Wildwood Inn Tropical Dome and Theme Suites
Some motels in America cater to those with an urgent desire to sleep in tee pees or cabooses. Some even satisfy those who yearn to lose consciousness in an old RV. But few that we know of cover as wide a range of nocturnal whimsy as the Wildwood Inn.
While the hotel has been open since 1966, it didn't build its first theme suite until 1997. That room, "Kentucky Cave," is still its most popular (even at a hefty $300 for a Saturday night) and its success spurred the Wildwood to carve out dozens of others, including four more cave suites, set supposedly in Arizona, New Mexico, Tennessee, and the Arctic.
Perhaps the Wildwood should be recognized as a barometer of American fantasy. Its older suites tend to be sedate by today's standards -- Venetian, Victorian, Cupid, Champagne Spa -- while its more recent additions reflect a taste for the extreme: Aztec Jungle, Utah Canyon, Pirate Ship. The ubiquitous fake rock walls and outcroppings seem to work in any motif (and once you figure out how to make a room resemble a cave, it's hard to stop).
Our favorite room is the Hillbilly Suite (now promoted simply as the Country suite), although we were told that it was the least popular with guests. Perhaps, in this locale, its visual clichés are too readily available at home. The bed frame is a 1948 Ford pickup truck with a flat tire and fake bullet holes riddling the body. Rocking chairs sit on a fake porch, curtains are made from flour sacks. The toilet paper roll sits in a chamber pot. One of the wall decorations is a rat trap. The TV is concealed in an outhouse.
As elaborate as the rooms are inside, the outside hallways and door exteriors here could use some maintenance. Nothing kills a fantasy quicker than a dented door and dirty carpet between you and the ice machine.
The Wildwood's most elaborate theme is its "Shi-Awela Safari Village" out back. (Shi-Awela supposedly translates to "a peaceful place of rest.") Guests drive through a private gate in a tall bamboo fence and park next to one of a dozen personal "safari huts" encircling a small lagoon. The "village" has a fake hippo and termite mound, and the beds in each of the huts have mosquito netting -- but there's little chance that a bug could get inside, as the huts are actually circular concrete silos with no windows.