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Tony Capecchi

Woodbury, Minn.

Return to the Ritz

I avoid traveling to the same place twice. Life is too short, and the world is too big. I’ll be dead and gone in 70 or 80 quick years, and when I am there will be too many magnificent places I didn’t have time to see. Besides, two of my greatest joys in traveling are discovering new experiences and meeting fascinating people who live differently than me.

And yet, when my wife and I traveled to the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach in October of 2013, we came to a realization that made us re-evaluate our “no returns” policy. Our discovery was simple: The Ritz is such an incredible place that the more times we can possibly return, the better.

Quite obviously, we aren’t the only ones who feel that way. The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach is routinely named one of the top hotels in the country; some half a million people walk through its doors each year, with 40 couples a year choosing to celebrate their wedding there. Read the hotel’s 897 five-star reviews on TripAdvisor and you’ll wonder if parents of hotel staff wrote them––people rave on and on about the service provided.

The hotel’s impeccable service, five-star accommodations and ultra-cool location on America’s most famous beach, inspired my wife and me to abandon our new-places-only travel practice and return to the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach for our big vacation last month. 

It was our first trip since the birth of our 10-month old son, and I wanted it to be the best possible experience for my wife. So we selected the best possible hotel––having been to many elite hotels across the Western Hemisphere, I have to say nothing beats a Ritz-Carlton––and we had a spectacular time from the moment we pulled into 1 Lincoln Road.

“Mr. Capecchi, your room will be ready shortly,” the woman at the check-out desk said as we arrived several hours before check-in time. “Would you like us to escort you to the Club Lounge for a glass of champagne while we finish preparing your room?”

That sounded just fine to us, so we went up to the 11th floor and entered the VIP Club Lounge, with magnificent views overlooking the beach. Gabor, a Club Level supervisor from Switzerland we enjoyed visiting with throughout our stay, introduced himself and poured us each a complimentary glass of champagne. We sipped on the champagne, looked out over the beach, and smiled. 

Less than five minutes later, Mike Roloff, a Club Lounge-only concierge from Germany, approached us with his ever-present smile and informed us that he found an available upgrade room on the 12th floor, rather than the 11th, and that Gabor could bring us to our room whenever we wanted. 

Gabor showed us our room with an ocean-facing private balcony and, before leaving, took several pieces of our clothes to have them iron and pressed. Club Level guests receive complimentary garment pressing of up to two clothes item per day.

The best benefit of Club Level is access to the lounge itself, which offers five unique and fresh culinary offerings each day, along with an impressive liquor shelf in the evening to complement the variety of wines, beers, pops and juices available throughout the day. 
 

Even though this all-inclusive “Oasis by the Sea” was just a floor below us, the Ritz-Carlton staff surprised us with a thoughtful welcome gift delivered directly to our suite: a bottle of champagne with a spread of chocolate-covered fruit candies. 



We enjoyed both, then immediately changed into our swimsuits and headed down to the beach. To reach the sand, you walk along the hotel’s beautiful infinity pool that looks into the ocean, then you head down a couple steps through a hotel key-activated gate and you’re there. Right there is South Beach’s scenic boardwalk, the Ritz’s must-try DiLido Beach Club––the only restaurant that is actually on South Beach itself––and the soft sand and blue water of the Atlantic Ocean. 

We walked south along the boardwalk past the Art Deco District, Lummus Park and 3rd Street Beach Yoga, and at the end of the road some 16 blocks south of the Ritz discovered South Pointe Park––a wonderful lookout with a long pier overlooking cruise ships departing through turquoise water. 
 


 

All this ocean-side splendor is just a moment’s walk from famous Collins Drive, Ocean Drive and Lincoln Road, hotspots with ultra-cool night clubs open all night long, high-end shopping, entertainment and, of course, people-watching complete with frequent celebrity sightings. 

“South Beach is truly a unique destination,” said Kevin Kelly, General Manager of the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach Hotel. “You have everything you’d want in one city. I’ve lived in many parts of the world, and I’ve never seen a city like South Beach.”

The London native has managed five different hotels in the UK prior to coming to South Beach, and has extensive knowledge of luxury hotels in Eastern Europe and Asia. 

“This is an exciting time for us as we open new hotels in exotic destinations where you don’t think of a Ritz-Carlton,” said Kelly, who seems at home at South Beach with his good looks and natural charm. He’s justifiably proud of both the South Beach property he manages and the Ritz’ global expansion in regions such as Morocco, Israel, India and Japan. 

“The robust pipeline of hotel projects indicates a continued strong demand for Ritz-Carlton products and services. We are delighted at the company’s continued positive growth,” said Herve Humler, Ritz-Carlton president and CEO. “Across the globe, and especially in Asia and the Middle East, we will be the undisputed top-tier luxury hospitality brand by 2016.” 

They’re already the undisputed champs in Florida. They have 10 hotels in Florida, with five in Miami itself––including the newly opened Bal Harbour location my wife and I visited at the end of our trip. It’s virtually impossible, in my opinion, to find a hotel in a world with a better combination of service, dining and accommodations than a Ritz-Carlton. 

It’s a matter of taste, but the South Beach property may well be the crown jewel of them all. There were multiple moments during our 3-day stay in May when this thought popped into my mind: “How lucky am I?”

One of those moments came our first morning, when I woke at 6:05 to catch the sunrise. I hustled down to the beach in my swimsuit and ran into the surf moments before the sun peaked over the ocean. I swam out to a depth where only my head was above the surface, and I leapt into each crashing wave. 


