Lago Mar Resort stands apart from the crowd


FORT LAUDERDALE -- Not so long ago, in the late 1980s, this was still a sleepy town, with one high-rise bank building serving as its "skyline." Now, there's major office and condominium construction under way all along trendy Las Olas Boulevard, creating a flourishing downtown metropolis.

Three miles east of the city center and a 10-minute cab ride from Fort Lauderdale Airport there is an honest-to-goodness hideaway, located on the only private stretch of beach in a city noted for "beaching it."

Known mainly to insiders and private beach club members, it's a 10-acre, family-owned hotel and private beach club property called Lago Mar.

Word of mouth has been the operative term for reservations since the inception of this elegant hotel and club in 1959.

Reservations have been made by those in the know, high-end travel agents and tour operators, and marketing has been handled through low-key advertising, with some trade show exposure on the national and international level.

For 45 years, this resort, tucked inside a landscape of palm trees, hibiscus, bougainvillaea and tropical greenery, has been a return destination for three generations of families.

The Mediterranean-style, low-rise hotel buildings (three and five stories high) are located in an upscale Fort Lauderdale residential area known as Harbor Beach.

The Venetian-style lobby of the Lago Mar, a family-owned hotel and private beach club property in Fort Lauderdale. The resort's reputation has grown, mostly via word-of-mouth, since it opened in 1959.The hotel

At the entrance to the Venetian-style lobby is a large mosaic seascape, created from stained glass with touches of 24-karat gold leaf and showcasing a variety of exotic ocean life. The unusual art form was designed and implemented by Luciano Alfaro, who has created pieces for the homes of Gloria Estefan and the South Beach estate of the late designer Gianni Versace.

The theme is carried seaward into a sunlight corridor leading to the oceanview dining room.

The hotel itself is horseshoe-shaped, which offers excellent lagoon pool and oceanfront room views.

Most rooms in the main reception building have been refurbished with the resort's signature Tommy Bahama (island-style) furniture.

The fixtures and soft furnishings are in sea-tone colors, the vanities and floors are granite, and the carpeting is mauve and teal with tiny interwoven sea themes.

Accommodations in the Oceanview South and North buildings are in the process of a changeover.

A word to the wise: Should your clients desire oceanfront rooms, ask for the "guaranteed oceanfront view plan." Also, there are packages worth noting: the Beringer Blass Winery Reserve Wine Package and the Spa Getaway Package.

The spa

The Renaissance-inspired European spa at Lago Mar has some interesting expansion news, according to Patti Madden, director of spa operations.

"The spa is the first in the U.S. to offer a wet room with a specially built chromotherapy Swiss shower," she said. "Chromotherapy features a number of functions, such as color light therapy, multiple water jets (positioned to reach different areas of the body) and a therapeutic music sound system."

Another special treatment is Chocolate Indulgence, consisting of a chocolate scrub with a chocolate massage or chocolate facial. The spa also added Indian-themed Ayurveda treatment rooms and a manicure/pedicure salon with a water wall.

Not to be missed is the meditation room overlooking Lake Mayan.

The lagoon pool

Lago Mar's 9,000-square-foot lagoon swimming pool is a beauty, with a center island planted with tall tropical palms for shade.

It has a shallow depth of four feet, which is popular with families with young children. Another pool, which is nine feet deep, is closer to the beach.

For beach lovers, the 500-foot-wide private beach offers a palm tree-shaded pathway, rental cabanas, umbrellas, beach chairs and plenty of room to roam.

There is an easy walk along the beach to a jetty next to the entrance channel of Port Everglades. This is a great spot to view the cruise ships arriving and departing. Your clients may just be able to see the new Queen Mary 2 arriving in port during her winter schedule.

The aquarium pool

The most recent announcement in the aquatic world of Lago Mar is that of an interactive swimming lagoon.

This multimillion-dollar, saltwater "aquarium" pool will include an artificial reef and a soft-touch petting pool containing tropical fish and invertebrate species. Here, hotel guests will be able to swim among the fish.

Nearby is a soft sand area for lounge chairs and walk paths with park benches and wooden bridges with rope handrails. The saltwater pool is expected to be completed in December.

The owner

Walter Banks, son of Florida and Virginia hotelier Sidney Banks, is Lago Mar's guiding hand. During his college years, he operated the hotel's beach concession.

Later, following in his father's footsteps, he entered the marketing sector of the resort and club, developing the resort into what it has become.

A rarity among hotel owners, Banks arrives promptly at 9 a.m., even on weekends, and is present throughout the day.

In addition to the everyday management of the beachfront property, he is the incoming chairman of Visit Florida and is the recipient of the Florida Hotel Motel Association's Hotelier of the Year award for 2003.

