The majestic Loews Don CeSar Hotel overlooks the Gulf of Mexico on seven miles of fine white sand in St. Pete Beach. The certifiably historic 277-room hotel still reflects founder Thomas Rowe’s early 20th century vision, with its Gatsby-like vibe and simple elegance. On a recent visit, our group was wined, dined and pampered regally in “the Legendary Pink Palace,” as the grand hotel is known.
“Every staff member I meet goes above and beyond, offering a sincere level of service,” said Janis Raskin of Raskin Taylor Meetings & Incentives.
The newly renovated hotel lobby is spacious, with high ceilings and simple Doric pillars. Pellucid crystal and blue handblown glass chandeliers and wall sconces, designed by acclaimed Czech artist Tana Dvorakova, resemble sea bubbles for a modern touch.
Additional renovations include 22,000 sf of revised function space, every inch with water views; 16,000 sf of outdoor event space; and a total design and cuisine revamp at the Sea Porch restaurant. Spa Oceana, an 11,000-sf spa with 16 treatment rooms and a 275-pax rooftop garden, was added in 2008.
NATURAL LIGHT, MAN-MADE CHARM
Our tour of the Don begins after a quick trip on Magic, the impressive 51-foot Morgan yacht. It brings us to the two-tiered, 5,671-sf Grand Ballroom at the southern end of the lobby. The space is ideal for gala dinners and award banquets. The original construction of the castle included as many large windows as possible, which made way for natural lighting and refreshing breezes from the Gulf. I discussed the incredible space with Astrid Velten, CTC, owner/manager of Spectrum Travel, during a stroll through the 2,120-sf Del Prado meeting room and its spectacular views of Boca Ciega Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
“The thing that stands out with the Don is that all of the event space has such beautiful windows with a view from every angle. If a group has intense meetings, doesn’t have much free time to be outdoors or the weather isn’t beach weather, the views from all of the windows are inspiring,” Velten said.
WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, BUILD A PALACE
The Don’s 85th Anniversary dinner celebration took place in the 3,450-sf King Charles Ballroom. Chef Kenny Hunsberger’s roaring-twenties menu included violet sorbet, candied violets, tournedo rossini and lobster thermidor. We enjoyed the resonance of the room, made apparent by the vocalists and violins of De Leon Entertainment. While guests of the twenties may have finished the night with the Charleston, we line-danced and ate decadent desserts. Chef Tara manned the anti-griddle station, making a mousse right before our eyes in the 2,500-sf North Terrace Room with adjoining 2,652-sf Veranda. Along the South Terrace Arcade is the Buena Vista Room, an ideal meeting planner office. Just steps away from sand, the outdoor Sunsets pavilion seats 120 dinner guests with 250 pax available nearby at the Beach pavilion.
We enjoyed a memorable gourmet breakfast at the back of Maritana Grille, a 78-seat signature restaurant serving “New American” cuisines with locally sourced ingredients. Jason Brunner, outstanding director of banquets, ushered me to a service of teas, coffees and an amazing Bloody Mary station with freshly picked herbs and spicy celery juice. Maritana Grille is named after Rowe’s favorite opera, according to our host Jeff Abbaticchio, director of PR. Legend has it that the palace was built to honor the opera’s soprano, Lucinda, after a marriage proposal by Rowe was denied by Lucinda’s father. Don Casar was the opera’s tenor.