Marco Island, located just off the coast of Naples on Florida's beautiful west coast, is the anti-South Beach. The peaceful island, with its soft white beach and friendly locals, exists as a respite from the hustle and bustle of city life. The Marriott – the island's largest resort - epitomizes this relaxed, hospitable vibe, all while offering a truly impressive amount of amenities and dining options.
The Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort is situated on three-and-a-half miles of beachfront on the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in some of the best shelling (that's collecting beach shells) in the world. The recently renovated property features four pools, private beach chairs and huts, nine dining venues, two private 18-hole championship golf courses, a full-service spa, a kids club, on-site retail shops, tons of water activities, and much more. The hotel is finishing a three-stage renovation process, the end of which will result in the first beachfront J.W. Marriott in all of North America.
Since the first phases of the $300 million renovation project have finished, the hotel has seen expanded guest rooms, bathrooms, and pool decks; new restaurants (and a frozen yogurt shop); refurbished balconies; a new lobby; and grand entrance. By the end of the year, the spa will be entirely reconditioned to reveal a SPA by JW concept. The last phase, to be completed by June 2017, will officially transition the resort to a JW Marriott and will boast 100,000 square feet of meeting space, a new 94-room adult-exclusive tower and rooftop pool, an additional restaurant (with a celebrity chef), and an impressive 12,000-square-foot state-of-the-art indoor entertainment center.
What this modern makeover has created is a multi-functional resort that one never needs to leave — and on a secluded island like Marco, that's a great thing. While the pools, beach, spa, kids club, and activities are all top-notch here, it's really the dining selections that place this hotel in a class of its own. Six full-scale restaurants live on-property, while two additional eateries are offered at the golf courses. Dining at large resorts can get confusing, so we've broken down the various options to make life easier.
Beginning with breakfast, MAIA offers an impressive, ingredient-driven menu, fresh homemade biscuits and pastries, and a standout "build your own Bloody Mary" bar. The newly renovated space is bright and airy with light woods and white linens, creating something of a Hamptons vibe. The restaurant also serves a nice lunch and dinner, but breakfast is the real star. Better yet, the "resort credit deal" allows guests to purchase one adult breakfast buffet and get a choice of a second adult buffet or two children’s buffets for free. On those days when you just need a quick or small bite, the Café San Marco coffee shop has excellent coffee, snacks, pastries, sandwiches, and smaller breakfast options.
Lunch is served at the pool (or on the beach, should you desire) in two locations, both of which also excel at happy hour and as a casual waterfront dinner. Quinn's on the Beach is the poolside sports bar serving "Caribbean-style" seafood and steak, appetizers, sandwiches, and a myriad of tropical drinks. They also have live music in the evenings, and as the only sports bar on the island, are one of the top-grossing restaurants overall — raking in upwards of $9 million per year.
New to the resort is Kane Tiki Bar & Grill — a rum bar and Balinese-inspired outdoor eatery. Kane is steps from the sand, adjacent to the tiki pool, where the kiddy pool and waterfall are. With a selection of over 40 rums (and an extremely knowledgeable staff happy to share the history of each rum), Kane is way more than your typical beach bar. The delicious (and gutsy) pupu platter is like a greatest hits of their menu and includes ginger soy glazed chicken yakitori, crispy tamarind chicken wings, vegetable spring rolls, a mango shrimp roll, and bacon-wrapped skewered shrimp. The rum cocktails are naturally delicious, and best enjoyed beside the live daily entertainment. 400 Pazzi's is an additional lunch or dinner option, offering casual pizza and pastas. Rookery Grill and Hammock Bay Grill both serve breakfast and lunch on the golf courses.
Heading into happy hour (or a light dinner), bright spot Korals is also new to the resort. Again, the Marriott Marco Island has taken a concept — a lobby bar with food — and amped it up quite a bit. The sushi at Korals is creative and delicious, while the bourbon program results in another unique cocktail experience. Standout dishes were the hamachi dressed with smoked tashi and vinegar reduction, the stone-ground and mustard bourbon beef tataki with black garlic and smoked sea salt, and our kids' favorite: the pickled udon salad with "jellyfish" on top. Their take on a bourbon smash, called the” Pineapple Smash,” was a must-try. They use Bulleit bourbon (so they call it "Bulleit proof") mixed with house-roasted bourbon pineapples, simple sugar, and lemon juice.
For the full, resort-style steakhouse dinner, one must head to ARIO, which opened last fall. The extensive wine list, handcrafted cocktails, private dining, in-house dry-aged steaks (ask for a tour of the dry-aging room!) and local seafood offerings place ARIO in the top-tier of any resort restaurant. The chef de cuisine, Gerald Sombright, is hot off a stint as chef of the PB&G kitchen inside the Four Seasons, Orlando, and is clearly full of expertise and passion. Sombright worked under celebrity chef Michael Mina and brings a similar love for steakhouse classics to this role.
With six restaurants, two retail stores, a convenience store, and the aforementioned bevvy of pools and additional amenities, one might expect the Marriott Marco Island to feel like an overwhelming mega-resort that you can get lost in. But somehow, this hotel manages to continuously convey a cozy, sophisticated atmosphere. Perhaps it is the professionalism of the gracious staff who understand that just because everyone loves a relaxed, beach vibe, that doesn’t mean this is the place for sluggish "Island time."
Marco Island Marriott® Beach Resort, golf club and spa
400 South Collier Boulevard • Marco Island, FL 34145
Phone: (239) 394-2511 • Fax: (239) 642-2672