By Roger Cox, Editor
"Palatial" is an adjective often overused when describing American hotels—I'm guilty of it myself—but in the case of The Breakers it is entirely apt. Built in 1926 after fires destroyed its two eponymous predecessors and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this now legendary oceanfront resort on the island of Palm Beach was modeled on Italian Renaissance villas and palaces. Its twin belvedere towers, graceful arches, and tropical gardens only hint at the grandeur within.
The hotel is the centerpiece of a 140-acre resort hard by the Atlantic, so close in fact that at high tide waves break against the retaining wall along the promenade at the back of the hotel. The property encompasses a half-mile of private beach, a Mediterranean-style Beach Club with five pools and an oceanfront spa, 10 tennis courts, two 18-hole golf courses, and two fitness centers, not to mention nine restaurants, five bars, numerous boutiques, and a family entertainment center. Still privately owned by the descendants of founder Henry Flagler, it has been the beneficiary of more than $250 million in renovations and improvements over the last decade, including the refurbishing of its 540 rooms and suites and a renovation of the tennis facility. All of these changes and the continuing high standard of service from its unpretentiously personable staff set it apart as the grandest of the nation's beachfront resorts.
Pro Shop: 561-659-8407, option 3
It's too bad this tennis center isn't immediately adjacent to the hotel. Its location, across from the entrance, 300 yards from the hotel itself (there's a free shuttle), means that only guests motivated enough to seek it out discover this well-run, well-staffed facility. Its 10 lighted Har-Tru courts fan out from a three-story clubhouse built in Old Florida style. A covered porch paved with stone wraps around three sides, its western end furnished with lounge-style furniture and overlooking three of the tennis courts. Inside golf and tennis share a pro shop, its walls lined with tawny-colored wooden shelves. Upstairs is the indoor-outdoor Flagler Steakhouse, which overlooks the golf course. Tennis director Ken Thompson has presided over the operation since 1987. He brought a wealth of experience to the position, including a stint training nationally ranked juniors. After more than two decades at the Breakers, he has put together a well-oiled program and solid staff to meet the needs of both hotel guests and local members, "We want the experience at this clubhouse to mirror that at the hotel where service begins the moment you arrive and extends to the moment you leave," says tennis director Ken Thompson.
Tennis Programs. When guests call looking for a game, the staff tries to respond within an hour, drawing on other guests, local members, members of the staff, or even kids in the junior program. Otherwise the programming is what I would call resort basic: a combination of daily clinics with weekly men's, women's, and mixed doubles round robins, supplemented by monthly round robins or other special events. For children, there are kids' clinics (ages 4-6), junior development clinic (ages 6-12), and a junior tennis academy, the last designed for local residents but open to the children of hotel guests. Thompson himself is exceptionally service conscious. He will, for example, ask reservations to let him know when someone inquires about a tennis package so that he can tailor-make one to their specific needs.
Courts & Fees. The tennis center has 10 Har-Tru courts, all of them lighted. It's an attractive complex, with courts laid out mostly in 2s and 3s with California (slanted) corners, see-through black windscreens, and half fences in between. Palm trees, Confederate jasmine, and an abundance of other trees, low shrubs, and flowers surround the fences. Court fees: $25/person before noon, then $20/person.
Beach. The resort has a half-mile crescent of private beach, a little south of the hotel adjacent to the Beach Club and Spa.
Golf Courses. Guests have access to two 18-hole golf courses, one at the hotel, another 10 miles away at Breakers West.
Ocean Course: This course dates to 1897, making it the oldest in Florida. Originally designed by Alexander J. Findlay and subsequently reconstructed in 2000 by Brian Silva, its 18 holes flow through the 140 acres immediately surrounding the hotel. Par: 70. Length: 5,254-6,167 yards.
Breakers Rees Jones Course®: Opened in 1968 with a design by Willard Byrd, this 18-hole course through the residential community of Breakers West, 10 miles west, was redesigned in 2004 by Rees Jones in his renowned Neoclassic style. It's characterized by lush foliage and water hazards. Guests who want a challenge skip the Ocean course and come here. Par: 72. Length: 5,164-7,104 yards.
Spa & Fitness Center. The Breakers' elegant 20,000-square-foot spa stands just to the south of the hotel behind a beachfront terrace dominated by a three-lane lap pool. Inside are 17 massage and treatment rooms, a nail salon, men's and women's lockers with sauna and steam, and a spacious fitness center with windows on two sides and a large selection of strength-training equipment, various cardio machines, and free weights. Personal training is also available. Use of this fitness center is free with any spa treatment but otherwise costs $35/day. As an alternative, there is a second fitness center and studio for classes in the hotel proper and accessible without charge by using your room key.
And ... The resort also has a jogging trail, children's playground, outdoor sports court, bike rentals and tours, lawn games, and a variety of watersports.
Children's programs operate year-round but intensify during the summer. Throughout the year, Coco9nut Crew Camp offers stages half-day and full-day sessions for children ages 3-12. During the summer, the program becomes a camp for children ages 6-12, with a variety of instruction in sports like golf and tennis, plus field trips, arts and crafts, swimming, and more from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday.
In the general upgrading of the resort, one feature that has received the most attention is the rooms. Even the smallest have 250 square feet and exceptionally thoughtful design (with some built-in features) that makes the most of the space available. The newest are full oceanfront premium rooms, notable for their narrow French balconies looking directly at the Atlantic, elegant residential interiors, and amenity-rich marble baths with separate walk-in showers and soaking tubs. Altogether there are 540 rooms, 68 of them suites, variously situated to have ocean or resort views.
Dining options abound. These include breakfast in The Circle beneath hand-painted ceilings, Italian, Asian, American, steak, and seafood restaurants, as well as spa cuisine.
Among the other top tennis resorts with the Breaker's grand style are:
Lodging includes both rooms and suites, all of them recently renovated. See the website for details of choices and rates for the period you plan to visit.
Visit the website for current rates
Seasons. Year-round, though busiest during the winter and early spring.
Travel Instructions. By Air: The nearest air gateway is Palm Beach International Airport, a short drive from the hotel. If you're driving, turn left onto Australian Avenue as you leave the airport and continue through the Belvedere Road intersection and on to the Okeechobee Boulevard exit going east, which is on the right. Follow Okeechobee until it ends at Flagler Drive. From the center lane turn left onto Flagler Drive and veer immediately right onto the drawbridge. Continue over the Intracoastal Waterway to Palm Beach. Turn left at the second traffic light after the bridge onto South County Road (A1A). The Breakers is ½ mile on the right side at One South County Road.
By Car: From I-95, take exit #52, Okeechobee Boulevard going east. It ends 2½ miles later at Flagler Drive. From the center lane turn left onto Flagler Drive and veer immediately right onto the drawbridge. Continue over the Intracoastal Waterway to Palm Beach. Turn left at the second traffic light after the bridge onto South County Road (A1A). The Breakers is ½ mile on the right side at One South County Road.
From the Florida Turnpike, exit at mile marker #99, Okeechobee Boulevard. After paying the toll, turn left to go east on Okeechobee, which ends 6 miles later at Flagler Drive. From the center lane turn left onto Flagler Drive and veer immediately right onto the drawbridge. Continue over the Intracoastal Waterway to Palm Beach. Turn left at the second traffic light after the bridge onto South County Road (A1A). The Breakers is ½ mile on the right side at One South County Road.
General Tourist Information. Visit the Palm Beach County Convention and Visitors Bureau website or contact them at 1555 Palm Beach Lakes Blvd., Suite 800, West Palm Beach, FL 33401. Phone: 800-554-PALM or 561-471-3995.
©2016 Roger Cox