Category Archives: Hotels & Resorts

Favorite Places to Spend the Winter Holidays

Mrs. Shapiro talks about preparing for Hanukah at Strawbery Banke, the living history museum in Portsmouth NH © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mrs. Shapiro talks about preparing for Hanukah at Strawbery Banke, the living history museum in Portsmouth NH © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

(Our review of our favorite places for families to spend the winter holidays continues from Favorite Places for Family Winter Holiday Travel).

Portsmouth, NH: Strawbery Banke Museum, in the heart of historic downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is an authentic 10-acre outdoor history museum dedicated to bringing 300+ years of American history in the same waterfront neighborhood to life.

Candlelight Stroll, an annual holiday tradition at Strawbery Banke since 1979 showcases 350 years of seasonal and holiday traditions against the backdrop of the Museum’s furnished historic houses. On these weekend evenings, the Museum grounds glow with hundreds of lighted candle lanterns, the houses are adorned with thousands of hand-made decorations crafted from live greens and dried flowers and herbs collected from the Museum gardens, and the air is filled with the sound of holiday music and scent of woodsmoke from the bonfire. Its authenticity is the foundation for the claim that the Vintage Christmas in Portsmouth holiday celebration, echoed by Travel + Leisure magazine, makes Portsmouth ‘the Christmas capital of North America.’

Visitors stroll from house to historic house, greeted by costumed role players and performers who recreate the traditions of times past, rediscovering the joys of simpler times. Mrs. Shapiro prepares a Hanukah celebration her 1919 Russian Jewish kitchen. Mrs. Goodwin, her family and servants prepare a Victorian Christmas. Father Christmas, the night watchman, “Mayor Frank Jones” and other role-players make their rounds along the dirt lanes; and the Abbotts await news of their soldier fighting in Europe in the Second World War. Carolers, chestnuts and holiday crafts bring all the sounds, scents and moments for family ‘stopfulness’ to this event that is a cherished New Hampshire tradition.  Complimentary refreshments and hot apple cider are offered at the Cider Shed. Traditional hearth-cooking demonstrations, crafts demonstrations, and winter projects for kids provide interactive fun for multiple generations. (December 3, 4, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18; Saturdays, 5-9 pm. Sundays, 4-8 pm. Friday Dec 16, 5-9 pm). Purchase tickets in advance at the Strawbery Banke Visitors Center at 14 Hancock Street and online, www.strawberybanke.org.

There are also Guided Holiday House Tours, weekdays, Dec 26-31 of five decorated historic houses at Strawbery Banke Museum offered on the hour, 10 am to 2 pm. Adults $15, children 5-17 $10, children under 5 free.

For more information on Vintage Christmas in Portsmouth sactivities and participating hotels, visit www.VintageChristmasNH.org.

Wentworth By-the-Sea, a grand historic resort in Portsmouth, NH © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Wentworth By-the-Sea, a grand historic resort in Portsmouth, NH © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Complete the experience with a stay at Wentworth by the Sea, an AAA Four-Diamond resort and member of Historic Hotels of America, delightfully set on an island just across from historic Portsmouth, NH. Ask just about anyone who grew up in New Hampshire and they wax nostalgic about spending holidays at this grand resort hotel that has graced the shore since 1888. Among its amenities: an 8,500 sq. ft. spa, magnificent indoor pool, Wentworth Dining Room with original hand-painted ceiling mural. Check the website for special packages including Romance, Golf, Dining, and Spa, and holiday programs. Wentworth By the Sea, 588 Wentworth Road, New Castle NH  03854, 603-422-7322, 888-252-6888, info@wentworth.com, www.wentworth.com.

Victorian Cape May Christmas 

Victorian Cape May at Christmas offers six weeks of festive tours and events sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC), from Nov. 18 through Jan. 1, 2017.

The wonders of the season are on display at “An Old-Fashioned Christmas Exhibit: Holiday Traditions through the Years,” at the Carroll Gallery located in the Estate Carriage House, 1048 Washington St. Here you can experience an exhibit of holiday traditions complete with a giant Christmas tree, a Dept. 56 Dickens Village, model trains, nostalgic photos from Christmas past, toys and much more! Friday, Nov. 18-Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017. The Gallery is open daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas); hours vary. Admission is free and free parking is available.

Take a guided, tour of the 1879 Physick Estate, Cape May’s only Victorian house museum, decorated in authentic Victorian style for Christmas, during Physick Family Christmas House Tours © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The 1879 Physick Estate, Cape May’s only Victorian house museum © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Take a guided, daytime, living history tour of the magnificent 1879 Physick Estate, Cape May’s only Victorian house museum, decorated in authentic Victorian style for Christmas, during Physick Family Christmas House Tours, presented from the viewpoint of a member of the Physick family in the early 1900s. The tour also includes a visit to the Carroll Gallery at the Emlen Physick Estate where you can see “An Old-fashioned Christmas” exhibit. Offered daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas) through Jan. 1, 2017; hours vary. Adults $12; children (3-12) $8.

During the Historic District Trolley Tour, you’ll get acquainted with Cape May on a trolley tour as knowledgeable guides present entertaining and educational stories about the nation’s oldest seashore resort. $12 for adults and $8 for children (ages 3-12). Offered daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas); tour times vary.

Enjoy a guided trolley tour of Cape May’s Historic District, followed by a guided tour of Cape May’s only Victorian house museum, the Emlen Physick Estate, 1048 Washington St., decorated in true Victorian style for Christmas and presented through the eyes of a member of the Physick family in the early 1900s, during the Combination Trolley/Physick Family Christmas House Tours. $22 for adults, $14 for children (ages 3-12). Tours are offered daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas.) Hours vary.

Relive the memories of Christmas past on Lamplighter Christmas Tours, self-guided evening tours of Cape May’s inns or private homes specially decorated for the holidays. Hear a holiday presentation by the owner at each location. The tour also includes a visit to the Carroll Gallery at the Emlen Physick Estate where you can see “An Old-fashioned Christmas” exhibit and enjoy warm beverages and holiday treats. Adults $20; children (3-12) $15. Offered 7 p.m.-9 p.m. on Fridays, Dec. 2-23; Saturday, Nov. 26 and Wednesday, Dec. 28, and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 31. 

