Why Do People Like Ritz-Carlton “Resort Factories?”

I’m hoping someone here can help me figure out what I’m missing. I recently stayed at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel. We had a free night certificate from the Ritz-Carlton credit card that was expiring soon, so this worked out conveniently. Alternatively we could have redeemed 60,000 Marriott Rewards points (the equivalent of 20,000 Starpoints) for a one night stay, or paid rates would have been been $783 for a base room ($905 including the resort fee and tax).

Let me start by saying that this hotel is well regarded. It has over 2,200 reviews on TripAdvisor, and has an average rating of 4.5 stars, which is really good for TripAdvisor. I also had several well traveled friends say to me “oh I love that hotel, it’s such a gem.” I generally trust their taste, so based on that I had fairly high expectations.

However, I must be missing something, because this stay matched the impression I have of most of Ritz-Carlton’s “resorts” outside of Asia. In 2013, View from the Wing referred to the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman as a “resort factory,” and to me that couldn’t sum up this place any better.

Let me be clear — my logic here isn’t that “oh, in Asia I could get XYZ hotel for $800 per night.” I recognize people are willing to pay a premium for hotels that are within driving distance, and there’s a big local population that probably loves this place for a weekend getaway. So my complaint isn’t necessarily related to the value for money, but rather to the assumption that there’s anything “luxurious” about this place.

So let me briefly share my experience, and maybe someone can help me understand what I’m missing.

The room itself was… fine. I wouldn’t call it outdated, but it wasn’t especially stunning either.

The maintenance was disappointing, though. One of the lights above the bed was out, the air vent was filthy, and an alarm went off for 6AM that I hadn’t set (fortunately I get up before then, but it still surprised me that housekeeping didn’t check that).

For a luxury hotel, I’d also think they could spring for some higher end patio furniture.

Wanna valet your car? There’s a line for that. A very long line.

Not just what you see above, but the cars you see below are being held back until the valet area clears. It was often a 10-15 minute wait just to be able to pull up to the valet stand. This wasn’t a one-time thing, but a consistent thing throughout the weekend.

The hotel’s decor made it feel more like a stuffy conference hotel than a beachside resort.

The hotel was also constantly a mess. When walking through the lobby, this is what several of the tables looked like.

In California all beaches are public. You nonetheless pay a resort fee that covers beach chairs, etc. They give you the beach chairs on the top of a hill, and they say “you can wear them like a backpack and take them down.” I’m not trying to be a diva here, but if you’re paying $800+ per night, is it too much to ask that they set up the chairs for you on the beach, or at least give them to you there?

Let’s not even talk about the condition that the chairs were in.

The pool itself was fine, though I don’t think I’ve ever been at a luxury hotel pool that’s this loud.

Here’s a video of the sound from my balcony. I just couldn’t believe how loud it was. Usually I love working from a hotel balcony, but it was so loud that I couldn’t concentrate.

The hotel does have a gorgeous setting on the Pacific, but if you actually want a shot of having a view of the sunset, you better show up at the bar two hours early, because there’s nowhere to sit otherwise. The indoor bar only had a few small windows, so there wasn’t much of a view from there.

For that matter expect to wait no matter where you go. One of the things I love about a stay at a luxury resort is that I can do everything on my schedule. I don’t have to plan my day, but can just decide when we want to do things. That’s not the case here, as we were informed it would be an hour wait if we wanted lunch at the hotel’s only real restaurant. To me that takes part of the fun and spontaneity out of staying at a hotel.

Even then, I found the menu rather underwhelming — you’d think they could have a more extensive lunch menu, no?

On top of all that, walking through the hotel felt like a Frogger course. It was chaos, with nothing but kids running around and wedding parties. Several parts of the hotel were closed for weddings, which seems to be a big revenue generator for them.

Let’s take out the issues that may be specific to this stay — the maintenance issues with my room, the loud families (which certainly isn’t the fault of the hotel, and I recognize this may be a selling point for those with kids), the lack of cleanliness in public spaces, etc.

I get the “average” person who doesn’t get much vacation time might like this place as a getaway and enjoy it, but so many people who have traveled around the world have said what a great hotel this is, which just leaves me confused.

If this were the 3.5 star Sheraton Laguna Niguel and the rates were $300 per night, I’d get it. But at $800+ per night and with Ritz-Carlton branding (many of their city hotels are exceptional), I just don’t get it. There was nothing luxurious or personalized about this experience. The whole thing felt like a factory, and like you were just part of an assembly line.

Of course the simple explanation here is that they can get away with charging these prices and they’re typically booked out on weekends. So clearly the business model is right.

My issue here isn’t so much with the hotel, but rather I’m just confused what well traveled people see in this place.

Let me end by sharing what Ritz-Carlton’s credo is, which in no way sums up my experience here:

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission.

We pledge to provide the finest personal service and facilities for our guests who will always enjoy a warm, relaxed, yet refined ambience.

The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.

I guess what it all comes down to is that I don’t think a 400 room resort can be “luxurious,” or at a minimum it can’t fulfill Ritz-Carlton’s credo of providing “the finest personal service” and “fulfilling even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.”

Can anyone enlighten me?

Comments

  1. Agree. This place is overrated. Even as a higher elite member, there are really no VIP experiences or treatment. Front desk “service” is horrible. Even room assignments are lacking for premium elite members. The Club Level is nice, sometimes very nice (due to staff, some there since opening and are super nice) – but super small for the number of rooms allotted. Why not have an adult pool? And more of a “Ritz Carlton experience?”

  2. Slightly off-topic, my head hurts when I try to rationalize why Hilton Hawaiian Village (in Waikiki) is held in such high regard. It’s expensive, it’s in Amex FHR, and people on Flyertalk seem to love it. The pictures on Tripadvisor make it look like a hotel you would find in Atlantic City.

  3. Similar experience at the Ritz in Maui. Stayed 3 nights there and 2 at the Hyatt regency. I would stay at the Hyatt any day.

  4. Let me guess…were you there on Labor Day weekend? If so, I don’t think your experience was a typical experience of what this hotel is like.

    I am surprised about the beach chair service though. The former St. Regis Monarch Beach, now just called Monarch Beach Resort, just down the beach, also has beach chair service, but they have attendants that will carry the chairs for you and set them up where you want them, including an umbrella.

