Not holiday cheer? No problem. Do something else besides stuffing your face with turkey. Take a short road trip for fun.
First, a little backstory.
My son is having a rough year. School is intense, especially coming off two years of pandemic learning with schedules often merely a suggestion more than set in stone. He, like lots of American children, is seeing the aftereffects of that time off school. It’s a struggle to focus; the stamina needed to make multiple school assignments happen at once is a big ask. It isn’t just that; there’s always more, but all of this to say, we needed a break.
Back in August, my son and I started watching “Stranger Things” together. It’s his first real entry into scary TV, and he fell in love. He loves all of the characters so much. He memorized their lines, knows small details about them that I could never remember, and sometimes even sculpts demogorgons.
One evening after I put the kid to bed, I started looking for “Stranger Things” experiences just out of curiosity. I love feeding the kid’s interests, particularly with experiential things and not just commerce. As I was looking, I saw the official “Stranger Things: The Experience,” which is an immersive 45-minute walkthrough of Hawkins Lab. Closest one to us was in Atlanta. Too far, that’s out.
Then I noticed that Graduate Hotel in Bloomington has a “Stranger Things” suite. Um, what?! Sold. Apparently Graduate Hotels are really good at themed hotel stays. Check out the 9-to-5 Suite in Nashville.
I took a look through the suite gallery and immediately found a date that would work for our schedules and budget. I’m not being paid to write this but my desire to make it happen was big, so budget was at the top of my list.
If you wondered about dropping a couple of bills to sleep and relax on ‘80s basement furniture, here is your chance — and, in a word, it is glorious. If you have some flexibility, you can book the room for a reasonable fare.
Word to the wise: that is not on a Saturday night. Also, apparently the rate we found is an anomaly. The rates for this room can get pricey, but I’m going to say for the family experience and time together, it’s worth it.
The Suite was Sweet
Walking into rooms 318 and 320 (you have to enter through 318), marked “Castle Byers,” we were transported into the living room of the “Stranger Things” first family, the Byers, during the time that Will Byers had been sucked into the Upside Down. That’s the world of the monsters terrorizing the town of Hawkins, Indiana.
In the room, there are Christmas lights hung over the entire ceiling, and the wall above the sofa bed is the famous Christmas light alphabet that Winona Ryder’s character Joyce Byers used to communicate with Will. You’ll even find a secret Joyce hiding in a cabinet, holding a ball of lights.
The second room of the suite is the Wheelers’ basement, where Mike Wheeler hides Eleven and feeds her a steady supply of Eggo Waffles. This room has the famous tent where Eleven hides, a giant black arachnid hanging from the ceiling, wood paneling, plaid walls, shelves of props and old board games for the family to play. This detail makes the fact that this room comes without a modern TV even more perfect. This suite is designed for hanging out with your people. If you can’t live without a TV, be sure to bring a laptop, just in case.
The little details of the room are where we were completely won over to the experience. There are dress-up clothes from show characters: Steve Harrington’s Scoops Ahoy outfit, Eleven’s pink smocked dress, Will’s “Will the Wise” wizard robe and Dustin’s Camp Know Where T-shirt and hat.
The games, of course: 1974’s Score Four by Milton Bradley won our hearts. This game deserves a reissue on its own, separate from its comparison to Connect Four. We also really liked Stay Alive.
The room also comes with two passes to WonderLab Museum — we left them in the room for a lucky guest after us — plus a Polaroid camera with a roll of instant film, bikes and secret food menus available to room guests only.
In the hotel cafe, Poindexter, there are specialty offerings like the Upside Down Burger (literally a smash burger flipped upside down), the Demogorgon Smoothie and a Scoops Ahoy sundae. The burger got rave reviews from my husband and kid.
Without telling you everything about the room or Graduate Hotels, which has a wonderful sense of fun and a real sensitivity to the places where they are open, I’ll just wrap up by telling you to go. Find a rate that works for you — and even if just for one night, like we did, enjoy the experience. I’m new to this chain of hotels, but I certainly will look forward to staying in their other hotels and experiences.