Ghosts of Christmas Past Trolley Rides feature a member of the East Lynne Theater Company who will regale you with a Victorian holiday ghost tale as you ride through Cape May’s festively decorated Historic District. Adults $12; children (3-12) $8. Tour begins and ends at Washington Street Mall at Ocean Street except for the Nov. 19 tour which leaves from the Emlen Physick Estate, 1048 Washington Street. Offered Fridays, Dec. 2-Dec. 23, Saturdays, Nov. 19-26; Sundays, Nov. 27-Dec. 18; and Monday, Dec. 26-Saturday, Dec. 31). Hours vary. Advance reservation strongly recommended.

Thousands of Christmas lights and holly transform Cape May during the holiday season. Take one of the many Holiday Lights Trolley Rides through Cape May’s Historic District to see cheerfully decorated inns and homes as guides talk about Victorian Christmas traditions, lead sing-alongs, and play Christmas music. Rides last about 30 minutes and admission is $12 Adults; $10 children (ages 3-12). Offered nightly, Nov. 25-Dec. 31. Hours vary. (No tours Dec. 3, 10, 12, 17, 24 25) Trolley rides leave from the Washington Street Mall Information Booth, Washington Street at Ocean (except for Nov. 19 trolley rides, which leave from the Physick Estate, 1048 Washington St.)

Revel in the sparkly lights of Cape May’s beautiful Victorian homes decorated for Christmas on a trolley ride through town, then take a guided tour of the first floor rooms of the 1879 Emlen Physick Estate, authentically decorated for a Victorian Christmas during the Evening Yuletide Tour. See how the Physick family would have entertained for the holidays. Afterwards, visit the Carriage House for holiday refreshments and a visit to “An Old-fashioned Christmas” exhibit. Tour begins and ends at the Ocean Street trolley stop. Adults $22; children (3-12) $14. You can also take just the house tour portion, the Evening Physick Estate Tour, a 30-minute guided tour of Cape May’s 1879 Emlen Physick Estate, 1048 Washington St., decorated in authentic style for a Victorian Christmas. Included is a visit the Carriage House for holiday refreshments and a visit to “An Old-Fashioned Christmas” exhibit. Adults $12; children (3-12) $8. Both tours offered every evening, Nov. 25 through Dec. 30, except Dec. 3, 10, 12, 17, 24 and 25. Hours vary.

MAC also offers holiday-themed food and wine tours and events.

For more information. Contact Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC), 609-884-5404 or 800-275-4278 or visit www.capemaymac.org.

Chattanooga Choo Choo 

Chattanooga, Tennessee offers a surprising array of extraordinary experiences: walk through a secret underground ice cave  and see Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights, explore a nocturnal fantasyland with more than one million star-bright twinkling lights high atop Lookout Mountain; hop on board a train for a North Pole adventure; sing Christmas carols and dance with Santa on a river cruise; meet coral reef Santa divers; build creative gingerbread houses; watch animals open their own Christmas presents, visit the Children’s Discovery Museum and the Tennessee Aquarium. Get the full scoop on planning a holiday getaway in Chattanooga at www.chattanoogafun.com/winter.

Historic train car turned into an enchanting sleeping room at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Chattanooga, Tennessee © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Historic train car turned into an enchanting sleeping room at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Chattanooga, Tennessee © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Chattanooga Choo Choo offers an absolutely magical experience. The historic hotel (and member of Historic Hotels of America) is literally created out of the historic railroad station, where you can stay in one of 48 Victorian train cars converted to the most delightful rooms, wonderfully furnished in period pieces (but with modern amenities like high-speed wireless Internet access).

The train station offers marvelous dining places (including a saloon-style restaurant where the waiters take turns singing), and cute shops. You can climb aboard the historic locomotive, and dine in the dining car as well. The music of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” immediately rings in your ears (it plays fairly constantly).

The original motel, which is still used, offers an indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, gardens. There is even a historic train ride on a trolley. Also, a free electric shuttle from the bus terminal next door takes you downtown.  I don’t know when I have had a more enjoyable and interesting stay. Chattanooga Choo Choo, 400 Market St., Chattanooga, TN 37402, 800-TRACK-29 (872-2529), www.choochoo.com.

Grand, Glorious & Historic Hotels

You can’t go wrong in choosing a Historic Hotels of America member hotel or resort for personality, character, connection to place, authenticity and overall aura that makes for a unique experience so perfectly fitting for your own family tradition. Here are just a few of our favorites for the holidays:

Mohonk Mountain House, New York © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mohonk Mountain House, New York © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mohonk Mountain House, located 90 miles north of New York City in the Catskills,- is the very definition of a getaway-from-it-all retreat. From festive décor and favorite traditions to cozy wood-burning fires and a wealth of outdoor recreation, the historic Mohonk Mountain House exemplifies a quintessential holiday getaway.

The atmosphere at Mohonk is exceptional any time of the year, but is absolutely breathtaking for the holidays: spectacular hand-made swags, Victorian decorations, and beautifully decorated Christmas trees on display throughout the House. Families who want to create a festive atmosphere in-room can inquire about holiday decorations, including an ornamented ‘eco-tree’ and stockings hung above their fireplace, filled with goodies. Cozy wood-burning fireplaces can also be found in 124 out of 259 guest rooms –more than any resort in the nation.

The spirit of the season fills Mohonk Mountain House, National Historic Landmark resort, throughout December with many cherished traditions, including the family Yule Log Hunt, a Trim-A-Tree Party, the nightly lighting of the Menorah, holiday craft-making and caroling. Workshops on wreath making, cookie decorating, seasonal tablescapes and more are also offered. Outdoor recreation options abound, including cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snow tubing (weather permitting), along with ice-skating at the resort’s stunning open-air Pavilion.

Mohonk also offers an award-winning, eco-friendly Spa (it was named the Number One Resort Spa in the United States by CondéNast Traveler). Spa amenities include an outdoor heated mineral pool, an indoor heated swimming pool with underwater sound system, a yoga/motion studio, comprehensive fitness center and solarium. For reservations, call 855.274.4020 or visit Mohonk.com.

