BEYOND its tourist attractiveness, Valley Forge draws enough conventions and business conferences to keep half a dozen major hotels and a swarm of motels busy. In fact, according to tourist industry sources, the occupancy rate of its 5,000 first-class rooms approaches 100 percent during the season from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and stays in the mid-ys the year around.
But the innkeepers are not as busy as they'd like to be on winter weekends, so most offer getaway package rates that are yet another reason for a cold-weather visit.
The easiest way to get good advice and detailed information about lodging -- or just about anything else -- in the Valley Forge area is to call the good folks at the Valley Forge Country Convention and Visitors Bureau (800/458-6000). If you're planning a future visit, they'll load you up with brochures; if you're heading up to Pennsylvania right now, they'll make your reservations.
One favorite getaway place, even for local residents, is the the Sheraton Valley Forge Hotel with its fantasy rooms and suites. There are about five dozen of them, priced from $125 to $175 a day (but check for special rates). Each is decorated to a theme such as Tahiti, the Commodore's Cabin, the O.K. Corral, the Costa del Sol, Victoria's Parlor and Samurai, and there are guests, the hotel says, who are working their way through the whole lineup at the rate of three or four weekends a year.
All the themed suites and rooms have whirlpool baths plus some such special features as waterbeds, saunas, hot tubs, lofts, flying beds or private elevators, all designed to cater to the sybarite in you and your Significant Other(s). If you ever manage to pull yourself away and venture outside, you'll find yourself right at the park entrance. SHERATON VALLEY FORGE HOTEL -- Route 363 at First Avenue, King of Prussia. $90-$175. Sixteen floors, 330 units, racquet club and spa, barber/beauty shop, game room, three restaurants, nightclub and delicatessen. 800/325-03535. The newest major hotel in the area is the Embassy Suites, which opened last fall. All the rooms are suites with (at least) a separate living room, a wet bar with refrigerator, telephones everywhere, including the bathroom, and two remote-control color televisions (but with indifferent reception of only four channels). The suites are ranged along balconies overlooking a vast atrium.
It's all quite attractive, but there are curious lapses in both design and execution. The worst is the apparent total lack of sound insulation: I came away intimately familiar with my next- door neighbor's problems with his boss, his wife and Somebody Else, and was entertained at length and against my will one night by a singer in the atrium several stories below. And while the maids are so eager to clean the rooms that one of them knocked steadily at my door throughout my morning shower, the air filter in the heat pump was so heavily clogged that little dust devils erupted every time the thing started up.
On the other hand, Embassy Suites has an attentive staff, excellent room service, free full breakfasts and complimentary cocktails from 5 to 7 p.m. They also like children (even room service has a children's menu) and they offer weekend getaways at $89 per couple per night. EMBASSY SUITES HOTEL AT VALLEY FORGE -- 888 Chesterbrook Blvd., Wayne (about five minutes from the park). $89-$225. Five floors, 230 suites, pool, sauna, whirlpool, game room, dining room, lounge. 800/EMBASSY.
Following are some other lodgings in the Valley Forge area, listed in order of descending cost, that were recommended by a professional travel consultant who was asked where she'd send her own friends. The lodgings considered were limited to those in Valey Forge and King of Prussia, which border the park, or in communities no more than a few minutes away. VALLEY FORGE HILTON -- 251 West DeKalb Pike, King of Prussia. $89-$130 and up. Has many package plans; two (of nine) floors are concierge-controlled; non-smoking rooms and suites; easy access and special facilities for handicapped; full range of pool and exercise facilities, three restaurants and a nightclub. 215/337-1200. STOUFFER VALLEY FORGE HOTEL -- 480 N. Gulph Road, King of Prussia. $68-$130. Six floors, 300 units, pool, sauna, movies, tennis courts. "Probably the best value in the whole Valley Forge area," says our consultant, adding, "The style, service and atmosphere are delightful." 800/HOTELS-1. VALLEY FORGE HOLIDAY INN -- 260 Goddard Blvd., King of Prussia. $66- $80. Five floors, 304 units, pools, gift shop, restaurant, lounge. Pets allowed. Adjacent to the Court and Plaza at King of Prussia, which claims to be the world's largest shopping mall. 800/HOLIDAY. HOWARD JOHNSON'S LODGE -- Route 202, King of Prussia. $57-$66. Two floors, 168 units (18 executive suites), outdoor pool, free movies, lounge and 24-hour restaurant. 800/654-2000. GEORGE WASHINGTON LODGE -- $54-$65. One floor, 352 rooms (four large suites with Jacuzzis and steambaths, two mini-suites), pools, free HBO and ESPN television, restaurant, lounge. Across from Court and Plaza Mall.
Last "but definitely not least," according to our consultant, who rated it a bargain, is McINTOSH INN -- Route 363 at Goddard Boulevard, King of Prussia. $33-$38. Seven floors, 212 units. Within walking distance of Court and Plaza Mall. Has no dining facilities but is adjacent to two restaurants and a lounge. 215/768-9500.