Hotel Amenities: From Teddy Bears to Condoms

<i> Greenberg is a Los Angeles free-lance writer</i>

The books have become more than ornamental accessories. Surprisingly, the Stanhope has

evolved into something of a lending library.

It’s become almost impossible to check into a hotel these days without being confronted by designer soaps, bath gel, shoe mitts, mouthwash, shampoo and, of course, bathrobes.

It’s estimated that on an average night the Hilton Hotel chain spends more than $250,000 on shower caps, sewing kits and soap.

But the hotel amenities war no longer includes just soap and cologne. This one-upmanship is producing a whole new parade of silly, unusual, fun and, in some cases, even practical amenities for guests.

Need a cowboy hat and bandanna? Just check into the Hilton in Albuquerque.


Trying to find the correct spelling of a difficult word? Each room at the Stanford Court hotel in San Francisco features a dictionary.

Exercise in Your Room

Too lazy to go down to a health club and exercise? The Doral Tuscany Hotel in New York puts exercise bicycles in guest rooms. The Ritz Carlton Buckhead in Atlanta gives away disposable swimsuits. At the Athenaeum Hotel in London complimentary terry-cloth jogging suits are placed in each room.

Want to swim in the Arab Emirates? If you’re staying at the Hilton International Corniche Residence in Abu Dhabi, the hotel staff provides beach bags. They also throw in a free kimono, travel bag and briefcase.

The Park Hyatt in Washington provides videotape recorders and players. The Hilton International in Taipei loans out Polaroid cameras.

If you insist upon staying in your room to read, The Stanhope in New York is the perfect place. When the 117-room hotel was recently renovated, management went on a book-buying spree. More than 4,200 classic 18th- and 19th-Century books were bought from rare book dealerships and estate sales in the New York area.

The hotel has placed more than three dozen of the leather-bound books--ranging from obscure French titles to collections of Thackery and Dickens--in each guest room and suite as well as in the hotel bar.

And the books have become quite popular.

“One guest in our bar discovered a book he hadn’t read since he was a child in France,” says Robert Galey, the hotel’s assistant manager. “And now, each time he returns to the hotel, we have the book on his bedside table.”

The books have become more than ornamental accessories. Surprisingly, the Stanhope has evolved into something of a lending library.

In each book is a card that encourages guests to read the books: “If you have not completed your reading by the end of your stay, please feel free to take this book with you and return it to us at your earliest convenience. We wish you pleasurable reading.”

It seems like an invitation to steal, but just the opposite has occurred.

“Guests frequently take the old books with them when they leave,” says Galey, “but every single book has always been returned when they have finished reading them.”

At the newly opened Mandarin Hotel in San Francisco, guests find something special in the drawer of their rooms’ Henredon desks: The hotel ordered 5,000 black “chops” with the Mandarin logo and 5,000 sticks of red sealing wax from Hong Kong. Guests can now add the stylish crimson seal to each letter they write.

Teddy Bear, Too

In Hawaii, the Sheraton Princeville places cute teddy bears on guests’ beds each evening. And in Montreal, parents requesting a crib at the Four Seasons Hotel will get a teddy bear delivered along with it.

“We started this two years ago, and it’s perhaps the most successful amenity we have offered,” says the general manager, Kuno Fasel. “It’s become a tradition with us. We want parents to know we care about their children.” And the kids keep coming back. “A number of our younger guests are now the proud owners of a small family of bears,” Fasel says.

One hotel provides one of the more unusual amenities--cuddly animals that are alive. At the Anderson House, a small family-run hotel in Wabasha, Minn., guests can choose between Ginger, Fred, Tom-Tom, Tiger Aloysius or any of eight other cats that live at the 131-year-old hotel.

The cats are available to share rooms with guests on a first-come, first-served basis. There is no extra charge for the feline escort service.

Some hotels believe in edible amenities. Each morning the staff at the Park Hyatt in Washington fills crystal jars in each guest room with fruit-filled hard candies. “They may not be popular with dentists,” says general manager Paul Limbert with a laugh, “but most of our guests can’t seem to get enough.”

As a result, each evening when a small dish filled with fruit and cookies is placed on bedside tables (along with the more traditional pieces of chocolate), the staff must refill most of the candy jars. Since the hotel opened last August, guests have consumed almost two tons of the goodies.

‘A Tough Search’

Perhaps the most thoughtful--if not potentially the most controversial--hotel amenity can be found at the two-year-old Le Shangrila in Montreal.

“We were looking to introduce a new amenity for the guest,” says general manager Pierre Quintal. “It was a tough search. Besides, after the bathrobe, what is there?’

Condoms. That’s right. The Shangrila is placing them in each of its 166 guest rooms. “At first, everyone thought I was crazy,” Quintal says, “but it’s become our most popular amenity. Now the soap and the shower cap stay when a guest leaves, but the condom goes.”

There has been little negative reaction, Quintal reports. “The first day we announced the program, one guest got angry and left,” he says. “But that was it.”

Quintal has bought 40,000 condoms from a major manufacturer. The condoms are put into a small blue box with the hotel’s logo and wrapped in cellophane for protection. Quintal estimates that he’s distributing more than 4,000 a month.

Each day, when the maids replace soap in guest bathrooms, they also place a small condom box in the room’s amenity basket. “Like everything else,” Quintal says, “it’s something that is there if you want it.”