Will it be putting on the Ritz or lounging at the Four Seasons? These top four, super-luxe resorts cost 50% less in summer yet provide your family with a stay that is Oh! So enjoyable!
Visitors to Palm Beach County, Florida have their pick of over 200 hotels. The four luxury resorts highlighted below handle the family market with finesse, although each has a distinct personality. Like all resorts designed for family beach vacations, weather plays a big part, so rates vary widely depending on the season, packages or promotions. Keep in mind that April 15 to December 15 is “value season” in Palm Beach County– hotel rates can drop by as much as 50%.
The Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach
2800 South Ocean Boulevard
Palm Beach, Florida 33480
This Four Seasons is one of our favorite resorts. As a chain, The Four Seasons properties consistently offer top-notch accommodations, professional service (without being overbearing) and terrific dining. The Palm Beach property is no exception. The resort has only 210 rooms, so you feel almost like part of an extended family, even if there’s a conference on site. But it’s also large enough to offer full-service amenities, such as spa, salon and one of the best restaurants in Florida (one of only three in South Florida to hold the AAA Five-Diamond Award for dining.)
Like other Four Seasons resorts, the Palm Beach property offers one of the few complimentary daytime children’s programs (“Kids For All Seasons” for ages 3-12, operates daily 9am-5pm) in the industry, which is important because multiple siblings can quickly rack up a hefty bill. And what fun the program can be! During one special program, Maddy turned a dessert plate into a work of art using mango and chocolate sauce, under the tutelage of renowned Executive Chef Hubert Des Marais. On another occasion, she was treated to a wild animal show with a baby lion, a turtle, a scorpion and frogs. One of our favorite vacation mementos is a Polaroid of 5½ year-old Maddy holding a baby alligator and beaming in delight!
On our last visit we were disappointed in the Kids Dinner Program. The activities were pedestrian, especially for the price ($55 per child for 6-9pm on Friday or Saturday): a simple craft, a kids meal, some Nintendo and a movie. We hope this was an anomaly. You may want to inquire about the agenda before signing up your children. However, the “children welcome” feeling sits very nicely with the resort’s sophistication. The entire staff really makes kids and their parents feel welcome, from the free kiddies gift at check-in to child-sized bathrobes. Family friendly touches are everywhere, from the abundance of free pool toys, floats and noodles at the oceanfront pool to the umbrella-covered kiddy pool on the beach. I met one mother of two by the pool who mentioned how she was apprehensive about bringing her children to such a nice place, only to find that the staff warmly welcomed her family. On another occasion I watched the wait staff make a 6-year-old girl feel right at home in the fine dining restaurant by perching her on top of several pillows and serving her sparkling cider in a champagne flute. She smiled like a princess. So did I.
One South County Road
Palm Beach, Florida 33480
On our first visit two years ago to Palm Beach’s grande dame, the 560-room resort felt a bit stuffy and formal. With its soaring frescoed ceilings and Italianate public areas, it was certainly impressive. But to me it also felt imposing. Since that visit, The Breakers has added a Mediterranean-style beach club and a wonderful spa. They also have dramatically lightened the public areas and brought in more natural light. And the staff seems to have picked up on the lighter tone, making families feel more welcome and going out of the way to develop kid-friendly services. For example, a Kid’s Advisory Board meets periodicallly to continuously enhance the children’s menus, service standards and activities for the year-round Coconut Crew kids’ program. The Coconut Crew (daily from 9am-3pm $100) divides into Parrots for ages 3-5 and Coconuts for ages 6-12, and participates in fun activities with parents often welcome.
Family-friendly touches are everywhere, from rooms that have been childproofed before check-in (the majority of which are adjoining), to the unforgettable Secret Garden. Six of the resort’s eight restaurants offer children’s menus and child-friendly service. One night while dining with the kids in the Seafood Bar, carrot and celery sticks, oyster crackers and bendable wax Wicky Sticks magically appeared with the menus to stave off hunger and boredom. Our kids still talk about the bartender that let them feed the fish inside the bar-top aquarium.
Should you decide to venture out sans kids, the resort’s baby sitters are on hand. Primarily hired from The Breakers’ staff, the resort tries to match your kids with the demeanor of the various sitters. The Breakers appears to have solidified its family-friendly position in recent years. And with a recently redeveloped plantation-style golf and tennis clubhouse, we have something to look forward to when we return.
