Hotels Get Super-Creative with Specialty Programming

Ritz-Carlton South Beach

We've seen luxury, we've seen convenience, and we've seen high-tech in hotels. But the latest trend seems to suggest that even the busiest and wealthiest travelers still place a high premium on playfulness. From Manhattan to Napa, at African safari lodges and in oceanfront all-inclusive resorts, today's travelers can have fun times when they travel, thanks to wonderfully creative extra-curricular programming by hoteliers. For starters, feast your eyes on America's sexiest water ballet troupe, performing monthly at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach through December.

Sing-Along Under the Stars
Canary Hotel
Sing-Along Under the Stars, Canary Hotel

Ever since the Kimpton hotel family took over the Canary Hotel in downtown Santa Barbara, the property's been trying out all sorts of crowd-friendly activities, from s'mores roasts to '80s dance parties to the just-announced sing-along movie nights, happening Wednesdays in October. The rooftop is a perfect SoCal setting, and we applaud the Canary for opening up the screenings to all comers, and even providing complimentary blankets. The first movie is Grease; the last is Rocky Horror (natch) ; check the website for the rest; and YES, there will be costume contests. Of course there will be.

Ballooning and bubbly with the Wydown Hotel, Napa Valley.
Calistoga Balloons
Ballooning and Bubbly with the Wydown Hotel, Napa Valley

A Wine Country sunrise is a beautiful thing, and it's worth dragging yourself out of bed to view it from the sky, via Calistoga Balloons in partnership with boutique hideaway Wydown St. Helena. Soar over Napa Valley as it awakens; then come back to earth for a champagne breakfast at Solbar and morning wine tastings at Calistoga's finest wineries. With only 12 lovely rooms and a husband-wife team running the hotel, the Wydown is a throwback to Wine Country before the tour busses came -- when your hosts helped plan your days and made sure their friends around the Valley took care of you.

PHOTO: Post-divorce Purification at Grand Velas
Courtesy of Velas Resorts
Post-divorce Purification at Grand Velas

With divorce parties becoming a "thing," the luxury all-inclusive Grand Velas resorts of Mexico welcome the newly split with a customizable package that celebrates second-time singlehood. There are some serious components, like the purification ritual pictured, which is conducted by a Mayan shaman. On the lighter side: complimentary makeovers, because they make you feel sexy, and piñata-bashing, because sometimes it's just very satisfying to beat up an inanimate object as though you were 5 years old again.

PHOTO: Marine Biology Camp at Wild Dunes
Wild Dunes
Marine Biology Camp at Wild Dunes

Barrier islands are a special Southern vacation experience -- not tropical, but lush, and not exotic, but still a world of their own. Wild Dunes in South Carolina has created a day excursion that really explores the natural beauty of the barrier islands. Take a pontoon boat to Capers Island, a tiny land speck neighboring Isle of Palms where the resort is. There, guests learn about the creatures in the touch tank, try to spot dolphins offshore, catch tasty blue crabs in season, and generally enjoy the unspoiled natural beauty all around them.

Iced Afternoon Tea at Biltmore
Courtesy Arizona Biltmore
Iced Afternoon Tea at Biltmore

What to do when you're a classic resort known for its traditional high teas, but the temperature is regularly above 100 degrees and nobody wants to drink a boiling beverage? You put it on ice, of course! It's no surprise that the desert grande dame Arizona Biltmore is offering an afternoon iced tea service (starting with a chilled cucumber soup palate-cleanser; then continuing with traditional sandwiches and cakes) through October. We're just wondering why nobody in New York thought of this when the East Coast had its record-breaking heat wave earlier in the summer.

Maasai Warrior School with Cottars
Cottars 1920s Safari Camp
Maasai Warrior School with Cottar's Safari Service

If you want your kids to have at least one childhood vacation experience they can brag about till the end of time, this is it -- but it'll entail a long flight. Take them to Cottar's 1920s Safari Camp in the Maasai Mara and enroll them in Maasai Warrior training. Here they'll learn to make fire, shoot arrows, throw spears and do many other useful things in the African bush. They may even get henna tattoos. It all takes place under the supervision/tutelage of a respected Maasai tracker, and parents are welcome to supervise ... though most prefer to go on grown-up safari.

Hester Nights at Eventi
Hester Street Fair
Hester Nights at Eventi

Hester Street Fair is a small but well-established weekly Lower East Side street fair known for its artisan purveyors. Hester Nights is an offshoot, taking place every Thursday night through Sept. 26 in the courtyard of the oh-so-centrally located Eventi Plaza. This is the public gathering space behind Eventi, a Kimpton Hotel, and it's enormous by Manhattan standards: large enough to comfortably hold a dozen street food vendors, a film screening, and a couple hundred passers-by who stumbled onto the action and decided to stick around.

PHOTO: With This Drink, We Be Wed
Viceroy Riviera Maya
With This Drink, We Be Wed, Viceroy Riviera Maya

Apparently it's much more fabulous to play bartender at a 5-star hotel bar than in the kitchen of your own home. Casa del Mar in Santa Monica lets guests bring their boozy creation home in a mini-barrel, and some U.K. hotels offer "master mixology" classes. But for the win it's Viceroy Riviera Maya, where bride-and-groom duos come up with their own "branded" cocktails to serve the wedding party. Mostly this wins because the basic cocktail themes are pure Hollywood rom-com fodder: i.e. "Bridesmaids Revenge," "Last Fling" and "The Pre-Nup." From there, things only get more spirited -- depending how inventive the bride and groom want to be.

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