Overview: The Olde School choice for 4-star oceanfront luxury in Palm Beach
Strengths: Location, outdoor complex/pools, gym, golf
Drawbacks: Dated rooms and decor, weak dining, a very large property, hallway noise in rooms
Notable: You are asked to show your room key entirely too often
Earlier this week, I spent a night at the Breakers as part of a quick business trip to Palm Beach. I typically stay at the Four Seasons Palm Beach or Eau Palm Beach / Manalapan (nez Ritz Carlton) for most of my stays in the Palm Beach area and thought it would be nice to re-visit Palm Beach’s grande dame hotel for a change.
I’m glad I stayed here (to refresh my memory), but for the things I most care about, I wouldn’t go out of my way to return. I much prefer the more intimate feel and level of service at the Four Seasons Palm Beach, but others may find certain attributes of this property more compelling.
I arrived at about 9pm with two colleagues in a rental car and were greeted in the bright porte-cochère by a number of doormen and valets. They were quick to help and directed us (but didn’t escort us) to the front desk.
The lobby is a long and grand corridor, with an unusually ornate ceiling. Entering the lobby really feels like walking back in time. The ceiling is ornately detailed.
To the left was the reception area. Though there was no queue (and three agents, so we were all served immediately), check in took a little longer than it should. The agents seemed to be typing excessively and we ultimately were asked to sign some sort of electronic document on a POS terminal similar to what you’d find at a CVS. Their process felt a little odd.
My stay was booked via a Virtuoso agent and unlike my stay at the Beacon XV, the agent spent a minute and proactively explained the benefits of the Virtuoso package. She did mention that breakfast via room service was not an option under the Virtuoso package, but rather they only included breakfasts in the dining rooms. While this was a disappointing limitation, at least they were clear about it. I had to ask, but there was also a separate $100 resort credit, which could be used for room service.
We booked partial ocean view rooms and were all upgraded to partial ocean view suites (without having to ask for an upgrade). Upgrades without asking are always welcome.
The young lady who checked me in wore a uniform that perhaps excessively highlighted her ample bosom. I would have thought their uniforms would be a bit more tame at a property of this calibre. (More on bosoms further below…)
The suite itself was uninspired. The quality of the furnishings was not at a high standard and the door showed unusual wear. The living room of the suite was very small, similar to my suite at the Chicago Waldorf/Elysian, while the bathroom was oversized with wasted space.
There was both a mini-bar and a separate empty refrigerator.
Despite the oversized bathroom, the toilet did not get closed off into a separate little room.
The bedroom was comfortably sized (not small but not large) and the bed was reasonably comfortable. The shutters and curtains did an excellent job of blocking out any light and the room was pitch black at night, which I prefer.
A small welcome amenity was on the bed. Perhaps the smallest I’d ever received?
This was one of the in-room magazines (really a catalogue).
Noise from other rooms came into my living room and bedroom, until a little after 11pm. At a hotel of the calibre that the Breakers seeks to be, this really shouldn’t happen.
Where the hotel shines is in its outdoor complex and (indoor) gym. The hotel has what seems to be nearly as many pools as the Four Seasons Hualalai. The Breakers has at least two family pools and one adults only pool area. There were also several hot tubs. Seating appeared plentiful, though I suspect at peak times, owing to the size of the hotel, it could be limited.
One small pool and hot tub area was limited just to adults, and mobile phones were prohibited.
Off to the side of one of the pools were several bungalows that I understand are hotel rooms you can stay in. Similar to the Four Seasons Biltmore Santa Barbara, but definitely less private here.
Their beach, like much of Palm Beach, has faced some significant erosion. There are now large piles of boulders in front of part of the hotel’s beach. This definitely provides them with some protection from storms, but still offered guests areas to access the beach without having to deal with rocks.
The way their beach was configured, their neighbor to the south has a sea wall structure which actually abuts into the ocean. (It probably used to not abut into the ocean, prior to the storms in the mid-2000s.) While beaches are public in Florida, this wall into the water stops beach walkers coming from the south, and makes the beach area in front of the Breakers very private. (People could walk from the north and make this the turn around point…or people from the south could swim around the sea wall I guess, too.)
The gym was unusually extensive for a hotel gym. It was quite large, and offered a wonderful ocean view. To enter the gym, you first need to pass a man who checks that you have a room key, and then separately, you need to swipe your room key in a door to enter the gym. Itdoes seem like overkill to have two verification steps!
Nearby, the spa is being renovated.
Put simply, the pool, beach and gym offerings at the Breakers are the best of the big three in Palm Beach. The grounds are also beautiful. These areas, and golf, are the only areas where this hotel is tops in Palm Beach, however.