  5. Ritz Carlton is my least favorite “luxury” brand. I stayed at the RC in Singapore because I just feel in love with the bathtub and the view overlooking the city. While that lived up to expectations, the hotel itself was rather generic and reminded me of a Marriott. The pool area was horrible, just awful with the cheapest lounge chairs on par with a Holiday Inn. And they wanted to charge for wifi which is ridiculous for a “luxury” brand.

  6. Worst thing about hotels like this are that they could almost be in any city in the world as they all look the same inside and mostly out as well. Take away the beach and it might as well be in Columbus Ohio (no offense Ohio). $800 is highway robbery and a resort fee to boot. Let me guess the resort fee doesn’t include parking or, or, or but you do get free internet and color tv’s. It’s like the equivalent of novice flyers navigating TSA security. People just don’t know better than to over pay for resorts like this.

  7. @Luis, I stayed there on a random weekend in June this year and it was every bit as crowded as Lucky mentioned, so I’d say it’s a typical experience.

    I also used my stay to burn my free Ritz nights and was hugely disappointed! The hotel feels very outdated overall and our room was as far as it could have possibly been from anything. I get that I was using a free night, but all I could think the entire weekend was how happy I was that I didn’t have to pay for the stay. The views from the hotel are beautiful, but that’s about the only positive thing I can say about this place.

  8. Because these places essentially land-based Carnival cruises. People pay a premium to experience something semi-all-inclusive and feel/be treated like royalty for a few days. And that tends to equate to guests treating the place as if it’s disposable, letting their kids run amok with little/no supervision, and interacting with staff in a condescending, I’m-here-to-be-king-queen-for-a-weekend-and-you-should-treat-me-as-such manner. As such, the resorts and staff get pretty run down pretty quickly.

  9. In general, I see Ritz Carlton as like Ruth’s Chris steakhouse. It’s fine, it’s high end, it checks the boxes for a pretty staid “high end” experience, but there are way better options out there.

  10. We recently stayed at the Kapalua property for 5 nights in a 1 bedroom residential suite. i was stoked because I got the whole thing free on points and was able to cover all my expenses there.

    1. the food was overpriced and the service sucked – I have already complained to them
    2. I could not, for the life of me, get a straight answer on whether the other beaches in the community (Dr. beaches #2 Kapalua Bay) had chair service there – could we bring beach chairs from the hotel etc – I had to ask multiple people over multiple days – how frustrating.
    3. the sofa bed was horrible – holiday inn level perhaps

    We had fun, made it work, but did not walk away with the feeling that I had to go to an RC again – even on points

  11. As a someone who grew up in Orange County, I never understood the obsession people had with this hotel, yes – it does have beautiful views. The hotel was somewhat of a pioneer luxury hotel in this location (south county), built before the St Regis and Montage, so maybe that is why it is still held in high regard because of its legacy. My sister even her wedding at this hotel, and I remember as the bridal party was walking down the aisle, we had to dodge other people walking through the hotel grounds. I think people like this place for the same reason people go to the same hotel/location in Hawaii year over year, they like the convenience and familiarity and don’t want the “risk” of not getting what they know. The same could be said for why people spend thousands of dollars on Disney branded vacations – or even most package tourism. Frankly, most people have limited time and don’t want to do much research. I don’t fault people for doing what they like, but I know plenty of people who just want an “easy” place to go.

  12. This is exactly why I’m so dubious about “luxury” category in the US. Large, overstretched “resorts’ filled with families and private events that feel more like country clubs than anything else and they just don’t appeal to me – though perhaps I’m just drowning in my own privilege ;). We stayed at Bacara in Santa Barbara and places like Bellagio (ghastly) in Vegas and thought the same thing you did about the Ritz in Laguna Miguel. They don’t feel like luxury resorts, but then perhaps we’re horribly spoilt with the options in Asia and elsewhere. The truth is they’re nearby and so people will pay a HUGE premium, not everyone else has the flexibility to vacation abroad. Increasingly we don’t vacation or even weekend nearby as so much in the “resort” category in California as ridiculously overpriced and the truly premium places like Post Ranch that offer a desirable “resort” experience are stratospheric. For me somewhere like Scottsdale (FS etc) does a better job in this category.

  13. I stayed here in July. Yes the pool gets crowded but that is to be expected do you want them to limit the number of people at a time in the pool? We really enjoyed our stay. As platinum members (which I believe you are) there is no resort fee as well as you get $60 a day breakfast credit.

    BTW they did bring our chairs to the beach and set us up.

  14. I’ve had some great stays/experiences there… but always on the club level. The club might be small, but the club staff are wonderful. They make it all worth it. Outside of the club, your review is spot on.

  15. @ Morris — We stayed on Ford’s certificate, and he’s Marriott Gold, so no free breakfast or waived resort credit (and not really an upgrade either). I’m not saying they should limit the number of people who use the pool, but rather I’m saying that I’d expect a bigger pool for a “luxury” hotel with 400 rooms. Out of curiosity, did you find the service to be personalized, did you have to wait at restaurants, etc.? Happy to hear others enjoyed the place more than I did.

  16. I’ve had a similar problem with many luxury brands in the U.S. They just don’t meet the level of service and quality as those overseas. Not sure why that is. Only exception to me is Fairmont Orchid in Kona, Hawaii. Service was great and rooms were lovely.

  17. Lucky – not sure where you guys live in L.A., but make the (slightly, depending on traffic) longer drive to Rancho Mirage and stay at the Ritz there – stayed over Valentine’s weekend a few years ago and was surprisingly not crowded, largely adult crowd with pockets of well-behaved children. Anecdotal, but still a great experience.

  18. Couldn’t agree more about the “resort factory” mantra. I used my free nights at the Ritz-Carlton Aruba. The service was actually pretty damn good, but the general look and feel of the hotel I would describe as an on-land cruise ship. I have NO idea how Ritz-Carlton generates such a price premium for their resort properties. The bathrooms were more upscale than you would probably find at a 4-star Sheraton, Hilton, or Marriott, but other than that there was nothing luxurious, personal, or exceptional about it. I would always advise a family to save the money and take a Carnival cruise instead of stay at Ritz-Carlton resort!

