Facilities, Amenities and Ambiance Make The Breakers Tops for both Family-Friendly and Romantic Escapes
by Karen Rubin and Neil Leiberman
There are a handful of hotels in the world which have such a distinctive personality and history, that are such unique destinations and hold such a special connection to “place,” they are known by the moniker, “The”. “The Breakers,” that iconic palace among American resorts, is such a place.
It’s not so much that you step back in time when you cross the threshold of The Breakers – it’s more a sense of timelessness.
You walk into the Italianate lobby with its vaulted ceilings, and feel yourself exhale. You feel time slowing down, almost standing still. You leave the cares of the world behind.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, The Breakers celebrated its 116th birthday during our visit, but has been reborn, revitalized to appeal to today’s discriminating travelers.
A Five Diamond luxury resort occupying 140 prime Palm Beach acres, The Breakers is as close to a palace as America ever has – vaulted, hand-painted ceilings, columns designed after the Medici Palace of Renaissance Italy, tapestries from the 15th century. Its storied history begins in 1896, but the magnificent structure we see today dates from the 1926, a Gilded Age masterpiece created by Henry Flagler’s descendents to honor his legacy.
It is stunning to realize that The Breakers is one of the few privately owned resorts to remain free of chain affiliation and is owned by Flagler’s descendents. It is the oldest continuously operating hotel in Florida.
But as grand and as incomparably magnificent, as opulent as it is, The Breakers, today, offers a casual getaway, a place to unwind. As if it were your palace, much as that other Breakers, the Vanderbilt’s Newport mansion, was their family retreat.
Hardly anyone “dresses” for dinner anymore, not even for the fine dining restaurant. You may still see tuxedos and ballgowns, but those folks are probably bound for one of the charity benefits that so defines Palm Beach society. The style at today’s Breakers is casual, comfortable. It’s Florida, after all.
Henry M. Flagler, who basically invented the American resort and put Palm Beach on the map – first with his Royal Poinciana Hotel in 1894, when The Breakers was a simple inn to handle the overflow -understood that better than anyone. He even bought a railroad, built the railroad and had his railroad stop right at the end of the resort’s drive, so guests could simply saunter from their Pullman into the hotel lobby.
For 116 years, the Breakers has always adapted to what its guests want. And while The Breakers’ clientele has remained among the most discriminating, what they want has changed over time.
The way it has survived is to nurture and preserve what is so special, irreplaceable about The Breakers, but accommodate to contemporary needs and interests – this includes becoming a year-round property and cultivating a substantial corporate and meetings market.
The formality and stiffness that might have been appropriate generations ago, is no longer what vacationers to Florida, even tony Palm Beach, desire.
The change is apparent even in the way the staff interacts with guests. The service is impeccable, efficient, but cheerful and friendly.
You see it in the innovations that have been introduced. The change in social mores from Flagler’s time to today is most evident in the way we modern families engage our children today.
The Breakers has put tremendous emphasis on families – in room design, children’s menus in all the restaurants, and particularly the ingenious combination of the Family Entertainment Center, with its interior playground adjacent to The Italian Restaurant, its pools (one of the new pools is a zero-entry “activity” pool), its activities and supervised children’s programs, and on and on.
Other “modern” innovations are the Old Florida-style bungalows around the pools, the world-class spa and fitness center, an organic herb garden and particularly the focus on locally produced ingredients in the menu, and its notable achievements in becoming a “green” hotel.
And you especially get that relaxed, refreshed feeling in the contemporary, yet elegant, styling in the guest rooms, all 540 of them including 68 suites, just renovated at a cost of $80 million, as part of a just-completed, five-year $200 million renovation of the resort (each year, The Breakers spends an average of $20 million a year on revitalization). There is also a new, 1700-q foot Imperial Designer Suite, created by fashion designers Mark Badgely and James Mischka, and four Royal Poinciana Suites.
We are ushered into our corner oceanfront room in the South Tower (S2136), which we are delighted to discover has two terraces. Opening the sliding door, the fresh sea breezes and the roar of the ocean crashing against the rocks, fill the room. (It is hard to believe this jewel-like aquamarine sea is the same Atlantic Ocean we see from Long Island’s south shore).
