Prior to President Donald Trump’s election in 2016, most people probably would have assumed Mar-a-Lago was a far-flung island in the South Pacific. Or a fancy sandwich, perhaps. But now that Trump’s in the White House and has proceeded to make his Palm Beach, Florida, resort his favorite retreat, almost everyone is familiar with it. Unfortunately, news surrounding Mar-a-Lago isn’t always rosy. Trump’s trips there are costing the taxpayers big league (bigly?), and it’s not sitting well with many Americans.
Mar-a-Lago is going to be a topic of discussion for as long as Trump is in office — and probably even longer than that. Although other presidents have had their favorite retreats and places to go to find solace, Trump’s use of his own private resort — and the ethics questions that surround it — is unprecedented in a number of ways.
Membership offers one of the most direct ways for private citizens to access a sitting president. But getting in isn’t easy — or cheap. Let’s take a quick look at the details surrounding the “winter White House,” Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.
The history of Mar-a-Lago
Mar-a-Lago has a rich history. Originally built in the 1920s by cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, the original estate spanned 17 acres. The main house (or mansion) was 55,700 square feet and contained 58 bedrooms and 33 bathrooms. After Post’s death in 1973, it was willed to the federal government, which declined. It sat unoccupied for years until Trump bought it in 1985 for $10 million.
But how do you actually join one of America’s most exclusive clubs?
How to qualify for membership
These days, Mar-a-Lago is a destination resort open to those with the money to play golf, eat, or hold an event there. You, too, can become a member of the Mar-a-Lago Club.
According to the Mar-a-Lago website, “The Mar-a-Lago Club is the epicenter of the social scene in Palm Beach, providing unparalleled service and entertainment and reliving the rich history of the great Marjorie Merriweather Post Estate. Membership at the club provides the highest privileges and an elite lifestyle reserved for a select few.”
The club only admits a handful of new members per year, and there are currently around 500 overall. If you want to join, it’s going to cost you, big league.
So, what exactly will it cost you to get in? A lot — by the average American’s standards. Since Trump won the presidency, the nonrefundable membership fee for entrance to the Mar-a-Lago Club has been raised to $200,000. On top of that, members pay $14,000 in annual dues. Plus, if you plan to stay overnight, that will cost an extra $2,000. Reports indicate prospective members line up down the block to get in.
Membership does have its perks…
What you get with a membership
Say you have the money to get in, and you’re one of the 20 to 40 people in a given year who are granted admission. What, exactly, do you get for your money?
Here’s the rundown, from the resort’s official site: “Membership includes the use of the formal and casual dining areas, the Trump Spa and Salon, the pool, the Beach Club, breathtaking guest rooms and exclusive suites, a state-of the-art-fitness center, award winning tennis courts, beautiful croquet lawns, and an entertainment series, which hosts internationally world-renowned talent.”
The resort’s features
You got a good look at some of the amenities and features at Mar-a-Lago on the preceding page. Essentially, you’re getting everything you could ever want from a beachfront resort. Access to (private) pristine south Florida beaches, pools, fine dining, and more.
Again, from the Mar-a-Lago site:
World-class amenities include the finest signature European indoor and terrace dining, the world renowned oceanfront swimming pool and Beach Club, the luxurious Trump Spa and Salon, six championship tennis courts, a full size croquet court, a chip and putt golf course, a state of the art fitness center, and the most coveted entertaining space, which includes the elegant White and Gold Ballroom, and the sumptuous Donald J. Trump Grand Ballroom. The on-property Beach Club includes eight lavish seaside cabanas, a 100-foot-by-50-foot pool surrounded by billowing yellow-striped umbrellas, a whirlpool, and the delicious beachfront Bistro, all complemented by a full-service private beach and an awe-inspiring view.
In addition to everything else, the resort is also open to private events. Naturally, with Trump being president, things are more complicated. But Mar-a-Lago is available for any and every event you could think of, including weddings — if you can afford it, that is. But hey, how many people can say they were married within spitting distance of the American president?
Other Trump properties
Mar-a-Lago, of course, is one of many Trump properties around the world. But the Trump family doesn’t actually own everything with the Trump name. But the question here is this: How does Mar-a-Lago compare to the others? Well, take this into consideration: It’s the only private club in the world to get the Six Star Diamond Award from The American Academy of Hospitality Sciences. So, in the eyes of the experts, the property is a standout even among the best of the best.
One big question, and possibly an ethical dilemma, is the kind of access Club members (and guests) will have to the president — and the sensitive information surrounding him. There have already been national security concerns at the resort, as well as reports that Trump has invited Club members to join him in interviewing potential Cabinet picks. Clearly, membership has its privileges.
Other presidential retreats
George W. Bush had his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Barack Obama frequented Camp David. Trump has Mar-a-Lago. And it looks like it’s going to be his place to go to escape the pressures of the Oval Office. One thing’s for sure: Mar-a-Lago is a step above other presidential retreats. And Trump knows it, apparently.
“Camp David is very rustic; it’s nice; you’d like it,’’ Trump reportedly remarked about Obama’s favorite retreat. “You know how long you’d like it? For about 30 minutes.’’