The Weird Side Of Literary Tourism: Five Bizarre Book-Inspired Experiences

Literary tourism isn't new. The Wadsworth-Longfellow House, Mark Twain's boyhood home, the Hemingway Museum, the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden, Thoreau's cabin, and hundreds of other bookish excursions let you visit the childhood home where your favorite author wrote, follow in the footsteps of a beloved novel's protagonist, or explore a museum showcasing important periods in literary history. Trips like these let us connect with books on a deeper level and inspire us as writers. But what if you want to live the story? To take part in it? Here are five unusual destinations that let you do just that...

Dickens World

For fans of: Charles Dickens, bleakness, poverty, strategically placed stench, rickets
Location: Kent, England
Cost: £12 adults, £7 kids, £24.95 if it's Luther Vandross and Whitney Houston Tribute Night

Are the kids a touch too cheerful these days? Don't let them get all smug; tell them you're going to Disneyland then shuttle them over to Dickens World instead. Once inside the cobblestoned, soot-encrusted recreation of Dickens's 19th century London, they'll be scolded by surly schoolmarms, overcome by the odor of rotting meat and cabbage, and confronted with reenactments of hangings and murders. When they need a break, send them to the play area, Fagin's Den, and hope they don't realize it's named after a "grotesque" Oliver Twist character who teaches children to become thieves and prostitutes. And no visit to the five-year-old park would be complete without a ride on the Great Expectations log flume, which snakes through rat-infested waters, sewers, and graveyards. If the fam has survived it all without a bout of typhoid fever, honor the bicentennial of Dickens's birth by toasting his literary legacy with some soda at the Pizza Hut or enjoying an evening tribute to Rod Stewart and Abba or George Michael and Kylie.

Hunger Games Adventure Weekend

For fans of: The Hunger Games, zip-lining, archery, dystopia, murder, bloodsport
Location: Brevard and Transylvania County, North Carolina
Cost: $389

Ever wanted to hunt down other human beings in the woods and pretend to murder them? Then do we have the trip for you, the Hunger Games Adventure Weekend. On select dates, you can join twenty-seven other strangers in the North Carolina woods to make-believe that you're learning how to fight one another to the death. What could go wrong? Your journey begins with a lottery that will separate you and your fellow participants into Districts because all vacations should begin with a divisive ceremony that pits you against your fellow travelers. By day, you'll participate in "survival classes," learning archery and sling-shot skills, fire- and shelter-building techniques, and orienteering. You'll paint your face in camo and try not to let the situation devolve into a Lord Of The Flies scenario involving a severed pig head. By night, you'll zip-line through the forest canopy where your face will careen—high-speed in the dark—into spider webs, leaves, and flying nocturnal insects. On the final day of your adventure, you'll participate in a Hunger Games "simulation." According to the website, this simulation does not involve actually putting an arrow through your fellow competitors' heads, but rather time trials of the skills you learned during the weekend.

Fifty Shades Of Grey Hotel Packages

For fans of: Fifty Shades Of Grey, BDSM, masturbation, moaning through thin hotel walls, frivolous spending
Location: Various, including San Francisco, California; Monterey, California; Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington
Cost: $369-$2,750

Take one opportunistic travel industry, add thousands of randy middle-aged women, and what do you get? Big profits. Several West Coast hotels have created packages to cash in on the book everybody loves to hate. Personality Hotels, with properties in San Fran and Monterey, offers the least expensive, the 50 Shades Of Women Package. For $369, guests receive a box containing an Ola Vibrator ("voted sexiest technology in 2001"...that's a thing?), lube, designer condoms, a black silk scarf, and a feather ("not meant for dusting"). The maids must be thrilled. Do you know how many vibrators you could buy for $369? Lots. Like forty low-end useless ones or three and a half awesome ones. That's just, um, a guess, of course.

Next up, Seattle's Hotel Max, which offers the $1,967 Sexy Shades Of Seattle package featuring chauffeured town car service, a helicopter tour of the city, and a private four-hour sailing excursion on Puget Sound with gourmet picnic and a bottle of Bollinger Grande Annee Rose 1999 champagne. Just down the road at The Edgewater, horny ladies can take advantage of the hotel's 50 Shades Of Romance package complete with waterfront room, the same sailing trip and champagne offered by Hotel Max (it is, apparently, Mr. Grey's bevie of choice), a copy of the book (which you presumably already own if you're investing $914 on this package), a map of places mentioned in the book, and an Audi to tool around the city in. "Tool" being the operative word here.

Lastly, the pièce de résistance, Portland's Heathman Hotel. It was not about to miss out on the dolla billz it stands to earn from being prominently featured as a hub of sexy times in E.L. James's erotic trilogy. Its $2,750 Charlie Tango No Limits add-on—designed to replicate the protagonist's birthday party scene from the book—includes dinner and wine for six in the hotel's restaurant, roses for the ladies in the group, limo transfers, and a helicopter tour for the entire group. Rooms are not included. Baller as hell, but if you've got that kind of cash, odds are you aren't the kind of woman who's sitting around fantasizing about being tied up and taken care of by some insecure rich dude.

