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What to Expect and What You’ll Get at the Naples Hilton Hotel, Naples Florida

Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer

If the name Hilton brings certain expectations: a high standard of  comfort and luxury, an attractive contemporary ambience, a well-run food and beverage operation including a decent dining room, Internet access in the room as well as a business center, and a fully equipped fitness area, then the Hilton Naples Hotel meets and tops them all. The graceful U-shaped, tiled-roofed structure of pink and white stone sits back from busy Tamiami Trail in southwest Florida behind towering palms and lush tropical plantings. Yet cross the threshold through great glass doorways into the cool, high-ceilinged lobby punctuated by marble pillars and a sunlit pattern on the marble floors, and the urban bustle along that major north/south thoroughfare will seem miles away. At the same time, you can walk from the hotel to Naples’ Philharmonic Center for the Arts where Broadway shows and symphonic concerts dot the calendar, and the Naples Museum of Art displays its impressive collection of American Modernism. On the way, you can meander through Waterside Shops at Pelican Bay where 45 high-end emporiums and boutiques are housed in Spanish-style haciendas amidst  gardens and waterfalls.

Such attractions might seem like reason enough to book a room at the Hilton Naples, but for many visitors, the more compelling attraction in this locale is the long stretch of pure white sand that fronts the Gulf of Mexico along Florida’s western coast, and there is a perfect section of beach just a short distance from the hotel. There is no resort fee at the Hilton nor is there any charge for the shuttle service to and from the beach, nor for such amenities as beach chairs, towels, bottled water, even a cooler, and bicycles for those who prefer to pedal their way down to the surf. On the other hand, one need not leave the hotel to enjoy an afternoon in the Florida sunshine whether lounging beside or swimming in the free-form swimming pool that sits in a lovely stone courtyard and backs up against a waterfall flowing over a rocky wall.

We had availed ourselves of all the above as well as some exceptional dining experiences during a previous visit so when we learned  that the book tour for Harvey’s REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF THE BOSTON RED SO

( would begin in Naples in mid-March to coincide with Major League Baseball’s Spring Training season, there was no question as to where we would stay.  

Soon after our arrival, we discovered the Earl Morrall/NFL Alumni Celebrity Charity Golf Classic would be held in a few days at The Quarry, a pristine nature preserve and resort in northern Naples. One of 25 golf tournaments to be held nationwide through 2011, its proceeds are donated to youth-related charities. The Naples Hilton had an immediate connection to this event through the restaurant that lies at the far end of the hotel lobby where a pair of ceiling-high double doors  opens into Shula's Steak House. This popular Naples destination which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in a convivial, clubby setting and is famous for its steaks and the diners who can handle some of the larger cuts of beef, is one of 29 eponymous steakhouses owned by Don Shula, legendary coach of the Miami Dolphins. Its richly paneled mahogany walls are lined with gold-framed photographs of players on his 1972 undefeated team. His motto: “Still Undefeated” appears under the restaurant name.

The coach regularly visits the Hilton Naples several times during the year. This time, we learned, he was expected for the benefit dinner and silent auction to be held at the hotel the night  before the Golf Classic with proceeds going to youth-related charities in the Southwest Florida region. So were a number of players on that memorable team like Earl Morall and Mercury Morris  making for a lively celebrity-sighting scene in the hotel lobby.

Organizing, checking the seating plan for the benefit dinner and the set-up for the silent auction that preceded it was Tom Donahue, Shula’s Steakhouse unflappable manager and general factotum at the Naples Hilton. Good-humored, calm and at the same time enthusiastic, Tom was on the scene while the crowds checked in, gathered for the benefit dinner in the evening, and headed off  to the Golf Classic the next morning.  At the same time, his eye was on Shula’s restaurant where business was brisk.

Before the dinner, we strolled along the arcade where many items for the auction were arranged. Predictably, most were NFL memorabilia: signed footballs and photographs by Dolphin players. But we put in bids for two autographed Louisville sluggers, one signed by Dwight Evans, the other by Mike Lowell, and we got them both! 

The morning after the Golf Classic, we came down for breakfast to find the lobby filled with men in white shirts and bright red caps seated at long tables, all of them retired U.S. Marines. There were also some young recruits, handsome in their dark jackets with white belts and rows of beribboned medals across their chests. No surprise. We’d become used to seeing community groups staging an event or gathering in the lobby. A few days before, a couple of local authors held a book signing. The last time we were here, there was a gathering of Chamber of Commerce people. By now the celebrity golfers and their fans had left. But the lobby was alive, pulsing with a different scene.

Such is the essence of the Naples Hilton. More than a hotel, it is a kind of community center, a place that welcomes local organizations as much as famous guests. There is a familial feeling to the place, and it is picked up by guests many of whom, like us, had returned after an initial visit. It is picked up by the staff as well, people who stay on because they like the people they work with and the atmosphere of the place they work in. Eric Boyce, the young, charismatic waiter who served us last time, welcomed us warmly and told us about his house-building project. It was like seeing an old friend.

If this seems remarkable, it is no more than a reflection of the tone set by the affable Clark Hill, general manager, and by Tom Donahue for whom the hotel is almost like home, particularly since his wife and eldest son are now on Shula’s staff.

General Manager Clark Hill (left), Shula’s Manager Tom Donahue

Coach Shula, Tom Donahue and family

The Naples Hilton has, in every respect, what one would expect from a Hilton property.  At the same time, as we said before, it exceeds them all.

The Hilton Naples Hotel                                                                                                      
5111Tamiami Trail North 
Naples, Florida 34103

Phone: 239 430 4999


Photographs by Harvey Frommer

#  #  #

About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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