Life’s a beach

One in every twenty-five residents of Palm Beach is a millionaire, so some reckon that this part of south-east Florida is called the Gold Coast because of the astounding bank balances of the locals, rather than because of its golden beaches.

Palm Beach County lies at the heart of the Gold Coast with the towns of Boca Raton on the southern boundary (about 60 miles north of Miami), Palm Beach and West Palm Beach in the middle (Estée Lauder, Donald Trump and the Kennedy family have homes here) and the town of Jupiter, on the northern boundary. You may spot the actor Burt Reynolds on the main street of Jupiter: he grew up here and owns a couple of attractions in town. But you won’t be made welcome if you try to go star-spotting among the man sions of Jupiter Inlet Colony on Jupiter Island where the rich and famous like to keep very much to themselves.

Palm Beach County not only has 47 miles of beach front, it has more than 1,100 tennis courts and over 145 golf courses. In fact, the Professional Golfer’s Association of America is based here. There are also two major polo clubs. The combination of endless beaches and a year-round tropical climate make this area a Mecca for water sports, particularly sailing and deep-sea fishing. Consequently, there are plenty of opportunities for incentive organisers.

Must-do activities for group or individual incentive visitors include taking an airboat ride in the inland swamps to spot exotic birds and alligators, or taking a boat ride along the Intra-coastal waterway while enjoying a gourmet meal or on-board spa treatments like massage, aromatherapy, and reflexology. Peanut Island, a 79-acre island in north Palm Beach County, can be rented for theme parties.

Visitors can enjoy the nightlife of West Palm Beach where the main street is closed to traffic and the bars and restaurants are packed with glamorous people. At the Mar-a-Lago Club (Donald Trump’s mansion and private club) groups can enjoy private banquets. During the day, the place to see and be seen is Worth Avenue, wandering around shops like Cartier, Gucci and Yves St Laurent.

The Palm Beach Polo and Equestrian Club attracts Olympic-class riders, celebrities, and huge crowds to its regular Sunday matches. Groups can arrange private polo matches and demonstrations at the club where there are excellent banquet facilities. Those looking for something a little more genteel can take a lesson in the art of the Japanese Tea ceremony and relax in the extensive Japanese gardens of the Morikami Museum.

But if you are looking for something out of this world, there’s only one place to go – a 90 mile drive up the coast to the Kennedy Space Centre to watch a launch. Shuttles are infrequent, but smaller rockets are being launched all the time.

Where is there to stay while sampling the high-life in Palm Beach County? Although there are dozens of first-class hotels and resorts in the county, there are only two resorts that exemplify the best the Gold Coast has to offer.

The Breakers is a 572-room, Italian Renaissance-style hotel in 140 acres of ocean-front property at Palm Beach.

Next year, the Breakers will be opening a new 15m conference centre, spa and beach club facility.The conference centre will have a 15,000-square foot ballroom, 8,000 square feet of pre-function space and five executive boardrooms totalling 2,100 square feet. All this in addition to the main hotel’s existing 33,000 square feet of meeting space. The spa will have a four-lane lap pool, 17 massage and treatment rooms and a fully-equipped fitness centre. The beach club adds three more pools and a restaurant.

The Boca Raton resort and club is one of the most famous hotels in the US, located in the town of Boca Raton right on the southern boundary of Palm Beach County.

Like the Breakers, it is an historic hotel. The original building, the Cloister, was built by the eccentric architect Addison Mizner in 1926 in a mixture of Spanish-Mediterranean, Moorish and Gothic styles. Now the resort, situated in 356-acres, comprises several elements. The Cloister with its 338 rooms and 49 concierge-service rooms and suites, the Tower with its 242 rooms, and the Golf Villas. On the land side of the Intra-coastal waterway and separated from the main hotel, the 120 Villas overlook the golf course.

The Boca Beach Club with 214 rooms is a few hundred yards away on the other side of the waterway. It has half a mile of private beach overlooking the Atlantic. The resort’s facilities include two indoor racquetball courts, 30 tennis courts, two 18-hole championship golf-courses and a marina with sail or motorboat charters, scuba boats, and deep-sea fishing boats.

However if golf is your thing, then you might be prepared to forego the glamorous luxury of classic resorts for a chance to stay at the PGA National Resort & Spa just outside Palm Beach.

Up to 80 per cent of its business is meetings and incentive groups, from companies like Chase Manhattan, American Express, Citibank, Ernst & Young, Mercedes and Chrysler.

The resort, which comprises 339 guest rooms and 80 cottage suites, sits on 2,340 acres and has no less than five championship golf courses to choose from, three driving ranges, six putting greens, and a golf academy.

In addition there are nine pools, a 26-acre sailing lake, 19 tennis courts, a spa and fitness club, a 33,900-square-foot conference centre, and what the PGA claims to be the largest croquet courts in the western hemisphere.

Florida has had its fair share of bad publicity in recent years, but it never fails to bounce back. It has to. Florida is tourism, and tourism generates 22bn per annum for Florida.

Over the past year, 45 million foreign visitors came to Florida, including 1.3 million Britons. But cities like Miami and Orlando have successfully invested considerable money and resources into crime-prevention schemes in the past few years, and tourist-related crime has been dropping.

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