Palm Beach, Florida, has been built on its exclusivity and made famous as the indulgent stomping grounds of the “One Percenters.” Just across the Flagler Bridge over the ICW from West Palm Beach this ritzy four-square-mile island has been preserved and celebrated for over 100 years. Perfectly manicured landscapes and Queen Palms line streets named Cherry Lane or Angler Avenue. With easy access to three notable marinas this is a cruiser haven for the likes of those who crave luxury, history and all things fine—even for those of us in the 99 percent group. But it’s when you discover who and what lies behind the prestige of this illustrious island sprinkled with decadent eateries, high-end designer shops and magnificent mansions that Palm Beach leaves a lasting impression.
In 1892, Henry Flagler shifted his focus from Standard Oil to establish this lush coastal area—at the time known as Lake Worth—into a high-end resort town for Northerners. He immediately had investors support the construction of hotels, residences and shops, soon referred to as Palm Beach Island. His expansion of the Florida East Coast Railway tracks provided easy access, and soon the South Florida shore bustled with antsy vacationers—it hasn’t stopped since.
Palm Beach’s rich history is as deep as the checkbooks that frequent Worth Avenue, and while the authentic feel of the posh, resort glamour is preserved, nowadays it adapts to the individual lifestyles of its guests. While it is still geared toward the fortunate few who can treat Worth Avenue as a playground, even the most modest cruiser will enjoy the sightseeing, history, dining, and activities offered on this island that’s bordered by a peach and white scalloped seawall to guard against the Atlantic’s waves.
Today, many visitors grace Palm Beach’s picturesque shores by boat. Two full-service ports––Rybovich Marina and Palm Harbor Marina—are located on North Flagler Drive in the ICW on the West side of “The Island.” Near the heart of both downtown West Palm Beach and historic Palm Beach, these two harbors are just steps away from all the shops, restaurants, beaches, and activities the area is known for. A stone’s throw north of The Island across the Palm Beach Inlet is Sailfish Marina. Don’t miss their weekend breakfast buffet (served 8AM-1PM) with fresh, local seafood. Sailfish Marina is a short boat ride to Peanut Island, a popular place to beach your boat for a sunny day of barbeque and bevvies.
Once your boat is safely docked, start exploring this one-of-a-kind beachfront resort town at the Breakers Palm Beach Hotel (known as the Palm Beach Inn in Flagler’s era) and Flagler’s private home, Whitehall, which is open to the public year-round as the Flagler Museum. The Breakers Palm Beach captures an authentic Italian-Renaissance feel and is set directly on one of the coast’s softest sand beaches. Stunning architectural elegance is displayed throughout each corner of the resort and everywhere you look solidifies why it has been in a class of its own among North American luxury resorts for many years. Even if you plan to stay on your boat, treat yourself to an afternoon exploring the Breakers’ gardens, courtyards, restaurants, and spas.
The Flagler Museum is a mega-mansion from the Gilded Age, with an extravagant double-staircase entry cloaked in floor-to-ceiling marble. Elaborate décor, flourishing courtyards, expansive rooms, and authentic memorabilia are all on display. On a warm, sunny day—the norm in Palm Beach—enjoy a bike ride on the Lake Trail to discover the secluded shops and beautiful homes hidden behind lush landscapes. The Society of the Four Arts sculpture garden on Cocoanut Drive is the perfect spot for a picnic and a short walk from the white sand beaches. Phipps Ocean Park has unspoiled snorkeling waters, R. G. Kreusler Park is another perfect picnic setting, and Flagpole Beach is ideal for sunbathing, shell collecting and kite surfing when the wind is just right. The beaches on Palm Beach are different from other tourist areas—you won’t find bars or restaurants fronting them—and are most famous for their pristine sand and seclusion. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be amply entertained. In addition to snorkeling you’ll find kayaking, parasailing, surfing, and jet skiing.
Prepare to be awed as you walk along Worth Avenue’s impressive storefronts, including Brooks Brothers, Gucci, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Vineyard Vines, and Tiffany’s & Co.––to name a handful. This street displays the type of style, charm and sophistication that earned its reputation as one of the most beautiful and lavish shopping venues in the country. Bentleys, Rolls Royces and Maybachs line the streets, which give way to dozens of lantern-lit alleyways leading to courtyards and secret gardens with European-style restaurants and unique boutiques.
In the heart of Downtown West Palm Beach—just a two-minute drive across Flagler Bridge—is Cityplace, an open-air plaza reminiscent of a European town center. Over 80 shops are tucked inside dramatic Mediterranean architecture––some major retailers and specialty boutiques––each a little more reasonable than the high-end shops on Worth Avenue. The many restaurants feature enough delicious options to satisfy nearly any craving on any budget. As the afternoon turns into evening, swap your iced latte for cocktails. Couples on date nights walk the plaza hand-in-hand while the palm trees light up and the fountains dance to lights and music. Families young and old also frequent Cityplace’s cobblestone sidewalks in hopes of an extra-special treat at Sloan’s Ice Cream and Confections––a South Florida native that turns every sugary fantasy into reality. If you’re looking for entertainment, the Improv Comedy Club, Muvico’s IMAX theater, or the brand-new bowling alley with bar and grill, Revolutions, might do the trick. For something more quaint, take a horsedrawn carriage ride along the twinkling plaza as live bands play at the Blue Martini or BB King’s Blues Club.
If you’re cruising as a couple or the kids are already tucked into bed, Clematis Street is a busy strip known for its eclectic bars and restaurants, and bustling nightlife. Bring your dancing shoes and a little liquid courage for one of the many nightclubs, or grab a slice of pizza from City Girls Pizza and savor a low-key evening swinging on the waterfront benches as the shimmering lights reflect from the many mega-yachts berthed in the ICW harbors. Look across the water to see Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump’s Palm Beach digs.
For an upscale evening, enjoy dinner at The Palm Beach Grille on Royal Poinciana Way––don’t skip appetizers or dessert; the fire-grilled artichokes and hot fudge sundae take center stage. Afterward, sit front and center for a show at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts—it’s home to the Palm Beach Opera and welcomes a variety of musicians, orchestras, Broadway shows, and plays each month.
Palm Beachers delight in this world-class escape that allows visitors to experience the ultimate lifestyle of beachfront living at its finest. The pristine shores treat you to the luxury, history and entertainment only this unique coastal gem offers. Once you cruise the waters and walk the streets you’ll understand why The Island has been famous for over a century. I won’t be a bit surprised if you plan a return engagement.
By Christine Carpenter, Southern Boating March 2014
The more one cruises in the islands, the more apparent it becomes that each individual island—like individual people—has its own distinct personality. Some are quiet, fiercely independent and guard their shores with menacing appearances, while others are easily approached and carefree, with a warm, welcoming and happy nature. I found Aruba’s tourism tagline of “One happy island” to be true, but I discovered the island has many other personas as well, which makes getting to know it all the more beguiling.
Scarcely 15 miles off the northern coast of Venezuela, the 19.6-mile-long, 6-mile-wide island of Aruba is the western-most of the Lesser Antilles’ ABC islands—Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. For the casual or infrequent cruiser, its remote off-the-beaten-path location disqualifies it as a cruising destination. However, for cruisers comfortable with venturing farther—as well as for avid sport fishermen and yachts heading to or from the Panama Canal or even Colombia, which is actively promoting itself as a cruising destination—Aruba is a convenient and worthwhile stopover out of the hurricane belt.
Its climate alone—the average temperature is 82 degrees year-round—entices a longer or repeat visit, but it also has the largest desalination system in the Caribbean for pure, clean water right from the tap that’s low on minerals and chlorination ensuring a spotless finish on yachts.
Clearing customs in Aruba is different from what cruisers may be used to on other islands. Upon arrival, all vessels must proceed immediately to the official port of entry at Barcadera Harbor located three miles south of Port Oranjestad (Aruba’s capital city). According to Renaissance Marina Manager Sander Vellinga, Aruba’s clearance process is well-organized and efficient, and the procedures are explained and documents are available on the Renaissance Marina’s website (renaissancemarina.com).
