My wife and I gazed out from our corner-suite balcony on the top floor of the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach watching the sun rise over the most famous beach in the world.
That’s a statement I never thought I would make, and a view I know I will never forget.
We were just visitors in this foreign world, where beautiful people stroll by with million-dollar smiles and $50,000 purses, so we soaked in South Beach as best we could during our weekend at the famous hotel. Our impression of the land of luxury? Puttin’ on the Ritz was every bit as magnificent as we had imagined.
“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.”
Indeed, South Beach is unlike any other place on the planet. You have the glitz and glamour of gorgeous people dressed to the nines going to nightclubs that don’t close until sun-up. You have a pristine beach with sand as soft as velvet. You have Art Deco buildings that refuse to age or adapt to architectural advances. You have high-end shopping and dining that lures in sophisticates from around the world. And a half hour away from it all you have the wildly untamed Florida Everglades, an outdoorsman’s dream.
Our visit to the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach, which celebrates its 10 year anniversary this December, included unforgettable experiences at both ends of the spectrum: staring at a crocodile from 20 feet away in the backwaters of the Everglades, and sipping 20-year-old Macallan on the rocks in the hotel’s VIP Club Lounge.
The hotel itself is gorgeous. Any other word would fail to do it justice. One of the most famous Art Deco walls in Miami anchors the main lobby, which is surrounded by 375 luxurious rooms, 20,000 square feet in meeting rooms, two restaurants, one 16,000-square foot spa, and a $2 million art collection.
In fact, the opulence makes it difficult to leave the hotel’s interior, but once you step outside you’re instantly glad you did. The view from the infinity pool is unreal, with South Beach and the Atlantic Ocean blending in the background.
Considering the Ritz-Carlton’s ability to orchestrate such a perfect scene at South Beach, it makes sense that 2013 was a banner year for the hotel chain across the globe.
“We opened 12 new hotels this year worldwide,” Kelly said. “That’s the most we’ve ever opened in a single year, and we have plans to expand from 80 hotels currently to 100 by 2016.”
Kelly is no stranger to international hotels. 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.
“The further east you go, the higher the standard of luxury. In Asia, there’s an employee pushing an elevator button for you,” said Kelly, noting the Ritz-Carlton’s expansion plans include new hotels in Morocco, Israel, India and Japan. “It’s an exciting time for us as we open new hotels in exotic destinations where you don’t think of a Ritz-Carlton.”
For the Ritz, expansion into exotic destinations is a balancing act as the famous hotel walks the line between adapting to the local culture and maintaining its global branding and traditions.
“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, 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.”
It seems the Ritz can already make that claim in South Beach. Each year, half a million people walk through the hotel’s famous front doors. Guests come from every corner of the world, with 40 couples per year choosing to celebrate their wedding at the Ritz. The hotel’s 496-person staff includes Francy Silva, a highly regarded wedding coordinator.
“Our policy is never to host two weddings on the same day,” she said. “We want the bride and the entire wedding party to realize their special day is not only our focus, but our sole priority!”
Meeting a Rock Star
Given that South Beach is known for famous people, it’s not that surprising Jodie and I encountered a rock star at the Ritz. The odd thing is he was wearing an apron and working in the kitchen.
To amplify its appeal to anglers and boaters, the Ritz recently launched a “Catch of the Stay” package that combines daily deep sea fishing excursions with fresh fish meals at the Ritz’s incomparable DiLido Beach Club––which, by the way, is the only restaurant in South Beach that’s actually on the beach. We did our fishing separately from the package, but took advantage of the “Catch of the Stay” with a 7-course, ocean-inspired lunch that was, without question, the best lunch we’ve ever had.
And it was there we met our rock star, head chef Andres Meraz. Meraz showered us with dish after dish of shrimp, marinated mahi, Pacific tuna and pan-seared salmon that––get this––was flown in that morning from the Pacific Ocean.
“The local salmon we were getting wasn’t to our standards,” Meraz explained as he brought us out our fish. “So now we get it flown in daily from the Pacific. We do that with the tuna, also, because tuna in the Pacific is better than what’s available in the Caribbean.”
Meraz explained each dish to us in great detail––his cerviche won 1st place in a competition among 70 top chefs––and then took the time to visit with us after our meal. As soon as we left, Jodie and I turned to each other and almost in unison said, “That guy’s a rock star.”
Here’s what we meant: Meraz is immensely talented, extremely personable and naturally good looking. He grew up working at his grandfather’s Mexican restaurant in Oakland, and has since worked in Spain, Hungary, Italy and Austria. Incredibly, he is only 28.
“Andres is like a Cuban grandmother. He wants people to eat, eat, eat,” said Richard Lemus, a communications manager at the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach.
Trust me when I say that Meraz will be famous one day. He’s one of those rare individuals unfairly blessed with incredible skills and a passion for his craft, along with a generous dose of natural charisma and refreshing humility. Upon meeting him, you instantly know he’s destined for greatness.
It is people like Meraz––every bit as much as the beach, the sunrises, the luxury and the nightlife––that makes The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach one of the world’s elite destinations.
“I shouldn’t say this, but you get to a point where a hotel room is a hotel room,” admitted Kelly. “It is the ladies and gentlemen who work here, who delight in pleasing our guests, who truly set The Ritz-Carlton apart.”
The website for The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach is www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/SouthBeach. For more information, call (786) 276-4000.
The Ritz-Carlton has twice won the prestigious Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award.
The above two photos show the view from our wrap-around balcony on the top floor of the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach. Just 30 minutes away from all the glitz, glamour and gorgeous beaches lies the untamed Florida Everglades, pictured below.
What does a seven-course lunch look like? Well, see for yourself, with every delicious dish captured below. Above was the setting for this incredible lunch. We ate slowly, savoring every bite and taking over two hours to enjoy the memorable meal on South Beach.