A Ritz reborn: A review of the newly reopened Ritz-Carlton, South Beach

A fixture in Miami’s flashy South Beach neighborhood 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 moldings in the 376 guest rooms to the brand-new art deco masterpiece of a lobby bar.

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Curious what a $90 million hotel renovation looks like? Read my ~full~ review of the just-reopened @ritzcarltonsouthbeach
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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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In This Post

Booking
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 per night.
Related: The best credit cards for hotel stays in 2020
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.
If you’re considering a stay and need to give your Marriott account a boost, consider signing up for the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, which is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 75,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
Related: Which Marriott Bonvoy credit card is right for you?
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.
Location
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 center 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 to get to the Ritz.
Check-in
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 gray 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 colors 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.
Room
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 moldings made the rooms feel stylish, high-end and relaxing and approachable all at once. And, of course, it was very art deco.

The gray 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 honor 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.

Amenities
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 center.

Club Lounge
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.
Service
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.
Overall impression
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.

Almost ready for its close up: A first look at the reopened Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas

Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card
Five words you never want to hear on the other end of the line as you’re packing for vacation: “Your reservation has been canceled.”
A preemptive call to The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, to inquire about airport transportation options had me breaking into a sweat, and not the kind induced from lounging on a beach under the Caribbean sun, as an agent tried to pull up my impending booking. Luckily, with a little digging, they were finally able to locate the still-intact reservation but I couldn’t help wondering if the mix-up was an omen for the trip.
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The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas was in its third month of operation when I visited, according to one staff member I spoke to, after being closed for a $100 million renovation to repair damage from Hurricane Irma in 2017. As I learned from my colleague Summer Hull, you just never know what you’re going to get when visiting a newly opened property.
What I found upon arrival was a hotel that may be open, but wasn’t quite offering guests the full resort experience yet — which could be a dealbreaker for some considering the cost of a stay at this property.
Rocking chairs welcoming guests at the entrance to The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

In This Post

Booking
The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas is a top-tier Category 8 Marriott Bonvoy property. This means award nights will cost you 70,000 points for an off-peak night, 85,000 for a standard night, and 100,000 for a peak night redemption.
Predictably, a stay — even mid-week — at this property wouldn’t come cheap in the middle of high season for the Caribbean. Had we paid cash, we would have paid about $1,000 per night, but we wanted to keep our cash outlay to a minimum so instead chose to redeem 155,000 points (for one off-peak and one standard night) which TPG values at around $1,240.
The resort quotes a daily resort fee of $85, but I was “only” charged $50 upon checkout.
If you’re low on Marriott points and are eyeing a redemption such as this, consider signing up for the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, which is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 100,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening.

Location
Getting to the island of St. Thomas from New York was a dream: a quick nonstop flight from Newark (EWR) to St. Thomas (STT) meant wheels down by 2:50 p.m. local time. The drive from the airport to the resort, however, was a different story.
Related: Best ways to use miles in the Caribbean
The Ritz-Carlton is located on the east end of the island, 10 miles from the airport. The hotel does not have any type of shuttle service in place and the island does not currently have Uber so your only option is to grab one of the many taxi vans waiting in the airport lot. You have two taxi options: Pay $90 cash for a “private shuttle,” meaning you have the van to yourself, or $18/person to ride in the same vehicle but with additional passengers. And by additional passengers, I mean seven additional passengers — so get ready to get close if that’s the route you go.
A view of the Ritz property at night. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
 
You could also rent a car, but beware that the quality of rental cars in the U.S. Virgin Islands is often not great, and you drive on the left-hand side in the USVI, which could be difficult for those used to right-hand driving on the mainland.
Because St. Thomas is very hilly, be prepared for a long drive (in our case, about 45 minutes) up very steep and winding roads. If you’re prone to car or motion-sickness, maybe skip the free shots offered at the airport Margaritaville on your way out.
Check-in
My husband and I arrived at the resort around 3:50 p.m. We were met by friendly hotel staff who directed us to the check-in desk where a cold towel and delicious iced beverage (with optional Cruzan rum topper!) appeared within minutes. Despite official check in being a mere 10 minutes away (4 p.m.), the room was not ready. This was especially hard to comprehend after a staffer mentioned the hotel was only 40% full at the time of our visit.
The lobby is airy and decked out with brand-new furnishings. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
 
The receptionist asked us to drop our bags with the bellman and wait at Sails, the resort’s closest beach-front restaurant, while the room was readied. As we hopped on a golf cart to head down to the water, my husband had to ask that our luggage be moved from the middle of the unattended valet driveway to a secure storage room.
Golf carts at the ready to transport guests from the lobby to their room. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
 
An hour later, we finally received a call that the room was ready. We waited 15 minutes for the bellman to meet us at Sails as directed by the receptionist but eventually gave up when no one showed, and walked back up to the entrance to retrieve our luggage and room keys.
Room

The room — especially the bathroom — at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, was the highlight of the stay.