Other Historic Hotels of America favorites:

Cranwell Resort & Spa, in the Berkshires – like being on a grand estate – equipped with every luxurious amenity – world class spa, indoor pool, cross-country skiing, and about half-hour up the road, downhilling at Jiminy Peak (www.cranwell.com).

Omni Mount Washington at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire: A grand masterpiece of Spanish Renaissance architecture, conceived by industrialist Joseph Stickney, this National Historic Landmark opened in 1902 and has been attracting generations of families ever since. It’s located literally across the street from Bretton Woods, a marvelous ski resort, and also offers a spa and cross-country skiing. It’s also close by to the outlet shopping town of North Conway, NH (www.omnihotels.com/hotels/bretton-woods-mount-washington)

The Sagamore, Bolton Landing: Situated in the unspoiled Adirondack Mountains on its own island on Lake George, the Sagamore opened in 1883 and was a social center for the wealthy visiting Lake George. It’s a magical place. Nearby, go sledding or cross-country skiing on The Sagamore’s golf course, or hop its shuttle bus to ski at Gore Mountain, about 45 minutes away.

The Jekyll Island Club, Georgia © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Jekyll Island Club, Georgia © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We have scores of favorite Historic Hotels – there are 275 members in just about every state and territory. Those that offer a grand resort experience include The Hotel Hershey, in Hershey, Pennsylvania; Jekyll Island Club Hotel, Jekyll Island, Georgia; Colony Hotel & Cabana Club, Delray Beach, Florida; The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club, and the Don CeSar (www.loewshotels.com/don-cesar), both in St. Petersburg, Florida. Each offers exquisite atmosphere, service, amenities and each has its own personality, character, and special connection with the people and place. For more information, visit HistoricHotels.org.

The Loews Don CeSar, on St. Petersburg Beach, Florida © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Loews Don CeSar, on St. Petersburg Beach, Florida © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hey Dude!

We had an entirely different holiday experience at the Pinegrove dude ranch, an old-fashioned all-inclusive Catskills Mountains family resort with horses and a “Toy Story” cowboy vibe. So festive, warm, friendly and utterly delightful.  It’s a nonstop giggle for children of all ages. Parents will slip back into their own childhoods while making new childhood memories for their own kids. There are activities galore, indoor pool, even laser tag, plus nightly shows and entertainment, three meals daily plus snacks and the holiday atmosphere is so special. They regularly offer specials for Christmas and holiday times. Check the site for specials on February Recess, Mothers Day, Fathers Day and school vacations. Pinegrove Ranch, 30 Cherrytown Road, Kerhonkson N.Y. 12446, Ulster County, Reservations: 800-346-4626, email info@pinegroveranch.com, www.pinegroveranch.com. 

Gift of Travel 

Norwegian Breakaway. Consider giving a gift card or travel certificate. Norwegian Cruise Lines, which operates the Breakaway from New York, lets you purchase a denomination that can be applied to the cruise or to onboard experiences © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Norwegian Breakaway. Consider giving a gift card or travel certificate. Norwegian Cruise Lines, which operates the Breakaway from New York, lets you purchase a denomination that can be applied to the cruise or to onboard experiences © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Consider giving a gift card or gift certificate for a travel or vacation experience. Many cruiselines (for example Norwegian Cruise Line’s gift cards can be used toward the cruise vacation or onboard experiences, like a massage or specialty dining), hotel companies (for example, Catania Hospitality Group which has the Dan’l Webster Inn & Spa in Sandwich on Cape Cod, the Cape Codder Resort & Spa, Cape Codder Water Park, John Carver Inn & Spa in Plymouth, the Hearth ‘n Kettle Restaurants, Grand Cru Wine Bar and WaterFire Tavern, as well as gift shops, not only has gift cards, but offers special bonuses, www.cataniahospitalitygroup.com), even tour operators (for example Globus, www.globusjourneys.com/Gift/, Apple Vacations, www.applevacations.com/gift-certificates/,  and Southwest Vacations, and offer gift cards where you can purchase a denomination that can be applied to the trip or upgrade or some special activity or experience. One of our favorites for gift cards is spafinders.com.  Check the terms and how the cards or certificates can be applied. Best to choose an entity that offers lots of choices.

See also:

Favorite Places for Family Winter Holiday Travel

____________________

© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit 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

 

Planning to Attend 58th Presidential Inauguration? Destination DC Can Help Book Hotels, Plan Itineraries

The Willard InterContinental Hotel, where Lincoln stayed during his inauguration, is how the term “lobbyist” got coined © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Willard InterContinental Hotel, where Lincoln stayed during his inauguration, is how the term “lobbyist” got coined © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

(Washington, DC) – Washington, DC’s hospitality community is united in its preparation for the inauguration of the 45th president on Friday, January 20, 2017. Hotels, restaurants and attractions in neighborhoods across the nation’s capital are creating thematic packages, menus, balls, exhibits and tours for visitors eager to participate in the 58th presidential inauguration. The District’s official destination marketing organization, Destination DC is showcasing this information for visitors coming to the nation’s capital.

Travelers attending inauguration can access Destination DC’s free resources and experts to:

Find comprehensive information on washington.org/inauguration. Content includes a calendar of events; suggestions for experiencing free (and almost free) presidential history; lists of award-winning restaurants and signature DC dishes. An inauguration FAQ will be updated as practical details including street closures are announced.

Book hotel packages designed for family, group and luxury travelers:

o Family-friendly options include Marriott Metro Center downtown; Washington Marriott Wardman Park in Woodley Park; Embassy Suites at the Chevy Chase Pavilion in upper Northwest; The Dupont Circle, Beacon Hotel and Courtyard Washington, DC in Dupont Circle; Liaison Capitol Hill and Phoenix Park Hotel on Capitol Hill; Hamilton Crowne Plaza downtown; Hyatt Place Washington DC, Melrose Georgetown Hotel, Georgetown Suites and Washington Marriott Georgetown; Harborside Hotel at National Harbor, Md.

o Packages created for corporate group travelers including the JW Marriott’s $2.5 million buy-out that bundles 325 guest rooms, four presidential suites, a rooftop party for 300 overlooking the inaugural parade and $400,000 in food and beverage credit.

o Luxury hotels including Four Seasons Washington, DC in Georgetown; The Fairmont Hotel, Ritz-Carlton Washington, DC, Park Hyatt and Watergate Hotel in Foggy Bottom; The Churchill Hotel near Embassy Row; the “Inauguration’s a Ball” package at 10 DC-area Kimpton properties; Sofitel Washington, DC Lafayette Square; Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel; the Marriott Marquis Washington, DC in Shaw; Willard InterContinental, W Washington, DC and Sofitel Washington, DC Lafayette Square near the White House.

