• August 2011

The Sonesta: Big, Beautiful Biscayne Bay Never Looked So Good

By Hope Katz Gibbs
Be Inkandescent Magazine

From your first step inside the spacious, airy lobby of the Sonesta Bayfront Hotel in Coconut Grove, FL, guests will breathe a sigh of relief. The welcoming staff, contemporary art on the walls, and gently burning candles make you feel as if you have come home.

Of course, the Sonesta is home to dozens who own condos in the 22-story hotel, and that possibility becomes an even more tempting idea after a few days spent at this bayside retreat that overlooks Sailboat Bay.

It’s the view from the 8th-floor deck that ropes you in. Dozens of sailcloths sway atop Biscayne Bay, providing an ideal backdrop to to the hotel’s Panorama Restaurant & Sky Lounge. Sit and sip a hot cup of Cuban coffee, enjoy a light lunch, or imbibe during cocktail hour with an appetizer of the house specialty, ceviche spoons.

If you are feeling really decadent, ask your server to bring your drink to you as you relax in the nearby Jacuzzi. Talk about tropical bliss.

The Pleasure of Being Pampered

Of course, the staff at the Sonesta knows you want to be pampered—and they are very good at it.

One evening after returning from a day of appointments, I was greeted in the lobby by two handsomely dressed employees offering a glass of champagne. “We are having an event to thank our customers and hotel guests, and would love for you to join us for the party.”

Food, Fabulous Food

A quick ride to the ballroom landed me in the first of two banquet areas that were packed with hundreds of people, enjoying a fresh seafood buffet filled with ceviche and sushi, a stocked wine and beer bar, and tables filled with lusciously creamy desserts.

Perhaps the highlight of the evening was the sunset, in full view from the hotel balcony. With the pink glow of Miami in the distance, this quiet moment in the warm Miami air provided an end to a much-appreciated, unexpected evening in paradise.

Home Away From Home

The guest rooms at the Sonesta are another reason to choose this elegant hotel—especially if you are traveling with children. Many have full kitchens, ample closet space, and balconies with grand views.

Prices range from $189 for a Superior City View with a king bed (300 sq. foot room) to $259 (for a one-bedroom suite with a city view). But there are deals to be had, especially when booking for longer stays.

There’s also a rooftop gym, free wi-fi in the rooms and by the pool, and large screen TVs near the bed.

Outside the hotel, guests walk through blocks of stylish boutiques, sidewalk cafés, and modern art galleries, as well as the famous shopping area, CocoWalk.

Natives, of course, are quick to poo-poo the Grove, once known for its preponderance of artists, mom and pop shops, and the Coconut Grove Theater. While those days are gone, there is a new vibe to this area—one that has mellowed with age and is more family friendly than the busy and brazen beach area on Ocean Drive.

The Family Behind the Local Hotel With International Flair

In addition to the Coconut Grove property, there are presently 33 Sonesta hotels and resorts—in Boston, New Orleans, St. Maarten, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Egypt. Sonesta properties are currently under development in Cartagena, Colombia; Miami, FL; and San Carlos, Mexico. And, there are seven Nile cruise ships.

Founded in the 1940s, successful Boston realtor and financier A.M. (Sonny) Sonnabend merged his burgeoning hotel acquisitions with the newly acquired Childs Restaurants chain and named it Hotel Corporation of America (HCA).

Sonnabend’s three sons began their careers in the hospitality industry at an early age. Roger, the eldest, graduated from MIT and was only 21 when he took the helm at the Nautilus Hotel and Beach Club, in Atlantic Beach, Long Island, NY. Paul Sonnabend became general manager of Boston’s Hotel Shelton immediately after graduating from Cornell’s Hotel Administration School in 1950, and Stephen, the youngest son, graduated from Harvard and jumped into an executive position with the Childs chain.

By the early ’60s, soon after the senior Sonnabend passed away, his three sons were managing a rather large hotel business. However, Roger, Paul, and Stephen preferred their role as hoteliers rather than financiers or real-estate magnates. As a result, they decided to sell their unprofitable properties and keep the company relatively small.

This decision gave them the opportunity to develop a hotel management company and maintain their hands-on approach to operating the hotels. in 1970, the company was renamed “Sonesta,” the name used by their parents, Sonny and Esther, for a dairy farm they owned in Holliston, MA. “Sonesta” is a mix of their first names.

Today, the Sonesta operates under the leadership of Stephanie Sonnabend, CEO and president, and Peter J. Sonnabend, executive chairman of the board.

The Sonesta Hotel Coconut Grove
2889 McFarlane Road, Coconut Grove, FL