survey my prehistoric kingdom from the loft bedroom, which thankfully featured the tasteful cheetah print accents I was craving. There were, however, some things in my room that didn’t make sense. Why were the sofa and chair shaped like hands? And what were those bizarre weapons hanging on the wall?
Most baffling, in the best way possible, was the toilet. I don’t want to think about what sanitary conditions would have looked like in a real cave, but the facilities in this cave were fully automated. The lid magically lifted when I stepped near the commode. There were features and controls on that toilet I still don’t understand. There were enough spraying jets to rival the fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
I finally calmed down and went to sleep, but it was the restless sleep of a child waiting for Santa. I had two more nights at Adventure Suites, and I was staying in a different room each night.
Over breakfast the next morning in the 1950s style diner, I realized I needed to know more about this place. I hadn’t given it much thought beforehand, but as an aficionado of both travel and over-the-top-kitsch, these suites deserved my respect. What kind of mastermind could have created this?
Adventure Suites started out as just another highway hotel called Cross Country in the 1950s. It turned salacious in the 1980s when it became The Presidential Waterbed Hotel. Nothing says class like putting the word “waterbed” in the name of your hotel. Its slogan was “The Pocono of the White Mountains.”
Kathy Brassill purchased the property in 1998 and went about transforming it from a hubba-hubba-hideaway into Adventure Suites. On her watch theme rooms were born, a fire pit was added in the back, an igloo in the winter, and a facade that looks like an old-time town covered the previously stale exterior. I’m not sure how the old-time town tied into the room themes, but I loved that too. The hotel is continually growing and evolving.
Some of the most extravagant suites at the hotel, such as the Tree House, were booked by the time I reserved. It features a giant tree named Mr. Tree Trunk. The tree house has a bridge that crosses into Mr. Squirrel’s Nut Hut. I contemplated breaking into this room just to tell friends I spent the night in a place called Mr. Squirrel’s Nut Hut.
My second night was spent in a room more humble than the Cave, the New York Penthouse. The hotel’s brochure says it’s “Built for the elite, the romantic, and those of discriminating taste.” I couldn’t quite figure out what made it a New York Penthouse, aside from a sequined pillow that looked stolen from Liza Minnelli’s home. My bathroom featured a urinal and an air hand dryer. If I lived in a penthouse in New York, I might skip the urinal and splurge on some nice towels.
I wasn’t complaining. The room was ridiculously opulent by rural New Hampshire standards, with heated granite floors, a fireplace, a martini bar, and a Jacuzzi.
The room also had a small putting green. I’ve never stayed in a New York penthouse, so I don’t know if a putting green is an authentic touch, but I’m going to go out on a Mr. Tree Trunk limb here and guess that it’s not.
I walked a few feet down the hall and went from the city to the country with my last night in the Log Cabin room. At this point, I was getting spoiled and moping that I wasn’t able to book the Night Club, the newest room at Adventure Suites. It has a dance floor, a DJ station, disco balls, and a dance cage. When in my lifetime would I ever again have a chance to stay in a room with a dance cage?
I pulled myself together and prepared for the Log Cabin, a pine-filled room with a Jacuzzi next to the bed (convenient) and a faux bearskin rug that scowled at me. For amorous couples in need of romance, Adventure Suites offers extras such as the Exotic Adventure (“A tasteful package of adult accessories”), Silk & Heaven (silk sheets), and Rosie Romance (silk rose petals). My only chance of love in the Log Cabin room was with the bearskin rug, so I passed on any tasteful adult packages.
The Cave was the highlight of my stay, but the over-the-top escapism of my weekend was a completely unexpected treat. I’m biased when it comes to theme hotels — I once drove four hours in Arizona to see a row of concrete tepees that serve as guest rooms — but there was something oddly beguiling about Adventure Suites. The property tries so earnestly to be a luxury hotel that it often goes over the top. But if you’re staying at a place with a Dragon’s Lair, a Jungle Room, and a Roman Rendezvous suite, I’m guessing subtlety is not on your agenda.