The term “well-appointed” is defined as “having a high standard of equipment or furnishing” when it comes to a building or room and this certainly was true of our standard king room. All the furnishings looked brand-new, modern in design, and the room was spotless.

The bed was large and luxurious with plenty of pillows to go around and crisp, clean linens.

A king bed fit for a king — what more could you ask for? (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

Outlets were within arm’s reach of any horizontal sleeping position and ample in number. The only downside to the bed setup was that the thermostat was obscured behind a large lamp on the bedside table, making it almost impossible to read or adjust the temperature without doing a furniture shuffle or some type of neck gymnastics.

Plenty of outlets, but you had to work for thermostat access. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

Oddly, no protective or decorative covering was fitted onto the lower mattress, which made for a strange-looking setup.

Some things are better left unseen. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

That said, the top-of-the-line bed situation coupled with the sleekest and quietest ceiling fan I’ve ever seen made for a great night’s sleep.

Aside from the bed, the room also included a chic faux-reclaimed wood desk with leather chairs under an oversized rattan light fixture.

A large and in charge desk made for the perfect spot for breakfast. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
 

There was also a sleek set of drawers under the flat-screen TV that housed a mini-fridge and DIY Nespresso coffee station with all the fixins’.

The coffee station was discreetly tucked into the set of drawers. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

There was also a chaise lounge in the room that, while large for the room, was quite comfortable.

The perfect spot for a little catching up on work. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

The closet was big enough to fit an entire resort wear collection and housed the room’s safe, which was easy to use and large enough to accommodate a bevy of electronics and travel documents.

Love a good hotel room robe. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

The balcony was spacious albeit no frills, with two basic loungers and chairs at the ready.

The perfect spot for catching a sunset sky. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

This outdoor space would have been the ideal spot for relaxing except for the fact that the view from our building was of the ongoing grounds construction as well as the back of Sails, with limited views of the water. If a good view is a priority, make sure to request a room in one of the buildings that faces east and not north.

View from the balcony of the lush grounds, but limited water. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
As the grounds and property were still very much a work in progress, many of the foot paths were muddy from landscapers.

Lots of greenery — and lots of mud. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

The bathroom was beyond spacious with a shower stall, private toilet, large vanity area and the kind of deep soaking tub that vacation dreams are made of.

Could have spent the entire stay just in the tub. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

The vanity had ample counter space around his-and-hers sinks as well as an additional shelf for storage needs. The lower shelf of the vanity was lined with automatic track lighting that turned on as soon as you walked in — a smart and useful feature.

A private toilet is always appreciated. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

The shower was spacious and included a Raindance showerhead. Asprey amenities were fully stocked in both the shower and main bathroom area.

The shower situation was just as nice as the tub. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
The usual suspects. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

The toilet seat was one visit away from sliding off but was promptly fixed after a call to the front desk.

Clean, but needed a little tightening. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

Food and beverage
Our first dining experience on the property was at Sails waiting for the room, where we began our vacation with high hopes.

The covered beach-front area was a godsend between afternoon rain showers. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

The service, as we would experience throughout our stay, was top-notch. The local staff were friendly, attentive and the best part of every meal.

The chips and guac (called Hallamole on the menu, $14), on the other hand, was frankly terrible. Stale cuts of various root vegetables were piled into a basket with a side of guacamole that was oxidized and tasted store-bought.

Sails root chips, guac and salsa. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

 Tuna poke ($29) and the Red Hook fish tacos ($20) followed suit. Both were disappointing.

The tuna poke looked much better than it tasted. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

Fish tacos with more mayo than Mahi Mahi. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

The good news is you’ll have no trouble finding solace in the frozen drinks, a favorite being the B.B.C. (Baileys Banana Colada, $16), which was basically banana pudding in drink form with booze mixed in.

The Baileys Banana Colada a.k.a. the B.B.C. will make you forget all your worries. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
 
Dining at Alloro for dinner, where “fine dining transports you to Sicily by way of St. Thomas,” was not as disappointing, but still not great. We were told the restaurant was booked up when we walked in, and that the only seats were at the bar, which was more than fine with us, but odd considering all the empty tables.
A beautiful space, to be sure. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
An eggplant caponata starter ($16) was served atop an arugula salad with no dressing and undressed grilled bread. The pizza ($21) and pasta dish ($19) were not offensive but nothing memorable. The resort is lucky to have such incredible staff working, who at least made the experience pleasant overall — and also knew how to make a great Negroni.
You can get better pizza and pasta at the airport. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

The property’s surf-and-turf restaurant, Bleuwater, was not open for dinner during our visit (despite the website listing hours of operation as 6 to 10 p.m. daily), which reception was unable to confirm or deny when we called for reservations.

