Old Sep 2, 14, 3:13 pm
  #3  
pricesquire
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Join Date: Jan 2013
Location: Barcelona
Posts: 3,317
Full review + pics @ www.isserbtravels.com

Location

The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island is just north of Jacksonville, FL, located off A1A. For those coming here by car, keep in mind that A1A runs all the way from Fernandina Beach to Key West, FL. This is a highly scenic route which hugs the Atlantic Ocean, and makes for a great road trip.

Closest international airports: JAX [0:38]; SAV [1:57]; MCO [2:59].

Specs

The property consists of 446 guest rooms, 43 Club rooms, and 45 suites [3 of those are Presidential-styled suites]. All rooms have balconies with pretty exceptional ocean views.


Lobby

To call the lobby "traditional" is an understatement of epic proportions. I mean, they have not one, but two telephone booths. Those telephone booths are equipped with rotary phones. You read that correctly: telephone booths. With rotary phones.

Furthermore, wood paneling adorns almost every wall in the lobby. It's tastefully done, but it's still wood paneling. You almost get the vibe you're in a Colorado ski lodge, not a beachfront hotel.

For a beachfront resort, I found the lobby to be unnecessarily dark, almost overbearingly so. I understand Southern chic [I lived in Charleston for 5+ years!], and I understand the fine line between "traditional" and "old." I think the Ritz missed the mark on both categories. That said, the lobby is getting a multi-million dollar renovation within the next 1-2 years, and according to the Ritz, their number one priority is to modernize without taking away the Old South charm [artwork will be changed].

Not pictured: the lobby contains quite a bit of retail. For those familiar with resort properties, this is the norm. You'll find everything here from sun screen, t-shirts, cookbooks, to a TechnoMarine watch.

One of the most unique lobby shops I've ever seen, and one I would highly recommend, is a store called Salt, which is an offshoot of their in-house restaurant [also called Salt].

As you can see, while the lobby is uber traditional, there are still elements of uniqueness. Salt's retail outlet is an example of what the Ritz is doing right. Here, they sell dozens, if not hundreds of different versions of flavored salts + sugars [this will make more sense after I showcase the Ritz's flagship restaurant]. Tastings are free, and they make a point to tell you to throw your leftovers on the floor. I can get down with that!

Accommodations

The property consists of five types of non-suite rooms and six types of suites.

Non-suite rooms:

Coastal View*

Deluxe Coastal View

Ocean View*

Suite rooms:

Ocean View Terrace

Ocean View Suite

Oceanfront Suite

Amelia Suite

Atlantic Suite

The Ritz-Carlton Suite

*These rooms are offered both as standard rooms & Club Level rooms.

Coastal View Room

After an easy check-in we arrived at our room, a "Coastal View." I'm not sure if this is the exception or the rule, but upon entering our room there were two very nice gestures waiting for us: chocolate covered strawberries and an ice bucket that was actually full of ice.

The room itself was comfortable, nothing more, nothing less. There wasn't a single thing about the room that really set it apart from your typical Marriott, Hilton, or Hyatt. There wasn't anything about the room that was bad, either.

What's up with this chaise lounge? It's both ugly and uncomfortable.

The best part of the room is the balcony. It's a nice sized space and it's perfect for hanging out, drinking wine, and eating room service. The view is incredible as well.

Don't like the room pictured above? That's after a $65mm renovation! To be fair, each room is supposed to be decorated a little differently, and the suite I saw was absolutely beautiful. In other words, what you see isn't necessarily what you get.

Bathroom

Like all things Ritz, there was some serious love/hate going on with the bathroom.


The bathroom was perfectly sized, with a separate space for the toilet [not pictured]. The white marble is a really nice touch, and in my mind, perfectly suited for a beachfront resort. My main complaint with the bathroom was the shower/shower curtain. As you can see from the picture below, the curtains were something you'd find at a Hampton Inn, not a Ritz-Carlton. The showers were decent sized but I felt the fixtures were a tad dated.


Amelia Suite

The Amelia Suite was nothing short of gorgeous. It was lightyears beyond our room. I know what you're thinking: "obviously it was lightyears beyond your room. It was a suite. You were in an entry level room." To which I'd say: "Touché." When I say lightyears beyond my room, I mean stylistically. Although every room in the place was renovated in 2012, it seems the suites got a little extra love.

So, yeah. The Amelia Suite went above and beyond all expectations. It's worth noting that all three "Presidential styled" suites are different in layout and style, so check the pictures displayed on the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island website before making a choice [better yet, contact your Virtuoso Travel Advisor, as they've actually been there before].

A note on Club Level rooms

Anyone whose stayed at a Ritz-Carlton before knows that it's all about the Club Level. Even if you're sleeping in the lowest room category available, having access to the Club Level makes for a whole new experience. Think of the Club Level as you would most executive lounges, except these have better food, better service, and they're a quarter as full. Just to get an idea: the last Ritz-Carlton Club Level I was in--the Ritz-Carlton Washington, D.C.--had a nightly rotation of medium-rare filet mignon & butter-poached lobster. Plus a full bar. It was absolute ecstasy.

