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.

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