  19. I stayed there last June. As someone above mentioned, they did have staff to carry chairs down and a golf cart for transfer up and down. I’m not sure you’re in touch with what the “average” person wants or is able to afford, but if your bigger problem with it is that it’s busy, then I don’t really know what you’re looking for outside of somewhere like the Maldives.

    I was also unimpressed with my room, but thought the rest of the resort was beautiful.

  20. I think you just don’t like Ritz Carlton because there is no way to get free breakfast / lounge access through elite status. You probably felt like a lowly peasant like the rest of us when you stayed.

  21. What baffles me about a lot of these big corporate chain resorts is that, two miles away, there’s a pleasant, locally owned and operated non-chain for half the price where the hotel restaurant is better and the front desk guys can give you much better tips for where to go. I’ve mostly paid attention to this in Central America, but I have to imagine it’s similar in other places.

    Is it possible that a lot of Americans have no idea what luxury actually is?

  22. @ Brenton — Good to know they usually set up chairs. There was no such service when I visited, and they couldn’t even drive the cart all the way up because it would interfere with a wedding.

    As far as being “in touch” with the average person, there’s a reason I’m asking how you guys feel. 😉 However, the “average person” doesn’t spend $800 per night for a hotel, so I’m not sure if we’re talking about the average person, average person who stays at a Ritz, average person who drops $800 per night on a hotel, or what.

  23. I found the title amusing. Based on your reviews, you travel the world and stay at American chain properties that all look the same. I dont quite know what you like about them, considering there are usually better local options.

    Some people like the Ritz chain experience. You like the Hyatt or whatever chain experience. I assume the thought process is the same.

  24. The only experience I’ve had with a Ritz resort was the one in Key Biscayne, a few years ago. I was attending a conference there, so it was pretty full. But it was a pleasant stay. They had two pools (adults-only and kids-allowed) and it didn’t feel overly crowded despite the hotel being completely full. The staff was extremely pleasant and helpful, and everything was in working order.

    That said, I don’t think I would ever pay my own money for a stay at a Ritz resort. What with vacation rentals, small boutique hotels, and B&Bs, there are usually plenty of options that appeal to me more than a corporate hotel, no matter how “luxury” the brand is.

  25. As a European, sadly, this post pretty well describes how I felt at all of the US 5* “luxury” resorts I’ve visited, in places like Hawaii, Palm Springs, Scottsdale, Vail etc. :

    A mix of oversized “factory” facilities primarily engineered around extracting yet more money from visitors (resort fees, extra charges, overpriced restaurants, tip envelopes etc.) and hoards of rowdy people trying to “maximize” their experience by using as much of the free stuff as possible.

    Not very dignified. And the same chains can do so much better in Asia and Europe.

  26. I’m not sure why you’re surprised. This is a conference hotel during the week (often with attendees families joining) and a wedding venue on weekends. All these “resort hotels” are the same. Ever stayed at the Ritz in Orlando, Amelia Island, etc? Ditto.

    The event space booking is cross subsidizing rooms for attendees, food and beverage, etc. Conference attendees rarely use the pool/beach/etc during the week so the hotel doesn’t staff for these amenities. I would bet most kids playing in the pool have a one of their parent attending a meeting or at a wedding. Therefore you are likely one of the few that actually pay rack rates, or burn points.

  27. @Jason – such a great analogy to Ruth’s Chris. Spot on.

    I love the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans but there again, it’s starting to feel a little “dated”. Hate to admit it. On a side-note, did not realize this but the Ritz in New Orleans (according to a bartender there) is their largest U.S. property. It’s strange for it to be the so-called largest and they don’t even have a swimming pool.

  28. I’m guessing pre-merger at least, Marriott was very bottom/mid heavy and very light at the top…not a ton of options for folks to burn their points. So this RC and others can get away with it. Things should change now w/ the Starwood properties added into the mix…there is more balance throughout the mix.

    Could be much worse…could be the Hilton mix of properties. Yikes. But at least a credit card gets you free breakfast.

  29. Looks like we stayed there on the same Labor Day weekend. I agree with some of your points (namely price out of proportion to luxurious of the hotel), but strongly against the others, including several factual disagreements. I’ll also say that I often stay at RC chain hotels in the US, and generally enjoy them very much.

    The location and views are amazing at this property, particularly the sunset, which is exactly why this hotel isn’t like it’s in Columbus Ohio (as per an earlier comment). I found the environment very relaxing. Yes, the family pool area is loud and tumultic, but there is a separate adult / quiet pool on the northern wing of the hotel. The staff I found to be extremely attentive and thoughtful, always smiling, saying hello, remembering our order from one day to the next. They even went so far as to specially decorate our room pre-arrival for the birthday we were celebrating that weekend. The beach chairs were always carried and set up for us by a staff member, dunno how that interaction with you played out but that’s not the norm that we experienced for ourselves or witnessed for others. Our bathtub didn’t drain well, but was fixed with one phone call. The rooms were nicely decorated, nothing over-the-top luxurious, but this also isn’t a Peninsula or Four Seasons in a major city either – it’s a coastal getaway resort. We experienced a 5 minute wait in the driveway once while returning, but not on other occasions. And every time we called for our car, it was ready before we even got there – that’s usually a rare event at any other hotel I’ve visited where

    I fully agree that the 180Blu bar was crowded, though in part that’s cause of the amazing views they have of the sunset. So it’s crowded cause it’s such a great place to be. I will say that our stay continued one day after Labor day, which is after the hotel cleared out, and things were much more peaceful and quiet then. Beach was much emptier than during the peak of Labor Day weekend. I can’t speak for which scenario is more typical, but wouldn’t reach to such a broad conclusion based on one holiday weekend. As for the restaurants, I found the lunch and dinner menu a little small, but not overly so for a resort hotel. They do have lunch food at the pool. And there is a second restaurant for dinner. Plus, in the nearby environs of Dana Point and Laguna Beach, there’s plenty of really great local restaurants that are <10min drive away, so easy to enjoy that.

    I agree with your hesitations – when I saw the list prices going for $800 and up, I was expecting something to knock my socks off. The views did. The staff attentiveness did. The property less so. A really nice, and successfully relaxing, weekend that we're appreciative to have had and formed great memories, – but I wouldn't visit again if I had to pay those list prices. Could understand the appeal for SoCal folks driving there semi-locally for a short getaway, less so for me flying transcontinental where the hotel is the destination.

