Forget Cleaning for Passover and Instead Head to a Luxury Hotel for the Holiday

[By Jennifer Garfinkel]

NEW YORK (Tablet) — “Next year in Jerusalem” is, of course, the traditional conclusion of the Passover seder. But “Next year in Aruba” may be gaining ground.

Passovers spent away from home are a long-standing tradition. Instead of hauling boxes of dishes out of storage, performing bedikat chametz and spending days or weeks preparing kosher-for-Passover meals, observant East Coast Jews who could afford it once spent Passover at resorts in the Catskills and the Poconos. Guests would spend up to 10 days there, enjoy two seders, eat three hearty kosher-for-Passover meals a day and work in a few wet rounds of golf, or some pinochle, or both. Not incidentally, cooking and cleaning were covered in the price of admission.

Most of those storied resorts are now closed, but Passover getaways are more popular than ever. Some are still held at modest facilities in places like suburban New Jersey, but well-to-do Jews are increasingly spending the holiday in high style, eating sophisticated food and engaging in exotic activities in far-off, luxurious places.

“The evolution of Passover is to really start creating more resort experiences rather than just catering experiences,” said Jeff Klein, vice president for food and beverage at the Fontainebleau Resort in Miami Beach, which hosts one of South Florida’s premier Passover packages.

These resort experiences are offered everywhere you can think of, including Israel, Miami, Arizona, Costa Rica, the Caribbean, Mexico, even Turkey. The organizers — generally an outside company that teams up with a resort property — might provide day camp for the kids and evening entertainment like comedians and singers, as well as the know-how and equipment required for an all-around kosher-for-Passover experience.

The program at Miami’s Fontainebleau, for example, is organized by Lasko Family Tours, said to run “the Cadillac of Pesach programs,” which also puts on Passover programs at the swanky Eden Roc next door and at the nearby Hyatt Regency Bonaventure. The hotels generally provide most of the staffing and overlay their own exacting standards of hospitality.

“Every detail is accounted for,” says Klein, whose Fontainebleau chefs work alongside those from the kosher caterer hired by Lasko. “They may say we want it plated this way, and we say it doesn’t fit our brand, so we do it our way.”

The food on those plates isn’t limited to Eastern European classics — some may say tired — like brisket and gefilte fish. Menus are traditional for the seders, but then comes the American-style barbecue, the sushi (made with quinoa instead of rice), and the afternoon tea rooms overflowing with kosher-for-Passover biscotti and cakes.

The range of entertainment also has evolved. In Miami, the 20-somethings spend quality time with their grandparents by day and go clubbing at night thanks to a New Yorker named Dave Shine. During the week of Passover, Shine teams up with fellow promoters to throw huge, kosher-for-Passover parties at the city’s top nightclubs.

“One night there are celebs, models and VIPs, and the next night we cover the bar with plastic and tablecloths, take every item off the shelf, and put up potato vodka and kosher-for-Passover wine and champagne,” Shine says. The corkscrews, cutting boards and pourers are all new for the occasion.

The parties — happening this year at Louis (in the Gansevoort South) and Klutch (formerly Opium Garden) — often pull in 1,000 people, many looking for potential mates.

“At 5 a.m. when the lights go on, we still have to ask 400 people to exit the premises,” Shine says.

One’s choice of hotels depends, in part, on level of observance.

Sam Lasko, who heads his family-owned business, says more Orthodox guests tend to end up at the Bonaventure, where the pool, for example, has designated times for women and men to swim separately. (At the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc, everyone swims together.) At the Eden Roc, the hotel is dedicated entirely to Passover vacationers, which many customers prefer. But ultimately every family has to find the right fit.

Here are some Passover vacation options in the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean. Prices are based on a 10-day (nine-night) stay from March 29 through April 7, double occupancy, and include taxes, tips and service charges. Be sure to inquire about last-minute discounts, as well as about family and children’s rates, which vary depending on age and room occupancy.

