The new Ritz-Carlton South Beach in Miami is not your typical Ritz-Carlton. Gone are the heavy drapes and oil paintings that are the design hallmarks of most of the chain's hotels. Instead, guests can expect a poolside DJ, a sunset synchronized-swimming show and an overall Art Moderne look that blends in with the neighborhood.
If you're thinking, "Is this really the Ritz?" the answer is yes, and guests should get ready for more of this customization. The company is planning to revamp many of its hotels to better reflect the surroundings, instead of rolling out one uniform Ritz-Carlton look. Next up to be refurbished is the Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach.
Although South Beach has plenty of fine and funky boutique hotels--such as the Tides, the Raleigh and the Delano--what it has been lacking is a grown-up, first-class luxury hotel. Although the Mandarin Oriental and the Four Seasons also have a presence in Miami, both are located downtown and are better suited for business travelers instead of those seeking a beach vacation.
The one-year-old Ritz-Carlton is housed in the former DeLido hotel, an Art Moderne classic that was originally designed by Morris Lapidus. The hotel is one of the few beachfront hotels on South Beach and is also steps away from the shops of Lincoln Road. This nexus of beach and shopping give it an ideal location. The huge hotel resembles an ocean liner from the exterior but can easily be missed from the street, as there is no Ritz-Carlton sign. Because the building is a designated historic landmark, the original DeLido sign cannot be removed. We imagine plenty of Ritz-Carlton executives are tearing their hair out over this.
Everything about the hotel is relaxed and casual, and signals a new type of Ritz-Carlton. Doormen are dressed in loose shirts instead of buttoned-down uniforms, and the lobby has black terrazzo floors, white couches and oversized lamps. The curved walls of the lobby are studded with 72 polished domed sconces to create a replica of the original 1953 lobby.
Instead of antique oil paintings, the hotel has a multimillion-dollar art collection on loan from a local gallery. The centerpiece is an original Joan Miró etching in the lobby, as well as over 40 works of art from Latin American and European artists.
The 367 bedrooms are tastefully decorated in shades of navy blue and cream to suggest a streamlined nautical look, and have more of a contemporary look than an Art Deco one. Bathrooms are spacious and tiled in gray marble, and bath products are from Bulgari. Our room was on the Club Level, which gave us access to a spacious lounge where breakfast, lunch, snacks and cocktails are served all day long.
Although the DJs and the synchronized swimmers may throw some guests, this new Ritz-Carlton still maintains its hallmarks of luxury and service. There's a tanning butler who strolls around the pool from noon to 4 P.M. with a selection of sun products and will apply them to hard-to-reach places in case your significant other isn't around to do this for you. Guests can also hole up in a beachside cabana, outfitted with a king-sized, terrycloth-covered day bed and plush pillows. Poolside service is fast and efficient, which is a rarity in South Beach.
If you aren't down in SoBe only to play--which would make you a rarity--there is also plenty of meeting space. The 10,000-square-foot ballroom and ten smaller meeting rooms can accommodate up to 500 guests. All meeting rooms, as well as guest rooms, offer high-speed Internet access, and Wi-Fi is available in public spaces.
Although the hotel opened a year ago, there are still a few things that need to be completed. The 16,000-square-foot Carita spa is not finished and is housed temporarily in several suites, although a full menu of services is available. Right now the main restaurant is the semi-casual Americana, which features gourmet comfort food, like meat loaf made with Kobe beef.
Next year, chef Daniel Bouley will be opening a restaurant inside the hotel. When the spa and the new restaurant are completed, we think that in time the hip, new Ritz-Carlton will become a new South Beach classic.
Rates start at $290.
For more information, call (800) 241-3333 or (786) 276-4000, or visit www.ritzcarlton.com
Architect Morris Lapidus, born in 1902 in Odessa, Ukraine, designed 1,200 buildings, including 250 hotels worldwide. His signature look had an over-the-top theatrical appearance that guests loved but critics dismissed as commercial and vulgar. His most famous hotels include the Fontainebleau, the Eden Roc and the Americana in 1956, which is now the Sheraton Bal Harbour. In 1996 he published his autobiography, Too Much Is Not Enough.