At the end of a sublime, life-changing 24 hours at The Breakers, Palm Beach’s premiere Old Florida jewel, my toddler companion walked over to the elevator and pushed the “up” button.
“No, sweetie,” I said, ushering him back across the elegant lobby, “we’ve checked out. We’re going home, back to our house! We don’t actually live here!”
“Our house,” he repeated, haltingly, while shooting me a look that could only be translated as: “Well, maybe you don’t live in that water-view suite with the people who open doors for you and the dudes who bring apple juice to the shaded beach chair they’ve set up for you by the ocean. But I’ve already looked into getting my mail forwarded here.”
» RELATED: Inside look at The Breakers
Well, Toddler, it’s still sadly true that we don’t live at The Breakers, the Henry Flagler-conceived masterpiece celebrating its 120th anniversary this year. But I sure wish we did.
I am something of a staycation aficionado.
I love to take frequent weekend trips in and throughout Florida — especially in Palm Beach County — rather than save up for a big grand trip afar.
But even though I’ve dined and attended grand events at The Breakers, I’d never stayed there until now.
And now, I’m kicking myself for having wasted all this time.
You can tell how special the place as soon as you turn in and ease down the long drive between two rows of perfectly manicured palm trees.
The Breakers — the county’s most lavish, long-lived landmark — opened in 1896. At first, it served as an oceanfront choice for Gilded Age tourists who liked the beach more than they liked Flagler’s massive Royal Poinciana Hotel along the Intracoastal.
After it burned down twice, the second time in 1925, a grander Breakers was built in 1926 — in the style of the Villa Medici in Rome, with high, curved painted ceilings, sparkling chandeliers and marble pillars.
“Do not touch anything,” I whispered to Toddler as the incredibly cordial young man at the wooden reception desk checks us in. “I don’t think we could even afford to replace the pens here.”
Safely out of the lobby without breaking anything, we were escorted to our suite. I noted that you need a key card to even get the elevator to move, which made me feel not only special but secure.
Our sixth-floor suite was tastefully appointed in tans and blues, with a view of the ocean and the other Breakers guests down there enjoying it, which made me jealous not to be with them.
So we remedied that with a tour of the 140-acre property, gliding through the lobby past the many tony shops, including Match, where I perused fancy shoes, and the Polo Ralph Lauren boutique.
It was explained that The Breakers’ owners make millions of dollars of improvements each year to ensure its specialness. This year they’ll be working on the waterfront Seafood Bar, where real fish swim through the aquarium bar top.
On our way to check out the cabanas at the Beach Club, I stopped for a drink at the Surf Break, overlooking the water.
My choice: the Skinny Pina Colada, served in its own coconut with rum, coconut water and fresh pineapple juice. It’s delicious, of course, and only made me want to explore more.
Again, I noticed how attentive the service is — every person we encountered, from the valets who retrieved our car to the patient desk staff who kept giving me new keys when my cell phone demagnetized them, was more than efficient. They were exceedingly, genuinely friendly.
My next discovery was The Spa, so special you have to spell it upper-case.
After $8 million worth of renovations, the white, clean space includes a relaxing garden where you can sip water or even have lunch delivered as well as water and fresh fruit.
I chose a manicure with purple polish (RIP, Prince) and was delighted to be handed a tiny drawstring bag with the bottle of polish and a nail brush.
Sufficiently pampered, I retired to the suite and watched an episode of “Property Brothers,” because home and garden shows are even better when watching from a king bed in a luxury suite.
After a nap, we made the short drive off the property to Echo, The Breakers’ romantically atmospheric Pan-Asian restaurant. I tried a Shogun cocktail, made with bourbon, local honey and black tea, and enjoyed the crispy Tempura Vegetables and excellent fried rice. I’d eaten at Echo before, but there was something extra special about doing it as a Breakers guest.
After dinner, I met some friends for drinks at HMF, The Breakers’ classic cocktail bar whose name is taken from Henry Morrison Flagler’s initials.
It was like stepping back in time, with bartenders dressed in crisp white shirts with black armbands.
Because we arrived early for our reservation, we people-watched from the bar, scanning a combination of smartly dressed locals, wide-eyed guests and, eventually, a procession of spill-over revelers from the two weddings at the hotel that night. Before calling it a night, we took a stroll out by the water, the famous rocks illuminated like something out of a sailor’s tale, to breathtaking effect.
The next morning, I noted that according to my Fitbit, I’d walked about 20,000 steps the day before, at least 10,000 of which were earned hoofing it through The Breakers.
I used that as an excuse not to get up for the 7 a.m. cycling class that takes place on the beach-facing terrace of the huge Ocean Fitness complex. But after the breakfast buffet at The Circle, a gilded, circular room behind HMF, and the site of one of the previous evening’s wedding receptions, my mother enjoyed the Water Conditioning aerobics class at the southernmost pool.
For the rest of the afternoon, Toddler and I split time at the family friendly main pool, one of four pools on property, and the beach, where the aforementioned apple juice and treats were brought to our lounge chairs.
Toddler, who had previously refused to get anywhere near the ocean, happily asked to walk right into the water.
We felt like we were on a private island — and not a 15-minute drive from home, where the only server getting apple juice is me.
After our beach time, we reluctantly packed and said goodbye to the suite, stowing our bags with the friendly staff in the luggage room and enjoyed one more piece of The Breakers’ hospitality — lunch at The Beach House, where they make one tasty mahi taco. (They also make a generous portion of kid’s mac and cheese with a hot dog cut and curled to look like an octopus.)
With lunch done, we’d run out of excuses not to go home, so we collected our bags, thanked everybody and made the trip back down the grand driveway, back across the bridge and back to our waiter-less home.
It seemed a world away from the opulence and friendliness of The Breakers, which is the point of luxury hotels.
I did save one of my fish tacos to eat for dinner in my own living room.
Which, at least for a moment, made my living room fancier.
The Breakers — One South County Road, Palm Beach; 888-273-2537 — offers several summer specials. Room rates start at $369 a night Sunday-Thursday and $469 on weekends, almost half-off winter rates. The property also offers discounts on other amenities, including dining and spa specials.
Leslie loves a luxury staycation!
If Leslie Gray Streeter isn’t home on a weekend, it’s because she’s almost home — at one of Palm Beach County’s luxury resorts.
“I love staying close to home but a world away at the county’s many gorgeous hotels,” she says. “All I have to do is get behind the wheel and very soon, I’m in paradise.”
In the summer, many of those resorts are on sale.
Among the local places she’s called her “home away from home,” because sometimes you just don’t feel like being at home: