In the Heart of The Poconos

Love is a many-splendored thing in the land of the mirrored ceiling and heart-shaped tub.

Pennsylvania

Cover Story

February 08, 2004|By Marion Winik | Marion Winik,Special to the Sun

You are entering the land of love," proclaimed a sign shaped like a big red heart as we pulled into the drive of what my husband instantly labeled "Caesar's own motor court."

I reminded him of something I had read on the about.com Web site -- it recommended visiting one of the Caesars couples resorts in the Poconos only if you are either a big fan of kitsch ... or don't know what kitsch is. The fear at that point was that we would fall somewhere in the middle. And for $450 -- the midwinter price for one night in a "Champagne Towers by Cleopatra" room, including dinner and breakfast -- you really don't want to emerge lukewarm.

The spacious lobby of Caesars Paradise Stream, one of four Poconos resorts in northeastern Pennsylvania owned by the chain, featured a massive statue of Diana the Huntress, many signed photographs of entertainers and a helpful clerk named Marilyn who was not, thankfully, wearing a toga. She explained all the details: how to get to our room, how much bubble bath to put in the hot tub, when to show up for happy hour and how to order breakfast.

Then we got back in the car, navigating past the "Roman" villas to find our spot. As we drove over a bridge that crossed a rushing stream to a pretty, wooded corner of the property, my husband conceded that this might be something more than a motor court.

And then we went into our room, and that's when lukewarm heated right up to red hot.

To backtrack a moment, in the days before we had our current complement of five children, ages 3 to 16, I traveled widely on business, sometimes quite luxuriously. I had the good fortune to stay in, or at least set eyes on, elegant, chic, stunningly situ-ated and ridiculously expensive hotel rooms in many countries. But I have never seen anything quite like this.

More than a hotel room, really, it's an adult playground, a mini Playboy Mansion. Decorated in deep red with terra-cotta and teal accents and King Tut wallpaper borders, the suite has several different areas, stacked on graduated levels. The first level is a high-ceilinged living room with couches, television and working fireplace. Beside the fireplace are Doric pillars that flank the 7-foot high champagne-glass-shaped tub, which you enter from the bathroom upstairs.

One side of the room is a glass wall overlooking a private, heart-shaped swimming pool with soft lighting and a mural depicting an Egyptian desert scene. Beside it, steps lead down to a nook with a sauna and a padded massage table warmed by a heat lamp.

Up a carpeted staircase, there's a spacious sleeping loft with a low, circular bed surrounded by mirrored panels. The ceiling is also covered with mirrors, but these have pinholes in them that make a starry sky when illuminated. Nearby is the bathroom, including a shower that doubles as a steam bath and a gateway to the champagne-glass whirlpool itself.

The clear acrylic tub is big enough that any size couple would have room to stretch out. (Really, you could fit your whole family in there. Too bad children aren't allowed. Too, too bad.) Like the bed, the tub is partially encircled by mirrors that reflect tiny twinkle lights in the ceiling -- a veritable Milky Way after I took out my contact lenses. Also, a red spotlight is positioned to tint your bubbles pink.

Should I say we were like two kids set loose in a toy store? Sounds a little more innocent than it actually was, but I'll leave it at that. There's not much more I can say about the Champagne Tower in a family newspaper except thank you, Cleopatra.

From Quakers to lovers

The earliest vacationers in the Poconos, according to Law-rence Squeri, a history professor at East Stroudsburg University who's written a history of the area called Better in the Poconos, (Penn State University Press, 2002) were early 19th-century Quakers from Philadelphia who traveled two days by stagecoach to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the area's mountains and woodland lakes.

The first tourist hotel was the Kittatinny, opened in 1829, and many of its early guests were hunters. They were followed by America's first middle-class vacationers -- the pioneers of "recreation," whose quest to dispose of their freshly minted leisure time was behind the growth of the Catskills and Atlantic City as well. Squeri sees creative entrepreneurship as the key to the Poconos' history and traces the various ways hoteliers reinvented the area's image to keep ahead of the cutthroat competition in the tourism industry.

One of the innovators was Morris Wilkins, a World War II veteran who saw his fledgling electrical business wiped out by a flood in 1955. Having done a bit of wiring work in area hotels, he had the notion to buy a lakeside inn and reposition it as a resort catering exclusively to honeymooners. For one week after he opened for business, Wilkins remembered in a 1999 interview, staffers answered the phone with the greeting, "Hotel Pocopaupack on Lake Wallenpaupack" -- and then he changed the name to Cove Haven.

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