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Exploring Palm Beach County, Florida

By Barbara Ferguson and Tim Kennedy

Next time you cruise from Ft Lauderdale or Miami head north to this playground to America's Billionaires.

There are many places in the world where billionaires are in abundance, but there are few places where they are so plentiful (and infamous) as the rich and famous who reside in Palm Beach, Florida.

Michael Jackson, John Lennon, novelist James Patterson, designer Vera Wang, and convicted embezzler Bernie Madoff -- all chose to live in this exclusive enclave north of Miami.

Because of this rarified population -- a majority whom are male, over 68 years old, and married and divorced at least twice, the 20,000 year-round residents of Palm Beach enjoy a police force that would be the envy of a major metropolitan city, plus daily trash collection, three fire departments, and land values that exceed real estate on Wall Street.

Tour buses are forbidden from entering Palm Beach Island, the 26-mile-long residential area where the Kennedys, Trumps, and Rockefellers have been building their mansion since the turn of the last century.

For visitors like you and us, the real glamour of this destination extends beyond Palm Beach to neighboring communities and resorts that comprise Palm Beach County: Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens, and Del Ray Beach. Checking In�And Checking Out the Territory

After studying a map of the region, we decided to base our exploration of Palm Beach County at the Boca Raton Beach Resort, an elegant hotel conveniently located near beaches, shopping, land transportation, and international airports.

Situated on 356 ocean-front acres, the Boca Raton Resort is like a palm-shaded village whose hotel complex, private bungalows, and ultra-luxe beach club feature ultra-modern amenities wrapped up classic Mediterranean Revival Architecture. The original hotel complex - recently enhanced with sleek suites-only tower -- was the vision of Addison Mizner, the genius the architect-city planner responsible for creating the Worth Avenue shopping district in West Palm Beach, and the designer of many of South Florida's most celebrated homes and resort hotels.

Our hotel also featured a world-class day spa, Spa Palazzo, a destination Barbara immediately wanted to investigate because the spa's interior design contains design elements - fountains, extensive mosaics, and grand arches - modeled after the Alhambra Palace in Spain with Moorish-style nooks, tropical gardens, and private sunning terraces. www.bocaresort.com

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Flagler's Dream: The Breakers

If there is one hotel in Palm Beach County that could possibly be described as a "rival" to the Boca Raton Resort and Club, it is The Breakers, a lush, 140-acre beachfront oasis on the southern end of Palm Beach created in 1896 by Henry Flagler, an oil tycoon who later built many of the railroads that serviced Florida's east coast.

Rebuilt in 1925 in the style of resort hotels on the French Riviera, the Breakers Hotel has lately undergone a $250 million renovation that has preserved the charm of Florida's most legendary oceanfront resort, while providing the services and attention to luxurious detail that discriminating travelers have come to expect. The 1,800 people working at the Breakers do their utmost to pamper guests partaking in the resort's five oceanfront pools, nine restaurants, 36 holes of championship golf, 10 tennis courts, and 11 on-site boutiques that offer treasures from the likes of Burberry, Guerlain, and Ralph Lauren. http://www.thebreakers.com/

Live Like a Billionaire�for Just Pennies

If you are a fan of designer clothes (but like us can't afford, or don't want to pay designer prices), we suggest that you peruse some of the swanky bargain clothing on sale at the "Church Mouse" consignment store in West Palm Beach.

Located just four blocks away from the boutiques on super-chic Worth Avenue, the Church Mouse is where billionaires send their superfluous garments. The second-hand designer clothes that pack the racks at the Church Mouse features labels like Armani, Versace, Chanel, and Jimmy Choo, sell for a fraction of their retail price. Tim, for example, bought a new Christian Dior sports jacket for $50, and Barbara was pleased to snap up a chic, embroidered Louis Feraud jacket for $65.00. www.bbts.org/churchmouse.shtml

Indulging Your Palate�And Your Other Senses
Just as West Palm Beach has bragging rights to the world's finest luxury thrift shop, it can also claim the only two restaurants in the entire State of Florida that have earned five stars in the Michelin Guide. Both of these dining experiences - "The Ocean Bistro" and "The Restaurant" -- can be found at the Four Seasons Resort in Palm Beach.

We can recommend The Ta-boo American Bistro & Bar tucked away on Worth Avenue. The food is excellent, the prices reasonable, and the staff very pleasant. It's a fun place to dine as it's a known haven for the town's wealthy and famous patrons. www.taboorestaurant.com

It would be unfair not to mention the famous Worth Avenue. Even if you're only window shopping, one can't help but ogle at the shops here that offer luxurious arrays of top-notch clothing, jewelry and art. The beautiful, Spanish-influenced architecture designed by Mizner is evident everywhere on the avenue and along the many charming "vias" that lead away from it.

For travelers seeking the ultimate luxury spa experience, they need look no further than the Ritz-Carlton in Palm Beach. "Eau Spa" -- whose slogan is "Pause, Play, Perfect" - is the Ritz-Carlton's 10,000-square-foot sensual oasis where you can indulge in custom-designed body scrubs (Your "scrub and polish mixologist" will know which will best suit you), exotic facials ("tantalize your inner and outer self with skin lotions and drinkable elixirs laced with platinum foil, powdered quartz, powdered diamonds, powdered rubies, powdered sapphires, or powdered pearls"), aroma therapy, herbal poultices, body wraps, body cleanses, exfoliations, and deep tissue massages.

Eau-Spa treatment rooms feature heated lounges, low level lighting, and gallery-quality "bling furniture." Outside each door, the rooms are designated with signs that, perhaps, exemplify the spa's clients' self-indulgent attitude: "Sassy," "Proud," "Selfish," "Perfect," Naughty," "Vain," and "Greedy."

Teeing Off with the Best

Florida is famous for having more golf courses, per capita, than any place in the world. So it stands to reason that it would also be home to the only resort in the world that caters entirely to golfers. Located at Palm Beach Gardens, the lush, rolling fairways of the Professional.

Golf Association National Resort & Spa have served as the venue for the Ryder Cup, the PGA Championship, and the Honda Classic. A recent $65 million reinvention of the PGA National's hotel, restaurant, clubhouse, and grounds has transformed this world-class hotel into one of the finest destination resort experiences anywhere. We enjoyed a delectable meal there, while watching golfers playing on the links. www.pgaresort.com/about_the_resort

Amid the Glamour, A Welcome Reality

If you prefer to have a more affordable Florida vacation experience in Palm Beach County -sun, sand, water - go to Del Ray Beach, the "Village by the Sea" whose small town ambience offers visitors all the basic experiences of a trip to the "Playground of American Billionaires," for a fraction of the price. (It also boasts what is arguably one of the best public beaches in South Florida.)

The Marriott Del Ray, located just a coconut's toss away from the Atlantic shore, is a splendid hotel whose beautiful rooms, ocean views, and excellent food compare favorably with their pricier competitors. www.marriottdelraybeach.com/

Finally, to truly appreciate this unique venue, we recommend a private tour of the town - Island Living Private Tours adds facets and dimensions to Palm Beach that one could never imagine, including fun history and gossip! islandlivingpb.com

For more information about Palm Beach County, visit the Web site of the Palm Beach County Convention and Visitors Bureau: www.palmbeachfl.com.

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