Question: How can a $40 million hotel renovation be measured?

Answer: In the case of the Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, there are many ways: 180 renovated guest rooms, a new building accommodating suites in several sizes (all large), three redesigned restaurants, a new infinity pool and eight new spa treatment rooms. And that's just scratching the surface.

The resort also raised the roofline on two existing buildings to accommodate 30 more rooms, added two outdoor gazebos for seaside wedding ceremonies and designed a meditation garden where newlyweds can plant a tree as a symbol of their union.

"This hotel now has a different character. We're celebrating its rebirth. It exudes a sense of place and a theme of relaxation in luxury. That's what we've got here," said Marc Langevin, general manager.

The new formula in hotel construction calls for a mix of residential units and traditional hotel guest rooms.

The cost of operating hotels is lowered when residential elements are thrown into the mix, according to Langevin.

At the Ritz, the new residential units do not impede on the flavor of the property. Residential guests, who have their own beach, have full use of all the hotel's facilities, but during my stay, there was no sense of crowding or crowds.

Even with the ambience of luxury that pervades the property, flip-flops and shorts are OK during the day. The lobby is open-air, not air-conditioned, there is no doorman and off-site excursions are encouraged and available.

For guests for whom luxury isn't about looking at the price tag, the new suites will exceed expectations, Langevin said.

The four presidential suites, for example, have separate rooms for exercise equipment, including a stationary bike and treadmill.

There are telescopes on the balconies, butler service, an office area with a computer and connections in place, two bathrooms, a full kitchen, a dining room and enough seating space to host a party.

I wandered through the rooms in my 3,000-square-foot suite and did not discover the powder room until the last day of my stay nor did I turn on all the flat-screen TVs or even work my way through the goodies left at each evening's turndown service.

In fact, the suite was so big that when the bellman knocked at the door, it took me a couple of minutes to find it.

The hotel's Club Lounge opens this month; it is available to guests staying in  club level and higher categories of rooms.

A separate area within the lounge is set aside for families and another specifically for adults.

"We are addressing the new generation of travelers," Langevin said. "Our business is to create experiences, not just offer a nice room, although we do have 400-thread-count linens, Sealy Posturpedic Plus beds designed exclusively for us, down-feather pillows, flat-screen TVs, rain-shower showerheads and soaking tubs."

And that's just in the rooms.

The Lady Lynsey catamaran, long a staple of the resort, and anchored invitingly right off the beach, "is our best employee," Langevin said. The day trips and sunset cruises consistently rank at the top of guest comments.

The enlarged spa now has 11 treatment rooms, a beachside cabana and a new menu of therapies and services.

Couples can even book a moonlight massage followed by dinner in the seaside cabana.

And beyond the resort, there's St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John.

Langevin said that the U.S. Virgin Islands as a destination "is in a good place now. It has it all: It's exotic, it's tropical, it's part of the U.S. and the current government here understands tourism and is taking it seriously."  

"There's solid support for the private sector, and there is room for all of us serving different markets. The stars are now aligned," Langevin said.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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