Even if long hours sitting on an airline was delightful, and getting through foreign immigration transit points were terrific adventures, I would still have to confess that a USA-based holiday in the Palm Beaches is really a smart decision. The destination is quickly accessible through Palm Beach International Airport (PBI).
The Airport Works.
PBI is large enough to be efficient and small enough to effectively offer essential services for domestic and international visitors. The airport offers shared passenger shuttles as well as private taxis and limos for inbound visitors. Unfortunately, outbound travelers will be disappointed with the poor (and expensive) food service options. Need to eat at the airport? Have the hotel pack a food box for you – of course, starvation is always an alternative.
The Stereotype is not Valid.
When I think of the Palm Beaches I think of white sand surrounded by palm trees, with huge coconuts waiting for a breeze to knock them to the ground. Lounging on Ralph Lauren beach chairs are beautiful women wearing Lilly Pulitzer frocks and Prada bikinis and hot guys are diving into the waves wearing Jil Sander’s or Salvatore Ferragamo, Burberry or Faconable.
The images may make a terrific ad to sell high-end designer beachwear; however, this image is only a mini-clip (like 15 seconds on YouTube.com) of the Palm Beaches. The communities that make up this area are diverse, and typecasts are not at all useful in determining where to sun, surf, swim, spa and shop. This destination attracts holiday-makers from all parts of the planet, and all groups (especially seniors) are happily eating, drinking, and kvelling over grandchildren, at some of the best hotels in the country.
Having recently spent quality time visiting a few of the more popular destinations in the Palm Beaches, my thoughts about the area as a viable place to spend time has changed from “I don’t think so,” through “Maybe, but I don’t think so,” to a “Definite GO!” I even recommended that my dentist forego his trip to Tucson and take his golf clubs to Boca Raton.
Top Contenders: Recommendations.
Boca Raton Resort and Club (part of the Waldorf Astoria collection) is my #1 favorite destination hotel. I am as surprised as you are that there are destination resorts in this part of the planet. Vacation-focused travelers do not have to go to South Africa or Thailand to find a property that tops the charts as phenomenal. I quickly determined that I could easily spend the next 8-10 years of my life at this resort.
10 Reasons Why the Boca Resort Comes in Number 1.
1. A spa to die for! Modeled after the Alhambra Palace in Spain, with over 50,000 sq. ft. of space – all dedicated to spa treatments. Imagine 44 treatment rooms for corporate executives who need to chill, along with mommies and daddies looking for a well-earned break away from the kids – being kneaded and rubbed and oiled. Definitely an ah-ha hour of bliss.
2. There are so many treatment options that it would take a large expense account and many hours to experience all the massages, facials, wraps and scrubs on the menu.
3. When the pampering is completed, there is a private pool that is the essence of tranquility. Whether you are old-fashioned enough (like me) to still read a book, or prefer to turn on the Kindle or tablet, this is a moment in time that is worth savoring.
4. Unlike other spa-resorts, the Boca offers guests a hair salon, professional make-up sessions plus manicures and pedicures. This is so cool – guests do not have to hide in the shadows as they sneak back to their rooms huddled in over-sized bathrobes, because after spa treatments and a swim in the pool – I know that I look like yesterday’s garbage and pray to melt into the elevator.
5. OMG – how remiss it would be for me to neglect the over-the-top boutiques strategically (conveniently?) located next to the spa. I could have selected a few dozen designer silk dress and pants outfits, along with leather jackets and must-have handbags that are priced high enough to make me wonder if I will have to get a second mortgage on the coop. Forget about the price tag – the garments are fabulous.
6. So – the spa treatments are completed, I have nibbled through the spa dining and the drink menu, swam laps in the private swimming pool, read a few pages of my newest novel, had a haircut, mani and pedi, and put on the new outfit… now I am ready to meet my significant other (if I had one) for drinks and dinner at one of the dozens of options available without taking one step outside the property. Unfortunately the hotel – as complete as it is– does not provide a SO service; however, there is a private club, and I was told that some members might be single – so Boca membership may be a viable option (I am still waiting for my invitation to join).
7. I was so happy to see the fitness center along my tour of the property for it includes a Kinesis Wall along with access to personal trainers and water aerobics classes. Now I can eat my way through dinner without dragging along a feeling of guilt.