Unfortunately [for me], I missed the spread that accompanies most Ritz lounges, as I was there at a pretty odd hour. As far as style and space, I thought the place was pretty nice. Definitely a country club vibe, but this is a beachfront property, so it sort of fit in with the overall atmosphere.

Internet

The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island charges $9.95 per day, per device, for wireless internet.

Dining

There are five options for on-site dining:

Salt

Café 4750

Eight Burger Bar & Sports Lounge

The Lobby Lounge

Ocean Bar & Grill

Salt

Salt is the premier dining option on hotel property. It goes without saying that the whole restaurant is based around salt. Many of the dishes are actually served on salt blocks, and if you order the Wagyu beef, you'll actually cook your own steak on a heated piece of salt.

If you're celebrating a special occasion or just want a unique foodie experience, Salt offers a chefs table for four.

Each dish is prepared with a different flavor of salt. If there's one salt in particular you enjoyed, they'll send you home with [generously portioned] samples. While I didn't eat here, I thought the concept was quite brilliant, and wouldn't hesitate to check it out in the future.

Café 4750

Café 4750 is your on-site option for breakfast. You basically have three options here. You can either order off the menu, get the Southern breakfast buffet, or the Continental breakfast buffet. The Continental consists of baked goods + cold items, while the Southern consists of baked goods + cold items + hot items.

As part of your Virtuoso amenities, you have free Continental breakfast for two. That said, we both ordered the Southern breakfast, and there was no difference on our final bill [breakfast was completely comped].

Café 4750 had both indoor and outdoor seating.

While I didn't think it was the best hotel breakfast, considering the Southern breakfast was $52 for two, having it comped as a Virtuoso amenity is a huge perk. Nice way to start the day!

Eight Burger Bar & Sports Lounge

This option is exactly what it sounds like: a sports bar.

I walked by, but didn't take pictures of Lobby Lounge or Ocean Bar & Grill. In short, Lobby Lounge is in the lobby [go figure] and is where you'd go for an indoor cocktail and/or snack. Ocean Bar & Grill is your outdoor/beachfront option [bathing suits welcome] and consists mainly of sandwiches and salads.

Grounds & Pools

One of the things the Ritz does exceptionally well is maintaining the overall aesthetic of the hotel. The exterior of the hotel & the surrounding grounds are quite exceptional.

The focal point of the whole Amelia Island experience is the beach, and the Ritz couldn't of done a better job of highlighting it. Meeting space and chairs are placed throughout the property.

While the outside space is something to write home about, I'm not really in love with the main pool area. There's nothing really attractive about it. There's no wow factor. It's just there.

Bottom line: a hotel that sells itself as a luxury property needs a luxurious pool.

Fitness & Spa

The spa is marketed as one of the biggest reason to come here. And for good reason: it's expansive, both in square footage and in availability of spa menu options. As a first timer, I had an extremely pleasurable experience here. My wife liked it so much the first time she's been here twice since. But I feel that a disclaimer is needed: keep your expectations to a minimum. If you come here expecting Mii Amo or Miraval, or some transcendental life changing experience that will forever alter your outlook on life, you're are sure to be disappointed. This is not a destination spa; this is a hotel that happens to have a spa [and a good one at that!].

A note on pricing:

Spa access -- i.e., entry without a scheduled treatment -- to saunas, steam rooms, relaxation lounges, and indoor pool -- cost $25 per guest.
If you have a Club room, this fee is waived.

The spa also has three "relaxation rooms." While I wasn't in love with the design, I absolutely loved this space. I'm not joking when I say being in one of these lounge chairs was the most relaxed I've been in 2+ years. I can't put my finger on it, but there's something about these rooms that made me want to stay in the spa all day. (Note: there are three rooms - male, female, and unisex.)

Being in the spa, you have direct access to two additional pools. As much as I hated on the general access pool earlier in this review, I feel the exact opposite about the two spa pools.

In general, despite the country club interior and blasé furnishings, I'd give the spa pretty high marks in almost every category. Considering the spa comes with access to two other [more chic] pools, it's a pretty attractive place to waste away for a whole day.

Conclusion

The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island is the perfect example of the "you'll either love it or you'll hate it" mentality that many have with this brand. And, true to form, my wife ended up loving it, while I was in the "less impressed" camp.

The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island is a charming hotel. Traditionalists and those looking for a taste of the simple life will adore the old-school decor and laid back aesthetic. The hotel does a lot of things right. For example:

Salt is easily one of the most unique hotel restaurants I've ever seen.
The staff is more than accommodating, and I witnessed multiple instances of employees going above and beyond their normal duties
The location [and the beach] = complete gem
That said, modernists and those looking for a true taste of luxury will, quite simply, be disappointed. Despite millions in renovations, the place feels like a country club. And not one of those super swanky country clubs, either. For some people the country club thing is absolutely fine, and I respect that.

While I am by no means a modernist [some of my favorite hotels are quite traditional: St. Regis NYC, for example], I tend to think the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island is traditional to a fault. There is a fine line between traditional and dated, and I think the Ritz, unfortunately, falls into the latter category.

Final score: 81.0
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