Mahi mahi meets fish sticks in Palm Beach

Edward Prutschi revisits The Breakers in Palm Beach
Edward Prutschi revisits The Breakers in Palm Beach

The Crime Traveller: The Breakers Palm Beach, Florida

As I pulled my rented minivan up to the valet at The Breakers in Palm Beach, leaving it wallowing in inadequacy between the Bentley and Porsche humming on either side, I began to worry that my family and I wouldn’t fit in. I’d already paid an adults-only visit to the resort, but this time I was invited to return with my two children and two parents. Pleasing a group that includes a seven year old is no small feat; add a pair of newly minted senior citizens to the mix and you’ve got a real diversity of opinions to challenge your vacation needs. With a property dating back to 1896 built as a magnificent homage to 15th century Italian renaissance architecture, I could be forgiven for my initial thought that this holiday was going to be better suited to the well-aged slice of my sandwich generation.

The kids tumbled out of the van and past the central fountain modelled on Florence’s Boboli Gardens, trailed at a more leisurely pace by my parents into the shadow of the grand lobby inspired by Genoa’s Great Hall in the Palazzo Carega. I began the check-in process while my wife subtly hissed at the girls who were involved in a race around a stone plinth capped off by a vase that would not look out of place in Versailles. “Don’t touch anything that looks expensive!” she whispered. “In fact, just don’t touch anything, since it all looks expensive!”

I only began to exhale when the amiable front desk clerk produced a fishbowl full of brightly coloured rubber bracelets and invited the girls to choose their favourite colours. This was followed by a pair of adorable backpacks stuffed with treats and snacks that were theirs to keep and wear proudly to the Coconut Crew kids camp program the following day.

It is this very dichotomy that is The Breakers’ greatest strength. While oozing class and old-world charm, the resort somehow manages to avoid crossing the line into snooty pretentiousness. No need for dinner jackets or ball gowns at restaurants here. I could enjoy fresh mahi mahi dripping in wildflower honey while the kids wolfed down the same catch lightly breaded into fish sticks. Outstanding culinary options abound over the resort’s nine restaurants. And what they lack in naming originality (the Seafood Bar serves, um, seafood…take a guess at The Italian Restaurant’s menu, or hazard a try locating the Ocean Grill) they more than make up for where it counts — the quality and family-friendliness of your meal.

Meandering out to the resort’s ocean-front heart, the trend of something-for-everyone continued. We passed the spa where my wife and I were later to enjoy 80 precious minutes of tenderizing massage. If I were to quibble, the plush setting would be enhanced with improved sound insulation as I could make it out the clinking of glasses and the rush of a toilet flushing over the serenity of the generic relaxation music. There’s also a wading pool, lap pool, zero-entry beach pool, “quiet” pools and a dizzying array of hot tubs. With the service obsession expressed by exceptional staff, I wouldn’t be half surprised if a polite request to fill a pool with cranberry Jell-o wasn’t quietly fulfilled in some previously undiscovered corner of the property’s vast 140 acres.

Surfing, bike rentals, golf, snorkelling, scuba diving and even tortoise feedings flesh out the available activities (be aware that this is not the familiar ‘all-inclusive’ style and pace your credit card accordingly). But it’s the little things that really set The Breakers apart. Outdoors areas are peppered with stations offering free water infused with lemons, limes or oranges and served in heavy plastic re-useable cups. It seems like a little thing, yet little things make all the difference: the heft keeps drinks from blowing around the pool deck or beach and adds a sense of permanence and luxury to the otherwise transient act of occupying a lounge chair for the day. On the final day of our inter-generational experiment, we were on our way out of The Breakers’ signature breakfast spot, The Circle, when a hand tapped my mother on the shoulder. With a huge smile, Mauricio, our waiter for the past three mornings, gently pushed a generous package of Aztec roasted coffee into my mother’s hands. “You kept saying you loved the coffee senora,” he said in a light Chilean accent, “take a taste of your vacation back home with you.”

Thanks Mauricio. Don’t mind if I do.

The Crime Traveller received travel assistance from The Breakers during his stay.

Edward Prutschi is a Toronto-based criminal defence lawyer. Follow Ed’s criminal law commentary (@prutschi) and The Crime Traveller’s adventures (@crimetraveller) on Twitter, read his Crime Traveller blog, or email ed@thecrimetraveller.com.