His wife, Debbie, is responsible for design ideas in the furnishings of the public space, the guest accommodations, the gourmet Soda Shop and the tony women's, men's and children's boutique.

The boutique carries such top lines as Lilly Pulitzer, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Bahama, Eric Javits, Sassy Tootsies, Trish of Capri, Gottex swimsuits, Kaminski hats, Bobby Jones and Tori Richards.

The Banks' daughter, Debbie Banks Snyder, and their son, Lee, are involved with the resort's operations.

Snyder handles foreign sales, tour operators and several of the trade shows, and her brother is engaged in developments within this property and in foreign developments, as well.

To contact the reporter who wrote this story, send e-mail to [email protected] .

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Room key: LAGO MAR
1700 S. Ocean Lane, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. 33316
Phone: (954) 523-6511
Reservations: (800) 524-6627
E-mail:[email protected]
Owner/president: Walter Banks
General manager: Steve Van Hemert
Rates: $165 to $750 per room, per night
Commission: 10%
Suites: Total room count, 204; 164 suites.
Facilities: Acquario/Palm Garden, Seagrape Terrace, Gourmet Soda Shop, Ocean Grill restaurants; poolside Promenade Bar; new European spa;manicure and pedicure salon; lagoon swimming pool; beachside pool; conference and business center. Also, tennis courts; fitness center; poolside lounges; private beach; hammocks; volleyball courts; nine-hole putting course; outdoor chess board; interactive, aquarium lagoon pool (opening in December); upscale boutique.
Amenities: Complimentary self and valet parking. One- and two-bedroom suites offer private balconies, kitchen facilities and wet bars.
Noteworthy: Lago Mar offers top-of-the-line accommodations. The staff is knowledgeable, friendly and accommodating. Many have been with the resort for 25 years or more.
Not worthy: Rental charge for the cabanas with umbrellas and two chairs is $20 per day, which is somewhat steep, I think.

What's 'in' and haute? It's Fort Lauderdale

FORT LAUDERDALE -- There's an elegant dining and shopping locale on Las Olas Boulevard here, between the Atlantic Ocean and, to the west, the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.

The Boulevard, as it's known locally, has become one of south Florida's most happening places. Las Olas chic is not actually new, however; it has been home to the elegant, 110-room Riverside Hotel, a destination landmark, since 1936.

From early morning until the wee hours visitors of all ages, from the capitals of Europe, the Caribbean and small-town America, can be spotted enjoying the boulevard's European-style al fresco sidewalk cafes.

Clients stroll the broad avenue, which is divided by a landscaped median of tropical flowers and tall shade trees, while shopping in hip boutiques offering the latest in men's and women's fashions. There also are furniture stores, trendy beauty salons and gourmet markets, all housed in Spanish-and Mediterranean-style venues.

Art galleries, featuring collectible and investment-quality pieces, abound in this setting.

Located just east of the heart of the downtown business center, the boulevard runs almost parallel to Fort Lauderdale's New River. A mile-and-a-half directly east of the boulevard is Fort Lauderdale's dressed-up beachfront and Beach Place, an on-the-ocean shopping encounter.

The most western point of Las Olas is anchored by the Broward Center, which offers first-run Broadway road shows. It's the gateway to a downtown area of cultural activity known as the Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District: Himmarshee Village/Olde Town, Las Olas Riverwalk, the Museum of Discovery & Science and the Blockbuster Imax 3D Theatre.

Las Olas Boulevard also offers restaurants to satisfy any taste.

It is home to Mark's Las Olas, featuring cuisine by the award-winning south Florida chef Mark Militello.

Contributing to the ambience are Jackson's 450, Le Cafe de Paris, La Bonne Crepe, the Cheesecake Factory, the French Quarter and the Grill Room, located in the Riverside Hotel.

Sophisticated nightly action pulsates along Las Olas Boulevard's sidewalk bistros; many are decked out at sidewalk level with handrails and canopies alight with tiny, twinkling white lights.

Live jazz and blues are performed seven nights a week at O'Hara's Pub & Jazz Cafe.

Mango's Restaurant features top local groups performing R&B, soul and classic rock. Plan to dance until dawn? Visit the Samba Room, a Latin cafe.

Off West Las Olas, in the downtown area, Second Street, also known as Himmarshee Village and Olde Town, presents a low-key venue for dining and entertainment with nifty little pubs and restaurants.

Solos Trattoria, a memorable and fashionable dining stop located in what was once an old south Florida house, has been converted into a diminutive restaurant offering superb Italian cuisine (reservations highly recommended). Next door is the popular Himmarshee Village Restaurant, offering an eclectic menu.

The Boulevard is a few minutes from most hotels by car or water taxi.

For more information on Fort Lauderdale, contact the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 22-SUNNY or go to -- S.D.

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