The restaurant was, however, open for breakfast (if you can find it — the space is unmarked except for faded lettering over a nonworking entrance). It was the best meal we had during our stay. Opt for the breakfast buffet ($32/person) and enjoy fresh juices, pastries, a selection of standard breakfast items from the hot bar and a cold bar of meats and cheeses. 

A variety of pastries were available to choose from for all your carbohydrate needs. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

A hearty cheese-and-meat selection did not disappoint. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

The fresh fruit was a much-appreciated highlight, as were the fresh fruit juices. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

A hot bar came stocked with all the basics: scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, and breakfast potatoes. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

Again, the service was amazing. 

Not wanting to try our luck again at Sails, we ventured over to the beach-front lunch spot on the residence side of the property. We opted for what seemed like the safest choices: a crispy chicken wrap ($19) and a steak quesadilla ($27). Not exactly island food, but it did the trick.

The crispy chicken wrap. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

The $27 steak quesadilla. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)

On our last morning, we opted for room service: bagels and cream cheese, fruit smoothies and coffee ($79 total). We were told it would take 35 minutes but the food did not show up until almost an hour after we ordered.

Bagels for breakfast: You can take girl out of New York… (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
 
The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, also offers a Club Lounge (complete with a killer balcony area) where you’ll find a light breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks (!) and dessert served daily for $400 per day per reservation.
Given how expensive it is to dine on-property and how, well, not great, the food was during our stay, I would 100% opt to go this route if returning. On our walk-through one evening the selection of bites looked incredible (much better than what was being offered at the actual restaurants) and the self-serve bar speaks for itself.
The other move would be to take advantage of the local restaurants and bars that are a short taxi ride away in Red Hook.
The patio outside Alloro restaurant. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
Amenities

When all the construction is complete, guests will have access to two pools on the resort’s property. However, only one of the two was open while we were there, so we were given access to the pool at the adjacent Ritz-Carlton Club residence property.
The pool that was open at the resort was a smallish infinity pool just steps from the beach. The pool deck was adorned with about a dozen lounge chairs and a few cabanas.
The only pool open on the hotel side during our stay. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
 
The cabanas remained untouched during our stay. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
 
Due to construction, a large metal fence limited the deck space as well as the sunlight at the open hotel pool, which is probably why we rarely saw many guests hanging here.
Some serious shade. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
The pool was also noisy as one would expect from a working construction site. The pool currently under construction should be a nice family-friendly option once complete.
I called to check in with the resort about the progress of the construction on this pool, and the agent I spoke to told me that it should be open by the end of next week, as it’s just awaiting a final water inspection.
Ongoing construction at the second, family-friendly hotel pool. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
An overview of the hotel pool and beach area. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
The best part of the beach was the sunscreen station. A nice touch for those on a quick vacation not wanting to check a bag full of liquids or not wanting to buy a new bottle of sun block on the island.
A sunscreen for everyone — even pasty New Yorkers. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
 
The pool at the Ritz-Carlton Club next door, however, was massive and offered a much better selection of lounge chairs and access to sunlight for those seeking an extra dose of vitamin D.
The beach on the residence side was also in better shape (softer sand, better beach chairs and trees for the sun-averse). It was about a five-minute walk from the hotel pool area, and worth the trip.
Picture yourself in one of those amazing hammocks. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
The gym was brand-new, with plenty of cardio and weight machines to choose from, and offered a better view of the ocean than our room.
Come for the workout, stay for the view. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
There were plenty of free weights to choose from. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
Brand new cardio machines. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
 
Complimentary earphones, water, towels and fruit were also supplied.
All the necessary gym amenities, a nice touch. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
 
The tennis courts looked great but we were unable to use them due to frequent rain showers and high winds during our stay.
Nonmotorized aquatic activities were included with the stay. We took out and enjoyed kayaks and snorkeling gear. Standup paddleboards were also available, although we opted not to take them out due to the rocky nature of the beach.
Service
The restaurant and grounds staff at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, were excellent from start to finish: friendly, speedy and knowledgeable. Reception was hit or miss, at times unable to answer basic questions about operations. We did receive prompt service to repair the toilet as mentioned above, which was appreciated.
The gorgeous atrium at night. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
Overall impression
The grounds at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, were beautiful — the flora and fauna were abundant and tropical — and that’s even with ongoing construction.
Blooms on blooms. (Photo by Jane Frye/The Points Guy)
 
There was a good deal of mud on footpaths and in grassy areas where crews were working during our visit. The footpaths are also very poorly lit, so a walk to dinner or around the property at night was precarious.
The room was top-notch and the staff wonderful. Once construction on the hotel pool is finished, it should be a nice play to catch some rays, relax and take in the scenery in peace.
Once the final details are finished on this property and operations have had a chance to smooth out the kinks, this resort will be worth considering for your next visit to St. Thomas, especially if you can do it on points. The food could still be a gamble, but if you opt for the Club Level option and/or dine in Red Hook as a Plan B, you should be good to go.
Featured image by Jane Frye / The Points Guy.

