Somewhere, far away from the hustle and bustle that we call civilization, a man and a woman sit together in an igloo and gaze longingly into each other’s eyes. Under the flickering Northern Lights, they once again pledge their eternal love. Their names are Terry and Ann Link, and they have come to this place of ice and mystery to celebrate their first wedding anniversary. They are feeling romantic—very romantic. “We’ll have to cover the penguin’s eyes,” says Terry, 27. Then he says, “I’d like to do this every year.” Ann, 26, giggles coyly, toying with the telephone shaped like a penguin.
Such is love, not among the simple Arctic folk who follow the caribou herds and the polar bear but among those who check into the Burnsville Royale Hotel, on Interstate 35W, which is just down the road from the Links’ home in Shakopee, Minn.
The Royale specializes in making its customers’ gaudier geographic fantasies come true through the magic of interior decoration and cunningly molded concrete. In addition to the Northern Lights suite (from which we will now discreetly withdraw our gaze), there are 12 other tastefully, or at least imaginatively, themed suites, as well as 80 basic hotel rooms. The fantasy suites cost $110 to $195 a night, while the regular rooms go for up to $49.
Not only do the fantasy suites represent faraway places, they also transport guests to distant times. Students of ancient Rome can check into Caesar’s Court, while Egyptologists can opt for Pharaoh’s Tomb. “Explore the eminent majesty of ancient Egypt near your private pyramid with sarcophagus water bed,” the hotel’s brochure urges tantalizingly. The Royale’s piece de resistance focuses on the more recent past, appealing to people who want to recapture a special period of their youth. The suite is called Lovers’ Leap, and guests sleep in a 1973 Olds-mobile Delta 88 Royale convertible whose seats have been replaced with a large bed. A mural of San Francisco Bay is painted on the room’s wall.
The hotel’s decorators have relied heavily on concrete that’s been painted and shaped into the desired configuration—a cave, blocks of ice for the igloo, trees for a tree house suite. Then mural painters get to work to complete the illusion. Throw in a whirlpool, an appropriately shaped water bed and a few mirrors—and suddenly you’re a long way from Burnsville, Minn.
“We go from the outlandish, like Le Cave, to the elegant, like Geisha Garden,” says Mike Isabella, 36, president of the Royale Hospitality Corporation’s hotel group. For those who might worry about Isabella’s definition of elegant, the brochure is most reassuring. Geisha Garden, it says, features “furniture in black lacquer, elegant Eastern art…with Buddha shrine.” And no, they didn’t forget the whirlpool.
It costs up to $100,000 to fantasize a regular room, an investment that is returned in two to three years, according to Isabella. “Making fantasies come true and having fun—that’s our goal,” says Isabella, who thought up most of the capricious suites. “You know, a fifth of bourbon and the ideas start flowing.”
Isabella says his group, which now operates six fantasy hotels, plans to acquire a new property every two months or so for such conversions. At that rate, America will be awash in coast-to-coast fantasy suites in a few years. Then the only way to get away from it all will be to book passage to the real North Pole or Amazon rain forest—some run-of-the-mill place that doesn’t have whirlpools or pyramids or penguin telephones.
—Michael Neill, and Margaret Nelson in Burnsville