I have always been a fan of the regional vacation.
For one thing, my childhood was full of them. It was really the only kind of traveling my family did — I was in my teens before I stepped onto an airplane. This was partially because I grew up working class, but also because I grew up much closer to the American Midwest than anywhere in Canada. And the Midwest loves their regional vacays.
It makes sense in a lot of ways. From the belly of the country, it’s expensive and time-consuming for most people to travel to either coast. And although we have the beautiful Great Lakes, the weather is cold for half of the year, which makes outdoor vacations an inconsistent practicality.
Unless…..unless you could take all of the swimming and lounging fun of the warmer months and put it…no, it couldn’t be done. There’s no way you could possibly move it….no, I mean, under a roof? Wait….under a dome?
That’s exactly what the mid-century bigwigs down at the Holiday Inn thought when they conceived of their weird but wonderful idea that is now a hazy memory in the 20th century American psyche: the Holidome.
Holidomes: the Beginning
Okay, so maybe I don’t quite know what the dudes (because we know they were dudes) at the HI head office were thinking when they first conceived of the idea. It was probably about smoking and like, how important they were, or something. But whatever they had in their pipes, it worked. The Holidome was such a good idea.
Most Holidomes were not built from scratch but instead came into existence from renovations on existing Holiday Inn properties. The Holiday Inn chain had already proven itself to be a popular choice for travelers, with many properties outgrowing their original structures, such was the case in one particular Holiday Inn in Vincennes, IN where a representative in 1976 said, and I quote, “we don’t have enough office space to whip a cat in”, to which I say, please don’t :(.
These renovations were not cheap — the average cost seemed to be around $1 million dollars — but there was a logic behind the company’s decision.
For one thing, American’s travel habits were changing. While “roadside motels” were once beloved for their accessible locations and affordability, the creation of the interstate highway system and the expansion of the American Middle Class meant that many people were looking for something a bit more out of their accommodation. And Holiday Inn, which had already shown itself as a successful hotel chain, saw this as an opportunity to give them exactly that.
Unlike regular hotels and motels that were intended for unplanned stop-overs, Holidomes were meant to be a destination in and of themselves. Areas in the north-central United States were especially targeted because it was thought that indoor facilities would attract locals who are cooped up all winter. And it’s hard to argue with that, considering that Holidomes had an impressive array of amenities and attractions including:
- Indoor swimming pools (often Olympic-sized)
- Putting green
- Decorations like tropical gardens and waterfalls
- Poolside food and beverage services
- Ping pong tables
- Arcade games
- Sun lamps
- Children’s playgrounds
- Gift shops
- Valet parking (in some locations)
- 7 foot screens (mostly for viewing sports games)
Why take it from me, though, when you could allow this vintage ad to explain it to you:
You heard them, folks — go get your senses titillated.
This is probably a good time to mention that many Holidomes seemed to have themes (!!), although it was unclear in my research whether or not they all had themes. Some of the themes I can confirm existed include:
- Polynesian Atoll
- Old West
- Home Country
- Mississippi River
- “Stern River” (I don’t know what this means)
Many rooms featured balconies that looked over the Holidome area, which provided the added bonus of parents being able to watch their children below from the comfort of the room. Promotional rates in the 1970s seemed to run anywhere between $13 per person and $29 per person (adjusted for inflation, that’s $58 to $130).
The Holidomes also featured many perks that, while they may seem standard now, at one time were still somewhat of a novelty, such as temperature-controlled areas. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, but while looking through old newspapers I found evidence of Holidomes existing in at least the following locations:
|Abilene, TX||Fort Wayne, IN||Lebanon, IN||Oklahoma City, OK||South Bend, IN|
|Amarillo, TX||Galesburg, IL||Longboat Key, FL||Oshkosh, WI||Stevens Point, WI|
|Bloomington, IN||Golden, CO||Marshfield, WI||Overland Park, KS||Suffern, NY|
|Bowling Green, KY||Grand Forks, ND||Mattoon, IL||Pocatello, ID||Texarkana, TX|
|Cincinnati, OH||Hammond, IN||Minneapolis, MN||Rapid City, SD||Uniontown, PA|
|Columbus, IN||Houma, LA||Mitchell, SD||Sacramento, CA||Vincennes, IN|
|Denver, CO||Hutchinson, KS||Monroe, LA||Salt Lake City, UT||Zannesville, OH|
|Elmhurst, IL||Indiana, PA||Montgomery, AL||San Angelo, TX|
|Emerald Beach, TX||Jasper, IN||Muscatine, IA||Sandusky, OH|
|Fort Collins, CO||Kearney, NE||Nashville, TN||Shreveport, LA|
|Fort Mitchell, KY||Kentwood, MI||Navarre Beach, FL||Sioux Falls, SD|
Holidomes: the Golden Years
It didn’t take long for the Holidome concept to prove popular. By the mid-1970s, there were at least 50 Holidome locations — by the end of the 70s, there were at least 80. By 1987, it is reported that there were 180 locations operating.
Although Holidomes were mostly catered towards families, there was also an attempt to attract a business crowd, with most Holidomes boasting the ability to host small to medium sized conferences. It makes sense that their audience could be so wide as Holidomes were often located in easy-to-reach destinations near airports and busy interstates. Holidomes were also the venue-of-choice for weddings and even boxing matches.
Holidomes: the Decline and Demise
In the 1980s and 90s, Holiday Inn was facing more competition than ever from such chains as Days Inn and La Quinta. What’s also of interest is that Holiday Inn closed a number of franchises during this time if they were not seen to adhere to their ever-tightening standards.
There was a type of resurgence attempted in the mid-2000s, where Holiday Inn tried to make their Holidomes more modern and enticing by adding waterfalls. However, it was clear that the general public had moved on, and before long, Holiday Inn did too.
Some get amazing reviews on TripAdvisor, though, so, there may still be hope out there if you are looking to get your Holidome on!