Category Archives: Hotels & Resorts

Grand, Historic Loews Don CeSar, St. Pete Beach’s Famed ‘Pink Lady’, is Classic Beach Resort

Loews Don CeSar (the "Pink Lady") in the golden light of the setting sun on St. Pete Beach © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Loews Don CeSar (the “Pink Lady”) in the golden light of the setting sun on St. Pete Beach © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin

In urgent need of some R&R? Cure it with a two-night/three day stay at Loews Don CeSar, not just a grand historic hotel, but a true beach resort with all the amenities and activities for a luxurious, pampered stay. Better yet, for a complete vacation, plan a seven-day stay and balance out days relaxing on white-powder sand beach and lounging around glorious pools, spa treatments and yoga, with visits to the myriad cultural and scenic attractions close by, in St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa.

From the moment you cross the threshold, walk down the stairs into the lobby, a feeling of peace and tranquility sweeps over you.

The Don Cesar has been welcoming guests since 1927. But as in so many of these grand historic hotels, they are living links to the past, and are in essence timeless.

Sophistication and casual elegance evoking the Gatsby Era at the Loews Don CeSar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sophistication and casual elegance evoking the Gatsby Era at the Loews Don CeSar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

It may seem cliché, but you step through the lobby and you are in the world of those who came before: F. Scott Fitzgerald (remembered with a nightly Fitzgerald Reception at the fine dining restaurant, when you can experience a cocktail and a nibble), Clarence Darrow, Lou Gehrig, even Al Capone.

You feel their presence. But the hotel has a unique personality, a character of its own – you can’t help but think of the stories these walls hold.

The Don CeSar exudes casual elegance and Southern Charm – ceiling fans, a beautiful courtyard garden that leads to the pool area and beyond, the white-sand beach and the Gulf of Mexico. Elegant, yet casual (not stuffy or stiff), comfortable, welcoming, and one of the most beautiful hotels anywhere.

Gracious, That’s the word to describe the experience.

Wendy Hessinger leads "Yoga on the Beach" © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Wendy Hessinger leads “Yoga on the Beach” © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

A classic beach resort with activities offered throughout the day. Checking in, I am given an “Activities” schedule with a long list, day by day, of activities, all included in the $25/day resort fee: Yoga on the beach (9am), kayaking and paddleboarding (8-10 am), aqua fitness, sunset yoga, daily history tour of the hotel, Sea Life tour, Kidding Around Yoga, Kidz Kraze, Restorative Yoga, Star Gazers (that’s just Monday’s Schedule). The activity schedule changes through the week: Body Toning Tuesday, Legs, Bums and Tums; Noodling Around (Kid and Parent Aqua Fitness), Zumba, Beach Yoga Sunset; Drive in Movie on the weekend.

There are activities for the children as well: included in the resort fee is a half-day at Camp CeSar activities program. There are also aqua fitness programs for kids and families, educational talks. Kids Night Out are also available Friday and Saturday nights (6-10 pm).

Some special activities are offered by reservation and for a fee, such as Culinary Kids, Pint Size Picasso, and Waterside Music Makers.

There is a free shuttle service (available 9-5) that takes you into downtown St. Petersburg (here’s where you can easily balance the beach with the extraordinary cultural attractions of St. Petersburg).

The concierge can arrange for golf or tennis at the nearby Isla del Sol country club.

Of course, there is the beach with the most beautiful white-powder sand, the texture of talc, and two pools, heated to a perfect temperature.

Tranquil setting at Loews Don CeSar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Tranquil setting at Loews Don CeSar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The pool area is gorgeous – with lush tropical gardens, tall palm trees sheltering, opening up to the beach and Gulf beyond.

It is frankly hard to pull yourself away from the pool – two actually, both heated, both large enough for lap swimming. My favorite of the two is set off a little, tends to be quieter, and situated with the most magnificent view (I just get this wonderful feng shui feeling here). It is one of the prettiest pools anywhere, with the Pink Palace as a backdrop on one side, and palm trees and the Gulf on the other side.

There is iced, fruited water available and even magazines at the pool – plush robes in your room to wear to the pool.

This is in every way pampered luxury –you are quite literally fawned over by a genuinely friendly and helpful staff.

There is a game area with billiards, ping pong tables, chess, and other games – under shelter in case of a rain shower, you can still be outside.

Loews Don CeSar pool © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Loews Don CeSar pool © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

There are a variety of shops to take care of immediate needs – a small general/convenience store, an Ice Cream shop (actually where the original entrance to the hotel was located, which still has the original flooring) where you can also get a bagel, muffin or cereal for breakfast, lovely clothes shops and sports stuff in case you forgot something.

In the evening, there is nightly live music in the lobby lounge/bar, laid out to be extremely comfortable and casual. (We are told that the Don CeSar has a signature drink, Old Smokey: take old cigar box and barrel-aged bourbon that spends two weeks behind the bar; then hose in cherry wood smoke, let it sit so the Bourbon is infused with cherry smoke, then the open box and chill with a snowball ice cube.)

After being awed watching the sunset from the beach, I stroll into the Maritana Grille for the Gatsby Reception. The bartender this evening is serving a Harvey Wallbanger and a nibble (seared pork belly with maple and sherry vinegrette).  The Harvey Walbanger is a classic cocktail consisting of Vodka Galliano, orange juice that goes back to the 1950s; concocted by Donato “Duke” Antone who owned Duke’s Backwatch Bar in Hollywood on the Sunset Strip. Duke, who also invented the Rusty Nail and the White Russian, named it after a surfer named Tom Harvey.

The fine-dining restaurant – a beautiful seaside motif with large fish aquarium – has a varied American menu. On this evening, it was featuring  Venison, Long Island Duckling, Snapper, and offered a wine tasting menu ($65, $95 with wine pairing).

A Grand Hotel With History

A couple enjoys the nightly Gatsby Reception at the Maritana Grille where the bartender this evening is serving a Harvey Wallbanger © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
A couple enjoys the nightly Gatsby Reception at the Maritana Grille where the bartender this evening is serving a Harvey Wallbanger © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Don CeSar was a founding member of Historic Hotels of America in 1989, which began with just 32 members and now has 260 members in 44 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico (HistoricHotels.org).

HHA hotels are invariably my favorite places to stay anywhere I go. They tend to manifest the charm and high standard of hospitality (an old fashioned sensibility and refinement) of bygone days, as well as a deep connection and sense of place. Each of the HHA members has its unique personality and character.

The Don CeSar was awarded HHA’s “Historic Hotel of the Year” in 2015 in the 201-400 room category

This largely reflects the acquisition and management of the Don since 2003 by Loews Hotels, which owns the Don with Prudential Insurance. The new owners invested millions in renovations and new facilities – opening the stunning 11,000 square foot Spa Oceania in 2008, the only beachfront luxury spa on the Gold Coast of Florida. Multi-million dollar investments included the meeting spaces, the Maritana Grille, its fine-dining restaurant, the Lobby, Lobby Bar and Sea Porch restaurant, and guestroom redesign.

The sense of responsibility to care for these entities is powerful – you can’t rest on laurels or prior reputation and the fact of the matter is that age does take its toll, as does the need to cater to new generations of guests. There is the constant push-pull of progress and preservation. As is the protectiveness of patrons. When they renovated the lobby, changing out dark wood colors and carpets and bronze-and-crystal chandeliers for a white wood paneling reminiscent of Southern plantation-style cool elegance, light floors, brighter colors and modern blue-and-clear glass chandeliers people were up in arms that they were disposing of “history” – except that the bronze chandeliers only dated back to the 1986 renovation.

“People were upset because they felt they were discarding history,” said Jeffrey Abbaticchio, Director of Public Relations. “We have to give much more attention to preserving the charm and character of hotel.”

It exposes the special challenge of caretaking for a historic hotel, especially one that means that much and has been so much a part of a local community.

That is the balance that modern hoteliers have to strike but there is the clear recognition of their responsibility as caretakers and their respect for these unique entities.

“We have to give much more attention to preserving the charm and character of hotel.”

Historic hotels like The Don CeSar typically have their tales of survival – dramatic snatches from the wrecking ball (indeed, the Renaissance Vinoy in St. Petersburg, which opened in 1927, also became a VA hospital and has a similar tale of being saved just moments from being demolished, in 1972).

This is the case of the Don CeSar – long known locally as “The Don” and “The Pink Palace.” It surprised me to learn how in its 80 year history, it only spent about half of that as a hotel, and from the beginning, struggled to survive – the Great Depression, World War II, economic recessions.

You speak of these kinds of properties as “The” – as in “The Don” – and as if they are people, with their own biography, rather than structures or institutions. They have personality and character. Unique. Authentic. They are closely connected to their community, which in fact, rallied to “Save the Don” from the wrecking ball in the 1970s, after being shuttered and closed for four years, a blight on the neighborhood.

The Don’s struggles began not long after coming into being, the fruition of a dream of its founder, Thomas Rowe, I learn from Susan Quinn, a long-time concierge at The Don CeSar who conducts history tours of the hotel.

Born in Boston in 1872 and orphaned at age 4, Rowe was sent to live with grandparents in Ireland, returning to the United States to become a real estate speculator in Florida, during the early boom of the 1920-6 years. Partnering with a local attorney, Walter Fuller, e turned a $21,000 investment into $1,050,000, and then sought to fulfill a longtime dream in building a lavish hotel.

Tthe Loews Don CeSar, a historic resort © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The Loews Don CeSar, a historic resort © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

He patterned his “Pink Lady” (as “The Don” continues to be known) after the Royal Hawaiian on Waikiki Beach, styled as a kind of Mediterranean palace. An opera lover, he named the Don CeSar after a character in one of his favorite operas, “Maritana,” written by a Scottsman (today, its fine-dining restaurant is named the Maritana Grill). He planned for construction costs to be $450,000, but instead, the hotel cost $1.2 million to build – wiping out his resources, so that he had to mortgage to raise the $250,000 needed to furnish the property so it could open.

He devised an ingenious system though, because he had spent $100,000 to buy 80 acres surrounding the hotel, and turned to developing small Mediterranean-style homes on property just south – you could buy the lot for $5000 and build the house on it for $5000 more.

A view of the Loews Don CeSar pool and grounds © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
A view of the Loews Don CeSar pool and grounds © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

He opened The Don CeSar in 1928, immediately drawing an “A” List of celebrities and important people: F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda (today, the Maritana offers a 5:30 pm Fitzgerald Reception, featuring a cocktail and nibble), famed attorney Clarence Darrow, baseball great Lou Gehrig and Al Capone.

When the stock market crashed in 1929, Rowe devised an ingenious method of staying afloat: he offered for the home owners who had taken mortgages from him to cash out at a fraction of the amount owed in order to accumulate the cash he needed to make it through the Depression. And another thing: when the hotel would otherwise be low-occupancy in spring, he leased it out to the New York Yankees for spring training, at $8/day including breakfast.

Rowe, who came to St. Petersburg for his health and to speculate when he was in his 40s, lived in the hotel (his wife, a university-educated woman, stayed in Virginia, because she didn’t want to live in a backwater). In May 1940, he suffered a heart attack and insisted on staying in the hotel. Legend has it he intended to will the hotel to his employees, and he wrote a new will, but it was not witnessed, so his wife inherited the property. She appointed her lawyer to take charge of the corporation, who brought in his own management team. Then Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, and World War II hit.

Instead of the hotel’s 300 rooms being totally occupied for the season, all but 100 room reservations canceled, and the government went after her for taxes stemming from her husband’s refinancing scheme. Her attorney sought to negotiate a deal with the Navy to take the Don CeSar for officer’s housing, but the Army wanted it for a hospital, and used eminent domain to take it over, purchasing the building for the assessed value of $450,000. The army disposed of everything, even the hotel register with its famous signatures. The property later became an Air Force Convalescent Center (actually becoming a model for dealing with the condition now known as PTSD), and then a Veterans Administration regional office, from 1945 to 1969.

By 1969, the VA abandoned the hotel – set up a chain-link fence around and a guard – and it deteriorated terribly, a blight on the community.

