The Don Cesar Hotel – the Pink Palace

On a recent December visit to the Don Cesar Hotel and Resort, our group met with Resort Host and Certified Concierge, Ronald MacDougall. As concierge, Mr. MacDougall assures that each guest has the finest experience during their stay at the Don Cesar. In his position as concierge, he has assisted many of the VIPs that have visited the historic pink hotel on the Gulf of Mexico in St. Petersburg, Florida. Those guests have included Mariah Carry, Carole King, Mick Jagger and Jimmy Buffet, as well as many of the visiting Presidents.

Our private tour began in the main bar and lounge, which at this time of the year is beautifully decorated for the holiday season. The majestic dark wood bar, couches and large leather chairs make this the perfect place to sit back, relax and imagine yourself in another era, the early glory days of the Pink Palace.

The story of the Don Cesar Hotel or Pink Lady, as Thomas Rowe liked to call the hotel, begins at the beginning as all good stories do. It was a vision of Thomas J. Rowe to create a monument to a lost love.

This part of the story begins in London where rumor would have it that the young Thomas Rowe, while attending a university, attended the opera “Maritana” where he became infatuated with the female lead, Lucinda, a beautiful Spanish opera singer.They met each night after her performance beside a fountain in London.

Plans were made to elope. On the night that they were to leave, Lucinda did not show and Rowe was left waiting by the fountain. Her parents were made aware of the pending marriage and forced Lucinda to return home to Spain. Lucinda was reported to have died at a young age, but sent this letter to Thomas containing this passage. “Time is infinite, I wait for you by the fountain to share our timeless love,…our destiny is time. ” Well, if it didn’t happen that way, it should have.

Returning to the United States, Thomas Rowe built commercial buildings in New York. He later moved to Norfolk, Virginia, there he met Mary Lucille, the daughter of a rich landowner. Thomas married Mary and began the life of a socialite.

At the age of 47 with his health declining, Thomas Rowe elected to relocate to a more hospitable climate. Leaving his wife in Virginia, he decided on Florida and in particular St Petersburg, Florida, which was experiencing a real estate boom. Arriving with $21,000.00, Rowe began purchasing property.

Real Estate development was hot in the early 1920’s and Thomas Rowe partnered with another former Norfolk socialite and land developer, a Mr. Page. He and Page formed the Boca Ciega Land Company for the purchase of land.

Mr. Page developed the land on the north side of Johns Pass and the family still lives in Madeira Beach.

Rowe amassed a small fortune and while visiting an isolated stretch of undeveloped beach in the area known as Pass-A-Grille. Pass-A-Grille was named for the 18 century “grilleurs” who dried fish on the white beaches. This was a very remote and rugged landscape. Access from the mainland was by a wooden bridge. On these white sands beside the gentle waves of the Gulf of Mexico, Thomas Rowe envisioned his dream resort. Against the advice of many in his circle, Thomas Rowe purchased 80 acres on these shores. Soon a residential subdivision was built and each street was named for a character from the opera Maritana.

In 1926 construction began on his dream resort. Rowe hired architect Henry DuPont to design the project. One obstacle that had to be overcome was the massive structure would be sitting on sand. A floating foundation was devised and its success is reflected in the fact that the foundation has not shifted in the past 82 years.

Another obstacle was transporting construction material. The bridge as earlier mentioned was older and manned by an older bridge keeper who was not always reliable, opening the bridge when he was in the mood. Construction material was placed on a barge and brought to the site bypassing the bridge.

A railroad strike that year drove up costs of construction and after finishing the exterior and interior of the resort, Thomas Rowe ran out of money to furnish the hotel. A backer was needed to save the venture. H.P. Churchill would provide the money, but he had a stipulation. He would name the manager. It was agreed and the Don Cesar had its Grand Opening in 1927, with the some of the wealthiest people in America attending.

