The art of the first impression. That singular moment which oftentimes can make or break an experience at a hotel or resort. Some hotels have it mastered, while others trip over themselves and rarely recover. Then there's the One Ocean Resort and Spa in Atlantic Beach, who not only have perfected the art, but manage to make most hotels seem obsolete in the process.
Over the last few years, many hotels have come to embrace mobile and online check-in to streamline the welcome experience for the guest. One Ocean has taken this a step further by allowing guests to skip the front desk altogether. When I arrived to the hotel, the valet handed me the ticket for my car and my room keys. Impressive, especially at 9:30 in the morning. The idea is that vacation should begin the moment you arrive to the hotel, and mine was off to a terrific start.
|The hotel from the beach.|
What makes this sort of welcome possible is the extra effort One Ocean puts into getting to know their guest. About a week before my check-in date I received an email from the hotel's "Guest Historian" seeking to learn virtually everything there was to know about me, or at least everything I was willing to share. Things like anniversaries, birthdays, bedding preferences, and food allergies, were all part of the profile the hotel built for me. In addition, the Guest Historian asked for flight information and anticipated arrival time, which is vital to the hotel's seamless check-in process. More importantly, the hotel now had a better understanding of who I was and what would make my stay more comfortable, going far beyond name, address, and rewards membership number. One Ocean had nailed the first impression before I even left home.
|The beachside fire pit.|
Since I was free from the obligatory stop at the front desk, I made my way up the lobby's grand staircase and onward to the room. At first, it seemed a little odd to climb a set of steps to then board an elevator - they are technically located on the 2nd floor - but after a while I came to appreciate what was found on either side of the staircase. Reaching the top brought a stroll toward a panorama of the Atlantic Ocean, while the walk down the stairs was like slowly pulling back a curtain to reveal the bright and smartly appointed lobby.
As much as I wanted to set up shop in a corner of the lobby with an iced coffee, breakfast sounded like a better idea. Plus, I spotted Hope Solo sitting on one of the couches - the US women's soccer team was staying at the hotel - so I didn't have much faith in my ability to play it cool and not seem like a weird stalker fan. Thankfully, the restaurant was still serving breakfast and bailed me out of a potentially awkward encounter with hotel security.
Perhaps the most unique entrance to a hotel restaurant in Florida, the tunnel leading to Azurea takes one under the crashing waves of the Atlantic before emerging into the beautiful oceanfront dining room. It was a little too chilly outside to have breakfast alfresco, so instead I slid into one of the banquettes for my customary order of French Toast and scrambled eggs with cheese. Not only was it all delicious, but it distracted my brain from the heavy load it was under attempting to figure out what I'd say if I bumped into Alex Morgan.
For a moment I thought about trying one of those treadmill things in the hotel's extensive fitness center, on the off chance that one of my soccer crushes stopped in for a workout. Figuring that only embarrassment could come from that decision, I opted to head upstairs to the room, where I was told something called the "Refreshment Cabinet" awaited me.
The most intriguing part of the questionnaire from the Guest Historian was the section where I was asked to identify my favorite snacks from a short list. I checked, circled, and highlighted the box for Milano Cookies without giving it much more thought. After arriving to the hotel, I learned that every room at One Ocean features a "Refreshment Cabinet," which is stocked with your favorite goodies and beverages. Better yet, all of the snacks - and WiFi - are included in the daily resort fee and can be restocked to your heart's desire. A resort fee that actually gives the guest something they want instead of free local phone calls and a USA Today...now there's a novel idea.
Now that I was riding a Pepperidge Farm high, it was time to do some much needed work for this little website. The only problem was I had a hard time focusing while inside my room. First I did a swan dive onto the bed and contemplated if 10:30am was too early for a nap. I decided that was a ridiculous question - it's never too early for a nap - but the next dilemma was whether to stay half buried in the white duvet, or move to the inviting chaise lounge in the corner. I found it impossible to make such a difficult decision and temporarily skipped the nap, but if more hotels embraced the white duvet and chaise lounge combination the world would be a much better place.
|No one will judge if you do a snow angel on the bed.|
In all seriousness, however, my room at One Ocean was one of the most comfortable I've experienced in recent memory, which is saying something considering I've stayed in 30 hotels in 14 months. The decor and theme of the rest of the hotel flowed perfectly into the room, and blended just the right amount of sophistication and coziness. Of course, I'm always going to be partial to a room that features bath robes, my favorite toiletries - H2O - and a balcony with a view that would go nicely on a Florida postcard. To put it another way, the rooms at One Ocean are the kind of place you could easily kill an entire afternoon, and that's exactly what I did.
|It's no wonder I didn't get any work done...|
After several hours of napping mixed with short spurts of productivity, I headed downstairs to meet Hugh - the legendary man behind Hugh's Bar. Short of owning my own hotel, having a lobby bar named after myself would pretty much top my list of life goals, and it's easy to see why Hugh has earned that distinction. He knows everyone by name and their drink by heart, and what he does with a shaker and glass borders on magic. I ordered an Old Fashioned, which was more like a smoothie with Bourbon, and I'm told he does something called "Hugh's Your Daddy" which is popular among the ladies. There is no menu at Hugh's Bar - "You can find a menu anywhere," he says - just hand crafted cocktails and interesting conversation with the guy who might very well be the face of One Ocean Resort.
|When someone names the lobby bar after me, I hope it's like this...|
One of the most surprising things about my visit to One Ocean was learning that a hotel had operated in this building since the early 1970's. Many times when hotels have been reimagined their former identity still shines through in areas, especially if they try to move upward in the quality scale. Walking the halls of One Ocean, it was hard to believe the place was once known as the Sea Turtle Inn, which is a true testament to the hotel's commitment to quality. No detail was overlooked, and no expense was spared in giving an Old Florida hotel a new life as one of the best resorts in the Sunshine State.
|No better way to top off this afternoon...|
And yet it's what happens inside this remarkably beautiful hotel which sets it apart from the crowd. From nailing the first impression with a seamless check-in, to taking the time to learn a guest's favorite cookie, there are numerous small things which are merely pieces of a puzzle that come together at One Ocean to provide a unique and memorable experience. The next time I pull into a hotel valet I'll likely be disappointed when he doesn't have my room keys ready, but then again, I think that's exactly the point.
Enjoy Your Stay
Special thanks to the One Ocean Resort for hosting this edition of Check-In Florida. As always, all opinions and pontifications are my own.