High/Low Travel Strategy: Mixing Luxury and Budget Travel on the Same Trip

While my favorite way to maximize travel is through points and miles, my husband and I have come up with a few other tricks over the years to find that elusive balance between my love of budget travel and his taste for the finer things. Our go-to technique for a vacation with the right mix of off-the-beaten path adventure mixed with pure luxury and true downtime is our “high/low” technique.
Much like pairing an Ikea mirror with an Eames chair in your living room, mixing high-end travel with lower-cost experiences in the same trip can work well. It also has helped us tame our children’s unrealistic expectations around travel.
On a boat we rented for $15 in rural Vietnam
High/Low in Practice
Our budget for accommodations during a recent weeklong vacation in Vietnam was an average of $350 per night. This was on the higher end, but it turned out to channel us toward hotels that we found didn’t cater to families. Instead we chose to look for somewhere in the $75–$100 per night range for four nights followed by somewhere in the $500–750 range for the next three nights. We also tried to find a third or fourth night for free through select hotels in Amex’s Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR) program. FHR is available to holders of certain Amex cards, such as The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum® Card from American Express. 
We loved exploring Hoi An’s food markets.
Tips for the Lower End
The key to the “low” end of the stay is to realize that while it may cost less, it isn’t actually less enjoyable because it is culturally rich. During the “low,” we do lots of sightseeing and driving, eat at local restaurants or cook and keep costs relatively low by engaging in the local economy rather than staying insulated within a resort economy. Our family is able to see areas we wouldn’t normally get to enjoy if we were only sheltered at luxury hotels and resorts. It is also a great time to do purposeful travel. Plus we often travel with our two young kids and want an Airbnb or family-run hotel for reasons beyond budget.
Make sure you’re using the best credit cards to book an Airbnb. We sometimes are able to book our “low” accommodations through Hotels.com/Venture and use my Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card for 10x the points on the room stay, then use it toward our 10th night free with Hotels.com, which is effectively a 20% return.
You can also choose a lower-category points hotel for your stay. A large welcome bonus, such as the one offered by the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card that earns you 100,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening, could get you several nights at a Category 1–4 Marriott redemption.

Tips for the Higher End
When we head over to the “high” end, we enter pure resort mode — we don’t have to worry about driving or where to go for lunch because everything is right there. We often do not leave the grounds because we’ve already explored and just want to stay put. We like to book the luxury piece at the end of the stay and utilize early check-in and late check-out to really stretch the stay (FHR benefits and elite status are great for this).
This can be a fantastic time to use a high-end redemption to bring down costs and use the savings for extras such as cooking classes or a spa experience.
During a 10-day trip to Bali, for example, we spent five nights in a low-cost villa and then did a five-night redemption at The Ritz-Carlton, Bali (Category 6, from 50,000 Marriott points), taking full advantage of its incredible kids club and inexpensive babysitting.
Here are many different ways to stay with your family in Bali using points.
Our one-bedroom villa at Four Season Resort The Nam Hai.
Riding on the sleeper train between our high- and low-cost stays in Vietnam.
Lower End: Rural Vietnam
In Vietnam, our lower end stay was in the Bong Lai Valley at Phong Nha Farmstay for $85 per night, including breakfast. It was essentially a backpackers spot, but had a large family room next to the owner’s apartment. My older son became fast friends with the owner’s son, Howie, and talked about him for months afterward.
Enjoying the cooler weather at Phong Nha Farmstay.
In Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, we rented a private 14-seat boat for just for the four of us where I could easily breastfeed the baby; the privacy gave us the flexibility to turn back if our 2-year-old was scared of the caves. The three-hour cave gondola ride was $15, plus a $6.50 entrance fee for the national park. Rather than a scary experience, the ride turned out to be peaceful and done at the perfect pace for our family.

