The Best of Florida: Where to Stay

Known for its magical theme parks and powdery white sand beaches, the Sunshine State has served as a popular travel destination for both East and West Coasters. With 1,000 miles of sprawling seascape, a bustling city scene and close to perfect temperatures year-round, Florida possesses just the right amount of action and tranquility to please almost any traveler. Whether your mission is to soak up the sun or stroll the streets of South Beach, finding accommodations to suit those needs is make-or-break. VUE has narrowed it down to some of the best that Florida has to offer, including everything from downtown Art Deco to romantic, low-key retreats.

Best of Jacksonville: Ponte Vedra Beach Resorts
By Abby Montanez

FloridaPonte Vedra Beach may be widely known as the home of the PGA Tour’s headquarters, however this coastal community’s offerings go beyond its longstanding golf affiliation. Just 30 minutes southeast of Jacksonville, perched oceanfront and nestled amongst Floridian palm trees sits the area’s most sought after seaside retreat, Ponte Vedra Beach Resorts. Made up of two sister properties, Ponte Vedra Inn & Club and The Lodge & Club, the exclusive resort combines world-class accommodations, unrivaled amenities and an astounding culinary program for an experience that boasts all the key ingredients for the perfect weekend escape.

While each property is unique in its own right, Ponte Vedra Beach Resorts is well-regarded for its award-winning country club charm and incredible service, thanks to an expertly trained staff of over 700 and 85+ years of established elegance. The Inn and Lodge are separated by just a mile and a half and are accessible via shuttle, with both properties offering their own variety of recreational activities and dining options open to everyone.

floridaThe Inn & Club is where you’ll find a sportier style of retreat, appealing more towards families or the active vacationer with two 18-hole golf courses, 15 Har-Tru clay tennis courts and an 8,000-square-foot state-of-the-art fitness center. Parents can lounge beside any of the four oceanfront pools or indulge in over 100 treatment options at the property’s top-rated luxury spa while kids partake in activities at the playground.

The Lodge & Club, on the other hand, is a much more intimate setting ideal for couples or anyone in need of some R&R. Compared to its sister property which houses a combined 249 guestrooms and suites, the Lodge only has only 66 accommodation offerings, each one newly renovated and exclusively designed with mahogany furniture, plush bedding, marble bathrooms and in some cases, in-room fireplaces and kitchenettes. The Lodge also has two heated pools, a smaller fitness center, daily afternoon high tea and an outdoor fire pit for guests to enjoy.

The culinary program at Ponte Vedra Beach Resorts is undoubtedly the focal point of any stay. From chic and casual restaurants to bars and lounges, the resort seizes every opportunity it has to create unforgettable dining experiences. From dinner on the golf course to breakfast on the beach [available upon request], both the Inn and the Lodge have their own array of amazing culinary offerings. The Seahorse Grille is the Inn’s signature restaurant which welcomes guests to a behind-the-scenes look at the food industry known as the Chef’s Table. Made from locally-sourced redwood, the literal Chef’s Table seats up to four people and is located inside the Seahorse Grille’s kitchen, treating guests to a customized tasting menu crafted by Chef de Cuisine, Erik Osol.

At Ponte Vedra Beach Resorts, days can be spent strolling the grounds, taking in the oceanfront views and embracing the laid-back lifestyle for which the village is known. For some, it will quickly start to feel less like vacation and more like home.

Best of Orlando: Four Seasons Private Residences at Golden Oak
By Michael Scivoli

Many of us have fond memories of visiting Walt Disney World from our childhoods, but if you really look back, there wasn’t much in the way of luxury. For the longest time, we’ve projected this lack of affluence even onto the city of Orlando itself. However my most recent visit proved otherwise. This wasn’t the Disney World of Generation X, this was a resort property that had made luxury a priority, and to someone who hadn’t been back since the dog days of adolescence, it seemed to have happened overnight.

