Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach set to unveil more modern look

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The Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach will reopen on March 5 after an eight-month renovation and expansion project. The hotel will feature a more contemporary look and new dining options, guest amenities and facilities. The effort marks the first time in the 80-year history of the Ritz-Carlton brand that a member hotel was completely shut down for renovation and redecoration.

The redo also is novel for Ritz-Carlton in that the 310-unit property is being remade to better reflect its Palm Beach location. The hotel is incorporating local style and modern sensibilities, a departure from the brandwide uniformity for which Ritz-Carlton is otherwise known, according to M. Zachary Curry, the hotel's director of sales and marketing.

"The idea used to be that every Ritz-Carlton should look and feel the same, regardless of destination," he said. "But travel trends and the vision of Ritz-Carlton have changed, so we decided to focus on guests waking up in the morning having a sense they're in Palm Beach."

The $60 million transformation included replacement of standard Ritz-Carlton hard and soft furnishings in guest rooms with goods that lend a more homelike feel.

"We designed a guest-room experience that is more like what you'd expect in your own home, as opposed to your grandparents' home," said Curry. "Where our rooms used to be pink and blue with floral motifs, heavy draperies and crystal and brass, we've now gone with much lighter fabrics and all-white bedding with beautiful sage and coral throws at the foot of the beds. The furnishings are all hand-tooled from Italy and custom-sized to match the style and dimensions of each room."

Guest rooms have been modernized to incorporate amenities such as bedside "pamper panels," particularly in suites.

"The pamper panel is a bedside panel in all of our rooms that gives guests the ability to control temperature and lighting," said Curry. "Upgrades to the panels in our suites include incorporation of MP3 player plug-ins for our in-room Bose sound systems as well as a touch screen where you can get additional information on the resort."

Wireless Internet access propertywide and improved cell-phone reception is in the works, with antennas from all major telecommunications companies being installed.

"We'll have flawless cell-phone reception regardless of where on the property a guest is, whether on the lowest level or out on the beach," said Curry.

The layout of the resort has also been altered. For example, the revamped lobby now opens onto a 3,000-square-foot terrace with Atlantic Ocean views.

"We sit on seven acres of oceanfront, but when guests used to walk in the front door, they couldn't get to it; there were windows that blocked access," said Curry. "We literally took the rear of the resort out, opened it up with glass French doors along the back and created this amazing veranda with large, roaring firepits for the evening."

Landscaping on the once-rolling resort grounds has been leveled to improve ocean views.

"We've lifted the grade of the grounds closer to the resort and lowered the sea wall slightly to really give guests a better visual of the Atlantic," he said. "It's giving guests a sense of place and of Palm Beach, as well as of style and product."

The Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach, which has about a 55%-45% leisure-business mix, is also being reorganized spatially. Groups and business travelers will usually be steered to the North Tower area, near meetings facilities. Families will be clustered in central units around the main pool, playground, kids' clubs and restaurants. Adults without kids will be directed to the South Tower, near the property's new second pool, known as the Tranquility Pool, and the new 28,000-square-foot Grand Spa, which will open by year's end.

"With the Tranquility Pool and Grand Spa, the south side of our property will be our adult-experience area," said Curry.

Changes in accommodations will include the debut of first-floor lanai terrace units with patios that have been doubled in size and shielded from general view with new trellises and draperies. The resort's 42 suites, all with ocean views, have been renovated at a cost of $103,000 apiece.

In addition, five "business cabanas," designed with outdoor and indoor living and working spaces for business travelers traveling with family, will debut this summer on the lower level of the North Tower.

"We're also introducing an oceanfront 'family suite experience,' which comprises two one-bedroom suites flagged on each side of a center bedroom that serves as the nanny room," said Curry. "It has one common hallway, so guests can close it all off and make it like a mini-estate."

Restaurant makeover

In addition to bringing the vibe of upscale Palm Beach into the resort, management wants to attract its well-heeled residents. Three new and/or revamped dining venues are the lure.

"All restaurants have been either moved or moved and reconceived," said Curry.

Angle, described as serving modern American cuisine, will feature a cool, contemporary design with chocolate-velvet walls; many mirrors; a wine wall with more than 825 bottles; and an underlit, white onyx communal table as a design centerpiece.

Temple Orange, a casual, all-day restaurant, will offers indoor and outdoor seating for breakfasts, lunches and Sunday brunches and Italian-inspired dinners.

Breezes, an oceanfront dining venue, will offer custom cocktails, frozen drinks and light snacks. Lobby bar Stir is being positioned as the new "see-and-be-seen" spot in Palm Beach.

"We're trying to give the restaurants an independent feel and make them more than just special-occasion venues," said Charles Shed, director of food and beverage. "We want to make a place [local] people want to go to eat at least once a week."

Mix of old and new

For all the changes on tap in Palm Beach, Ritz-Carlton regulars won't find themselves completely in foreign territory upon checking in, said Curry.

For example, the lobby still features the trademark large crystal chandelier, but lighting has been enhanced with silver carriage lights.

And 21 paintings from the property's existing art gallery have been incorporated into its new multimillion-dollar oils and sculptures collection, which was being installed at press time.

"There are elements of traditional Ritz-Carlton blended with elements of the new, modern Ritz-Carlton," he said. "We embrace a traditional approach to luxury, but when we talk about guest rooms, that's where we depart and see our opportunity."

So why the modernization and change of decorating tack?

"The current ownership [Acorn Asset Management] purchased the hotel for slightly more than $90 million four years ago, and now they're investing $60 million, a pretty hefty investment in a product," said Curry. "Travel trends change, and you have a choice of embracing them or ignoring them and risk becoming irrelevant."

Ritz-Carlton found that the Palm Beach resort, which opened in 1990, was losing ground to the eight other Ritz-Carlton properties in Florida.

"We needed to become relevant within our brand as well as in the wider luxury sector," Curry said.

The Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach, taking "a look at its youngest guests," said Curry, also is innovating with new Aquanuts (or Ritz Kids) and Coast (Ritz Teens) family programs.

And resort employees, 80% of whom are returning when the hotel reopens in March, have been retrained and outfitted in redesigned uniforms.

No condos

One travel industry trend washing over Ritz-Carlton and competing luxury accommodations that the Palm Beach property is bucking is the addition of a residential resort component. That's because the city imposed a moratorium on new residences measuring under 15,000 square feet per unit.

"There's some consideration for the future, but for right now, we're interested in just staying a luxury hotel property," said Curry. "But residences are certainly an avenue so many of our Ritz-Carlton hotel owners want to go. We're closing the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua [on Maui] to add that residential component."

In other company news, Ritz-Carlton will relaunch its Web site on Feb. 21.

"It's going to be the most interactive luxury hotel Web site out there," said Curry.

For more on the Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach, visit www.ritzcarlton.com/resorts/palm_beach.

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

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