Image: Wii would like to cruise
Norwegian Cruise Line
Lisa Anderson, a Norwegian Pearl guest from Tampa, Florida, plays Nintendo's Wii Sports boxing in the Crystal Atrium.
By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 7/29/2008 9:41:26 AM ET 2008-07-29T13:41:26

At first glance, the fitness center at The Westin Bellevue, outside Seattle, looks much like any other exercise facility at an upscale urban hotel. There are the neat stacks of free weights, the windows overlooking the adjacent pool and the row of exercise machines offering airy views of the surrounding city skyline.

But then you notice the person doing the strange pantomime in the corner. He’s all by himself, but he’s bobbing and weaving and throwing punches like he’s going 12 rounds with Oscar de la Hoya. It isn’t until you look closer and see that he’s holding a pair of remotes and duking it out with an animated opponent on a high-def screen.

Welcome to the new world of exercise (and entertainment) for travelers. Already a fixture in countless family rooms and college dorms, it seems the Wii is hitting the road.

Wii would like to travel
The Wii (pronounced “we”), of course, is the interactive gaming system from Nintendo that lets users compete in video sports and activities by manipulating a wireless, motion-sensing remote. Designed primarily for personal use, it’s been turning up in hotels and other away-from-home venues since early last year.

This spring, though, Nintendo launched a new console better suited for commercial settings. Like the original, it comes a with a handheld remote and a Nunchuk, the secondary remote that’s used in activities that require two hands, such as boxing. But instead of using individual disks, the console is preloaded with a variety of games that can be accessed via an onscreen menu.

The standard unit comes with Wii Sports (baseball, bowling, boxing, golf and tennis), Wii Play (table tennis, billiards and others) and Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree (mental games and puzzles). Individual properties can manage what games are offered and add new ones as they become available.

This summer, travelers are also getting the chance to work out with the new Wii Fit, which lets users engage in yoga, aerobics and a variety of balancing activities by standing on a wireless Balance Board. “People don’t always have the time or gear to work out or go for a jog,” says Amber McCollom, senior director of entertainment and trend marketing at Nintendo. “With the Wii Fit, they don’t need anything except bare feet.”

Wii would like to play where we stay
At Westin, the Wii and Wii Fit are the latest additions to the WestinWORKOUT, the company’s branded fitness and wellness program. Starting with two hotels — The Westin Bellevue and The Westin Times Square — the system is now offered at 10 properties, including hotels in Hilton Head (S.C.), Hollywood (Fla.), Houston, Kansas City (Mo.), Savannah (Ga.), San Francisco, St. Louis and Toronto.

While the typical Westin guest probably doesn’t play a lot of Myst or Dungeons & Dragons, many are finding the Wii’s sports offerings fit their busy, health-conscious lifestyles, says Matt Van Der Peet, general manager of The Westin Bellevue: “We have a lot of repeat customers who are always on the road. [The Wii] is a lot more fun than getting on the treadmill.”

Furthermore, says Ryan Anderson, Westin’s New York-based senior marketing manager, the Wii is expanding the demographics of gaming from its traditional base among the under-30 crowd. “It’s becoming a multi-generational activity, like golf,” he says. “We’re seeing guests as old as 74 using the Wii.”

Wii would like to cruise
Cruisers are also swinging for the fences and getting in touch with their inner yogi. Norwegian and Princess have had the Wii on board since last year and both are rolling out the Wii Fit across their fleets this summer.

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On Norwegian, the units are located in each ship’s atrium and serve as a venue for passenger tournaments and other activities. According to Public Relations Manager Courtney Recht, older passengers enjoy the bowling game — “They can play for hours on end before actually feeling tired,” she says — while the kids are busy boxing and playing Guitar Hero.

On Princess ships, guests are also encouraged to participate in a variety of competitions, including ski jumping, heading soccer balls and Hula Hoop-ing with the Wii Fit. On ships that offer the Movies Under the Stars program, games are often played on the larger-than-life (300-square-foot) movie screens on the pool deck.

Whether they’re used for fun or fitness, the consoles will no doubt turn up in more places, giving travelers even more opportunities to say they, too, would like to play. At Le Parker Meridien in New York, for example, guests can rent a unit for $50 per hour or sign up for private sessions with a Wii and a personal trainer for $120 per hour.

Westin, meanwhile, will continue to offer the Wii free of charge, which, it seems, is not without its own risks. “We had a guest last weekend who wouldn’t give the remote back,” says Matt Van Der Peet. “She said, ‘We’re not using it right now, but we’re going to again later.”

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