Beachside hotels filled with visitors

If you think the barrier island seems a bit crowded at the moment despite the dire forecasts earlier this winter – well, you’re right.  Beachside hotels are pretty much filled to the brim, with guests from the Northeast and Midwest, some coming for baseball, some just for fun and rest. Then there was the most talked-about local visitor, Jennifer Lopez, spotted a few weekends ago at Costa d’Este and, we’re told, house-hunting on the north barrier island a few miles south of friend and fellow Miami Dolphins’ co-owner, Gloria Estefan.   “Business has been phenomenal,” said Monica Smiley of Costa d’Este. “February was strong. March has been insanely strong.”  In any case, lots of people are walking the streets of Ocean Drive, where about a month ago on a Saturday they might have come across Harry Belafonte and his third wife, Pamela, doing a little shopping.  While the Belafonte’s were reportedly staying with her parents, many of those in town at the moment are guests at the local hotels. If you doubt the town is full, try going to one of the island restaurants without a reservation. For the past several weeks, hour-long waits have been common.  At the Vero Beach Hotel and Spa, February wreaked a little havoc on the numbers, largely because of the northeast’s record blizzards which forced snow-bound travelers to cancel vacation plans. But March is proving to be a great month, said Marco Scherer, general manager.  “While we are at about the same occupancy as last year, we’re ahead on our rates,” said Scherer.  The hotel is seeing a lot of visitors from the Midwest (a new target market for them) as well as the Northeast; people are coming to Vero for the first time and staying longer – five to seven nights at a time, said Scherer.  “We’ve had to hire another full time concierge on staff to help with all the guests,” he said. “I think this season is going to be slightly better than last year, and that’s good since it’s a bit shorter.”  At The Caribbean Court, the boutique hotel on South Ocean Drive, occupancy has been full, said Boris Gonzalez, the owner and manager. “It’s been fantastic; this has been one of our best periods ever,” he said.  A lot of return business, plus more family and friends recommending the property for out-of-town guests, seems to be the fuel for his numbers, he said.  “We’ve had to turn people away, particularly those who wanted extended stays,” said Gonzalez. “We’re seeing a lot of friends of friends, friends of family who come for a visit, learn about Vero and then come back,” said Gonzalez. “Or they come to the restaurant (Maison Martinique) and recommend the hotel to friends.”  Recession? Gonzalez is optimistic. “I don’t know. It’s definitely getting better and better.”  At the Surf Club, the recently remodeled hotel is just becoming fully operational but reports that as of the end of March, it will be fully booked. The Surf Club and the beachside Holiday Inn are getting a lot of business from RussMatt families – the families accompanying high school and college baseball from up north who are coming to Dodgertown for tournaments.  “The end of March, we’re at 100 percent occupancy,” said Natalie Frankel, general manager of the Surf Club. “It’s definitely picking up.”  Interestingly, Costa d’Este also is benefitting from the RussMatt tournaments.  “We’re getting a lot of parents of the baseball players,” Smiley said.

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