It was lavish and plush in the Grand Lobby. Thomas Rowe had constructed a replica of the fountain similar to the one where he,as a student, would rendezvous with the beautiful Lucinda. The fountain would be the first thing that guests would see after climbing the entry stairway into the lobby and was the center- piece of the resort. Modeled after the Royal Hawaiian on Waikiki Beach, the Don Cesar Resort was a vision, standing on the sands of Pass-A-Grille. Thomas Rowe liked to call the hotel the Pink Lady.

The main entrance into the resort was on Gulf Blvd. with two lion statues and a sign stating “Come All Ye Who Seek Health and Rest. For Here They Are Abundant.” The original staircase is hidden, but is located where the Ice Cream Shop is now situated on the first floor.

As luck would have it, the timing could not have been worse; the economy entered what became known as the Great Depression. Fortunately for the hotel, an agreement with the New York Yankees baseball team was secured for housing the players during spring training which helped the resort stay solvent.

Thomas Rowe moved into one of the two penthouses in the Don Cesar. Everyday Rowe would station himself in a chair in the lobby, talking with visitors and staff and taking stock of the guests. Guests who did not meet a certain standard of dress or manners and speech were asked to leave the hotel. It was not an era of political correctness.

Then in 1940, Thomas Rowe collapsed in the lobby. He refused to be taken to the hospital, so he was moved into adjoining rooms 101 and 102. There he stayed until his death. Rowe attempted to get a will witnessed by his attended nurses, but they refused. This reported Will would have left the Pink Lady in the hands of the staff. As it happened, Thomas Rowe’s wife, Mary, gained control of the Don Cesar. The resort fell on hard times. Then in 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbor, a vacation at the beach was not as attractive. People became afraid of attack from the ocean and soon the guests stopped arriving. The U.S. government purchased the Don Cesar and converted the resort for use as a convalescent center for members of the US Army Air Corp. suffering from shell shock and injuries from the war.

One casualty of the transfer of ownership was the fountain in the main lobby. The manager of the converted building was concerned that one of the visitors would trip over the fountain and ordered it removed.

Later the Don Cesar was used for government offices and was finally left abandoned and fell into disrepair. A movement began to have the resort leveled and removed. A counter movement lead by local resident and activist June Hardy Young began to restore the Don Cesar. The later movement was successful and a new owner for the resort was located. William Bowman purchased the resort and in 1973, the resort was reopened. During the remodeling, a replica of the original fountain was placed on the fifth floor.

Our tour included the penthouses, which were vacant at the time of our visit, and the Presidential Suite where every President has stayed since 1940. The penthouses have a spectacular view of St. Petersburg, the gulf beaches and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Of course if you decide to stay in one these penthouses, it will set you back around $3500.00 a night.

The Don Cesar is a beautiful resort with two swimming pools, exercise room and a new spa. Opened just recently, the 11,000 sq ft Spa Oceana is a state of the art spa. Guests can have a massage, get in the whirlpool and sauna, and then have a lunch on the roof of the spa building overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

If you go, ask the reservationist if there are any specials. On our visit, we received a preseason rate and were very happy with our stay.

The resort is co-owned and operated by the Loews Hotels chain.

Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa

This iconic resort, on Penang Island, off the Malaysian coast, reopened September 28th after a 21-month rehab, much needed after 33 years of action.

I wanted to check out the ‘love of life and its pleasures’ that Rasa Sayang means, but the usual one-night stand had to be extended since I arrived at 10pm and left at 6.30am. As my car drew up after the 45 minute ride from the airport, I was met by a posse of absolutely charming employees and taken upstairs to room 2522, on the fifth – top – floor. May we take your photo? Gosh, how would this look, after such a long day.

Once alone, I quickly ordered room service, unpacked and, hey presto, dinner arrived. For a simple salad and pasta request I got a wheeled table with white china and crispest white linens, highlighted by an old-gold ikat mat that matched the orchids. The napkin was stylishly folded through a striped shell napkin ring. Dishes were covered metal hats that could have been designed by Philippe Starck – and the al dente penne, liberally covered in what seemed like a no-calorie ‘cream’ soy sauce with baby asparagus bits, was totally delicious. Designer baths, hinting at the elixir of youth and wellness, are complimentary, and a rose petal and pink French clay special had been drawn in the marble bathtub that was sexily out on my balcony. I slunk into it, hoping there were no Peeping Toms around, wallowed marvellously, and collapsed into bed.