Another day, we took advantage of the advertised free bikes at the farmstay. The only family bike had a flat seat on the back. We used my sarong to tie my older son on the back, and my husband wore the baby on his front over the bumpy, muddy roads to the only local attraction called The Duck Stop.
Using a hand-drawn map, we found the family-run spot, which offered a package of food and a visit to see their raft of ducks ($4, kids free). Suddenly, we were in borrowed sandals and feed was being thrown on our feet. The ducks chased us while trying to bite our feet with their bills as the owner screamed, “It’s like a massage!” We then greeted the resident water buffalo before heading back on our bikes. These are the types of peculiar travel experiences that I had while backpacking in my 20s and love having again with my family (my husband less so).

High: Four Seasons The Nam Hai
As much as I love reliving my backpacking days, entering the Four Seasons Nam Hai was extraordinary. We booked with a fourth night free, which brought the cost down from $750 per night to $660 per night for a one-bedroom, ocean-view villa with an included exquisite breakfast. Yes, that is pricey, but that is why we balance it out with more affordable accommodations. We also considered the Intercontinental Nha Trang, Vietnam using IHG Rewards Club points from the generous IHG®  Rewards Club Premier Card (bonus currently up to 120k points) and the fourth consecutive award night free for cardholders.

The magical thing about a luxury resort is that they pretty much know where you are at all times and can reach you. With the kids safely in childcare, we attended a Vietnamese cooking class arranged by the hotel that included a visit to the local market. When we returned from the market with our fresh ingredients, the cooking assistant notified the babysitter to bring my youngest son to me at the cooking school via a golf cart because he needed to breastfeed.

When the baby finished his lunch, his babysitter whisked him away again, which made me feel like a mother in “Downton Abbey.” We could not have dropped the fresh shrimp into hot sizzling oil with our tiny children in tow. The Cooking Academy was $115 each and included our fantastic five-course lunch of grilled calamari skewers, grouper in banana leaf and wok-fried prawns in tamarind sauce.

To round off the experience, on our last night we went into the ever so photogenic Hoi An to see the lanterns lining the streets. We wandered the streets until our children melted down, and then hopped in a taxi back to the hotel and into bed.

When packing the next morning, we realized that my DSLR camera was gone and must have been left in the taxi. Normally, that might been adios to the camera, but the hotel quickly pulled the license plates off the security camera of us arriving the night before, located the driver and had my camera back in my hands by our 11am departure.
That could have been a sour note to end the vacation. Instead we were happy to be staying somewhere where we were just taken care of — our problem suddenly became their problem. We enjoyed the bountiful breakfast buffet rather than scrambling to track down the camera and avoided the sadness of losing all the photos from our trip in Asia with the kids, including those in this story. It was also a reminder to make sure I know what insurance protections my credit cards have.

Bottom Line
The adage goes that a vacation with kids is just a trip and never a vacation. After enjoying sightseeing and adventure time, end your family trip at a luxury resort with safe, reliable on-site childcare so you have time to truly unwind and maybe even have a date before returning home. Using this high/low method, you can average out the costs either with points or cash while enjoying both secluded luxury and local culture.
Have you ever tried a high/low vacation? How does your family balance different interests during travel?

Puerto Rican Renaissance: A Review of Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve

At the end of 2012, in the middle of my sophomore year at the University of Michigan in bitterly cold Ann Arbor, Michigan, a then-new resort opened on a gorgeous stretch of beach on the northern shore of the island of Puerto Rico, about 45 minutes west of San Juan, that immediately caught my attention and became the object of my travel dreams. That resort was Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve — the first North American iteration in a portfolio that now includes only three properties but is continuing to expand with a couple more properties slated to open this year (though all bets are off as to whether they will open on time or not).

The resort has an illustrious past. It was originally developed in the late 1950s by Laurance Rockefeller (yes, those Rockefellers), while Puerto Rico was at the height of its glamour as a travel destination. Ritz-Carlton Reserve designers and engineers set out to recreate and enhance the original resort’s emphasis on luxury, tranquility and sustainability when they were redeveloping the property, and it quickly became one of the world’s most talked about resorts.
Five years after opening, though, Dorado Beach became one of many thousands of tragedies that Hurricane Maria dealt to Puerto Rico. That storm will live in infamy among Puerto Ricans as one of the worst to ever hit the island.
A little over a year after the storm, Dorado Beach opened again, and with its reopening came a symbolic rebirth of Puerto Rico as a top destination for travelers seeking a luxurious beach vacation. So, in late January, roughly six years after the resort originally opened, I found myself on a flight down to San Juan with TPG creative director Isabelle Raphael to review the property. See? Dreams really do come true.

In This Post

Booking
Perhaps the biggest problem with Dorado Beach is that you can’t redeem points for stays, and the cash rates for rooms are frankly exorbitant. In the low season, it’s normal to see the cheapest rooms selling for $899 or more per night. I can’t stress how much of a bummer this little detail is — the resort is truly incredible, but not being able to use Marriott points for stays really hurts.