Speak with visitor services representatives on Destination DC’s toll-free concierge-style information line (800-422-8644), staffed Monday-Friday, 8:30am-5pm EST.

Engage with experts and user-generated content on Destination DC’s Instagram (@visitwashingtondc) and Facebook (@washingtondc) channels.

Inauguration Day begins with a swearing-in ceremony at noon, continues with a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, and ends with official inaugural balls that will be confirmed by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. Throughout the city, special events take place including numerous ticketed unofficial balls that are open to the public. Destination DC will broadcast event details and practical considerations as they are announced.

Washington, DC welcomed a record 21.3 million visitors in 2015, up 5% over 2014. Visitors spent $7.1 billion in 2015. Spending on food and beverage was more than $2 billion (28.8%), second only to lodging (34%). In 2017, DC will host 21 major citywide events and conventions set to generate an estimated $357 million.

In 2017, DC will welcome new hospitality inventory including The Line in Adams Morgan and The Pod Hotel in the Penn Quarter. In October, the first phase of The Wharf, a $2 billion, 24-acre reimaging of the southwest waterfront will debut with new hotels including Canopy by Hilton and Hyatt House and restaurants from the likes of Fabio Trabocchi (Fiola); Nick Stefanelli (Masseria) and Jamie Leeds (Hank’s Oyster Bar). The Smithsonian Institution’s Freer Gallery reopens on the National Mall in October, and the Museum of the Bible is scheduled to open in November.

Destination DC, the official destination marketing organization for the nation’s capital, is a private, non-profit membership organization of 900 businesses committed to marketing the area as a premier global convention, tourism and special events destination with a special emphasis on the arts, cultural and historic communities. www.washington.org.
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Historic Hotels 2016 Awards of Excellence Winners Announced

The famous duck walk at The Peabody Memphis. Doug Browne of The Peabody Memphis (1869) Memphis, Tennessee was honored as the 2016 Historic Hotelier of the Year.
The famous duck walk at The Peabody Memphis. Doug Browne of The Peabody Memphis (1869) Memphis, Tennessee was honored as the 2016 Historic Hotelier of the Year.

Washington, DC –Mission Inn Hotel & Spa of Riverside, California,  the Palace Hotel  and the Inn at the Presidio of of San Francisco and La Fonda on the Plaza of Santa Fe, were among the historic hotels honored with 2016 Awards of Excellence by Historic Hotels of America® and Historic Hotels Worldwide® . The Mayflower Hotel of Washington DC was awarded the best City Center historic hotel, and the Omni Homestead Resort of Hot Springs, Virginia was named best historic resort.

Honors were given in multiple categories ranging from Hotelier of the Year and Hotel Historian of the Year to Best Historic Resort, Historic Hotelier of the Year, Lifetime Achievement, and others, at a ceremony and gala at The Royal Hawaiian, A Luxury Collection Resort (1927) in Honolulu, Hawaii on Thursday, November 3.

Each year, these Historic Hotels Awards of Excellence honor, encourage, and recognize the most exemplary historic hotels, hoteliers, and leadership practices. The Historic Hotels Awards of Excellence are presented to historic hotels and hoteliers demonstrating innovative leadership, stewardship, and contribution to furthering the recognition, preservation, and celebration of these preeminent historic hotels and their histories.

From more than 200 nominees, the following Historic Hotels of America and Historic Hotels Worldwide hotels and hoteliers were honored with these prestigious annual awards for 2016:

Best Small Historic Inn/Hotel (Under 75 Guestrooms)
• Inn at the Presidio (1903) San Francisco, California

Best Historic Hotel (76-200 Guestrooms)
• La Fonda on the Plaza™ (1922) Santa Fe, New Mexico
Best Historic Hotel (201-400 Guestrooms)
• Mission Inn Hotel & Spa (1876) Riverside, California

Best Historic Hotel (Over 400 Guestrooms)
• Palace Hotel, A Luxury Collection Hotel (1875) San Francisco, California

Best City Center Historic Hotel
• The Mayflower Hotel, Autograph Collection (1925) Washington, DC

Best Historic Resort
• The Omni Homestead Resort (1766) Hot Springs, Virginia

Historic Hotels of America New Member of the Year
• White Stallion Ranch (1900) Tucson, Arizona

Best Social Media of a Historic Hotel
• The Jefferson, Washington, DC (1923) Washington, DC

Historic Hotels of America Sustainability Champion
• The Boar’s Head (1834) Charlottesville, Virginia
2016 Historic Hotels of America Hotel Historian of the Year Award
• Lora Gallagher at the Hilton Hawaiian Village® Waikiki Beach Resort (1955) Honolulu, Hawaii

2016 Historic Hotelier of the Year
• Doug Browne at The Peabody Memphis (1869) Memphis, Tennessee

 

Best Historic Restaurant in Conjunction with a Historic Hotel
• Circa 1886 at Wentworth Mansion (1886) Charleston, South Carolina

Legendary Family Historic Hoteliers of the Year
• The Genzlinger Family at The Settlers Inn at Bingham Park (1927) Hawley, Pennsylvania

Historic Hotels of America Ambassador of the Year (Quarter Century Service)
• Ken Price at the Palmer House®, A Hilton Hotel (1871) Chicago, Illinois

2016 Historian of the Year Award
• Jamie Ford, New York Times Best-Selling Author

 

Best Historic Hotels Worldwide hotel in Europe
• Hotel Schweizerhof Luzern (1845) Lucerne, Switzerland
Best Historic Hotels Worldwide hotel in Asia/Pacific
• Hotel New Grand (1927) Yokohama, Japan

Best Historic Hotels Worldwide hotel in the Americas
• Hacienda Xcanatún (1789) Merida, Mexico

2016 Lifetime Achievement Award
• Takamasa Osano and Kyo-ya Hotels & Resorts, LP

“We are proud to congratulate the 2016 Historic Hotels Awards of Excellence winners,” said Lawrence Horwitz, Executive Director of Historic Hotels of America and Historic Hotels Worldwide. “These historic hotels and hoteliers represent the pinnacle in historic hotels and their achievements. Their dedicated stewardship and innovative leadership helps ensure that these legendary historic hotels and their wonderful histories will continued to be enjoyed by future generations of travelers.”

