Those tempting brochures for trips to the islands promise cures for the winter doldrums: Discover Us! Your winter hideaway! We kept it wild and added the luxury! But you needn't go that far to get away from it all.
Ads in The New Yorker and The Wall Street Journal invite readers to escape for a weekend to a hotel -- and some of these hotels are in Washington. Which leads us to wonder: Why should tourists have all the fun?
Without ever leaving town, you can whisk your one true love away from icicles, jangling telephones and kids rollerskating in the kitchen. A hotel lobby full of strangers carting suitcases gives an away-from-home feeling even when home is 20 minutes away.
An in-town getaway may be luxurious, frenetic or merely athletic, but it will definitely be a bargain. Conventioneers and lobbyists jam the rooms during the week, but weekends are so slow that some hotels lower rates and offer package deals, including meals, to attract business.
This gives us all a chance to pamper ourselves: to swim, to roast in a sauna, to take in the theater, to change pace and surroundings.
At one hotel, the Fairfax, a "Weekend of Luxury" includes the use of a limousine for three-hours. While out-of-towners ride off to a shopping mall or Mount Vernon, we know where intowners go in their limousine; they visit their friends. The Fairfax turns down the bed, puts a chocolate on the pillow and leaves a note to wish you pleasant dreams. Who could ask for anything more? If you think of something -- an aspirin, a toothbrush, the loan of a tuxedo (in size 36, 38 or 42) -- there's round-the-clock concierge service.
Some of the hotels send up a waiter with champagne after you check in, but "Champagne Weekend" at the Sheraton-Carlton means more than a cork-popper's paradise: it means terry-cloth bathrobes and, in some rooms, chandeliers. (Just don't swing on them.)
At others, like One Washington Circle Hotel, tickets to the Kennedy Center come with the room. In L'Enfant Plaza Hotel, you can spend an evening carousing in the bar and disco, the Apple of Eve, and push an elevator button to go "home" afterwards.
Weekend escapers whose basements aren't equipped with universal gyms yet can work out in a hotel health club. In the Pooks Hill Marriott's co-ed exercise room, you can race each other on the stationary bikes or complete with each other in lifting weights. Loosen up some more in the indoor pool, and then move on to the jacuzzi and sauna.
There's something freeing about floating face up in a pool, gazing through a skylight and knowing it's 18*f. outside, but feeling warm all the same.
And if you think you don't need this, just try to remember the last time you had breakfast in bed: When you were about to have your tonsils out?
Here's a sampling of in-town escape packages. AMBASSADOR'S WEEKEND -- The embassy Row Hotel is recently, tastefully renovated. After you check in for the weekend, champagne is sent up. Some rooms have antique four-poster beds, others are more contemporary; and every room has a safe-keeping box with key, for stashing any baubles given or received. The package comes with cocktails in the cozy Atrium, a piano bar where palms and ficus grow under a huge skylight. Maybe it'll rain that night, and the patter on the glass overhead will set a mood. Guests on the weekend special stay Friday and Saturday, or Saturday and Sunday nights. A complimentary breakfast -- guests chose which morning -- could be room service or in Le Consulat, where diners seated in red velvet chairs peer beyond gold brocade curtains to a section of Embassy Row. For two, it's $120. CAPTURE THE SPIRIT -- At the Hyatt Regency. This bustling business hotel near the Hill could be a launching pad for a tour of the Capitol for someone who's lived here 11 years and never got it off the ground. The Hyatt offers several options for reduced rates, and "Capture the Spirit" is one aimed toward couples. Stay in a deluxe room, where chilled champagne will arrive shortly after you. The first morning of the stay, breakfast will be brought to you in bed: steak and eggs with a split of champagne. It's $167 plus tax for two, any two consecutive nights, and includes a $25 dining credit in any of their restaurants. CHAMPAGE WEEKEND -- At the Sheraton Carlton. The hotel steeps in its own recaptured old-world elegance -- carved ceilings in the lobby, Carlton bar and dining room; a chandelier, a fireplace (non-working) in the parlor of posh suites; rooms outfitted with antiques or good copies; telephones in the marble baths. ("We have always had phones in the bathroom," says general manager Rose Narva, meaning since 1926.) They've thought of everything: terrycloth bathrobes, books, valet stands, shoe buffers, writing tables in French design, a mail drop. Arrive Friday of Champagne Weekend to a bottle of the bubbly in the room; on Saturday nibble a garden festival (read vegetarian) brunch in the Carlton Room, and Sunday feast on champagne brunch in the Crystal Room. All this and heaven, too, $175 for two for two nights, and at this altitude, merely another $25 will reserve a suite. (If you're comparing, February rates for two range from $102 to $117 a night.) Embellishments not in the package