8. There are “approximately” nine different food and beverage outlets – so going hungry is not a possibility. Among the wide array of goodies I was able to pay homage to the Florida branch of Serendipity (think Eastside of Manhattan – yes, that one). The menu runs from frozen hot chocolates and burgers to melted cheese sandwiches and Forbidden Broadway sundaes.
9. Tired of being landlocked? Head to the hotel Marina that accommodates vessels up to 170 feet and longer.
10. Tired of fishing? Park your yacht and head to the greens for a round of golf and some tennis.
Life at this resort is not inexpensive. Prices start at mid-$300 EP per night and escalate upward.
My #2 favorite destination property is the Seagate Hotel and Spa/Beach Club and Country Club in Delray Beach, Florida.
1. The hotel and spa are located approximately 2 blocks from the beach club with excellent dining along with meeting space, a pool and a very spacious sandy beach. Walking or taking the trolley to/from the beach is a minor inconvenience and quickly forgotten as holiday makers sink into the relaxing rut of being on vacation.
2. While the 156 rooms will not win the designer-of-the-year award – they are spacious, tastefully decorated and very clean. Look for the wet bar, balconies, large bathtubs and an upbeat, guest-friendly staff.
3. Strategically located on Atlantic Avenue, Delray’s dining/shopping street – there is enough action at the hotel and throughout Delray to keep even a high-energy New Yorker amused and engaged during the evenings.
4. An 18-hole Joe Lee (1973) golf course was recently enhanced by architect Gene Bates and PGA Champions Tour player Jeff Sluman. Guests are offered a complete putting green, pitching and bunker areas and PGA professionals on staff – making this an important amenity.
5. Tennis, available on 8 Har Tru courts for day/night tournaments. After winning the trophy, stride over to the 4,200-sq.-ft. fitness center and swim a few dozen laps.
6. The boutiques have racks loaded with elegant sportswear as well as dress-up outfits. To this day I have no idea where the women (or men) who buy these bits and pieces of finery actually wear them. For sure they are too pretty to pass by without taking a look at the garment and the price. The only places I can think to wear them are at photo shoots for a favorite tycoon or a necessity for a Hollywood A-lister.
7. Dining and drinking is a serious part of the Seagate experience and the crowds flock nightly to the restaurant and other dining options as well as the bar which is considered a destination – drinking/feasting for locals and tourists.
3rd Place. The Colony in Delray Beach.
Located down the block from the Seagate (on Atlantic Avenue) is the quirky turn-of-the century Colony Hotel that looks almost like it did when it was built in the 1920s. (Do not confuse the property with the Palm Beach Colony Hotel – two entirely different experiences).
1. Old-world appeal (no air conditioning in the lobby; self-service buffet breakfast; live entertainment on Saturday evenings on the front porch) makes it perfect for the over 60 (or 70) year olds – who almost remember the hotel when it first opened.
2. Shuttle van service to the Colony Beach and Pool club (approximately a 10-minute ride) with scheduled (and enforced) pick-up and delivery times to/from the beach club.
3. Huge unheated swimming pool at the Club. If cold water pools are not bothersome – this is a fantastic opportunity to swim – forever.
4. Small dining spot at the beach club pleasantly offers guests delicious melted cheese and bacon sandwiches, along with an assortment of salads and entrees.
5. The hotel rooms are not sized or designed for long indoor stays – but they are more than adequate for getting a shower, dressed and out to the beach or dinner.
6. Guests appear to be repeaters – returning time and again to enjoy visits with friends and family.
7. This is a low-key no-frills property without pretense. Do not look for upmarket shopping, dining or drinking. Definitely a comfortable place for women traveling alone. Guests are so into chatting with friends and catching up on family trials and tribulations – there could be a chimpanzee at a neighboring table and no one would notice.
4th Place. Hyatt Place.
The Hyatt Place comes in at #4 – only because it is not on Atlantic Avenue and appears to be more of a business property rather than a resort; however, it is near entertainment centers and a museum and has other strong points that make it a serious contender:
1. Delightfully modern. Rooms are designed with excellent amenities including free Wi-Fi, large, clean, light and airy lobby with a very long bar – and lots of space for informal meetings.
2. Terrific front-desk staff – more like BFs and not employees.
3. Terrific buffet breakfast with hot sandwiches, and an endless supply of Starbucks coffee.
4. Excellent bartender who makes A+ martinis.
5. 24-7 food available in the lobby cafe.
6. Small but adequate pool that is good for swimming laps. Lots of towels available in the nearby closet – no need to ask.
