Hotels

Michigan couple tours the country to document kitsch-themed hotels

For many, honeymoon suites and themed motels are a thing of the past.

But a Michigan couple is bringing these vintage, kitsch staycations to a whole new audience online.

Margaret Bienert and her husband Corey lead the project, A pretty cool tour of the hotel. Their photos of heart-shaped bathtubs and clamshell beds are getting thousands of likes on social media.

Bienert says they’ve stopped at honeymoon suites in Paw Paw and Mackinaw City, themed hotels in Galena, Illinois and Dodgeville, Wisconsin and even a chain of hotels across the Midwest that have private pools in each room.

WKAR’s Sophia Saliby spoke with Margaret about how the project got started and some of her other recommendations for summer travel in the Midwest.

Interview Highlights

Why they started documenting these hotels

Once we had time to start sharing in 2020, I realized how many people were also interested. But yeah, I think what we were interested in was just the drastically different designs that you’ll see there from what I’m used to seeing. I mean, we both traveled for work for a long time. We’ve seen plenty of hotels, but we’ve never seen private pools, heart-shaped bathtubs, themed rooms with spaceship beds, and all that sort of wild stuff. So yeah, I think it was like two photographers traveling, it was so much fun to come across such elaborate pieces, even though they were a bit old.

On some of the cool trips they’ve been on in the Midwest

There are heart-shaped bathtubs, so we did, you know, there’s a Days Inn in Mackinaw City, I think it does, that has a heart-shaped bathtub. There’s one in Paw Paw, Michigan. They’re just kind of like, you know, those old motels that have heart-shaped bathtubs. But I mean, the themed motels in the Midwest are still around. there’s something called the Don Q Inn in Wisconsin, and they have a lot of cool old themed rooms that still work. There’s a chain called Sybaris Pool Suites in a few states in the Midwest, and they have private pools and even a private waterslide like it’s a really fun place.

How to learn to travel with a partner

Part of it is just taking more road trips and figuring out what works and finding out what each other’s expectations are, which can be tricky at first because you might not even know you’re expecting something. thing, but it’s good to figure these things out. I think it helped us learn that we both should have a pair of headphones and sometimes we have to be in our own worlds even though we’re sitting next to each other for a 12 hour road trip time.

Interview Transcript

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A pretty cool tour of the hotel

The clamshell beds also appear frequently on the couple’s social media.

Sophie Saliby: For many, honeymoon suites and themed motels are a thing of the past.

But a Michigan couple is bringing these vintage, kitsch staycations to a whole new audience online.

Margaret Bienert and her husband Corey lead the project, A pretty cool tour of the hotel.

And Margaret joins me now. Thanks to be here.

Marguerite Bienert: Thank you for hosting me.

Salibi: This project started during the pandemic, right? What made you interested in unique hotels?

Good: Yes, actually, we had started a few years before the pandemic, but it was just a side project for my husband and I, and we didn’t really prioritize sharing much of it. So as soon as the pandemic hit, and we were staying home, I had thousands of these pictures to go through of, yeah, these really cool kitsch hotels that I’d shared a bit about them before and there had a mix of reviews of, like, “Why do you stay in those weird old places?”

But also, once we had time to start sharing in 2020, I realized how many people were also interested. But yeah, I think what we were interested in was just the drastically different designs that you’ll see there from what I’m used to seeing.

We’ve seen plenty of hotels, but we’ve never seen private pools, heart-shaped bathtubs, themed rooms with spaceship beds, and all that sort of wild stuff.

I mean, we both traveled for work for a long time. We’ve seen plenty of hotels, but we’ve never seen private pools, heart-shaped bathtubs, themed rooms with spaceship beds, and all that sort of wild stuff. So yeah, I think it was like two photographers traveling, it was so much fun to come across such elaborate pieces, even though they were a bit old.

Salibi: Some of the suites you stay in are like chains, motels, like Days Inns and Best Westerns, but that’s not, you know, common. Is it hard to find this kind of rough diamonds?

Good: Surprisingly hard. I mean, some of them are a little easier because some of those places will have on their website that they have themed rooms. Some of them even have pictures in the lobby, so you might even see, you know, in a Days Inn, “Oh, wow, they have a picture in the lobby of that cave room they have or something like that.”

But then, I mean, we’ve been doing this project for several years now, and I still come across hotel chains that have a themed room that I’ve never found before.

It’s not magic. I just spend hours and hours browsing the internet and phone books to find these old places.

So, I think one of our most common questions is, “How do you find these places?” And I always say it’s kind of like a magic trick, it sounds really amazing until you realize it’s just, it’s not magic. I just spend hours and hours browsing the internet and phone books to find these old places.

Salibi: I think for some people there may be a stigma attached to these hotels because they are, you know, could be strictly adults only or pay by the hour.

Why do you think the content you create still resonates with an audience you know, for example, hundreds of thousands of people?

Good: I mean, that’s a great question, especially coming from the Midwest, I knew it wasn’t going to be very normal at first. And so, I think we kind of prepared ourselves to question ourselves a bit about why we would go to those places. But I think at the end of the day, I kind of like to push the boundaries of why these places aren’t suitable for someone like, you know, well, for any adult.

You know, I think growing up in the Midwest, I was very aware of a sensitivity towards anything adult. And then once I became an adult, I kind of wanted to push back why. Because I actually think there’s value in exploring your adult relationships and yourself as an adult. And so yeah, I think I like the fact that people are learning and you know, sometimes their first reaction is to be disgusted or wonder why we would.

It just pushes you out of your daily life with your partner, and I think there’s something to be said for that.

We got messages from people, from married couples who said, “Oh, we know this place in our town, but we always thought it sounded so gross. And after seeing your video, after 30 years of marriage, we went, and it was the best birthday ever.” Because it just pushes you out of your daily life with your partner, and I think there’s something to be said for that.

Salibi: Are there any themed hotels you would recommend in Michigan or otherwise in the Midwest?

Good: There’s a bunch of them in the Midwest. I don’t think we’ve been to any specific themed hotels in Michigan. There are heart-shaped bathtubs, so we did, you know, there’s a Days Inn in Mackinaw City, I think it does, that has a heart-shaped bathtub. There’s one in Paw Paw, Michigan.

They’re just kind of like, you know, those old motels that have heart-shaped bathtubs. But I mean, the themed motels in the Midwest are still around. There’s something called the Don Q Inn in Wisconsin, and they have a lot of cool old themed rooms that still work.

There’s a chain called Sybaris Pool Suites in a few states in the Midwest, and they have private pools and even a private waterslide, like that’s a really fun place. So yeah, I think there are a lot of really fun places in the Midwest. And then Michigan in particular, I mean, we have a few places on our list to check out this summer. So I think we’ll see what we find.

But last summer, we toured some of the rooms at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. And I mean, these are, obviously, they’re not like the classic themed hotel, but they’re very iconic designs, and it was really fun to see that.

Salibi: I want to ask you this last question. You spend a lot of time traveling with your husband. Do you have any tips for couples on how to avoid conflict on the road?

Good: That’s an excellent question. I mean, part of it is just doing more road trips and figuring out what works and finding out what everyone’s expectations are, which can be hard at first because you might not even know you expect something, but it’s good to understand these things.

I think it helped us learn that we both should have a pair of headphones, and sometimes we have to be in our own worlds even though we’re sitting next to each other on a road trip of 12 hours.

Salibi: Margaret Bienert short A pretty cool tour of the hotel with her husband, which you can find on most social media platforms. Thanks for joining me.

Good: Thank you very much for inviting me.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.