Over-the-Top Luxury

By: Karen T. Bartlett

When you dream of luxury, what do you see? Follow your fantasies and watch them come to life at these ultra-luxury resorts and hotels.

These days, sophisticated world travelers, royalty and superstars (Florida gets plenty of them) seem to take marble halls and crystal chandeliers in stride. A suite without a private concierge or personal butler is positively ho-hum, and a lowly after-dinner mint on the pillow is practically déclassé. Any luxury hotel (however intimate) without some element of mind/body pampering (especially with indigenous flowers, tropical fruit or sea products, native rituals and/or water therapy) is so last year.

Hoteliers and innkeepers must surely lie awake nights inventing new ways to knock their guests' socks off. I have it on high authority that deep in the back offices of a certain Ritzy Naples hotel, a sort of cult gathering takes place every morning, where senior executives gloat over their most recent triumphs, and actual gold stars are handed out.

I set out this past summer to see just how far "over the top" Florida hoteliers have gone to seduce and pamper the weekend guest. Many months, many goose-down pillows and chocolate-dipped strawberries, many silk robes and personal butlers later (I had to be thorough, didn't I?), I'm pleased to report that Florida's resorts, hotels and inns truly have pushed the envelope to meet and exceed the standards of the most glamorous world destinations.

I admit it. I'm enchanted by the butler thing. I've always wanted two of my very own - a silver-haired English gentleman with a stiff upper lip for the office, and a hand-carved wooden one with a silver tray so guests may leave their calling cards at home. I've never found just the right English gentleman, and the wooden one seemed so, well, wooden.

But nowadays, I can choose from a menu of butlers and concierges whenever I travel.

Imagine, if you will, my check-in scenario, a composite of some three dozen hotels, from island-chic hideaways to seaside resorts to glitzy city hotels:

"Welcome to our resort/hotel/inn/island. Here are the keys to your suite and your private elevator. Your robe and slippers have been set out for you. The owner requests the pleasure of your company for a private piano concert in the conservatory. There will be live jazz with your complimentary breakfast on the veranda. The manager cordially invites you to join his small party for some deep-sea fishing.

"A complete staff awaits you in our multi-million dollar spa. Or just say the word and we'll arrange for your exotic treatment at surfside, at poolside or in the Zen garden. Please enjoy our elaborate infinity-edge pools (we have several), with swim-up bar service, waterfalls, caverns and underwater Bach concertos. Should you feel a trifle warm as you lounge beside the pool or on the beach, just display this monogrammed flag. Your Pool Concierge will instantly appear to spritz you with chilled Evian or place an icy towel on your brow.

"If you find it bothersome to travel from the beach to your suite during the day, we offer a private cabana complete with refrigerator, bar, shower and lounge furnishings (and, of course, catered dining by your friendly Beach Concierge).

"In addition to the usual resort amenities, your Adventure Concierge is standing by to arrange your skydiving lesson, your swim with the manatees, or a private lesson at our exclusive Equestrian Center.

"Naturally, your Private Butler will unpack for you. Your suite will be freshened by your housekeeper thrice daily (be assured that our housekeeping staff has been trained to the exacting standards of a royal household). On your pillow each evening, you will find a perfect blossom from our orchid garden, complimentary key lime cookies, or a chocolate truffle. Do notice (if you'll forgive the mention), the toilet paper roll crowned with a tissue-paper hibiscus.

"Should you arise at dawn for a run, our doorman will greet you on return with a water. If you prefer a gentler workout, please come to a private yoga session in our Zen room. For a truly unique mind-body-spirit experience, let our Watsu master transport you to bliss with our Zen-inspired Japanese water dance.

"Your personal en suite spa bath is nothing short of heavenly, appointed with Brazilian combed cotton bath sheets, custom-milled French soaps and Asian aromatherapy bath amenities. You'll sleep like an angel on our "Heavenly Bed," a ten-layer blend of the purest white linens, with pillows, mattress tops and duvets of goose-down.

"For the perfect end to the perfect evening, summon your Bath Concierge to draw a bath with a sensuous blend of oils and bath salts. The experience includes a loofah-sponge, a bath pillow and, of course, a split of perfectly chilled champagne.

"And finally, romance is our specialty. Should the magic of the moment so inspire you, do contact our Romance Counselor or Wedding Concierge. No romantic fantasy is impossible, from a declaration of devotion engraved across the sky to a wedding ceremony under the sea.

"If perchance we've overlooked any tiny detail to make your stay most memorable, just press the button to summon your Personal Butler."

Why, I think I shall.

Many Florida resorts offer similar amenities and services, and some are exclusive, signature amenities of specific resorts. To prove I'm not making this up, here are a few examples:

Amoray Dive Resort conducts underwater weddings. The bridal party must be dive certified or enroll in a non-certification diving course.

A fairytale wedding is assured at the magical Don CeSar, the glamorous "pink castle" on St. Pete Beach.

The Hyatt Regency Coconut Point has a magnificent, authentic 8,000-gallon Japanese Watsusaltwater pool. Watsu is a blissful "water dance" massage using Zen-based Shiatsu moves.

The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club grows its own orchids that can be ordered for guests' rooms.

A rubber ducky is often placed in your tub for children at the Peabody Orlando, famous for the resident ducks that parade through the lobby twice daily to swim in the fountain. There are adorable ducky bath soaps, duck cookies at the pastry counter of the B-line Diner, and by advance arrangement, a guest may be Honorary Duckmaster to lead the grand entrance or grand exit.

Westin Resorts invented the "Heavenly Bed" and "Heavenly Bath." The hotel is a veritable gallery of original art and sculpture chosen by designer Hirsch Bidner.

Aromatherapies and an exotic four-hand synchronized "Oriental Harmony" Massage are among the world's finest at the Mandarin Oriental.

At the exclusive Fisher Island Hotel and Resort each guest gets the keys to a personal golf cart.

At the classic Cheeca Lodge & Spa, where George Bush Sr. has gone bonefishing in the past, you're escorted to your suite by a valet on golf cart.

At Bohemian Hotel Celebration (in the much-talked-about town of Celebration, near Orlando), a valet will be pleased to drop you off for your tee time or any other activity in town.

The Breakers goes totally overboard when pampering children and offers a 6,160 square foot Family Entertainment Center.

Children are beloved at the Four Seasons in Palm Beach, where they get a gift upon arrival and their own kid-sized robes. Bathtime is joyful when they discover their names spelled out in colorful sponges in the tub.

On Christmas Eve at the Ritz-Carlton, Naples, kids can get in the holiday spirit with the Teddy Bear Tea with Santa.

The Yacht Club at the Boca Raton Resort & Club's massive suites have canopied beds, Venetian gold-leaf lamps in the Presidential Suite, and slips for yachts 140 feet and longer.

Sponsored listings by VISIT FLORIDA Partners

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