Despite Amenities, Guest Grows Cat-atonic

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CHERRY HILL, N.J. -- It sounded like a good idea. "I see that a Hilton hotel in Cherry Hill has a 'Bring Your Best Friend' program that encourages guests to spend a night or two with their pet," I told my wife one evening. "Why don't we take one of the cats with us for a weekend vacation?"

"I've got a better idea," my wife replied. "Why don't we ship all three cats to the Hilton instead and have the house to ourselves for a change?

"Better yet, we can send along the dog and a few of the kids while we're at it. Tell the hotel to bill us by the month. Now that's a vacation."

But reality bites (more often it scratches, we have found), and so it was quickly clear that "Home Alone" would not be playing any time soon in our neighborhood. No, togetherness for us meant a walk on the wild side with one of our furry friends in Cherry Hill.

But which one? Our dog was quickly eliminated from the prospective guest list. The Hilton at Cherry Hill, which was promoting this four-legged fling, limited occupancy in its "Pet Friendly Rooms" to animals tipping the scales at 65 pounds or less. Manny, our chocolate lab, weighed that much at birth and regularly plows through a diet that could satisfy 1001 Dalmations. He'd never get by the doorman. He might not fit through the door.

Our cat Daffy was a no go. An ornery sort, she has a hair-trigger temper that has been ignited by such provocations as a kind word, a saucer of milk and a gentle breeze on a summer's night. Vacation? Better two weeks in a Turkish prison.

Mookie, a third candidate for the feral fam trip, was bounced because that darn cat is too darn dumb. He's lived with us for 10 years and still gets lost going from the kitchen to the hall. Should we somehow get separated in Cherry Hill, about 40 miles from where we live, he can't rely on a feline sixth sense to guide him home. He can't find the door when he's sitting on the doormat.

That left Gracie. Gracie's all gray, as her name might suggest. She's cute. She adores us. She deserved a vacation. She was the one. Thus it was that a few weeks later the three of us--my wife, Gracie and I--checked in for a two-night stay at the Hilton. With the "gray ghost" peering forlornly through the barred gate of her battered "pet taxi" and mewling her own distinct version of "Show Me the Way to Go Home," we headed through the crowded lobby for the elevator.

We were booked into a restricted-access executive floor, which assured us that Gracie wouldn't have to rub shoulders or sniff the unmentionables of such low-life trailer trash as alley cats, mongrels or mutts.

Our guest room was specially equipped for an unlikely trio such as ours. To wit:

  • For us, a king-size bed. For Gracie, pillows.
  • For us, remote-controlled TV. For Gracie, a scratching post and toy.
  • For us, a combination bath-shower, with separate sink and a built-in coffee maker. For Gracie, a litter box, a bag of litter and a scooper.
  • For us, five in-house restaurants from which to choose round-the-clock dining. For Gracie, food and water bowls, a bag of Pounce cat treats and a room service menu featuring canned favorites such as "Savory Chicken" and "Tender Beef."
  • Who could have guessed that as far as Gracie was concerned, the amenities were for naught? For starters, the first evening she refused to leave the safety of her pet carrier. No amount of cajoling or prodding could entice her out. We played cat games with the cat toy. We scratched the scratching post. We talked "ittybittykitty" talk (you don't want to know). No response.

    To buoy our feelings, we called room service for dinner. "Send up a can of cat food while you're at it. We're having a party," I told the operator. "Really? Sounds kinda quiet," she said. "Not much of a party," I replied.

    Gracie did not leave the confines of her own private Idaho that night or the next morning. No dinner, no breakfast, no litter box, no nothing. To forestall a case of cabin fever, that afternoon we drove to the State Aquarium in nearby Camden, leaving Gracie to the tender mercies of the Hilton housekeeping staff. "A dose of the old vacuum cleaner will straighten her out in no time," I assured my wife.

    After a few hours spent visiting 4,000 well-adjusted aquatic creatures, we returned to discover the pet carrier was empty and that our cat had flown the coop (if cats can do that). Actually, she was hiding under the bed. Again, no amount of special pleadings could lure her out, and there she stayed until the next morning when it was time for us to leave.

    But as we packed our bags, she confidently strode out from beneath the bed, tail riding high. She headed for the water bowl, discretely ruffled the litter, batted the cat toy between her paws and raked the scratching pad with her claws. If she knew how to call room service, she would have ordered breakfast. "She does like to vacation, after all," I said. "Just takes her a while to unwind. Maybe next time we'll try something a bit longer like a cruise. Think she'd like the Canary Islands?"

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    CHERRY HILL, N.J. -- Under the Bring Your Best Friend program, the Hilton at Cherry Hill charges $25 over the standard rate for "pet friendly" units. Rates range from $149 to $169, weekdays, with a $92 Bounceback rate weekends.

    The "pet friendly" program features such feline accoutrements as a scratching post, food treats, a litter box, a bag of litter and a scoop, a toy, food and water bowls and room-service cat food. For dog lovers, the program covers a pet bed, food and water bowls, a blanket, a ball and a biscuit on check-in. Canned dog food, bacon chip treats, a rawhide beef bone and a rawhide chicken bone are available from room service. Animals must not weigh more than 65 pounds.

    ***

    FACT SHEET:

    Hotel: Hilton at Cherry Hill

    Address: 2349 West Marlton Pike

    Cherry Hill, N.J. 08002

    Phone: (609) 655-6666; (800) 445-8667 (Hilton reservations)

    Fax: (609) 662-3676

    Web: www.hilton.com

    Sample rates: $149 to $169, weekdays; $92, weekend Bounceback rates

    Location: 10 minutes by car from center city Philadelphia, 20 minutes from Philadelphia airport; near the New Jersey State Aquarium and Garden State Park racetrack

    Affiliation: Hilton franchisee managed by New Castle Hotels of Shelton, Conn.

    Rating: AAA Three Diamonds

    General manager: R.J. "Joe" Sutton

    Phone: (609) 655-6666

    Fax: (609) 662-1414

    Concierge: Gary Connell

    Concierge phone.: (609) 665-6666, Ext. 1223

    Built: 1974; fully renovated in 1994

    Floors: 14

    Restricted access: 12th Floor, concierge level

    No.of rooms: 409

    Restaurants: Bentley's Five, with five separate menus.

    Special venues: Comedy Cabaret; gift shop; car rental desk; business center; 30,000 feet of meeting space.

    Meeting facilities: The Grand Ballroom, which can accommodate 1,200 persons

    Amenities: AT&T long-distance carrier; remote-controlled TV, with ESPN, CNN, HBO, pay movies; two telephones, with data ports; air conditioning; AM/FM clock radio; hair dryer; iron and ironing board; key-card locks; wet bars (in suites); free parking; safe-deposit box; complementary morning coffee in lobby; outdoor pool; health club, with Stairmaster, treadmill and Lifecycle; two lighted tennis courts.

    Notes: Guest rooms are large and airy, and many overlook the Cooper River; on Saturday evenings, party time, the cavernous lobby takes on the look of Penn Station at rush hour; room service is prompt and courteous, but the dishes sampled were hardly memorable; caution clients arriving by car that parking space on weekends is at a premium--the spots in the large lot fill up quickly, and latecomers can end up a long walk from the hotel entrance.

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