In the morning I had a good look around my room, a 680 sq ft Premier category in the Rasa Wing, the super-luxury category of what is now a 304-room resort. The space flows, from marble foyer to marble bathroom, with one glass wall (with blind) looking into the bed part of the main room, which is divided by a ten-foot work desk with lots of electric sockets and speedy wired broadband – there is wireless in public areas, including gardens. The bed is like a mass of white clouds, its bed head a wall of silk panels in the room’s colours, namely golds, persimmon, soft brown. The mini bar comes with a blue martini shaker, the wall-set flat-screen is Philips, the safe has a little box for jewellery, and the notepaper has my name on it. Light switches are all labelled (someone has a lot of common sense, here).

Through the all-glass wall fronting the terrace, I could now see how fabulous the grounds are. Nine of the trees on the total-30 acre estate are protected rainforest species, apparently over a century old. The newly-landscaped walkways and immaculate lawns include a circular arena for weddings. The wing has its own curvilinear salt-water pool – down one S-shaped wall, you can swim past 27 small horizontal water jets into a water protuberance (like the sticking out part of a jigsaw piece) which is a vitality pool. Beyond are shady lawns with wood lounge chairs and tables. Beach concierges bring you discreet wireless bells: ring, and someone comes running, or perhaps cycling, to take your order. Beyond this is the sandy beach, which from later this month will have a full dive centre.

My wake-up run took me around all this, and the executive (that is to say bijou) golf course, and pair of tennis courts, and the neighbouring, more-casual, Garden wing of the hotel. I looked back up at the Rasa wing’s roofs, each of which is built in typical Minangkabau style, like two big open books, spine up, the whole then sprayed with dark brown paint. I admired the clever layout of balconies which means no-one can in fact see anyone having their outdoor baths.

The theatre-style breakfast buffet, in Spice Market, was copious, with fabulous juices-to order, and Greek-type home made yogurt and exotic

fruits. There is Malay hot if you want it, or Chinese, English, Japanese, or anything: all serving stations are decorated with mammoth sculptures of brightly-coloured spices from a local merchant. There is a good gym but most guests, who were predominantly European during my stay, prefer to spend the day outside, being energetic but in the main lounging in a private area somewhere in the grounds. This is a resort to get lost in, if you want. Rasa guests can also lounge in their lobby, which serves complimentary-everything day and evening long. There are 550 employees for the whole resort, and every one seems to know every guest’s name: perhaps the arrival photos are used as aide-memoirs.

It was fortunate that I had a reservation at CHI, The Spa at Shangri-La, which appears to be doing thriving business from both sexes. Even getting there is an experience. You hardly realise there is a winding meter-wide walkway that, shielded by a tall bamboo walls, wraps around that curvilinear pool. After 60 steps I found myself in a ten-sided Tibetan house, topped by a giant bell. I was led to Namshe, one of 11 ‘homes’ in the adjacent ‘spa village’. Inside, a foyer led to full bathroom one side, the treatment room the other. Beyond, shielded by an eight foot stone wall and more bamboo, was an outdoor tub for two. My feet were washed, my face was treated, my feet massaged while the mask set. Delicate bells awoke me (a treatment is a great place for a quick shut-eye).

Back in my room, butler Syed had returned my laundry, in a big brown leather box, with interior compartments, each laundered item individually wrapped in crisp tissue paper. The bowl of whole fruits, under a gauze hat, had been replenished. It was time for dinner at the Feringgi Grill, where couples seemingly anonymous by day have been transformed by smart-casual shirts for him and mostly sleeveless-long frocks and quite a lot of jewellery (hers). Walls here are old bricks, the carpet cranberry, table linens white. Add candelabra bearing three twisted gold candles, and mottled green display mats produced by a local glass blower, and view into the night garden or, looking in, across to the kitchen. There is lots of table-side service, with real flambés performed with theatrical panache. Regulars head straight for the beef, mostly Australian. 60% opt for the kobe-style wagyu, which is three times the price of merely grain-fed. Rasa Sayang attracts the value-seeking connoisseur rather than the quality-less penny-pincher.