Anyway, we traveled to Dorado Beach at the end of January, right in the middle of high season, which meant rates were accordingly high. We paid $1,557 per night for my two-night stay through Hotels.com with a Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. This excludes the daily $95 resort fee, which actually rings up at over $100 after taxes. This is by far the priciest resort fee I’ve encountered on my travels, and paying yet another $100 on top of the already sky-high room rate is a hard pill to swallow.
It’s with bookings like these where the Venture card really shines, as it earns 10x miles per dollar spent on hotel reservations when booked through the special link at Hotels.com/venture. You can also stack this with Hotels.com Rewards, which awards one free night per every 10 paid nights. Since the free night is based on the average price of the 10 nights, when stacked with the 10x miles from the Venture Rewards, it effectively gives us a 20% return on this reservation. That’s one of the very best credit card returns you can get when spending cash on hotels.
Since Ritz-Carlton Reserve properties don’t participate in the Marriott Rewards program, you’re not eligible to earn points, either. Another major bummer.
You have to pay cash no matter what when staying at this resort, so another great way to book would be through Amex’s Fine Hotels & Resorts program, as it entitles you to a room upgrade and a special amenity, which is usually a food-and-beverage or spa credit. The room upgrade alone could go especially far at a resort like this: It could land you in a room with a private plunge pool.
Location
The resort was in the city of Dorado, about a 45-minute drive from San Juan’s Luis Muñoz International Airport (SJU). We took a taxi from the airport, which cost $90 including the tip. The resort itself was very large, meaning we didn’t have time during our two-night stay to explore the local area, though on the way in I noticed that the area immediately surrounding the resort consisted of a lot of gated communities with individual homes, golf courses and other beachfront resorts.

Check-in
As soon as our taxi pulled up to the impressive entrance to the resort, we were greeted with fresh fruit popsicles, which I gladly devoured.

Immediately behind the porte-cochère was a lily pond flanked on one side by the reception area and a golf course on the other. It made a grand first impression and illustrated how the resort focused on a seamless integration with its surrounding environment.

The first impression was great, but the second was even better. As soon as we ascended the steps to the main lobby, I was blown away by the view. The open-air lobby had a direct view through the heart of the resort out to the thundering ocean. I could already tell this place was going to be special.

The lobby was also surrounded by a water feature, which had a calming effect and also worked to bring the outside inside. Unfortunately, our rooms weren’t yet ready, but we were introduced to our team of embajadores, (literally “ambassadors”), who were available for us throughout our stay for any requests.

We received a quick tour of the main part of the resort before heading over to the poolside restaurant to eat lunch. The rooms took a couple of hours to get ready, which was surprising, as the resort didn’t feel all that busy when we arrived.

Room
The majority of rooms at this property were arranged in individual buildings containing just four rooms spread between two floors. Base-level rooms were on the top, since those didn’t have individual plunge pools like the ground-floor rooms did.

If a hotel charges $1,500 per night for a base room, they’d better be anything but “base.” Fortunately, when I opened the door to my room, it didn’t feel entry-level in the slightest.

My first impression was that it was absolutely massive — the smallest rooms on the property are almost 950 square feet, almost double the size of my Brooklyn apartment.

The room was filled with light, thanks to the floor-to-ceiling window that spanned the width of the room. This window opened completely, bringing the sights, sounds and smells of the beach into the room.

This was by far my favorite feature of the room. The building was so close to the ocean that I really did feel as if there was hardly a distinction between the inside and the outside.

The room’s balcony was also one of the largest I’d ever experienced at a resort — there was plenty of room for the table and chairs, as well as the chaise lounge. I actually found the chaise to be on the small side — Isabelle’s balcony had a lovely sofa that I wish I’d had.

The bathroom was another example of the resort seamlessly blending the inside and out. It was phenomenally spacious and also had floor-to-ceiling glass windows, though here it didn’t open up the entire width of the room.

Instead there was a door that was adjacent to the indoor shower that opened into the outdoor shower area. Who doesn’t love a hotel room where you have to distinguish between indoor and outdoor showers? The pressure and temperature in both showers were excellent for me, though Isabelle did report that her outdoor shower never heated up, even after letting the water run for about 10 minutes.

The outdoor shower immediately became one of my favorite features of the room — there was something so very peaceful about a warm shower on a warm night surrounded by the sounds of the abundant wildlife at the resort.

Back inside, the bathroom featured a large soaking tub, double sinks and a separate WC.

Amenities were by the on-property Spa Botánico and were stocked in large, reusable plastic containers rather than individual-use bottles, as part of the resort’s commitment to more sustainable practices.

The predominantly white king-sized bed was beautifully offset by a rich wood headboard that had a slatted design feature that you could keep open or close to not allow light in from the bathroom.

