A Xanadu among trailer parks: Florida's Boca Raton Hotel
Boca Raton, Fla.
Forget everything about past Florida vacations: the cramped car smelling of oranges, billboards prophesying ''World Famous Pecan Rolls Next Exit,'' and of course the entire college-age population jockeying for that few feet of sand next to yours.Skip to next paragraph
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Yes, forget all this and think only of private courtyards, burbling fountains , and enough shimmering ceiling fans to give ''Casablanca'' a run for its money.
This is the Boca Raton Hotel and Club, one of the oldest grand hotels in America. And it is indeed a Xanadu among the trailer parks - a pink stucco pleasure palace left over from the jazz age and gussied up with some windsurfers and a five-star rating.
Built in the heyday of the Roaring '20s, the hotel has served as a vacation retreat for moguls and movie stars for nearly 60 years. When Addison Mizner, the original architect and owner, threw open the doors of his hotel, the Cloister Inn, in 1926, it was the most expensive - $1.25 million - 100-room hotel ever built. One writer was so impressed by the cypress beams, tile floors, and Spanish antiques that he described the opulent inn as ''a happy combination of Venice and heaven, Florence and Toledo, with a little Greco-Roman glory and grandeur thrown in.''
It was a majestic if slightly mishmash combination of architectural styles that was designed to sweep visitors right off their feet. It still does.
Today, after six successive owners, including the Ritz-Carlton, the hotel reigns as a hostelry jewel in Florida's glittery Gold Coast, that well-heeled strip of beachfront property stretching from the glitz of Miami Beach to the ritz of Palm Beach that is all the rage come January.
Refurbished, renovated, and expanded, the hotel is a year-round resort estate that caters to more than Wall Street magnates and film stars. Annually, some 80, 000 guests come to bask and frolic on its 17,500 palm-studded acres. Admittedly they don't come here for solitude and exotica - Boca Raton is definitely not a deserted island retreat. People come here to play and be pampered. And they are prepared to pay for it. The resort boasts nearly 1,200 rooms and suites on four different properties, 8 restaurants, an 18-hole golf course, 22 clay tennis courts, four freshwater pools, a marina, and flotilla of ocean sports equipment.
There is also a staff-to-guest ratio of roughly 1 to 1, which gives you some idea of the small armies of white-jacketed bellmen, maids, and waiters that swoop around the place unobtrusively. Staying at the Boca Raton Hotel and Club is a little like taking a landbound cruise - an exercise in remembering to use one's salad fork while dining poolside. It's as much an opportunity to polish your waterskiing skills as your Emily Post etiquette.
But what could be a stuffy and possibly off-putting hotel - one doesn't earn five-star ratings for nothing - has gracefully entered the 20th century with its Old World elegance tempered by Florida-style friendliness. Unlike Palm Beach's equally swanky hotel, The Breakers, which is generally considered the nearest hostelry competition, the Boca Raton Hotel caters less to the staid ''old-money crowd,'' and more to the nouveau riche folk, according to observers. Not only does the hotel now host many business conferences and meetings each year, but several thousand local residents have taken out local club memberships. In addition, the hotel offers good off-season (summer) packages - about half price in some cases. All of which makes the hotel a bit more accessible to hoi polloi.
In fact, one of the chief assets of the hotel is its willingness to cater to all types of fun-in-the-sun seekers - from those who feel underdressed without their pearls and sports jackets to those who refuse to get out of their maillots.