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Located on 4.5 beachfront acres along south Florida’s coastline, Acqualina Resort & Spa is the only five-star property in the region built completely open to the ocean, free of barriers between the 51-story tower and the Atlantic Ocean. The resort has all the makings of a successful property—sun, sand, sea, and a 20,000-sq.-ft. spa—but what sets Acqualina apart, according to its CEO Deborah Yager Fleming, is the resort’s “Dream Maker” culture.

For Fleming, the formula that has given Acqualina its 50 percent repeat guest ratio is simple: inspired team members, also known as “Dream Makers,” deliver guests’ dreams therefore creating repeat guests and a successful business model. Even the staff has responded positively to this culture with a third of the team having worked for Acqualina since its 2006 opening in Sunny Isles.

“We have a magic dust here that is really unique to us and it all really starts with the culture that we’ve created with our team members,” says Fleming. This culture is one that encourages the staff to engage with guests and actively listen for “golden nuggets” that can be used to surprise them and make their stay a little more memorable. This “golden nugget” initiative, which the team trains on daily through role plays, is what creates unique moments referred to as “Wow” Stories.

“It’s expected that we deliver five-star service because we’re a five-star resort,” Fleming says. “What’s unexpected are the things that our team members pick up and then use to deliver something special that speaks to it.”

The living room inside a 2-bedroom Oceanfront Suite.
The living room inside a 2-bedroom Oceanfront Suite.

What makes for a “Wow” Story varies widely but can be anything from a bar tender stocking up on your client’s favorite beer if it’s not already on the menu to a staff member ordering the movie a guest mentioned wanting to watch, along with a side of popcorn. Fleming says it’s tough to pick her favorite “Wow” Story over the years, but some examples include the beach attendant who presented a tray of different nail polishes to the mom and daughter who she noticed wearing a different color on their hands every day, and the team member who arranged for Mickey Mouse to pay a visit to a family whose Disney trip got cancelled when one of the children fell ill.

“We all have our job descriptions, but at the end of the day, we’re all here for one purpose, and that is to exceed expectations,” Fleming says. She also notes that this attention to detail is what creates a family-like atmosphere that keeps guests returning year after year. “I’m a big ‘off the menu’ believer, and that’s a big differentiator,” she explains in reference to staff going above and beyond what is expected of them. “That resonates with guests because they see that we care, that we listen and that we’re genuinely interested.”

New Year, New Experiences
Fleming also attributes some of the success of Acqualina to the fact that the resort is constantly striving to improve and roll out new experiences and services for its guests. “I feel like we’re the gold medalists of the hospitality industry,” she says, “but we want the gold medal every time. We’re not just one and done.”

Children staying at Acqualina Resort & Spa can participate in Story Hour by the beach.
Children staying at Acqualina Resort & Spa can participate in Story Hour by the beach.

Every year since its opening, Acqualina has introduced a new service or amenity with the most recent addition being the launch of Acqua Experiences. These activities include art classes on the resort’s front lawn; storytelling for the kids; yachting; learning to scuba dive at the resort then going offsite for a proper dive; and Fleming’s very own activity, Spinning with the CEO, where she takes guests every Thursday to a nearby cycling studio for a class. Although Acqua Experiences only launched a few months ago, there are already more than 20 options to choose from.

“That’s something special about Acqualina. We love spending time with our guests,” says Fleming.

A Note for Travel Advisors
For travel advisors looking to send their clients to Acqualina, Fleming notes that the resort is especially suited for families, girlfriend getaways, and couples. A proposal concierge service is even available for those planning to pop the question in a special way. In addition, Fleming encourages advisors to reach out to the Acqualina team ahead of their client’s arrival and provide information that will help the staff make their stay special from the moment they arrive. For example, details such as providing arrival time ensures that a manager or Fleming herself will be at the front door ready to greet an advisor’s clients when they check in.

“Give us some golden nuggets we can use!” Fleming adds. “When we have travel advisors do that, it’s such a huge win because it’s the difference between knowing that it’s a family arriving with a little girl who loves Hello Kitty so I’ll have a Hello Kitty amenity ready for her, or just having a standard welcome amenity in the room.”

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