Father-Son Weekend at the Ritz Carlton Palm Beach

Ritz Carlton Palm Beach

Overview: Larger five-star resort property on the Atlantic, just south of Palm Beach
Strengths: Service, renovated club lounge, club lounge staff, kids’ club (under renovation)
Drawbacks: Beach (substantial lack thereof), size of hotel (large), dining

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Background to the Trip

Last month, I took my son (9) down to Palm Beach for a bit of a father-son getaway.  We planned to play a round of golf, have dinner with grandma and great-grandma (who live nearby), and spend a day just him and me having fun in the pool/beach area.

At first, our plans were to stay at the Breakers (where I’ve not stayed since a fateful business trip in 1998, and where I wasn’t sure I was fully welcome back) in order to take advantage of on-property golf.  The Breakers has two golf courses, an “executive-plus” course which is on-property and a more deluxe course some ten miles inland.  The on-property course is ideal for family golf and children are very welcome on this course.

I’ve stayed at the Ritz Carlton in Palm Beach perhaps 15 times over the past 20 years.  Several of those visits have been with my son who has very fond memories of the doting afforded to kids in “Philip’s club” (the Club Lounge, Philip being the Club manager).  When faced with the prospect of staying at an unfamiliar property, my son asked if instead we could stay at the hotel “with the lion on it.”

A quick email to my travel agent David Ourisman of Metaphor travel (DavidO on FlyerTalk) changed our booking over to the Ritz.  David is a Ritz Stars agent, as well as a Four Seasons Preferred Partner, Virtuoso agent, and several other similar designations.  I continue to be extremely pleased with David’s service and knowledge, and frankly prefer working with him over Amex FHR.  Barring a situation where I need the 4pm late check-out guaranteed (which pretty much only Amex FHR guarantees – most other programs are “subject to availability”), I use David for most of my personal travel bookings.  David can be found on www.MetaphorTravel.com and nearly all of my dealings with him are simply by email.

Earlier this year, I signed up for the Ritz Rewards credit card.  One of the card’s benefits includes three confirmed club upgrades annually.  David was able to work with the hotel to secure my Ritz Stars booking along with using a club upgrade virtual coupon from my credit card for my stay.

Arrival

We arrived at the hotel via a hotel-arranged car around midnight and were promptly greeted by a doorman.  Our bags were immediately tended to, and loaded onto a bird-cage trolley.  Typically, the hotel arranges payment directly, and an amount is added to my bill – this time, the driver asked me to pay cash upon arrival.

Check-in at the front desk was seamless.  Due to some complexities that I will not bore you with, we had two separate bookings.  The hotel had all of our details linked, and made sure we were in the same room (a club ocean view suite) for both nights.

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Rooms

Suites at this property are proper suites; they are full double rooms, with a closeable door between a guest area (with half bath) and a bedroom and full bath.  Ours was ocean-view (which is what we booked), versus ocean-front.  The ocean-view rooms are still largely in the classic “hunt club” décor.  Our room was facing north, overlooking the family pool, and just two doors down from the club lounge in the center “prong” of the E.

The ocean-front suites (at least on the club level), however, have been updated and have significantly different bathrooms –which are open to the bedroom (though have a closable partition).  They have a large shower, and a separate, freestanding tub.  (We stayed in one of these rooms previously; the body-sprays in the shower were so strong that they nearly knocked my son on his rump in the shower!)

Suites at this hotel include a half bath off of the living room; ideal for having guests in.

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Half Bath

Though our suite this time was in the old style, nearly everything was in perfect condition.  Housekeeping came both during the day and for evening turndown, but never interfered with us.

Not unlike Trisara or the IC-Miami, the shower head in our room had more than its fair share of green (mold/mildew) on it.  Beyond that, and some unusual stains on the Carrera marble (not unexpected at a 20+ year old property), everything in the room was in perfect condition.  Knowing the wear and tear that hotel rooms take, it always impresses me what good condition this property is kept in.

As part of our Ritz Stars booking, a full breakfast in the main casual restaurant (Temple Orange) was included.  My son, however, insisted on dining in the club lounge. (The reason why will be clear below.)

A room I’ve requested a number of times is room 566.  This room is an ocean-front suite, located on the top floor of the extreme southeast prong of the hotel.  I don’t know if this room is in the new style, as the club level ocean-front suites are, but it has the benefit of having a completely private balcony.  In a life prior to my “married with children” days, a lady-friend of mine stayed in this room several times – and made full use of the privacy afforded.