In 1971, local residents and former employees formed a “Save the Don” committee to prevent the hotel from being demolished. June Hurley Young, realizing that locals had never known the Don as a fine hotel, wrote an article that was finally published in a paper under the headline, “Pink Elephant or Sleeping Beauty”. It  came to the attention of  William Bowman, a Flying Tiger during war, who was building new hotels in the area. He purchased the decrepit property in 1972, just two weeks before the hotel had a date with the wrecking ball.

“It cost $3.5 million to fix up –he  replaced every window, waterproofed, added air conditioning so the hotel could stay open year round,” Owen said.

The Don CeSar reopened on November 24, 1973. The following year, the Pink Palace was admitted to the National Register of Historic American Places.

1973 was the year of the Oil Embargo and a recession. It wasn’t long before the Don CeSar was foreclosed but continued to operate. It changed hands several times until in 2000, it was taken over by Prudential Insurance.

Finally, in 2003, the Don CeSar became a Loews Hotel, which owns 15% and manages the luxury property, and brought it up to the standards of today’s luxury travelers.

(Both Rowe and Bowman are honored in a display case that has their picture and their history with the hotel. A new eatery, the Rowe Bar, is an indoor/outdoor bar which will serve different Juleps, different nonalcoholic “-ades” (lemonade, etc), communal bowls of cocktails, have fire pits and overlook the sand dune.

Don CeSar has 277 rooms. They may be a tad smaller than we have become accustomed to (because people didn’t come to a resort to spend time in their hotel room), but have every amenity imaginable – plus robes, mini-bar, Keurig coffee maker, safe, ironing board, a flashlight, lush mattress and bed linens, flat screen TV and free WiFi, even the shampoo has the perfect scent.

The Don CeSar is pet-friendly and offers pet menus (Bow Wow beef; Chow chow mein),  pet room service and pet massage, in room.

The Don CeSar now has a second property, the Loews Beachhouse Suites, located just about a quarter mile up from the Don CeSar (finishing up a renovation by mid-February), which is also a pink building on the beach. A free shuttle van is offered between the two Loews properties, so Beachhouse guests have the use of the Don CeSar’s facilities.

An Idyllic Place for Destination Weddings 

The sun seems to melt into a space beyond the water © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The sun seems to melt into a space beyond the water © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The ambiance, services and facilities at the Don CeSar are so magical, it is no wonder how popular the luxury resort has been for destination weddings. The hotel hosts some 425 wedding-related events a year, and accommodates weddings as large as 300. There are four people on staff just to help coordinate destination weddings, and an event company, Cheers, on call to handle elaborate events.

The planners can organize everything from releasing doves to special transportation.

“What’s popular lately are Indian weddings – people arrive by horse, do henna. We just hired an executive chef from India (most recently he was at The Breakers) so we can provide authentic Indian food,” Jeff said.

The fifth floor, with its enormous picture windows that look out to St. Petersburg and down the St. Pete Beach coast, and which once was a massive open dining room that could sit 1400 at a time for dinner, has been turned into a series of meeting and function rooms ideal for weddings, conferences and events (38,000 square feet of function space). Indeed, during our stay there were wedding and conferences underway.

A Complete Vacation 

Each morning of my stay, I go down to the beach for 9 am beach yoga with Wendy Hessinger, and then aqua fitness which Wendy also conducts (an interesting routine using noodles). She also conducts sunset yoga on some days.

But there is so much going on in the area to round out your stay: take advantage of the free ride into St. Petersburg (about 20 minutes)  which goes to the Sundial, a centrally located entertainment center with movies, excellent restaurants, and walkable to just about anything you want to get to (or you can hop on the Downtown Looper trolley, to take around the downtown)  and enjoy an enormous selection of cultural attractions  (Dali Museum, Chihuly Gallery, Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg Museum of History, Florida Holocaust Museum, emerging arts districts, among the highlights. They are currently rebuilding the famous Pier, which is due to reopen in 2018.)

Or just hop a delightful trolley-style bus to Passa-Grill, a tiny charming village with a block-long “downtown” at Historic 8th Street ” (truly “Old Florida”) where the locals go to the beach, fish, look out to see dolphins and manatees, watch the sunset and hang out at waterside watering holes like the Paradise Grill. At Passa-Grill you can go out for deep sea fishing or take a tour boat to Shell Island. Or continue on to Fort de Soto where you can visit a Civil War-era fort.

Another popular activity is taking a sailing cruise to see dolphins or the sunset cruise. The Don CeSar has an arrangement with Dolphin Landings which offers two-hour cruises.

Winter, the plucky dolphin and star of "Dolphin Tale" with her prosthetic tail at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, one of the major attractions near the Don Cesar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Winter, the plucky dolphin and star of “Dolphin Tale” with her prosthetic tail at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, one of the major attractions near the Don CeSar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Clearwater Marine Aquarium is just about 30 minutes away to the north, in Clearwater Beach (you can take the trolley bus to get there, switching at 75th Avenue). For shopping, go to John’s Pass (150 shops and restaurants in a small area), reached by the trolley bus, midway between St. Pete Beach and Clearwater Beach.

Or plan a day trip to the Ringling Museum and historic mansion in Sarasota nearby.

Busch Gardens Tampa theme park (one of the best zoos with great roller coasters and entertainment) is less than an hour away (The Don CeSar has a partnership with Busch Gardens and offers a package that includes tickets, but you need a car or the hotel can arrange transportation).

Another idea is to split your stay between a beach holiday here at the Don CeSar and a theme park holiday in Orlando, staying at the Loews Portofino at Universal Orlando, another favorite hotel (which manages to create a resort atmosphere in Universal Studios theme park with sensational pool that creates a beach effect).

(For more vacation planning information, Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater: 8200 Bryan Dairy Road, Suite 200, Largo, FL 33777, 727-464-7200, 877-352-3224 www.visitstpeteclearwater.com.) 

But frankly, it is hard to pull yourself away from the Don CeSar

The St. Pete beach is absolutely magnificent – and one thing I notice is that the buildings are set well back from the beach and are low level for the most part, not blocking – peaceful. One day as I walk, I come upon a beach-volleyball regional tournament.

A Great Blue Heron appreciating the sunset on Don Cesar’s beach © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
A Great Blue Heron appreciating the sunset on Don CeSar’s beach © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The beach is also the place to go for the sunset – get out there 20 minutes before because you would be amazed at how fast the most brilliant colors come and go as the sun seems to dash to the horizon, seeming to melt into a slot just beyond the water’s edge.

The Loews Don CeSar is ideal for couples, gal getaways, destination weddings, honeymoons, family getaways, family reunions, any special occasion, pre-baby getaway, or just about any excuse to have a holiday.

Loews Don CeSar Hotel, 3400 Gulf Boulevard, St. Pete Beach, Florida, 33706, 727-360-1881, reservations, 800-282-1116, www.loewshotels.com/don-CeSar.

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© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com , www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin,www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/karen-rubin and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

Green Tortoise Hostel – Living the San Francisco Vibe

The Green Tortoise Hostel in hip North Beach district captures the San Francisco vibe © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The Green Tortoise Hostel in hip North Beach district captures the San Francisco vibe © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin, goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is rare to stay in an accommodation that makes you smile constantly or that imbues you so completely with the spirit of a place. That’s the Green Tortoise Hostel, in the North Beach section of San Francisco.

There is no better way to immerse yourself in San Francisco ‘vibe’ – it literally embodies the spirit of San Francisco.

From the outside, the Green Tortoise Hostel is a modest wood-framed Victorian building that somehow escaped destruction of the earthquake and fire.

The North Beach District where the Green Tortoise Hostel is a lively neighborhood © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The North Beach District where the Green Tortoise Hostel is a lively neighborhood © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Don’t be discouraged by the glass door that looks pretty institutional, or the sign that tells you the door is locked after 7:30 pm and you have to be buzzed in or the steep staircase to the lobby floor or the warning “no visitors!”. Once you present you enter the lobby area, the trepidation fades away and you feel like you are part of something special.

I am immediately pleased by the beautiful architectural features that hint at the glorious past of this building.

The North Beach District where the Green Tortoise Hostel is a lively neighborhood © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The North Beach District where the Green Tortoise Hostel is a lively neighborhood © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Hostels always have a special personality and this one is particularly special. A sign on the “ballroom” (apparently, once a restaurant) invites you to partake in free vegetarian dinner on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights (Pasta Primavera, Mexican taco night, and Curry, rice and salad; come at 5 pm if you want to help cook, dinner is 7-ish), and a day-by-day list of activities: free sangria, pool tournaments, pub crawls, $5 dinner nights, dinner crawls (Sunday: 4 North Beach restaurants, $9.95), and outings to popular San Francisco events like the San Francisco Beer Olympics), and even tours (Saturday: Redwoods & Pt. Reyes bus trip, $40).

I get my key (handing over a $20 cash deposit; I can rent a towel for $1), walk through the lobby, through the computer/lounge area where there is a pleasant sitting area (they even have drink holders in the chair), and climb another set of steps to a narrow, labyrinthian set of hallways.

I’ve booked a “standard private room” (you can also book a shared room). It is small but not claustrophobic – clean, a queen-sized bed (very comfortable), a sink, a flat-screen tv (but only accesses a video library). It is most pleasant. (The rate, $131 was comparable or less than Air BnB.)

The main difference with an actual hotel is that you don’t have a private bathroom – this is European style. But that isn’t really a problem, either. There are five bathrooms on the floor – each clean and comfortable, one person at a time.

Hanging out in the ballroom at the Green Tortoise Hostel, in San Francisco's North Beach district © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Hanging out in the ballroom at the Green Tortoise Hostel, in San Francisco’s North Beach district © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Enjoying breakfast in the ballroom of the Green Tortoise Hostel © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Enjoying breakfast in the ballroom of the Green Tortoise Hostel © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The biggest surprise is on the main floor: The Ballroom. You can see how this was once a very grand place –the stained glass, the intricate moldings in the ceiling which may have been gilded at one point but now is coated in peeling brown paint. It used to be a restaurant and hotel, I am told and has been a hostel since the 1970s. Now, it is charmingly faded from that glory (though not decrepit, with colorful new carpeting and such), as you would imagine if the proletariat overtook the bourgeoisie.

The ballroom is where you can help yourself to free breakfast every morning 7:30- 10:00 am—bagels, cream cheese, jams, fresh fruit, make your own eggs, organic oatmeal, coffee, tea, hot chocolate and OJ (you wash your own plastic dish when you are finished). There is also a refrigerator where guests can keep their food, or take from “shared” items.

During the day, people can hang out in the ballroom, like a giant lounge – there is a small stage and some musical instruments. The ballroom is open until 2 am.

Green Tortoise Hostel has beautiful architectural features that evoke its historyin San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Green Tortoise Hostel has beautiful architectural features that evoke its historyin San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

There are more surprises here: the hostel offers a sauna (dry) on the second floor accommodating up to six people at a time –you can check it out for 1 hour (free).

They have an arrangement with Dylan’s Bike Rental to rent for $21 for 24-hours (a discount from the $30 rate), and the hostel provides a bike storage room, as well as lockers where you can stow your stuff.

Before I arrived, I received a confirmation letter describing the place quite honestly saying:

  • We are a comfortable backpackers hostel in North Beach with European style accommodations made up of shared and private rooms.
  • Our median age of guest is between 20-30 years of age, but we welcome all ages.
  • Our hostel is about community and creating a social experience. Our guests are made up of travelers from around the globe.
  • We promote ourselves as a PARTY hostel, so we welcome all guests to participate in our nightly events.
  • All our bathrooms are shared along the corridors, but private use (no en-suite bathrooms in the rooms in any of our buildings).
  • Our reception is on the 2nd floor and there is no elevator, only stairs to all the rooms (rooms are on 3rd and 4th floors).
  • Unlike traditional hotels, we do not provide sheet changes daily.
  • We are in a vibrant neighborhood full of beat generation history, cafes, bars and restaurants.
  • There are several Adult Entertainment clubs on the next block and the area can be noisy on the weekends and in peak season.

All of this proves absolutely true, and just adds to the experience.

