Standing proud on the sugary white sands of St. Pete Beach, Fla., the majestic Don CeSar looks like something straight from the pages of a fairytale. As I drove over Gulf Boulevard across the dramatic arrival bridge and took off my rose-colored glasses, I was awestruck by the architectural wonder before me: The Don CeSar in its castle-like, historic grandeur – undeniably pink – with striking Mediterranean and Moorish-style design elements, arched openings, bell towers, imperial turrets, and red-tile roofs.
I had just set foot on property but could immediately see how The Don CeSar has earned its reputation as Florida’s “Pink Palace,” a crown jewel and a place to create memorable moments that captures hearts of every generation.
The story of The Don CeSar is fascinating one, as I learned on my guided history walking tour of the property, with the highest of highs and lowest of lows. But throughout the years, The Don, as it’s referred to by locals, has always retained that special magic that keeps guests coming back time and again.
The Don CeSar opened with acclaim in 1928 at the height of the Great Gatsby era. It immediately became a playground for the high society and notorious figures of the Roaring Twenties who were drawn to the luxurious hotel and dream project built by Thomas Rowe. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Al Capone are just a few examples of notable guests who once retreated to the splendor and opulence of the mighty Don CeSar.
After a brief period of health, wealth and parties, The Don CeSar weathered the Great Depression only to be saved by the New York Yankees who inked a three-year contract to house its players. In 1942, two years after Rowe’s untimely death, The Don CeSar nearly closed its doors.
By 1969, the iconic “Pink Palace” was in a state of despair with broken windows, peeling paint, bare corridors and a penthouse full of pigeons. A local “Save the Don” committee established a group of investors to save the beloved Don, and William Bowman, Jr. purchased the property in 1972. Pane by pane, 13,000 pieces of glass were removed and the wood scraped, repaired, replaced and repainted. It would take 12,000 gallons of pink paint to cover The Don. Finally, in 1973, the legendary Don CeSar reopened as a full-service resort. The illustrious, storied hotel underwent several renovations over the years to reclaim its status as and one of the nation’s grandest hotels, and in 2017, The Don began the next chapter of its story as an independent hotel.
As I walked the halls of The Don and explored the grounds, the six restaurants and lounges, the 11,000-square-foot Spa Oceana, The Shoppes of The Don, and powdery soft beach, I discovered so much more than just a history lesson – I was captivated by the ageless character, warm hospitality and enchanting style of this grand dame.
In addition to its stunning architectural features, The Don offers 277 luxurious guest rooms including 36 suites for those who want to indulge in a little more space. For a “home away from home” experience, stay at Beach House Suites by The Don CeSar just half a mile up the road from the main property. All 70 one-bedroom suites were recently renovated to a tune of $8 million. The spacious accommodations boast kitchenettes, washer/dryer, 1 - 2 bathrooms, and private balconies with views of Florida’s Gulf Coast and Boca Ciega Bay. Guests of Beach House Suites enjoy full resort privileges at The Don with complimentary shuttle service between the two properties.
A treat for the senses is Spa Oceana with its menu of healing rituals inspired by the oceans around the world. Set sail across the Indian Ocean for the signature Hamsa Healing Ritual, a journey to India with sound healing from Tibetan singing bowls followed by traditional Garshana, massage and scalp treatment. Or, choose the Atlantic Ocean-inspired signature Atlantic Currents Lifting & Firming Facial, which targets anti-aging with micro-current lifting technology. As a finale, head up to the spa’s rooftop terrace and soak in the sound of the waves and breathtaking water views.
For upscale dining, Maritana Grille is as good as it gets. The restaurant recently signed up for Sammy’s Seafood, Inc.’s TRACE program, which allows the restaurant to track exactly where its fish comes from. At Rowe Bar, it’s a beachfront modern bar scene complete with fire pits and cozy outdoor seating. And because The Don is a decadent experience, don’t miss Uncle Andy’s Ice Cream Parlor. It will delight kids as much as those who are kids at heart.
I have fallen in love with The Don and can’t wait for the next chapter of this fairytale as the hotel celebrates its 90th anniversary in January 2018. The Don has aged beautifully, and it continues to get better with time.