Puttin’ on the Ritz? Worth the splurge!

Puttin’ on the Ritz? Worth the splurge!

When Irving Berlin wrote the song in 1927, the name “Ritz” was already well known―and no one doubted that it meant living in a grand style. It’s now almost a century later, and it still evokes that same meaning for travellers around the world.

Today, the Ritz Carlton Hotel chain―with its long and storied history―is owned by Marriott and, as far as the discerning travellers are concerned, is the feather in Marriott’s cap. We’re long-time Marriott loyalty members (with the status to prove it). We’ve stayed at just about every level of Marriott’s, from a Fairfield Inn in Flagstaff, Arizona at one end of the spectrum to J W Marriott’s, W’s, Renaissance’s, and too many Autograph collection hotels to even mention all over the world. We have just returned from our fourth Ritz Carlton adventure.

Until now, the Four Seasons Hotel in Beijing took the top prize for us as far as service, ambience and overall experience were concerned. (Why we were in a Four Seasons and not a Marriott property is a long story―but a good one!) We’d even stayed in three previous Ritz Carlton’s recently―Fort Lauderdale and Naples, Florida and Half Moon Bay in California, and none of them topped The Four Seasons. Now, one had.

Two days in the Ritz Carlton in Montréal, and we can never go back to the Chȃteau Champlain, where we always stay when we’re there―and since Montréal is a mere five-hour drive from our front door, it’s a place we go more than many others. The Ritz is expensive. That has to be said upfront. But the question is: do you get value for your money? Yes, you do.

Ritz Carlton properties are always well-kept, and their staff―their ladies and gentlemen as they are called―are well-trained in the art of making individual guests feel as if they are the most important people in the hotel. They do this by learning your name, offering to help, continuing a conversation with you as they walk you to your elevator and punching in the button for you. They do this by fine details: water in your valet-parked car when you pick it up to continue your trip (although to be fair, they did that in California, but in Montreal, it seems like they forgot. Tut-tut.) Or then there is the tiny, perfect spray bottle of lavender aromatherapy left on your p pillow during turn-down the evening of your second night (Montreal). Yes, they do have turn-down, a service that seems to have all but disappeared in the hotel industry. Perhaps it’s not essential, but when they add details, the experience always makes you smile.

The rooms are beautiful, although not always spacious. That depends on location. Our recent room in Montréal was delightfully spacious, and the bathroom was to die for, with no detail overlooked. Everything from the heated towel rack to the high-tech toilet to the bath and shower amenities―everything was divine. And it was so spacious!

The restaurants at the Ritz Carlton in Montréal are beautiful. The main restaurant is a Daniel Boulud outpost (we love Café Boulud here in Toronto. It’s at the Four Seasons, which is a ten-minute walk from our door). The food was terrific, and the service was equally lovely. They do know how to pick staff, even in these days of hotel and restaurant angst following the pandemic.

The other dining venue is one of the most well-appointed bars we’ve seen. It’s stunning. It’s more of a bar, although we ate dinner there on the second evening. The service was a bit spottier, but to be fair, the server was personable if a bit inexperienced. He did flub up a few times, and his boss, who was sitting at the bar, probably should have stepped in. Nevertheless, we had fun.

There is little doubt in our minds that the Ritz Carlton makes travelling a bit more pleasant these days. And for us, it’s worth the splurge. If you go, just remember this: there may be no going back!

Take a few moments to tour the Montréal hotel with us.

The value of luxury: The “six-star” experience

For several years now, we’ve been grappling with the question of what constitutes luxury.  As discerning travelers, we are interested more in refinement than luxury per se since most people seem to think if something is expensive, it constitutes luxury.  But that isn’t necessarily so.

A couple of years ago, we embarked on our first “six-star” (their marketing literature said it – we didn’t) luxury cruise.  While on board, we thought it might be a good opportunity to ask a few of these very well-heeled travelers what constitutes luxury for them.  Not one of those we asked mentioned anything about expensive items; rather they were focused on  experiences that for them were luxurious. For example, one of the women who could buy and sell the best of us, said that for her, luxury would be having someone to wash her hair for her every day.  Another said that to have fresh sheets on her bed every day is a luxury.  Others had similar opinions.  What all of these had in common was sensuality, if you must know.   More importantly it gave us a notion of what luxury means these days: a luxurious  experience.  In that spirit, we decided to embark on a journey of finding those luxurious experiences.

The Ritz Carlton at Half Moon Bay in California is set on a rugged bluff overlooking the Pacific.

A September wedding in San Francisco this year inspired us to take a few days afterwards and head down the coast for a road trip.  Our first stop was the Ritz Carlton at Half Moon Bay.

This hotel is a quick hop from San Francisco and we decided that its ocean front location and rugged coastline beauty might make it worth the splurge.  It was (sort of).

There is no doubt that the hotel is beautiful but we’ve been to many beautiful hotels.  What would make this a luxurious experience for us?

Would it be the resort grounds? They are very nice, but no nicer than any other nice resort has to offer in a lower price range. How about the restaurants?  The restaurants on the property have wonderful ocean views and the food is well-prepared and served – but perhaps not earth-shattering.  The rooms?  The room was beautifully appointed but no more than what we come to expect.  The bathroom started veer into the luxurious – marble from top to bottom, a spacious walk-in shower, a fabulous Jacuzzi.  Rooms on the ground floor have fire pits which are nice, and for some might constitute a luxurious experience.

For us, the thing that made this a luxurious experience wasn’t the bricks and mortar, though.  The most outstanding feature of this Ritz Carlton property is their staff.   Every single one of them we encountered from the outdoor bar staff to the valets who parked our car were terrifically well trained and made it their business to learn our names.  It was one of those little touches that makes you feel special – and if an experience doesn’t make you feel special, then in our books it isn’t luxury.  The Ritz Carlton motto is “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen”, and this experience drove home to us that it is more than a motto: it is a way of life for their staff.  For example, it was also such a nice touch to find the valets had cleaned the windshield of our rental vehicle, and there were two bottles of water already in the cup holders awaiting us when we got in the next morning to continue our road trip down the California coast.

The experience made us wonder, though, about the “value” of this luxury hotel.  We concluded that its price tag, exactly twice what we had paid a night at the Stanford Court (Marriott Renaissance property) in downtown San Francisco the night before, was perhaps not worth it.  Marriott staff around the world are well-schooled in hosptiality as well.  All we can say is that our gut impression of the relative value is that the Ritz Carlton name may imply luxury; you don’t necessarily have to pay this much for a luxurious experience.