We had some drinks at the bar shortly after arrival. The service was nice, but slow. When we ordered, we were asked if we wanted to make room charge. We said yes (to capture the $100 resort credits we had!) and then were asked to present our key. It was odd how to be asked to show your key. I suspect they’ve had problems with impostor guests charging things to rooms which would prompt this…but the “may I see your room key” requests did become tiresome and aren’t what I would expect at a luxury hotel.
The waitress, like the front desk clerk, also had quite a bit of cleavage showing. This was the case with many of the waitresses, in fact. If you would have told me I was in Vegas, I probably wouldn’t have disputed it.
There were two breakfast options in the morning: an indoor restaurant (same spot as the bar from the night before) or an outdoor, poolside, beach-view restaurant. Though inside began at 7, the outside venue didn’t open until 8am. I had enough time to make the outdoor option work.
When I arrived, I was again asked to show my room key to get past a pool area bouncer. I was seated quickly (I was the first guest) and the waitress came by with menus. The waitress also asked to see my room key. C’mon already – the room key situation was becoming comical. Based on some codes printed on the key, she told me my only option was the buffet. I was planning on just a menu item, but didn’t feel like getting into a debate. She offered to bring me coffee or juice, and I accepted both. (Their fresh squeezed grapefruit juice was very good.) The waitress told me there would be no check and I could leave when I was done.
The buffet was an ordinary deluxe hotel buffet. All of the customary things…but nothing extraordinary. The eggs, which were served in a standard hotel serving dish, despite me being the first guest, were cold. Other items were generally fine.
My coffee was served in a soiled decanter. If they’re not cleaning the outside, why should I assume they’re cleaning the inside of these? Yuck.
As I walked back to my room after breakfast, I passed the spa, which is under renovation. Based on the size of the area under works right now, I suspect it will be quite a large facility. Hopefully it will be nice. You’ll definitely need to show your room key card to enter.
After breakfast, I called down from my room to have our car brought around.
I walked down to check out and mentioned that I had a beer from the minibar and asked the agent to add it to me bill. He said he could not add it to the bill and that minibar charges can only be added after room service “performs a full inspection” of the room. Full inspection? This too was ridiculous. Invariably, they’d charge my card for this extra item but not send me an updated invoice, leaving it to me to chase them for an updated invoice to I can get prepare my T&E report.
The agent assured me they would email to me my initial invoice and then any additional items would trigger a new email. Safe to say I’ve not received any emails from them. I’ll ask my assistant to chase this up next week. I’ve been to well over 100 luxury hotels around the world and have never, ever encountered a situation where minibar items couldn’t be paid at check out. Here I am 30+ hours after check out and I’ve not received any emails from them.
Overall, their front office procedures – both on check in and check out – were really quite amateurish.
My colleagues came by and we walked to the car (which was waiting for us). Valets took care of loading our bags and we were off. Notably, I was able to claim our car without any sort of claim ticket. I didn’t even have to show my room key. 😉
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Though I didn’t golf this time, this report would be incomplete without mentioning golf. I have been able to arrange to play at the Ocean course at the Breakers several times before. That they have an on-property executive course adjacent to the ocean hotel in Palm Beach is just incredible. (There is also a championship course which is part of the hotel group, but situated a few miles inland.) The courses are in excellent shape and in my experience, get relatively little use. I’ve taken my young son (probably 7 or 8 at the time) out for a round here without issue. They are remarkably family friendly, second only to Hualalai in my experience. Finding an empty course is truly a luxury.
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None of the negatives I highlighted are showstoppers, but they can easily become a pain in the neck and certainly inconsistent with a luxury hotel experience that many of us would expect. This property wins hands down on outdoor (and gym) activities of any of the major Palm Beach hotels. Beyond those attributes (which are very important), the rest of my experience here fell meaningfully short of what I would expect. Many aspects of the operation truly felt amateur. Prospective guests considering a trip to Palm Beach would need to consider what their priorities would be. For many, the Breakers would be ideal. Those who prefer a smaller hotel with superior service might be better off down at the Four Seasons.
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This hotel has long had a club area, too. I’ve never stayed in the club accommodations, however. It seems like they’ve re-branded the club as the Flagler Boutique hotel, positioning it as a hotel-within-a-hotel. From my walk around the property, it looks like there is a ground level, ocean-front dining area for club guests. There were easily a half dozen televisions lining one wall, which struck me as odd. I didn’t enter this part of the hotel, but it does look as if they’ve created a subsection of the hotel for this new branded section.
This is a guess, but I doubt this sub-hotel would be meaningfully nicer.
The Breakers Palm Beach
1 South County Road
Palm Beach, Florida 33480