I’m standing at the valet of The Breakers resort in Palm Beach. Behind me, a mile of perfectly manicured palm trees stand at attention like a column of Roman legionnaire spearmen. In front of me the white-washed walls and coffered ceiling of the vast hotel lobby loom against the backdrop of the Florida sky.
Business men and women in Italian suits clutching Corinthian leather briefcases mingle seamlessly with inter-generational families decked out in Hugo Boss chinos and Armani swimwear. The parking lot is peppered with BMWs, Maseratis, and the occasional Rolls. I have yet to spot a white Crown Victoria anywhere. It’s approaching 4:00 p.m. and there’s no line-up for the early-bird dinner buffet. My cheeks haven’t even been pinched.
This is definitely not my bubbie’s Florida.
Catering to kids of all ages
The Breakers in Palm Beach takes the Florida stereotype of a sleepy retirement community and flips it on its head. It exudes old-world elegance, with an emphasis on elegance, not the old. Sure, you’ll find your share of gerontological guests milling about the grounds, but they’re more likely to be signing up for a scuba dive on the resort’s sunken pier coral reef than toddling by you in a walker. Every common area room is capped by a unique hand-painted Venetian ceiling. Dining areas ringed in glass give off the feeling of eating in a botanical garden. The main lounge enjoys a premium waterfront view while bringing the ocean literally to your bar stool — the glass countertop is in fact the surface of a vast salt water aquarium teeming with fish lazily swimming underneath my Scotch tumbler.
You may also be surprised to find a robust and innovative children’s program targeting not the young-at-heart but the bona fide little ones. Beach entry pools, counsellors, games rooms, a junior movie theatre and tortoise feedings are just a few of the distractions available for the kids. One of the resort’s many restaurants even has a glassed-in play area adjacent to its dining room. Imagine as a parent of young children being able to actually go out to dinner and still be comfortably seated at your table past the appetizers! Toddler getting antsy? She won’t be when you set her down in a room over-flowing with games, toys and a giant salt-water aquarium. Order dessert. I won’t tell.
There are plenty of adult distractions as well. A luxury shopping concourse, health spa, and bicycle, kayak or sail boat rentals all tempt you to explore the vast 140-plus acre grounds. Although The Breakers’ historic Ocean Course sits adjacent to the hotel property, I spent my afternoon indulging in a round of golf at the championship Rees Jones course just 11 miles down the road.
Golf course or wildlife sanctuary?
If you’ve never had the pleasure of tackling Rees Jones you’re in for a treat. If the last time you played the course was before its 2004 $6,000,000 renovation, you’re in for a surprise. The before-and-after photos shared with me by club pro Dan St. Louis are more dramatic than fad diet marketing materials. There is almost no resemblance to the original Breakers West course (as it was then known). Sparkling teal water is in play on 14 of its 18 holes. You could be forgiven for thinking you checked into a wildlife sanctuary instead of a golf course — I spotted egrets, ibis, herons, salamanders and turtles while prodding the banks of the water hazards in search of my ball.
The bunkers contain sand so white and powdery that a beach blanket and Corona would not look out of place. Fairways and greens are immaculately well-maintained and provide unique challenges. The fairways gobble up balls like sticky fly paper, giving up very little roll off your drives. The greens provide deceptively large targets, only revealing their deviousness when you approach the ball and realize you’ve still got a 30-foot putt across a fast undulating surface. Five varying tee box positions make the course genuinely accessible to duffers like me while still providing a serious challenge to low handicappers.
Whether you’re looking to book your next firm retreat or are just looking to get away from the firm for a few days, The Breakers will make you rethink your Florida misconceptions.
The Crime Traveller was a day guest of The Breakers Rees Jones.
When not jetting around the world as his alter ego, The Crime Traveller, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.