but maybe worth the extra: afternoons there's high tea in the Lobby Court, or guests can hold their own wine-tasting in the Wine Bar, and Saturday nights there's a dinner dance. (In the Carlton Room, dinner is served with white gloves.) ESCAPE PACKAGE -- At the Bethesda (Pooks Hill) Marriott, it's offered Friday night or Saturday night. Check-out at 5 means you can use the indoor pool and health club all day. One night is $85 a couple; those who need another night's sleep after the workout pay $35 for the additional night. Split of champagne on arrival, dinner for two in an Italian restaurant or a Polynesian restaurant, and breakfast for two can be room service. Similar packages are offered at other Marriotts, at Crystal City, Dulles, Twin Bridges and Key Bridge. GOLF SPECIAL -- Washingtonian Motel and Country Club. The perfect escape for the dedicated golfing couple, this motel in Gaithersburg is surrounded by two 18-hole golf courses -- one for each of you. Arrive at 7 in the morning, check the luggage, go straight to the golf course and play till it's dark. Check-out is noon in the following day, but they say it's flexible for people on the golf special. Four tennis courts are available year-round, and the swimming pool opens Labor Day weekend. The golf special is $90 a night for two and includes greens fees, tax, buffet dinner and breakfast. HARAMBEE SAFARI -- At Harambee House. Check in under the eyes of the gazelle and the impala whose heads flank the reservation desk, and then head for the lounge, Bolingo ("love" in Swahili), for a welcoming drink. This new hotel near Howard University has an indoor pool, exercise rooms and saunas to stop in during a weekend safari. The motifs of the rooms range from African to Williamsburg to oriental. Two breakfasts come in the package, as does dinner in the supper club, where some authentic Ghanaian dishes are served, and entertainment goes on every night. Including a "souvenir gift," it's $138 for two, for two nights. INSIDE WASHINGTON -- Loew's L'Enfant Plaza Hotel. Watching the little lights on the boats in Washington Channel, sipping champagne, feeding each other fruit and cheese, partaking of the well-stocked bar in the room: This is the setting for the first of two nights in L'Enfant Plaza. On the wall, copies of old prints ... what's this? "Le plaisir de la chase." Oh, excuse me. The next morning, breakfast in bed, if you like. (The maid drops a menu on the pillow when she turns the bed down, and you hang a reply order on the doorknob before turning in.) That afternoon, take a ride on the Tourmobile (well, heck, it's free with the package). In the evening, meet each other in the disco, the Apple of Eve, for dinner, and then dance all night. Return to earth the following morning at breakfast in the coffee shop. Come summer, when the pool opens, request a room overlooking it. The cost is $199.99 for two, tax and most tips included. INTERNATIONAL AMBASSADOR -- International Inn. Not everyone's favorite neighborhood, but it's different. The indoor pool under the balloon at Thomas Circle is open year-round, seven days a week, from 8 to 8. People on the weekend package usually get a view of the circle. Primary colors decorate the cherry rooms, occasionally falling into kitsch, with varied decor that the front office manager describes as "African, oriental, antiques and contemporary." Dinner and show (a five-piece group performing) either Friday or Saturday night, in the Club Ambassador; dancing before and after the show. Champagne breakfast in your room on Sunday, with a newspaper. For the weekend, a large double room is $160 for two. An additional $15 per person brings a suite. ONE SPARKLINE WASHINGTON WEEKEND -- One Washington Circle Hotel. Treading over the oriental rugs, past the reasonable facsimiles of the Bayeux tapestry, into a corridor of deep green (the color this season in hotel lobbies) -- this escape may lead to the Kennedy Center, The suites -- there are no rooms -- in what was once an apartment hotel all have kitchens and living areas. The decor is contemporary: Breur chairs, posters, suede-finish wall coverings, blond tones. For warmer days, most suites have balconies to sit out on, and there's a swimming pool. The package, $138 tax included for two, covers two nights, choice seats at a performance of your choice at the Kennedy Center, the National or Ford's, and continental breakfast each morning in Beaujolais, a small restaurant that doubles as a wine bar evenings. A 40-odd-seat companion restaurant, Champagne, serves up a sidewalk view through curved glass and a prix fixe French dinner for $16. PRESIDENTAL RETREAT -- At the Sheraton Washington, which is almost a beautiful hotel. The final touches will be put on between now and April, but it's finished enought to hold guests. Rooms are very modern -- and perfect for the accident-prone, because there are no sharp corners anywhere. Corners of the dressers are sculpted, rounded; the walls are textured, if not padded. The hallway carpets are color-coded in case you get lost on the way to your room. In the lobby, a fountain splashes near a skylight inspired by the Air and Space Museum. The Retreat package gives you a deluxe