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These Overnights Are over the Top in Grand Central USA

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge Safari Lodges

Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Lions and tigers and cougars — oh my! Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge has them in abundance. This U.S. Department of Agriculture-licensed refuge for big cats in the Ozark Mountains is open to visitors and overnight guests. Visitors get a close-up view of these magnificent beasts in the compound area.

“We have rescued more than 200 cats in the last 24 years,” said Lori Hartle, the lodging manager at the refuge. In addition to the cats, the refuge is also home to black bears and grizzly bears and a variety of other smaller rescued creatures.

Turpentine Creek has eight different overnight units. The owners are considering adding several more in the future. There are two suites, ideal for families, called Siberian and Bengal. There are also five safari lodges or cabins with names like Kalahari, Okavango and Kilimanjaro. These units are all decorated in exotic styles and colors. Group planners should note that if they rent all five of the safari lodges at  once, one of them will be free of charge.

The other popular accommodation is the cozy Tree House, which provides the unusual experience of “sleeping in the trees.” The unit sits on stilts 15 feet off the ground but is nestled comfortably among the tree branches.

The refuge sees a lot of wedding groups, family reunions, girls’ weekends and so on.

“From the majority of people I have talked to, it is the most unique place that they have ever stayed,” said Hartle.

Lodging guests gets free admission to the refuge included with the price of their room. Groups can also arrange for guided tours of the refuge, where they will hear all about the resident animals.

Eldridge Hotel

Lawrence, Kansas

The site of the present-day Eldridge Hotel was formerly part of the region known as the Kansas Territory. Since the mid-1800s, there have been four hotels on this spot, and the colorful stories about their rise and fall are part of local and state history.

The present hotel was constructed in the 1920s. But by the 1970s, with the advancement of hotels and motels on interstate highways, the downtown hotel began to fail and was converted to apartments.

In 1981, a group of investors bought the property and converted it back to a hotel. Two successful major restorations took place in the 2000s.

“It is a wonderful place, out of this world, a jewel in downtown Lawrence, with all of its history,” said David Longhurst, the hotel’s assistant general manager. “We converted all the common areas to as close to the original lobby and ballrooms as possible. That’s everything on the ground floor, including the flooring, lighting and trim work.”

The guest rooms, which include 48 two-room suites, have all been modernized and “are really, really nice,” said Longhurst, who also has some ghost stories to share.

Groups often stay at the historic hotel. There are people who travel to Lawrence for corporate meetings and seminars or who are in a wedding party or attending University of Kansas events of all kinds. “We feel privileged to carry on the spirit of Colonel Eldridge,” said Longhurst.

Downtown Lawrence, located 25 miles east of Topeka, is a particularly striking spot. Its main thoroughfare, Massachusetts Street, is considered one of the most pleasant main streets in America. There are many beautifully restored buildings with boutiques, restaurants and entertainment districts aplenty in this big university town that adores its college basketball team.

Hotel at Old Town

Wichita, Kansas

In 1906, the Simmons Hardware Company built a warehouse in Wichita adjacent to a rail line that it used to ship goods around the region. In 1999, the structure was gutted and converted into the fabulous Hotel at Old Town.

The hotel features a four-story atrium and a piano bar that specializes in jazz on weekends. There are 103 guest rooms and 12 one-bedroom suites above. All the rooms have fully equipped kitchens.

“The guest rooms still have a lot of the exposed brick in them,” said Karen White, the hotel’s sales manager. “They tried to preserve as much of the building as possible but still update it.”

The property is not only a hotel but also an independently owned history museum. The building owner gathered as many artifacts and memorabilia related to the property as possible to create a place where residents and out-of-town guests can appreciate local history. “Our cupola on top of the building still has the original Keen Kutter name painted on it,” said White.

The hotel sits in the middle of Wichita’s historic Old Town District with the original brick paver streets and a lot of rich history. The entire neighborhood is a busy place. There are more than 40 restaurants, shops and museums within walking distance of the hotel’s front door.

Groups should note that the hotel has partnered with restaurants, bars and other businesses and attractions for free perks, discounts or extra special customer service in what it calls the Gold Cap program. Guests’ hotel room keys are their passports to all of the special treatment.