Beside the Royal Palm Pool, a crew of bikini-clad women holds up complimentary green Jell-O shots and toasts to paradise. As the ladies giggle to their spouses and tiptoe around the dock, it’s hard to believe a Category 5 hurricane is threatening to batter South Florida in less than two days.
This past week, an influx of people flocked to Trump National Doral’s gold-filigreed doors, hoping to snag a $200-to-$500 room at the fancy resort before the storm strikes. But as of yesterday morning, front desk receptionists have already begun telling hopeful guests that the hotel is booked.
Less than a mile away, desperate Miamians scramble to buy cases of water bottles, AAA batteries, and canned tuna. The choices are limited — many grocery stores have announced they’re out of stock of even the most basic necessities, and gas is increasingly difficult to find across the region.
Amid the panic, Trump Doral's booming business begs an obvious question: Should a president who has slashed emergency preparedness budgets personally profit during a pending emergency?
Earlier this year, President Donald Trump released his proposed budget in which he intended to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from emergency preparedness and disaster relief programs, which he considers wasteful spending. They include the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Weather Service, and the government’s flood insurance programs — all of which serve Americans in disastrous hurricanes, including Harvey in Texas.
Don't expect Trump's luxury Doral property to let in storm-fleeing families for free or at a discount, though. (Although Trump has put his sons in charge of his business empire, he still owns all of his properties, including the Doral resort.)
Wednesday morning, receptionists at the resort's front desk began telling customers that the hotel was fully booked — all 600 rooms, including the spa suites. Cari Farinas, the hotel’s public relations manager, says that's not exactly true: “We’re just not taking reservations anymore,” she says. Farinas says that because of the impending hurricane, the hotel has received too many requests through third-party websites such as Priceline and Expedia. She insists the hotel is not completely booked, but when asked how many rooms are still available, she declines to respond.
Wednesday afternoon, most of the guests at the hotel were the usual luxury-resort vacationers rather than privileged residents looking for a fancy spot to ride out the storm.
Out on the links, Ilam Goldman, a middle-aged Brazilian wearing a red polo shirt with Trump Doral’s coat-of-arms on the breast, looks for his name on a golf scoreboard. He’s one of 90 visitors here for a golf tournament. “I came for pleasure,” he says, “but we don’t have any hurricanes in Brazil, so now I get to see how people here are dealing with it.”
For the past week, he says, he’s been living in “a big room with a king-size bed and nice, new furniture” as part of a $4,000-per-person package that also includes a small rental car. Valet parking costs $34 a night.
Bene Darben, a silver-haired man wearing loafers and a pair of aviator sunglasses tucked in his collar, lounges on a plush sofa with his wife. He too is part of the tournament. “The golf course is one of the best, most challenging ones I’ve ever been to,” he enthuses. Like many patrons, Darben says he’s barely ventured outside the resort, but he has delighted in the hotel’s amenities, such as the Champions Bar & Grill, where a side order of steamed vegetables costs $8.
At 2:30 p.m., more than 40 people in matching red polos and khaki shorts sit inside the restaurant. Recalling his most recent meal, Darben says, “We ordered caesar salad and, of course, New York steak.” They’re priced at $14 and $39, respectively.
In the main lounge, portraits of famous pro golfers Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, and Tiger Woods overlook a collection of navy suede couches. Sitting on one couch is Orlando native Fernanda Freitas and her two Brazilian companions, all of whom have stayed at the hotel for a week. Freitas and her friends plan to leave Miami before Irma lands.
“Anywhere that can be affected should have help,” she says, but when asked how she feels about Trump’s emergency management policies conflicting with that belief, she adds, “I don’t have any strong opinions.”
Similarly, Darben says his feelings toward the president are “neutral” because he claims to be out of the loop on what’s happening in the United States.
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Just a few thousand feet from the resort, more than 20 people pile in front of the checkout counter at CVS, their shopping carts piled high with paper towels, beef jerky, canned nuts, and emergency flashlights. Nearby gas stations face huge lines and fuel shortages.
FEMA, meanwhile, is reportedly already running out of its emergency budget in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, and Congress will likely have to scramble to help the agency — and that's before Irma lands.
At Trump Doral, though, the luxury resort business is booming.
“At least his hotel is good,” Darben says. “I would stay here again.”