Fort Lauderdale is home to some of the most fabulous displays of private real-estate wealth in the country, but its reputation has been primarily defined, until recently, by tides of spring breakers – a playground for the riff raff, rather than the rich. That’s all changed over the last few years, as millions of dollars in development projects have poured in, quickly washing away the popular port city’s party past and elevating it to tony status as the Gold Coast's newest “it” town. Luxury hotels bearing prestigious names like Ritz, Hilton, and Trump are sprouting up all over – with dozens of newbies opening (such as the first beachfront W in late April) and old favorites, like the landmark Yankee Clipper (known for its live mermaid shows), getting extensive facelifts. Last weekend, I checked into the Westin Beach Resort to check out the hotel’s recent multi-million dollar rebirth.
Part of the tourism board’s new Lauderdale Luxe collection and situated next door to the W on bustling Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard, the resort is one such area anchor (the building operated for 44 years as the Sheraton Yankee Trader, relative to the iconic Clipper). More intimate than sprawling sister property the Diplomat in nearby Hollywood (which features Caviar facials and nearly a thousand rooms), the Beach Resort is a smarter choice for vacationers seeking the luxe life at pocket-friendly prices. Each of the 433 spacious guestrooms (from the layout, you’d never know there are more than 100) are swathed in calm shades of blue, with crisp white linens, chaise lounges, and floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors offering panoramic views of Lauderdale’s inter-coastal waterways, pristine public beach, or sparkling city lights. Nice touches include mahogany shutters between the bath and bedrooms, half-walled glass showers, and Westin’s custom designed pillow-topped mattresses (heavenly, indeed). This coffee connoisseur especially enjoyed the mini in-room Starbucks café – in addition to the breezy lanai downstairs at the real thing, adjacent to a new 24-hour fitness center (with treadmill views of the Atlantic) and cozy 6,000 sq ft spa (featuring perfumed sauna). Outside on the mezzanine level sundeck, take a dip in the heated pool or cozy up in a cabana. Prefer the sand? A skywalk (one of only three in the city) conveniently connects the expansive palm-fringed terrace to the beach below.
The Deals The resort is offering a variety of promos through the end of the year (including half-off second night stays), with rates starting at just $159/night. Room-wise, we recommend shelling out a bit extra for an ocean-facing perch in the South Tower, featuring breathtaking views of the Florida sunrise (pictured). Now through October 31, receive half-off an 80-minute “Rollerssage” spa treatment (the resort’s unique spin on the typical hot stone massage) when you book a night directly through the tourism board (Call 954-245-3040 or visit www.sunny.org for more info).
Why Go Now Perhaps the best time to visit, crowds are thin and the water still warm during October and November (just watch out for hurricanes further into fall). Dubbed the Yachting Capital of the World, October 29-November 2 marks the 50th Annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show (the largest such global event).
Getting There Beginning in mid-November, low-cost airlines Jet Blue and Virgin Atlantic will offer daily nonstop flights to/from the west coast (generally lacking and pricey), with Virgin’s introductory fares starting at a cool $100 each way.