7. Teeny tiny exercise rooms – jog around the nearby park or rent a bike for exercise.
8. A few steps away from a world-class restaurant Max’s Harvest Farm to Fork
2 Restaurants that must be visited:
1. Max’s Harvest Farm to Fork (www.maxsharvest.com)
A very short walk from Hyatt Place, this busy restaurant has reinvented food to a point where even the pickiest diner will think they have entered nirvana. I do not usually select a meat dish when I dine (I think about all the good reasons I should go green) – but I could not stop myself from ordering the D’s Grilled Akaushi Short Rib. Here I am, back in NYC, weeks later – and I am still thinking about this dinner. Dusted with porcini and accompanied by Zellwood corn polenta, chard red onion and red cress salad… If I ever end up on Death Row – I want this to be my last meal.
Start the dining adventure with Goat Cheese Croquettes or Heritage Meatballs; move on to the Crispy Octopus that is served with baby beets, crispy artichokes, Harissa and Feta. End the excursion into food nirvana with cinnamon donuts. Make reservations in advance for this place is always busy.
2. Deck84 (www.deck84.com).
This restaurant is noted for its casual waterfront dinning and excellent cuisine. I could not believe that hundreds of people had time in Delray Beach to get in their cars and spend hours over lunch. If you have the time and a very big appetite, make at least one visit to this incredibly delicious and successful spot.
It is hard not to be overwhelmed with a large menu selection and huge portions. I ordered the Mediterranean Platter with hummus, eggplant caponata, toasted pita, marinated olives, tomato-cucumber-feta salad plus tzatziki. Considered a “Deck Favorite” it could easily have fed a party of 6.
Also try the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake that is joined by citrus and arugula salad, sweet corn and avocado salsa and chipotle remoulade. The prices are so moderate and the food so fresh and beautifully presented– that I would like to see a branch open in my neighborhood on the eastside of Manhattan.
No holiday is complete without shopping. There are strip malls, and mega-malls but the Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens is so lovely that it is a destination attraction. (www.thegardensmall.com)
The mall itself is a beautiful place to stroll, dine, drink, have meetings, and – of course shop. Look for Bloomingdale’s , Burberry, Chanel, Coach, Gucci, H&M, Henri Bendel, Hugo Boss, Louis Vuitton, Montblanc, Saks, and Ralph Lauren, etc., etc., etc. Snacks are not a problem for Godiva, Haagen-Dazs, Mrs. Fields and Starbucks are all represented as well as an assortment of fast food and table cloth restaurants.
I was delighted to learn that there is more to life in the Palm Beaches than sun, sand, shopping, drinking and dining and the rest of activities favored by the Housewives of…
Delray Beach offers visitors’ original works of art, jazz, blues, cabaret and theatre at the Arts Garage (www.ArtsGarage.org). The Cornell Museum of Art and American Culture (www.oldschool.org), and the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens (www.morikami.org) offer exhibitions, lectures, casual dining opportunities and workshops for children.
Almost every day in every month events are designed to lure locals and visitors away from the pool. Programs run from the Garlic Festival to the Venetian Las Vegas Tennis Championship, Shakespeare at the Delray Center for the Arts at Old School Square, and Earth Day plus a variety of food and wine events.
Tickets to the opera are available at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts and performances include the Barber of Seville and the Tales of Hoffman. The polo season runs from January 5 – April 20, 2014. A major event each spring is PrideFest of Lake Worth and the Palm Beaches which celebrates diversity, while the International Film Festival keeps people engaged in April and Oktoberfest offers authentic German food and beer in the fall.
In order to experience the Palm Beaches visitors must have a car. Sadly there is no public transportation that enables tourists to move from place to place without wheels. Taxis are available – but tend to be pricey. I tried every which way to find to get from place to place without a car – and the only answer was to find a friend with a car.
Roughly 5.47 million people visited the destination in 2012 and the average age of these tourists was 53 years old with an income of $93,000; however, there is a slow but growing interest among travelers from 18-34. In 2012, the area hotels were running at 75+ percent occupancy with an average daily room rate of $158.66. The tourism industry employs almost 45,000 people and provides an economic impact of $5 billion.
There is nothing slow and sleeping about the Palm Beaches. My best advice is to pack your driver’s license, credit cards, bathing suits, a pair of jeans and t-shirts and head to the Palm Beaches and add your economic support to this distinctive USA destination.