A Wealth of Sunshine: LaPlaya

This story appears in the Winter 2014/2015 issue of Eidé Magazine. Read it here, or click to read it in the issue below. 

Story by Tova Gelfond    

I thought I knew Florida vacations. Really knew them. My grandparents have lived there for decades and I visit St. Petersburg often. There have been one too many Orlando trips to count, ones where Jaws and Mickey Mouse have been the center of attention. I have partied my way around Miami, enjoyed the best of pies Key West has to offer and amassed a large collection of tall tales from camping and beaching excursions alike. Each time driving south or emerging from a plane to that salty, humid, algae smell, it feels distinctly Floridian, swatting away mosquitos and gazing up at the palm trees. I’ve had ideas in my head of what to expect from the state that brings us navel oranges and Harry Potter theme parks — until I visited Naples. 

Naples is like the 1970s South-of-France version of Florida, the luxe edition. It’s glamorous and charming the way you might expect for a region that attracts some of the world’s highest-income travelers. It’s not the same crowd that listens to Jimmy Buffett or tours attractions like crocodile-tamers of the Everglades. Located on the western side of South Florida, the Gulf of Mexico insulates the sandy shores from rocky, tumultuous waves, leaving the beaches tranquil and calm. The placid waters, golfing and high-end shopping have long made this a fashionable destination for retired Fortune 500 execs. According to Forbes, some of the richest people in America live here, which has, in turn, made it ultimately desirable for vacationing (and beachouse acquiring if you can afford it). Want to see a $40 million home for sale? You’ve come to the right place.

As an outsider embarking on these elite and foreign shores, there’s one major locale that will give you a passport into this lavish way of life, and that’s LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort. As a part of Noble House Hotels & Resorts collection, this destination features not only accommodations for travelers, but also a membership club for locals to come and partake of their well-manicured surroundings and amenities. It translates into an authenticity that you feel as a guest when you can see that the little oasis is beloved by the community.

But the LaPlaya mission is to make people feel a part of it — local or outlander, at all of their properties — in Florida at Little Palm Island, Ocean Key and Pelican Grand, in Washington (The Edgewater Hotel in Seattle) or Colorado (Gateway Canyons Resort). The general areas of the hotel feature an array of colorful, bright prints and design choices that make you suspect you’ve wandered into Lilly Pulitzer’s living room. Warmth is added to the staging through traditional light fixtures and charming Southern details like rustic, wooden, picture frames and stylish rocking chairs. The governing feeling the common areas create is that of home — a very expensive and elaborate home, but yours nonetheless. The rooms share the overarching theme, followed through by design and attention to detail with comfort. Palatial marble bathrooms are a reminder it’s posh, while the quaint patios have the intimacy of your own backyard.

Out on the shoreline, there’s no greater allure than beach butler service. A staff of gentlemen trek your supplies down to your prime spot — towels, umbrellas, side tables and all. Then it’s a quick raise of a flag, and you have cocktails and lunch delivered at your beck and call. The mood on this beach is serene; you won’t end up down-wave from someone’s college spring break, or get relentlessly pursued by Speedo-clad, oiled-up egoists. It’s quiet enough for you to rock yourself to sleep in a lounge chair while reading on your tablet and listening to the waves, yet free-spirited enough for you to block out several hours collecting salmon-pink seashells or running into the waves to cool off. But even this is outshined by the almost-daily sightings of wild dolphin pods playing in the late afternoon hours. So friendly, they’ll nearly swim up to your kayak or paddleboard if you’re skimming across the water at the right time.

Mealtimes are the great unifier; people gather to cool off and indulge under the cabanas or on the patio of the BALEEN Restaurant. At sunset, guests merge together to take in the gen- erous view as the last halo of sunlight dips into the sea, over an excess of fresh ceviche, cold water oysters, yellowtail snapper or broiled lobster risotto. Never to be had without a chilled, muddled cocktail or crisp glass of Champagne. After dinner, the BALEEN’s famed fire pit is ablaze with cinematic ambiance and incredible conversation (one evening around the pit, I found myself laughing at jokes from the former CFO of Citigroup with a woman who owns a slew of marinas around the world). Here, locals and travelers become old friends over single malt Scotch and cigars, making plans to return year after year.

After just three days traversing the sandy alcoves of LaPlaya, finding new companions between dried-up sand dollars and afternoon massages, I was already planning my return. I had just welcomed a Florida I never knew existed, while having to say goodbye to a second home I never knew I wanted. laplayaresort.com