In a broader sense, today’s Orlando is a vibrant, cultural city with an up-and-coming food scene— home to one of the fastest growing metro area job markets in the country. With those changes, Walt Disney World has blossomed from what we once knew in our wee days. The transition truly began when The Walt Disney Company Partnered with Four Seasons Resort Hotels to bring the luxury experience to Walt Disney World. Together, they a parcel of land within Disney’s 43-square-mile property, the site of two active golf courses—Eagle Pines and Osprey Ridge. Construction started on the 443-room, 68-suite resort in 2011 and the doors officially opened in summer 2014. Today, it serves as the premier luxury accommodation option for Disney’s millions of annual visitors. The Four Seasons Orlando—the first Five Diamond-rated property in the city—is everything one can expect from the brand’s namesake; a royal suite which connects up to nine bedrooms, a live-action show kitchen, a world-class spa, a lazy river, and a top notch Spanish steakhouse known as Capa, among other things. Its best asset though, is the 17th floor balcony view of all four parks, which is more than ideal for catching the evening fireworks.

floridaGolden Oak Development—which is owned by Disney—unveiled a plan that would bring nearly 300 private residences on property, perfect for single-family luxury homes. Today, the community is known as Golden Oak, aptly named after Walt’s ranch in California’s Placerita Canyon. Adjacent to the Four Seasons, it has become a best-selling luxury community featuring homes; no condos, townhouses or rental programs, just whole ownership.

Driving through the gated community, you won’t see Mickey Mouse waving to you at every corner. What you will see are design concepts that pay homage to styles such as Tuscan, French Country (storybook), Dutch Colonial, Spanish Revival, Island Colonial and Italianate—homes ranging from 3,000 square feet (4br/4ba) on one-forth of an acre and upwards to three-quarters. Each of the five neighborhoods is named in commemoration of Walt’s life, such as Marceline (which features 75 homes) named for the town in Missouri where he grew up—almost everything has a little subtle Disney history, one that’s not overbearing.

The close-knit neighborhood has a healthy mix of people of all ages, from all over the world, a community who shares a love for Disney. There are multiple families in Golden Oak that own two homes. A lot of them grew up in a normal house, went to Disney as a kid, went to college and started their own business. For many, these homes are an emotional purchase. In fact, some residents love it so much, they’re even upgrading within the community to larger homes. Besides what bonds them, residents have access to an array of amenities such as Summerhouse, a private club house which plays host to everything from holiday theme parties and dinners to my personal favorite, cake decorating classes (and eating). Summerhouse also has a dedicated Club Member Service team to help arrange events and home catering, a fitness center and its own restaurant—Markham’s. Simply put everybody knows everybody’s name, giving the venue and property an overall refreshing sense of unity.

 floridaCloser to the resort, there’s another community of 30 homes known as The Four Seasons Private Residences which is part of Golden Oak. During my visit this spring, only two homes have been completed, but the new neighborhood promises to take everything Golden Oak has done to the next level. These residents will have private access to resort amenities and an elegant, hotel-inspired lifestyle. The design concepts mimic sleek finishes with clean lines, absent of design blemishes like light switches. We visited a $7 million 6br/6ba which was the embodiment of the ultimate host house, with a Four Seasons Kitchen, an indoor-outdoor area, a Mickey suite and subtle details which literally require scouring the earth to find.

Four Seasons amenities extend to the home, and this includes everything from dry cleaning services, in-home chef services and use of the resort spa, gym, pools and waterpark. There’s also a private connection to the resort, back entrance, tennis court, and golf course. During my visit, in-home breakfast was catered by the Disney team (who even managed to recreate a Manhattan bagel). Following this, the Club Member Services team at Golden Oak arranged tours for us—similar to what they do for residents—which brought us backstage and through lines at Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios. An experience completely divergent from that of my childhood.

With the addition of a true luxury community, Orlando is getting the recognition it deserves as opposed to “the place where Mickey Mouse lives.” Aside from a revamped Disney Springs and the addition of the Residences at The Four Seasons in Golden Oak, high-end accommodations are being built at Copper Creek Villas and Cabins adjacent to Wilderness Lodge. We closed our visit the same way I imagine nights will end for future Golden Oak residences, aboard a yacht, cruising beneath the Magic Kingdom’s Saturday fireworks, eyes fixated on the endless bursts of color exploding in the evening sky.

Best of Sarasota: The Ritz- Carlton, Sarasota
By Lila Schneider

Along Florida’s Gulf Coast there are endless opportunities to get away, but only one hotel can offer you an escape to your own personal oasis, The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota. From the moment guests arrive on the beautifully landscaped 11-acre resort-style property, they are greeted with warm smiles and of course the unparalleled white glove service The Ritz-Carlton is worldly known for.

