Overview: A truly five star resort hotel in an urban, beachfront setting
Strengths: Service, Dining, Rooms
Weakness: Limited pool hours, Beach is great but generally crowded (and truly a public beach), Noise in my room (though I believe this to be a limited problem)
I spent a weekend earlier this month with my kids (8 and 6) at the Ritz Carlton in Ft Lauderdale. (We left Mom at home so she could relax and enjoy a quiet weekend to herself!) This was my second visit to the hotel. I am pleased to report that the property again substantially met all of my expectations.
Ft Lauderdale is the former land of college kids on spring break, inexpensive beachside motels and $1 margarita specials. Since my childhood days visiting Ft Lauderdale in the 1970s and 80s, this beachfront city has largely (but not entirely) focused its tourism to be largely a middle class destination. Today, it boasts a few higher-end offerings, as well. Thankfully, the beach, one of the best in the US (IMHO), is unchanged. While there are still a few tattoo parlors and "$10 for 3" t-shirt shops on A1A (Ft Lauderdale's beachfront road), they are now the exception.
Built less than a decade ago under the St Regis flag, the property has been operating under Ritz Carlton management for about five years now. Our prior stay (December 2010) was in the Ritz Carlton suite (an Amex FHR upgrade from a regular one bedroom suite), as we were fighting our way back home from Puerto Rico during the great northeast blizzard that year. I didn’t maintain a blog then, so sadly, I have no pictures from that suite.]
Ritz Carlton Ft Lauderdale
This time, we were on points (55k Ritz Rewards points a night). We used a few extra points above the normal 50k per night rate to upgrade to a slightly higher room category.
Arrival was a little chaotic. There were a number of Miami Dolphins cheerleaders at the door - in full uniform/pom-poms/etc - and quite a few other young people dressed quite sharp or scantily. Despite my Ritz Silver status, I'm fairly confident they weren't arranged for us! ;)
The hotel's GM was out front (probably waiting for whatever VIP actually warranted the cheerleaders) and saw us arriving, and immediately came to greet us and assist with our bags. Once we made it to the check-in desk, everything was very smooth. Check-in was handled promptly and without issue, and we were escorted to our room by a bellman that interacted quite nicely with the kids (carefully letting them on the bird cage cart/etc).
The lobby is a bit reminiscent of the RC South Beach. That property, located in an old art deco era property, has large Carrera marble columns, and a bit of a curve to its lobby floorplan; this property the same. This hotel's lobby (as with the South Beach property) were very tastefully done. It was “south Florida,” without being too “south Florida” (you could probably put the RC Palm Beach or FS Palm Beach in the “too much” category).
Our room was oversized (thanks to the points upgrade), but facing the intracoastal, due west. I had hoped for a further upgrade to a partial ocean view (facing due north, with a turn-to-the-right view to the ocean, but no luck). Overlooking a series of rooftop chillers, our view could be called mediocre at best (though essentially every urban hotel will have rooms with less-than-stellar views). The kids did enjoy watching the boats travel along the intracoastal at least. Facing west (to the population centers), all of my mobile devices worked exceptionally well. I recall facing east on my prior stay and not having as much online success previously.
I had planned to get one roll-away bed, and one of the kids sleep with me in the king bed. Whereas last time (at the FLL W) the kids battled to determine who would sleep in the same bed as me, upon arrival, the battle was this time about who would sleep in the rollaway bed. Thankfully, we had a large enough room for two rollaways. (Of course, one of the kids ended up with me on the second night anyway...but that is for another story). I called down to have the beds delivered, and they arrived within 15 minutes. They were both quite comfortable.
Bed-side controlsRoom 1128
The bathroom was appointed quite nicely. Being originally built under the St Regis flag, some of the hardware was different than what you would typically see at a modern Ritz, but was quite nice nevertheless.
The other disappointment with our room was the fit of the entry door. There was a visible gap at the bottom, and it allowed noise from the elevator lobby to come in. That was a little bothersome. I pointed this out to the front desk upon departure. During our prior stay, I remember noticing how snug the door fit. I suspect this room (#1128) was an anomaly.
Westerly view from our room
We did not have club access this time (we weren't in a position to use the club but for one breakfast, so it didn't make sense this time). We did have club privileges during our prior visit. During that visit, we found the club to be one of the best domestic RC clubs in the system (perhaps even the best?).
Breakfast in the club was a full spread, with eggs, meats, potatoes and other accompaniments, not the traditional continental-like breakfast often found in US clubs. The 5-7 pm food offering was also quite substantial, and could easily replace a meal. During the afternoon and evenings, the club had a small freezer chest filled with ice cream treats. Our kids make good use of that.
I understand that the club is only open seasonally at this location. (I think they are closing the club in the summer in Palm Beach, now, too.) Make a note to confirm club availability if you plan to visit.
