A Ritz reborn: A review of the newly reopened Ritz-Carlton, South Beach
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A fixture in Miami’s flashy South Beach neighbourhood since the early 2000s, The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach has finally reopened after closing in late 2017 upon sustaining significant damage due to Hurricane Irma. The $90 million renovation project covered just about every surface in the property, from the mouldings in the 376 guest rooms to the brand-new art deco masterpiece of a lobby bar.
The hotel’s reopening at the end of January marks the latest phase in the storied property, which originally opened in 1953 as the DiLido Hotel. It was originally designed by Morris Lapidus, a renowned architect who went on to design some of Miami Beach’s most iconic properties like the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc.
I was a little apprehensive visiting the property just three weeks after it had officially reopened, especially considering the experiences of others on the TPG staff who in recent months have visited hotels that were newly opened (Hyatt Ziva Cap Cana) or reopened (The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas) and found that they were in varying degrees of readiness for guests.
However, my fears were quickly dismissed when I stepped into the lobby last weekend and found a resort that, for the most part, was not only ready to welcome guests once again but did so in a way that made it seem like it had never closed.
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There wasn’t a whole lot of time between learning that The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach had reopened and when I had an open weekend to get down to Miami to check it out. So, we were forced to make a fairly last-minute booking, which doesn’t bode well for prices in South Florida during the peak season for travel there. Sure enough, cash rates were going for almost $1,200 (about £930) per night.
However, there was availability at the standard rate, so we chose to use 85,000 points per night — a total of 170,000 points total — for my two-night stay. As a Category 8 property, an award night will cost you 70,000 points for an off-peak night, 85,000 for a standard night and 100,000 for a peak night.
The hotel says that it charges a $45 resort fee daily, but I noticed upon checkout that it was not added to my bill. (Marriott does not usually waive the resort fee on award stays as other hotel brands do.) Had it been on my folio, I would have asked for it to be removed or at least reduced, because the Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival was going on during the weekend of my stay, so the Ritz’s beach was basically taken over by the festival and guests couldn’t take advantage of the beach chair service that’s included in the resort fee.
The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach is on the corner of Lincoln Road and Collins Ave., which has its perks and its drawbacks. On the plus side, it’s right in the middle of all the action in South Beach. You can walk to many of the bars and restaurants that line the beach on Collins Ave. On the downside, it’s right in the middle of all the action in South Beach. The area immediately surrounding the hotel can get very busy — that corner is one of the busiest around and practically the centre of the tourist universe in Miami Beach.
I didn’t experience any excessive loudness during my stay, and the hotel is pretty protected from all the activity on the street thanks to its design, but it can be overwhelming for anyone looking for a calm and relaxing locale.
The hotel is about 13 miles from Miami International Airport (MIA) and takes about a half-hour by car under normal traffic conditions. I arrived in South Florida via Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), however, which is just under 30 miles from the hotel. It took me a little less than an hour and cost $55 (about £43) to get to the Ritz.
I arrived at the hotel around 9 p.m. on a Friday, and I was the only one checking in at that time. I was helped immediately and struck up a conversation with the check-in agent while she completed the process. I could tell that she was genuinely excited to welcome me to the property and was proud of the way the restoration had turned out.
She explained that they didn’t have any available rooms in the category that I had booked, so I was given an upgrade to an oceanfront room with a patio, which I excitedly accepted.
Next, I inquired about purchasing access to the club lounge for “Saturday night,” but what really would last from Saturday morning until when I left the property on Sunday evening. She said that could be arranged no problem, and that my keys would give me access to the lounge beginning at 6 a.m. the next morning. (I’ll dive into the lounge in more detail below.)
While she completed all the formalities of check in, I had a look around the renovated lobby. According to staff, only the light fixtures on the curved wall and the black terrazzo floor were kept from the hotel’s pre-renovation design. The lobby was trimmed with smart and stylish grey and black furniture, with cursory potted plants (we’re talking about Miami, after all) placed throughout.
Because of the hotel’s design, the lobby is dark, but the hotel really leaned into the dark look with muted colours and the polished black floor and columns throughout the space. And, instead of it feeling dark, it felt cool, moody and — dare I say it — sexy.
At the very back of the lobby is the all-new Lapidus Bar, an impossibly beautiful space that is pretty much exactly what I think of when someone mentions the words “art deco” to me. More on that later, though.
I wandered back to the check-in desk, where I was handed my keys and escorted to the elevators to make my way to my oceanfront room on the sixth floor.
I arrived after dark so I couldn’t get a full impression of the room upon my first look, but even at night, I could tell that I was going to like this renovated room.
Immediately to the left after opening the door was the bathroom, which featured a double vanity, WC, standing shower and separate tub.
I liked the design — it felt very true to the hotel’s art deco vibe — but I could tell that the bathroom hadn’t been taken to the studs, as the tub looked old and not especially inviting, and the shower was on the small side: characteristics that gave away the real age of the room. None of this was a dealbreaker, to be sure, but I sort of expected more in the bathroom from a property that was closed for more than two years for renovations.