Light switches were clearly labeled and located conveniently for in-bed control. There were a couple of outlets adjacent to the bed as well: a necessity in today’s world.

The room’s closet was large and located in a sort of “foyer” that contained the room’s minibar and was between the bathroom and the main part of the suite.

The minibar was expectedly high-end, with prices to match, though I did grab a Diet Coke one day — desperate times. The provided water bottles were complimentary, though, and the housekeeping staff left several more each day.

There was a Nespresso maker, too, which I know that coffee drinkers would appreciate. Confession: I don’t drink coffee … I know. What’s wrong with me?

Food and Beverage
Since we only had a two-night stay, we did most of our eating on the property. Luckily, there were more than enough options to keep things interesting on our short stay. The resort offered three full-service restaurants and one deli-style shop for quicker meals.

Like I mentioned earlier, our rooms weren’t ready when we arrived at the resort, so one of the embajadores suggested that we grab lunch at Positivo Sand Bar, the restaurant adjacent to the resort’s Positivo pool, which I considered to be the resort’s main pool. The space itself was gorgeous, with most of the tables placed in the sand, so you really felt like you were on a beach vacation.

The space itself was gorgeous too — it gave me 1950s-Caribbean-beach-club vibes. Plus, the music, which I’ll call “ambient beach beats” contributed to the relaxed atmosphere. I ordered a Caesar salad with churrasco as well as a glass of rosé — it was the perfect way to kick off our stay at Dorado Beach.

That night, we ventured to the resort’s other beachfront full-service option, Encanto Beach Club Bar and Grill. The restaurant was set just steps from the beach and featured a large, circular bar in the center surrounded by tables and booths for larger groups.

The menu focused on grilled meats and seafood. We shared a burrata-and-tomato appetizer, and I ordered grilled chicken with vegetables for my main course along with a Cuba Libre — it was excellent. Many times, chicken dries out and becomes flavorless, but this dish was bursting with flavor.

During the day, the Encanto Beach Club Bar and Grill served as the restaurant for the Encanto pool, which seemed to have significantly fewer guests than the Positivo pool. It also seemed to cater to families more — on one end was a zero-entry feature that would be appealing to small children, for sure.

The following day, we ventured over to Coa for breakfast — it was the hotel’s signature restaurant and offered breakfast daily from 7am to 11am and dinner from Tuesday through Saturday from 6pm to 10pm.

When we had breakfast, there were only a handful of other guests in the restaurant, though it looked like it could handle a crowd.

Connected to the main restaurant was a sumptuously appointed bar area that open Tuesday through Saturday from 6pm to 12am, featuring live music Thursday through Saturday from 7pm to 10pm.

A buffet was set up in a room adjacent to the main dining room, which offered the typical breakfast buffet, though the food looked very fresh.

We both ordered from the a la carte menu — Isabelle went with the oh-so-Australian avocado toast, while I went with a breakfast mainstay: an omelet.

On the last night of our stay, we went back to Positivo Sand Bar for dinner — whereas at lunch the restaurant served light poolside fare, at dinner time it focused on sushi and Japanese cuisine. We arrived around 7:30pm and asked for a table for two, which the restaurant couldn’t accommodate, as they said the restaurant was fully booked. One look around, though, and I questioned the validity of that statement, as there were plenty of open tables. This happened at the Encanto Beach Club as well the previous night — both times we ended up sitting at the bar. Totally fine for us, but make sure you make reservations in advance, or at least when you arrive on property, even though you probably don’t even need them.

I ordered room service — another omelet with local Puerto Rican sausage — on the morning of checkout, and it was delivered within three minutes of the estimated delivery time — I was impressed. The food arrived hot and fresh, too. 
I enjoyed my breakfast with the huge glass door open — I had to take in that phenomenal view one more time.

When we found ourselves with a couple of hours of downtime, we spent it sitting by and swimming in the pool, which, of course, works up an appetite. We ordered chips and guacamole, as well as a round of “skinny” mojitos (a typical mojito but with less sugar) to keep us going until dinnertime.

Pool service was attentive and friendly, and each day the staff wheeled around a cart with coconuts ready for drinking — it was a refreshingly tropical touch.

Amenities
One books a stay at a resort like Dorado Beach with one objective in mind: relaxation. What better way to achieve that goal than by a pool or the beach? Dorado Beach definitely had us covered in that department. The Positivo pool was my favorite spot on the resort — it’s hard to get more picturesque than that.

The pool had infinity edges that gave way to the roaring ocean further beyond, and the water itself was a spectacular blue, thanks to the tiling work.

