Two Florida resorts offer different types of luxury

Carol Ann Davidson
Tribune News Service

The South African-born brothers Eddie and Jules Trump created Acqualina Resort & Spa on Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, in 2006. For the fifth year running, Trip Advisor has named it No. 1 luxury beachfront resort in the continental United States.

The list of accolades goes on, including the coveted 5 stars awarded by Forbes, and having recently spent one night at this sumptuous abode, I can attest to the legitimacy of the claims. I was a bit bowled over by the number of Rolls Royces that were parked in the circular driveway: not one, of course, meant for me, but the personal reception in the sophisticated Italian villa decor of the lobby was first class indeed – a refreshing herbal tea and cool towel, and a petite chunk of pink Himayalan salt greeted me along with warm smiles and efficiency at the front desk.

This impeccable service continued at the bank of elevators where a nattily dressed employee was directing guests to and from desired venues within the hotel. My desires were more than satisfied with the 1,660 square-foot one-bedroom king suite and terrace overlooking the sun-speckled ocean. All light, spacious and airy, it was a study in understated elegance: the blue sky acting as a backdrop to the soft greys, whites and linen colors used throughout the living room, bedroom and media center, which included a day bed festooned with silky, satin quilt and throw pillows. A gourmet kitchen with breakfast room hit all the high design notes including a full-size gas range.

The 220-square-foot main bathroom (there is also a smaller powder room) is replete with imported marble floor, double sinks in a custom vanity area, Jacuzzi whirlpool tub, and glass-enclosed showers. Many of these features can be found in 5-star luxury hotels, but for me, it’s the quality of the finishes and originality of even small details that elevate the “stars” into the heavenly realm.

Acqualina has achieved this level, in my view. The glass shower door, the plush towels and fine cotton full-length bathrobes were monogrammed in the distinctive Acqualina signature insignia – a gold “A” imbedded in the red flowerlike background. The shower cap was thick and reusable unlike those seemingly made out of thin plastic wrap; the floor mats and slippers had tiny rubber dots on the bottom to prevent sliding across the skating-rink marble floors; atop one of the bedside tables were complimentary curated books available to read while as a guest and/or to take home. Just a few appreciated touches I noticed during my short stay.

Not willing to waste a moment of that limited time, I lunched at the cheerful outdoor restaurant, Costa Grill. I washed down my perfectly grilled filet of branzino with the cool coconut water encased in a coconut so fresh, it could have been just plucked from the nearby palm tree. The beach was beckoning: Acqualina has acquired a 400-foot unobstructed frontage on the invitingly warm water of the Atlantic Ocean. The area is dotted with red umbrellas and comfy lounges. If feeling the sand between your toes is not your thing, then a collection of outdoor living room-style seating arrangements closer to the three oceanfront pools may suit.

Dinner at Il Mulino that evening was a tad disappointing. The service, although courteous, seemed a bit confused and after a rather long wait, my pasta dish arrived cold. It was soon rectified with sincere apologies, hot pasta and an intoxicating digestive dripping in a house-made, raisin-infused liqueur.

The next morning did not, however, disappoint. At the 20,000-square-foot Acqualina Spa by ESPA, the first ESPA-branded spa in the United States, the two-story, 11-treatment room facility provides a quiet sanctuary for those seeking restoration and rejuvenation. Lounges feature Himalayan Salt Walls, chromotherapy crystal steam rooms, arctic ice fountains, and Finnish dry heat saunas. Outside provides an oceanfront co-ed pool terrace, heated jet pool and Roman waterfall spa. Of the myriad spa treatments, I chose a facial “for tired skin,” and I must admit it seemed to do the trick, without any nonsurgical intervention, although that’s on the menu as well.

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to swim in the spa pool, or partake in any of the numerous activities including scuba diving and kayaking tours, but did see the well-equipped children’s activity center and watched families studying their moves at the Alice in Wonderland-inspired outdoor chess sets.

