By Danny R. Johnson
FORT LAUDERDALE – San Diego County News traveled to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to see if we could find the beachfront hotel that meets our high standards for excellence and service. After conducting site visits at several luxury hotels on the famous Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard stretch, we have concluded that the Mobil Travel Guide Four Star Rating/2011 AAA Five Diamond Award Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale Resort is the BEST luxury beachfront resort in Fort Lauderdale.
Already hugely popular, the 192-guest rooms (including 8 Oceanfront and 20 Intracoastal suites) resort was sold-out during the week I arrived in late February — so I beat the spring-break crowd two weeks early – lucky me. In order to be as anonymous as possible, I had a colleague from the Miami Times check in two days earlier. From the moment of my arrival to greet my colleague, however, it was clear that management knew nothing of his identity and purpose, even though I never announced my visit and tried to travel anonymously as much as possible. My identity is revealed only when conducting a site visit with the resort staff.
The nearly three and half year-old Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale Resort carefully balances its upscale amenities with a professional atmosphere. Yet the resort can now claim to be one of the more luxurious offerings on the 15 miles stretch of Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard. The resort sits right in the heart of the boulevard where all the action is — with the famous Las Olas Boulevard just right around the corner. There you will find a host of shops, restaurants, and entertainment pleasures waits. The resort is located 15 minutes from the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood Airport, and 20 minutes from the Bank Atlantic Centerand Dolphins Stadium. Guests are able to take a leisurely stroll or jog along the beach for an exciting get-away experience.
Guest rooms are grouped into one and two double beds guest rooms, junior suite, partial ocean guest room, one bedroom ocean front suite, two bedroom residential suite, intracoastal guest room, and oceanfront guest rooms. The majority of all guestrooms have private balconies with a fabulous ocean view. Please remember — this is the Ritz Carlton, where you expect the best service and amenities anywhere – and this resort delivered. The guest rooms are elaborately appointed with the finest 100% luxurious cotton linen; in addition to Goose Down and non-allergic pillows and comforters, the guest rooms have state-of-the art DVD theatre entertainment system.
For those who enjoy a late-night cocktail without having to leave the room, the guest rooms have fully stocked refreshment centers with all the miniature premium liqueurs you can imagine. The sumptuous marble baths are very appealing. My colleague’s $390-per-night guestroom comfortably held two well-appointed queen beds, a desk, a plush reading chair, a six-drawer dresser, a mini bar and a bathroom with a full-size tub/shower and a separate vanity table. The private balcony is suitable for four people with breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean and the action below on the seventh floor tropical pool deck. In addition, there was a lot of action on the pool deck given that the temperature was around 86 degrees!
The Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale Resort is not a large place where you can get lost in. Everything is conveniently situated for easy access. You definitely want to have lunch and cocktails on the patio of the resort’s signature Italian gourmet restaurant, Via Luna.
No matter where you go in the world, and stay at any Ritz Carlton, each restaurant is different. The Via Luna restaurant features authentic Italian cuisine with an emphasis on fresh local and organic ingredients. Executive Chef Christian Clair’s role can be a demanding one that combines the pressure of living up to the high standards of a world-famous hotel with a dizzying array of daily responsibilities. The hours typically include grueling 12-to-14-hour shifts that begin with the early morning process of devising menus and ordering ingredients, ending only after the last dinner guests have left the restaurant. Chef Clair and his staff were uncompromising when preparing our selections – making sure that the art of food preparation perfection was in every plate brought out!
I sampled the Spaghetti Pomodoro from the dinner menu, which comes prepared with vine-ripened tomatoes, garlic, and fresh basil with the famous Via Luna Meatball. This dish envisioned a temple to Italian cooking to match any ever built to honor a European cuisine in Fort Lauderdale. Truly, the Via Luna Restaurant is devoted entirely to the pleasures of Italian food and customer satisfaction. A place to sit in luxury and drink Barolo, while eating food that bewilders and thrills — an abalone carpaccio to start your meal, perhaps, and absolutely a celery sorbetto to end it.
The Via Luna Restaurant is a pleasure that lasts, offering memories of flavors that may return later in a dream: a tiny cup of spiced gazpacho, say, rimmed with a salty dust of dried capers; or a plate of the square-cut whole-wheat pasta known as tonarelli, with fiery little chickpeas, fried rosemary and bonito flakes in place of the more-traditional bottarga; perhaps a nectarine cooked into slow and amazing submission, with a savory grilled lemon cake and intense basil gelato. And, oh, that wine!
The Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale Resort is located in an affluent part of town. It is close to the main shopping area as well as near the main arteries leading to Miami. It is decidedly up-town, making it less appealing to those looking for a beach holiday or hoping to be close to the touristic centre. However, this may well be a hotel for those who never wish to leave too far from its premises. There is the infamous Via Luna Bar where numerous local and international celebrities have been spotted; a seventh floor roof terrace pool and panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and a spa with all the trimmings.
Resort guests enjoy special privileges and benefits at the Grande Oaks Golf Course, a private, members-only club, home of the Raymond Floyd signature golf course.
The Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale Resort is among the premier Fort Lauderdale luxury resorts; the exclusive resort is the most stylish and comprehensive resort destination in Fort Lauderdale. There are enough pastimes to keep everyone happy: pools, water sports, sport fishing, even children’s programs the Concierge can recommend. For meetings and events, the luxury resort offers an impressive 24,000 square feet of function space, and an 8,500 square foot oceanfront Grand Ballroom, accommodating up to 1,200 guests. As their guest, you will discover spacious, superbly appointed guest rooms with luxurious marble bathrooms. Gaze at the ocean waves, watch the spectacular Gold Coast sunset from your room, and enjoy all the luxury accommodations the Ritz Carlton, Fort Lauderdale Resort have to offer.
The Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale Resort, 1 North Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33304, (954) 465-2300.
Danny R. Johnson is San Diego County News’ Entertainment & Travel News Editor.