Luxury hotel service has come a long way in recent years, but Steve Turk harkens back to his days as a “cabana boy” at Loews Miami Beach Hotel.
“Each cabana was a tent structure,” he said. “They each had a fan and a tiny TV, along with a mobile DVD player, which we thought was cool. Guests also received a tiny refrigerator and four chairs.”
Fast-forward more than 20 years some things remain the same.
“People still want to be pampered,’’ said Turk, now the director of food and beverage at Loews Miami Beach Hotel in South Beach.
Pampering today, however, is as different as those 20-inch TVs are from the Smart Phones guests sometimes use to reserve their luxury poolside experiences. Today’s poolside pampering often includes personal concierges, big-screen TVs, refrigerators, private showers and baths.
“It’s a place where memories begin,” said Turk, who oversees Loews Miami Beach Hotel’s SOAK cabanas and day beds. “You have your own real estate. The concierge is going to get to know you well, especially if you’re a repeat customer, because we keep notes on you and know your likes.
“People have chosen (Loews Miami Beach Hotel) because of the cabana experience,” he added.
Indeed, poolside cabanas, bungalows and daybeds each have become integral parts of a luxury resort/hotel experience.
Barry Manners, director of recreation at The Breakers Palm Beach, puts the resort’s poolside bungalows experience in perspective.
“What you realize is you didn’t know you had to have it until you have it. Then you can’t go back,” he said.
The 25 newly reimagined poolside bungalows at The Breakers each range from 300 to 400 square feet and can comfortably accommodate up to six guests. Each comes complete with an ocean view, concierge, lounge area with living room furniture and dining table, full bath and showers, refrigerator stocked with non-alcoholic beverages, Wi-Fi, and exclusive food and beverage services.
The Breakers’ poolside bungalows each were reimagined by Tihany Design, the renowned design firm that for most of the past 10 years has collaborated with the resort on redoing everything from its restaurants to ornate lobby.
“Every part of the hotel that we have worked on is a reflection of the DNA of the resort,’’ said Adam Tihany, founder of Tihany Design. “We want to surprise and delight guests every time they see something new happening in the hotel.”
Part of that DNA is the poolside bungalows within the resort’s Beach Club. That “guestroom away from a guestroom” experience attracts guests year-round to the 125-year-old beachfront resort.
“Very whimsical,” is how Tihany refers to his work at the bungalows. “You’re going out there to spend the day in a super luxurious environment, but the bottom line is you’re going there to have fun.”
“We always want to have the highest quality experiences for our guests. Guests can create a day at the pool, where they can have as much privacy and exclusivity as they want, or they can enjoy the crowd at the pool. It’s really a great way to spend a day with the family,” said Manners.
And for The Breakers and other luxury resorts, poolside bungalows and cabanas are great ways to create revenue. Depending on seasonality, prices at luxury bungalows and cabanas often start at around $400 per day and can reach $1,000 per day. It’s not unusual for guests to rent bungalows and cabanas for days—even weeks—at a time.
“Poolside or oceanside cabanas create significant revenue opportunities,” said Steve Contos, EVP of Davidson Resorts, whose portfolio includes Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort in Florida, The Don CeSar in St. Pete Beach, FL, and Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, MI. “It’s a highly effective means of driving incremental spend while providing an exclusive space for the guest.
“Creating a sense of place where the guest feels exclusive, while being a part of the environment is critical. Personalized attention and anticipating guest needs is very important. Having the appropriate amenities and a premium location adds to the experience.”
Those amenities and premium locations come with big price tags, to be sure, but well worth it for guests who want to have the luxury and privacy that a poolside bungalow/cabana provides.
“If a guest is paying top dollar for a luxury cabana experience, they want it to be private,’’ said Nikolai Ursin, director of marketing for The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort in Florida.
The St. Regis Bal Harbour features a series of 600-square-foot, air-conditioned oceanfront day villas, each decorated and finished with marble floors and antiqued mirrors. Each also includes a daybed, shower, flat screen TV, Bluetooth speakers, mini-fridge and patio with two lounge chairs, umbrellas, dining table and privacy hedges.
“Having a private shower, bathroom, and wet bar in the cabana is essential for a luxury experience,” Ursin said. “It’s about recreating a hotel room type space by the pool.
“Families with young children love our oceanfront day villas, as they are able to put the small children down for a nap in the indoor part of the cabana, yet they can remain outside enjoying the sun. It’s better than having to go up to a hotel room or suite to spend a few hours inside while the child naps.”
Even business groups are even discovering the pleasures of poolside luxury.
“We recently had two business conferences that booked out all the cabanas,” Turk said. “That was a good sight to see.”
But regardless of the purpose, he said, “The cabana experience is the quintessential experience for being at a resort.”
Some things never change.