Boca Raton Resort & Club
501 East Camino Real
Palm Beach, Florida 33432
The Pink Castle, now a part of LXR resort group, is a sprawling 356-acre, 1,043-room resort. If you like a very active family vacation, this is the spot for you. Daily organized activities (some with a fee, others complimentary) run the gamut from yoga, bingo, aerobics or dance lessons to book and movie reviews, art lectures and card games. There are a number of ad-hoc children’s activities, such as sundae making, arts and crafts and karate lessons, if your kids are not participating in the Camp Boca program. Camp Boca is available to kids ages 3-11 during the summer and it costs $90 for a full day (9:30am-4:30pm) plus lunch and $45 for a half-day. All this plus plenty of tennis, golf and boating.
This resort has a “high energy” feel to it, and large groups, parties and reunions seem to congregate here. Bone up on your map skills before you arrive because chances are you will get lost en route to one of your many activities. Good thing the lush grounds are so enjoyable to wander and staff so abundant, friendly and quick with directions.
The Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach
100 South Ocean Boulevard
Manalapan, Florida 33462
The Ritz-Carlton is actually located in Manalapan, south of Palm Beach. All 270 rooms have private balconies and an ocean view; the suites sit almost directly over the wild and dark ocean and have truly stunning views.
This is your classic Ritz-Carlton experience: superlative service and dining in a clubby, elegant atmosphere of dark wood and expensive oil paintings, smothered in marble floors and oriental rugs. It’s generally a wonderful, successful formula. But sometimes we wish that the Ritz properties had more individual character and felt more… well… local. For example, the Ritz Carlton Palm Beach would be perfectly suited to, say, Philadelphia, instead of a beachfront setting. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but at the Palm Beach Ritz there’s a bit of a disconnect between the hotel atmosphere and location. Regardless, it’s still a wonderful hotel.
Six poolside cabanas are available for an additional cost ($175 standard/$275 with flat-screen TV and iPod docking station)and can be set up “family style” with kid loungers (for afternoon naps), pool and beach toys, underwater cameras, healthy snacks and beverages, towels, wipes, small refrigerators and a hotel phone, handy for ordering lunch from the oceanside restaurant, Breeze. Voila! Now Mom or Dad need not be held hostage in the hotel room while Junior is napping! In hopes of creating the ultimate family vacation experience, the Ritz-Carlton has recently rolled out three new programs specifically designed for family travelers. The AquaNuts Kids Club (formerly RitzKids) is for guests 5-12 and features a unique facility that gives kids an “underwater adventure” through various physical and creative activities that are done both indoors and outdoors. The theme for the club changes daily and children get to play sports, games, arts-n-crafts, swim and go on nature tours. The camp is open daily from 9am-4pm and half-day options are available; Friday and Saturday evenings are Kids Night Out from 6-10pm. Teenagers 13-17 can enjoy the Coast Lounge where they can be a DJ, play video games and pool. On most nights, Coast transforms into a teen nightclub with dancing and popular music. Additionally Beauty@Coast is a salon for teens where they can get their hair, makeup or nails done and even participate in a real photo shot.
For times when the family would like to be together, the Ritz-Carlton offers a fresh and new turndown option that is not the standard mint on your pillow. Instead guests can order a Family Pillow Fight in which for $60 you get 30 pillows and a CD with appropriate “fight” music. Parents and kids can then go at it throwing pillows at each other (just make sure you do not knock over a lamp). And this is sure to knock the kids out (in more ways than one) so they will drift straight off to sleep.
The Ritz-Carlton Club (offered at several Ritz properties) is well worth the additional surcharge. Folks staying in Club rooms have access to a private lounge and terrace, as well as a separate concierge staff and selection of books, newspapers, magazines and games. But best of all? The five food and beverage presentations daily, included in the Club room rate. It’s a terrific, tasty way to stretch your vacation dollar in the name of luxury!
[Editor’s Note: The Ritz-Carlton is in the midst of an extensive (and possibly noisy) renovation, with several projects scheduled for completion into the spring of 2009: 4,000 square feet on new meetings space in the North Tower; a 41,000-square-foot Grande Spa; and a new, five-story ocean front guest tower in the southwest corner of the complex that will feature 24 new accommodations].
For more information, contact the Palm Beach County Convention & Visitors Bureau at 561/233-3000; 800/833-5733. Don’t forget to ask about their “$1,000 Worth of The Palm Beaches” coupon book.
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