Our room, with stunning colors that evoke a sophisticated tropical lifestyle, has every imaginable amenity and creature comfort – double sinks in the bathroom, a bathtub and a shower, plus a remote-control TV, private label toiletries, a dressing room with two closets (plush cotton robes, of course, and an umbrella), private electronic safe, mini-bar and refrigerator, dual-line telephones with voicemail and data ports, wireless and high-speed internet access, flat screen TV, radio alarm clock with iPod docking station, in-room movies, wireless keyboard and Playstation® videogames. I note the quality of the fine-wood furnishings which are elegant, yet comfortable.
For guests who want greater privacy, The Flagler Club, is a private intimate residence comprised of restricted access rooms on the sixth and seventh floors of the hotel. These rooms offer exclusive concierge service and enhanced amenities including distinctive continental breakfast, fresh-baked cookies, afternoon tea, evening hors d’oeuvres, cocktails, desserts and after-dinner cordials.
The Beach Club
What put The Breakers on the map is its half-mile of private beach – in fact, The Breakers began as a modest beachfront inn to handle the “overflow” from Flagler’s posh Royal Poinciana Hotel. But the guests began to prefer to stay there and Henry Flagler complied, building a 425-room hotel with a guest register that read like a “Who’s Who” of early-20th century America: various Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and Astors; the tycoons Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan; publisher William Randolph Hearst; the five-and-dime kings W.T. Grant and J.C. Penney; and even assorted European nobility and U.S. presidents.
Ever-innovating, a $15 million redevelopment of its beach front has created a Mediterranean-style Beach Club with magnificent vistas of the ocean and reminiscent of a panoramic island escape. The renovation created two new pools at the south end, surrounded by Old-Florida style bungalows amid lush tropical landscaping.
In all, there are now five pools, all completely different – a lap pool (love the New Age music); an all-purpose pool that seems larger than an Olympic pool and a kiddie pool. The two newest pools include an “activity pool” with zero-entry which really hits the spot for families, and a relaxation pool with a “zen” sort of design, where music and cell phones are prohibited.
An extraordinary innovation are the 25 private, luxury beach bungalows which you rent by the day, with a dedicated staff of concierges, that captures the essence of the Florida seaside experience with an inviting indoor/outdoor layout and fresh, open-air décor. Each beachfront retreat ranges from 300 to 400 sq. ft. including private patio and offers an array of amenities and services: tropical teak wood furnishings with a beautifully paneled room, day sofas, lounge area with living room and dining furniture; refrigerators (stocked in advance upon request) wet bar and beverage counter; wall-mounted flat screen TVs, PS3/DVD players, WiFi Internet access, cordless telephones, and personal safes; full bathrooms and showers, some with open-sky showers; personal amenity packages, robes and sandals.
As if this weren’t the peak of luxury, the bungalows have a dedicated staff of personal concierges who promptly and discreetly fulfill any requests of their bungalow guests throughout the day – whether facilitating dinner reservations, spa appointments and golf tee times; planning a romantic evening, or securing babysitters, extra play toys and transportation arrangements. The bungalow concierges are motivated by a wow-the-guest philosophy to fulfill and exceed guest expectations in tasteful yet creative ways – bringing a pineapple/coconut sorbet, tropical frozen cocktails, or even arranging a foot massage. (It is reminiscent of the days during Prohibition, when the privileged would be able to book a private dining room and order in a bottle of Scotch.)
One of least known aspects of The Breakers is that you can snorkel or scuba dive (even get your SCUBA certification) on a reef that extends all the way down to the Florida Keys, or at the Breakers’ sunken pier (it sank in a storm in the 1920s). You can join a snorkeling tour or get your SCUBA certification.
There is also kayaking, paddle boats, catamaran, boogie board rentals; the concierge can also arrange for deep-sea fishing excursion.
The Breakers is a place for We, Us, Me.
We: Family-Focus at The Breakers
Probably the biggest surprise is just how family-friendly and accommodating The Breakers has become, from the room design to the availability of children’s menus at all the restaurants, to the activity programs.
The Breakers accommodations were redesigned with families in mind, and a number of its rooms are connected; you can reserve up to three adjoining guest rooms. You can pre-arrange for child-proofing, arrange for step-stools, babysitters, a mini-refrigerator stocked with child-friendly items such as juice boxes; even a stroller. Children 16 and under stay free in the same room as their parents.