Award recipients are selected from nominees received from historic hotels, historic preservation supporters, prior award recipients, and leadership from Historic Hotels of America and Historic Hotels Worldwide. As official programs of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Historic Hotels of America and Historic Hotels Worldwide provide the recognition to travelers, civic leaders, and the global cultural, heritage, and historic travel market that member hotels are among the finest historic hotels across America and around the world. The Historic Hotels Annual Awards of Excellence program recognizes the pinnacle of this distinct group of nominees in a range of categories.

Historic Hotels of America is the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation for recognizing and celebrating the finest Historic Hotels. Historic Hotels of America was founded in 1989 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation with 32 charter members. Today, Historic Hotels of America has more than 295 historic hotels. These historic hotels have all faithfully maintained their authenticity, sense of place, and architectural integrity in the United States of America, including 46 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Historic Hotels of America is comprised of mostly independently owned and operated properties. More than 30 of the world’s finest hospitality brands, chains, and collections are represented in Historic Hotels of America. To be nominated and selected for membership into this prestigious program, a hotel must be at least 50 years old; has been designated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark or listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places; and recognized as having historic significance. For more information, please visit HistoricHotels.org.

Historic Hotels Worldwide is a prestigious collection of historic treasures, including historic hotels, castles, chateaus, palaces, academies, haciendas, villas, monasteries, and other historic lodging spanning more than ten centuries. Historic Hotels Worldwide recognizes authentic cultural treasures that demonstrate historic preservation and their inspired architecture, cultural traditions, and authentic cuisine. Historic Hotels Worldwide is the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation (United States of America). HistoricHotelsWorldwide.com allows travelers to book their next getaway from more than 3,000 historic and cultural experiences, and view special offers at participating historic hotels from 30 countries. To be nominated and selected to be featured on this supplemental marketing program website, a historic hotel must be at least 75 years old; utilize historic accommodations; serve as the former home or be located on the grounds of the former home of famous persons or significant location for an event in history; be located in or within walking distance to a historic district, historically significant landmark, place of historic event, or a historic city center; be recognized by a local preservation organization or national trust; and display historic memorabilia, artwork, photography, and other examples of its historic significance. To be selected in the United States for inclusion in Historic Hotels Worldwide, a hotel must meet the above criteria plus be a member of Historic Hotels of America. For more information, please visit HistoricHotelsWorldwide.com.

Click here to see the Historic Hotels of America video. To receive special offers, including the monthly enewsletter, Discover & Explore, which includes hotel specials, offers and historic fun facts, click here. View the Historic Hotels of America 2016 Annual Directory ebook or download the free app on iTunesAmazonGoogle play, and the Windows Store.

See also:

Historic Hotels of America to Select 2016 Awards of Excellence Winners from Among Finalists

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Two Nights, One Day in Pittsburgh: Historic Omni William Penn Hotel Connects to City’s Proud Heritage

The gracious lobby of the historic Omni William Penn Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Palm Court of the historic Omni William Penn Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

(I have come to Pittsburgh to join the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Sojourn three-day, 120-mile bike tour on the Great Allegheny Passage. I only have two nights and one full day in the city, so I focus on what is uniquely Pittsburgh’s heritage. This is fifth in the series.) 

My purpose for this all-too-brief visit to Pittsburgh is to immerse myself in the city’s proud heritage at the epicenter of the nation’s founding, settlement, industrialization and emergence as a world power, but a heritage that came at a terrible cost to its environment. The city has undertaken a fantastic revitalization, emerging from grey to green, and becoming one of America’s most liveable cities.

And so for my two-nights stay, I seek out the historic Omni William Penn Hotel – a member of Historic Hotels of America – which celebrated its centennial in 2016 the same year as the city celebrated its bicentennial, and is so much a part of Pittsburgh’s story.

I love wandering around, immersing myself in the taking in the ambiance, admiring its stunning architectural features and Art Deco-style appointments, and, as if these walls could talk, hearing its stories as if whispered in my ear. There are historic displays, photos, artifacts and artwork in various places that convey the story. Indeed, in its award-winning restaurant, The Terrace Room, that dates from 1916, there is an enormous mural that pays homage to the city’s history depicting “The Taking of Fort Pitt”.

"The Taking of Fort Pitt" mural hangs in The Omni William Penn Hotel’s award-winning restaurant, The Terrace Room, that dates from 1916 © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
“The Taking of Fort Pitt” mural hangs in The Omni William Penn Hotel’s award-winning restaurant, The Terrace Room, that dates from 1916 © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Whenever I travel, I first seek out members of Historic Hotels of America, a collection of properties. Historic hotels are so much more than mere structures. They embody the heritage and history and sense of place, and are also very much creations of their builders. Owners take on the role of steward, with a responsibility of passing it along to the next.

This is true of The William Penn, whose history parallels that of the city and the nation, as I learn from a wonderful pamphlet, “A Grand Dame Named William Penn,” by Marianne Lee.

Stunning decoration in the Omni William Penn Hotel’s interior. Built by industrialist Henry Clay Frick, when it was first opened, in 1916, it was hailed as the “Grandest Hotel in the nation” © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Stunning decoration in the Omni William Penn Hotel’s interior. Built by industrialist Henry Clay Frick, when it was first opened, in 1916, it was hailed as the “Grandest Hotel in the nation” © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The William Penn Hotel was the last building venture of Henry Clay Frick, one of Pittsburgh’s wealthiest industrialists. Frick envisioned the William Penn as Pittsburgh’s showplace, and it was designed by renowned architects Benno Janssen, and Franklin Abbott to rival the great hotels of Europe in Old World style but with what was then the state-of-the-art, sophisticated, 20th century technology. Guests were dazzled by such modern amenities including iced drinking water on top, “certified” lighting, electrically operated clocks, a telephone in every room connected to a master switchboard with 30 operators at the ready, and a private bathroom in an age when most Americans still used outdoor privies and most hotels offered only shared facilities.