Hobbit-Themed Flight and Hotel

For fans of: Lord Of The Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien, New Zealand, midget fetishism, uncomfortably tiny surroundings
Location: New Zealand
Cost: Varies

The marketing masterminds at Air New Zealand will stop at nothing to get people on those planes. A few months ago, much to the relief of the entire nation, they revealed that Richard Simmons murdered their controversial and rapey rodent puppet mascot, who represented New Zealand by doing things such as making suggestive double-entendres regarding bushes and cocks while interviewing Lindsay Lohan. Now, they're strapping pointy ears onto flight attendants for Hobbit-themed flights. The airline almost certainly would've performed below-the-knee amputations for the sake of realism if not for the fact that its staff needs to be able to reach the overhead bins. The themed flights—running from the UK and US to the Kiwi capital of Wellington starting in November—will feature a special edition safety video, costumed staff, contests, and other promotional touches.

Once you've reached the stunning, sheep-infested shores of New Zealand, settle in at the Minaret Lodge's Hobbit accommodation. The themed Barliman's cabin has oversized furniture and a special "Hobbit menu" designed to make you feel diminutive and give you the full Hobbit experience...whatever that means. Then sign up for any of Minaret's LOTR's tour-inclusive packages or take one of the nation's five gazillion independent Lord Of The Rings tours. There are way too many to list here and they range from half-day $40 tours to nine-day $2500 experiences. By the time you join your hairy-footed, pointy-eared crew for the return flight, you'll never want to hear the word "Hobbit" again.

Sleep No More At The McKittrick Hotel

For fans of: Macbeth, Shakespeare, theater, bathtubs full of blood, waking dreams, taxidermy, voyeurism, witch orgies
Location: West 27th Street, New York City
Cost: $75-$95

It's in a hotel that's not a hotel but a 100,000-square-foot, 100-room warehouse that has been transformed into an alternate dimension. It's Macbeth that's not Macbeth but a mind-bending amalgamation of Macbeth, Hitchcockian film noir, and a surrealist dream. It's theater, or a social experiment, or something else entirely depending who you ask. Sleep No More, created by English theater company Punchdrunk, is an immersive experience for those who want to experience The Bard's work in a whole new, extremely weird way. It has been selling out and drawing rave reviews since it opened last year. Apparently there was an astounding untapped market for a destination where you can roam silently through shadowy corridors wearing a Venetian beak mask, investigate creepy drawers full of hair samples, and watch a Satanic rave/orgy. Who knew?

The story isn't linear. There are a couple of ways to approach your three-hour experience. You can spend your time chasing Lady Macbeth, Macduff, or any other character from room to room, knowing you could be dragged away for a one-on-one interaction during which the actors might kiss you, feed you candy, smash an egg in your hand, or lead you through secret passageways. Or you can concentrate on exploring the painstakingly detailed environments, which include a cemetery, outdoor scene complete with real dirt and trees, psych ward, taxidermy shop, and a gory crime scene or two. Every drawer can be opened, every cupboard reveals secrets, every scrap of paper can be read for clues. You won't see every room, but you can do your best. It is Macbeth at its most ominous, its darkest, and its most fucked-up.

Have you ever taken a trip inspired by a book or author? Where'd you go? Share your literary vacay stories in the comments.

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Kimberly Turner

Column by Kimberly Turner

Kimberly Turner is an internet entrepreneur, DJ, editor, beekeeper, linguist, traveler, and writer. This either makes her exceptionally well-rounded or slightly crazy; it’s hard to say which. She spent a decade as a journalist and magazine editor in Australia and the U.S. and is now working (very, very slowly) on her first novel. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics and lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband, two cats, ten fish, and roughly 60,000 bees.

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John Jarzemsky's picture
John Jarzemsky September 13, 2012 - 12:39pm

Sleep No More is definitely on my list now. Anybody else in NYC with me?

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated September 13, 2012 - 12:55pm

So do these people rent out the whole hotel for this craziness or does so poor guy on a business trip get stuck in the middle of all this?

seagalla's picture
seagalla September 13, 2012 - 2:04pm

A friend of mine's sister ran a Shadow of the Wind -themed scavenger hunt (of sorts) around Barcelona, visiting the city's sites mentioned in the book. As no one in the group knew my friend, he showed up at each of the sites just ahead of the group: sometimes reading a newspaper, sometimes just loitering creepily. It took them a while to figure it out. But, when they did, it was that little piece of atmosphere that made the whole day pop. Or so I'm told.

Kristy Houston's picture
Kristy Houston September 13, 2012 - 8:36pm

We once took a trip where we visited Sleepy Hollow, NY, then drove to Providence, RI to visit Brown University and H.P. Lovecrafts's grave, then went up to Salem. Mass where my now husband proposed to me at the House of the Seven Gables. Quite a memorable trip! Plus we now live in Bethlehem, PA, home of the oldest continously operating book store in the U.S.


harbertcarl's picture
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