Other in-room amenities and services tailored to families: Media options include in-room movie system, offering in-room games such as Sony PlayStation® and age-appropriate movies, and family-friendly cable channels such as Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network; and a Welcome card from Coconut Crew Camp, inviting young guests to join in the fun with their families or on their own. By returning the card to the resort’s Family Entertainment Center, the child receives a complimentary gift.
On any day, there are a score of activities designed for families to do together – bonfires on the beach, bicycle tours of the island, games, family-fun golf, hayride, catamaran cruise, outdoor carnival, kayak races, snorkeling, kayaking, catamaran cruises, scavenger hunts, cooking demos, environmental and historic hotel tours, drive-in movies on the golf course in golf carts and dive-in movies in the pool, among many other seasonal and holiday-specific activities – many that are offered at no extra charge (tip: check in advance so you can plan and not miss out).
A trio of weekend events designed for family participation is scheduled year round. On Friday nights during the winter season, guests can join the activities team for a Bonfire on The Beach, a complimentary activity. Children also have the option to participate in Friday and Saturday Night Camp year round. On Saturdays, Sports of All Sorts is a complimentary competition that engages children and adults in a featured game or sport. Offered Friday through Sunday nights, Fun Zone features music and unlimited tokens in the resort’s 20-plus game arcade; counselors are on hand to play with the children.
In any week, there might be 50 activities offered out of some 500 offered throughout the year (check the program in advance to help you plan your visit, and make advance reservations as needed.)
There is an entire Family Entertainment Center, a 6,160-square-foot complex offers activities, entertainment and games for all ages under one roof, ingeniously attached to The Italian Restaurant, so parents can enjoy fine dining, and when the kids want to play, can simply go off to supervised activities.
The Family Entertainment Center (which can be a lifesaver if the weather should prove inclement), features an arcade with more than 20 classic and contemporary games; toddler and children’s playroom surrounded by glass windows (so parents dining in the adjacent family-friendly Italian Restaurant can see their children inside); children’s arts & craft room, featuring a 1,000 gallon Salt Water Aquarium filled with indigenous marine life ; children’s movie theater featuring entertaining films appropriate for all ages; indoor activities include Laser Tag, Tortoise Time, and themed parties such as magic shows, juggling shows, face painting, indoor “photo” scavenger hunt; video game room featuring Xbox® 360, Playstation® 3 and WiiTM with child-friendly games.
Also: an Outdoor sports court featuring basketball, floor hockey, dodgeball, hopscotch; a Playground with child-safe surface; has a jungle gym, cargo net, slide, and more. There are benches nearby for parents to supervise in comfort; Coconut Crew kids playhouse located outdoors adjacent to the sports court; Bicycle and tricycle rentals (helmets provided).
Family Golf is available at the Ocean Golf Course after 3 pm for at least one adult and one child. Adults pay a nominal fee for club rental, shoe rental and greens fee, and children 5-16 play free. Children’s club rentals are complimentary and children’s tees and scorecards are available. The Ocean Course is recognized by US Kids Golf and Play Golf America as a Family Friendly Facility. There’s also a Junior Golf program.
In addition to the activities families can enjoy together, there are also supervised activities for the kids so that parents can have “Us” Time., including monitored free play at the Family Entertainment Center, as an option to babysitting and Coconut Crew Camp, a supervised activity program available for half day, full day, and nighttime.
The Coconut Crew Camp is a daily program offering organized activities flexibly based on children’s developmental skills, recreational and social interests. Activities for children ages 3-12 focus on creativity, imagination, arts & crafts and outdoor adventures. Coconut Crew Camp also features an engaging program of activities – professional golf and tennis, snorkeling, soccer and swimming – that sharply contrasts with typically rigid sports instruction. The weekends kick off with Friday Night Camp, which begins with pizza in The Italian Restaurant followed by outdoor activities such as lawn games, swimming, playground activities, star gazing, seashell scavenger hunts and bonfires on the beach.
The Camp is operated by a staff fully-trained in CPR and first aid. The staff encourages sunscreen and helps children to re-apply sunscreen regardless of weather conditions. Participants are provided with water and snacks throughout the day. Lifeguards are present at all water events. There is a 1:5 counselor-to-child ratio. The Camp is scheduled and priced per session (9 a.m. -12:30 p.m. and noon – 3 p.m.) or per day (9 a.m. – 3 p.m.), to be flexible for family/individual preferences. (You should reserve in advance.)