Built at a cost of $6 million, when it opened, newspapers proclaimed The William Penn as the “Grandest Hotel in the nation.” Its first night featured the annual Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce Gala, the largest gala in city history up to that time, which was hosted by US Secretary of State Philander Knox.

When the hotel was first built, it had 1,000 guestrooms (interesting to contemplate since it only has 597 today), and an elegant two-tier Grand Ballroom on the 17th floor. In 1928, the hotel was acquired by the Eppley Hotel Company and Eugene Eppley, a Horatio Alger rags-to-riches figure, financed a major expansion, the Grant Street Annex. That added 600 more guestrooms as well as the hotel’s crowning jewel, the Urban Room, designed by Joseph Urban, when it was finished in 1929. With this addition, The William Penn became the largest hotel between Pittsburgh and Chicago, and the major convention facility for Pittsburgh.

But Eppley, who was the vanguard of a new breed of professional hotelier who saw his patrons not as customers but as guests, lost control of the hotel in the Great Depression, and new owners brought in the Statler Hotels company to manage it 1940-1951. Eppley briefly regained control, but over the years, this Grand Dame was held by Sheraton, then a group of local investors, then Alcoa, which invested $20 million in a substantial renovation, and finally Omni Hotels & Resorts, in 2001.

A photo of Lawrence Welk recalls the bandleader’s connection to the historic Omni William Penn Hotel – his famous bubble machine was invented by the hotel’s engineer  © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A photo of Lawrence Welk recalls the bandleader’s connection to the historic Omni William Penn Hotel – his famous bubble machine was invented by the hotel’s engineer © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Throughout its storied past and many owners, The Omni William Penn Hotel has hosted many of the 20th century’s movers, shakers and celebrities.  A young bandleader named Lawrence Welk, who would later gain fame for his television show, performed in the hotel’s ballrooms; the hotel’s  engineers actually devised Welk’s iconic bubble machine – a connection commemorated by naming a ballroom for him, and in large photographic murals.

In 1934, a young vocalist named Dolores DeFina accepted a marriage proposal at The William Penn from the inimitable Bob Hope. The hotel remains celebrated as a wedding venue (including being named to the “Best of Weddings 2009” list by The Knot ).

A popular campaign spot as well as for presidential appearances, The Omni William Penn Hotel has received every president since Theodore Roosevelt (who visited in 1917 to attend a Moose Convention), including John Kennedy and Barack Obama.

The gracious lobby of the historic Omni William Penn Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The gracious lobby of the historic Omni William Penn Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then, as now, The William Penn combines every modern amenity with timeless elegance: 597 beautifully appointed guestrooms including 38 suites, 52,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, and five dining venues including its fine dining room, The Terrace Room, the Palm Court, a pub-style Tap Room, Starbucks Coffee Café, The Speakeasy (in 1920s tradition tucked beneath the hotel lobby), plus 24-hour room service. The hotel boasts two self-contained conference centers, a 24-hour fitness center, beauty salon, gift shop, and a jewelry store.

There is every amenity, nicety and graciousness, beginning with fresh apples at reception and a concierge available to help with every situation. My room is outfitted with plush robe, refrigerator, bottled water, coffee maker, big screen TV, hair dryer, ironing board/iron, safe, WiFi (free if you enroll in Omni Hotels loyalty program).

I take advantage of the opportunity to order two beverages (at no charge) plus other items at modest cost for the morning ($3 for an English muffin; $3 for a toasted bagel with cream cheese, $2.75 for a muffin, $3.75 for Greek yogurt, etc.), especially when I have to leave at 5:15 am to get to the start of my Rails-to-Trails biking trip on the Great Allegheny Passage. You tell them a 15-minute window when you want it to be delivered, and sure enough, it arrives right on time. So does my car, waiting for me when I depart.

The Omni William Penn Hotel marked its centennial in 2016 the same year as Pittsburgh’s bicentennial. Located downtown, it is walking distance to many of the city’s attractions © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Omni William Penn Hotel marked its centennial in 2016 the same year as Pittsburgh’s bicentennial. Located downtown, it is walking distance to many of the city’s attractions © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The hotel is smack in the middle of the city, walking distance to all the downtown attractions, restaurants, cultural and financial center. Here’s a recap of my Day in Pittsburgh Walking Tour: Omni William Penn Hotel, Monongahela Incline, Duquesne Incline, Point State Park, Fort Pitt Museum, National Aviary, Andy Warhol Museum, Heinz History Center, Strip District. But one full day in Pittsburgh is simply not enough.

Omni William Penn Pittsburgh, 530 William Penn Place, Pittsburgh PA 15219, 412-281-7100, omnihotels.com/Pittsburgh. 

Historic Hotels of America

Historic Hotels of America is the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation for recognizing and celebrating the finest Historic Hotels. Historic Hotels of America was founded in 1989 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation with 32 charter members. Today, Historic Hotels of America has more than 290 historic hotels. These historic hotels have all faithfully maintained their authenticity, sense of place, and architectural integrity in the United States of America, including 46 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Historic Hotels of America is comprised of mostly independently owned and operated properties. More than 30 of the world’s finest hospitality brands, chains, and collections are represented in Historic Hotels of America. To be nominated and selected for membership into this prestigious program, a hotel must be at least 50 years old; have been designated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark or listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places; and recognized as having historic significance. For more information, visit HistoricHotels.org, 800-678-8946. 

Visit Pittsburgh

For all the right reasons, Pittsburgh is a sensational travel destination no matter what season or weather, whether it is business, academia or leisure pursuits that bring you into the city. I can’t wait to come back.

For more information, contact Visit Pittsburgh, 412-281-7711, 800-359-0758, 877-LOVE PGH (568-3744), info@visitpittsburgh.com, www.visitpittsburgh.com.

