Where: Lake Geneva, Wisconsin; 262-248-8811, grandgeneva.com
Rate: $179 per night
We recommend: a spontaneous long weekend
You are familiar with this bucolic full-service vacation haven, even if you aren’t aware of it. Ever sing the lyrics to “Paradise City” by Guns N’ Roses? It’s said to be about Grand Geneva’s ancestor, the world’s first Playboy Club–Hotel. Where the grass is green and the girls are pretty—Axl Rose might be howling about the 1,300 lush acres and the Bunnies who entertained big shots coming to see Liza Minnelli or Bob Hope.
That’s Grand Geneva’s take. The band did at least record the song at a studio that used to be here. Regardless, the hotel has lore to spare from the 14 years that the Hefner name drew celebs and fat cats to unwind here, a couple hours north of Chicago, until selling in 1982.
The lake used to be shaped like a bunny head, but it’s not anymore. Though Grand Geneva embraces its past, it has transitioned to a family-friendly paradise—and perhaps the most complete vacation resort so close to Indy. It’s still very much a social playground. The pool is a scene, where friends bob at the edge with cocktail popsicles and float under six fountains arcing from the sides. And that scene is a show for those in the lobby and adjacent lounge, crisscrossed by a constant stream of guests on their way to a bartending class or Family Feud hour, or coming back from one of the two championship golf courses (the greens fees start at $89). A pianist signals the transition to evening, and the sun-soaked crowd goes to dress for their reservations at the steakhouse or Italian fine-dining restaurant upstairs. Lingering strangers taking a late, languid dip in the heated pool chat easily. Didn’t I see you at the beer tasting? How was the canoe trip you were going to take?
Grand Geneva has a quiet side, too. The WELL Spa & Salon offers a full menu of services, plus a workout room, indoor tennis courts, climbing wall, and fitness pool. New contemporary villas share community pools with a much smaller crowd. The trolley can be summoned with an app to whisk guests around the property. See that runway? the driver might say at the turnaround point. That’s where the stars used to land.
ACE THIS TRIP
How to fit in: Pack resortwear. You’ll want to mix and mingle.
Upgrade: Access to the quiet Geneva Club lounge costs around $75 (depending on the season) per night per room and includes breakfast and happy-hour snacks.
Stay here if you read: The New York Times travel section.
IF IT’S BOOKED, TRY: GAYLORD OPRYLAND RESORT
It’s within walking distance of the Grand Ole Opry, but the soaring atrium is the real showstopper at Marriott’s behemoth family funland, meticulously landscaped with nine acres of lush tropical gardens, palm trees (some prehistoric), fountains, waterfalls, and a quarter-mile–long “river” that guests can tour by flat boat. $300/night, marriott.com