Renaissance Marina is in the heart of downtown Oranjestad and has 50 slips with Med-style mooring up to 200′ LOA. The average size of visiting yachts is 90-140′ in the marina, which has an entrance depth of 12.5′ with a 1.5-foot tide change. Since the marina is in the middle of downtown away from the beaches further north, the resort owns two private beaches accessed by a free courtesy shuttle (no personal tenders are allowed on their private beaches). Marina guests have full access to all hotel facilities as well, which comes in handy when relatives invite themselves for a visit. Renaissance Marina is an in-water marina only, but haul-out and marine services are available at Varadero Marina (varaderocaribe.com) located close to the airport. Conveniently for cruisers, the six-month cruising permit is put on hold once their boat is hauled-out and moved past a specific gate at Varadero Marina. “Aruba has a good infrastructure and does not charge duty on parts, so it’s fairly cost-effective to have work done here,” says Vellinga, who has also published an Aruba cruising guide (aruba-cruisingguide.com). For those who prefer being on the hook as opposed to marinas, the bay known as Surfside is a popular and calm anchorage with little to no coral, and has a nice beach area directly in front of the Aruba Tourism Authority office.
Aruba offers a plethora of activity options. For the health conscious or fitness buffs, get your yoga and pilates fix at Manchebo Resort and Spa (manchebo.com), an intimate 72-room boutique beach resort ideally situated on Eagle Beach. I was concerned my first yoga experience would be akin to the very uncomfortable yoga scene from the movie Couples Retreat, but certified yoga teacher Anouscka van der Kuyp made everyone feel relaxed, comfortable and empowered to try new poses. Within steps of the beach, the multiuse, wall-less yoga “room” is a covered open-air space with a hardwood floor and stage in front. It also serves well for weddings, vow renewals and other celebrations. After yoga, enjoy one of Manchebo’s healthy smoothies with your breakfast. Then get those achy muscles massaged at their Spa del Sol, a Balinese-themed spa with massage huts that overlook the beach and ocean.
Water sports run the gamut on Aruba. Snorkel the reefs, scuba dive the many shipwrecks, or take a paddleboarding lesson from former Floridian Dennis Martinez, owner of Aruba Surf and Paddle School (arubasurfschool.com). But if you’re an avid kite surfer or have longed to try it, the long stretch of Palm Beach is ideally suited with smooth, protected waters, a constant breeze, and a sandy bottom, all perfect elements for kiteboarding and windsurfing, whether you’re a beginner or expert.
Palm Beach—along with the other beaches on the south and more civilized side of the island—is where you’ll find hotels, resorts, casinos, restaurants, and shopping. But while the south shore is where the action is, you’ll never truly know Aruba until you’re introduced to its more isolated yet intriguing side, the north coast, with its desolate beauty that receives and repels visitors simultaneously. Bicyclists frequently explore the north coast provided they have the stamina and sufficient drinking water. But for those who prefer horsepower, both the four-legged and four-wheeled versions are available for guided tours. An early morning horseback ride through Arikok National Park treats riders to spectacular views of the rocky, cacti-peppered landscape. Take a dip in the natural pool while the horses patiently wait. Four-wheel drive Yamaha UTVs, however, enable you to see more of the coast, albeit at a higher rate of speed. The trail is dusty, so glasses or goggles and a bandana are helpful. Stretch your legs at the ruins of the Bushiribana Gold Mill, where visitors participate in the tradition of stacking rocks along the shoreline as a memorial to a loved one, a prayer or blessing, or a wish. Heading north on the well-traveled trail, remnants of makeshift cabins and colorful dwellings scatter the shoreline and provide shelter from the elements as well as complete isolation. The California Lighthouse, which marks the northernmost tip of the island, is named after the vessel California that shipwrecked on the coast nearby.
On Aruba, locals frequent the same places as tourists. It’s not uncommon to eat in the same restaurant a s island residents, shop in the same grocery store, or go to the same church. At St. Ann Parish in the town of Noord, visiting tourists (and journalists) join residents at the 11AM Mass spoken in English. With a common purpose, they blend harmoniously in a great melting pot of ages, culture and skin color. As the scripture is read and hymns are sung, yet another aspect of Aruba’s distinctive personality is revealed on this multi-faceted island.
By Liz Pasch, Southern Boating October 2013