  30. That is a terrible experience for that much per night. I had a much better experience playing tag along with my boyfriend going to a convention at Hilton Orlando for crying out loud. I stayed at the hotel most of the time. There were plenty of people there but it never felt overcrowded. There were plenty of families, but it wasn’t a problem with an adult pool area. The reservation was in my boyfriend’s name booked with a third party and they were happy to add on my Gold status. Staff was good and made sure I was enjoying my stay while there. If Hilton Orlando can get it right why can’t a “high luxury” resort do the same.

  31. I toggled down to the pics of the hotel and the interior looked EXACTLY like the Ritz Sarasota, right down to the glasses etc.. left in the public spaces. While I used points, the cash rate before numerous fees was over $500/nt in June. That’s insane for Florida in the summer.
    Our service was OK, but the saving grace was their beach, but even that was not on site. It was an easy shuttle ride away, but at those price points everything should be close to perfect, not cookie-cutter.
    As an aside, the location was excellent for food as the limited restaurants were overpriced.
    Bottom line: These larger Ritz resorts seem to be event(wedding, conference etc…) locations with very little high-end, exclusive feel.

  32. Lucky, you should know better!

    First, you likely were there on or around the Labor Day holiday weekend or another last summer weekend before or as schools resume. Hence, occupancy with families and children always will be high. And concomitantly noisy. You should have expected that.

    Second, luxury hotels in easy striking distance to major wealthy population centers are always overpriced due to incredibly high demand. High demand means high prices. High prices don’t always mean highest quality of experience. You should know better. This is just as true in N. America (particularly the USA, Mexico, and Caribbean) as it is in Europe. Luxury can be less expensive in Asia only because building and labor costs are so cheap…and can be less crowded because there are so many more viable options relative to the affluent population visiting them.

    Third, I live in Newport Beach in Orange County, just about 20-25 min drive north of the RC Laguna Niguel. The RC is the only true beachfront resort and has the best beach of any of the major luxury resorts here–Monarch Beach Resort across the street (former St Regis isn’t beachfront), Montage in Laguna Beach (beautiful but much smaller and rockier beach), and Pelican Hill near me in Newport Coast (not beachfront like the Monarch Beach Resort). People often want a proper beach and pay plenty to see the ocean and beach views. Period.

    Anyone surprised hasn’t been paying attention.

  33. Lucky,

    One of my pet peeves about your blog is that you often don’t compare products “apples to apples.” Luxury properties on remote Asian islands operate at lower occupancy by nature, so they will be more “personalized.” Laguna Niguel is an extremely popular US destination, so resorts will likely be bigger and more crowded. This isn’t really a Ritz-Carlton issue, but rather a geographic and market one. If you could compare this hotel with St. Regis, Waldorf Astoria or whatever in similar locations and with similar room counts, you would run into similar constraints and issues.

  34. 100% agree with you. It’s like North Koreans giving 4.5 stars to whatever resorts they have: a byproduct of how few Americans have passports and are clueless about the world outside their borders (even if they can more than afford it — as $800 per night is not cheap!)

  35. I’m really suprised on the service issues, that’s definitely not normal for Ritz.

    Ritz’s really do tend to be hit or miss. On the whole I’d say the service is pretty good. I’d argue the Kapalua Ritz, Beaver Creek Ritz, and Key Biscayne Ritz are overall pretty nice, but they also have the ones that are just Meh (Aruba and Grand Cayman struck me that way, although hard to tell if that’s just those islands in general or the hotels, not a huge fan of either island).

    I’m not sure why someone commented the food at the Kapalua Ritz was expensive, Hawaii in general is expensive and I don’t remember costs being extraordinarily high there in comparison to the rest of the island or with Ritz’s in general.

    Overall, I’d argue where Ritz does well is their urban hotels. I’ve had on the whole mostly good stays at nearly all the urban ones I’ve stayed at.

  36. Much like Donald Trump is a poor person’s perception of what a rich person is, The Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel is an Orange County track home-dwelling housewife’s perception of what a luxury resort is.

  37. Haven’t stayed at this property, but have stayed at both the Hilton Waterfront (paid stay, diamond status) and the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach (used points, whatever the entry level status is called with Hyatt now). Disappointed with both. Of the two I prefer the Hyatt but I can’t imagine staying here on points or paid again. The property is beautiful but dated, lots of guests but since it’s so huge you don’t really notice. Forget about upgrades (paid or through status). You can get a club room for 27k pts (!) but I’d rather save those for the Cancun Hyatt Zilara which does not feel like a factory at all (25k, all inclusive, balcony w ocean view).

    Whenever I stay along the OC coast I prefer the Holiday Inn Laguna Beach. They just raised award nights to 35k (was 25k), and it’s not on the beach, but it’s quiet, and very close walking distance to downtown and the beach. I’ve paid for an ocean front room at the Pacific Edge across the street, and while that’s nice to be above the tide when sleeping still prefer the Holiday Inn.

  38. I’ve never been to that particular property, but my reasons for preferring Ritz Carlton’s, including ones you might call Resort factories, involve ease, safety, high-end bedding and bath, always good room service, high quality spa services and general pampering attitude. While not every Ritz ticks every box every time, I find the consistency to be admirable in cities across the globe. I know it will always be in a safe neighborhood, staffed well and that I can get a delicious room service filet mignon, maybe a chocolate mousse for dessert, a great massage and a solid night’s sleep in a bed I won’t want to get out of in the morning. I dunno, maybe just spoiled now in my 40’s, but what I used to think was a splurge has somehow become what I expect, so when I go somewhere with a crap bed, broken furniture and all that looks edible on the menu is a turkey club, I kick myself for trying to save a few bucks.

  39. I am an average joe and paid $750 for a night at Ritz Half Moon Bay and I would say it mirrored Lucky’s experience – Mediocre. I haven’t stayed at a Ritz since. I was tempted by Ritz Hong Kong, but went with Grand Hyatt (newly rennovated, scored a suite and the service was awesome!)

