(CNN) — Heart-shaped hot tubs surrounded by rose petals, circular beds with ceilings that replicate a starry night sky and jaw-dropping, seven-foot-tall champagne-glass whirlpools for two.
Welcome to the Cove Pocono Resorts in Pennsylvania, once known as the “Honeymoon Capital of the World” thanks to its array of adults-only hotels and their quirky room features.
From the moment married photographers Margaret and Corey Bienert stepped out of the car and into Pocono Palace – one of Cove Pocono Resorts’ three hotels – they were blown away.
“I think to see something so over the top, and playful and fun, but also geared towards adults – I was in heaven because it felt so freeing,” Margaret tells CNN Travel.
“It was truly just a very magical weekend. I couldn’t stop taking photos. And after we left I was like, ‘Okay, when are we going back?’”
It wasn’t just the quirky rooms that sparked Margaret and Corey’s attention. It was the throwback ‘60s vibe – think organized games testing your knowledge of your partner and bowling competitions – as well as the bedazzled bars serving cocktails with “funny little sexy names,” as Margaret puts it.
Rather than appearing outdated, the Cove Pocono Resorts’ retro vibe was appealing to the thirty-something Bienerts. Not only were they desperate to return, Margaret and Corey found themselves scouring the internet to find other similar spots up and down the country.
And so was born a photo project, dubbed “A Pretty Cool Hotel Tour” that launched on Instagram, ballooned in popularity on TikTok and is now available to peruse in book form: “Hotel Kitsch: A Pretty Cool Tour of America’s Fantasy Getaways” via Artisan Books.
The rise of the Honeymoon Hotel
The Cove Pocono Resorts premiered its heart-shaped hot tub in 1963. Colored a vibrant red and surrounded by walls of mirrors, as the decade went on the heart-shaped tub became a symbol of a new, more risqué era.
In 1971, the heart shaped tub featured in a two page spread in Life magazine: a photo of a couple mid-kiss, mid-hot tub soak was accompanied by text questioning whether tub represented “a surfeit of affluent vulgarity?”
Soon hotels up and down the country were copying the design, which Poconos hotel owner and tub designer Morris Wilkins had failed to patent. Rather than being disheartened, Wilkins set about one-upping himself. In 1984, he debuted a towering whirlpool designed to replicate a coupe champagne glass. He made sure to patent it and suites offering the champagne hot tub soon had a year-long waiting list.
When Margaret and Corey turned up at Cove Pocono Resorts almost four decades later, they were met with some modernized and renovated spaces, but the key features that made the resorts famous remained intact.
Margaret says she initially thought the champagne tub was “hilarious” but then she took a self-portrait with Corey where they’re sitting in the tub embracing. The resulting image leans more into the romance than the cheese.
For Margaret and Corey, these images of the champagne tub became the thesis statement of their hotel project. They embarked on a hunt for destinations that were similarly “ultra playful, romantic, adults-only,” as Margaret puts it. The goal was finding spots that simultaneously “don’t take themselves seriously at all and fully lean into what they’re offering.”
Tracking down hotels
At the 1980s-built Gallery Holiday Motel in South Amboy New Jersey, the couple were met with mirrored-ceilings aplenty, velvet upholstery, heart-shaped tubs – but also a jungle-themed room and a beach suite. At the Californian Victorian Inn, they discovered a vintage car bed. In the ‘90s-built Anniversary Inn, which has locations in Idaho and Utah, there’s a bathtub with an imposing phoenix rising from the ashes overhead.
They soon learned that heart shaped beds are difficult to sleep in. And quirky, themed chairs aren’t always especially comfy. Tracking down the power sockets often proved tricky.
Not all the hotels Margaret and Corey frequent are 20th century relics. At the Designer Inn and Suites in Toledo, Iowa – redecorated in the early 2000s – the couple discovered the “Heart’s Delight” room, featuring a velvet-cupid-embossed bed with pink-heart-shaped mirrors on the ceiling. They also enjoyed checking out the pink paradise of the Trixie Motel, which debuted in 2022 and was designed by drag queen Trixie Mattel of “Ru Paul’s Drag Race” fame.
Under-the-sea themed rooms complete with clam shell beds at the Best Western in Galena, Illinois were another highlight. When Margaret and Corey discovered these rooms, they realized even chain hotels, at least those run by creative franchise owners, can have the odd quirky room or two.
“They can’t use the themed rooms in advertising or any promotional material,” explains Margaret. “Sometimes they call them ‘secret’ rooms. Those are always fun to discover.”
