SAN DIEGO - When you're shown your room - and at the Grand Del Mar resort, you're not just handed a key and sent on your way, don't be ridiculous - your first inclination is going to be that there's been a mistake.
Someone mistook you for some big-shot Hollywood producer. Or Leona Helmsley's Maltese. For this can't be your room ...
Wait, did you win the Mega Millions jackpot and everyone knows except you?
The Grand Del Mar is that opulent of an eye opener even for those who are used to five-star resorts with a fawning service attitude. I've stayed at a number of Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton resorts for this job, and none come close to even approaching the wow factor of the Grand Del Mar.
Even Naomi Campbell would have a hard time finding a reason to throw something at her assistant if booked into The Grand Del Mar.
It's that fabulous of a place - and the last time I used fabulous in a story may have been in junior high (for good reason). The Grand Del Mar will have you searching for new descriptive adjectives that go beyond what you've called other top resorts, though. A stay here is like finding out there's a whole higher level of hotel life that you didn't know existed.
Probably because this is one of the only places in the entire world where it does.
But back to the first walk into your room. Ever imagine what Great Gatsby's grand study looked like? The living room of your Grand Del Mar suite is as fine as an approximation as you're likely to ever get - minus the flat-screen, high-def TV on the wall and stereo system that looks like it came straight from a techno millionaire's collection, of course.
The suite I stayed in at the Grand Del Mar - and even the "standard" rooms are essentially suites, coming in at more than 600 square feet - didn't just have plush, leather overstuffed chairs and a couch that looked like it had never been sat on before. It also came with its own long, wood dining room table with seating for 10.
Who knows when the Los Angeles Lakers will come for dinner?
And that's just the living room. There's also the bedroom, the bathroom that's longer than most hallways, the second bathroom, walk-in closets that a college student could more than comfortably sleep in, the entrance way and a long stone balcony overlooking the resort's Tom Fazio golf course, Grand Golf Club.
Now, I stayed in one of Grand Del Mar's 1,500-square feet Palazzo suites, so it went beyond the standard room. But with 31 of Grand Del Mar's 249 rooms being supersized suites, this life is very much available at the resort. You don't have to be a mover and shaker to vacation like one for a weekend. Or impress clients into thinking you're one.
You will have to pay about $1,230 a night for a Palazzo, up from the $395 per night regular guest room rate and the $780 Prado suite (no kitchen or long dining room table).
There's some serious joy to living in a king's quarters - at a resort that's among the most expensive ever built in California. The price tag came in at $270 million, more than $1 million spent per room, with 25,000 square feet of handcrafted wood floors and 30 different types of stone and polished Italian marble included. There is no denying this joy.
But truth is, you'll get plenty of high-life satisfaction from the regular guests rooms at Grand Del Mar that are anything but ... well, regular. Including deep soaking tubs that have the type of small swinging glassless window doors that allow you to see into the room and beyond out over the balcony if you so wish. Doors that are only typically found in European hotels.
At the Grand Del Mar, you'll want to tear yourself away from whatever type of room you are in and get out to enjoy the grounds. It really can feel like you're in your own Spanish manor here, with the ceilings high enough for two giants stacked on top of each other and topped off with hand-stenciling in the lobby area, and the outdoor pools complete with distinctive red cushiony seating areas and stripped pillows that seem to have been set out there just for you.
There's a good chance that Grand Del Mar's pool furniture will be better than your regular furniture. Even if you're in a tax bracket that fears Barack Obama.
"They want to make everything better than the best," Shawn Cox, director of golf at Grand Golf Club, said of the Doug Manchester ownership and development team. "To make it a special unique place. I think they succeeded."
Like the Miami Dolphins succeeded during that undefeated 1972 season.
Cox spoke as we ate a lavish seven-course tasting menu at Grand Del Mar's signature restaurant, Addison - complete with a wine and juice pairings for every course. Addison is the best restaurant in all of San Diego, and you don't have to read Esquire - a huge fan of its chef William Bradley - to come to that conclusion.
One meal should do the trick. You'll be overlooking the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve that also serves as the heart of the only Tom Fazio golf course in San Diego - a luxury, forecaddies-included experience in its own right - as Bradley's inventive food appears.
Whether the huge spa at Grand Del Mar is the best in San Diego might bring more debate. But there's no question it has some of the largest treatment rooms at any spa in the world - and they eliminate any sense of being cramped you sometimes feel at other spa retreats.
That's one of the best things about all this opulence (your "shuttle" from the resort's big curving drive down to the golf course clubhouse will be a Cadillac Escalade, a brand new top of the line one, purchased to drive guests 400 feet). There is a real sense of having fallen into another world at Grand Del Mar.
It helps that the green canyons makes it seem much more isolated than it really is. (In actuality, you're not that far from La Jolla or even downtown San Diego.) It's essential that you'd never want for anything if you decided to never leave the grounds your entire trip.
Robber barons - at least successfully ones - might not exist anymore in today's economic climate. But if they did, they'd vacation at the Grand Del Mar.
And you can, too, for a weekend or more.
For more information, see www.thegranddelmar.com.
October 30, 2008