See also:

One Day, Two Nights in Pittsburgh: From Grey to Green, A Proud City Revitalized

36 Hours in Pittsburgh: Point State Park Proves Highlight of Walking Tour

36 Hours in Pittsburgh: Andy Warhol Museum is at Center of Revitalized City

36 Hours in Pittsburgh: Strip District Exemplifies City’s Past, Future

____________________

© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit 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

 

Historic Hotels of America to Select 2016 Awards of Excellence Winners from Among Finalists

Loews Don CeSar Hotel (1928), the famous “Pink Lady” of  St. Pete Beach, Florida, is a finalist for Best Social Media of a Historic Hotel © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Loews Don CeSar Hotel (1928), the famous “Pink Lady” of St. Pete Beach, Florida, is a finalist for Best Social Media of a Historic Hotel © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Historic Hotels of America® and Historic Hotels Worldwide®  will be announcing winners of the 2016 Historic Hotels Awards of Excellence at a Gala Dinner at The Royal Hawaiian, A Luxury Collection Resort (1927) in Honolulu, Hawaii on November 3.  These Historic Hotels Awards of Excellence recognize and celebrate the finest historic hotels and hoteliers across the nation and around the world.

Award recipients are selected from nominees received from historic hotels, historic preservation supporters, prior award recipients, and leadership from Historic Hotels of America and Historic Hotels Worldwide. As official programs of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Historic Hotels of America and Historic Hotels Worldwide provide the recognition to travelers, civic leaders, and the global cultural, heritage, and historic travel market that member hotels are among the finest historic hotels across America and around the world. The Historic Hotels Annual Awards of Excellence program recognizes the pinnacle of this distinct group of nominees in a range of categories.

From over 200 nominations, the awards committee evaluated, and after careful consideration selected the following 2016 award nominee finalists:

Historic Hotels of America New Member of the Year

  • Woodstock Inn & Resort (1793) Woodstock, Vermont
  • The Inn at Diamond Cove (1890) Portland, Maine
  • The Redbury New York (1903) New York, New York
  • XV Beacon (1903) Boston, Massachusetts
  • Hotel Warner (1930) West Chester, Pennsylvania

Best Social Media of a Historic Hotel

  • Hotel Monteleone (1886) New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Grand Hotel (1887) Mackinac Island, Michigan
  • The Fairmont Hotel San Francisco (1907) San Francisco, California
  • The Jefferson, Washington, DC (1923) Washington, DC
  • The Royal Hawaiian, A Luxury Collection Resort (1927) Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Loews Don CeSar Hotel (1928) St. Pete Beach, Florida
Loews Don CeSar Hotel (1928), St. Pete Beach, Florida © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Loews Don CeSar Hotel (1928), St. Pete Beach, Florida © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sustainability Champion

  • Hanover Inn Dartmouth (1780) Hanover, New Hampshire
  • The Boar’s Head (1834) Charlottesville, Virginia
  • Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa (1847) Point Clear, Alabama
  • The Willard InterContinental, Washington DC (1847) Washington, DC
  • Lake Yellowstone Hotel & Cabins (1903) Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
  • Hilton Chicago (1927) Chicago, Illinois

Best Small Historic Inn/Hotel (Under 75 Guestrooms)

  • Concord’s Colonial Inn (1716) Concord, Massachusetts
  • Beekman Arms and Delamater Inn (1766) Rhinebeck, New York
  • Inn at the Presidio (1776) San Francisco, California
  • Inn at Leola Village, Est. 1867 (1867) Leola, Pennsylvania
  • The Chanler at Cliff Walk (1873) Newport, Rhode Island
  • The Wort Hotel (1941) Jackson, Wyoming

Best Historic Hotel (75-200 Guestrooms)

  • The Otesaga Hotel and Cooper Inn (1909) Cooperstown, New York
  • The Hermitage Hotel (1910) Nashville, Tennessee
  • Hotel Blackhawk, Autograph Collection (1915) Davenport, Iowa
  • Historic Hotel Bethlehem (1922) Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
  • La Fonda on the Plaza™ (1922) Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • Hawthorne Hotel (1925) Salem, Massachusetts
Hermitage Hotel, Nashville, Tennessee, a historic hotel
The Hermitage Hotel (1910) Nashville, Tennessee, is nominated for Best Historic Hotel (75-200 guestrooms) © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Best Historic Hotel (201-400 Guestrooms)

  • The Willard InterContinental, Washington DC (1847) Washington, DC
  • The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa (1876) Riverside, California
  • The Plaza (1907) New York, New York
  • Embassy Suites by Hilton Portland Downtown (1912) Portland, Oregon
  • Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center (1927) Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  • The Edgewater (1948) Madison, Wisconsin
The lobby of The Willard InterContinental, Washington DC (1847) Washington, DC, from which the term “lobbyist” derived © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The lobby of The Willard InterContinental, Washington DC (1847) Washington, DC, from which the term “lobbyist” derived © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Best Historic Hotel (Over 400 Guestrooms)

  • Palace Hotel (1875) San Francisco, California
  • Hotel Monteleone (1886) New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa (1901) Honolulu, Hawaii
  • The Fairmont Hotel San Francisco (1907) San Francisco, California
  • The Drake Hotel (1920) Chicago, Illinois
  • Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza (1931) Cincinnati, Ohio

Best City Center Historic Hotel

  • The Pfister Hotel (1893) Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Fairmont Heritage Place, Ghirardelli Square (1893) San Francisco, California
  • Le Pavillon Hotel (1907) New Orleans, Louisana
  • The Mayflower Hotel, Autograph Collection (1925) Washington, DC
  • Boston Park Plaza (1927) Boston, Massachusetts
  • Hilton Chicago (1927) Chicago, Illinois

Best Historic Resort

  • The Omni Homestead Resort (1766) Hot Springs, Virginia
  • Keswick Hall (1912) Charlottesville, Virginia
  • The Broadmoor (1918) Colorado Spring, Colorado
  • The American Club (1918) Kohler, Wisconsin
  • Ojai Valley Inn & Spa (1923) Ojai, California
  • The Hotel Hershey® (1933) Hershey, Pennsylvania

Hotel Historian of the Year

  • Susan Wilson at the Omni Parker House, Boston (1855) Boston, Massachusetts
  • Tom Vickstrom at The Hermitage Hotel (1910) Nashville, Tennessee
  • Tina Malasics at The Gasparilla Inn & Club (1913) Boca Grande, Florida
  • Beth Davis at The Broadmoor (1918) Colorado Spring, Colorado
  • Teresa Porter at the Benbow Historic Inn (1926) Garberville, California
  • Lora Gallagher at the Hilton Hawaiian Village® Waikiki Beach Resort (1955) Honolulu, Hawaii