There are similarities between most of the hotels featured on Margaret and Corey’s social media and in the book, but there are occasional spots that might seem less obvious. While Margaret and Corey generally gravitate towards adult-only spaces, some of the hotels they feature – such as Wildwood Inn in Florence, Kentucky, home to a windowless, “arctic cave” room – are family-friendly and kids are welcome too.
Some of the spaces are more unconventional interpretations of the concept of a hotel – think Love Cloud, a small airplane fitted out with a red-sheeted bed, or Don Q Inn in Wisconsin which includes a converted airplane that stays on the ground, but also offers an outer space-themed room and an Arctic-themed room with a surprise polar bear experience.
Margaret says the couple’s goal has always been for their “hearts to lead us to wherever we should go.”
Many of the hotels they cover – despite being eminently Instagrammable – predate the ubiquity of cell phones. They’re not splashed over social media, they’re often not even particularly well advertised. To find potential places to visit, Margaret and Corey rely on tracking down designers and asking them for lists of hotels they’ve worked on.
They also get word of mouth recommendations from social media users. People comment, “My parents honeymooned at a place with a heart-shaped bed” under a social media post, and Margaret quizzes them on the exact location. Then she and Corey map out the destinations on maps and embark on mammoth US road trips.
Wherever they head, Margaret and Corey both bring their cameras in tow. It was a shared love of photography that bonded them back when they first met at college and while their styles usually diverge, for this project, the two share a firm creative vision.
“Early on, we were both fascinated and focused on different elements,” explains Corey. “And then, as we’ve been doing the project for so long, now we have sort of an in-house style.”
As well as photos, Margaret and Corey also capture film footage. Video helps them capture the scale of the suites – and allows them to give guided tours and explain the quirky touches in the rooms. For example, anyone wondering about the mechanics behind the floating champagne hot tub can check out Margaret’s social media explainer.
“It’s actually an optical illusion,” Margaret tells CNN Travel. “Behind the tub are mirrors, and it’s not actually standing on the stem. So you walk up behind the tub up to the second floor and step down into the tub. It’s sticking out from the wall, but it’s actually sitting on the second floor.”
“There’s also a normal shower in the room too, so it’s not your only form of bathing,” adds Corey.
The meaning of kitsch
While Margaret and Corey occasionally poke affectionate fun at the hotels they visit, it’s always with a sense of reverence and appreciation. They insist calling the hotels “kitsch” in their book title is a compliment, not an insult.
After all, says Margaret, there’s “an intentionality to the fun aspect of it – the silly aspect of it.” The more research they do, the more hotels they see, the more she and Corey are sure of that.
“Owners wanted that really lighthearted aspect to romance – giving you a fun experience that kind of spoke to your childhood self, the very Disneyland aspects of these rooms – but saying this is for you and your adult life, for you and your romantic partner,” says Margaret.
For Margaret, an interesting byproduct of the project is how it’s challenged her conservative Christian upbringing. She and Corey both grew up in Evangelical households, where Margaret says “any form of sexuality is such a hot button issue.” Margaret says she felt that particularly keenly as a woman.
“There had never been a time in my life where I felt very comfortable or invited to be a sexual person at all,” reflects Margaret.
While Margaret and Corey have distanced themselves from this religious upbringing, Margaret says embarking on this project and visiting these adults-only hotels – including a stop off at swingers hotel Mon Chalet in Colorado – “has really challenged a lot of my views of myself.”
“Going to adults-only spaces that were playful, very lighthearted, invited me into a space that I hadn’t been invited into before,” she says.
For Margaret, this gets to the crux of the series:
“I’ve enjoyed giving more and more people permission to be who they want to be and romantically find what works for them,” she says.
“And whether or not you’re with a partner, find ways to express yourself and feel like yourself, and whether that’s sexually or in other ways, because again, even just the design of these places can really challenge you.”
Future of the themed hotel
While most of the hotels Margaret and Corey highlight are in the US, the book also spotlights a few elsewhere in the world.
In Ibiza, Spain the recently opened Romeo’s Motel & Diner was inspired by old school American hotels. Margaret and Corey say the designer, Diego Calvo, reached out to them on social media to let them know many of their photographs were on his moodboard.
Margaret and Corey were flattered. Then, when they went to visit the Spanish hotel and saw the heart-shaped tubs and vibrant decor, they fell in love with the space. The experience also got them thinking about the future of kitsch, themed hotels – where once they seemed tacky or outmoded, many young people today find their fading glamor appealing and intriguing. It helps that they pop on social media, but it’s also, suggests Margaret, about people realizing how fun these unexpected spaces can be.
“How often are you going to go into a room that takes you into a completely different world, and gives you a very specific experience that might make you laugh, might make you uncomfortable?” she says.
“It is something about just giving a couple a different environment that they’re not used to that can be such a memorable experience.”