Bed Check: In New Jersey, a retro night in an Airstream trailer

Jetsons or Flintstones? Either way, these Airstreams are a trip.
Jetsons or Flintstones? Either way, these Airstreams are a trip. (Zofia Smardz/the Washington Post)
By Zofia Smardz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 6, 2010; 9:24 AM

I don't like the word "cozy." When writers use it, I mercilessly slash it from their copy. But now I was flummoxed. Because standing in the middle of the little aluminum trailer where I'd be spending the night, all I could think was, "Wow, this is really ... cozy."

I couldn't come up with another word for it. The mini-space - maybe 7 feet wide by 7 feet high by, oh, 20 or so feet long - was dollhouse dainty. And thoroughly, forget my claustrophobic tendencies, inviting. The rounded contours of the ceiling and sides enveloped me, and the soft lights around the windows set a soothing mood. I couldn't wait to crawl - literally - into the platform double bed that took up the entire "bedroom."

My husband had been joking all week about our upcoming overnight in a "double-wide," which this most certainly was not. It was just what I'd been looking for.

I have a fantasy about living the RV life (doesn't everyone?), so I thought it would be a kick to book the 1957 Airstream at the StarLux hotel in Wildwood, N.J., for a test run. It's one of two vintage Airstreams - those silver sausage-shaped motor homes that dotted the landscape in the mid-20th century, when Americans started hitting the road for real - at the boutique hotel on the Jersey shore. (The other one, dating from the '70s, was bigger than ours; good thing for the family of four who were staying in it.)

The trailers were brought in as part of a total renovation in 2000, when the hotel, once a run-of-the-mill beach motel, was decked out in high doo-wop fashion, the signature '50s style and decor - you know, all those neon lights and swooping angles and blond wood and steel-and-Formica - that Wildwood has embraced as its own.

At the StarLux, it's all done with panache and a good dose of cheek. Waiting to check in at the small office behind the soaring AstroLounge, a vaulted space outfitted with butterfly chairs, curvilinear furniture and a glass fireplace, I stared at a paper lampshade that had little metal antennae poking out of the top. "That looks just like something out of 'The Jetsons,'??" I thought.

Well, what do you know. The StarLux is meant to feel like "a hotel the Jetsons would stay at," manager Gordon Clark told me the next morning. Aha. What'd I tell you?

Airstreams, of course, fit right in with this retro nostalgia trip (although honestly they look as much Flintstones as Jetsons to me). And a trip it is, even if the trailers aren't going anywhere anymore. The StarLux's pair is permanently affixed to a deck in the hotel parking lot, with a little Astroturf lawn between them, a table and chairs under an umbrella, and colored lights strung between the fiberglass-and-plastic palm trees (almost a Wildwood emblem) at either end. It feels like a party just looking at them.

Inside, they've been renovated, too, of course, with built-in furniture, a kitchenette with mini-fridge (and mini-coffee maker and mini-sink), air conditioning, wall-mounted reading lights and two TVs and a DVD player. What more do you need? Well, okay, for the hotel's free WiFi, we did have to go to the main building. But then, WiFi's so 21st century.

There were a couple of other little drawbacks. The bathroom and shower were about as teensy as they could be. (The foot-pedal toilet was fun, though.) I banged my knuckles against the ceiling when taking off my dress for the night and knocked my head into the kitchen counter while zipping up my suitcase. And speaking of suitcases, our luggage took up a whole lot of the "living room."

But even so. According to Clark, some guests who are booked into the Airstreams balk once they realize they'll be staying in an actual trailer. (Might have been my husband, if I hadn't forced him into the whole adventure.) But not I.

After we had dinner, a ride on the Great Wheel and a stroll down the boardwalk, screaming with neon signs like a carny of old, it felt perfectly natural to duck back into our little '50s camper and settle down for the night. Lights off, window shades drawn, it felt so. . . ah, I've got the word: snug. But not snug as in too small. Snug as in comfy. Snug as in... oh, all right, all right. I give up.

As in cozy.

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