Fontainebleau Resort Miami Beach
This Miami mainstay is more chic than ever after a $1 billion facelift in 2008; the gorgeous design spreads across 1,504 new rooms, nine pools and a phenomenal spa.
Prices: Starts at $4,999 per adult
To book or for more information, go to

Eden Roc: A Renaissance Resort & Spa
A $200 million renovation last year left this beachfront hotel looking stylish and hip but not flashy, with three infinity pools, a bustling boardwalk and 631 comfortable rooms.
Prices: Starts at $4,624 per adult
To book or for more information, go to

Marriott Doral Golf Resort and Spa
Sitting on 650 acres in suburban Miami, this true resort is a city within a city. Five golf courses, five pools and a full-service spa with 52 treatment rooms means there’s something for everyone here. And it’s all graced with warm, friendly service in a scenic setting.
Prices: $3,714
To book or for more information, go to

Biltmore Coral Gables Florida
Built in 1926, this iconic hotel in Coral Gables (a national landmark) exudes timeless luxury and, although it’s far from any beaches, offers doting service, a pool, a prestigious golf course and a catalog of amenities. Unfortunately its residential neighborhood can get boring.
Prices: Starts at $4,350 per adult
To book or for more information, go to

Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort & Club
The Fairmont is a true luxury retreat set on 300 acres in suburban Miami. Although it’s just minutes from the Aventura Mall, it offers an award-winning golf course, beautiful pools, elegant rooms and a spa, which means there’s no reason to leave the premises.
Prices: Starts at $5,000 per adult
To book or for more information, go to

Regal Sun Resort in Walt Disney World
Kids will love staying across the street from Downtown Disney, where families will find shops, Cirque du Soleil and DisneyQuest’s virtual rides. The hotel has a pool playground and game rooms for kids, and it runs a free shuttle to the parks.
Prices: Starts at $3,218 per adult
To book or for more information, go to

Waldorf-Astoria Orlando
Just opened last October, this pristine luxury resort on 482 acres is the first hotel to bear the flagship name outside New York. There’s a golf course, the Spa by Guerlain and a free shuttle to the Disney parks (all of which are 10 to 20 minutes away).
Prices: Starts at $3,749 per adult
To book or for more information, go to

Ritz-Carlton Resort & Spa, Lake Las Vegas
With the hotel set to close in early May, this Passover is one last hurrah for the Tuscany-inspired property overlooking manmade Lake Las Vegas. Thirty minutes from the glam of The Strip, this relaxing respite has luxurious rooms with comfortable beds and flat-screen TVs, a spa, impeccable service, nearby shopping and even a small beach.
Prices: Starts at $4,774 per adult
To book or for more information, go to

Fairmont Mayakoba
Nestled in a gated community 42 miles south of Cancun, this hotel offers a luxurious return to nature and serenity. The beach sits along one of the world’s largest reefs, the Willow Stream offers massages among the treetops, and guests are transported around the property in lancha (covered boats).
Prices: Starts at $5,000 per adult
To book or for more information, go to

Arizona Biltmore
A Phoenix landmark opened in 1929, the Biltmore caters to a sophisticated set and has played host to its fair share of celebrities and presidents over the years. In addition to having 36 holes of golf, eight pools and a spa, the hotel is close to Camelback Mountain and the art scene in Scottsdale and Phoenix.
Prices: Starts at $5,186 per adult
To book or for more information, go to

JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa
Classy but family friendly, this Phoenix hotel offers a lazy river, an 89-foot waterslide and poolside entertainment for kids, not to mention family activities like bike rentals and stargazing. For “bigger” kids, the hotel has all the usual features: tennis courts, a 28,000-square-foot spa and two golf courses.
Prices: Starts at $4,774 per adult
To book or for more information, go to

Fairmont Scottsdale Princess
A stately white lobby and beautifully manicured grounds greet guests at this upscale resort set against scenic mountains. By day, guests have seven tennis courts, five pools, two golf courses and a top-notch spa. Rooms all have terraces and oversized bathrooms.
Prices: Starts at $5,000 per adult
To book or for more information, go to

Westin Resort
The Westin lacks the glitzy decor and elaborate frills found at other Aruban resorts, which for most people is a good thing. A clean, modern beachside hotel, the Westin impresses with prompt services, a curvy pool and the supremely comfortable Westin Heavenly beds.
Prices: Starts $3,749 per adult
To book or for more information, go to

(Jennifer Garfinkel is an editor at Oyster Hotel Reviews.)

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