  40. I echo Ben’s comment regarding the Rancho Mirage location. I’ve always had amazing service, the property is beautiful, and they even have a quiet “Adults Only” pool! Plus, the spa facilities are probably the nicest I’ve ever experienced. It’s even better through FHR because you get $100 credit at the hotel and an additional $70 towards breakfast…

  41. I’d argue that no chain brand in the US really “gets” the very top of the market. I’ve actually stayed at this property once, about 20 years ago and my experience then wasn’t too different than what you encountered. I lived fairly close by and won a weekend in a charity auction. It’s not a property I’d have chosen otherwise.

    Fundamentally, the hotel’s biggest problems are related to its site and physical plan. The site is space constrained, so everything it jammed in tight together. The hotel buildings themselves are more than 30 years old and, even with updates, the physical spaces look state of the art…for 1986.

    I don’t have much occasion to “vacation” in Orange County, but if I did, there are far better choices, even if points opportunities are lean.

  42. I was there the same weekend as you, and it did feel like the staff and, the hotel in general, was overwhelmed by the weddings and extra guests, especially on Saturday. Family pool was crowded but we had a room on ground floor facing the ocean so it felt much more tranquil. The views of the beach and Catalina cannot be understated, and that is why we went there and not because of what the hallways look like.

    My experience is that Labor Day is probably the worst weekend of the year to travel if you are looking for a quiet experience at most places. Families and others getting one last trip in before summer ends.

  43. @Jesse – those views, too! The elevated site for the hotel made the experience even better for me. I’ll have to try the spa next time I’m out there – didn’t get the chance to over V-Day as it was all booked up.

  44. For those prices, I would pick a Mandarin Oriental or Four Seasons – or even a Ritz Carlton – in a major city. I can have a view, a pool, a health club, all the amenities, and the hotel restaurants, just like at a resort. And with all of that comes the biggest luxury of all: choice.

  45. IMHO: (1) Lots of people probably spent their stay half-drunk, and therefore had a good time just on the basis of that. (2) People are reluctant to criticize what others praise (dissent feels uncomfortable). (3) People are reluctant to admit they wasted large amounts of money. (4) Some people are awed by the brand and will reinterpret their experience accordingly.

  46. What a timely post. Just stayed at the Ritz (Hotel Arts) in Barcelona and had a similar reaction/experience. Not worth the points that I spent.

  47. @Lucky, I understand your concern. I just want you to know that the resort has 3 pools including an adult only pool. The pool you had outside your room is normally loud. I stayed there in May 2016 (in fact my room was near yours, from the pics) and I had the same problem. Though the bathroom in my opinion looked cool considering the amount of mirrors.
    Sorry you had an unpleasant stay and I totally agree with you. Atleast you weren’t on a beachfront room which costs an extra $200 or a bigger beachfront for $400 additionally.

    P.s. they really do need to expand that outside bar area. Though I got lucky and beat the rush.

  48. This has to be one of the WORST managers in the Ritz Carlton Team. I’m sure he thinks all his cost cutting and staff reductions and uneducated housekeeping staff is just the ticket to show corporate how brilliant he (or she) truly is.

    I think your telling it exactly how it is – and how some of us feel when we receive this level of attention.

    Thank you.

  49. I have stayed previously at the former St. Regis next door. While I found it to be a mixed experience, at no point did it resemble the mediocre experience that Lucky had. “Luxury” isn’t and doesn’t need to be singular. Ritz Carlton is more famous than all the other brands and so it will be aspirational to a wider cross section of people that aren’t as familiar as this community is with the spectrum of products out there.

  50. Hi Ben – we were at the RC Laguna Niguel at the same time (Sep. 1-4) and had the same experience and left with similar feelings. See my review here: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/trip-reports/1866267-tale-two-ritz-s-rc-laguna-niguel-rc-half-moon-bay-aa-j-b6-mint-more.html

    It was not what I was expecting. I do give them a little break as it was a holiday weekend and the many weddings must have had the staff run down and thinned out, but this was a bit unfortunate and disappointing.

  51. Was just there in June, and I thought it was fantastic. Pool was never loud. We were some of the only people in the entire pool. We found the food to be great, and we were in love with the views. We got an upgraded room with a fire pit on the balcony. I was fairly impressed across the board. $60 breakfast credit was great too… We just loved it.

  52. Another excellent report Lucky! Because It gives readers a good idea of what they can realitiscally expect when staying here.
    I’m not a travel blogger so I personally would not stay here or at any other RC hotel in the US because I know I would be disappointed.
    I only go to luxury resorts in Asia. I recently stayed at The Ritz Carlton Mandapa Reserve and Amankila and Amanusa – nuff said. I either go high end or mid range, and do not stay at properties that pretend to be 5 Star properties

  53. Must disagree with @UAPremierGuy about the Hotel Arts in Barcelona. Stayed this year on a UK Bank Holiday weekend, and the place was heavingly full. Staff, particularly reception and concierge were excellent despite shouting Russian oligarch wanna-be’s, and entitled English. Some odd decisions about opening hours and service in poolside restaurant, but otherwise service was good, rooms immense and well tended to. Usually I flee from the thought of staying in >300 bed hotel, but not in this case.

  54. I had the Same thing In Vegas Monte Carlo long lines top floor but WTF costly @ 1/3 ur price . Go to Nice , France Top Floor ,Good BK perfect coffee ALL day , Great view to work 24/7 .CHEAP perfect mature staff ..Next week too.
    CHEERs

  55. I agree on every point and then some. I have stayed here for business reasons many times and rather sadly will be again soon. Highly overrated and not close to a luxury experience – on any continent. @luis, Labor Day weekend was not the issue, sadly it is always as described. There is a small second pool, but it is completely surrounded by buildings and is quite claustrophobic – if quieter. I am not a RC hater – I very much like some of their city properties as well as some overseas, but this is a very poor representation of the chain standard in almost every aspect.

  56. I feel the same way about many resorts of this ilk. I think many of these places just cater to people who have money, who buy the brand, and who think this kind of stay is supposed to follow a very particular pattern. Wake up at X, beach or pool at Y, change at Z, buy expensive dinner after waiting in line at the restaurant, wait for car to go see the volcano, wait in line to check out. It’s funny, because my only exposure to this sort of resorting usually comes exactly when I have a free night certificate to burn, just like you, Ben. For example, I stayed at the Grand Wailea with some Hilton certs. The pool is fantastic, but, otherwise, holy crap. Who lives like this? Go to beach, buy $80 temporary hentai tattoo for little Mildred while drinking $31 weak mai tai, shower, put on fancy clothes, eat overpriced dinner in not-as-fancy-at-it-thinks-it-is restaurant with one table with a good view, lather, rinse, repeat.

