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May 26, 2010

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    Delray Beach

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Last week my whole family flew down to Delray Beach, Florida, for a surprise birthday party for my sister Carol. It seems like we don't get together as a family as much as we used to when my mother was alive, so it's always special when the five of us are in the same room. It all began when my brother-in-law, Tom, and Carol's friends arranged for a casual dinner on Saturday night at Tryst (4 East Atlantic Avenue; Tel. 561-921-0201). We came up with a variety of ways to surprise her, and my idea got the final nod.

First of all, Delray Beach is located about halfway between Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. The closest airport, West Palm Beach (PBI), is 19 miles away, while Fort Lauderdale (FLL) is 32 miles, and Miami International (MIA) 54 miles. My brother Frank and I flew Delta (the agent was so cool she upgraded him for free) together from New York's LaGuardia Airport and he arranged for Caravan Airport Service (561-790-5400) to pick us up. It cost $45 for the ride, and the Hungarian-American owner-driver was very friendly. However, most visitors to Florida rent a car, so be sure to use our resource page if you are planning to do so too. Tri-Rail (around $5) is a fairly good public transportation option from the three surrounding airports, but a taxi from the Delray train station to the Marriott will cost about $20.

Delray Beach has grown from a sleepy beach village to a happening town. The main street, Atlantic Avenue, has more than 100 boutiques, galleries, cafés, and restaurants. The place is beginning to turn into a mini–South Beach, without the sex appeal and celebrity mob scene. But it has equally good food, fun (not out-of-control) nightlife, and basically the same shoreline (the only difference is women can't go topless here). And all this at a fraction of Miami Beach prices.

To keep the party a surprise, I arranged for a hotel room at the 268-room (5-floor) Delray Beach Marriott. We all arrived at different times on Saturday and used my room as a hideout until the 6 p.m. party. The Marriott has the best location out of all the hotels in Delray Beach, since it's right on the corner of Atlantic Avenue and A1A. The beach is a quick 50-yard walk away. That's the same distance to the closest of Delray's many delicious restaurants. As with most chain hotels, it's not about the building but the destination, though the Delray Beach Marriott is surprisingly very nice. It's rated 4 stars, and with its Spanish tile roof and marble floors it has a Mediterranean feel.

It's one of the nicest Marriott's I've been in, in the U.S. The hotel is designed for both business and leisure travelers. The former will love it for the conference space, Internet, and lobby computer whose sole purpose is airline check-in and printing boarding cards. FYI: There are also two computers in the back of the lobby for guests to use free of charge. Leisure travelers adore the facilities, two pools (one is adults only), and of course the location.

The food at the hotel is good and the full American breakfast buffet in the Sea Crest Restaurant is probably the best deal in town. For $14 you get all the usual breakfast offerings (fruit, pastries, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, eggs Benedict, French toast...) and made-to-order eggs/omelets, and the price also includes all beverages, including fresh-squeezed orange juice.

All Marriott’s have those comfortable "Revive" beds with 300-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets, white downy duvets, and seven feathery pillows. My Floridian-decor room looked over the main pool and the Atlantic Ocean. It had a work desk and a clean bathroom with a massager showerhead. My biggest complaint is that the elevators are a tad slow and the balcony's sliding door is heavy, so you can hear your neighbor slide theirs open and closed. But I guess they have to be durable enough to meet hurricane-proof standards. Room rates range from $99 in the off season (summer) to $350 in season. Delray Beach Marriott, 10 North Ocean Boulevard, Delray Beach, FL; Tel.: 561-274-3200; toll-free: 877-389-0169.

One of the best attributes of the hotel is the incredible two-level nSpa (Tel.: 866-278-8111). It's elegant, with sophisticated modern English interiors and first-rate therapists. Downstairs is a state-of-the-art gym, open 24 hours and free for all guests. Upstairs is where the magic takes place, beginning with an army of staff members, all of them very friendly. As soon as I reached the top of the stairs I was shown to the men's locker room. Then it was off to the bright, cheerful fresh flower–filled coed lounge. Here customers are offered skewers of fresh fruit, tea, water, and best of all a shot of thick warm dark Belgian chocolate that tastes like pudding. Oooh, is it good!

My dad and I signed up for some treatments. Actually, I had two massages in two days; they go for $125 for 50 minutes or $160 for 80 minutes. The first was the Ocean Wave Massage, which is the nSpa's signature treatment. It's a customized massage using various massage modalities. The other was the Aromatherapy Massage, which uses pure essential oils with specialized massage techniques drawn from traditions of both East and West. The specific techniques help re-balance body, mind, and spirit, which is something my dad and I both needed, especially after sharing a room for the weekend. When we were done, the lunch we'd pre-ordered off their spa menu was sitting there all boxed up and ready for us to eat in the car on the way to the airport (we were pressed for time, as usual).

Since I was the most likely to fly in for a party, I sat down at the patio table, hiding behind one of Carol's local friends. When Carol walked around the corner and they all yelled SURPRISE she was stunned-and that was before she even saw me. After she hugged almost everyone I popped out with the cell phone to my ear. I quickly handed her the phone after I told everyone to come out in one-minute intervals. I told her Frank and Georgette (my brother and sister) were on the phone back in Connecticut (where we grew up) and they wanted to wish her a happy birthday. As she was talking to them they came in from behind and tapped her on the shoulder. She started to cry. We then quickly organized an impromptu family photo so our dad could sneak into the group, which really shocked her. The kicker was when her best friend from childhood, whom she speaks to every day but hadn't seen in four years, came around the corner with her nine-year-old daughter. Carol just started bawling. We had such a blast, and that was before we went to the nightclub, IL Bacio (Tel.: 561-865-7785) next door, where they had arranged for a private cabana.

A birthday party none of us will never forget.

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Note: This trip was sponsored in part by Delray Beach Marriott

Copyright 2010 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


Caravan to Hotel




Delray Beach Marriott






Hallway To Elevators


My Room


Workout Room


Breakfast Buffet


Men's Locker


nSpa Waiting Room


Chocolate Shot


Cloud 9


My Bro In Action






Big Surprise


Carol and My Dad




I'll Drink To That


Party Time



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