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Classic Florida Retreats

December 28, 2010 By: Jena Tesse Fox Travel Agent

Biltmore Hotel


In Coral Gables, FL, the Biltmore opened on January 15, 1926, as the Miami Biltmore Country Club, designed by Schultze and Weaver and built by John McEntee Bowman and George Merrick as part of the Biltmore hotel chain.

A major attraction was the 23,000-square-foot grand pool—reportedly the largest hotel pool in the continental U.S. When the Depression hit, the Biltmore stayed afloat (literally!) by hosting aquatic galas in the grand pool, a huge draw with the crowds.  

In 1992, a multinational consortium led by Seaway Hotels Corporation, became Biltmore’s owners and operators. Seaway launched a $40 million, 10-year renovation program that was completed only recently, investing in guest room upgrades and a new fitness center and spa. In addition, the Biltmore spent around $3 million to restore the historical 18-hole championship golf course. The pool was also reimagined by landscape architect Emilio Fuster: The 85-foot-high diving tower was transformed into a tropical waterfall, and private cabanas were built.

Today, although the 273-room hotel and resort has Wi-Fi and other modern conveniences (the spa is a member of Leading Spas of the World), the architecture has remained the same since opening, including the 93-foot copper-clad tower, modeled after the Giralda Tower in Seville, Spain

Agents should reach out to Christina Coelho (305-445-8066, ext. 2306).

Casa Monica

In 1887, Henry Flagler sold a parcel of St. Augustine land to Bostonian architect Franklin W. Smith who used it to build the Casa Monica Hotel.

The hotel opened on January 1, 1888, with only three guests registered, and was sold back to Flagler a few months later. He renamed the property the Hotel Cordova, and under that name it became a hot spot in St. Augustine. The Hotel Cordova closed its doors in 1932 and was purchased 30 years later, in 1962, by St. Johns County to be turned into a county courthouse. (Not-so-fun fact: In 1964, the lobby of the then-vacant hotel was used to house police dogs which were used against civil rights demonstrators during the mass campaign led by Martin Luther King and Robert Hayling that cleared the way for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.) In 1997, the structure was purchased by The Kessler Collection, which reopened the property under its original name on December 10, 1999.

Notable guests over the years include Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the King and Queen of Spain. Fun fact: The Casa Monica once had its own travel agency when Ask Mr. Foster had its headquarters in the hotel.

Some of the historical elements that guests at the hotel can see are the antique fountain in the lobby, Flagler’s original Moroccan-themed design work, pictures (to compare then-and-now), and artwork that celebrates the history of St. Augustine. Some modern high-tech touches include Wi-Fi in all public areas and guest rooms, a dedicated business center and Bose sound systems in rooms.

Travel agents can reach out to General Manager Anthony Lazzar (904-827-1888).



Agent Advice 

Hills Travel Service is a family-run agency in St. Petersburg that is also celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, and has several generations of agents in its rank. We asked Joan Bailey, the agency’s president, to recommend some historical Florida hotels. She picked two on opposite sides of St. Petersburg, Vinoy and the Don Cesar, praising their “classic 1920s” Italian Renaissance architecture. “They both maintain high levels of service, and the food is wonderful,” Bailey said. “What I love is that both of them are quintessential Florida! When the Vinoy reopened, they painstakingly restored the property and brought in artists from Italy to get it as close to its original as possible.”



Boca Raton Resort & Club

The Boca Raton Resort, which opened February 6, 1926, as the Ritz-Carlton Cloister Inn, was designed by legendary architect Addison Mizner.

Philadelphia millionaire Clarence H. Geist purchased the inn in 1927 and expanded it into the Boca Raton Club. Architectural firm Schultze and Weaver doubled the inn’s size and added a cabana club. The U.S. Army used the club as barracks during World War II. In its heyday, the club attracted many eminent personalities, including General T. Coleman duPont, Harold Vanderbilt, George Whitney, Florenz Ziegfeld, Al Jolson, Elizabeth Arden and Marie Dressler.

The hotel has remained open throughout its history and seven major renovations. The latest renovation was completed in 2009 and cost $220 million. Today, as a member of the Waldorf Astoria Collection, the resort has 1,047 Deluxe guest rooms inclusive of 58 Suites, 76 Junior Suites and 60 one-bedroom Boca Bungalows. The original lobby, with some of Addison Mizner’s furniture and the original guest book (in a glass case), remains in place. The original sculptures—the bronze statues in the main entrance and several areas of the resort—remain, and The Boca Raton Historical Society regularly offers tours.

The complete resort consists of the Cloister, the Yacht Club, the Tower, Boca Beach Club, the Boca Bungalows, the Boca Country Club, conference facilities, two 18-hole championship golf courses, 30 tennis courts, Spa Palazzo, a golf clubhouse, seven pools, a 32-slip marina with full fishing and boating facilities, and a private beach with water sports and fun family activities. Good to know: Butler service is available at the Yacht Club.

The agent liaison at the resort is General Manager Peter Serena ([email protected]).


The Boca Raton

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About the Author

Jena Tesse Fox
Jena Tesse Fox covers Europe, Africa, Australia/South Pacific and business travel for the Questex Travel Group's publications. The daughter of history teachers, she can spend...

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By Jena Tesse Fox | December 28, 2010
These hotels have defied economic and political uncertainties of the last century to excel even by today’s standards of luxury hospitality.