San Francisco's colorful North Beach neighborhood, just outside the door of the Green Tortoise Hostel © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
San Francisco’s colorful North Beach neighborhood, just outside the door of the Green Tortoise Hostel © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The owners of the hostel (who also own a hostel in Seattle) also operate Green Tortoise Adventure Travel, offering trips as short as a day trip to Muir Woods & Wine Country, to as long as a month, via a specially outfitted 36–passenger coach that converts from seats in the daytime to sleepers at night (a rolling hostel). The trips are designed around “appreciation of nature, tolerance, cooperation and self direction.” There are itineraries to Baja, Pyramids and Playas, the Yucatan, Yosemite, a National Parks loop, Alaska (415-956-7500, 800-867-8647, www.greentortoise.com).

They also book Alcatraz tours (which actually get booked up weeks in advance) and other sightseeing trips.

Green Tortoise Hostel San Francisco, 494 Broadway St, San Francisco 94133, 415-834-1000, 800 867 8647, www.greentortoise.com, email hostel@greentortoise.com, www.facebook.com/sanfranciscohostel.

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© 2015 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin,www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/karen-rubin, goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Crane’s Beachhouse Hotel is Tranquil Oasis in Delray Beach on Florida’s East Coast

Crane's Beachhoue has a quirky, colorful, Key West feel © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Crane’s BeachHouse has a quirky, colorful, Key West feel © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate

Delray Beach, amid Florida’s Palm Beach coast, is its own world. You feel it as you drive in on Atlantic Avenue, coming off I-95. You drive through the drab and ordinary and all of a sudden, you seem to pass through some invisible border and immediately recognize you are in a very different place – the demarcation is the streetscape where palm trees lining the avenue are wrapped in red or white lights. Come further in – the restaurants and shops emit bright, colorful lights. The streets are crowded with people; outdoor tables are filled. There is the sound of conversation and music. There is an excitement, an energy, a vibe.

The energy and excitement picks up as you get to the central part of Atlantic Avenue, and then you go over the bridge over the Intercoastal, and there is quiet as you near the beach. This is still Delray Beach, but it is the quiet neighborhood end of the Avenue.

Just before you get to the end of the avenue, at the beach, you turn onto Gleason Avenue and soon you come to a garden oasis, another world within this world, a true hideaway.

This is Crane’s BeachHouse Hotel & Tiki Bar, as perfect and special as a hotel can be within one of the most special places you can visit.

It is quite remarkable to be so near to all the activity Delray Beach offers, and yet feel so far away, in some tranquil, tropical retreat.

Meandering paths take you through lush gardens at Crane's Beachhouse © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Meandering paths take you through lush gardens at Crane’s BeachHouse © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

You can’t really see the hotel from the street, which is hidden by a gate and tall palm trees. You can’t even see the whole property when you are inside, it is so lushly landscaped, with meandering stone paths that, like a Japanese garden, make you feel the place is at once larger than it is, and yet so intimate. There are all these pleasant sitting areas nestled amid tall palms and thick bushes, colorful flowers, waterfalls and fountains with their trickling sound. It is so Zen.

But the overall atmosphere is of old Key West – laid back, cheeky, colorful, whimsical and fun. there are colorfully painted markers that tell you how many miles from here to Key West, and such; and as you walk the paths, you come upon murals and artwork wherever you look. At night, lighting creates its own atmosphere.

Crane's Beachhouse has a quirky, colorful, Key West feel © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Crane’s BeachHouse has a quirky, colorful, Key West feel © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Crane’s is family owned and operated by Michael and Karen Crane (the place is named for the family and not the bird, but the bird is the hotel’s mascot), who took over a 1960s hotel and turned it into a garden oasis (I am quite sure it would be unrecognizable today from what it was then). Crane’s is a true boutique hotel, in both size and the personable service (a concierge is available from 9 am to 9 pm). There are just 27 rooms, including a selection of suites and the newest innovation, four villas that are really complete apartments where, for the brief time you are there, you can fantasize about this being home.

The newly opened four ultra-luxurious villas – converting four one-bedroom suites – add a new dimension of luxury, elegance and sophistication to the playful, laid-back atmosphere.

My villa, Room 26, on the second floor, still has that smell of being freshly decorated, and is breathtaking when I walk in.

The Luxury Villas feature a private patio (first floor unit) or balcony (second floor unit), handcrafted furnishings and artisan materials. There is a 60 inch flat-screen Smart TV and DVD player with complimentary access to Netflix, and a second large flat-screen TV in the bedroom. There is free WiFi, private voice mail and docking and charging station for mobile devices.

The bed is exceptionally comfortable, bedecked with fine linens; plush waffle-weave cotton robes and slippers are at the ready.

The spa-inspired bathroom has a shower with river-rock floor and Cali Tarocco Sicilian Red Orange amenities.

There is a well-appointed, modern stainless-steel kitchen, completely outfitted with microwave, coffee-maker, dishwasher and all the cutlery and utensils. There is also an “honor” gourmet basket with snacks and the refrigerator is stocked with beer (extra charge).

The spacious living room has a sofa bed, so each unit sleeps four.  

Another special amenity provided to Villa guests is the complimentary use of two bikes (Crane’s also has an arrangement with nearby bicycle rental place for other guests, and there are bike racks on site.) Villa guests also have access to complimentary yoga mats, and beach chairs, and designated parking spot.

Crane's Beachhouse, Delray Beach © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Crane’s BeachHouse, Delray Beach © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

“Crane’s BeachHouse Hotel is proud to partner with Carrie Leigh Designs, a full service licensed interior design firm based in Delray Beach. This dramatic conversion of four suites into four dazzling luxury villas will be the first phase of a major multi-year remodeling project that will strengthen and solidify our brand as the coolest place to stay in Delray Beach,” said Cathy Balestriere, general manager.

The $500,000 renovation also included the renovation of three additional units.

Other accommodations include a luxury studio, with a queen-sized bed; and one and two-bedroom suites (children under 18 stay free in the room with parents).

Crane’s serves a pleasant  continental breakfast under a Tiki hut beside one of the fountains – a selection of breads, muffins, bagels, cereals, fresh fruit and yogurt, quiches and sausage, juice, plus freshly brewed coffee – where it is delightful to meet and chat with other guests. Breakfast is served from 9 am to 11 am, but if you are an early riser, they will deliver breakfast to you the night before.

Also, the hotel serves afternoon refreshments that change seasonally. This time of year  a DIY trail mix snack bar is provided guests in the afternoon.

There are two tropical, heated saline swimming pools – one a free form with a waterfall, lounge chairs placed on sand, and a Tiki hut; the other, more suitable for lap swimming, and more lounge chairs on sand, another fountain, and Tiki bar, where there is live music Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Crane's BeachHouse is filled with original art, Delray Beach © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Crane’s BeachHouse is filled with original art © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The original artwork which decorates the rooms and the property is stunning and so connected to the Delray Beach art scene.

The poolside Tiki Bar offers an array of tropical drinks, wines and domestic and imported beer, with a music-filled happy hour from 6 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday in season, and on Friday and Saturday the rest of the year.

Other features include an “outdoor living room” for private functions.

One of the pools at Crane's BeachHouse © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
One of the pools at Crane’s BeachHouse © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

There is in-suite and poolside spa and massage services. There isn’t a fitness room, but Crane’s has an arrangement with nearby  gym for $15/day.

A tiny office that doubles as a gift shop is where you can also access DVD’s, CD’s, game units, board games, a literary library. Also, Crane’s offers a repertoire of on-site entertainment, special events and activities.

Both sophisticated and playful, Crane’s Beachhouse is ideal for a couples getaway, friends traveling together, a family gathering, a destination wedding.

Bustling Atlantic Avenue, Delray Beach's main street, is a short walk from Crane's BeachHouse © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Bustling Atlantic Avenue, Delray Beach’s main street, is a short walk from Crane’s BeachHouse © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

What I loved best is that it is off the bustling main street (which is what is so appealing about Delray Beach), around the corner from the hullaballoo of Atlantic Avenue, in the quieter part of Atlantic Avenue and just a block from the beach, yet still a pleasant walk over the drawbridge to the vibrant downtown where there are gorgeous galleries and shops, marvelous restaurants and live-music venues (a major advantage not having to drive; the hotel provides free parking).

A block to the east of Crane’s is Delray Beach – dare I say the prettiest beach on Florida’s East Coast. There aren’t buildings on the beach side of the street, so it is a broad expanse.

The Bucket List Experience

In keeping with its boutique orientation and personalized service, Crane’s Beachhouse offers “The Bucket List Experience” – essentially customized packages that enable guests to fulfill their wish list of experiences.

Tranquil setting at Crane's BeachHouse, Delray Beach © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Tranquil setting at Crane’s BeachHouse, Delray Beach © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

“We are providing a service that is basically a concierge, travel agent and personal assistant all rolled into one. We have researched the coolest, most thrilling, exciting, life-affirming, local attractions in South Florida and have come up with a pretty awesome list of 50+ items that should be on everyone’s Bucket List,” said Balestriere.

Crane’s always has some interesting special or package that change throughout the year. Presently, the hotel is offering  a “Non-Refundable Hot Deal” that runs through April on select dates.

Other packages and deals are listed at the website, particularly summer offerings that include special rates for educators; a romance package; a Family Fun Package.

Pets are welcome (a fee applies and you must inform front office of any pets prior to arrival to guarantee availability of pet-friendly accommodations).

Crane’s BeachHouse has received the coveted TripAdvisor® Certificate of Excellence Award 2013, and has been named to the prestigious Expedia Insiders Select List listing “the world’s best hotels.” Crane’s BeachHouse Hotel is a repeated recipient of the Florida Superior Small Lodging Association’s Donal A. Dermody White Glove Award for housekeeping excellence and exceptional service.

Crane’s BeachHouse, 82 Gleason Street, Delray Beach, Florida 33483, 561-278-1700, 866-372-7263, cranesbeachhouse.com

 

 

Eagle Island, One of ‘Private Islands of Georgia’ Offers Rarest Luxury: Time Together

A firepit lights the night on Eagle Island © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
A firepit lights the night on Eagle Island © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin

Set among the back barrier islands of Georgia is Eagle Island, offering one of the rarest experiences on the planet: the giddy feeling of being on your own private island, separated from civilization.

An experience like this is usually reserved for the rich and famous, but rather than being out of this world in terms of price, the cost puts Eagle Island well in reach (about $2900 for six-night stay for a couple or $3300 for 3-12 people).

But what you get is priceless: time, or more precisely, Eagle Time. Time to be. Time to be together.

What happens when you put people into a place where time can be made to stand still? Where all the whirring and hustle and bustle and all the pressures of society can be held at bay and all there is, is the marsh and the flat water of a meandering river, the cacophony of calls of a dozen different types of birds, where because of the very simplicity, every small thing becomes that much more magnified, more wondrous, like the rings of a cut tree….

How exquisite. How wondrous. How precious.

“I watch people come out and three days later, their face is totally different, they are relaxed and comfortable,” says Andy Hill, who owns Eagle Island and seven more barrier islands in a 2,000-acre expanse. Here, you stay together, spend time with the people you’re with. That’s what they say they remember most.”

The marshes around Eagle Island © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The marshes around Eagle Island © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

You feel it as soon as you pull away from the dock at Darien, on Captain Andy Hill’s pontoon boat, and it seems the world slips away as you cruise on the meandering river, among marshes lush with birds, fish, marshes, into a place that has been hailed by the Nature Conservancy has named this area ‘One of the Top 75 Last GREAT Places in the World’ and for this precious time, is yours.

Eagle Island Lodge, on its own 10 acres of Eden, offers the exquisite thrill of being completely on your own, left to your own devices. This distinguishes the experience from renting a ski house or villa.

Eagle Island may well be the first (and to date the only) “Five Moons” lodge – a riff on “Five Star” – and its slogan (or motto) is “No agenda. No clocks. No deadlines.”

There is every luxury and comfort, and yet it is its simplicity that is most precious of all.