Back inside the main room, there was a closet next to the bathroom, and then the foyer gave way to the spacious room that featured two double beds that I found to be almost unbelievably comfortable. I slept remarkably well throughout my stay and was wishing I could recreate that level of comfort at home.
This hotel nailed the bed space in this redesign. The stylized navy blue leather headboards and gold throw pillows placed in front of intricate white mouldings made the rooms feel stylish, high-end and relaxing and approachable all at once. And, of course, it was very art deco.
The grey wood floors, wicker chairs and bed frames added elements of the beach to the room, adding to its refined, relaxed vibe.
The Smart TV and honour bar were perched on top of a large credenza in the middle of the two double beds, and to the left of that was an awkwardly placed orange-hued privacy screen that seemingly served no other purpose other than to break up what would otherwise have been a very large white space, and, well, to look awkward.
Like I mentioned before, I had an oceanfront room, so I had a generously sized patio with great views of the pool deck and all the way to the ocean. There were two chairs for sitting as well as two loungers facing the ocean, and I enjoyed spending a few minutes out there enjoying the weather before starting my day.
Overall, I was really impressed by my room at this renovated Ritz. It felt fresh and new and high-end enough to command the prices that the property has been charging since reopening. There were a few shortcomings, for sure, but I was very pleased with the quality and look of the redesign.
Food and beverage
The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach has three drinking and dining establishments open for all guests: the Lapidus Bar at the back of the lobby; Fuego y Mar, the property’s main spot for eating and drinking; and the DiLido Beach Club, a relaxed and low-key spot located steps from the beach.
I didn’t have time to eat at DiLido, but I checked it out briefly while exploring the resort and I loved how it was directly next to the beach and it looked like a great spot to have a slow-paced lunch along with a few refreshing cocktails on a beautiful Miami day.
I ate at Fuego y Mar twice during my stay, once at a table in the restaurant and once by the pool. I liked the look of the restaurant. Inside was light and beachy, with thickly padded blue-and-white gingham-clad chairs, navy blue leather booths, herringbone wood floors and plenty of green potted plants.
This restaurant is a true inside/outside space, with the wall facing the pool opening almost completely up to let the ocean breeze into the space. Since I had breakfast with my Club Lounge access, I didn’t eat that meal at this restaurant but had I had more time, I would have made a point to try breakfast there.
The bar also bridged the gap between inside and out, though I made sure that I grabbed a seat in the outside portion.
On Saturday afternoon, I sat down for lunch under the covered outside portion of Fuego y Mar, and while I loved that it was outside, it almost felt dark, as the ceiling itself didn’t let much light in. However, when it rained on and off all day, I realized that was probably by design.
For lunch, I tried a Little Havana cocktail ($18), made with Havana Club Rum, guava, plantain and Cuban coffee. I didn’t have any idea what to expect but the waiter recommended it to me and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It felt appropriate for the location, too.
To eat, I chose the mahi-mahi wrap and french fries ($24), which was spectacular. It was fresh and light with the perfect amount of spice from the chipotle aioli served with it.
While sitting by the pool, I sampled the Ponté las Pilas cocktail ($18), which was made with yerba mate-infused cachaça, Chareau Aloe Liqueur, prickly pear and cucumber. The description really appealed to me, but I found it to be a little too sweet for my liking. Next up was a traditional mojito ($17), which was on point.
On Sunday, I tried a poolside classic: a grilled chicken quesadilla ($16). I had high expectations, and it lived up to those. The guacamole served on the side had a nice kick to it, too, and tasted like it was made in-house rather than purchased at the store.
I couldn’t leave the property without visiting the Lapidus Bar, named after the hotel’s original architect. It’s the hotel’s crown jewel. The friendly bartender, Mark, explained that before the renovation, the hotel only had a very little bar with just four seats around it — not a place that anyone would want to spend any time.
I can say with confidence that now you’ll definitely want to spend time at this swanky bar. You’re instantly transported to the days when Miami was at the peak of its glamour, with gold and other jewel tones used abundantly and set in contrast to black and white finishes.
The chandelier was designed specifically for this space, but it looks like it has been there since the 1950s — in a very good way.
There’s plenty of seating on either side of the main bar, and you can order from a full drink menu as well as some snacks and light bites. I only had a drink — the Hemingway Sour ($18) — which was made with Lustau Amontillado Solera Sherry, Solerno blood orange liqueur, aged balsamic, egg white and absinthe mist. It was refreshing and boozy at once — and it felt even more ’50s thanks to it being served in a coupe glass.
This isn’t a sprawling resort — you can think of it more like an urban property on a beach. As such, the amenity list isn’t extensive, but it’s got everything you need. First and foremost is the pool, which is the centerpiece of the resort. I love the look of it — it’s in a sort of cross shape. It looks great without being a typical rectangle or circular pool that so many resorts have.