Breakfast in the art-filled (mainly Warhol, Lichtenstein and Jeff Koons) restaurant or lighter snacks at Kosher to Go deli leaves one fully satisfied to embrace a day guaranteed to enhance the rather rarefied lifestyle that Acqualina represents.

Which brings me to the luxury lifestyle development by the visionary Trump brothers: The Estates at Acqualina. 245 luxury residences in two towers, are currently being built adjacent to the Acqualina Resort and Spa. The late, great Karl Lagerfeld designed the lobbies, which I witnessed in 3D video. It is the first condominium project in the United States to involve Lagerfeld, and I might assume, since his recent passing, the last. Exquisite comes to mind. The Mansion will nestle between the towers and sport no less than such amenities as an ice skating rink, bowling lanes, a boxing ring, virtual golf simulator, a disco/speakeasy, cigar lounge, a spa and on it goes. A city in miniature, it seems.

Carillon Miami Wellness Resort

That morning I took an Uber farther south to Miami Beach and began my second, one-night stay, at the refurbished art deco hotel that I actually remember from trips I took to Florida many years ago. The Carillon exudes a relaxed, easygoing atmosphere starting from the lobby floor up. The beauty of original terrazzo floors remain, and a subdued palate of colors on walls and modern, clean-lined furniture create an atmosphere that fosters wellness, for the mind, body and one assumes, spirit – 70,000 square feet of the resort are devoted to this state of being. In the thermal spa area alone, nine different saunas, steam rooms, herbal Laconium (not as wet as the steam nor dry as the sauna), foot baths and hot tubs. I indulged in a most remarkable Detox Mud-ssage. First came the slathering of my body in warm mud, then a full-body massage, followed by the piece de resistance of a “dry water bed flotation” experience. It goes like this: you lie down on what feels like a large inflated rubber bed. The room is dark and the masseuse turns a switch, which begins the bed’s deflation. It feels as if you are floating in air. All muscle tension evaporates and instant relaxation induces sleep. A rubber marvel, which I wish I could have transported home.

No rest for the wicked though, as the saying goes. There was the extensive gym, the exercise rooms, the dance classes indoors and in a pavilion overlooking the ocean. Then the various pools to choose from, including the outdoor adult pool on the fourth floor. Part of the afternoon was spent at the beach but the food service there was spotty and is in need of a rethink.

The refreshing watermelon salad at lunch, on the other hand, at The Strand Bar and Grill on the resort’s lobby level was delicious. Despite the impeccable service, dinner was not as appealing however. The lighting system made everything look grey, including the food, and somehow it tasted that color.

My suite with a partial view of the ocean was both comfortable and dressed in soft neutral colors. Narrow balconies off the bedroom and living room areas didn’t invite long stays, but the ample living room/kitchen area was well designed and equipped in a modern minimalist manner.

In the wellness center devoted to healing, several doctors are on board, including plastic surgeons, acupuncturists, nutritionists, whose skills offer treatments from face injectables to something called “instant cryo-face lift add-on.” I didn’t partake of any of the above, but participated in a barre exercise class where, for an hour, I tried my hand at, or should I say feet, in ballet moves that may not have transformed me into a prima ballerina but at least I was able to keep up with svelte women at least 10 years older than me. Most of the guests I saw sweating it out at the extensive gym, or classes I peeked into, were a younger crowd. The loaded fitness schedule provides myriad classes each day: On the Monday I was there, it featured 7 a.m. circuit training; 7:30 sunrise meditation; Vinyasa Flow Yoga at 8; and every hour up to and including 6 p.m., one could rock climb, box, Latin Dance and something called Killer Core (the latter would have killed me for sure).

I left this resort with the feeling of it being a camp in the city, a luxury camp indeed, but luxury not the main draw. But then again, what constitutes “luxury”? If that means an opportunity to sequester yourself in a space dedicated to your ultimate well-being, then you’ve found it at the Carillon.