That's Soooo Cincinnati

A Fantasy Island

Mar 31, 2004 at 2:06 pm
Ryan Greis

Tom Kelly might not seem like a wild and crazy guy, but his life mission is to make sure you have a wild and crazy time. As owner of the Wildwood Inn Tropical Dome & Theme Suites in Florence, he's created what might well be the region's most unique hotel.

Imagine spending the evening in an African safari village. Or plopping down for the night in a cavern complete with stalagmites and trickling waterfalls. Or taking a Polynesian holiday to the South Pacific. Kelly makes sure you can do this, all without ever leaving Greater Cincinnati.

The Wildwood proprietor points to his Shi-Awela village, for instance, an exotic and gated re-creation of a safari village in Africa. Inside Shi-Awela (meaning "a peaceful place of rest"), you encounter 12 huts, all with individual front doors and parking.

So how in the world did all this begin? How did a tiny motel that began back in the 1930s, charging 25 cents a night during the Great Depression (as the only existing lodging accommodation between Covington and Louisville), evolve into the theme park of hotels?

"Back in 1963, my dad ran a lumber yard in Erlanger," Kelly recalls. "The man who owned the Wildwood used to buy material from him, but he was getting up in age and asked Dad if he was interested in buying it. It was a little 32-room motel then. But they had just opened I-75."

And so, today, you can indulge in any wild fantasy you want — but only by driving across the river into Kentucky. That's soooo Cincinnati.

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