The Eagle Island experience depends on who you are: romantic if you are a couple; a fantastic adventure if you are with young children; if you are with friends – with each scenario the social dynamic changes. The one constant is a unique experience.

You are immersed in the environment at Eagle Island © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
You are immersed in the environment at Eagle Island © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Environment, atmosphere, weather, time of year – everything changes the experience, the chance spotting of a dolphin, a manatee or an eagle.

It is a recipe for laughter, for love, for connection at a time when too many of us are too disconnected and distracted from people we are close to.

When you strip away all the distractions so you focus on each other, see clearly what is important, who is important.

It’s about a 20-minute ride on Hill’s pontoon boat from the dock at Darien, a quaint, historic town (Fort King George was built in 1721 and was the southernmost outpost of the British Empire in the Americas until 1727; the town was burned by the famous 54th Massachusetts during the Civil War) on the meandering Altamaha River, flanked on both sides by marsh.

During the boat ride Andy familiarizes us with the local ecology and history.

He points to ballast stone islands – islands that have formed from the ballast pitched by ships in the 1700s as they took on the timber harvested from Georgia to bring back to Europe. Over time, soil formed on the stones, then trees grew – a clear display of interplay between nature and human activity.

A successful businessman, he realized that he was running a big business, employing hundreds of people, but wasn’t around people, wasn’t outdoors, wasn’t boating, and wasn’t doing the things he is passionate about.

Ask him what he is passionate, and he doesn’t hesitate: “It’s the water.”

He takes a slight detour to where we see an Eagle’s nest – he tells us the nests can be as large as a ton. We see two eagles on a branch, protectively watching over the babies, still in the nest. He says 60% of eagles don’t make it past their first attempt at flight.

Andy bought Eagle Island in 1998 and two years later, May Hall (just around the “corner” of the marsh, which Andy is restoring as a Tuscan villa) along with six other islands in a 2,000-acre enclave that he has dubbed “Private Islands of Georgia.” To prove his title, he possesses the “King of England” deed to Gen Mackintosh, 1774, which covers the marsh and high ground.

He is interested in everything, as much an archeologist and anthropologist as artist who can see form and function in what others have discarded. His excitement and appreciation for all that he surveys is infectious. Indeed, he’s constructed Eagle Lodge and May Hall out of salvaged and recycled materials, refashioned into stunning art with form and function.

The boat follows the meandering curves in the river and we get our first glimpse of the lodge he has built which will be our home for the next several days.

Eagle Island Lodge © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Eagle Island Lodge © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Eagle Lodge, at the center of the 10-acre private island, is his creation, designed and built largely with his own hands.

We tie up to the Eagle Island dock, climb the ramp to the pier where there is a very pleasant wood table and chairs and a hanging swing, and as you walk on the boardwalk onto the 10-acre island, you immediately sense you have come to some place special.

Andy doesn’t just repurpose. He creates art. There are flowers, and not just flowers. Flowers in crab baskets converted to planters; flowers growing out of what Andy calls a “tree pot” – a dead tree planted upside down, trunk first, into the ground, so that its roots form the planter; and artful tiki torches which we will more fully appreciate at night.

At the end of a path of oyster shells is the lodge. We climb the stairs to the wrap-around porch. Inside, it is a great room, a masterpiece of wood – at once inviting and interesting.

This will do. Yes, this will do, I think to myself.

Creature comforts abound – a kitchen stocked with everything a chef would want because preparing meals and eating together is one of the most significant activities of this place.

The dining table is a focal point for conversation, for sharing.

Eagle Island Lodge © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Eagle Island Lodge © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The great open room has a comfortable living room area, a working fireplace (there is plenty of wood already chopped and ready).

We quickly explore: Eagle Lodge sleeps 14 – there are two bedrooms on the main floor with bathroom; a loft, and a separated suite on the ground floor which is ideal for a family with a queen bed, two sets of bunk beds, bathroom, laundry room, and playroom, with ping pong table, dining table and chairs and of course, TV with play station. There is WiFi (so you aren’t really cut off from civilization, or even totally unplugged, but you have incentive to leave it alone). There is a small library with interesting books about the area, and even binoculars.

Then, there are the nooks and crannies of pure whimsy:

A shower room (imagine this) – outside the lodge, built for two.

There are hammocks and hanging swings, a hot tub on the wrap-around verandah, with beautiful views everywhere you look, and a small pond (just for show), that at night, becomes a mirror to reflect the lights from the lodge, and the firepit. If that isn’t removed enough from civilization, there is a place on the trail in the woods where you can have a campfire.

Natural and discarded objects have been repurposed into beautiful things, like a magnificent sculpture over the fireplace of Medusa fashioned from driftwood; the brick pavers on the path that came from a Civil-War era chimney from Union Island. An Adirondack boat, cut in half, becomes a cabinet.

Welcome to Eagle Island © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Welcome to Eagle Island © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Andy Hill is like the unseen diviner who creates Kismet: I can easily imagine how different what is experienced by different people who for a time get to have their own island: a couple contemplating sharing a lifetime together; a family with young children; a multi-generational family, with grandparents who can impart their wisdom and experience of fishing, bird-watching, campfire-making, star-gazing; a family reunion; a gathering of couples or friends; each with its own particular social dynamic.

Even people who arrive as perfect strangers, in this magical environment under its spell, sitting around the table or beside a campfire and sharing their special stories, come away with a bond that would otherwise take years to form.

I think of how a writer, a painter or inventor looking seeking to remove all external distractions in order to create a masterpiece would thrive here.

Before you even arrive, there are multiple interactions as Andy Hill and his Guest Services team customize your stay, whether it is an “unplugged” family vacation, a romantic couples’ getaway, a fishing trip with the guys, or a gal getaway. Typically there are three or four conversations before you come – they can arrange for a fishing trip, a guided kayaking trip with a local naturalist.

You will be cooking your own meals so he provides online access to Harris Teeter, the local grocery store, so you can select what you want and Andy arranges to pick up all your supplies for you (does not charge a premium), so you have everything with you (Andy will even pick up flowers if you are celebrating something).

Andy even provides charcoal for the grill (and there is an outdoor kitchen as well as a completely equipped main kitchen), coffee (and decaf), toiletries, fine soaps and shampoos, lush robes, paper products and even ziplock bags, two cases of bottled water iced down in a chest when you arrive.

When you arrive, you will find bottled water in ice chests; charcoal and wood chips for the grill.

Andy spends a lot of time showing us around what will be our home – how things work.

You can check in as early as like on your day of arrival, and check out as late you like on the day of departure. That’s Eagle Island time.

The Luxury of Doing Nothing

When you arrive, I can almost guarantee that the first thing you will want to do is…..nothing.

You will be lured to a favorite spot on the porch – perhaps the swing, or a comfortable wicker chair, where the light and the view is most appealing for your mood, and just sit with a book. You feel yourself decompressing.

At some point, you will be lured back to the porch at the end of the boardwalk by the dock, as the sun goes lower in the sky and the light becomes more golden, then orange, then pink, and you will just gaze out to the flat water and the marshes and watch the birds sail on the wind.

Eventually, you will gather for the first activity: making a meal together.

Andy Hill shows how he prepares his famous Low Country Boil © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Andy Hill shows how he prepares his famous Low Country Boil © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

You may well try Andy Hill’s own recipe for a Low Country Boil, a regional specialty (he has the recipe on his website): made with shrimp, sausage, onions, potatoes, corn and carrots, with the Private Islands of Georgia Cajun Seasoning Blend.

What makes it spectacular is the local shrimp, literally called Georgia Wild Caught Shrimp – freshly caught (you can see the shrimp boats with their expansive nets). I will have shrimp again in my life, but I will never experience shrimp like this again: succulent, sweet with a touch of salt – they get their sweetness from feasting on the Spartina grass in these marshes. Add to that the extraordinary atmosphere as we gather around in the outdoor kitchen over commercial-sized pots.

And Andy’s famous Five Moon Oysters, another specialty that makes you swoon.

“You won’t get this in a five-star restaurant, only a ‘Five Moon’” Andy jokes. After all, the moon rises above the stars and outshines the stars. In a five star, you are looking for the manager; in a five-moon, you are the manager.”

The Low Country Boil and the Five Moon Oysters are best prepared in this unique outdoor kitchen – with a commercial fryer from a Holiday Inn which closed down – on the ground level, under the porch so even in the rain (as it does this night), we are cozy and comfortable preparing the feast, eating standing up as the oysters, steamed in a skillet are finished with the melted cheese, bacon bits, scallions and jalapenos. To die for.

A firepit lights the night on Eagle Island © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
A firepit lights the night on Eagle Island © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

After dinner, you might make a fire in the fire pit beside the small pond and tell more stories.

You might put a DVD into the player, or play a board game, or enjoy a round of ping-pong.

In the morning, before you take your first cup of coffee, you might well take a hike on a trail that Andy has cut that rings the 10-acre island – you are only a matter of feet away from the lodge, but it seems far away.

Early in the morning, take the trail through the woods on Eagle Island cut by Andy – follows the edge of the island, looking out over the marshes, walk through the live oak dripping with Spanish moss. Enchanting…. A couple of areas have been cleared for camping – one with a fire pit where clearly there have been campfires.

Everything takes on special interest – the oyster shells that seem to be everywhere- some old and likely from the Indians who used to come to these barrier islands seasonally.

And you become immersed in the stereophonic cacophony of birds – squeak, squawk, twirp, chirp, screech, whoop, woo woo – less “birdsong” than a discordant orchestra.

This is a place for exploring.

Kayaking at Eagle Island © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Kayaking at Eagle Island © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

There are two kayaks provided (one is a tandem for two people), which you can use to paddle just around the bend to May Hall, Andy Hill’s other island. May Hall island offers 20 acres to explore by walking trails that Andy has carved, but you walk over a 500-foot boardwalk Andy recently built to another, nine-acre island, Little May Hall; another boardwalk takes you to yet another of Andy’s islands, Grassie Field, with 17 acres more to explore. There is a rookery of Great Blue Heron. (Andy’s other islands are named Mick and Jagger – he is a Rolling Stones fan – and Amelia for his daughter).

You can prepare a picnic in nature (Andy hopes to build some huts on these outpost islands so people can camp out).

Andy can arrange for you to rent a boat, or better yet, bring your own boat, and the adventure just begins. The Atlantic Ocean is just beyond the trees – 15 minutes by motor boat – but there are other islands to explore.

Other activities readily at hand include fishing, birding (binoculars provided). There is also crabbing: “Blue crab: All you can catch. All you can eat,” says Captain Andy – the bait and blue crab baskets are ready for you so you can catch and enjoy the sweet taste of this Coastal Georgia favorite and the guidebook Andy provides even explains how to clean the crab.

Kayaking is particularly alluring here. If you don’t want to go out on your own, you can paddle the Altamaha River with a guide through Eagle’s Kayak Escape Package.

That’s what we did one afternoon – Danny Grissette, the guide, came with some extra kayaks, and we soon realized how easy it is to get lost if you leave the river and go into a channel.

Eagle Island is aptly named, we learn.

Eagle Island is aptly named. One seems to be bidding us goodbye as we depart the private island © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Eagle Island is aptly named. One seems to be bidding us goodbye as we depart the private island © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

McKintosh County has largest eagle population in Georgia – 11 nesting pairs (we see one pair when we arrive and on way back home, an eagle is resting on a channel marker just next to us).

We paddle to Escape Island – a tiny spit of a thing that Andy also owns as part of his 2000 acres. He has cleared an area where can make a campfire or camp out, and may build a platform for camping.

These vast expanses of marsh grasses that separate barrier islands from mainland from one of the richest estuaries producing a profusion and diversity of fish and wildlife in one of greatest ecosystems on the planet.

This is a stopover for migratory birds (the best time is January-March); you can also see dolphin and manatee (best is April through November). There are rare and endangered sturgeon, wood stork. We spot an alligator, though in winter they tend to hibernate.

There are Interconnected waterways, inland water routes – in fact, it is easy to get lost, so we appreciate having Dan to guide us when we go off from where the river is marked.