The Club

The club staff, particularly Philip (the aforementioned manager) and Diana, have both been in the Palm Beach Club for over five years.  They both remembered both my son and me immediately.  They were effusive in welcoming us back, and noted it had been over two years since we had visited.  Remarkably, Philip also asked my son where his little sister was (she was home with mom).  Perhaps they keep track of things like this in a database – but nevertheless, it made me, and more importantly my son, feel very welcome.

Since our last visit during Christmas 2009, the lounge has been fully renovated.  The décor is best described as “Palm Beach contemporary.”  The only three things unchanged in the club are the balcony, the fireplace mantle and most of the staff.  I am embarrassed to say I neglected to take pictures of the club lounge, but the photo on the hotel’s website is a fair representation of what you can expect.

The food offerings were notably improved from 2009, though the “afternoon tea” has been discontinued, leaving only four food presentations each day.  Breakfast now includes more hot items, and is a pretty hearty meal.

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In the lift lobby in front of the club, there is a treasury of candy.

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Outdoor Activities

The hotel is in the shape of a capital-E.  In between the three wings, it has two pools (between the three wings), one which was original, the other built about 5 years ago.  Since we last visited, the newer pool (to the south) has been designated an “adult quiet area.”  While they don’t say “adults only,” it is a nice demarcation.  The original, larger, pool is very welcoming for children (and adults)!

Poolside (and in-pool) drinks service is offered.  Despite being fairly full, service was frequent, prompt and friendly.  This is a night and day difference from our stay at Honolulu’s Halekulani. 

Even during peak Christmas weeks, I’ve not had getting access to chairs be an issue at this property.  In addition to reclining lounge chairs, there are day-bed type setups in several spots adjacent to the pool.  Towel service is prompt and attentive.  There are also a few cabanas for rent which overlook the ocean.  For a few hundred dollars a day, it doesn’t seem worth it to me – but for some, I suspect they’d quite like such a setup.

Sadly, however, the beach at this hotel is substantially gone.  Whereas as recently as 2009, there was a fairly well sized beach with chairside service, now, the permanent accessway to the beach has been removed (perhaps washed away?) and only a temporary stairway is there.  The water comes so close to the sea wall that the bottom of the accessway ends up in the water.  While you could still go in the water (a bit rough, but not crazily so), the relaxing on the beach option is now gone.

There was some chatter amongst hotel staff of the property working on obtaining a permit to reclaim some sand.  Who knows how definitive this is.  Both the Four Seasons and Breakers still have proper beaches and beachside service.

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View from our room

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Dining

Dining has vexed this property for some time.  The casual restaurant is called Temple Orange, a concept they’ve had for about five years.  Orange refers to the color, not the food, in this case.  The food here is acceptable, but not great by any means.  Service is hit-or-miss.  I don’t recall a visit where I’d consider the waitstaff to be strong here.

The deluxe restaurant has also struggled.  In the 20 years I have been coming to this property, they’ve had three, if not four, concepts.  The current offering, Angle, is only open a few months of the year, in the highest season.  The space sits unused much of the year (including during our November visit).  I’ve eaten here just once since it has been open.  And while it was not bad, the food was far from great.  Owing to the limited seasonal service, the waitstaff, though better than Temple Orange, still at the level you’d expect them to be at a hotel where the lead-in room is pushing $750 during the high season.  Basically, unless you stay here during the period between Christmas and Easter, there is no high-end dining option.  And, even then, the offering is mixed, at best.

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 Angle - Closed most of the year

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The outside part of Temple Orange

Stir Bar and Terrace is the third dining and drinking option in the hotel.  Located in the main lobby, this option is more of a light-bite opportunity.  This is where the hotel bar is, as well.  I find the service at Stir to be the best at the property (excluding the Club).

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The outside dining option, overlooking the ocean and main pool, is Breeze.  This venue fits the stereotype well.  The food is comfortable and amply proportioned.  Our service experience here this time was very good.

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Breeze - At the table next to me!  Yum!

My son decided to take a nap, so I ordered lunch in the room.  It was served quickly and was prepared properly.

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In general, food is not why you visit this property.  We end up eating probably half of our meals in the Club when we stay here. 

