A weekend escape from the ordinary is meant to be extraordinary. We visited four resorts in Florida to share what we discovered that would make your few days away, fabulous.
Story: John Sotomayor and Kelli Fuqua Hart
Reservations made – check. Louis Vuitton and Pierre Cardin luggage packed – check. Car cleaned and detailed – check. Prepared to experience once-in-a-lifetime, elite excursions with pampered VIP service and all worries left at home – check, check and check. It is fair to say that nothing recharges your battery like a weekend of indulgence. Fortunately, Florida has several choice destinations to satisfy that need. Saddled with the burden of learning the latest in leisure travel, I made reservations for myself to three heavenly havens: The Breakers, The Biltmore and The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island and one reservation to the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota for my cohort in lavish living, Kelli Fuqua Hart. We discovered old standards and new favorites that you will undoubtedly wish to try for yourselves. Having observed and experienced more than we have room for, we focused on some of the highlights and new attractions from each resort. The rest, you will have to learn on your own. Once-in-a-lifetime experiences checked off our bucket lists? We certainly hope not.
From the moment one enters the 1,040-foot main drive lined with towering palm trees that ends at the Florentine fountain one knows he has arrived. The palatial magnificence of The Breakers, inspired by the elaborate Italian villas of the 1400s, with twin Belvedere towers patterned after the Villa Medici in Rome centered upon 140 acres of lush, well-manicured grounds, is the picture of opulence. Both legendary and luxurious, the Breakers oceanfront hotel in Palm Beach is world-renowned as a destination one must visit at least once in their lifetime.
Upon entering the lobby, one is instantly awestruck by the Italian Renaissance-styled architecture inspired by the Great Hall of the Palazzo Carega in Genoa. The Breakers has 540 guest rooms, including 68 suites, two Imperial Suites, including the Imperial Designer Suite by Badgely Mischka, and four Royal Poinciana Suites. A well-manner bellman escorted me to my room on the second floor that featured an ocean view. The oceanfront rooms are designed with a nautical nod, and no other resort offers views that look directly down to the water. It is said if a guest arrives at night, when they awake they feel as if they were on board an ocean vessel.
The resort also offers memberships, like a country club. The Flagler Club is a private, intimate residence comprised of the restricted access rooms on the sixth and seventh floors of the hotel. They offer exclusive concierge service and enhanced amenities including afternoon tea, evening hors d’oeuvres and after-dinner cordials. The Flagler Club is affectionately known as the Bernard Club, after the head concierge of the Flagler Club, who has worked there for more than 35 years. Employees are devoted to the Breakers. In fact, I have not met anyone in a leadership role employed less than 15 years. That’s not all. The diverse team of associates speaks with fluency in 50 languages.
The dining is exquisite. You have 10 restaurants to select from, some off property. For breakfast, I would highly recommend The Circle – a sublime space with an intricate, hand-painted ceiling complimented by panoramic ocean views. The Circle at The Breakers is world-famous for its Sunday brunch. I sampled exotic fruits I have never seen anywhere else. Other restaurants on site include The Beach Club Restaurant, The Flagler Steakhouse, The Seafood Bar (an oceanfront restaurant with signature aquarium bars), The Italian Restaurant, The Ocean Grill, The Surf Break (The Breakers’ newest addition, this gazebo-styled poolside bar opened in July 2013), and HMF.
HMF is a signature space, newly re-imagined and established in November 2012. HMF is named after The Breakers’ legendary founder, Henry Morrison Flagler, and serves as an ode to the classic “Palm Beach cocktail culture” offering a lively, glamorized experience. Those off site include Echo, spectacular Asian cuisine located a few blocks from the resort in the heart of Palm Beach, and Top of the Point, a penthouse-styled dining experience featuring modern American cuisine with global influences and stunning vistas of the Intracoastal Waterway, Atlantic Ocean and Palm Beach; atop the Phillips Point Club building on Flagler Drive in downtown West Palm Beach.
At The Breakers, the most arduous task is to decide how to spend one’s time. Avid golfers have their choice. The Breakers Ocean Course – Florida’s oldest 18-hole course located on site at The Breakers – a 6,100 yard, par 70 course redesigned by Brian Silva in 2000, or The Breakers Rees Jones Course. Reconstructed in 2004 by renowned golf course architect Reese Jones in his award-winning neo-classic style, Golf Inc named the course “Renovation of the Year”.
Other recreational activities and facilities include The Spa at the Breakers – a Mediterranean-style, 20,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor spa with an oceanfront whirlpool spa and 17 private treatment rooms. The Oceanview Fitness Center, a 1,400-sqaure-foot facility, which connects to The Spa, has all of the traditional equipment for strength conditioning, fitness training and a variety of complimentary group classes.
The Breakers graciously provided me with a bungalow overlooking one of the nine pools along the shoreline. The bungalow comes with its own lounge chairs, living quarters, wall-mounted flat screen TV, refrigerator, kitchen, shower and commode. One does not need to return to the guest room all day, opting instead to stay by the pool. One hot tip that I was offered – for the price of a suite, one can get a guestroom and bungalow combination. That is ideal for families or those who prefer to nosh on fruit or sip cocktails by the pool all day.
For those who travel with children in tow, The Breakers offers a 6,160-square-foot Family Entertainment Center offering a wide range of activities, entertainment and games all underneath one roof, including an arcade, toddler playroom, arts and crafts area, a children’s movie theatre and more.
For those who like to shop, on-site shopping includes: Absolutely Suitable (for designer swimwear and accessories), Coconut Crew (adorable children’s clothing, collectibles and toys), Guerlain (renowned skincare, cosmetics and fragrances), Mix at The Breakers, Ralph Lauren, Signature Shop (clothing with The Breakers logo), Match at The Breakers, Lilly Pulitzer at The Breakers and more. For those who truly enjoy the high-end shopping experience, Worth Street – known as the “Rodeo Drive of the East” – is only a short walk or drive away.
The highlight of my stay was my dinner at HMF. For decades, The Breakers has long been a beloved playground for the world’s most beautiful, powerful and famous. HMF is The Breakers’ spirited toast to Palm Beach highlife at its best.
A nod to the glamour of the 1950s popularized by the hit show, Mad Men, HMF masterfully combines mid-century social traditions with modern culinary movements. Delivered in tapas-style portions, I dined on warm low country crab dip, a baby gem Caesar salad (presented as a roll), Hong Kong-style BBQ ribs, Korean short ribs, and wild boar empanaditas, finished with a Gianduja Chocolate Torte with Caramel Sea Salt Gelato, all washed down with virgin Bellinis.
When it was time to leave the next day, I left richer than I arrived, with memories to last a lifetime while lamenting that it all ended too soon.
Visit us again to read about our next elite hotel, The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. …