Hotels aren’t just a place to rest your head anymore. Luxury properties have been seriously upping their game when it comes to offering unique experiences that guests would be hard-pressed to find or even conjure up on their own. In fact, many of these extras are exclusive offerings only available to guests staying at a particular property or in a specific room category.
Some are free while others come at a cost, but one thing these all have in common is that they offer a really creative way to experience the destination. These one-of-a-kind perks and amenities aren’t always openly touted by the hotels, but with our handy guide you will know which properties to ask about their insider benefits.
Access to private experiences
Forget tourist hordes. A stay at the Retreat at Blue Lagoon Iceland includes one hour of free guest-only entry to the Retreat Lagoon, part of the country’s famous Blue Lagoon, nightly. Similarly, guests at Belmond Hotel das Cataratas get exclusive access to wander the pathways of Brazil’s famed Iguazu National Park waterfalls for one hour before and after the falls are officially open to the public.
At the Royal Mansour in Marrakech, guests have free access to the Yves Saint Laurent Museum through the Yves Saint Laurent–Pierre Berge Foundation. Le Méridien hotels around the world offer similar privileges where guests can flash their room keys at galleries, museums, and cultural institutions for free or discounted access through its Unlock Art program.
A night at the Study at University City in Philadelphia comes with free tickets to University of Pennsylvania athletic games and access to the university’s gym facilities or free tickets to Drexel University plays and concerts.
Want to sleep in the Super Bowl stadium the night before the big game? Sports fans can enter Courtyard by Marriott’s Ultimate Courtyard Super Bowl Sleepover contest for a night inside its specially built suite inside the stadium.
At the Anantara Siam Bangkok Hotel, guests can get inked by a Sak Yant Master who will perform a traditional form of tattooing believed to impart powers of luck, protection, and fortune. The cost for the private session varies based on the size and design of the tattoo you choose.
Try something new
Foodies can go truffle hunting alongside the hotel’s resident expert at Hotel Il Salviatino. The Florentine hillside is filled with the treasured fungi, and the excursion’s bounty can then be incorporated into a fanciful dinner as part of the package.
At the Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru, guests carry a “manta on call” cell phone to be notified when schools of manta rays are nearby so they can grab snorkel gear for a quick tandem swim with them.
If you’re tired of being land-based, swim like a mermaid through the Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon at the Hilton Hawaiian Village on Waikiki Beach. The guided swimming tour is certainly one of the more unusual paid tour options for experiencing Oahu’s shores.
Try your hand on the flying trapeze as part of the signature circus school in partnership with Cirque du Soleil at Club Med Punta Cana and Club Med Opio en Provence.
Chances are you’ve never skied behind a horse. You can at Triple Creek Ranch, a Relais & Châteaux property in Montana’s Bitterroot Mountains. Dubbed “skijoring,” guests can pay to strap on skis and grasp a rope pulled by a galloping horse.
Speed off at the Daytona, an Autograph Collection Hotel by Marriott by booking a NASCAR driving tutorial. The eight-minute experience is part of an overnight package starting at $629 that includes a bottle of champagne at the end to celebrate your success (or relief that it’s over).
When you book the Private Retreat package at Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, you will get celebrity treatment at the airport. Forget waiting with the masses; instead, you will get a private check-in experience at the exclusive Private Suite at LAX. You will then be transferred from the relaxing airport lounge via luxury SUV directly to your chic suite and back to the lounge following your stay.
Do good for yourself, do good for others
If you’re looking to better yourself, luxury residence brand AKA has in-house concierges that help people break bad habits and create positive ones. They can consult with guests for free before or during a stay on behaviors they want to change by suggesting classes and routines that help to get rid of unhealthy patterns.
Spa services are hardly unusual, but paying to have the entire spa to yourself is rare. At the Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina, the night spa experience pampers with exclusive access. A private lei greeting and candlelit walk to a beachfront cabana follow. After an alfresco treatment, an astronomer is on call to point out the stars.
During Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa’s annual Paddle for a Cure campaign, all proceeds from special cabana rentals and luau packages are donated to Susan G. Komen Hawaii, a breast cancer research fund-raising organization. There are also special events like “drive for a cure” (a golf tournament) and “paddle out for a cure” (a stand-up paddleboard experience) that offer guests the opportunity to support charities.
Marriott Hotels guests can tune into free, educational TED Talks programming through in-room TV and app channels or attend live TEDx events at its hotels without charge. They can even bid on member-only auctions with Marriott Bonvoy points for the chance to attend a Speaking Masterclass at TED Headquarters to become a better orator themselves. Perhaps the most valuable luxury hotel experience of all is the long-lasting gift of self-improvement.