I’ve done a fair amount of traveling and I have stayed at a full-range of lodging facilities, from a two-person tent on Mount Kilimanjaro to well-appointed luxury condos or ski resorts. However, I have never stayed at a Ritz-Carlton property, until I visited friends in Miami recently. My friends, Betty and Steve, had secured hoteling’s top-spot for snobbery by nature of their many United Club points. I happily accepted their generous invitation (along with my pal Kim) to join them for a few days of sun, surf and sand. To use a line from Pretty Woman, there was a lot of “sucking-up” going on during our stay! At every turn, I marveled at the extravagances the “richer than me” require while traveling. The staff to guest ratio, I would put at four to one. Every door was opened, every bag was carried and no fingers of any guest shall ever be lifted!
Upon arrival to the Ritz on Miami’s Key Biscayne, I marveled at the oversized vase in the lobby that held well over ten dozen long-stemmed red roses. The rose scent was inescapable as I entered the museum-like entryway and walked with my friends to check-in. The very attentive staff produced two key cards for Kim and I and also a flute of expensive French champagne. Betty smiled knowingly and nodded in my direction as I sipped my bubbly. We proceeded to head up to room 841 to change and freshen and along the way I gawked at the décor, the tile and the chandelier in the elevator. The Ritz on the Miami key was tropical decadence, especially for a Northern girl. The room itself was not overly extravagant, save for the pillow-top mattress I fell deeply in love with. It was the view of the palms and the ocean that was extremely noteworthy. And, the warm ocean breeze blew in the room, rustled the curtains, and provided the swishing sound of surf on sand. It was the perfect white-noise to fall asleep to each night.
The Ritz experience is a benchmark for the hospitality industry I learned, but in the end you do PAY for all the little conveniences that seem so wonderful in the moment they happen. Later, when you receive your itemized bill under the door on your last day, you’ll want to carefully review the charges for valet parking, cantina lunches, phone calls from the room, and drinks delivered poolside. Even Betty was a little mystified at a $48 lunch that featured a Kobe burger with fries and a Coke. The “sucking-up” I mentioned earlier extended to all areas of the hotel, most noticeably poolside. Cheery staff greeted us as we entered the adult pool area and they asked if they could secure a lounge chair for us. Somewhat confused about why I needed help flopping on to a lounge chair, I followed Betty’s lead. Kim and I watched a lounge chair be transformed into a Ritz approved pool lounger. Three towels completed a covering and the third is rolled to provide a headrest cushion. It took about two to three minutes per chair to complete the process and yes, tips are expected. Fruited vats of iced water are on display at every corner and wait staff made laps around the pool and quickly produced iced drinks, snacks or lunch. No, don’t get up! And, I smiled as another staffer passed out tiny plastic cups of chilled watermelon chunks or frozen grapes to all of us sunbathers at 10:30, for a mid-morning treat. The Ritz was full of treats and little surprises, none of which I felt I needed or deserved.
The hospitality was always on display, but my favorite example came on one evening when I was returning from a three-mile run. Sweaty and flushed in the 80- degree heat, I walked up the bricked entrance road past the main fountain and into the round-a-bout valet area. As I looked up from my watch, I was surprised to see a staffer (the name tag bore the name Mario), appear before me. Mario had run out from the lobby with a sport towel on this arm and a chilled bottle of water. He handed them both to me and with a practiced smile he said, “How was your run?” Blushing from the attention, I recovered to stammer a thank you and that the evening temps were perfection. Mario agreed and he walked side by side with me toward the main entrance asking what else he could assist me with. He continued by inquiring, “Are you going out tonight and might I provide some suggestions in the city?” And, how long are staying with us? May I ask your name?” he continued. He accompanied me inside and suggested I find him later for suggestions before we all ventured out. I blushed again and assured him we would check-in later on. There was no chance of blending in at the Ritz. Later that night (as if he was assigned to just watch me), he spotted the four of us as we entered the lobby and glided up to us with an enthusiastic hello. He secured a cab for us and produced four free VIP/drink tickets to the Blue Martini in the city. He flashed his signature grin at me and closed the cab door behind us. I filled Betty, Steve, and Kim in… on how I had met Mario earlier as I returned from my jog. They giggled and we headed in to explore Miami and to find the Blue Martini.