“At The Breakers, a pleasurable time eating out does not have to translate into ‘babysitter!’ ” says Nick Velardo, director of food & beverage – restaurants, and the father of two boys. “In fact, guests thoroughly enjoy our restaurants with their children, as a wonderful backdrop for shared experiences.”
Each of the resort’s nine distinct restaurant concepts – regardless of the level of formality – is family-friendly, with children’s menus, coloring books and crayons. The resort features a wide range of dining options from barefoot casual to elegant settings, including seven on-site and two off-property(free shuttle bus service provided).
The menus incorporate organic ingredients and can accommodate allergies and dietary restrictions. You also can get fast service so that the kids get served immediately. Children three years of age and under eat free of charge when ordering from the children’s menu.
(See The Breakers, Palm Beach’s iconic Luxury Destination Resort, Redefines the Dining Experience, Discovery, Jan. 27)
Us: The Place for Romance
The Breakers is probably one of the most romantic resorts in the world. The exquisite setting, the level of luxury, the pampering, the facilities, the ambiance make The Breakers the place to pop the question, have a destination wedding, celebrate an anniversary or milestone.
And if you have come with family, the supervised children’s activities means there is time just for yourselves – tennis, a round of golf, biking (rentals available; take the four-mile Lake Trail along the Intercoastal for a peek at some of the most incredible Palm Beach mansions), exploring museums like the Flagler Museum and the Norton, snorkeling or scuba diving sailing or kayaking; working out in the fitness center, a walk on a half-mile of private beach, lounging in a private bungalow alongside one of five pools; or a romantic dinner.
The Breakers offers two 18-hole championship courses including The Breakers Ocean Course (Florida’s oldest 18-hole course, a 6,100-yard, par 70 course redesigned by Brian Silva in 2000, located on site at The Breakers) and The Breakers Rees Jones® Course (reconstructed in December 2004 at a cost of $6 million by renowned golf course architect, Rees Jones, and named “Renovation of the Year,” by Golf Inc.) which is located 11 miles from the resort.
There is even an ocean “oasis” – a sort of “secret” hideaway on the beach you enter through a gate, and during evenings when there is a full moon, you can arrange for a massage in the moonlight, complete with champagne and strawberries.
Me: The Breakers’ World-Class Spa
The Spa at The Breakers offers haven for pampering and renewal, complemented by its incomparable oceanfront location.
It is the proud recipient of the 2011 Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Award and recognized as one of America’s Best Hotel and Resort Spas, reflecting the resort’s commitment to deliver the best spa experience to its customers with services of the highest quality.
The 20,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor spa, recently enhanced with a complete refurbishment, offers 17 treatment rooms, including several Spa Suites that accommodate a series of services in one indulgent experience. Massages can also be enjoyed in outdoor settings such as the Oceanfront Sanctuary or private, day-use bungalows, both with direct views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Many treatments incorporate sea and citrus ingredients indigenous to Florida.
The Breakers menu of services is regularly updated with new and interesting signature treatments that focus on personalization.
I get to enjoy one of The Breakers’ signature treatments, Personal Retreat Massage. This is customized to incorporate various therapeutic techniques tailored to what you want, whether it is to de-stress, relax or more intense sports therapy. My masseuse, Debbie, asks the style I would like (Swedish), even how much conversation I would like, and it is perfection.
Other Signature treatments include:
Orchidée Impériale Facial: An indulgent experience that capitalizes on the rejuvenating, strengthening and anti-aging properties of the orchid flower, found in Guerlain’s Orchidée Impériale Cream and simultaneous masks. This treatment reshapes, smooths and brightens the skin, and incorporates a hand, scalp and foot massage and optional facial waxing.
A Walk On The Beach Pedicure: This completely organic, “facial for the feet,” incorporates natural elements from the sea to exfoliate and invigorate the skin. The experience includes a refining exfoliation, a seaweed enriched mask, and an intensive, moisture-replenishing massage completes this marine-inspired treatment.
Fitness Assessment: Performed by a certified personal trainer. Includes a full body examination that tests endurance, strength and flexibility; and a complete body composition analysis using state-of-the-art equipment. Upon conclusion of this assessment, guests are provided with all results and a program for at-home use.