Just to the north of the hotel is the Dune Deck Restaurant.  This is an old school “greasy spoon” which just happens to be directly overlooking the ocean on some fairly expensive real estate.  We’ve eaten here a number of times – ideal when you want to get out of the hotel – and find it to be good for what it is.  Again, nothing fancy, but if you like a greasy spoon, this will be your cup of tea.

Across the street from the hotel is a shopping plaza.  There are two or three restaurants in the plaza, as well as an ice cream shop.  We’ve eaten at two of the restaurants over the years (Asian, and an Italian Steakhouse).  Both are OK, but neither great.  I’m sure my grandmother would consider the steakhouse “fancy” and be disappointed that salads weren’t included with the entrées.  I don’t know if these have changed over the years.  If you’re staying at the hotel for a week, you might consider this as an easy walk-to off-property option.  Even me, someone who usually just stays on-property at a resort, have found myself going a bit stir-crazy at this property on prior visits due the limited food options and have ventured across the street.  Compare this to a week at FS-Hualalai, where I didn’t even think about leaving once.

Spa

The other big renovation at the hotel is a much-improved spa.  The southwest corner of the property had been dedicated to several tennis courts and the spa was an afterthought in the northern basement.  The old spa is now freshly remade as a business center, and the old tennis courts have been built over and a new spa built.

I did not get a treatment, but was given a few “spa passes” when we checked in.  These allowed me to use the common areas of the spa.

The spa is quite nice, and has a number of sex-segregated features (large whirlpool with overhead rainfall, steam room, dry sauna, etc).  These facilities would be considered best-in-class for a resort hotel in the US.  In addition, there is a segregated common area, which is outdoors, called the “Self-Centered Garden.” 

This Self-Centered Garden area was actually a bit of a hangout, and some people seemed to be lingering for well over an hour.  Food was even ordered (seemed to be served via room service) by some people.  There were plenty of people speaking on their mobiles, too.  Overall, this was a nice spot, but not a relaxing area – more a spot where groups could hang out in bath robes (or street clothes).

There were some chairs hanging from an overhead trellis swinging over a shallow pool of water.  The water was refreshingly cold, and the chairs quite comfortable.  Nervously, I took my iPad on the chair for some reading – glad I did not drop it!

Business Center

This hotel has a nice little business center, some conference rooms and a series of smaller rooms ideal for executive break-out meetings.  If you were hosting a conference of 100 or fewer senior-level people, this hotel’s setup would be ideal.

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Kids’ Camp

This hotel has a kids’ camp (Aquanuts) and a teen camp (Coast).  My kids have had great times at Aquanuts, though my son is now probably a bit too old for Aquanuts.  Aquanuts welcomes children aged 5 to 12, and Coast from 13 to 17.  Aquanuts, however, is much more suited to the 5-8 age group.

Both clubs were closed for renovation while we were there.  We didn’t plan to use them, as this was pure father/son time, but there was no notice on the website that the clubs were closed for renovation, either.

During prior stays, our children really enjoyed spending some time at Aquanuts.

For prior stays, the use of Aquanuts (but not Coast) was complimentary for club-level guests.  That was a very nice benefit.  I don’t know if this is still offered, but it is certainly worth asking about.

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Other Bits

This hotel, like the Ritz in Washington DC, has two commissioned David Kroll paintings in their lobby.  David is an artist that my wife and I have followed for some time.  We are fans of his work and have one of his pieces in our living room at present.  It always adds a warm touch to see works at a hotel from an artist that we like so much.

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Departure

We took full advantage of the 4pm late check-out provided with the Ritz Stars booking.  We had a bit of negotiation at check-out, as the various Ritz Rewards Gold member, Ritz Rewards Credit Card and Ritz Stars benefits, but the hotel accommodated all of the benefits packages.  Upon further inquiry from me, it seems with Ritz Card multi-night stay credit cannot be used with the Ritz Stars credit.  Disappointing, but not wildly crazy either.

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* * * * *

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This is a property that I end up visiting regularly.  It is very convenient from New York, and the service (particularly in the club) is excellent.

As our kids get a bit older, we may start migrating a bit back to the Four Seasons (about a mile north) for these visits as it is a smaller and more intimate property.  For a family holiday with the kids, however, the Ritz Carlton Palm Beach is a choice few will regret.

Details
Ritz Carlton Palm Beach
100 South Ocean Boulevard, Manalapan, Florida 33462 USA
+1 561 533 6000
http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/PalmBeach/Default.htm

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