137 miles long, the Altamaha River flows from the Oconee and Ocmulgee Rivers to the Atlantic Ocean, the third largest contributor of fresh water to the Atlantic Ocean from North America. With its tributaries, the drainage basin is about 14,000 square miles, one of the largest on the Atlantic Coast. The fact that it is undammed is why it is so rich in marine life, with one of the largest populations of sturgeon. The river has extreme tides – rising and falling 8 feet.

Here, you revel in the spectacular flat horizons which give you these glorious vistas, taking on the colors of the time of day and season – at sunset in summer, we are told, the heat produces a mist. This night, as the sun sets, it shines back on the clouds in the east setting them afire and gradually to purple. You can see why they call this area the “Golden Isles of Georgia”

I am surprised to realize that this part of the East coast is the most western inland, actually on the same longitude as Chicago, which is why they don’t get hurricanes here.

Most special of all is an outing to Sapelo Island (the subject of another story).

Getting to Eagle Island:

You get to Eagle Island from Darien, a small town on the Georgia coast. We flew to Jacksonville, rented a car for the 1 1/2-hour drive; Charleston, South Carolina is a little over two hours; you can also fly to Atlanta (more than four hours drive), or connect into Brunswick, the local airport.

Private Islands of Georgia, 202 Marina Drive, St. Simons Island, GA 31522, 912-222-0801 email andy@privateislandsofgeorgia.com, www.privateislandsofgeorgia.com.

See also:

Discovering Sapelo Island, Georgia and the Gullah-Geechees of Hog Hammock

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© 2015 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/karen-rubin, goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures.

 

Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa’s Secret for ‘New Fashioned’ Luxury: Playfulness, Whimsy, Wit and Surprise

The lushly landscaped main pool at Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The lushly landscaped main pool at Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin

The Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa has gone rogue. After more than 20 years as the Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach, the owners of the Five-Star, Five-Diamond resort have decided to become independent and set their sights on creating a “new fashioned luxury” for the Palm Beach set accustomed to the highest standards of luxury.

It is about exceeding expectations even for an ultra-luxurious resort. About a new kind of elegant resort experience that revolves around playfulness, sheer delight, unabashed self-indulgence and pampering and good cheer. It’s refined, but relaxed. It’s about surprise.

Here are some examples: in the Eau Spa, there are Couture Cupcakes, puzzle games. A Self-Centered Garden makes you think of an Arab sheikdom, where you can swing in a basket over a reflecting pool or play life-size chess. When you arrive, you are offered a glass of champagne, a cooling towel and a beach bag. And if you have a hankering to bike along Ocean Avenue to get a gander at the opulent mansions, you only have to ask to borrow one of their specially designed beach bicycles and they will be happy to outfit you with a helmet, bike lock, basket, bottle of water and a map.

Just ask, and you are greeted with the most cheerful smile.

The entire experience at The Eau Palm Beach is an unending cascade of pleasant surprises.

You arrive at the lushly landscaped porte-cochère, designed to be an outdoor living space, and enter into a lobby that is more like a giant living room, with elegant furniture, crystal chandeliers, a fireplace, cozy sitting areas, seeing through to a breathtaking view of the sparkling aquamarine Atlantic Ocean.

What strikes me first is the refreshing fragrance of seabreezes waft up. It is the veritable olfactory picture of what you would imagine Palm Beach to be. It turns out this is a specially created fragrance that perfectly captures “Palm Beach” (the “recipe” includes ozone, fruity citrus, sea salt, amber, soft musk, and you can purchase it in a votive candle in the gift shop, so you can bring Palm Beach home).

The Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa lobby is more like a living room of a well traveled Palm Beach family and is a social hub for resort © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa lobby is more like a living room of a well traveled Palm Beach family and is a social hub for resort © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

I take my champagne (fresh-squeezed lemonade is an option) over to what looks like the prettiest living room in the finest of Palm Beach homes, with furnishings in beige, peach, gold, coral and seaside themes of seabirds, shells, turtles. All around there are stunning antiques, fine paintings, just marvelous things to look at. It’s refined, elegant, yet you feel comfortable enough to sit in flip flops.

I pause and feel the stresses of travel just melt away.

That is the overall feeling here – easy-going elegance, playful refinement. It is an atmosphere that is reinforced with a cheery staff. It gives new definition of “classy.”

Set on seven oceanfront acres, the hotel was built as a Ritz Carlton about 25 years ago, and when it came under new ownership about 10 years ago, the hotel was closed for more than six months for a complete renovation that has produced the stunning design, new facilities like the free-form pool and the spa (which is operated by WTS International which also operates the spas at such grand resort hotels as The Woodstock Inn, Colonial Williamsburg and Loews Don Cesar).

The Eau continues under the same ownership – a British family trust which owns hotels in London and resorts outside United States, but this is their only US property. Breaking with Ritz Carlton allows them to give The Eau its own mark of distinction, style and personality.

It is establishing its own character, its own personality, its own unique style, and I predict will soon be known by that moniker that commands attention, “The” – “The Eau Palm” – as in The Breakers, and The Waldorf – that at once defines the hotel as its own destination. Unique. One of a kind.

The Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa exceeds the highest expectations that you would have for a Five Star/Five Diamond resort hotel (one of only three Five Star/five Diamond resort hotels in all of Florida – the other two are The Acqualina Resort & Spa and The Mandarin, both in Miami, so The Eau is the only 5 Star/5 Diamond in swank Palm Beach).

There is so much about the Eau that justifiably puts it into the Five Star/Five Diamond category – the beach, the lavishly landscaped pools, the stunning design and interior decoration, the level of service that sets a new category for “luxury,” the creative “inspiration” programs – but what sets The Eau Palm Beach apart is The Eau Spa.

OMG: The Eau Spa

Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa takes its name from the award-winning 42,000 sq. ft. Eau Spa, which was created for the resort, and has been named one of the 25 best spas in the entire world.

Now, all spas are about indulgence but they at least make a representation of being about health and wellness – stress reduction after all, is medicinal.

The Eau Spa is about indulgence, as these specially ordered cupcakes that greet you in the waiting area attest © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The Eau Spa is about indulgence, as these specially ordered cupcakes that greet you in the waiting area attest © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

But The Eau is unabashedly about self-indulgence. Here’s an example: most spas offer fresh fruit and nuts and ice water while you wait. At the Eau, they offer Couture Cupcakes, imported from Delray Beach.

When you arrive, and you walk through what looks like a Moroccan souk, you come to this exotic looking circular room, where the hostess invites you to make a wish as you float a lighted candle in a giant gleaming copper Wishing Well saying, “Your ‘me time’ begins now.” The candles float alongside rubber duckies.

Eau Spa is equal parts sublime pampering, tranquil rejuvenation and devilish indulgence, a dazzling retreat in a distinctive setting. Here you feel enveloped in a calming wonderland.

Eau Spa features several areas for gathering and socializing, including the Bath Lounge with an oversized Jacuzzi with a column of water that falls from the ceiling like rain; cozy sitting areas where you will find puzzles like Rubrics cube, spa attendants serve refreshments off antique handheld mirrors and light bounces off a glamorous crystal chandelier made of wine glasses.

“It symbolizes Eau Spa- it’s about laughs and bubbles,” Teal, the hostess tells me as she escorts me through. That and the yellow rubber duckies that are the spa mascot. The Snow Room (ice cold) is decorated with snowglobes and a penguin.

The Self-Centered Garden at The Eau Spa is an open-air sanctuary © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The Self-Centered Garden at The Eau Spa is an open-air sanctuary © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The centerpiece of the spa is the Self-Centered Garden an open-air sanctuary “where nature twines with manmade imaginings” (I wish I had come up with that phrase).

Eau Spa features 19 Spa Villas (treatment rooms), which can be customized to your preferences, reflecting your taste, desire, mood and purposes for the day. This includes color therapy through LED lighting that defines wall colors with shades outlined by ancient cultures. Twelve of the Villas have their own outdoor garden, offering a private escape. Three Couples’ Spa Villas provide an intimate experience beyond treatments, with garden enclaves, over-sized tubs and outdoor rainfall showers.

I am escorted to the Scrub and Polish Bar – one of the signature elements of The Eau Spa – where I can purchase a custom blend scrub (for example, lemongrass, green tea and lavendar), which is then mixed for me personally by the mixologist, for $35 (it comes with butter and loofa scrub), that I can take to the steam shower (this is why you should come much before your treatment is scheduled; people come and spend the entire day at the spa and the Self-Centered Garden and the private lanai, and why it is so ideal for a gal getaway or bachelorette party). You can order lunch at the spa and stay until closing, 8 pm.

As I look more closely as I walk down the hall to my “villa,” I notice the fanciful names: Villa Greedy…. Villa Selfish, Villa Sassy, Villa Naughty. Mine is Villa Vain.

In the treatment room, the masseuse shows me to a small table on which is a spoonful of pure honey and some ice water. The room has its own private garden with a basket swing and shower, where you can lounge if you want. She asks what color and music I would like.

During the massage, I think to myself, “The Queen of England could not be treated more royally.”

Curators of Fun

Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa occupies an exquisite location on the beach at Palm Beach Island© 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa occupies an exquisite location on the beach at Palm Beach Island© 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The aim of The Eau is to surprise, to exceed expectations for a clientele that comes with the highest expectations, to go beyond the staid concept of “luxury” and “pampering” and offer elements of whimsy and wish-fulfillment.

That’s no mean feat for a Five-Star, Five-Diamond resort hotel – in fact, the only five star-five diamond in Palm Beach and only one of three in Florida.

The Eau gives a wink to refinement – elegant but casual. More than that, it is playful and fun.

It’s so much more than just being a stunning place. The Eau means to pay a role in creating experiences, in fulfilling wishes.

My wish was to ride a bike up Ocean Avenue, beside the mind-bogglingly opulent homes to the bike path along the Intercoastal. The Eau lends you a bike from its new fleet of custom designed picnic bicycles, created just for Eau Palm Beach by Republic Bicycles, outfitted with basket, lock, helmet, bottle of water, map of bike routes (and distances), and if I want, a gourmet lunch and beach blanket. I biked 22 miles roundtrip.

They are working on an Inspiration Kit so if you see a sunset and are inspired to paint it, they will have all the supplies you need; or if you want to create a scrapbook, you only need ask and they will provide the supplies. (Check out the Now Wow schedule of weekly activities.)

This philosophy extends to the innovative children’s programs.

Located just off the pool deck and steps from the ocean, Aquanuts and COAST go beyond the traditional with an exceptional array of offerings from a stuffed animal workshop, to GoPro camera rentals for the budding documentarian, “DJ Lab” for the aspiring DJ’s and a full wardrobe, mini-spa and photo studio for professional-style photo shoots. Aquanuts caters to children aged 5-12, while COAST seems to have figured out how to crack the code to appeal to teens. Tweens (ages 10-12) are welcome to float between the two connected spaces, giving them independence to select their experience.

It is hard to imagine teens turning down art classes, DJ lessons, model makeup sessions, photo-shoots, video editing, music mixing, water sports, beach activities and pool games (Coast, which is like a teen center, is open daily and holds camp sessions regularly throughout the year.)

Aquanuts is underwater themed and offers discovery in nature, creativity in art, fun in the sun and other options based on the day and age of the participants. Aquanuts activities include sandcastles, underwater adventures, swimming, treasure hunts, arts and crafts, themes for the day and an always entertaining theater stage. Aquanuts kids enjoy fully supervised fun during half, full-day or evening programs, tailored to the group and the weather. Each day has a different theme, like Piratenuts.

This playful spirit permeates the resort.

The Eau Palm Beach team takes their role as “curators of fun” to a new level by setting the tone each evening with a new Lobby Turndown. As the sun sets, the lobby is lit with a hundred candles, guests are offered Champagne and invited to toast the new Palm Beach lifestyle. Other new events include the “Living Room Sessions” musical performances; Asian street food evenings; hand-rolled sushi paired with expertly mixed Sake-tinis.

