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Suite Dreams

When a single room won’t do, try a suite with a robotic chambermaid.

Hernando Courtright, former Beverly Wilshire owner and CEO, was renowned for the way he treated royalty in the suites of his hotel in Beverly Hills. He spent $25,000 just on flowers for the suite of Denmark‘s Queen Margarethê. But that’s not all. When Prince Charles came for a visit, Courtright arranged a greeting from a mariachi band and a group of Mexican dancing girls who presented HRH with a 12-gallon charro hat. The arrangements were a little more practical for the 400-pound King of Tonga: Courtright had his bed reinforced.

It used to take hoteliers years to build the classy reputation that inspires such legends, but today’s hotel mavericks are creating suites destined to be a legend from the moment the hotel opens its doors. Take the new Crystal Palace Resort & Casino in Nassau, the Bahamas, for example: The $1.3 million Galactic Fantasy Suite has a pair of Starship Enterprise-style doors that automatically slide open as people approach, and a resident robot named Ursula, who walks (well, glides), talks, and dispenses everything from towels to champagne glasses. The walls of the 2,350-squarefoot Barbarella-like suite are sheathed in stainless steel, Lucite and mirrors, and there are four neon columns that pulse in rhythm to your body heat-a beat that may quicken when you consider it costs $25,000 a night (no kidding) to stay there. But where else would you find a robot who coos in her artificial voice, “Won’t you please join me in the Great Room for a Dom Pérignon?”

The high rollers who play Carnival’s casino may be willing to pay the steep price, but elsewhere, hotel owners are trying to keep suite costs down to avoid embarrassing situations like the one at New York’s Carlyle hotel, which had to evict King Peter of Yugoslavia when he ran out of money. The reclusive monarch apparently lost touch with reality while holed up in his suite. Complained former Carlyle president George Markham, “I wish the king had done something prudent, such as endorse a product.” Not all guests skip out on their bills. Howard Hughes spent 25 years in a Beverly Hills hotel suite, at a cost of $250,000 a year. San Francisco hotel suites seem to lead the competition when it comes to demanding guests. Hotel executives still talk about an unusual occurrence in 1959, when Nikita Khrushchev stayed in the Royal Suite at San Francisco‘s Mark Hopkins during his much publicized U.S. tour. The hotel’s staff expected Khrushchev to drink a lot, but instead he ate a lot-filet mignon for breakfast, for instance, as well as six-course dinners from room service before going off to dine at official banquets.

Khrushchev’s snacking turned into quite a nuisance for his security people. Intelligence reports (or perhaps just paranoia) led them to worry about cobalt poisoning. Their solution was “Operation Geiger Counter”-a radiological survey of all rooms in the Russians’ 80-room block, plus an analysis of all of Khrushchev’s food and beverages.

Hotels today avoid security breaches by putting CEOs in fortress-like “Presidential Suites,” often used by visiting heads of state. One such suite at Washington, D.C.‘s Willard InterContinental is Secret Service-designed and guarded by a command post with closed-screen television cameras and an independent communications system.

High style and high security go hand-in-hand at many European hotels such as the Villa Magna in Madrid, which boasts a “Hollywood” suite with bulletproof windows. And taking direction from Hollywood, many hotels create theme suites to accommodate guests who like to pretend they’re in the movies. Budding Tarzans and Janes should find the Adventure Suite at Houston‘s Astrodomain Hotel interesting. The Tarzan Bedroom comes complete with a vine-covered tree, a rattan bar and a “tree house” mezzanine. The Astrodomain’s Acapulco Patio, with carved wood doors and colorful Mexican tile, leads to the P.T. Barnum Suite, where the Big Top Room parlor has three enormous circles woven into the carpet, and three more painted on the ceiling.

The adjoining Band Wagon Bedroom has a wider than king-size bed made from an old bandwagon, complete with wheels. But the piece de résistance is the 4,860-square-foot Mini-Dome recreation room-a miniature replica of the Astrodome, complete with baseball diamond, working scoreboard, lounges and wet bar.

Some hotels spend millions on interior design trying to recreate an “original” suite or make the guest feel like they’re part of the environment. New York‘s Plaza Hotel outfitted its Frank Lloyd Wright suite with the architect’s original sketches. (Wright stayed in the suite while designing the Guggenheim Museum.) The Hyatt Regency Grand Cayman, located in a part of the West Indies known for its coral reefs, designed its Governor’s Suite with aquatic paintings and sculpture to please its scuba-diving guests. At the Villa San Michele-a sixteenth century monastery that’s now a hotel near Florence, Italy-a luxury suite was carved out of a monk’s cell. Despite modern conveniences, the suite still has small, high windows of leaded glass.

Many hotels encourage guests to air their criticisms, so as to avoid incidents like the one in which radio personality Arthur Godfrey took a bite out of a peach from his fruit basket, discovered it wasn’t ripe, and threw it out the window of his suite at San Francisco‘s Mark Hopkins. Unfortunately, his false teeth were still in it! Throwing on a robe, Godfrey flew down the stairs and ran across the lobby. He managed to spot the peach-plus-teeth on Mason Street, just as a truck ran over it. Then there’s the case of one crotchety old lady holed up in the penthouse of the San Francisco Fairmont, who was so reclusive and recalcitrant that she vowed not to leave except “feet first in a box.” Hotel officials finally convinced her to go away for a few days in 1945, so that visiting diplomats could draft the United Nations charter there.

When today’s hotel guests have a complaint, they can simply pick up a phone and call the concierge. But if you happen to be staying at the Chicago Hilton & Towers, you can complain to an even higher authority: the top suite has a hot-line to the White House.

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