My bed had been turned down, and my photo, taken the previous night, stood in a souvenir leather frame with the hotel’s name on it. Clever. No wonder there are so many repeat guests here. The night was all too short, room service breakfast arrived with enough of that yogurt to keep centenarians living for many more decades. Downstairs, still pre-dawn, GM Arbind Shrestha – surely the only Nepalese-American GM in the ultra-luxury hotels industry – waited. Well, he said, I am a hotelier. This is my job, and passion. Butler Syed was also there, and he came with me all the way back to the airport.

Girlfriend Spa Getaways Renew And Reconnect

Looking to take a break from your hectic lifestyle and reconnect with some old pals? There’s nothing quite like a spa getaway to help you find your inner self, as well as rediscover your dearest friends while enjoying some pampering. Spa packages provide groups with an opportunity to indulge in treatments, eat healthy, and enjoy some fun activities. There’s never been a better time to try a cooking class with your mom, join in a yoga class with your friends, or try an exotic spa treatment with your sister while making lasting memories.

The Girlfriend’s Celebration Package at Aspira Spa at the Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, is a great way to celebrate a hallmark birthday or get away with good friends. A AAA Four Diamond property, Aspira Spa is regarded one of the Midwest’s premier resort spas. Girlfriends kick off their two-night stay with a champagne toast and chocolate, followed by some well-deserved relaxation at the spa. Treatments include massage, hydrotherapy, chromatherapy, balneotherapy, facials, manicures, pedicures, and more. The package also offers a French-classics cooking class and unlimited use of the Aspira Spa and Osthoff Resort facilities.

The Thelma and Louise package at The Spa at Bacara in Santa Barbara, California, features luxurious accommodations for two nights, as well as a chauffeured and catered wine tour through the Santa Ynez Valley. Set on 78 beachfront acres, an escape to Bacara is all about the good life. Spa services feature luxury lines such as Sonya Dakar and guests recharge their batteries with pilates, yoga and meditation classes. Bacara’s two-miles of beachfront are a water sports playground.

Plan a girls’ getaway at Canyon Ranch, the world’s premier lifestyle resort, and you may never want to go home. With locations in Tucson, Arizona, and Lenox, Massachusetts, the Girlfriends Getaway package features outdoor adventures, fitness classes, renowned cuisine, and a team of wellness professionals. In an unhurried environment, guests learn about their health status and preventive care.

Relaxation and pampering are the hallmarks of Chateau on the Lake Resort in Branson, Missouri. Their Girls’ Spa Getaway eases life’s tensions with a soak in the heated whirlpools that overlook Table Rock Lake. Guests then choose between the Chateau Dogwood Signature Massage, Talking Rocks Hot Stone Massage, or Slim and Tone Wrap, followed by the spa’s signature pedicure. Guests also enjoy access to the spa’s eucalyptus steam room and relaxation lounge on the day of their service. Pals then hit the stores at Branson Landing with a shopping passport featuring hundreds of dollars in savings.

Girls in need of some real pampering head to The Claremont Resort & Spa in Berkeley, California, where the two-night Damsels in Distress package battles everyday stress with a focus on personal well being. Guests begin with a private yoga session, followed by a pre-spa ritual to loosen tension, nutrition therapy, and aromatherapy massage. The package also includes dinner at the popular Paragon Bar & Café with live jazz and views of San Francisco Bay.

For girls who love shopping therapy, the Girlfriends Getaway Package at Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas includes in-room cocktails prepared by the hotel’s martini butler, an exclusive shopping excursion at Saks Fifth Avenue, gourmet breakfast, and luxurious accommodations. And after all that shopping, girls are treated to a pampering foot massage at the Spa at Four Seasons, as well as a make-up consultation with a Saks Fifth beauty specialist.