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Heart-shaped Tubs (And the People Who Love Them)

There's something to be said for a hotel room with a heart-shaped swimming pool, a sauna and a swirling, seven-foot champagne glass whirlpool tub. And that something would be: Don't pack a lot of clothing.

A recent visit to Niagara Falls, where dozens of motels beckon with the promise of a soak in a bubbling red heart, left me strangely drawn to the outlandish kitsch of the heart-shaped-tub scene. And so one night, on my way home from a visit to friends in Massachusetts, I found myself checking into Caesars Pocono Resorts' Cove Haven in Lakeville, Pa., a k a "The Land of Love."

The champagne glass tub was the first thing I saw when I got to my room. It was next to a fireplace in the living room. Behind a glass wall to the left was the heart-shaped swimming pool, four feet deep. Next to that was the in-suite sauna.

But before I jumped in, I headed for the buffet dinner in the resort's cavernous dining room, where I got my first taste of what it's like to be alone in Couples Land. The tables for eight were really tables for four couples, with pairs of chairs pushed together on each side. No one would be joining me, I told my tablemates somewhat defensively. I was just here to check out the tubs.

At my table were a middle-aged honeymooning couple from Baltimore; a young couple from Columbus, Ohio, who'd been married for four years; and an unmarried couple from New York, whose female half explained that her mother would "kill her" if she got married right now. She was 19, he was 25.

I thought you needed a sense of humor to be here. Maybe not. These couples viewed the resort as the ultimate in romance. "The heart-shaped tub is very romantic," said honeymooner Jacqueline Johnson of Baltimore. "I could see how anyone getting one for Valentine's Day would be in Cupid's Land."

Her extremely muscular and macho new husband, Tee, was more amused and intrigued by the idea of the champagne glass tub, but he and his new wife did not have one in their room. "I could slide down the glass like a fireman," he said. Note to Tee: The stem is closed off to water. In fact, not to burst anyone's bubble, it's not a real stem at all. It does not hold up the tub. It is a piece of plastic attached to the mirrored wall to complete the look of the champagne glass.

Sigh. Reality shatters illusions once again. But that didn't stop me from heading straight for my champagne glass when I got back to my room.

You may be wondering how you get into a seven-foot-tall champagne glass. Over the rim, of course. Oh, you mean, how do you get up to the rim? No ladder needed. There's a staircase that leads up to the bathroom on the second floor. You step down into the tub from there.

So what's it like to luxuriate in a seven-foot-tall bathtub? For starters, those with a fear of heights should think twice. When I moved to the side of the "glass" that protrudes into the living room, I had the sensation that my weight would knock it over, and I and all the water would go tumbling onto the red carpet. You don't have to sit over there, but even on the "safe" side you feel up in the air.

And a note to the prudish: You can see through the tub. It is made of the clear hardened plastic used for helicopter bubbles. On the other hand, there won't typically be a crowd in the room below.

According to the resort, you won't find champagne tubs anywhere else. Morris B. Wilkins, who dreamed them up in 1971, patented the idea, after learning the hard way by not patenting his other brainstorm, the heart-shaped tub. Those tubs now can be found in hotels around the country, from Dubuque, Iowa, to Norman, Okla., to Eureka Springs, Ark.

After my bath, I fell asleep on my round bed under the "celestial ceiling," which I flicked on with a switch. The pinpoints of light were pleasant, certainly better than a mirrored ceiling, and worked great as a night light.

At breakfast, I met more couples. One of them, Cindy and Kevin Watkins from Massachusetts, are considered "Forever Lovers" by the resort because they've visited at least three times. Cindy offered sage advice for new visitors, words that I know will stay with me for a long time. "Be careful when taking pictures in the room. There's a picture of me in the bubble bath with Kevin fully exposed because there are mirrors everywhere."

All three couples told "I Love Lucy"-like tales of runaway bubbles spilling over the sides of their tubs the night before. Clearly, a little bubble bath goes a long way when several powerful jets are feeding the tub. "We were laughing so hard with those bubbles," said the 56-year-old male half of a couple from New Jersey. Cindy, she of the exposed photo-snapping husband, nodded in hearty agreement. "It sure made memories."

There are other things to do at Cove Haven. After breakfast, I watched as couples with helmets sped around on snowmobiles. There's an indoor ice-skating square (no rink, just an ice floor in a room with walls), miniature golf, archery, billiards, a workout room and more. Off campus, there are several local ski resorts and a couple of riding stables. At night, the likes of Bob Newhart, Robert Klein, Bobby Vinton and the Temptations pass through, crooning or yukking it up with guests. There's also a lounge act by staff members, who pass out awards for archery contests or the winners of the Triple X Newlywed Game, and announce the next day's couples competitions.

Back home, I moved my heart-shaped-tub search to the Internet. Up popped such places as Nacogdoches, Tex.; Gurnee, Ill.; and Cedar City, Utah -- more than 150 hits around the country. But none seemed to offer the same over-the-top kitsch, the effect of staying in an adult playhouse, as Cove Haven in the Poconos.

Not even accommodations near Dollywood in Sevier County, Tenn., which is known as the state's "marriage county." The heart-shaped whirlpool tubs there seemed to be more of a capper after a day's amusement rides or sightseeing.

Or marriage. Bob Quandt, who owns Hilton's Bluff, a hilltop bed-and-breakfast in Pigeon Forge, has built a business around the honeymoon couples who arrive from some of the more than 50 wedding chapels in the area.

"It's real easy to get married here," he said. "You come in, find someone to say 'I do,' and that's that." And then, apparently, you ride off into the sunset, straight to your heart-shaped tub.

Ellen Perlman usually writes about the drier subject of state and local government.

First published in The Washington Post. All rights reserved.

2007 Ellen Perlman. All rights reserved.