These are centered in Stir, a charming bar/salon, which offers a relaxing place to enjoy the resort’s atmosphere adjacent to the lobby and is where you can always get a light meal. By night, Stir becomes the focal point of evening activity and the social hub of The Eau. Stir activities include afternoon “Tea Affair” (Reservations are not required) along with evening light bites, appetizers, cocktails and coffees. And on Friday and Saturday nights, you can enjoy the Asian flavorings of local celebrity chef, Sushi Jo and his chopstick specialties, along with live music on Fridays and DJ mixes on Saturdays. (Stir lounge open until midnight every evening and 1 am on weekends).

The firepit at The Eau Spa © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The firepit at The Eau Spa © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Or take your favorite libation (or s’mores) outside to gather around the firepit.

Another pleasant dining venue is Temple Orange, featuring Mediterranean-inspired dishes in an oceanfront casual setting with magnificent views of the Atlantic. This is the only breakfast venue (coffee is provided in the lobby). Lunch features a light and airy atmosphere-both indoors and on the terrace, and at night, Temple Orange transforms into an inviting and family-friendly restaurant (templeorangerestaurant.com).

Breeze, the poolside dining venue, offers gourmet burgers, seaside salads, tempting light bites and cocktails (weather permitting).

The fine dining restaurant is Angle, a contemporary, modern-American restaurant featuring locally-grown ingredients and South Florida specialties – line-caught fish, all natural, dry-aged prime beef, classic appetizers, distinctive cocktails, and an award winning wine wall. The warm and inviting space has sleek and urbane décor including chocolate velvet walls, glowing candlelight and mirrors. An onyx and amber Chef’s table, dramatically lighted from below, features flights of wine, chef’s plates and taste makers dinners. (Angle is open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday, 6 p.m. – 10 p.m.).

Other dining options abound: the Eau is across the street from a small shopping center where there are several restaurants, and is a short walk over the bridge to the delightful Old Key Lime House, which exudes Old Florida and dates from the 19th century (www.oldkeylimehouse.com, 561-582-1889).

Lavish Accommodations

The Eau Palm Beach offers 309 spacious guestrooms and suites in three towers, offering ocean, pool or garden views and private balconies.

Eau Club Level rooms on the fourth floor have the added amenity of the services of a private concierge, separate check-in and check-out with Champagne, and use of a private Club Lounge where there is complimentary food and beverage service four times a day, plus daily pressing service and VIP pool service. Club-level rooms offer a private balcony with views of the ocean or pool and gardens.

Eau Spa Cabana Suites are ground-level rooms with their own lanai overlooking the ocean and are just steps to the tranquility and resort pools. Cabana suites have separate bedroom and living room and two bathrooms.

My room, 573, with a glorious balcony, has the most beautiful view to the adult pool and the ocean.

I throw open the door to the balcony and enjoy listening to the pounding ocean waves.

It is beautifully furnished with a gorgeous Art Deco wood writing desk; coffee maker, free WiFi, lush linens and pillows, a stunning marble bathroom.

The bathroom offers another playful surprise: a tub-side waterproofed “Water Alive” book, soothing bath crystals, bath pillow, tray and signature candle featuring the Palm Beach breeze scent.

Resort Amenities

The gorgeous adult pool at Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The gorgeous adult pool at Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Eau has two spectacular, oceanfront pools. The main pool is free form, lushly landscaped with palm trees, lounges that are more like sofas (even the jacuzzi has a playful swing chair). The adults-only pool has a stunning setting, and is great for lap swims.

Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa also features a wide array of watersports including snorkeling equipment, paddle boards, wave runners.

The resort also offers three Har-tru clay tennis courts with on-site pro and guests have golf privileges at nearby courses and get special pricing as well as charge services to the hotel bill.

Its state of the art fitness center includes spinning studio and yoga studio, Pilates classes and personal trainers.

I found The Eau ideal for whatever purpose – whether it was a business or professional meeting or conference (superb meetings and business facilities), a destination wedding or honeymoon, a bachelor/bachelorette getaway, a family reunion – it lends itself superbly.

Weddings at Eau Palm can be intimate or lavish, quiet or festive, whatever you desire, but in any case, are elegant. Creative and intuitive wedding and event specialists create perfect events on any scale, from small garden weddings with flickering candlelight and an ocean view or fireworks to a gala style celebration for 1,000 guests.

At the Eau, the Business Center isn’t some stifling room, but a pleasant lobby with comfortable easy chairs as well as computers and printers, available throughout the day or night.

The Eau is an ideal setting for conferences, incentive trips or chic retreats for groups from 10 to 1,000 people. The resort offers more than 30,000 square feet of meeting and event space with a variety of indoor and outdoor venues to choose from, and events can be paired and customized in more than 20 locations, including: 9,680 square-foot ballroom divisible into three equal salons; two additional ballrooms including the stunning Ocean Ballroom featuring views of the Atlantic; breakout meeting rooms including two boardrooms; poolside cabanas that bring the boardroom to the beach; outdoor event space including an oceanfront courtyard, resort lawn and pool terrace; and, of course, the Eau Spa “Self Centered” Garden with water features and private courtyard.

Hub for Palm Beach Attractions

Located in the heart of Palm Beach Island, The Eau also serves as a fabulous hub for the many marvelous attractions in Palm Beach County.

While we were there, we took advantage of the fabulous “Titanic” exhibit at the South Florida Science Museum in Dreher Park (next door to the equally fabulous Palm Beach Zoo); the exhibit is on through April 20, 2014. (Be sure to also see the special Planetarium Show) The South Florida Science Center and Aquarium, 4801 Dreher Trail North, West Palm Beach, 561-832-1988 or visit www.sfsciencecenter.org.)

Other attractions in the vicinity include:Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts; Norton Museum of Art; Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens; PGA National Golf Club; International Polo Club; Flagler Museum; Palm Beach Zoo at Dreher Park; CityPlace Shopping Center; and McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary..

Since breaking with Ritz Carlton, The Eau has affiliated with Chicago-based Preferred Hotels & Resorts’ group of more than 250 independent upscale hotels and resorts. That means that Eau Palm guests can tap into iPrefer, a loyalty program that awards points redeemable for services at other Preferred properties.

The Eau is pet friendly – and is working on creating special amenities and experiences for four-footed guests.

Check the website for specials and packaged deals.

Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa, 100 South Ocean Boulevard , Manalapan, FL 33462, 800-EAU-0170, 561-533-6000, www.eaupalmbeach.com.

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© 2015 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/karen-rubin and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures.

Canyon Ranch Miami Beach Reinvents Health/Wellness Luxury Resort

Occupying the former Carillon Hotel and two new residential towers, Canyon Ranch Miami Beach occupies 750-feet of prime beachfront © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.
Occupying the former Carillon Hotel and two new residential towers, Canyon Ranch Miami Beach occupies 750-feet of prime beachfront © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

by Karen Rubin

As I pull away from the Canyon Ranch Miami Beach, I think to myself, “I really do feel rejuvenated, more flexible than I’ve been in some time, better energy and self-confidence. I’m proud of the way I handled the exercise classes and I really did learn things that I will be able to apply. This is so much more than a R&R vacation, a brief sojourn in paradise.”

It’s just been just two days and I feel a spring to my step, flexibility I haven’t had in a while, I am conscious of my breath and posture, I feel empowered, self-confident, strong, satisfied. I’ve reached a higher state of self-knowledge and knowing.

Really.

Canyon Ranch really invented the American health and wellness retreat, going back to 1979.

Before that, those in pursuit of health and wellness through the mind-body-spiritual connection traveled to exotic locales – to ashrams and yoga retreats in India and Thailand, where you lived the ascetic life in order to ascend to some higher spiritual consciousness.

Or, there were “fat farms” – such as the one that Canyon Ranch founder Mel Zuckerman visited when he was dangerously overweight, sedentary, afflicted with a host of ailments but where he was the only man among a sea of ladies in leotards. They tended to be torturous affairs that did little to encourage people to make the underlying lifestyle changes – diet, exercise, the mind-body-spiritual connection – necessary for long-term health and wellness benefit.

At the age of 50, Zuckerman, a home developer, says he had an “aha” moment and decided to build an actual health and wellness retreat. He opened Canyon Ranch Tucson and a decade later, another health-and-wellness destination in Lenox, Massachusetts.

“We built Canyon Ranch to be the perfect place to put things in perspective, reset priorities and contemplate new opportunities,” he writes in his inspirational story. “Everything you need is here, and the same philosophy that enabled me to change my life can help you change yours.”

He also incorporated health and wellness spas into vacations – opening SpaClubs onboard Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, Oceania Cruises, and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, as well as in the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.

Located on fashionable Collins Avenue, Canyon Ranch Miami Beach, which opened in 2008, is a first for the brand – an actual resort., or more accurately, a hybrid of a resort and a wellness retreat, bookended by Canyon Ranch Living – Miami Beach, “the first healthy living community of its kind”.

Canyon Ranch Miami Beach occupies the historic Carillon Hotel  © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.
Canyon Ranch Miami Beach occupies the historic Carillon Hotel © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

The once-glamorous Carillon Hotel property which in its heyday hosted the likes of the Rat Pack and Barbra Streisand, was owned by Eric Sheppard, who had a similar “aha” moment as Mel Zuckerman when he visited Canyon Ranch in Tucson at the suggestion of his business partner and Canyon Ranch devotee, Phillip Wolman. Zealous converts to the Canyon Ranch lifestyle, Sheppard and Wolman convinced Zuckerman to join with them in restoring, converting and expanding the Carillon – which had fallen on hard times and had been empty for more than 10 years – into an exciting new hybrid expression of Canyon Ranch: a six-acre healthy living condominium community and à la carte hotel wrapped around a state-of-the-art Wellness Spa. Canyon Ranch and WSG became development partners for the project.

(In an interesting turn of events, the property was owned by Lehman Brothers, which was ordered to divest in the 2008 bankruptcy; Canyon Ranch is the operator and expects whoever the new property owners are to continue the Canyon Ranch operation since that was the basis for the homeowners to come in).

There are delightful homages to the Carillon – the name in neon is still atop the original hotel building, along with its famous clock; the entrance has the same abalone shell terrazzo floor and a clock incorporated into the concierge section, and a wrought iron spiral staircase now is part of a sculpture that greets you as you pull up to the portico. But the most important legacy of the Carillon is that it sits on prime beachfront, with 750 feet of pristine beach.

The original hotel rooms have been gutted and turned into 110 spacious suites – apartments, really – with magnificent oceanfront views, beachfront dining (one of only three Miami Beach restaurants that actually has beachfront dining), easy access to the vibrant nightlife of Miami and South Beach, and drop-off and pick-up service for shopping at Bal Harbour.

The portico is a full level above the street – intended to lift you away from the city, and uplift you.

The centerpiece of Canyon Ranch is the 70,000 square foot Spa and Wellness facility, the largest of its kind in Florida. Indeed, there is a mind-boggling menu of offerings here, from exercise classes, treatments, and lectures to diagnostics utilizing sophisticated medical technology and a complement of experts who come up with “prescriptions” in the form of exercise and nutritional programs.

The interior design – the lobby, suites, 54 treatment rooms and Canyon Ranch Grill were designed by David Rockwell. Rich in greens, browns, stone and wood, natural imagery and materials (even wormwood becomes a lighted column), coral-stone walls, four-story mangrove sculpture, teakwood ceilings and abalone shell terrazzo floors – advances the connection with the natural world.

Canyon Ranch Miami Beach's all-suite hotel offers gorgeous ocean views © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.
Canyon Ranch Miami Beach’s all-suite hotel offers gorgeous ocean views © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

I am escorted up to my hotel suite – an apartment really (all the units are apartments) – and it takes my breath away – picture windows open out to the beach and ocean, and look out over the outdoor lounge and one of the four pools. I have two balconies. Two flat-screen TVs which double as wireless computers (free WiFi). The bathroom – marble, with a stunning mosaic in the floor – is to die for – spacious, a deep tub with a wood tray, a shower, vanity, and separate WC.

I have a well-equipped kitchen (there is a fabulous Publix grocery store across the street where you can stock up on supplies, and even a class where you visit with a Nutritionist to learn how to shop healthfully).