    It looks like a kind of hell to me. Then again, I suppose some of what we do — travel hacking to get first class flights to stay in park hyatts or Richard Branson’s island — would look like a kind of hell to someone who likes to deeply embed with locals in Africa or eat fried scorpion or drink vodka with locals on the trans-sib.

  57. Kinda reminds me of a cruise ship atmosphere. As someone who once lived in Laguna Niguel and has lived in San Diego the past twenty years, I just don’t understand why anyone would pay $800 for that place – especially local people. I’d much rather stay in one of the Cottages at the Hotel Del Coronado.

  58. I stayed at The Ritz Carlton Hotel Florida Siesta Keys. I thought I was treating myself too this incredible 5 star or greater hotel. I was “extremely dissapointed”. I was like no holds barred fars as expenses. Yet it wasnt worth the Monterey expense O had too pay. I had to change my room immediately, because they gave me a view of a roof top, when I requested view of the water, which they could really only accommodate a view over the pool. The food was horrible, breakfast was always served cold An d was sent back daily. It took 3 days to get a pre requested refrigerator, microwave & refrigerator extremely outdated. The room decor was cramped so was trying to eat on the patio, I literally had to sit sideways to eat. The signature Ritz Carlton Cake horrible, raw spice atop dry dark fudge (sent back), I literally spit it out. I think because of the Name Ritz Carlton Hotel they try too hard to live up to it they have literally dropped the ball. I agree the entire decor is old, no pop or passion in it, you can try to glamorous, but if the quality of goid taste isn’t implemented, it’s a total waste. I was refunded money back, because the staff was extremely young & the hospitality aspect just wasn’t there. I’ve already informed people not to bother staying at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. It’s not worth it. I wished that I had booked across the street at the Hyatt.

  59. Glad to see this report. I’ve had a similar reaction in the Half Moon Bay RC where the top attraction – the beach – is freely available to all! It is also the only hotel I’ve seen, upscale or downscale, where staff won’t give basic help that might lead a guest offsite. So if you want a coffee (they don’t have a cafe), they advise returning to one’s room and calling Room Service! They won’t point you a local coffee shop!

  60. I recently went to Dana Point (and we stayed at Monarch Beach (ex St Regis) which cost half the price of the RC and the photos looked way way better. And it was a good hotel – but we went to the RC for dinner and it was OK, but one thing that annoyed me where the public restrooms – for $1000/night (on those dates), they had those mall type ‘touchless’ paper tower rolls. Are you kidding me?

    Monarch beach was still better – but the beach experience… they had all the beach chairs there at the beach but why wouldn’t they have beds? The hotel was actually in great condition and the room was excellent – but they forgot to renovate the beach club (which is probably one of the only true ‘oceanfront’ and ‘actually on the beach’ restaurants in the OC.

    And I loved the resort fee.

  61. Like many Marriott properties the Ritz Carlton has even more
    so vastly overpriced most of its properties
    And because there is a sucker born every minute there is fair amount of customers that believe that the premium brand iconic name will transcend into a premium product and experience no matter how much they charge.And that’s good for the company
    But the world revolves around BS and peoples perceptions right or wrong.
    Like every hotel company they do have their jewel properties and their clunkers
    Ritz Carlton does have better brand assurance than most brands but as others are discovering
    you can easily get a sub par experience after getting raked over the coals $$$$
    But realistically Ritz Carlton is a brand frequently where wealthy clientele don’t care about the premium and not worried about getting the best just want to be around other affluent folks that also can afford to overpay for an average experience that’s over hyped
    The price will keep out much of the riff raff
    For those that seek great experiences I would argue that while it certainly can happen in the right Ritz Carlton property so many of their properties are incredibly overrated and will likely lead to disappointment
    In New Orleans and Philadelphia the Ritz Carlton’s are tired old and dated and lesser area properties blow them out of the water and offer a ton of better amenities and benefits with their respective programs
    Other cities Ritz Carlton s may offer a state of the art experience.

    Most Resorts are factories in and out of the RC brand and that’s what some want to do
    flock like sheep with the masses just like they do in Las Vegas.
    I can guarantee that many a Ritz Carlton bed goes empty night after night off season as the hotels rarely lower their pricing to keep the premium illusion perception that
    Ritz Carlton is a defect free exceptional product and will offer great service at each and every hotel.Insiders know that its simply phony baloney
    Let the buyer beware and shop selectively.I would stay Ritz Carlton and have but it will be in a property that isn’t hype and can deliver its intended promise of a premium product and experience and have proven that they are the top game in town if I am going to pay a huge premium

  62. I feel the exact same way about the Ritz Carlton beach resort in Naples, Florida! I just don’t get the hype and people are crazy about including my in-laws who live in Naples, the room was not luxurious in any since of the word.

  63. You should have stayed at the Montage just down the street- much quainter hotel, better beach, and probably cheaper. Also the views are to die for.

  64. i stayed there two times this year, and that’s how i felt too. overrated, not elite friendly, i am not sure why they are so many people, but i won’t go back for sure. only reason i stay there was to use my free nights from the credit card.

  65. Most Ritz-Carlton properties in the US are glorified Marriotts. The exceptional ones include Naples and Central Park. Others are simply lipstick on a very ordinary hotel, like the one in Buckhead which as discussed earlier on this web site is rumoured to lose its Ritz-Carlton brand. I think Marriott is realizing that they need to do more to maintain the reputation of the Ritz-Carlton brand in the US and it’s about time.

    And to those of you who say that a “true luxury” hotel does not exist in the US, my family just spent a week at a Four Seasons resort in the US last week which was phenomenal. I’d rather not reveal the location because it’s so good and reasonably priced for what you get that I’d rather keep it a secret.

  66. As a former Orange County resident, I’ve been to the Ritz Carlton many times. Your description was spot on. I could never figure out what made it a 5 Star hotel, except the view (if there was no Marine layer!). It was always crowded with conventions and families…and a mess like you described. The Park Hyatt Aviara in Carlsbad, CA is even worse. It is nice and quiet, but no where near the standards of the 5 Star hotel it claims to be. I guess the ocean view makes each priceless.

