"There you go, finding fault again," I overhear the man say to his wife as they walk along a corridor in the famed Boca Raton Hotel and Club.
"Well, look at these carpets," she persists. "They can't have been cleaned this year."
"Lurious" is the world the Mobil Guide uses for the Boca, its choice as one of the 11 top resorts in America, five-star rated for 15 years running. A hotel employe, though, focuses on the original castle-like building and comes up with more of a Bronx-style salute.
"If you ask me," she says, "the rooms in this part ("The Cloister') are what I'd call crummy. It smells bad, too. Stuffy. You know!"
I did know. Ieven paid high-season rates to find out. However, in the process, I learned a couple of other things as well.
One is that if the Boca, "the most refined resort in America," according to its owners, is really this nation's creme de la creme, someone should mention that it's slightly crudled. The other is that, never mind its failure, as of June 25, when the rates dropped 30 to 50 percent, it became a first-class vacation value anyhow.
Well, I can't help it if this sounds contradictory. The Boca is contradictory.
Picture it. Here you have a hotel of history, a pink palace of Spanish Moorish design that in 1926 Addison Mizner, the Muhammad Ali of Florida architecture, built for (and spared no superlatives in selling to) the super rich. And?
And in 1968, turreted roof, tiled patio and decorated ceilings notwithstanding, it was mated with a wholly contemporary, 26-story, slender tower. Mind you, none of this is on a plain in Spain. Both buildings, plus a set of "golf villas," are nested behind lacy iron gets on 500 lavishly landscaped acres. Alongside is the hotel's marina on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. All together it is on vast amount of expensive real estate.
Bear that particularly in mind if you're thinking of taking a room in the lesser-priced golf vilas. They are not the full 500 acres away from the main buildings, but they're not next door either. Although the villas have their own swimming pool, most people make frequent use of the hotel's shuttle-care service.
Fix on it, too, when you see the sutterly undistinguished decor of the sleeping rooms and the dilapidated condition of the ocean front Cabana Club. You'll realize then that it has to be the grounds and the other amenities on which the resort today stakes its claim greatness.
I suspect it's lucky for the owners that Mizner is long gone. A perfectionist, he would no doubt wither their ears with drop-dead comments on the hotel's current department-store-catalog look. I just felt a deep-down sense of disappointment, having expected a rare orchid and finding a brown-edged dandelion.
In my room I also found twin beds with jelly mattresses (a jelly mattress rolls when you do but then forgets to stop) and a dive-bombing mosquito that didn't respond to spray because there was no spray; they'd run out a week or so ago, said the maid.
I do not arbitrarily equate old with uncomfortable so I had looked a forward to The Cloister, but after one restless night I considered a move to The Tower. It does have great views -- but also cookie-cutter furnishings and one of the world's slowest elevator systems. Not, I thought, worth the extra expense.
Which takes us to another contradiction. Although the Boca's leaders appear to have spared every expense in decorating, they're certainly not pikers when it comes to food. In season, you can take a room wothout meals, but a thoughful receptionist pointed out that breakfast alone is $6.50, whereas on the modified American plan, it costs only $10 more to get both breakfast and dinner.
That's how, for the first time in years, I became a breakfast eater. How I became Boca Raton's prime big of a breakfast eater is anotehr story that briefly goes like this: After ordering poached eggs, babcon, tea and croissants from the room-service menu, I noticed "ripe melon and berries in season" and put that on as well. Then I spotted "Orange Blossom Delight" all by itself on the menu's last line, and since it sounded like a fruit drink, wrote that down, too. It all arrived -- melon and berries, and a platful of fruit slices, french toast and sunny-side-up egg.
If breakfast was filling, dinner was dazzling. A dance band, candlelight, a parade of waiters, five courses, special servings of hors d'oeuvres and petit fours. Also a tablecloth with two holes and flat-tine forks. The latter was an innovation attributable to the dishwashing machine, explained the headwaiter.
I was almost surprised to her that the Boca has dishwashing machines. Reading the seven-page brochure listing all its amenities and services I had the impression of thousands of humans doing countless good works all by hand. Right on the premises you can buy real estate, rent a limousine or a yacht, arrange for a photographer or a skeet-shooting appointment. Naturally there's golf, tennis, swimming, lawn and parlor games as well as dancing, movies, intertainments and more.
Well, the Beautiful People for whom the Boca was planned require all these things. Next winter they should have even more. That's when the Boca Beach Club -- every room with a water view -- is scheduled to open nearby on the oceanfront, probably at rates of $200 a night and up.
But the Beautiful People aren't around much in summer, and that's why another of the Boca's contradictions is one you could learn to love. All of a sudden (which is to say from June 25 to Sept.3) here's a "millionaire's playground" with common people's prices. Depending on the building and the time of week, the rate ranges from $60 to $110 per night. That's including breakfast. And dinner. Plus more tips. And whether you pay $60 or $110 the rate is the same for one or two people.
Of course, you'll easily drop an additional chunk for incidentals such as parking. But by current standards those are still today's version of big-hotel bargain rates.