The Palm Beaches – which spans 39 cities along Florida’s eastern coastline – was built with genuine hospitality in mind.
Dubbed “America’s First Resort Destination,” the palm tree-covered region’s founding father was Henry Flagler, a wealthy businessman best known for turning Florida's east coast into a vacation hot spot for millions of tourists starting in the late 1880s.
While Flagler was responsible for building the Florida East Coast Railway, he was also an early resort developer, constructing hotels along his railway route.
One of his earliest projects was the beachfront Palm Beach Inn, opening in 1896, which served as a smaller and quieter extension of his Royal Poinciana hotel. It also overlooked the ocean.
As the story goes, regular guests in Palm Beach frequently asked for rooms “down by the breakers,” and within a few years, the Palm Beach Inn, in 1901, adapted a name inspired by those requests, becoming “The Breakers” – which, even after a rebuild in 1926, still exists today.
“The Breakers is the iconic flagship hotel for the area. That's where it all began,” said Erick Garnica, associate vice-president of global leisure sales for Discover The Palm Beaches, speaking to PAX at a trade meet-and-greet at Sassafraz restaurant in Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood on Tuesday (June 13).
“And every single year, they reinvest $25 million into the property.”
The Breakers is just one of some 220 hotels in The Palm Beaches, which not only has independent high-end properties, but also recognized brands (like Hiltons, Hyatts and Marriotts) and budget-friendly options.
And, with its most southern city, Boca Raton, being some 40 to 50 minutes away from Port Everglades, The Palm Beaches is set up for pre and/or post-cruise stays.
Cruise crowds – and all visitors to Florida – can now access a high-speed passenger train, called the Brightline, which launched in 2018, that stops in Boca Raton and popular West Palm Beach, among other places, like Miami, and soon, Orlando.
The Brightline’s Fort Lauderdale station, for one, is some 10 minutes away from the local port, making a connection between The Palm Beaches and cruise ships easier than ever.
The same can be said about theme park crowds: a pre or post-park stay in The Palm Beaches is within reach. The destination is only some two-and-half hours south of Orlando and Kissimmee.
Canada is The Palm Beaches’ number one international market, and the visitation numbers speak for themselves.
The Palm Beaches, in the first quarter of this year, has already surpassed 2022’s Canadian numbers and 2019’s levels, Garnica said.
The destination, which is represented by VoX International in Canada, welcomed close to 154,000 Canadians in this year’s first quarter, which is 28 per cent more than in 2022 and 16 per cent higher than 2019.
These travellers, notably, spent $200.9 million, the destination says.
Overall, The Palm Beaches is up 8.5 per cent over last year, for a total of 2.8 million visitors for Q1.
Which shuts down any notion that The Palm Beaches is primarily a retirement community.
“It’s not,” Garnica said. “It’s multi-generational.
Diversity driving growth
So, what’s driving the growth?
“I think it's because the destination has a lot of diversity,” Garnica said. “We have a lot of new culinary offerings, new hotels and refurbishments to those hotels. But there's also areas that are still very untouched. We have open spaces in the north.”
Some of the hotels boasting enhancements include The Colony, The Boca Raton Tower, the aforementioned Breakers, PGA National Resort and AKA West Palm.
And there’s been notable newcomers, too, including The Canopy by Hilton West Palm Beach Downtown; The Ben, Autograph Collection and The Ray Hotel Delay Beach – Curio Collection by Hilton.
Polo, golf, shopping
Here, there’s no shortage of art galleries, museums and performance venues.
Being on the Atlantic, water-based activities are naturally popular, but so is polo (a ball game played on horseback).
Apparently, there’s a community of Canadians that transport their horses down to The Palm Beaches, for the winter, so they can ride in warm sunshine. The destination is bordered by world-renowned equestrian venues.
The Palm Beaches, with more than 160 golf courses, is also known as “Florida’s Golf Capital.”
Even Tiger Woods’ flagship restaurant, “The Woods,” is found here, in Jupiter, the destination’s most northern city.
Speaking of culinary experiences, award-winning chefs, from Daniel Boulud to Akira Back to Mauro Colagreco, all have restaurants in The Palm Beaches.
And there’s local foodie-focused events, such as Restaurant Month in August, a food and wine festival in December, “Swank Table” events from November through May and “Savour the Avenue” in March, where you can dine at one America’s longest tables. It’s five blocks long!
“Even though we're on the same coastline as Miami, we're very different from Miami,” Garnica noted.
Shopping – including outdoor malls – is a big deal in The Palm Beaches, which has fewer crowds and lines (but is still bursting with brands).
Fun fact: Gucci and Saks Fifth Avenue’s first locations outside of New York were in Palm Beach.
The downtown area of West Palm Beach has also been “completely redeveloped” so that it’s more pedestrian friendly, Garnica said.
Deals to be had
While The Palm Beaches might have an upscale reputation, that doesn’t mean it’s devoid of discounts and savings.
From May to August, for example, many hotels offer buy-one-get-one deals and value-added promos, such as F&B or spa credits.
Travellers can also get The Palm Beaches Savings Pass, which offers exclusive discounts on local attractions.
Seasonal direct lift from Montreal (YUL) and Toronto (YYZ) is offered into Palm Beach International Airport (PBI).
This is typically available from October through April, although frequency may increase this season, via Air Canada, out of Montreal.
Several other Canadian carriers, such as WestJet, Sunwing, Air Transat, Flair and Lynx, all fly into other nearby Florida hubs, from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood to Miami.
For travel advisors, The Palm Beaches has a trade portal on its website. Head to ThePalmBeaches.com and click on ‘Travel Professionals’ to access the Travel Trade Professionals Toolkit, a guide and more.
Also: PAX will be joining Canadian travel advisors in The Palm Beaches next week on an immersive tour.
Stay tuned for our exclusive on-location content!