There are plenty of loungers for you to use, and I was a big fan of the sturdy wood chairs with thick pads on top. I won’t lie about it: I judge any high-end hotel that doesn’t have these plush cushions on top of its loungers. Luckily, the Ritz passed this test with flying colors.
Beyond the pool is a sun deck with many chairs set up and oriented in a way that you can soak up the maximum amount of sun, which is exactly what I did on Sunday. Many resort buildings in Miami Beach obscure the sun by 3 p.m., but if you choose to lounge at this sun deck, you’ll get sun until 5 p.m. or a little later. And, there was free sunscreen in large bottles at the pool attendant’s desk, so you don’t need to remember to pack it before you head south.
There’s a small jacuzzi tub to use, as well, though it did get quite crowded at certain times of the day.
The hotel’s gym and spa are located on the third floor. The spa was completely redone, but with 50-minute massages starting at $155, I skipped a treatment. The space itself was beautiful and calming, though.
The gym felt like one area of the hotel that wasn’t given a full refresh. The space was dark and had low ceilings, with absolutely no views to speak of. The equipment was new, though. I suppose this is another product of the hotel’s age — there’s just not a ton of space to design a state-of-the-art fitness centre.
Since I purchased Club Lounge access specifically to include in this review, I thought it deserved its own section in this story.
I paid $350 to upgrade my room and grant myself access starting on Saturday and ending when I left the hotel on Sunday evening.
The lounge has five daily food-and-beverage presentations:
- Breakfast from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.
- Lunch from noon to 2 p.m.
- “Light snacks” from 2 to 4 p.m.
- Hors d’oeuvres from 5 to 7:30 p.m.
- Desserts and cordials from 8 to 10 p.m.
I visited several times during my stay: Twice for breakfast, once for the “light snacks” and once for hors d’oeuvres. While not the most extensive breakfast spread I’ve ever experienced, it was more than adequate for me. There were several hot options available, like scrambled eggs, bacon and chicken sausages, in addition to a plethora of cold options including a beautiful fruit spread, pastries and bagels with all the fixings, including several cream cheeses and lox.
Each day for breakfast I helped myself to some scrambled eggs, bacon, plates of fruit and more than one pastry. Everything was fresh and delicious.
During the lunch serving, I sampled mini sandwiches, the salad bar and some various chips and nuts with various spices on them. I loved everything I tried and once again felt that everything was fresh and reflected the local cuisine — albeit somewhat tangentially.
During the hors d’oeuvres serving, I stuck to Champagne since I was heading to dinner, but it was well-attended and the perfect spot — with plenty of beautiful views — to have a few drinks before heading out for an evening in Miami.
Champagne, beer and wine was served all day, but during the later servings a more extensive selection of alcohol was available. Some selection of snacks was available all day as well, including delicious cookies that I definitely grabbed on my way to the pool one afternoon.
At the end of the day, having access definitely enhanced my stay. I had access to dedicated concierges and could pop in at any time to grab a soft drink, a bottle of water or even a quick glass of Champagne. It’s a beautiful space, too, though I wish there was some sort of outdoor space to enjoy.
I certainly enjoyed having access to the Club Lounge, but I’m conflicted as to whether I think the splurge was worth it. I think that at a resort in a different location that’s less of a hotspot, it would be more worth it. But, in Miami, there’s too much good food and nightlife to have all your meals in the Club Lounge. And, I likely would still have spent less money even having eaten the pricey breakfast at Fuego y Mar each day.
I had a mostly very positive experience with the service at this property, with the exception of one situation. On Sunday afternoon, I ordered my quesadilla along with a mojito, and while the drink arrived promptly, I waited an hour for my food. My waiter at the pool was very apologetic, but I could tell that he — along with the rest of the pool staff — was very overwhelmed. It was a very busy weekend, though, and I was in no rush, so it didn’t really bother me, but it’s definitely worth noting that perhaps the pool staff needs to better allocate employees to service out there.
Other than this minor hiccup, I felt spoiled at The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach. Even though I had a quick stay, the pool attendants knew my name immediately and knew that I wanted a chair in a sunny spot each day. Servers and other attendants would come around with samples of fruit juice and a particularly delicious horchata that I tried more than once.
The manager of the Club Lounge would greet me by name whenever he walked by at the pool or the lobby, which I appreciated. I felt that the staff at this property genuinely wants to make each guest’s stay more relaxing and enjoyable.
I had a great stay at the reborn Ritz-Carlton, South Beach. The property got a stunning restoration, the rooms are high-end and beautiful, the food and drinks were delicious and I had great interactions with the staff. This isn’t a sprawling megaresort, but it’s not supposed to be. This is an ideal place if you’re looking to head to Miami for a weekend of partying and enjoying everything the city has to offer, but not necessarily if you want to have a purely relaxing vacation.
After its almost $100 million restoration, this hotel can legitimately claim its place as one of the top properties in Miami Beach. The next time I make the trip to Miami, this property will surely be near the top of my list when I’m deciding where to stay.
All photos by the author.
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