JW Marriott hosts bash to unveil ‘Paradise Redefined’

Lance Shearer

When the JW Marriott hotel on Marco Island throws a party, they go all out.

It’s what they do, they’re good at it, and when it comes to launching their new facilities, they’ve had a lot of practice. After numerous construction delays (some courtesy of Hurricane Irma), design upgrades, previews, milestones and partial unveilings, the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort held an invitation-only event over the weekend to celebrate the final completion of their Lanai Tower.

Players shoot zombies in the Hologate virtual reality game. The JW Marriott hotel held an event they called "Paradise Redefined" Sunday and Monday to introduce their new adult-exclusive amenities to the local community.

This new wing at the southern end of the property houses Tesoro, the hotel’s exclusive lounge, and 10K Alley, a state-of-the-art interactive gaming arcade and whiskey bar. The invitation said the “evening will start with a show-stopping aquatic performance,” but Mother Nature had other ideas. The show was stopped by an aquatic performance, in the shape of a chill, blowing downpour that kept the festivities indoors.

That meant that all the guests, 200 or so local opinion leaders along with Marriott execs and money people, got to experience a world-class dinner and then the equivalent of Disney World for adults.

First, the dinner. It was as though several of the best restaurants in the country cooked all the signature dishes on their menus, and put them out for the guests to sample. To backstop the work of the hotel’s chef de cuisine Top Chef alum Gerald Sombright, they flew in another 10 equally accomplished chefs, and had them whip up their favorite foods.

It was tough choosing among hibiscus-infused caviar in the savory, not sweet, equivalent of an ice cream cone, from California’s Michael Passmore, the seared octopus from Chef Silvia  Barban, Sombright’s own ahi crudo with balsamic soy and stone fruit, and Brooke Williamson’s stuffed lamb meatballs with pickled quail egg, feta, chili and mint, just to give you an idea.

The drink selection was equally inspired, from the welcome cocktails through Champagne and dinner wines, but the beverages really came to the fore in 10K Alley. The signature spirit there is Bourbon, in many upscale varieties, with a smoked Manhattan made with the resort’s private label Woodford Reserve one example.

The bar at 10K Alley also specializes in craft beers, many of them local. But mostly what 10K Alley offers is fun, with the chance to be a kid again. Games run the gamut from duckpin bowling – actual – to virtual bowling, “black light miniature golf,” classics such as race cars and motorcycles, Space Invaders on a big screen and air hockey, to a selection of holes from the world’s top golf layouts and an addictive virtual reality shoot ’em up that gives you the chance to save the world from the zombie invasion.

Waitresses on roller skates circulated, offering French fries with “unicorn sauce,” and shots of decadent – but non-alcoholic – milkshakes. There was a rock band playing, neon everywhere, and in general, a sensory overload, in a good way.

At a brief welcome ceremony, guests heard from Collier County tourism director Jack Wert, who joked about learning “a lesson in patience” waiting for the project’s completion, and declared the end result worth the wait.

Hotel manager Sharon Lockwood and others greeted the guests, who included former general manager Rick Medwedeff, principal architect Malcolm Berg of Edge of Architecture, and Scott Piccone, managing director of the Barings Hotel Group, who provided financing for the project. Former Marco Island Hilton general manager Mac Chaudry was also there, along with city councilors, heads of local organizations and Emily Savage, whose husband Herb Savage was the architect of the original hotel built by the Mackle Brothers on the spot.

A continuation of the celebration Monday morning featured a massive drop of orchids from a helicopter overhead to a gathering on the beach.

The final few guestrooms in the Lanai Tower were just completed in January, said director of sales and marketing Amanda Cox, and when they looked at their schedule, the hotel staff realized if they didn’t hold their “Premiere of Paradise Redefined” that weekend, there would be no availability until August. Total costs for the hotel’s renovation and additions was pegged at “over $320 million,” without specifying further, by Cox.