Each time a large wave approached, it blocked my view of the sun and all I could see was a wall of water in front of me. Toward the end of my sunrise swim, a particularly large swale came and blocked my view for several seconds; when I jumped up over the cresting wave to regain visibility of the horizon, I suddenly saw two large pelicans soaring gracefully only a few yards away from me on the other side of the wave.

As popular as South Beach is during the afternoon, the pelicans were my only companions as I marveled at the sunrise with ocean waves crashing against me. 



I then swam to shore, rinsed off under an outdoor shower, and took a quick dip in the hotel’s pool. How tranquil the glass-calm, infinity pool seemed in comparison to the ocean––and how warm its water felt. After a few lazy laps, I then moved one layer warmer and dropped into the nearby hot tub. In all three cases, I had the water completely to myself. 




Later that morning my wife and I enjoyed another “wow” moment, in a completely different realm, as we shuffled in slippers and robes to be pampered at the South Beach Spa. Pampered we were. 

A spa attendant gave me a full tour of the men’s facilities, which feature treatment rooms, steam rooms, saunas, high-powered showers with nozzles and sprays coming from every direction but down, and a zen-like relaxation lounge with fruit-infused water, apples, nuts and gummy bears. At the conclusion of the tour, he gave me a mimosa and asked me to wave if I needed anything. 

Hotel guests who get a massage or spa treatment are welcome to use any of the spa for that entire day, so I went back and forth between the sauna and the steam-room––the latter of which has a cold shower inside, along with ice-cold wash clothes set outside the door. 
 



Finally it, was time for my massage. I indulged with the “Taste of the Tropics,” a seasonal scrub and massage treatment that actually uses fresh mango and guava. Mango is rich in Vitamin A and contains anti-oxidants that help with regeneration of skin cells and restoration of the elasticity of skin. Guava, meanwhile, is a rich source of vitamins B, C and potassium, which are strong detoxifiers that revive the lost elasticity of the skin. 

Eduardo was my masseuse, and he was fantastic (I actually noticed reviews on TripAdvisor from other guests who specifically praise Eduardo). During the first half of the treatment he applied the mango and guava scrub, then I quick rinsed off in the super-shower and returned to have him finish with a full body massage.    

Five minutes into my massage, I knew that whenever it ended it would be too soon. At the conclusion, the spa attendant brought me a glass of champagne and left me to lounge in the relaxation room. An irrepressible smile swept across face, and at this time the following thought popped into my mind: “I wouldn’t be treated any nicer than this even if I was Brad Pitt.” (Note: I had watched Meet Joe Black the night before our trip.) 

To me, that’s the magic of the Ritz-Carlton: They treat every guest like royalty. There is no higher level of service, no finer level of accommodations to be found.

Ultimately, that’s why we broke our “no returns” policy for this special getaway and spoiled ourselves with a return trip to the Ritz. As it turns out, we still discovered new experiences––from the sunrise swim to South Pointe Park to the hotel’s South Beach Spa––and met fascinating new people––from Gabor from Switzerland to Mike from Germany to Gina Lopez, the amazingly talented chef at the Ritz’s Bistro One LR.   

And so we decided, we might need to return to the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach … someday. 

The website for the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach is www.ritzcarlton.com/SouthBeach. For more information, call (786) 276-4000.  







Photo Essay: Mule Ride on the Grand Canyon

“There are no suicidal mules,” our guide and wrangler, Don, assured us before we mounted our mules at Grand Canyon National Park. “We do two of these rides a day, and no mule has ever fallen.”
 


Inspired by that confidence, my mom and I saddled up to embark on a four-mile ride along the canyon’s East Rim. Our tour started at the +100-year-old livery barn in Grand Canyon Village. We took a motorcoach ride out to Yaki Corral, then received an orientation which prepared us for our upcoming adventure. 
 


 

For centuries, traders and cowboys have ridden along the Grand Canyon on mules, yet the particular route we’re on has only recently been opened up. Grand Canyon National Park offers a famous mule ride to the base of the Canyon, complete with an overnight stay at legendary Phantom Ranch. The classic adventure is on many people’s bucket list, but to partake requires two days, one night and absolutely no fear of heights––or mistrust of mules. 
 

About a year ago, Xanterra Parks & Resorts––the hospitality company that manages the park’s lodges and activities––began offering a more moderate option: the Canyon Vista Mule Ride. This three-hour mule ride along the rim of the canyon is an ideal choice for people who either don’t have two days built into their trip to devote to the ride, or who get squeamish at the thought of hanging over the edge of the canyon on the back of a mule. 
 


 

For my mom and me, it was perfect. We loved every minute of the three-hour experience, which brought us through Ponderosa Pine forests, a Pinyon Pine Juniper Woodland and canyon views like the ones below.
 


 

Don was an outstanding wrangler and guide. The former firefighter and medic is a great storyteller with an obvious passion for what he does. He’s seen a lot––he rode in Yosemite as a wrangerl, and as a firefighter was called into duty to help with search and rescue after both the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11. He also admitted it was an old girlfriend, decades ago, who first sparked his interest in riding. 

 


 

During our ride, we spotted an elk, fox and coyote. It was our mules who tipped us off to the latter. “You can tell when wildlife is around by watching the mules’ ears,” Don explained. “They always sense other animals and they go on high alert (with perked up ears), but mules don’t spook as much as horses.” 

Riding the mules along the canyon’s edge did feel a bit like going back in time. And indeed, the sights we saw––spectacular vistas of the 277-mile long canyon––are as timeless as they come.
 


For more information on mule rides, other Grand Canyon activities or lodging within Grand Canyon National Park, visit GrandCanyonLodges.com.

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