Best Historic Restaurant in Conjunction with a Historic Hotel

  • Chez Philippe at The Peabody Memphis (1869) Memphis, Tennessee
  • The Spiced Pear at The Chanler at Cliff Walk (1873) Newport, Rhode Island
  • Circa 1886 at Wentworth Mansion (1886) Charleston, South Carolina
  • Woods Restaurant at Grand Hotel (1887) Mackinac Island, Michigan
  • Penrose Room at The Broadmoor (1918) Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • The Wisconsin Room at The American Club (1918) Kohler, Wisconsin

Legendary Family Historic Hoteliers of the Year

  • The Widman Family at Wentworth Mansion (1886) in Charleston, South Carolina
  • The Monteleone Family at Hotel Monteleone (1886) New Orleans, Louisiana
  • The Smiley Family at Mohonk Mountain House (1869) New Paltz, New York
  • The Kohler Family at The American Club (1918) Kohler, Wisconsin
  • The Melius Family at OHEKA CASTLE (1919) Huntington, New York
  • The Genzlinger Family at The Settlers Inn at Bingham Park (1927) Hawley, Pennsylvania
Mohonk Mountain House (1869) New Paltz, New York, still owned and managed by the Smiley Family, is a finalist for Legendary Family Historic Hoteliers of the Year © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mohonk Mountain House (1869) New Paltz, New York, still owned and managed by the Smiley Family, is a finalist for Legendary Family Historic Hoteliers of the Year © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Ambassador of the Year (Quarter Century Service)

  • Shirley St. Peter at the Hanover Inn Dartmouth (1780) Hanover, New Hampshire
  • Steve Blum at The Willard InterContinental, Washington DC (1847) Washington, DC
  • Doug Weatherford at The Peabody Memphis (1869) Memphis, Tennessee
  • Ken Price at The Palmer House®, A Hilton Hotel (1871) Chicago, Illinois
  • Anna Alba at The Broadmoor (1918) Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Linda Shoe at The Hotel Viking (1926) Newport, Rhode Island

Historic Hotelier of the Year

  • Terry Haney at the Inn at the Presidio (1776) San Francisco, California
  • Doug Browne at The Peabody Memphis (1861) Memphis, Tennessee
  • Randy Howat at the Inns of Distinction, LLC (1867) Pennsylvania
  • Duane and Kelly Roberts at The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa (1876) Riverside, California
  • Kathy Faulk at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, Washington DC (1930) Washington, DC
  • Jim Waldrop at The Wort Hotel (1941) Jackson, Wyoming

Best Historic Hotels Worldwide hotel in Europe

  • NH Collection Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi (1212) Amalfi, Italy
  • Bernini Palace Hotel (15th Century) Florence, Italy
  • Pulitzer Amsterdam (17th Century) Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Antica Dimora Suites (1820) Crete, Greece
  • Hotel Schweizerhof Luzern (1845) Lucerne, Switzerland
  • Ciragan Palace Kempinski (1867) Istanbul, Turkey

Best Historic Hotels Worldwide hotel in Asia/Pacific

  • Fort Seengh Sagar (1670) Rajasthan, India
  • Alsisar Haveli (1892) Jaipur, India
  • Hotel New Grand (1927) Yokohama, Japan
  • Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi (1901) Hanoi, Vietnam
  • The Fullerton Hotel Singapore (1928) Singapore
  • Mansion Hotel (1932) Shanghai, China

Best Historic Hotels Worldwide hotel in the Americas

  • Alfiz Hotel (17th Century) Cartagena, Colombia
  • Hacienda Xcanatún (1789) Merida, Mexico
  • Quinta Real Puebla (1893) Puebla, Mexico
  • Fairmont Le Château Frontenac (1893) Québec City, Canada
  • The Omni King Edward Hotel (1903) Toronto, Canada
  • Alvear Palace Hotel (1932) Buenos Aires, Argentina

 Historic Hotels of America

Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation for recognizing and celebrating historic hotels, was founded in 1989 with 32 charter members and today has more than 290 historic hotel members. These historic hotels have all faithfully maintained their authenticity, sense of place, and architectural integrity in the United States of America, including 46 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Historic Hotels of America is comprised of mostly independently owned and operated properties. More than 30 of the world’s finest hospitality brands, chains, and collections are represented in Historic Hotels of America. To be nominated and selected for membership into this prestigious program, a hotel must be at least 50 years old; has been designated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark or listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places; and recognized as having historic significance. For more information, visit HistoricHotels.org.

Historic Hotels Worldwide

Historic Hotels Worldwide®, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation,  is a prestigious collection of historic treasures, including historic hotels, castles, chateaus, palaces, academies, haciendas, villas, monasteries, and other historic lodging spanning more than ten centuries. Historic Hotels Worldwide recognizes authentic cultural treasures that demonstrate historic preservation and their inspired architecture, cultural traditions, and authentic cuisine. HistoricHotelsWorldwide.com allows travelers to book their next getaway from more than 3,000 historic and cultural experiences, and view special offers at participating historic hotels from 30 countries. To be nominated and selected to be featured on this supplemental marketing program website, historic lodging must be at least 75 years old; utilize historic accommodations; serve as the former home or be located on the grounds of the former home of famous persons or significant location for an event in history; be located in or within walking distance to a historic district, historically significant landmark, place of historic event, or a historic city center; be recognized by a local preservation organization or national trust; and display historic memorabilia, artwork, photography, and other examples of its historic significance. To be selected in the United States for inclusion in Historic Hotels Worldwide, a hotel must meet the above criteria plus be a member of Historic Hotels of America. For more information, visit HistoricHotelsWorldwide.com.

Click here to see the Historic Hotels of America video. To receive special offers, including the monthly enewsletter,Discover & Explore, which includes hotel specials, offers and historic fun facts, click here. View the Historic Hotels of America 2016 Annual Directory ebook or download the free app on iTunesAmazonGoogle play, and the Windows Store.

 

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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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