Walking through the grand doors, guests are immediately drawn to the unique Sarasota ambiance, embracing both coastal and city cultures. As the warm sun beams through from the balcony, it’s apparent from the reflection on the sleek marble and eclectic mix of contemporary and traditional furniture that the hotel recently underwent a lavish renovation. Led by designer Jude Mulhern formerly of Bilkey Llinas Design, the design tips its hat to the nearby Selby Botanical Gardens with the incorporation of native flora and fauna alongside soft blues and purples to reflect Sarasota’s breathtaking sunsets.

floridaTruly wanting to encapsulate the soul of Sarasota throughout the resort, its newly designed guest rooms are the showcase of the year’s renovation. With fine finishes and thoughtful concepts, these stay rooms embody an ideal (and tranquil) coastal lifestyle. While guests could easily let time slip away gazing at the panoramic seaside views from their private balconies, there is much more to discover throughout the sandy retreat.

Only steps away from picture-perfect sugar sand beaches, you can relax to the sound of the ocean or enjoy the tropical setting of the crystal clear pools in your private cabana. If you can’t sit still for long, the luxury resort has you covered; the award-winning Ritz-Carlton Golf Club is only miles away from the hotel and features a Tom Fazio-designed 18-hole course and 12 picturesque lakes to form a fair and memorable test of golf. The Club also offers two Har-Tru clay tennis courts, perfect for a friendly volley.

When it’s time to give your feet a rest, the luxurious spa offers localized and signature treatments that also emulate the native flora and fauna of Sarasota. Holistic tissue massages infuse your aroma of choice, with options including lemongrass bamboo or remineralizing sea escape, enlivening all the senses and allowing guests to find their inner peace for the ultimate relaxation retreat. And for those looking to dine on Sarasota’s breathtaking coast, guests can enjoy craft microbrews and signature Sarasota-inspired cocktails using farm fresh ingredients at Jack Dusty, downtown’s only waterfront dining destination.

Whether your ideal getaway is laying by the ocean or staying active underneath the Florida sun, The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota is the perfect escape with its sophisticated beauty and deeply historic roots.

Best of Miami: The Betsy-South Beach
By Abby Montanez

floridaThere’s no shortage of eclectic boutique hotels lining the streets of South Beach, but few succeed in capturing Ocean Drive’s quintessential Art Deco vibe quite like The Betsy-South Beach. Originally built in 1949 by L. Murray Dixon and known up until 2009 as “The Betsy Ross Hotel,” the 130-room property is a historical Miami Beach landmark famous for its colonial charm and superior architectural influence.

The Betsy-South Beach’s signature exterior is the last remaining example of a true, Florida Georgian-style building which is best defined by its floor-to-ceiling Venetian windows and structurally symmetrical columns. Inside, the newly-renovated Colonial Wing houses the front desk and lobby entrance where guests are immediately transported to an atmosphere reminiscent of something out of “The Great Gatsby,” a combination of Old Hollywood glam and modern, artistic design with custom furniture, walnut flooring and brass mirrored accents.

Built upon the PACE program—philanthropy, arts, culture and education—The Betsy-South Beach regularly hosts poets, musicians and artists alike and in the past year, has added a number of creativity-boosting nooks to their Art Deco Wing including a specially curated ‘Library’ and a soundproof ‘Writers Room’. Accommodations abide by these same principals, relaxed yet sophisticated in design with whimsical touches—think pillows topped with bookmarks made from recycled materials, inscribed with poetry.

floridaThe Betsy-South Beach wouldn’t be a South Beach staple without its fair share of luxury amenities including private beach access for hotel-goers, and a recently unveiled 3,200-square-foot rooftop pool complete with cabanas and white glove service. Guests will also find world-class dining options at The Betsy-South Beach, our favorite of which was LT Steak & Seafood from award-winning chef Laurent Tourondel. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and features a seasonally-inspired menu derivative of Ocean Drive’s local culture and cuisine.

While it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint just what exactly makes The Betsy-South Beach so special, perhaps it is the culmination of all these entities—art, hospitality and design—that has left such a lasting impression on the city of Miami.

While in Miami: Spend the day at sea

For those looking to ditch the bustling South Beach streets, consider renting a boat and setting out to sea for the day. Operating out of Fort Lauderdale’s Bahia Mar Yachting Center and just an hour outside of Miami, Best Boat Club and Rentals is known for being one of the largest and longest running local boat rental companies in the county.

Best Boat Club has one of the only powerboat training centers that is authorized in the U.S. and today, they offer both recreational rentals and training center services to those looking to hit the water. If you’re someone who has previous boating experience you can get ready to set sail on your own, however, for those novices out there, Best Boat Club will set you up with a captain who will also serve as your personal guide for the day. All of the boats at Best Boat Club come equipped with bimini tops, stereos, VHF radios and coolers, and are available by reservation for members and non-members.