Hello holidays and cheers to 2021! Time to pack the car, put the top down and head south for a stress-free COVID recovery getaway. Ritz-Carlton may have properties in 30 countries, but, lucky for us, two of their resorts are just a short drive away on Florida’s west coast.
First stop: Sarasota. Second stop: Naples. We’re promised to be treated like royalty with private beaches, luxurious spa amenities and outdoor culinary dining options. It’s always fun to get dressed up and go all in for a “Puttin’ on the Ritz” escape.
Call me old-fashioned, but it’s soothing to see and hear that familiar Ritz-Carlton training in action when we arrive in SRQ. The staff call us by name and refer to each other as ladies and gentlemen; they’re not just attentive but proactive. Immediately upon arrival, you sense the Ritz-Carlton’s charms in full effect: the valets are courteous, the lobby is grand with chandeliers and high ceilings, there are beautiful fresh flowers and marble everywhere. Do we need our car to get over to the beach before sunset? They will keep it nearby. Do we prefer the complimentary transportation over to the private beach club? There’s a tiki bar waiting.
What a difference a day makes? What a difference a floor makes! The Club Lounge on the 8th floor offers views of the Bay and five food presentations a day with unlimited beverages. The rate is more expensive than a normal room (from $600 a night and up) but the personalized service is superb. Concierge team member Silvia knows my preference for a French rosé and goes out of her way to have a bottle on hand during my stay.
Yes, there’s pampering at The Ritz- Carlton Spa and Salon. But meandering around the Rose Garden overlooking the water and pool brings priceless calm. There’s tennis or a tee time at the private Golf Club in Bradenton, but it’s the private Beach Club on Lido Beach that calls my name. We jump back in the car, cross the bridge and in 15 minutes are walking the beach and hanging at the tiki bar with a few other guests and club members at sunset.
We were happy to have made a post-sunset dinner reservation at Jack Dusty, the resort’s signature dining room. It’s popular with locals and offers what they call coastal cuisine and crafted cocktails. The ambiance on a breezy fall night is tropical paradise with twinkling lights overhead. Happy to be getting dressed up in a long flowing tropical dress, I love our high-top table (number 500) overlooking the water. The choice of fried green tomatoes to start and the special of diver scallops was the perfect option.
I hear a younger guest whispering about a black Ferrari that just pulled up with a Bucs license plate. I am told it’s one of the stars from the show Siesta Key, the reality television series that airs on MTV.
Sarasota two ways: Ritz-Carlton allows you to experience two sides of Sarasota, a bonus for those who aren’t familiar with its bustling downtown: You sleep in the city hotel in town and can explore the outdoor cafes and shops on Main Street, but you play over on the private beach, near St. Armand’s Circle.
A less-than-two-hour drive south of Sarasota and we’re at the guard house of the Ritz-Carlton Naples, where gate ambassador Lynne Transky and at least six gentlemen with name tags jump to attention when they see us. Not only do they unload the bags within five minutes, but we’re escorted inside like royalty. Staff member Juan treats my car and bags like precious cargo. I feel like the red carpet has been rolled out as we arrive at the front desk, past the grandeur of the lobby with the sound of live music and dozens of beautiful floral arrangements. Kevin hands each of us a class of champagne. We gasp at the Moet-Chandon champagne vending machine in the lobby. Sign me up! Within 15 minutes of arrival, we’re on the balcony toasting the Gulf of Mexico, listening to the waves.
While the rest of the country is dealing with staff shortages and cuts in hotel staff and service, we see no evidence of this here. Life in Room 820 is perfection. We’re reading about resort options: a world-class spa, two heated outdoor pools and an adults-only Junior Olympic relaxation pool with whirlpool. We’re craving more bubbles, but can’t open the second bottle of champagne. Within five minutes after my call to the desk, two Ritz-Carlton team members in gloves and masks appear in the hallway and are giving us lessons (push down and twist the cork…duh!)
My New York (now Naples resident) foodie friend Bruce raved about the fine steaks at the signature dining room called The Grill. Sorry to learn it’s closed for COVID but will reopen soon. He says Dusk is another highly recommended dining room with lots of sushi options and an oasis of privacy. There’s superb seafood at Gumbo Limbo, where we can catch the sunset and have dinner with an ocean view. A boardwalk leads past a tiki hut and we feel we’re really in the tropics: It’s raining! We choose dinner at Terrazzo for menu options from coastal Italy, including grilled octopus. I order chicken Milanese with arugula, cherry tomato, capers, parmesan and preserved lemon butter. Chef Lazaro Galicia greets us in person, and I remember we met at the Grande Lakes Orlando Ritz-Carlton opening when he was the chef at Primo. He feels like family.
The three-level spa is massive and ornate — a pampering paradise. I feel like I’m back in Monaco, not Florida. They have a philosophy —Let Us Make The World Revolve Around You — that celebrates the holistic properties of nature. Treatments incorporate local herbs and botanicals, as well as stones from the Gulf. The second floor has a private pool, lounge and a spa café with organic food offerings. For the holidays, Spa Director Michelle Kelthy said to call ahead and/or check the web site to see if holiday specials are available. Yes, it’s pricey, but oh-so-worth-it: a massage starts at $270 and a romantic option is a couples massage for two at $560.
Why R-C’s Get An A
Service: I challenge you to find a task, favor or special request that a Ritz-Carlton staffer can’t accomplish. I was carrying around a new license plate with me in my new car and before I could say, “Can you assist?” the bellman found a screwdriver, my license plate was changed, and I was legit.
Ordering in: When in doubt, room service at a Ritz-Carlton rocks. There’s nothing better than hanging out in a Ritz-Carlton bathrobe and drinking bubbles, knowing the knock on the door is a delicious dinner and all you have to do is enjoy. We were only a 25-minute drive away from the Naples shopping and dining options on historic Main Street, but it was hard to leave the property.
Specials: Call ahead to check out holiday specials. Through December 15, 2020, stay three nights and receive 15 percent savings. Stay four nights and receive 20 percent savings.
COVID safety: Face coverings are required in all indoor public areas. COVID-19 updates are offered on the web. All in-room dining is contactless and food transported with to-go single use utensils.