Emphasis on Lifestyle, not Escape

Canyon Ranch Miami Beach is a hybrid of a full-service beach  resort and a wellness center © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.
Canyon Ranch Miami Beach is a hybrid of a full-service beach resort and a wellness center © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

A hybrid of a luxury resort and wellness retreat, Canyon Ranch is still foremost a health and wellness destination that happens to be a luxury resort, rather than a resort that happens to have a topnotch, world-class spa.

Being here is about lifestyle, not escape, living not luxuriating.

So while Canyon Ranch Miami Beach gets many of the same resort goers that Miami Beach gets, including families, there is a different atmosphere from the more casual, transient resorts that are focused more on self-indulgence, rest-and-relaxation and a serendipitous casual flow to the day.

Here, a vast number of the people you will meet at classes, in the spa, at lectures are residents who own their own Canyon Ranch condos that grace two towers, and Canyon Ranch regulars who have been to Tucson, Lenox and Miami Beach multiple times some returning every 6 months or so, and health-and-wellness seekers (the regulars appreciate being able to go “off campus”). People tend to come for longer stays than typical resorts.

There is a different atmosphere from the more casual, transient resorts that are focused more on self-indulgence, rest-and-relaxation and a serendipitous casual flow to the day.

Most people come to Canyon Ranch with intention.

Some come to lose weight. Some to stop smoking. Some to develop an exercise regimen to prevent osteoporosis, to strengthen the heart, to lessen pain, to build muscle, to reduce stress, to come up with a better life management strategy to handle a major life transition, to live more healthfully, to stave off illness. Some come to revitalize their sex life.

Some come to try to reverse the course of grave illness like cancer, when it is often too late. “Health care should prevent illness, not merely treat disease.”

In fact, that is what my massage therapist, Heidi Kublich, asks when I arrive for my treatment: “What is your intention?” She brings me to a bowl of polished stones and crystals and asks me to pick one. I pull out a rose quartz that happens to be shaped like a heart. A good sign, apparently. Rose quartz is a symbol of love and it is a particularly good omen that it is shaped like a heart.

My massage treatment was prearranged – in fact, every guest gets a personal phone call from a concierge weeks before they arrive who patiently asks what is your intention for your stay, and explains what is available (a mind-boggling array of choices, so pay attention). She asks me what I want from my massage. I mention the stiffness in my neck and joint pain, and she recommends a particular massage therapist, skilled in neuro-skeletal treatment. (There are also spa coordinators on site in the spa and in the lobby who can help organize and make arrangements.)

When I arrive though, I change my mind, and Heidi accommodates me on the spot, suggesting an aromatherapy massage in which she also taps into her vast array of skills in other therapies, including reflexology.

Heidi points out that the Encyclopedia of Massage is three-inches thick – that’s how many different techniques there are. Canyon Ranch offers quite a selection: stone massage, aromatherapy treatment, deep tissue thermal therapy, deep tissue massage. Other specialized touch therapies include Ashiatsu (Japanese deep barefoot massage); craniosacral therapy, neuromuscular therapy, reflexology, and Shiatsu.

A popular treatment is “Muscle Melt for Road Warriors,” a technique that uses warm herbal pouches firmly pressed into muscles and traditional Thai massage with lemongrass oil.

Canyon Ranch also offers various body rituals, like the Euphoria Ritual (music and a candlelit environment); de-stress Chakra ritual, Japanese bathing ritual, Miami rejuvenating spice, Native American Dreamtime, Rasul Ceremony, Traditional Thai detoxifying ritual, Turkish Hammam bath ritual and Tatra which is a “sensory journey” that begins with a natural rice scrub, then a soak in rose-scented, salt-infused bath with color therapy, and a massage on a neuro-auditory sound table where specially selected music vibrates through your body.

Aquavana Experience

Definitely arrive early for your massage – even an hour or more – in order to properly experience Aquavana, a complete suite of European-inspired advanced therapeutic crya (cold) and therma (hot) cabins, tubs and pools, which draw upon the concept that water movement and temperature variation can relieve muscle and joint problems and create a higher sense of relaxation, with a twist that incorporates light and atmosphere.

Aquavana has such novelties as a Crystal Steam Room which has a large natural crystal and uses optical effects that promote a meditative focus as you soak up steam enhanced with essential oils; Igloo, which blows cool air and a choice of Arctic Mist experiences (menthol, mint or eucalyptus) enhanced by twinkling fiber optics; experiential rain showers (you can choose Polar Mist, Atlantic Storm or Caribbean Monsoon with thunder and lightning effects); and Atlantic Spa, a rooftop hydrospa enhanced by ocean views and beach pebbles. Also, Herbal Laconium (a warm, misty ceramic-tiled room with heated individual seating thrones and color-changing fiber-optic ceiling); Hydrospa; thermal heated Loungers; and the classic, wood-lined, dry-heat Finnish sauna.

You can spend an hour or a day here (they offer tips on how to best take advantage of Aquavana, and three different “circuits” depending upon what you want to achieve: Roman Experience (relieves sore muscles); Finnish Experience (increases circulation); Canyon Ranch Experience (relieves stress).

Aquavana Experience is part of the complimentary services that also include the fitness classes and walks and the strength and cardio training studio, pools, lectures that fill and enrich the day.

But that’s just the first 11 pages of a 58-page catalog of services.

Health & Wellness

Indeed. many people come for the more comprehensive services, which is where Canyon Ranch Miami Beach diverges from being merely a luxury resort or even a spa.

Canyon Ranch Miami Beach has a complete Health & Wellness Department which looks and functions like a medical office. There are physicians specializing in integrative medicine, life management professionals, healing energy practitioners, exercise physiologists, nutritionists, acupuncturists, physical therapists, in addition to massage therapists and fitness instructors.

You can undertake diagnostic testing (not cheap, it costs between $750 and $1500), like Biophysical Core, which assesses the blood to provide a comprehensive view of your biochemistry.

The DEXA scan machine will tell you the cold truth about body mass, fat and bone density, so that exercise physiologist Oliver Mendez can come up with an exercise and nutrition plan © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.
The DEXA scan machine will tell you the cold truth about body mass, fat and bone density, so that exercise physiologist Oliver Mendez can come up with an exercise and nutrition plan © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

Another diagnostic is the DEXA Body Composition, a machine that uses low-level radiation in an eight-minute scan that evaluates bone density, body mass and fat distribution. You take the scan and then an exercise physiologist designs an exercise program, whether it is to use weight training to improve bone density and stave off osteoporosis, or get rid of fat.

“If you really want to get healthy, you need honest truth. You have to be ready to face facts,” says Katie Riguzzi, Canyon Ranch marketing manager.

Other diagnostics include cardiac stress test; cardio-metabolic stress test; genomics testing and evaluation; heart-rate variability testing; and hormone testing.

There’s also healing energy programs – techniques that come from Asia – including Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture consultation.

One of the systems available is Acutonics – sound healing – that uses the power of vibration. Tuning forks are applied to acupuncture points, chakras and trigger points.

Other therapies including healing energy, Reiki, and Craniosacral therapy.

Another big area is Life Management. For example, you can get a 30-minute Healthy Lifestyle consultation and a personal action plan in such areas as anger management, body image, caregiving, coping with illness, grief and loss, parenting or self-esteem.

There is a whole area devoted to Sexuality, Intimacy & Passion, where you can work with a licensed therapist on such concerns as sexual satisfaction, decreased libido, coping with disabilities, menopause and inhibitions – clearly more substantive than the Poconos prescription for romance.

Other Life Management programs focus on stress management, navigating transitions, relationship building, meditation and relaxation.

Nutrition is a big topic area – addressing not just weight loss but prevention and healing. You can have a Chinese medicine nutrition consultation; explore “digestive wellness,” get tested to determine food sensitivity, learn about healing foods, detox your diet, learn how to prepare food and design healthy menus, or nutrition strategies for energy, exercise, feeling a family, travel, or vegetarianism.

Canyon Ranch Experience

As a resort, Canyon Ranch Miami Beach has a lot more families and there are even programs geared to families (rock climbing, yoga for families, treatments geared to teens 14-17), but there is no supervised children’s activity program, so parents would have to take turns watching their child in order to take classes or else take advantage of the Nanny Service.

People tend to stay longer here – many even live here – and you don’t see many people lying around on the beach.

The look on people’s faces is different. It is inward. Most are either coming from a class or a treatment or going to one, and there is some contemplation going on about that.

People are very friendly though – at all the classes there is a broad spectrum of regulars, people who are experienced in the techniques along with neophytes and the less adept.

When you arrive and get passed the breath-taking beauty of the room – with picture windows that overlook the ocean – this is one place where you should listen to the hotel orientation on the TV (which doubles as a wireless computer with Internet access).

What caught my attention was gyrokinesis – I had never heard of it before (though I understand it’s been around for 7 years or so) but it sounded interesting, so I saw when the class was being given the next day and showed up. Fabulous. This is a flowing form that draws on movements from ballet, yoga, pilates – no stress or pain.

I have time this afternoon before my spa treatment so I explore the property and the magnificent beach.

This turns out to be a mistake, since I should have spent the time in the Aquavana. Resolved not to make such a mistake again and get the most out of my time here, I study the weekly calendar to plan my day. Each hour of the day there are about 3 different classes, programs or lectures. Some of the more unusual classes include sand building (ideal for team building), and full moon yoga at 6:30 pm.

Canyon Ranch Medical Director Dr Karen Koffler leads a weekly conversation in Women's Well Being © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.
Canyon Ranch Medical Director Dr Karen Koffler leads a weekly conversation in Women’s Well Being © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

On my first full day, I take classes in Gyrokinesis, Pilates Mat, Core Training (in the Ocean Studio, my favorite, where you can smell the seabreezes and see the ocean), walk on the beach and attend a lecture on Women’s Well Being turns out to be a weekly “conversation” with Canyon Ranch medical director Dr. Karen Koffler.

On my second full day, I take the 8 am Meditation & Breathing class, Pilates with Props, and Core Training.

There are all sorts of classes involving weight training, spinning, muscle conditioning, Zumba!, yoga, aqua strength and H2O Power (having to do with water), boxer’s workout, and on and on. I don’t think there is a more comprehensive offering anywhere – and that’s only the beginning.

Exercise classes, massage therapy are only two of the dimensions of this total health and wellness destination.

You can arrange for private lessons – even swimming – and if want to continue training in a certain exercise regimen when you return home, they can provide referrals to local practitioners.

The approach at Canyon Ranch is that “health care should prevent illness, not just cure disease.” They employ these diagnostic tools, and then specialists come together as a team to treat you as whole person – lifestyle, nutrition, fitness, medical history, stress levels and more – to devise a program. You leave with lifestyle prescription for optimal health, performance.

A Luxury Resort

Because Canyon Ranch is a resort, it has amenities and attributes that the other wellness retreats do not have (that is to say, less fanatical, more live-and-let-live). A bar, for example. this is the only Canyon Ranch with a bar (the Carillon Bar), where the liquor is organic (you can order food there, too).

I was also surprised to be able to get bacon or sausage at breakfast in the Canyon Ranch Grill (though you have to ask for salt).

The Canyon Ranch Grill is stunning, and the only real clue that it is associated with “health and wellness” is that the menu lists calories and nutrition of every item. But behind the scenes, Chef Giovanni Ariaz, who just won the Healthy Chef of Year 2013 award by Cooking light Magazine, shows amazing imagination and cooks in a way to be flavorful as well as healthful. You won’t find a deep fryer here. He uses seasonal ingredients, locally sourced so the menu changes regularly for what is best in season. For example, he only orders salmon when in its cycle, it will be highest Omega 3s.

It is a magnificent looking room, with gorgeous views overlooking the beach and ocean, as well as outdoor dining. In fact, owing to the Carillon’s legacy, it is one of only 3 restaurants in Miami Beach with oceanfront dining (Smith & Wolinsky and Ritz Carlton are the other two).

And the beachfront is spectacular. You can order food from the beach as well as the Cabana Pool.

