I’ve been staying here since I was little. I think any kid would simply be captivated by the grandeur of what it is like to walk through the Fulton Steamboat Inn. From the outside, it does indeed look like a steamboat—modeled after local inventor Robert Fulton’s Clermont, to be precise. Inside, the decorations are lavish. Everything from the floors to the walls and ceilings are done up in 1840’s decorum. If I had to describe the hotel in one word, it would be classy. They even have a decent restaurant and bar, which is much better in recent years than it used to be. But no matter if you are eating there or not, staying for a night or a whole week, you just might leave with the impression that this is the only place you will ever want to stay in Lancaster, Pennsylvania for the rest of your life.
In my mind, there is no competition. Lancaster started to become a major tourist spot in the 1950’s, and many of the motels along sleepy and peaceful side streets reflect that. In fact, the Amish Country hotel scene is an odd mix of generic (but clean) name brand hotels and outdated dumps. The Fulton sticks right out from that because you just cannot help but notice it on the drive by. Its location is most convenient, literally on Route 30 and across the street from the Rockvale Square Outlets, as well as being smack in the middle of Strasburg, Intercourse, and Bird-in-Hand.
I don’t think my family or I have had a bad stay in nearly 20 years of staying here. The staff is always pleasant and helpful. The rooms and hotel itself are as clean as can be. There is a pool on the first floor which then becomes available to adults only after 10 p.m. There’s also a game room, fitness center, and gift shop. When you walk in during the afternoon, there is lemonade and chocolate chip cookies to welcome you, on the house. And of course, if you read my restaurant review of Huckleberry’s, I just love the style of their restaurant and tavern.
What strikes me the most about how much they care about their guests is how they have changed with the times and refused to become a gimmick. “Theme” or “concept” motels like this usually have an initial strong but short burst of popularity, make boatloads of money, and sit around and deteriorate. An example would be the Red Caboose Motel, which is about ten minutes to the south—a place where each family’s room is its own formerly used train car. This is a place that used to be famous as a concept motel, but is now literally rusting away. It was a fantastic idea but now appears to be in desperate need of a Hotel Impossible visit. The Fulton Steamboat, however, is constantly renovating. There was a time a few years back where every trip we took there, we would see them changing something. First it was the actual room designs. Then came the televisions and finally the beds. The third floor suites even have their own electric fireplace. It seems the owners have poured endless amounts of money into their business to stay with the times and keep things fresh.
Will and I stayed in a suite for last week’s visit. Since it was the off-season, the price was right and we figured it would be nice to “sail” in luxury. When you book your trip, you can request the farm side of the hotel (based on availability) which is where we were. You can see nothing but farmland for miles, and it is so relaxing to sit out on the balcony with a drink in the quiet Amish Countryside. The other side of the hotel is the one that borders on Route 30, which might be a little noisy for light sleepers since it is a busy trucking route most of the night.
There are also two other newer features added by the Fulton Steamboat Inn. The first is an outside fire pit which you can request they light, and even purchase a s’mores kit complete with wooden stakes, chocolate, marshmallows, and Graham crackers. Then there is something I have truly never seen at a hotel before, and that is the ability for you to “Adopt a Fish” for the duration of your stay. They have a tank in the gift shop filled with guppies and you just pick one out, they catch it, and put it in your own little fish bowl which you can then bring to your room. They even feed it for you, meaning you don’t have to do anything. The best part? It’s completely free, and if you managed to become attached to your fish and want to take it home, that is free too. You let them know and they’ll give you a transport container. How cool is that? (The little kid in us made us adopt a fish and name it “Stephen” for our three days staying there.)
I dare you to drive past this hotel and not be intrigued. I dare you to walk the halls and tell yourself this isn’t the most unique place you have ever stayed at. Especially if you are a history lover like me, it comes across with an old feel but at the same time, you known everything is clean and modern. The “boat” is even surrounded by a small moat to give it the effect that it is really on the water. The owners pulled out all the stops to make the experience incredible. You should give it a try.