This trip, we ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant each morning. On the way down, the kids asked if we "could pick our own food," which at first I didn't understand the meaning of. I responded with my standard, "We will figure it out when we get there." When we got to the restaurant, they pointed to the buffet and reiterated the same request (which then made more sense to me).
Though not lavish, the buffet was quite good - with quality and presentation meeting very high standards. There was an omelet station, where regular eggs and waffles could also be made. The baked items were also of very high quality.
Seating was available indoors or outdoors. Outdoors was a few feet above street level, so diners considering eating outdoors should realize they'll be eating with traffic and pedestrians. We did sit outside the first day, though retreated inside for our second day.
Our servers were very nice, and each took special interest in the children. Being alone with the two kids, they offered to bring food from the buffet for me, though I declined.
There is only one restaurant at this hotel, not the deluxe and regular restaurant set up found at many RC properties (though there also was a poolside dining option). The hotel does have a small wine bar - with a purportedly lavish cellar - as well as a regular bar area.
We ordered room service our first night at the hotel. The food was good, and arrived in about 25 minutes. The children's menu was reasonable (by room service standards) and had good portions. I let them off easy for my dinner, going with a lobster wrap. It, too, was quite good - tough too big and I didn't finish it. The other night of our stay, dinner was had at Steak 954. Located up at the W hotel a few blocks north (walkable), my now fifth visit to this restaurant impressed just as well as the prior four!
The pool area at this hotel is done quite nicely and overlooks the ocean. Located on the 7th level, it is high up enough to not be burdened with too much traffic noise/distraction, but still visible to the sea. The pool gets to about 4 feet deep, reasonable for a resort/roof pool. There are two hot tubs on the north side of the pool deck.
Al fresco bar and dining
Compared to the W hotel up the street (where the pool is open 24 hours a day), the pool deck at the Ritz Carlton is only open from sunrise to sunset. Had the pool been open upon our arrival on Friday, we would have definitely gone in. I understand the desire to keep things quiet for room guests, but most (all?) of the other Ritz Carlton-managed properties in the area have 24-hour pools which are surrounded by rooms. It would have been nice to take an evening swim.
There is a well-stocked full service bar with reasonable pool-side dining options. Waiter service is available in the chaise lounges, or in a seating area near the bar.
There are a series of rooms that have their patios enter directly onto the pool deck. For certain travelers, this would be ideal. These rooms are marketed as a separate room category, so the risk of ending up in one if this doesn't suit your bill seems low. Despite being adjacent to the pool deck, thanks to some shrubberies, they still seemed fairly private (though by no means 100% private).
One flight of steps down from the pool deck, on the eastern side (overlooking the ocean), is a lower balcony where more private seating areas were available. I am not sure if there was a charge for these seats - I suspect not - but for someone looking for a more quiet, private area, this area seemed very attractive. One drawback - they would be shaded by the building shortly after noon time.
From the pool deck, there is a bridge which crosses A1A and brings you directly to the sand. Unlike the resort beaches in Palm Beach (which, though public, are used by few others beyond resort guests), Ft Lauderdale's beaches are truly open to the public and can get quite crowded. The sand and surf, however, are some of the best on the east coast of the US.
I took the kids over to the beach one morning. The water was unusually rough, but my kids are strong (for their age) ocean swimmers and we stayed quite close to shore. We all enjoyed getting knocked around by the waves.
One twenty-something couple went out too far (perhaps 30 feet) and got caught up in some 5 foot waves. They struggled, and ultimately several lifeguards hustled out to rescue them. Thankfully, the couple was ok once brought to shore. Watching the lifeguards swim in such rough water was truly incredible - both male and female - they were incredibly powerful. While I wouldn't wish such a thing happening to anyone, I was also glad my kids could see such a rescue. It is good to remind them of the power of the sea. While I am pleased that they are confident, I do not want my children to ever let their guard down in open waters.
Our departure was also uneventful and our bill was accurate. Our "free" vacation ended up costing a few hundred dollars when meals and parking were factored in, but charges for those services were entirely on-market for a hotel of this caliber.
At an avoided cost of about $400 per night, this wasn't the highest value use of Ritz Rewards points. However, when we travel as a complete family (ie: with my wife), we usually have very specific room needs/wants, and points stays aren't always feasible. I was happy to burn some for this stay, when we could be more flexible about our room situation (needing only one).
I saw a second page print out when they were printing my invoice. Interestingly, it showed a chargeback to Marriott for $129 a night. I asked the desk clerk about that, and he said it was the price Marriott pays them for the room. It was interesting to see such an exact figure.
If you are thinking of a south Florida beach holiday, this hotel should be on your radar screen. While not as exclusive as Palm Beach or as hip as South Beach, you may just find this hotel to be a good compromise between the two - and at a much more attractive price point - without sacrificing quality.
Ritz Carlton Ft. Lauderdale
1 North Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard
Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33304 United States
Phone: +1 (954) 465-2300