When CD’s were introduced in the 1980s, they promised durability. No more wrangling a nest of whisper-thin tape back into a cassette. (You were totally worth it, Beastie Boys.) No more surgical extraction of tape that had been sucked into the nether-regions of a Walkman. CD’s, we were told, would not wear out.
Jimmy Buffet ruined that myth. I bought his album, Songs You Know by Heart, in the mid 80s. I was in high school, spending countless hours criss-crossing the state of Wyoming in a school bus on athletic trips. It was not uncommon to leave town at dawn, drive six hours, play a football game, then drive home. The best defense against the monotony was a Discman, a case full of CDs and as many AA batteries as you could carry.
Jimmy was my favorite travel companion. In an instant he’d whisk me away from the chest-deep snowdrifts that scrolled past the bus window. Jimmy took me to rum-drenched beaches. He took me sailing on crystal waters. He took me to questionable bars and introduced me to questionable people. He took me to Margaritaville. He took me to paradise. I had the most amazing cheeseburger there.
The album was a portal into a world I knew little about. I played the CD so often that the logos and text rubbed off the label side; and the flip side was so scratched that eventually I could only hear brief fragments of music and lyrics through my headphones. It didn’t matter—I knew the songs by heart.
Those songs, and the emotions behind them, came flooding back to me as my family walked into Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort in Hollywood, Florida. The laid-back, five-o’clock-somewhere world Jimmy had created in my mind was there to touch (although as a AAA Four Diamond resort, it didn’t quite have the shady, law-skirting vibe that Jimmy sang about on my CD).
When we first arrived, we didn’t have a room; we were just doing what we do as the Fit Family Robinson—walking around, poking our noses into places, looking for adventure. Besides, with a name like Margaritaville—with its namesake song about passing out and waking up with a new tattoo—we didn’t think it would cater to families.
We were wrong. Tamara—our de-facto social butterfly and gatherer of intel—began chatting with the staff, and discovered all the amenities aimed at kids and families. More importantly, from the moment we walked into the place—before we’d met anyone and before we had a room booked—the staff treated us like family. (Yes, luxury resort employees are trained to be friendly, but we’ve been around enough to know what is genuine. Jimmy Buffet’s open-arms approach to life has clearly permeated the resort’s culture.)
We’d been staying at another hotel, but once we found Margaritaville, we decided to move over and spend the last two nights of our tour at the resort. It might have been the best decision of our four-week trip.
When we arrived the next day to check in, we truly became part of the family. Jeff, the guest services manager, adopted us immediately. “I always adopt one family during their stay,” he said. “My current family is checking out, so you’re it.” We became friends right away, although I suspect everyone who meets him feels the same attachment. While helping us check in and escorting us to our room, he greeted nearly everyone by name, guests and employees alike. On the elevator he asked guests questions that were clearly follow-ups to earlier conversations. He remembered names and personal details.
Jeff earned his family-friendly credentials right away by having our boys push the button in the elevator and then operate the keycard when we reached our room. That stuff matters to kids—it’s the adolescent equivalent of getting to drive. If I ever own a hotel, every elevator will have a panel of fake buttons that kids can light up like a Christmas tree. (You’re welcome, parents.)
The room was amazing. Our two-bedroom, two-bath suite on the 15th floor offered a commanding view of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the resort’s swimming pools, the bandshell on the beach, the FlowRider surf simulator, and a sweeping panorama of the Hollywood Broadwalk. (That’s not a typo; when your beach path is exceptionally wide and not made of wood, you call it a broadwalk.)
The boys were thrilled to each have their own queen bed. I was impressed that even with a luxury tower suite, the resort still paid attention to family-friendly details; the kids’ room had a large window to take in the view, but no access to the balcony.
The kids could only get to the balcony through the master bedroom or kitchen area—one less thing to worry about at night when they were in their room.
