By Elizabeth Rahe
If you’re looking for insider tips on travel and lifestyle destinations, ask a concierge. We did just that, consulting with specialists from Florida concierge companies who help their clients create experiences and make memories of a lifetime.
Southern South Beach Gem
For a quick weekend getaway, Lisa Crawford recommends the Lord Balfour South Beach (lordbalfourmiami.com), a stylish boutique property she describes as sophisticated, artistic and contemporary. “The Lord Balfour Hotel is one of South Beach’s hidden gems. It specializes in friendly service with great prices,” says Crawford of Fort Lauderdale-based SitInMySeats VIP Tickets, Travel & Concierge Services (sitinmyseats.com).
The 1940 Streamline Moderne-style hotel reopened last July with 64 renovated rooms and artsy, quirky interiors. Larger-than-life photographic murals of a blue-eyed tattooed woman adorn guest room walls, and quotes from turn-of-the-century British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour embellish the lobby ceiling. (“A good speech, like a woman’s skirt, should be long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.”) Situated on a less frenetic stretch of Ocean Drive, just south of Fifth Street, it’s close enough to the city’s arts and culture scene, shopping, restaurants and nightlife and a short walk from the beach.
The lobby bar invites guests to stay awhile and sip the handcrafted tea-infused cocktails that pay homage to Balfour’s British heritage. In the morning many linger in the light-bathed lobby or wander to the palm-fringed back patio to enjoy a complimentary continental breakfast before a tour of the Art Deco District or a day at the beach.
North from South Beach
North Miami Beach has a quieter – and perhaps warmer – vibe than its southerly cousin. So says Travis Smith of Miami Beach-based Florida Travel Concierge (FloridaTravelConcierge.com). Smith cites the serene atmosphere and modern decor of Canyon Ranch Hotel & Spa (canyonranch.com/miamibeach), where guests can enjoy rejuvenating treatments at the spa or curl up with a book by the beach-side pool – one of four at the hotel – and watch locals biking, strolling and skateboarding along the boardwalk.
“Some guests endure the latest workout fads in an exercise room overlooking the pool and ocean, serving as motivation to do a few more crunches,” Smith says. “In true Canyon Ranch fashion, the restaurant serves up organic-sourced fare in combination with Miami-fab cocktails such as a Raspberry Hibiscus Martini.”
For a break from the “Edenistic health vibe” of Canyon Ranch, he recommends a couple of restaurants nearby. At Fifi’s Seafood Restaurant (fifisseafood.com), patrons can enjoy stone crabs without Joe’s Stone Crabs-sized lines, he says. “Other dishes, such as the ceviche and mixed seafood, set Fifi’s apart as a truly excellent seafood restaurant. The servers are always attentive and kind.”
A few blocks north is Lou’s Beer Garden (lousbeergarden.com), named to Esquire magazine’s Best Bars in America for 2012. “This local secret is housed in a small, revamped art deco-style boutique hotel,” Smith says. “Guests dine and drink around a small pool surrounded by tropical flora and infused with candlelight. Per the name, Lou’s is about beer, really good imported beer. Yet the food is outstanding, including Kobe burgers and hog snapper.”
Resort to the Northwest
Marianne Kurtz of Pensacola-based Expected End (expectedend.net) concierge service loves escaping to Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa (sandestinbeachhilton.com) in Destin. “I go there with my family but also when I want to get away by myself to detox from the world. That’s when I ask for an upstairs room away from the pool,” Kurtz says. “Destin is just beautiful, the sugar sands, the amazing beaches. It’s so clean and peaceful. Everything you need is right there at the Hilton.”
Indeed, this beachside oasis is set on the 2,400-acre Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort property in Florida’s Panhandle. Guests have their pick of six restaurants, including the AAA Four-Diamond Seagar’s Prime Steaks (seagars.com), four championship golf courses, 15 tennis courts and Serenity by the Sea Spa. Nearby there is great freshwater and saltwater fishing and copious shopping options (Silver Sands Premium Outlets, Destin Commons).
Lisa M. Slater of Tampa-based Capital Concierge (capital-concierge.com) mentions several favorite attractions in nearby St. Petersburg. “The Dali Museum [thedali.org] is a must-see when visiting downtown St. Petersburg. Through April 27 you can encounter Warhol: Art.Fame.Mortality, which explores the Salvador Dali/Andy Warhol connection.”
Slater also recommends visiting Historic Old Northeast St. Petersburg, a neighborhood of early 20th century homes on brick-lined streets. “This is such a lovely community. It’s the perfect place for a walk, jog or bike ride. There are many activities to enjoy including tennis, a children’s playground and a white sandy beach. Be sure to visit Coffee Pot Bayou known for manatee spotting.” There are several parks along the waterfront to check out, including Vinoy, North Shore and Flora Wylie parks as well as the Gizella Kopsick Palm Arboretum (stpeteparksrec.org).
For clients staying in the St. Petersburg area, Slater recommends the historic – and pink – Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club (marriott.com) and Loews Don CeSar Hotel (loewshotels.com). “I love the style and charm of these hotels,” she says. “For restaurants, there are so many, but one of my personal favorites is The Moon Under Water (themoonunderwater.com) – nice local vibe and great food.”
For St. Pete Beach visitors with kids or pets – and anyone who enjoys giant water slides on the beach and floating water parks – a tip of our own: Consider the TradeWinds Island Resorts properties (tradewindsresort.com), the 20-acre Island Grand and, just 200 steps away, the more intimate Guy Harvey Outpost. The resort amenity fee at either property entitles guests to unlimited rides on the three-stories-tall, triple-chute High Tide Slide (kids must be 42 inches tall to ride), along with a host of other activities. Splash Island Water Park, just offshore, features inflated slides, floating trampolines, loungers and island rafts (fee required). The hotels offer pet-friendly suites, a Pet Play Zone and dog-walking zones. Another interesting feature: Both properties have been certified as Autism Friendly by the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, indicating employees are trained to meet the needs of guests who have autism and their families.
The Guy Harvey Outpost – the first of nine properties in Florida and the Caribbean branded by the renowned artist, scientist and conservationist – features guest rooms and common areas splashed with his colorful marine artwork. In true Guy Harvey fashion, outfitters can arrange fishing, diving, boating and Jetlev water-propelled jet-pack adventures. Plus, guests at either resort can enjoy the amenities of both, including 14 restaurants and entertainment venues, seven pools and Body Works Salon & Spa. (For more on Guy Harvey Outpost properties, visit guyharveyoutpost.com.)