When you’re on vacation, you might just want your hotel to be a place to sleep. But you also might want your hotel to be an experience in its own right. The ones on this list will definitely deliver on that count, but no hotel is going to deliver the exact same TV experience that you have at home. With Slingbox, you can watch 100 percent of your home cable or satellite TV, with no restrictions, anywhere in the world — which would definitely come in handy if you want to watch the NFL internationally on your laptop, tablet or phone, catch the Lord of the Rings marathon while hanging out in a Hobbit hole in New Zealand, or access The Little Mermaid on your DVR while you rest under the sea in an underwater lodge.
La Villa Hamster, Nantes, France
Have you ever dreamed of living as a pet hamster does? We all have, right? Well, the dream was reality at this suite in western France. With a water tube, hay bed and, yes, a functional human-size running wheel, La Villa Hamster contained everything necessary for a complete rodent-life fantasy. Unfortunately, it closed in 2012.
Giraffe Manor, Karen, Kenya
Built in 1932, this ivy-strewn brick mansion was meant to look like a Scottish hunting lodge plopped into the heart of East Africa. Today, the Manor is situated on a wildlife preserve in which giraffes regularly poke their heads into windows asking for treats. The operation of Giraffe Manor as a hotel benefits the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife.
Palacio del Sal, Uyuni, Bolivia
Maybe you buy salted caramels just to lick their tops. Maybe you cleanse your palate by chugging a bottle of soy sauce. Maybe you’re the “Salt Vampire” from the Star Trek episode “The Man Trap.” Bottom line, if you love salt, then you’ll love the Palacio del Sal (“Palace of Salt”). The hotel, which is conveniently located next to the world’s largest salt flat, is constructed entirely of salt blocks, and yes, that includes the furniture.
Null Stern Hotel, Teufen, Switzerland
When it comes to hotel ratings, the star system is a fickle thing — for years “five-star” was considered the gold standard, some hotels have even claimed to deserve six or seven, and you generally can’t trust any of it because these are self-given designations. No advisory body administers hotel stars, but we can at least all agree that more stars are better. Tell that to the proprietors of Null Stern — which literally means “No Stars.” Situated in a former fallout shelter, with no windows or walls between rooms, I’d say it lived up to its billing. Unfortunately the Null Stern closed in 2010.
Jumbo Hostel, Stockholm, Sweden
You’ve heard of the jet set, but this probably wasn’t what you had in mind: At Arlanda International Airport outside Sweden’s capital, you can stay in a hostel housed inside a disused 747. Resting on steel-clamped landing gear firmly tethering it to Earth, Jumbo Hostel carves 79 rooms out of the chassis of the world’s largest commercial plane model. Don’t expect your own bathroom or shower — unless of course you’ve booked the premium “Cockpit Suite,” which comes with a view from the windshield and the (presumably disabled) throttle as decoration.
Jules’ Undersea Lodge, Key Largo, Florida, United States
Named for Jules Verne, this hotel might not be 20,000 leagues under the sea, but it is 21 feet under. Don’t think about staying there unless you hold scuba certification, as that’s the only way to get to the lodge’s front door. Fun fact: Before its conversion into a hotel, Jules’ underwater habitat was situated near Puerto Rico and known as the La Chalupa Research Laboratory.
Hobbit Motel, Otorohanga, New Zealand
After six movies and nearly a decade and a half of pop culture domination, the line between New Zealand and Middle-Earth has blurred in the minds of many. If you don’t believe it, watch Air New Zealand’s safety video:
The Hobbit Motel, on New Zealand’s North Island, exists to continue that confusion with rooms carved out of the sides of hills, in the style of J.R.R. Tolkien’s greatest creation.
Karostas Cietums, Liepaja, Latvia
If the Null Stern is a zero-star hotel, Karostas might actually deserve a negative rating. As much a historical reenactment/haunted house as it is a hotel, at this former prison you’ll enjoy all the comforts Soviet prisoners did, like sleeping on a wooden slab and being screamed at by guards.
Ryugyong Hotel, Pyongyang, North Korea
Under construction for 28 years and counting, the Ryugyong is one of the biggest symbols of North Korea’s highly questionable budgetary priorities. And I do mean big — at 1,083 feet, the pyramid-shaped structure is taller than all but eight skyscrapers in the U.S. After numerous false starts, the massive hotel has still never opened, so don’t expect to be watching your Slingbox from the Ryugyong anytime soon.
“Ryugyong Hotel – August 2011” by Joseph Ferris III – http://www.flickr.com/photos/josephferris76/6116220635/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ryugyong_Hotel_-August_2011.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Ryugyong_Hotel-_August_2011.jpg