Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Breakers At Palm Beach, Florida

The Breakers at Palm Beach, Florida, has undergone many renovations and changes since the first time I visited years ago, but the timeless luxury associated with the name isn't one of them. In the last decade, the resort has invested more than $250 million in an ongoing revitalization and expansion program. All that remains unchanged is the old-world charm surrounding the estate.

The architecture that has since become legendary is modeled after the Villa Medici in Rome. It took shape in 1926 after the original all-wooden resort burned down in 1925. Today, its Italian-Rennasiance design is listed in the National Registry of Historic Places.

While the original founder, Henry Morrison Flagler, wasn't alive to see the second fire destroy his original hotel, he had successfully impassioned his heirs with his vision. They committed themselves to building the world's finest resorts on the site where Flagler had built the first southeast coast hotel about 30 years prior.

A brief on the storied history of the resort that shaped Palm Beach.

In 1881, Flagler and his newlywed second wife traveled to St. Augustine, Florida, for the first time. He immediately fell in love with the city, even if he felt the hotel facilities and transportation system lacked. He even offered to buy the Villa Zorayda where they honeymooned.

When the owner refused to sell, Flagler began to build the Ponce de Leon Hotel, which opened in 1888. And shortly after the hotel became an instant success, Flagler began to envision something different for the Florida coastline — something that he felt would one day be considered the "American Riviera."

He would find the perfect location farther south on a tiny island off the coast of Lake Worth, Florida. The island, called Palm Beach after a shipwreck reported to be carrying coconuts a few years prior, became the site of the Royal Poinciana Hotel at Lake Worth in 1894 and The Palm Beach, a second hotel directly on the beachfront, two years later. To distinguish where they wanted to stay, guests would ask for a room "over the breakers."

The resort was renamed The Breakers when Flagler doubled its size. Along with the resort properties, he also bought up as many acres as he could, giving the orders to buy "at any price." A fews later, as the hotel and the island began to take shape, it was incorporated as Palm Beach in 1911.

By then, it had its own magazine and daily newspaper. The latter was named the Palm Beach Daily, just a few years after Richard Davies had purchased the Lake Worth Daily from Flagler.

The recently renovated resort at The Breakers. 

One of the most significant changes that has taken place at The Breakers are the redesigned guest rooms. While keeping some elements of the classic charm, guest rooms and suites are now adorned in a distinctive airy decor that pays homage to its tropical oceanfront location.

Most rooms are a spacious 400 square feet, with suites ranging from 450 to 900 square feet. All of the rooms have marble baths. Rates vary, but are reasonably consistent with 5-star services and amenities, even if they set the high water mark on the island. Guests also have access to the fitness center and are welcome to join any group fitness classes hosted by the hotel.

Those neither staying at the resort nor a member of the club can still admire some of its beauty as a visitor. Although not privy to the five oceanfront pools, visitors may walk the expansive property (more than 140 acres of beachfront) while visiting select restaurants (some are only open to hotel and club guests), the spa, championship golf course, shopping area, and meeting facility.

The restaurants open to visitors include Echo (Asian fusion), The Circle (buffet), The Flagler Steakhouse (prime steak),  The Italian Restaurant (with children's area), and Top Of The Point (modern American). The Breakers also has two bars (both with full menus; one with live entertainment). When I visited years ago, the resort also served drinks in the open courtyard, accompanied by live entertainment (but that might not be the case today).

Palm Beach itself has several treasures within direct proximity, including Whitehall, Flagler's Gilded Age estate (now a museum). Also nearby but not on the island is the Norton Museum of Art, Kravis Center, and (farther south) International Orchid Center. This area of Florida is also home to the South Florida Science Museum, Palm Beach Zoo, and Lion Country Safari, a drive-through preserve.

The Breakers At Palm Beach Waves In At 9.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While there are other world-class hotels on Palm Beach, none of them are steeped in history like the The Breakers. For the same reason, it carries a premium rate compared to any hotel in Palm Beach and the surrounding area. As a destination resort, it makes sense. But if you are planning to spend more time away from the resort than at the resort, visiting for lunch or dinner is just as good.

To make plans for Palm Beach, search for deals for airfares, discounted hotels, and car rentals on Fare Buzz. For price comparisons, The Breakers frequently starts at $850 per night, which includes access to most amenities (occasionally rooms can be found for under $600).
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