Jan. 13, 2011 -- What if during your next hotel stay, you could make your own customized aromatherapy scent, record your own CD in a professional recording studio or even enroll your pup in surfing school?
Dog surfing school? Yeah dude. We're totally stoked.
More hotels than ever are offering unique courses for guests (even the furry ones). Why? Steven Lance, a marketing guru and coauthor of "Breakthrough!: A 7-Step System for Developing Unexpected and Profitable Ideas" explains that hotels need to outdo each other with exceptional (and sometimes wacky) programs to stand out from the pack.
"A bed is a bed, but the amenities and programs make hotels different from each other," notes Lance. "Historically, hotels offered plushy bathrobes, then advanced to health clubs, spas and gyms. These programs are an evolution - the next step from free shampoo in the room."
Yet, despite the marketing incentives, many programs provide respectable merit. And they offer lasting benefits long after guests leave. The Ojai Valley Inn & Spa in Ojai, Calif., offers an aromatherapy blending class where students learn to create their own customized scent. The formula for the one- of-a-kind essential oil is carefully preserved on file so guests can forever order it in lotion, oil, bath salt or soap.
"It's such a powerful experience," said Rentate Collins, who oversees the program. "This scent is so uniquely you -- shared by no one in the entire universe. It speaks to you on a physical, emotional and spiritual level."
Spirit enhancing, indeed! From cigar rolling to truffle hunting -- check out these unique hotel programs:
Who said catching a wave was only for humans? At the Loews Coronado Bay Resort & Spa Su'ruff Camp, water-loving pups get surfing lessons with Coronado Surfing Academy at Coronado's Dog Beach. Dogs learn to hang ten on a mini wave and ride into the shore. Also included is a surf 'n' turf room service meal (a mix of salmon and beef tenderloin) and either doggie board shorts or a surfer bandana from the local Lucky Dog boutique.
How would you like your steak? At the Four Seasons Resort Whistler, that question takes a whole new meaning. Chef Edison Mays of the hotel's restaurant, Sidecut, offers a blending session where guests create their own signature spice rub. Participants are given carte blanche to Chef Mays' elaborate wall of spices - many of which were sourced from the hotel's garden and hand-dried by the chef. The concoction is then labeled, bottled and preserved in a database. Enjoy it at home but be sure to try it with one of the Sidecut steaks, which are aged 40 days and cooked on a 1,800 infrared grill to retain the juices.
Gwen Stefani and Amy Winehouse have all written and recorded at the pull-out-all-the-stops high tech recording studio at the Geejam hotel in Portland, Jamaica. Now is your chance to unleash your inner rock diva. Not only can guests tour the studio, they have an opportunity to sit with an engineer, learn about the recording process and record their own song (either a cappella or with pre-arranged background music). The budding stars even receive a CD of their session.
The Hotel Crillon le Brave in Provence lies in the heart of truffle nirvana near Mont Ventoux, France. So what better place to learn how to hunt for them? As the truffles grow just underneath the surface of the soil, guests accompany trained dogs who help sniff and locate the buried treasure. The hunt is followed by a light truffle lunch. Also included is wine tasting at one of esteemed Châteauneuf-du-Pape's estates, a truffle cooking demonstration, and a tour through Provence's antiques capital, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
Remember the fun Schoolhouse Rock song about how a bill becomes a law? "I'm just a bill. Yes, I'm only a bill. And I'm sitting here on Capitol Hill. Well, it's a long, long journey…" The Fairmont Washington, D.C. has a program, How to Pass a Bill In Washington, where guests learn to navigate the intricate bill-passing system. Participants receive pre-arrival tips from a federally registered lobbyist on how to craft an agenda and are given a suggested itinerary, overnight accommodation and a mini American flag.
At the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, a maximum of four guests gather at the resort's light-filled Artist's Cottage for a 90-minute customized blending session with healing essential oils. The students continually smell about 40 oils at different intervals -- rating them for preferences as they go along. Once the essential oil is blended, bottled and named, guests have the option of indulging in a massage with their unique creation. That way, they can intimately inhale and absorb the libation into their skin.
Guests at the Graycliff Hotel, Restaurant and Cigar Company in Nassau, Bahamas can become serious cigar aficionados. That's because visitors can learn to roll, sort, clean and store cigars with individual or group rolling lessons. A lesson begins with the history of tobacco, where to find the best leaves, and how to blend them together to make award winning Graycliff cigars. Participants keep their stogie and also receive a second complimentary cigar and cigar cutter.
Watch geeks take heed. Rocco Forte's Le Richemond Hotel in Geneva offers a private three-hour workshop where guests learn to assemble an ETA 6497 - the super-complex and intricate movement in a pocket watch – considered the brain of the watch. Through the esteemed Swiss watch-training institute, Fondation Haute Horlogerie, guests work under the guidance of a watchmaker and are given tools and a magnifying glass. Students disassemble the 78 parts of the movement then put each intricate piece back together.
Why go to Paris for decadent macaroons, when you can make them in New York? Star pastry chef Sandro Micheli at Adour Alain Ducasse at the St. Regis New York teaches students the art of making his celebrated signature coconut, chocolate, passion fruit and rosewater macaroons. The next class will take place in the Adour kitchen on Saturday, Feb. 12, just in time for Valentine's Day.
Polo anyone? At Estancia Vik Jose Ignacio, a private hotel retreat outside Punta del Este, in Uruguay, guests have exclusive access to the property's world-class private polo field and stable and can take lessons with a pro. Learn to swing a mallet on the field where some of the world's greatest polo players, including Adolfo Cambiaso, Jr., Bartolomé Castagnola and Marcos Heguy, have played. The field, which features stunning panoramic views across the lagoon and out towards the Atlantic Ocean, is considered to be one of the most spectacular in South America.
Fuggedabout a simple hotel cooking class. Learn to make a contessa-worthy feast at the Hotel Caesar Augustus in Capri. At the resort, perched sky high 1,000 feet above the bay of Naples, guests work with ingredients from the hotel's gardens under the guidance of the executive chef. In the past, guests have cooked up eggplant balls with fresh tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella with tomato and basil sauce and Capri-style ravioli filled with caciotta cheese and marjoram in a cherry tomato sauce with fresh basil. The package also includes a private boat or taxi tour of the island and a personalized apron from the chef.