One of the stunning pools at Canyon Ranch Miami Beach © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.
One of the stunning pools at Canyon Ranch Miami Beach © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

Canyon Ranch has four temperature-controlled pools, each with a hot tub. Each pool is positioned so there is always a pool with access to sun – after 3 pm, no sun on the beach because of the high towers, but the North Tower is the sunset pool The Atlantic Pool, with magnificent view of the ocean, is the adult-only lap pool where there are private and group H2O Power classes.

The gym (fitness center) is massive, two-stories high, never crowded, immaculately clean, fresh smelling with a wall of windows. (You can use your key card to track calories burned, distance.)

Even if you don’t have the ‘aha’ moment, the epiphany that changes your life, stay here makes available to you the knowledge and the fundamentals to make lifestyle changes that will impact the quality of your life.

The concierge can prearrange spa treatments, consultations, as well as Restaurant Recommendations and Reservations;   Tickets to concerts and special events;   Car rental service (to be delivered to you at the hotel) or private car transportation;   Nanny service; and Birthday, Anniversary and other special celebration requests.

Check in time is 3:00pm and check out time is noon, but you can arrive early or leave late and still have full access to the spa and classes (you need to get your card key activated).

The website, www.canyonranchmiamibeach.com also serves as an excellent resource on amenities, services and more information and you contact Program Advisers for information on Health & Wellness services as well as Spa at Miamiprogramadvisers@canyonranch.com, or 1-866-276-2226.

Canyon Ranch has been named the “Healthiest Spa in America” by Health magazine as well as the “Best Spa for Food” by Gourmet magazine. Additionally, Canyon Ranch is a 13-time winner of Travel + Leisure’s Best Spa Award and the only 11-time recipient of the Condé Nast Traveler Best Destination Spa Award.

For an insider look at Canyon Ranch Hotel & Spa Miami Beach, follow CanyonRanchMiamiBeach on Facebook and CanyonRanchMiam on Twitter.

Canyon Ranch Hotel & Spa Miami Beach, 6801 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, Fla. 33141, 800-742-9000, 305-514-7000, canyonranch.com/miamibeach.

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© 2015 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/karen-rubin and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures.

The Colony Hotel, Delray Beach: Delightful, delicious, de-lovely

Built in 1926, The Colony Hotel is still one of the most important historic landmarks in Delray Beach and served as the model for redevelopment for this most charming seaside city © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Built in 1926, The Colony Hotel is still one of the most important historic landmarks in Delray Beach and served as the model for redevelopment for this most charming seaside city © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin

The highest compliment that can be paid about a hotel is that you don’t want to leave, and if you have to, you want to return as soon as possible. That’s the way I feel about The Colony Hotel in Delray Beach, Florida.

Lots of places in Florida claim to manifest the true “Old Florida.” But Delray Beach is the real thing. And it turns out that the charm, the character, the feeling you get in this most pleasant of seaside cities is due largely to The Colony Hotel, which has graced the streetscape since 1926.

You drive along Atlantic Avenue from I-95 for just about a mile and all of a sudden, the road narrows to a single lane, and like the low buildings that line the lane in early 20th century South Florida-Mediterranean style, with palm trees shading the road, you feel yourself suddenly transported into “Old Florida.” You are in a small beachside village, a bustle on the charming streets, people strolling about pretty shops with awnings or perhaps walking toward the drawbridge over the Intercoastal to the prettiest white sand beach on Florida’s east coast.

But before you get to the drawbridge, you see it, the prettiest confection of all: The Colony Hotel.

Lucky us, this is where we will stay during our all-too-brief visit to Delray Beach, “The Most Fun Small Town in the USA!”

Cross the threshold and you feel as if you have been suddenly transformed into wearing white linen and a straw hat.

It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s de-lovely.

You feel you can hear Cole Porter.

In fact, the background music is from the 1920s, 30s and 40s.

Colony Hotel, Delray Beach, Florida is a luscious confection that has you singing Cole Porter songs © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Colony Hotel, Delray Beach, Florida is a luscious confection that has you singing Cole Porter songs © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The colors that wash over you are succulent Florida tropical fruits, sherbet colors – raspberry, mango, strawberry, lime, lemon. White lattice and white wicker furniture grace the lobby in lovely sitting areas with colorful pillows.

Ceiling fans are overhead, which would set a rhythm to the afternoon, though they are still today; instead, a fire is going in the fireplace. People are lounging on white wicker loveseats decorated with colorful cushions, and milling about the lobby.

The Colony Hotel dates from 1926 – it was the first hotel in Delray Beach and the family that owns the hotel have been meticulous about retaining its original architectural features and considerable charms. And somehow, creating an atmosphere that harkens back.

The lobby of Colony Hotel, Delray Beach, Florida is a luscious confection that has you singing Cole Porter songs © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The lobby of Colony Hotel, Delray Beach, Florida is a luscious confection that has you singing Cole Porter songs © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

One of the special appeals of a historic hotel (and every one of the Historic Hotels of America members) is their connection to place and the people who passed through, their special character and personality, the stories. At The Colony Hotel, I don’t as much picture who might have been strolling about the lobby way back when, but that time is erased, as if the past is present.

You are transported. Your pace slows, your heart races a bit, a feeling of pure joy sweeps over you. There is such a cheerful, comforting feeling here.

One of the most charming aspects it the original Otis elevator – it was the popular brand back then – and not even an elevator you operate yourself, but which has to be operated by the staff (we mostly use the stairs). There is also the original telephone switchboard.

The lobby has the original 1926 Ficks Reed wicker furniture and cushions, covered with Designers Guild Osborne & Little fabric.

Sunlight dances in from the original wood skylights.

There are the original terrazzo floors in the lobby and red oak flooring in the Music and Dining Rooms (utterly exquisite for special events, and is where there are daily yoga classes offered).

The front porch – really an outdoor bar and lounge – has the original Cuban-style 1926 tile floor; the steps decorated with lush potted plants. Elevated above the sidewalk, it is sheer delight to sit and linger and watch the street activity a few steps below, and where on Friday night, a musician, playing sax and singing to popular favorites, has the whole place rocking and dancing.

There are exotic orchids and bright fabrics throughout the hotel – really, the visual effect is breathtaking.

The hotel has free WiFi throughout so it is that much more interesting to see the original wood desks where you can easily imagine guests writing their postcards home (there is also a computer tucked in a corner there).

The Colony Hotel was originally designed and built in 1926 as the Alterep Hotel by Martin Luther Hampton, an associate of Addison Mizner. Mizner was the famous American resort architect whose Mediterranean Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival style became the signature style of South Florida (and who was the visionary behind the development of neighboring Boca Raton).

In the midst of the Great Depression, the hotel was acquired in 1935 by George Boughton and his father, Charles, and renamed The Colony Hotel.

The Colony Hotel was open for the traditional three-month Florida winter season, January 10 to April 5. George’s wife, Agnes, had a dress shop in one of the hotel storefronts and his aunt Florence had a gift shop in another (there are shops there, still). During the summer, they would work in northern seasonal resorts (today, the family owns The Colony Hotel in Kennebunkport, Maine, a half mile from Walker Point, George Bush’s home).

George fought in World War II as a lieutenant commander in the US Navy, and owned and operated The Colony Hotel until his death in 1986. In 1994, George and Agnes’ daughter, Jestena took over the operation of both the Delray Beach and Kennebunkport Colony hotels, and turned the Delray Beach Hotel into a year-round resort in 2000. In 2003, another family member Hilary Roche joined the operation as Director Sales, Marketing & Environmental Programs for the Colony Hotel & Cabana Club.

The Colony Hotel is still one of the most important historic landmarks in Delray Beach – indeed, its Mediterranean Revival architecture served as the model for the Delray Beach Downtown Master Plan for new development and sets a delightful, warm and welcoming tone for this most charming city.

The Colony Hotel offers 70 historically renovated guest rooms including Queen and King one-bedrooms plus eight two-bedroom units. Each is uniquely appointed. They feature original furniture, tropical fabrics and bright colors, hardwood floors, Florida works of art.

What is not original, though, are the “Simply Dreamy Beds” – wonderfully comfortable, with organic cotton sheets and white all cotton matelasse bedspreads.

Each bedroom features modern amenities – flat panel TV, air conditioner, remote control cable TV, clock radio, blow dryer, iron and board, dual speaker phones with voicemail, dataport and complimentary high-speed wireless internet access.

We are taken up to our room in the original Otis elevator – the concierge has to operate it.

Our room, 233, is a superior king – spacious, with a beautifully done bathroom (I am delighted to be handed an actual key with the room number etched in). We have an air conditioner but we so prefer the ceiling fan.

A complimentary breakfast (scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage, cold and hot cereals, fresh fruits, selection of whole-grain breads, and coffee) is served buffet-style from 7 to 10 am in the Skylight lobby, where newspapers are provided for our reading pleasure.

There is an absolutely wonderful lobby bar, where you can easily imagine Hemingway or some other important literary figure holding court.

Colony’s Private Beach Club

Colony Hotel's private beach at Delray Beach. The historic hotel offers a true escape into the best of seaside "Old Florida" © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.
Colony Hotel’s private beach at Delray Beach. The historic hotel offers a true escape into the best of seaside “Old Florida” © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

One of the truly unique and splendid features of The Colony Hotel is that it is so much more than a hotel: it offers its guests access to its private oceanfront Colony Cabana Club, located 2 miles from the hotel – lushly landscaped with Florida native plants, sea grapes, coconut palms and beach grass. A new million-dollar, saltwater, 25-meter pool was just added this season. There is also a freshwater plunge pool that is cool in summer and warmer in winter.

Here, too, the Colony colors that so cheer and delight at the hotel abound – decoratively colored beach cabanas with sitting areas, tables, chairs and umbrellas. Hand-painted tiles by a local artist decorate the pool, pavers made with recycled glass and Florida shells, couches, a clamshell fountain and delightful secluded sitting areas under trees, complete the stunning scene.

Then there is the 250 feet of private beach – the prettiest beach on Florida’s east coast, I would say. Not only is the sand white and fine, but there are no high rises or buildings of any kind that intrude, only grassy dunes.

Idle away your time here, The Colony Cabana Club serves outdoor grilled specialties and salads for lunch each day.

The Colony Cabana Club also has changing rooms, showers, towels and parking (complimentary for hotel guests and club members).

The Colony provides a free shuttle service from the hotel five times during the day, from 10:45 am-5 pm (roughly every 1 1/2 hours).

We are delighted to learn that The Colony is a green hotel – the owners donate a dollar for each room night sold to the local environmental organization, and also supports local historic and cultural heritage.

It reflects in the overall atmosphere of the place – a kind of feng shui that sets in.

(I can imagine that the Colony Kennebunkport is equally marvelous. This is a 1914 resort, a recognizable landmark overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Kennebunk River and its own private beach, that offers heated saltwater pool, 18 hole putting green, shuffleboard, bicycle rentals, Sunday afternoon tea, social entertainment and high speed wireless internet, two ocean view restaurants, pet-friendly and Maine’s first “environmentally responsible hotel.”

Both of The Colony Hotels are members of the National Trust for Historic Preservation Historic Hotels of America (historichotels.org).

Both are also green hotels. The owners donate a dollar for each room night sold to the local environmental organization, and also supports local historic and cultural heritage – and culture, heritage and nature abound around the Colony.

You can play tennis at the Tennis Stadium, a short walk from the hotel and the concierge can arrange for golf.

My delight in being at The Colony Hotel increases exponentially as I realize all that this historic hotel offers so much more – in fact, it is more of a resort hotel than a hotel: free parking for one thing-not a little thing either in this popular magnet of a beach town, quite deserving of its label, “The Most Fun Small Town in the USA!”

I didn’t want to leave the Delray Colony and I can’t wait to return.

Daily rates from May 1-November 23 start at $99, two-bedrooms from $169; winter season rates (Nov. 23-April 30) start at $149, and two-bedroom units are from $225. The Colony Hotel s family and pet-friendly.

Colony Hotel & Cabana Club, 525 East Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach, FL 33483, 800-552-2363 or 561-276-4123, booking@thecolonyhotel.com, www.thecolonyhotel.com.

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© 2015 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubinwww.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/karen-rubin and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures. See our newest travel site at www.tidbitts.com/karen-rubin/where-in-the-world.