Splendor in the Sun

Known as Florida's legendary Pink Palace, the Loews Don CeSar Beach Resort is a familiar sight on the sugary white sands of St. Pete Beach, FL. The historic landmark, which celebrates its 80th anniversary this year, was the dream of Irishman Thomas Rowe, who made his fortune in Florida real estate. Enthralled by the grandeur of the Royal Hawaiian on Waikiki Beach, Rowe spent $1.2 million—nearly 300 percent over budget—ensuring the Don CeSar resembled the iconic Hawaiian resort. The project was especially close to his heart, and as such, he chose to name the resort after Don Caesar, the main character in Maritana, his favorite American opera.

The Pink Palace is now home to the new Spa Oceana and its inviting rooftop terrace.
The Pink Palace is now home to the new Spa Oceana and its inviting rooftop terrace.

When the resort finally opened its doors in 1928, it created quite a splash among the glitterati. Al Capone, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Marilyn Monroe were some of the privileged few who frequented the lavish resort. Unfortunately, the good times were short-lived, as the Depression, World War II, and Rowe's subsequent death soon led to the Pink Lady's early demise. After serving as a convalescent center for battle-weary World War II airmen and later a regional office for the Veterans Administration, the building was abandoned in 1967 and seemed destined to be demolished. That's when a local preservation group stepped in, locating a buyer who would restore the resort to its former glory, a project that was completed in late 1973.

The spa's rooftop terrace is an ideal  place to relax or enjoy a treatment.
The spa's rooftop terrace is an ideal place to relax or enjoy a treatment.

Recently, the Don CeSar underwent a $20-million enhancement project, which included the addition of the $11 million Spa Oceana. Although a 4,000-square-foot spa was added in 1994, it was much more modest in scope and in desperate need of an upgrade. Opened in March, the 11,000-square-foot spa draws inspiration from its sensational seaside locale.

The mosaic tiles used throughout the spa incorporate its ocean vibe.
The mosaic tiles used throughout the spa incorporate its ocean vibe.

According to spa director Gigi Wiegman, the spectacular setting is just one of the spa's many claims to fame. Taking advantage of the scenic surroundings, many of the treatment rooms, as well as the whirlpool areas, offer views of the beach and azure waters. The spa also features a rooftop terrace—complete with a lounging area and a fire pit—that overlooks the Gulf of Mexico. A spa cuisine menu featuring healthy options, such as a Tarragon Chicken Wrap or Arugula & Field Green Salad with Seared Atlantic Salmon, invites guests to linger and take advantage of the rooftop terrace.

The comfortable relaxation room features a view of the Gulf Coast.
The comfortable relaxation room features a view of the Gulf Coast.

Wiegman says the idea behind the spa was "to create a sanctuary for relaxation and restoration based on the timeless effect of the ocean for rest, healing, and rejuvenation." With that in mind, the sea was also used as a source of inspiration for the decor. "Many elements of the ocean were incorporated into the design by using calming colors and mosaic tile designs of waves and sea life," says Wiegman. "Sights, sounds, and treatments immerse the guest in an oceanic cocoon for a deeply therapeutic spa experience."

Spa-goers can socialize while indulging in the spa's pampering pedicures.
Spa-goers can socialize while indulging in the spa's pampering pedicures.

Adding to that overall experience in no small part is the ocean-inspired treatment menu, which relies on marine-based therapies and seawater. The spa's most popular treatment is the Spa Oceana Signature Vie Ritual ($210, 90 minutes), which uses a seashore plant extract to help turn back the clock. Other seaworthy treatments include SeaLuminous ($140, 60 minutes), a brightening facial that uses marine ingredients to gently fade hyperpigmentation; OceaQuench ($85, 30 minutes), a bath using extracts from a rare green vegetal coral or ocean cactus; and SeaSlim Detox ($130, 60 minutes), a body envelopment treatment featuring an algae-based mask. "Additionally, prior to every signature body treatment, guests experience an orange-infused footbath and a sugar exfoliation for the feet, similar to the sugar-white sands of St. Pete Beach," says Wiegman.

Marine-inspired baths fit with the spa's overall theme.
Marine-inspired baths fit with the spa's overall theme.

According to her, treatments that involve the spa's thermal capsule have been more of a challenge to book. She attributes this to a lack of familiarity among spa-goers with that particular piece of equipment. "However, once a client is introduced to the benefits of a treatment within the capsule, the raves are endless," says Wiegman.

Many of the spa's treatment rooms offer ocean views.
Many of the spa's treatment rooms offer ocean views.

Guests who want to prolong their spa experience will find a variety of homecare options in the spa's spacious retail area. The spa also sells a host of specialty spa and beach-related items, such as Bissinger's Spa Chocolates; Jimmy Belasco Soy Candles; Sage Jewelry, which uses baubles and shells from around the world; Spa Diva T-shirts; Soulage neck wraps, eye pillows, and body wraps; and Spiritual Whimsy shirts, which are inspired by a love for animals. Dog lovers will be happy to discover that their pooches can also benefit from a pampering spa treatment. In addition to Canine Massage ($130, 60 minutes), the spa also offers pet massage lessons from an on-site animal therapist.

Mosaic tiles over the reception desk are used to depict waves. Guests can gaze outdoors while enjoying a soak in the whirlpool.
Mosaic tiles over the reception desk are used to depict waves. Guests can gaze outdoors while enjoying a soak in the whirlpool.

With approximately 70 full-and part-time employees on staff, the spa is able to accommodate up to 125 clients a day. According to Wiegman, one of her greatest challenges is shifting some of the high-demand weekend volume to less busy weekdays. Regardless of when guests visit, they're sure to find an oasis of calm. When the Don CeSar first opened 80 years ago, a carving over the door greeted guests with the words, "Come all ye who seek health and rest, for here they are abundant." Thanks to the new Spa Oceana, those words are proving to be mighty prophetic.



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