New Ritz-Carlton in a South Beach frame of mind

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MIAMI BEACH -- The luxurious new Ritz-Carlton South Beach here, housed in the historic former DiLido Hotel built by famed architect Morris Lapidus in 1953, is not only puttin on the ritz, its offering a bit of razzamatazz, too.

Situated at the corner of Lincoln Road and Collins Avenue -- gateway to the new, hipper north end of South Beach -- the hotel, not yet a year old, distinguishes itself from its sister properties around the world, and even next-door neighbors here, with unique service and entertainment offerings.

While guests staying in its 375 rooms -- including 67 VIP Club Level rooms, 74 Lanai poolside rooms and 11 units with private terraces -- enjoy all the usual high-end perks, privileges and amenities expected of a Ritz-Carlton or similar upper-tier property, theyre also treated to one-of-a-kind sights, sounds and sensations.

According to hotel manager Liam Doyle, the Ritz-Carlton South Beach is not a traditional Ritz-Carlton.

Instead, it has a true sense of place; we have created an oasis here so our guests can experience the flavor of South Beach within the resort, he said. Our one-of-a-kind amenities ... make this the place to be.

For example, the hotel -- originally built in Miami Moderne, or MiMo style and restored while being refurbished to meet modern Ritz-Carlton standards -- is home to a maitre dhotel, in the time-honored Old World hospitality tradition.

George Slover -- who attends to guest needs in the Americana and DiLido Beach Club restaurants, as well as the Lapidus Lounge bar -- is the sole maitre dhotel in the Ritz-Carlton chain -- and entire Miami Beach area.

Poolside, the worlds only known tanning butler -- a male model clad in designer swim trunks -- patrols the lounge chair deck on weekends, proffering guests a variety of South Beach suntanning products out of his custom-designed sunscreen holster.

If asked, the butler will even apply sunscreen for clients -- but only on their backs.

According to hotel management, the tanning butlers proved so popular with female guests that a lady butler will appear poolside for men sometime this winter season.

The Ritz-Carlton offers a synchronized swim show every Thursday through Sunday at 6 p.m.In a nod to Miamis heyday in the first half of the 20th century -- as well as Floridas famed waterparks like Cypress Gardens -- the Ritz-Carlton offers a synchronized swim show Thursdays through Sundays at 6 p.m.

Five modern-day mermaids lead guests from the hotel lobby out to the beachfront infinity pool, the only such elevated facility offering unobstructed ocean views in Miami.

There, the performers shed their tails and offer a sunset water ballet in the time-honored tradition of Esther Williams -sequined bathing caps and all.

Throughout the hotel, guests enjoy a music program planned by leading international disc-jockey Richard Vasquez.

Every weekend, Vasquez and other area DJs turn the hotels oceanfront DiLido Beach Club -- the only such restaurant in South Beach -- into a San Tropez-style happening with ambient lounge tunes accompanied by a live percussionist.

The DiLido Beach Club, famed for its Indian flat-bread sandwiches, fronts on Miami Beachs new beach promenade, a convenient walkway that connects newly popular stretches of Collins Avenue with Lummus Park and Ocean Drive.

On another musical note, the Ritz-Carltons indoors Americana restaurant is transformed into a 1950s-style nightclub Thursdays to Sundays from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., with a lounge singer, pianist and bassist.

The hotel gets another world-class eatery in mid-2005, when New York chef and restaurateur David Bouley is tentatively set to open Evolution, his first venture outside the Big Apple.

The property houses a 16,000-square-foot spa. Ritz-Carlton said its Miamis largest and is the first outside Paris to offer treatments by La Maison de Beaute Carita.

And millions of dollars in Latin American and European art, assembled by hotel owner Diana Lowenstein, grace the restored halls of the hotel.

In yet another first, the Ritz-Carlton South Beach is the only hotel in the area to offer a VIP guest level, on its Club Level rooms on floors nine and 10.

Guest rooms on the Club Level have access to an exclusive top-floor lounge, which offers private check-in and concierge services, five food and drink presentations daily and panoramic views of Miami Beach.

Seasonal rates begin at $359 per night, based on availability. To book or for more information, call (800) 241-3333 or visit www.ritzcarlton.com.

To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

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