one-bedroom suite either Friday and Saturday or Saturday and Sunday. (be sure to request the new building; the Wardman Towers, part of the Sheraton-Washington complex, looks threadbare; but renovation is planned.) Champagne and fresh fruit appear to greet the arrivals, and each morning guests are entitled to a full American breakfast in the 20th Century Restaurant. Package rate is $200 for two. (A lesser package, "Everybody's Hometown Holiday," is $140.) Other fun and games: play backgammon in the disco, run the exercise course in nearby Rock Creek Park, use the sauna and, in season, swim in one of two pools. If you're still bored, talk to the concierge. RAINBOW WEEKEND -- At the Washington Hilton, they like to say you can't really appreciate the place in winter. In spring, the Har-Tru tennis courts open, with nightlights on till 11; in summer the swimming pool is inviting, and on the Fourth of July guests can watch the fireworks from their room. But so what? Winter visitors still have an incredible bird's-eye view of the city, can use the exercise machines and sauna in the elegant tennis club and can tune in movies on the TV (The Sensuous Nurse, Emanuelle inBangkok). Rooms are airy, with high ceilings and picture windows. This weekend starts off with a fruit basket in the room and includes breakfast each morning in the coffee shop and discounts on city tours if you're interested. The cost for two nights is $155.50 for two. RAINBOW WEEKEND -- Capital Hilton. It's two nights in deluxe accomodations. These rooms are comfortably large, but the matching flowered drapes and bedspread are a little loud, and the furniture has lived-in look -- which will make some people feel right at home. The location merely 16th and K, is too level to afford a view, even from higher floors. Hallways are being redecorated at present: new rugs, new wallpaper, murals at the elevators. Bellmen wear badges that say "We care," reassuring that someone does, in case the weekend doesn't go according to plan. Wine and fruit basket on arrival; Saturday, American breakfast in Twigs; and Sunday brunch in Twigs, taxes and most gratuities are included, as is a Tourmobile pass. It's $164 for two. A honeymoon rainbow is $74 each, which prescribes champagne and chocolates in the room on arrival and two breakfasts in Twigs or two room-service breakfasts. If you're not sure it's worth the investment, an economy rainbow goes for $66 a person. WASHINGTON REVIEW -- Hotel Dupont Plaza. From the window, the motion of Dupont Circle is hypnotic, the rhythm of the city. But staring out the window can go on for just so long. Some rooms are really too small to spend a weekend in, especially if a guest is unlucky enough to end up with a room where an old kitchenette isn't yet transformed into a new wet bar. The solution is to take advantage of myriad tours the hotel offers: a veritable Washington review. The night tour of Washington sounds tempting even to a local. In the package, $124 for two for two nights, there's a candlelight dinner at Stephanie's restaurant, where Viennese food is served, a complimentary cocktail and two full breakfasts. WEEKEND OF ELEGANCE -- The Hay-Adams, with only 166 rooms, has a small-hotel atmosphere. A feeling of history pervades, since the hotel was built in 1927 on the site where once stood the twin homes of John Hay, a former secretary of state, and Henry Adams, grandson and great-grandson of presidents. Rooms are large, with high, molded ceilings; furniture is spare. Be sure to request a large bed if you want one: One room described as available on the weekend package had -- horrors! -- twin beds. For compensation, the room overlooks Lafayette Park and the White House. (This could be the time to visit it.) Some rooms have fireplaces: They don't work, but they're elegant. Signs of renovation: old fixtures in some bathrooms, and hallways awaiting wall fabric from Italy. The Weekend of Elegance happens Friday and Saturday nights: on Saturday, wake up to a full-course-breakfast in bed (with newspaper); on Sunday, gourmet buffet brunch in the President Adams dining room. Between plates you can count the carved furbelow in the ceiling. The cost, $180 for two, includes all tips and tax. (A double room with a parkside view usually cost $114 a night.) WEEKEND OF LUXURY -- Fairfax Hotel. Ah, to steal away to a cozy hideaway, where the lobby is sweetened with orchids, and to be pampered, or left alone. The luxurious weekend in understated elegance with a Williamsburg flair begins in the Fairfax Bar, perhaps in one of those cushioned alcoves. If one spills the toast to the weekend, no matter: The night butler will clean one up. Saturday during the day, a limousine awaits one's bidding for three hours. Saturday evening, dine at the Jockey Club, or choose preferred seating at a theater performance. Wake up Sunday morning to breakfast or brunch in the Jockey Club. For two nights in deluxe accommodations, or a suite, if one's available, a couple pays $258. A lesser package (deluxe room for two nights with breakfast each morning) goes for $156 for two. If you're wondering how this compares to the Fairfax's usual rates, two in a room usually pay from $91 to $121 a night.