POLAND SPRING, Maine -- That it is cheap is undeniable. That it is a resort . . . well, there could be some argument there.
When we visited last fall, the Inns at Poland Spring billed itself as ''the cheapest resort on the planet." There's a sort of
At Poland Spring, it's more about cheap than resort. Along with soap and towels, you will have to bring your own drinking glass and pillows, if you require more than one. You will have to climb the stairs to your room, as there is no elevator. In the dining room, you will have to bus your own table.
The flip side is, if you don't mind sleeping in a room the size of a cruise ship's smallest cabin, you can get two nights' lodging in a mountain setting, two breakfasts, and one all-you-can-eat dinner for about $60 a person.
There are three lodging options. The Maine Inn, where we stayed, includes reception, a pub, and the dining/entertainment room. The long porch, with green and white Adirondack chairs, looks across the golf course to the White Mountains. The Presidential Inn, an attractive Victorian building, is on the other side of the golf course, a five-minute walk. The Motor Court Inn offers the lowest-price accommodations, but its smallest rooms are claustrophobic -- as the inn's website acknowledges: ''When you smile, your cheeks touch the walls." It's one-eighth-mile away from the Maine Inn, and guests walk or drive to the central location for meals and entertainment (all packages include meals).
We splurged on a ''mountain view" room in the Maine Inn. Our third-floor room was large, more than 200 square feet, but bare, with a king bed, a smallish bathroom, industrial-grade carpet, tiny TV, and a stunning view of New Hampshire's White Mountains.
I attributed the first morning's stiffness to sleeping in a bed other than my own, but on the second morning, my husband and I still felt as though we had slept on a board. A quick examination of the bed showed that our assessment was half-right: The mattress was sitting on a board-topped box spring. (It should be noted that we lifted the corner of the mattress in a few other rooms as we were leaving and did not see this type of box spring in any of them.)
The grounds were lovely: expanses of manicured lawn dotted with spreading maples and copper beech. In late September, neatly cut rounds of garden flaunted the last summer flowers and the first of fall: pink and white impatiens, yellow marigolds, russet mums.
In its heyday, the Inn at Poland Spring was one of the classic turn-of-the-century New England hotels, considered the ''Newport of the North." It attracted business barons, politicians, and celebrities of the late 1800s and early 1900s who came for the fresh air, golf, and the award-winning Poland Spring water. The complex went through a series of ownership changes and uses, and in 1975 a fire destroyed the original inn. Mel and Cyndi Robbins are the current innkeepers.
Guests are assigned tables at mealtimes, so it is impossible not to get to know your neighbors. We met two generations of a family from Fitchburg vacationing together (the inn's prohibition on guests under 16 probably prevented including the third generation). A couple from Yarmouth, Maine, celebrating their 34th wedding anniversary, were first-time visitors. Having neglected to read the house rules in advance, they were promptly dispatched to the local
The food, while plentiful, was unimpressive: ham, eggs, and French toast for breakfast; barbecued chicken, mashed potatoes, cole slaw, and corn on the cob for supper (you can preorder 1-pound lobsters on some weekends). Eating in the main dining room took us back to the school cafeteria, with hard plastic plates and cups and a certain kind of crumb-topped coffee cake I have never seen anywhere else.
Entertainment is offered Tuesday and Wednesday nights and Friday and Saturday on the weekend plan; you can buy a ticket to two shows for $13.90 a person. We enjoyed the corny humor of a ventriloquist and the Bushwhackers band's covers of hits spanning 50 years. The small dance floor was always full, and everyone looked to be having a good time.
Activities include golf, boccie, tennis, and an outdoor pool in season. On the grounds of the complex are the Maine State Building, built for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, then dismantled, transported to Poland Spring, and reassembled; All Souls Chapel; and Poland Spring Preservation Park, a museum and historic site that tells the story of this country's first, and still leading, bottled water.
Ellen Albanese can be reached at email@example.com.