We unpacked and were already wishing our stay was going to be longer. We ate dinner at Margaritaville restaurant. We sat on the patio—shaped like the deck of a ship—and the boys ordered up a pirate hat and sword from the stilt-walking balloon artists. (Why wouldn’t they be on stilts?) And of course, the boys got Junior Cheeseburger In Paradise kid meals.
The next morning I joined Jeff and his running club for a 6:30 am jog on the broadwalk. A breeze off the ocean; the broadwalk mostly deserted; the sun coming up as we finished—it was almost enough to make me like running. (By the way, I don’t recall a single Buffett song that mentions jogging.) Truthfully, it was a lot of fun—great people and perfect conditions. We finished with coffee in the hotel lobby and I got to solidify new friendships, which is at the heart of what FFR is all about. A perfect start to the day.
Then it was FlowRider time! The boys learned to surf last year in Australia, and when I pointed this out to our instructors, Rafael and Mark, they smiled and said, “That won’t help. It’s totally different.”
Maybe so, but I like to think we did okay for three land-locked rookies. Watch the video and judge for yourself. I only know that we were smiling and laughing for an hour straight and that I was sore from the neck down for several days after. (continued…)
We only had one full day to take in all that the resort had to offer, but we spent the next few hours doing something we don’t always make time for: nothing. We chilled in a poolside cabana next to the Landshark Bar & Grill. Napped a little. Swam a little. Ate a little. Talked a little.
Sometimes turning off is the hardest thing to do, and the most necessary, particularly when you want to connect as a family. Those times often turn into the best memories for your kids. I’m continually surprised at what my kids remember most about a particular trip. Usually it’s the little stuff: sitting on a bench and feeding the ducks at Disneyland; the secret mini-fridge in our hotel room; the awesome cookies on the Delta flight. I wouldn’t be surprised if the boys one day forget the FlowRider but remember the knock-knock jokes we were making up in the cabana.
Before dinner, as the sun was about to set, the boys went to watch movies and hang at the Kid’s Club. Tam and I the jumped on the complimentary Margaritaville beach cruisers and took a sunset spin along the broadwalk. Tam even jumped in on the tail end of some real military boot camp training as they jogged along. (continued…)
Biking, swimming, surfing, dining, chilling—a good day to be sure. Lucie, the activities manager, kept us happy our entire stay. But even with all the fun activities, the resort’s lifeblood—its inspiration and its good-times mojo—is Jimmy Buffett’s music. Song lyrics are part of the decor, adorning walls and pillows and artwork in ways that manage to be both sophisticated and playful at the same time. It’s kitsch with class, which is why the resort can have a Four Diamond rating while having a 12-foot, pop-art sculpture of a broken flip-flop in the lobby.
Then there’s the live music, which can be found inside at the restaurants and bars, and outside in the bandshell that rocks the broadwalk at sundown. Ron, the entertainment director, goes above and beyond to make sure that music takes center stage. And the best part: our boys got to join in. Their band, BroBand, got booked to play at Margaritville restaurant, opening for 30Vice!, an incredible band from Miami. It was an amazing experience for them, playing on the same stage that Jimmy himself played on.
After a full day, we were happy to get back to our room and kick it. We opened the sliding glass doors to let the breeze in and did a quick family stretch as we listened to the waves. Finally, we threw on our fluffy white robes, hung the License to Chill sign on the door and plopped down on the bed for some reading time.
The next morning, before checking out, Tamara taught a Dancer’s Body® yoga class in the resort’s group fitness room. After class, she got in a much-needed massage at the St Somewhere Spa. (When momma’s happy, everybody’s happy).
As our checkout time came, the final moments in our room were appropriately spent. Our boys—who will never know the joys of an unspooled cassette tape or a scratched CD—used their iPod’s to find Cheeseburger in Paradise on YouTube, then gave it a go on their guitar and ukulele. They even made up some of their own lyrics. Hopefully, Jimmy Buffet would be proud.
Margaritaville Interior & Rooms Gallery
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