  67. I’ve concluded that — in the US and perhaps with a few downtown locations excepted — “Ritz-Carlton” = “Marriott”.

  68. I went there once on a staycation like maybe 5 years ago? It was fine. Nothing special, but I also didn’t go swimming or anything that weekend. I had a much better close-but-not-LA experience at the Belmond El Encanto in Santa Barbara.

    Also, whoever said Hilton Hawaiian Village is overrated is SPOT ON. My mom grew up going there, so we decided to stop in last time we were in Hawaii. Completely underwhelming.

  69. After 3 years of living in Asia, and 100’s of nights spent at mostly 5* hotels, which were often fairly new, return to domestic travel in the US made me realize just how underwhelming US hotels usually are compared to the same brand properties there.

    But even there one can find supposed high-end properties that are exceptionally well rated yet I found equally unimpressive as Lucky found this Ritz. Park Hyatt Saigon comes to mind. They tend to attract specific clientel that puts a lot of value in something unique about the property. But, when that uniqueness is not something I value ghat much, better alternatives for a third of the cost can be found. So… it really depends on what people are after.

  70. There are a few outstanding Ritz-Carlton resorts. Dove Mountain in Tucson is one and I hear Palm Springs is great too. Laguna Niguel is very crowded, never stayed there myself, just contributed to the crowd by getting drinks there!

  71. My experience at the RCLN — and most RCs in general — is that it caters quite a bit to nouveau riche clientele who are flashy with their money and view a getaway there as an ostensibly luxury experience. The only RC in the U.S. that I repeatedly go back to is the Bachelor Gulch in Beaver Creek. The spa is truly heavenly.

  72. I’ve stayed there many years ago and was wowed by the sunset /ocean views from the bar, but found the hotel and services to be quite ordinary.
    My personal “travel mantra” for choosing where to go and where to stay is…if Marriott , Sheraton, Hilton (etc.) already have a Resort and Spa there, I am not going to enjoy “it”. That is my signal to move on to look at another location. As someone above mentioned, it will be just like being on a Carnival Cruise, with free beer and an all you can eat buffet.

  73. Completely agree with your assessment of this property. Stay a the Ritz 5 or 6 times a year and this place was a major disappointment as a Marriott/Ritz/SPG Platinum. The Ritz Grand Cayman was another. I don’t get it.

  74. @Lara S. I have found the Orchid to be okay, service was excellent, but it does not look or feel very Hawai’ian to me. I much prefer the Mauna Lani next door.

  75. I’ve stayed there and live in LA and offer a few points to consider:

    Do you have any idea what taxes and land costs are in this area? Insanely high. Businesses don’t pay taxes, they pass them to the consumer.

    Labor costs due to California employment laws are out of control.

    There are just purely too many people in this area. Everyone in LA leaves to go here, Palm Springs, vegas, etc. Every weekend.

    Most LA/OC people are complete a holes and slobs not caring about the mess they leave behind or how loud/awful their spoiled kids are.

    But I agree the alarm issue. That should have been caught.

    Valet is always an issue in this area. People are too f’in lazy to park their cars and then complain about waiting. Remember it is VERY difficult to change a footprint in Dana point due to local laws so you can’t just build a three story self parking lot.

    Good article for discussion overall! Happy to see the different views.

  76. For future reference: Don’t stay at the Shangri-La Hotel Manila over the Easter Break. A total gong show!

  77. I’ve stayed at the Ritz in Laguna Niguel. I worked for a company in Los Angeles and we had our annual conference there one year. Given what you wrote about the weddings that weekend, I wonder how much of their business is events like conferences and weddings. It would make sense given how big the property was. In the 5 years I was at this company, this was the best place that I had been for a conference. It was way better than your conference mills but, I agree, its not worth the list price. That being sad, really how many people are paying the list price? If its mostly events, the rate is way lower.

  78. So you stay in a resort, choose a room overlooking the pool, and then expect kids to stay quiet so you can work. Thats fresh sir. Very fresh.
    I dont much like being around kids, but then I would not go to a family resort and then complain about the kids screaming while in the pool.

  79. Housekeeping issues like dirty air vents should be pointed out when seen. Unless you managed to control your germophobia 🙂

  80. “It was chaos, with nothing but kids running around and wedding parties.”

    That’s who this place is for.

  81. This piece actually sums up most of the so called “luxurious” properties I’ve visited in the US, central and South America with one or two exceptions.
    When I visit Hawaii, I’ve given up staying at these places and just go for something mid-range (< 150USD) and at least I can set my expectation correctly with no crazy overprice F&B and giving tips (even though you don't want) to have someone with a sour face or looking confused face serving you.
    I guess just there is not much that can be done to improve this as long as there a people out there willing to pay these exorbitant prices and tolerate the level of services provided. I am also quite sure that 80-90% of the room rate ask is the profit to the company owning/managing the place and that's why the level of service will never improve since the hotel workers still get paid miserable wages.

    Cheers!

  82. My wife and I stayed at the Ritz in Montreal a few months ago and were very happy with the service, cleanliness, and quality of the hotel. Certain of their hotels must not live up to the Ritz Carlton name.

  83. Try the the Montage Laguna Beach. Now THAT place is truly amazing Beach luxury and service with stunning views.

  84. I would never pay $800 for an RC but they do offer conference rates that are MUCH cheaper – and my guess is that you are seeing a lot of those at the larger resorts. I go to many RC for conferences and typical rates are often <$300, which is more reasonable!

  85. None of the criticisms you present are egregious, until you consider the $800 price tag. At that price, I’d expect exceptional, bend-over-backwards-type service. You can always watch the sunset from the bar as a non-hotel guest.

  86. Wow, look how many comments this post generated. Lucky, you are on to something… I think a lot of hotels are over-rated, especially on TripAdvisor. Maybe it’s time to host your own hotel ratings specifically for readers of OMAAT to capture a different perspective. I would love that.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been very disappointed in stays at higher-end properties like Ritz Carltons (especially), but also the occasional Four Seasons, Fairmont, etc. I wish there was a better way to expose these properties, because unfortunately on TripAdvisor there are too many “newbies” who don’t know better raving about these props (I suspect because they are comparing them to 3-star hotels they normally stay at).

