Not long ago I checked into No. 3437 at the Hilton New York and Towers in midtown Manhattan, a room specially designed for guests suffering from aching backs, sour stomachs and other tensions that plague frequent travelers. Although it looked like any other deluxe hotel room, it was equipped with more than a dozen anti-stress devices. I tested them one by one.
Next to the king-size bed was a sound and light therapy machine with an alarm clock -- a device that simultaneously kept time, emitted a warm purple glow and produced a wonderful array of sounds, from a soft rainfall to a babbling brook. The simulated rain forest worked best for me. I let it play while I checked out the bed lounge, a special pillow that allows users to sit in bed without having to prop up a small mountain of pillows.
Eventually I ran a bath with lilac oil, one of several aromatherapy products provided. As I relaxed, I had to admit that all these accouterments had helped to create an atmosphere far more calming than in most other hotels.
Small surprises worked big wonders. The custom pillows and mattress were easier on the back than standard hotel bed gear. Special drapes blocked even the tiniest hint of light from the outside. Jack- nobber massaging devices made it easier to reach aching muscles. A gurgling water fountain enhanced the room's soothing ambiance.
But it was the massaging seat pad that proved most effective. A heated cushion on the back and seat of the desk chair, it could be controlled to massage back or bottom muscles with varying degrees of intensity. Forty-five minutes of vibrations later, I decided it was a decent second choice to having a masseur assigned to my room.
After a bit, I watched a yoga video to help the relaxation process along. Soon I was trying to follow directions for the perfect shoulder stand.
Eventually I popped a disc of meditation music into the CD player and relaxed on the bed. When it was over, I tuned back to the rain forest sounds and fell fast asleep.
Stress-less rooms also are available at Hiltons in Atlanta; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; Houston; Portland, Ore.; Rye, N.Y.; San Francisco; and Short Hills, N.J. Each of these hotels has one room equipped this way, so reservations are essential. The cost is the same as a standard Hilton double room, which is to say priced more for business budgets than for leisure: $250 to $350 per night, depending on the property and the season. Details: 1-800-HILTONS (1-800-445-8667).