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The Classic American Hotels Strike Back

Can this resort be saved?

The grand old resorts have their own sensitivities, their guests now as likely to use their frequent-flier miles and head for an infinity pool in Bali as they are to "take the cure" at some stuffed shirt of a hotel. If you do decide to go—and these resorts are often not easy to get to—you'll wonder until the minute you arrive: Will the clientele be ancient?Will I feel like an outsider?Will it be suffocatingly formal?Will there be anything to do?

Massive spas and family programs are bringing a new generation and new energy to many old-line resorts. The Fairmont group has started rolling out Willow Stream spas at its former Canadian Pacific resorts like Banff Springs. The Boca Raton Resort & Club recently opened the luxurious Spa Palazzo, with an assortment of bath treatments themed to the "fountain of youth," which people start dipping into at a rather young age these days. In February the hotel also added the Yacht Club: waterfront rooms, personal butlers, and a marina with 27 slips for seriously big boats.

The Breakers in Palm Beach has spent the last eight years and $150 million changing its image from exclusive to inclusive. Renovation was the least of it; the real changes are a 20,000-square-foot Guerlain spa, a golf and tennis clubhouse, a beach club and oceanfront fitness center, and—most important—a cultural shift toward dressing comfortably and bringing the children. The atmosphere may be newly democratic, but the name Breakers still has the same old ring: Palm Beach, money, privilege.

Sometimes more-complete redos are in order. Until recently the Hotel del Coronado, built in 1888, sat on the beach in San Diego like Victoria in mourning. But a repositioning by Destination Hotels & Resorts has accomplished the unlikely. "We've become less formal and more upmarket," says Michael Hardisty, the managing director.

None of the rickety charm of the old wooden structure, with its cage elevator and Crown Room brunches, has been lost, but the rooms are newly comfortable, and cottages are planned to meet the modern lust for privacy. Air-conditioning has finally been installed. And a handsome new oval lawn lets the whole place breathe—you can finally see the beach, and stroll the grounds, and eat outdoors.

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