Also, a 1,400-square-foot Oceanview Fitness Center features 14-foot high windows overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, cardiovascular equipment, with personal televisions and iPod docking stations, free weights and strength equipment. Personalized fitness services including the signature Fitness Assessment, Personal Training, Training For Two and Body Composition Analysis. Fitness classes include yoga, Pilates, water conditioning, which is conducted in the adjacent 25-meter three-lane lap pool, and more.
The Breakers has such a rich history and heritage, its art and architecture so fascinating, that I do not miss the opportunity to join the weekly Historical Tour, conducted by The Breakers’ resident historian, James Ponce.
You can wander the hotel yourself, and there are helpful placards and photos that describe the history and important stories (such as the Tapestries), but hearing Ponce’s sonorous anecdotes, delivered with that special quality of a masterful Southern storyteller, is a treat.
Now 94 years old, James Ponce began working at The Breakers in 1952 and has been conducting the weekly historical tour for 28 years.
We stroll with him through the palatial halls, relive the glamour and admire the one-of-a-kind Italian Renaissance architectural design and artistry of the interiors. Ponce knows the cherubim and seraphim of the hotel’s ornate hand-painted ceilings (the work of 73 Florentine artists) and the personalities of the 44 nobles, conquerors, popes and Indian chiefs whose portraits hang in the ornate Gold Room, noting that Sir Francis Drake and Ponce de Leon glare at each other through eternity from opposite sides of the ceiling.
He regales us with stories of visits of celebrated guests who have been hosted over the years. Giving life to the bricks and mortar and storied past of The Breakers, history is clearly in this man’s genes; he can trace his ancestry to the oldest documented family (I believe he is related to Ponce de Leon’s brother).
The Breakers is a stunning work of art and architecture, and also holds a special place in the development of Palm Beach, Florida’s tourism, and the American resort.
He relates the history and anecdotes with that lyrical style of the best of Southern storytelling, how Henry M. Flagler, who only had an 8th grade education and left home at 14, built the Standard Oil company with John D. Rockefeller and became one of the wealthiest men in the world and the innovator of the grand dame American resort hotel.
What is significant to know is that this magnificent structure we see today is the third Breakers – the first, a modest inn, was destroyed in a fire in 1904; the second, a much more ambitious 400-room hotel, also was destroyed in a fire in 1925.
By then, Henry Flagler had already been dead for 12 years; his heirs resolved to rebuild the hotel as a tribute to his legacy.
The Florida East Coast Hotel Company selected the architectural firm Schultze and Weaver, which later designed the Waldorf-Astoria, Pierre, and Sherry Netherlands Hotels in New York City.
The magnificent structure we see today was created in the Italian Renaissance-style, inspired by the magnificent Italian villas of the 1400s. For the hotel’s architectural style, Schultze and Weaver selected the Italian Renaissance. During an earlier trip to Rome, Leonard Schultze had admired the Villa Medici (1575), and used that building as the basis for The Breakers facade, with its twin Belvedere towers and graceful arches. The main lobby was inspired by the Great Hall of the Palazzo Carega (circa 1560) in Genoa. The 1,040-foot main drive leads to a fountain patterned after the fountain at the Boboli Gardens in Florence.
The construction company had just a year to build in order to open just after Christmas 1926, the start of the Palm Beach season.
More than 1,200 construction workers labored around-the-clock to meet the opening date. Seventy-three artisans were brought from Italy to complete the magnificent paintings on the ceilings of the lobby and first-floor public rooms. The immense structure was completed in a scant 11½ months and opened on December 29, 1926.
The Breakers exceeded everyone’s expectations. The 200-foot-long main lobby, with its high-arched ceiling decorated with paintings; the vast Florentine Dining Room, with its richly decorated, beamed ceiling modeled after the Palazzo Davanzati (ca. 1400) in Florence; the magnificent North and South Loggias; and the shaded terraces and landscaped patios.
The Breakers’ clientele is not big on packages, preferring instead to customize their experience (though there are periodic “deals”; check the website). My suggest is: sign for it.
The Breakers is ideal for everything from destination weddings, romantic getaways, family holidays, multi-generational holidays, family reunions. It is the place to go when you want to celebrate, decompress, recharge, when you want more than a vacation, but a memorable experience.
One South Country Road,
Palm Beach, Florida 33480,
Tuesday, 07 February, 2012
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