Ritz-Carlton service alive and well in Laguna
Not too many hotels get songs written about them, and far fewer are memorialized the way Irving Berlin did the Ritz Hotel with his song and Broadway play by the same name: “Puttin´ on the Ritz.” It´s actually a slang term that means dressing fashionably. Then there´s the slang adjective “ritzy” meaning “luxuriously elegant.”
The people who run Ritz-Carlton hotels must take great pleasure in the fact that no one is writing about “puttin´ on the Westin” or calling anything “Hyatty” – very nice hotels one and all, but just a day late and a dollar short when you have Irving Berlin writing – and Fred Astaire singing – the praises of your competition way back in 1930. What a coup for the people in Ritz P.R. back then. Can you imagine showing up for work one morning and casually mentioning to your boss that Irving Berlin actually took you up on your suggestion to write about the Ritz?
Okay, maybe he came up with the idea on his own but let´s just say the bigwigs at the Ritz were not exactly displeased. They knew the reason the Ritz Hotel came immediately to mind was the stellar reputation the hotel had for providing the absolute best service anywhere. Cezar Ritz was considered the “king of hoteliers and hotelier to kings” because of his successful management of the Ritz Paris and The Carlton in London.
Ritz was way out front in a lot of innovations that guests may take for granted today. Among the revolutionary concepts were putting a private bath in each guest room, using lighter fabrics to allow for more thorough washing, white tie and apron uniforms for wait staff, fresh flowers in all public areas, A la carte dining which now offered diners a choice, gourmet cuisine and intimate smaller lobbies for a more personalized guest experience.
Ritz never lived to see the first Ritz-Carlton in Boston, opened in 1927 by Albert Keller, who had bought the name from Ritz´s wife and formed the Ritz-Carlton Investing Company. More hotels in the northeast followed and the rest, as they say, is history.
In 1984, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel came to Laguna Niguel, bringing with it all of the luxurious amenities that are symbolized by its name. In fact, the American Automobile Association this year bestowed its Five Diamonds award on the resort for the 27th consecutive year, making the resort the longest standing AAA Five Diamond resort in California.
Its location on a spectacular bluff overlooking the Pacific just south of Laguna Beach is ideally suited to its purpose. If broad, expansive views of the Pacific are what you are seeking, this is your place. Down below and easily reached by the extensive system of walking paths is a long stretch of wide, flat beach perfect for sunning in between dips in the refreshing, cool and frothy ocean surf.
Our “coastal view” standard room had an excellent view of the expansive park area to the north as well as a long stretch of the coastline. Many working couples or small families may well choose to go with this regular-size room that is a little bigger than most standards, but not as spacious as the more expensive suites. There is no question that a stay at the Ritz-Carlton, for most of us, is that rare event to be savored and not something we can afford to do several times a year. But it´s not at all a snooty place. You don´t get the feeling they must have had back at that first Ritz-Carlton in Boston where they checked to see if you were in the Social Register before booking your stay.
The guests at Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel were all ages, including families with kids. During the day, most people dressed in a kind of casual elegance with definitely a more refined appearance that you would have on the beach down at Waikiki. At night, things got a little more dressy although not overly so. Some couples were dressed to the nines; others maintained the casual elegance of their afternoon attire.
As you can imagine, the restaurants at the Ritz-Carlton were among the best you´ll find in a resort setting. The new ocean-front 180° outdoor lounge offers a panoramic view of the California coast while Raya is a new restaurant put together by Richard Sandoval, who has prestigious awards from Bon Appetit magazine and was a 2011 James Beard nominee for Outstanding Restaurateur.
We especially enjoyed the casualness of the Market Place, which seemed to be the answer for us since we were traveling as a family of three. The Market Place is like an upscale New York deli in that it features grab and go breakfast and lunch items as well as bakery goods to die for.
The new restaurants and many of the pleasant landscapes and artwork around the hotel are all part of a $60 million multi-year renovation. The project added new facilities, modern public art, perennial gardens and completely redesigned interiors. As we noticed in our room, the guestrooms are decorated in sand and sea colors and offer many classic furnishings. We were impressed that the fresh flower sculptures in the lobby were not only creative, but they were different every day and coordinated throughout the hotel.
With such surroundings, it´s hard to imagine you would want to leave the property much during your stay at the Ritz-Carlton, but the resort just happens to be located near one of Southern California´s most scenic and interesting cities: Laguna Beach. It´s a five-minute drive north along the coastal highway to Laguna, an artists´ community that boasts an excellent assortment of trendy shops, art galleries and restaurants, all just footsteps from the beach. Weekends in Laguna Beach are fairly crowded as visitors from L.A. and San Diego take the easy day trip to shop and enjoy the vibe in this gorgeous city.
A little farther north is San Juan Capistrano, a famous town built around the historic Mission San Juan Capistrano and a tourist city best known for the annual migration of the swallows from Argentina to San Juan Capistrano.
Just to the south of the Ritz-Carlton is Dana Point, where you can explore the marina as well as several shops and restaurants in the area. Dana Point also is the jumping off point for a trip to Catalina Island, which, if you have the time, can be an easy day trip. The Catalina Express is the most popular way to get to the island, which is about a 90-minute ride each way. There are five scheduled departures from Dana Point each day.
All and all, it´s hard to beat the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel if you´re looking to blend a luxurious, pampered resort stay with one of the Southern California´s most scenic beaches. You just won´t want to go home. In fact, the only real problem with “puttin´ on the Ritz” is taking it off.
AT A GLANCE
WHERE: Located halfway between L.A. and San Diego, the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel is situated on a 150-foot bluff with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and a two-mile stretch of beach.
WHAT: The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel is a luxurious beachfront resort that lets you live like you´re rich and famous – if only for a weekend. It´s a total escape from every-day life, for most people anyway.
WHEN: Year-around. Southern California is pleasant any time of year but you may encounter more gray overcast in May and June. The overcast usually burns off from the east and the sun reaches the coast by mid-day during the spring months.
WHY: You do the Ritz-Carlton because you want the very finest and don´t mind paying extra for it. The hotel is known for its impeccable service and now, with its $60 million “re-imagination,” there are even more reasons to give it a try.
HOW: For more information phone 800-241-3333, or you can call the hotel directly at 949-240-2000 or visit the web site at www.ritzcarlton.com/laguna.
Photos courtesy Ritz-Carlton
Captions, from top: Ritz beachfront location is hard to beat; one of the Ritz pools is a centerpiece for the resort; kids enjoy the surf on beach just footsteps from hotel; Market Place is great option for family dining
OTHER DESTINATIONS: If Ritz-Carlton is your kind of California vacation, also check out our articles on a Central Coast romantic getaway, Dana Point and Napa Valley