    The only chain I personally have found to be consistently excellent, believe it or not, is Conrad. I haven’t stayed at any of their resorts, but I find the city hotels have consistently great hard product. The service is usually good, although I’ve found a couple of one-off exceptions. But the hotels are usually new-ish, modern, and luxurious. I’d be curious if you’ve stayed at many of them and if your experience has been similar. This is really the main/only reason I have some loyalty to Hilton (Amex card gets me Diamond status) — I use my points to stay at places like the Conrad Tokyo, Conrad New York, and Conrad Hong Kong. I guess I’ve also loved using points at the Waldorf Chicago and Shanghai now that I think about it (also both excellent properties). I feel like Hilton doesn’t get enough credit for their high end props the way Starwood does.

  87. Have stayed at this property probably a dozen times over the past 20 years (including this past spring). It has definitely lost much of its “specialness” since Marriott took over the Ritz Carlton brand.

    All the issues Lucky noted are common complaints… not enough staff to maintain the public seating areas, dining facilities lacking the capacity to keep up with the crushing masses of guests during summer season, long waits for everything (parking, restaurant, pool service, etc), especially on weekends. Pool area is a joke, really nothing special about it at all, just a big concrete slab in the back of the hotel. During our most recent visit I think a glass of white wine in a plastic cup from the pool bar was $20! This while sitting on a poor example of a lounge chair. I don’t think I’ll be back any time soon.

    It’s a shame really, as the setting is truly stunning. But between the frequent events and weddings which can take over the property, to the spontaneity-killing requirement to plan each meal etc, it really is not the relaxing experience a resort like this should be (and truly used to be).

  88. Montage and Pelican Hill are far superior! But parking at the Montage will fill up when they host special events. ugh

  89. The reason I went to this place twice: This and the Montage are the only high end hotels directly located at really nice beach. Pretty much everything else on the coast had even less to offer and worse feedback. But value for money is bad and it’s only an option when there is not enough time to go to a beach location somewhere further way.
    Club level still makes a big difference, and service was much better than in the Montage. But I have to say, I did not use the valet service, due to club level I did not need public spaces with sea view and I did not go over labor day weekend. The weddings and conferences are a big minus. Any suggestion where else in California to go for 5* beach resort?

  90. My experience at this hotel ( first time, guest of a friend, I did not pay ) we stayed for 4 nights at the Club level. While I found the hotel a ” grand dame” and surprisingly not built to take advantage of the amazing view ( dark narrow corridors and and only a handful of rooms with full ocean view), the Club level experience was extraordinary and perhaps your take of the resort might be a bit different if you had had that experience. I hated the large pool but found the smaller one almost void of anyone when we were there. ( March) If I had your room over-looking the pool, I would have asked ( no…. demanded) for a change.

  91. Same experience several months ago. I forgot to post a review on TripAdvisor. Will do it now. It deserves a 2-star, but no more than that. I feel many reviewers who gave it 5-star only stayed in motels before. LOL

  92. Any resort – Ritz Carlton, included – with more than 150 rooms will be hard pressed to provide a luxurious, private experience. I will say some of the Ritz Carlton Reserve properties (like Mandapa in Bali’s Ubud area) are as good as it gets. Then again, they tend to have less than 50 rooms.

    Ritz Carlton can be hit or miss. Their Hong Kong property is another example of when they get it right, they are deserving of the name.

  93. Great thread. Raised many excellent points. Years ago, I had a somewhat similar experience at a RC in Hawaii. A business conference took over the place. We complained and they moved us to the Club area and we were able at least to relax.

    @Scott Great comment. We really need a rating website where those who input are vetted. One can read various reviews in BoardingArea or on FlyerTalk but takes much time and nice to just look at some numbers with the review.

    Also, as a reviewer on Trip Advisor, it is hard to put a number on a place when one is comparing apples and oranges. Properties should be grouped by price or category. I might have a super experience at a three star resort and would be hesitant to rate it less than five, but it is really only a three star resort.

  94. Lucky, I am so glad that someone finally wrote an article about the Ritz Carlton being overrated. I’ve stayed at many of them around the world and I really don’t get it? Why are people so impressed with them? There are way better options out there. I guess before the advent of the newer luxury hotels, the Ritz was it. It’s like old school luxury. Not for me. Very boring.

  95. The only experience I’ve ever had at the Ritz was pretty awesome. With that said, I’ve known about this hotel for many years. I’ve driven by it wondering how it must be. Now, I know I don’t need to bother. Laguna is the best place on the OC so high real estate, but that’s no excuse for poor quality service.

  96. Our USA RC experience:

    Ritz Carltons are not well oiled operating properties with staff not up to par.

    The property conditions are underwhelming and the service is mediocre. Apparently from the feedback you received many people are loyal to RC.

    From my first stays at RC in Pasadena CA in the 1990’s to now (not nearly as frequent now). The photos you showed reminded me of that hotel, like a big box, even the valet line.

    RC New York Central Park is not even at par. The bed mattress was bent almost to the floor. We had back pain and requested a new mattress, they changed the mattress to another old one but better and put more top padding on.
    Still implausible, we didn’t understand why they are not getting it right in operations at such a prestigious property.

    Another disappointment RC Atlanta, a few times, was nice to just alright. However last stay, holes in bed sheets, gave us a comp. No return.

    RC Tysons Corner, used points, difficult and arrogance from front desk at check in. Terrible first room, contacted the manager, changed to a better room, not a bad visit and at Christmas time but still underwhelming especially the breakfast food quality.

    RC Pentagon. We had a problem and when in contact with the manager, he actually was quite arrogant and rude. He was from Kenya. Also the area got a little dodgy, decided not to stay there anymore.

    RC New Orleans so poor in room operations, lights, bed, sink and staff, manager thoroughly embarrassed, gave us a comp. No return. It makes us think, do Americans just let everything go by at RC? If so, it just encourages the hotel staff behaviour to continue the bad service.

    And a few other properties.

    Frankly speaking, for RC in the USA, we don’t think we’d try again.

    Tried RC at Bali once, one stay then switched to Grand Hyatt there which was much more pleasant.

    Overall, we have found the properties not to be as luxurious as other comparable hotels. The thing that ruined it for us was the service, mistakes, and poor operations. It seems prevalent throughout the company, a corporate wide culture that does not produce excellence, and did not change over 25 years.

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