It was kept at a warm-enough temperature that I didn’t recoil at all upon entering, like I do at so many other pools. Plus, there was hardly anyone in the pool at one time, so it really felt like we had the place to ourselves. I suppose that was arguably one of the best features of this resort: It didn’t have a tremendously high number of rooms, so public spaces didn’t feel crowded, and there was never a mad dash to reserve a pool chair at 7am.

We visited the stretch of beach adjacent to the Positivo pool for a couple of hours one afternoon. The resort offered full service on the beach, so we were tended to within a few minutes of sitting down. The server brought a tray with sunscreen and lotion, several water bottles and wet, cold washcloths. I thought this was a nice touch, and something that went above and beyond a typical beach resort, where sunscreen alone can be a significant cost. Then again, with the room rates at Dorado, sunscreen should be included.

The water itself was fabulous — there was a natural rock barrier so the water we swam in wasn’t nearly as rough as it was a little farther out, but it was wavy enough to really make you feel like you were in the ocean. It was truly one of the more spectacular beaches I’d visited — and I’ve got quite a few under my belt by now. There was something about its perfect crescent shape and the tall palm trees arching towards the water that made it magical.

The Encanto pool, like I mentioned earlier, seemed geared more toward families — it was large, freeform and had a zero-entry side.

The pool deck was large, and there was plenty of space between seat clusters.

The larger stretch of beach was adjacent to this pool, which made sense, as the area was branded as a beach club.

As you could imagine, the hotel featured an expansive (and expensive) spa called Spa Botánico, which was completely reimagined with the reopening of the resort. It was set back from the beach and surrounded by lush greenery. You entered the spa through a building that resembled a temple of sorts — in the front of the main building was a mindbogglingly large tree that really set the tone of the whole place as a sanctuary within nature.

I honestly didn’t have time to book myself a treatment, but I did have a peek at the public areas of the spa (most of it was off-limits to photography, as the space was clothing-optional).

Inside, the building was perfumed by fragrant incense, and then through the other end of the building was the spa’s reflecting pool, which had a number of loungers spread around it.

Farther back was a large lawn area, where guests can take walks and really connect with the serenity all around.

A fitness center was part of Spa Botánico as well, but, you guessed it, no time for that!
Another one of the resort’s standout features was the Rockefeller Trail, an 11-mile walk that encompassed the forest and all its wildlife, the beach, the golf course and more. The resort also offered a variety of water sports, including kitesurfing, sailing, windsurfing, paddleboarding and regular old surfing — the lessons were designed by Olympic windsurfer Karla Barrera and her husband, Phil Morstad, and offered through their company, Goodwinds.

There were plenty of other activities to take advantage of, like playing tennis at the five-court tennis center and a children’s waterpark, but you definitely needed more than a two-night stay to experience everything. Perhaps, though, the best amenity of all was the magical location: Relaxation came easy at Dorado Beach!

The resort also has one very special, very exclusive amenity — an entire private villa that can be rented out for a nightly rate that includes five figures. It’s called “Su Casa,” and, according to the hotel, it’s a five-bedroom, 8,000 square foot villa from the 1920s that has its own private gardens as well as an infinity lap pool. Su Casa has a very interesting AvGeeky history, too — Amelia Earhart stayed there before she vanished in 1937. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to check out Su Casa myself, since it was occupied when I stayed at the resort, but I’m inclined to believe that we must give it the full review it deserves in the near future… right?
Photo courtesy of Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve.
Overall Impression
My stay at Dorado Beach was a long time coming. Ever since I’d first caught wind of the resort several years ago, I knew I somehow had to make it there. Now that I have, I’m hooked. The resort is so far above and beyond typical Ritz-Carlton resorts that it doesn’t even feel like the same chain.

And, in many ways, it’s really not part of the same chain. Reserve feels like a completely different hotel brand — and it has the price tag to match. Arguably the most disappointing thing about these properties is that it’s impossible to redeem points for a stay. But it seems like that decision was purposeful: Upon my departure, I expressed my sadness that I couldn’t redeem points. In response, the employee said, “Well, yeah, if you could redeem points, then everybody would be staying here.” To me, that summed everything up: The Ritz-Carlton Reserve is supposed to be an ultra-exclusive place, one reserved only for those who can afford it and expect the best of the best.
So, if you can swing the high price of entry, you won’t be disappointed. The resort’s location is truly magical, the rooms (even the most basic ones) are at once sumptuous and casual, and the pools, beaches and views are sublime. I’m holding on to a sliver of hope that someday Reserve properties will find a home in Marriott’s new Bonvoy program, though I know that’s probably naive. Regardless, while I wait (im)patiently for that to happen, you’d better believe that I’m plotting all possible paths back to Dorado Beach.
All photos by Nick Ellis and Isabelle Raphael for The Points Guy unless where noted.