Puttin’ on the Ritz

By  February 17, 2010

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New York City can be pretty miserable in February. It’s cold outside and there’s dirty slush on the ground. The subways are packed with unhappy people in puffy jackets, taxis are scarce, and walking is so not an option. The dead of winter relentlessly haunts its victims and leaves them with a serious case of the winter blahs. Few can escape the brutality… I needed to get away – like, stat.

So I was obviously elated when respite came in the form of an email invitation: Would I be interested in joining an intimate press trip to the Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach? Um, okay. Suffice it to say, I jumped up from my desk, ran 60 blocks home, and packed my bags. The trip wasn’t for another few weeks, but I couldn’t wait to reunite with my summer wardrobe. Hello babies… Mommy missed you!

Besides being trapped in a window seat next to a woman with the plague (thank you airport-friendly bottle of Purell) and discovering that my carry-on bag somehow became coated with mystery goop (no really, you’re a life saver!), my JetBlue flight was fairly uneventful. I landed at West Palm Beach airport, and was greeted by a friendly driver who escorted me to a little piece of heaven on earth, AKA the Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach.

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I was all but given a piggyback ride by a friendly staff member around the bright and beautiful lobby, which is inspired by a Palm Beach living room, before being whisked to my room on the sixth floor. I did my best to maintain my professional facade in front of the hotel employee. But as soon as he closed the door, I jumped on the bed (delicious!) and ran to the balcony to admire the ocean view (amazing!). I swapped out my leather boots for a pair of sandals (oh, sandals!) and headed downstairs to meet the other trip attendees at the resort’s oceanfront eatery, Breeze. I ordered fresh mahi-mahi tacos, chatted with my newfound friends, and enjoyed the sensational sights and sounds of the Atlantic. It was the perfect way to start what would be a fabulous trip.

I had a few hours to spare before the next scheduled event, so I decided to test out the fitness facilities. I’m not much of an exercise buff, so I was relieved to discover that this gym had a sense of humor. Athletic Barbie and Ken dolls are on display to encourage and motivate, and there’s even simple math on the wall to help you estimate your treadmill needs: “1 Cupcake = 1 Mile. 2 Cupcakes = 2 Miles. Cupcakes = 3 Miles.” Since I had eaten cookies and not cupcakes, I determined that 20 minutes at a minimum speed and zero incline was more than sufficient. Math never was my strong suit.

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After a rigorous workout, I retired back to my room with ample time to primp and prep for dinner. But before I could even turn on the hair dryer, there was a knock at my door. The salon had sent up a member of their “Glam Squad” to make me look and feel beautiful. As I watched Jeopardy, and she brushed , twirled, and curled, I felt insanely spoiled. And I liked it. A lot.

Before we made our way to the restaurant, the group relaxed in the lobby bar and enjoyed a few pre-meal mojitos. I’ve never really loved the minty-fresh drink, but these blew me away. They were sweet and refreshing with a bit of kick – sassy, just like me. Dinner was at Temple Orange, the Italian restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton. We sat outside and enjoyed a sinful meal that included mushroom and truffle risotto, tomato and mozzarella, and linguine bolognese.

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After dinner, we made our way to the fire pit and ordered wine, s’mores, and tic-tac-toe cupcakes (you play as your eat). We talked and ate and sipped and laughed and listened to the waves. We were surrounded by adorable couples, and it struck me how romantic this serene setting could be. I went back to my room around 11 p.m. and fell into a heavy, happy slumber with the ambient ocean as my personal sleep soundtrack.

The next morning we fueled up at the breakfast buffet before heading on a tour of the pristine property. We checked out the awesome options for pint-sized guests at AquaNuts, the under-the-sea themed children’s center which boasts a rock-climbing wall, gaming area, and stage for aspiring young actors.

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After that, it was off to Coast, the teens-only corner, where I threw a jealousy-infused temper tantrum about the super-cool closet of trendy clothes and accessories that the teenage girls can try on. I would have killed for this kind of VIP treatment when I was a teen traveling with my family. Come to think of it, my parents probably would have killed to get rid of me for a few hours. Next, we checked out the business center, the ballrooms, the private oceanfront cabanas, and both pools.

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Our tour ended with a trip to Eau Spa by Cornelia, a glamorous new 42,000-square-foot sanctuary. Wow. This place is magical. I was invited by a spa host to think happy thoughts and light a tea candle to place in the wishing well. It was a peaceful way to begin my soothing spa experience.

After I changed into a plush robe, I was escorted to a treatment room where my quiet-talking technician explained the benefits of aromatherapy, color therapy, and even music therapy, and allowed me to customize the three to enhance my treatment. It worked like a charm. My facial was pure bliss. Mind you, I’m usually not comfortable with the idea of someone lavishing attention on my face for a full hour. But a combination of the rosewood scent, steam machine, and cooling masks helped me get over my facial fear fast. Sixty short minutes later, I emerged a newer, better, more radiant me.

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Practically drooling and feeling giddy and drunk, I retreated to the Self-Centered Garden, a 7,000-square-foot outdoor oasis filled with beautiful and beneficial foliage, flowers, waterfalls, lounge chairs, and day beds. The other writers slowly emerged, and it was clear that they, too, had transformative experiences. While I waited for my healthy spa lunch and “medicinal” cocktail to arrive, I sat in one of the hanging swing chairs, dipped my feet in the cool water below, and listened to the peaceful sounds of the outdoors.  I didn’t even miss my BlackBerry. Time stood still and, for once in my life, I decided my inbox could wait. I felt so good about myself after eating a light Mediterranean salad that I rewarded myself with a trip to the Jacuzzi where I, once again, forgot about life outside the Ritz-Carlton.

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I went back to my room to catch up on some work (slash naptime) and discovered a sandbox of chocolate goodies waiting for me – so much for that healthy spa lunch.

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Dinner was supposed to be on the water in one of the picture-perfect private cabanas, but the wind was blustery and the air was chilly. So, sadly, we had to have our meal in the palatial Presidential Suite. Poor us. We feasted on stone crab claws, lobster, filet, and salmon. The champagne flowed and the conversation was lively. After dinner, we got silly and played board games. And I found myself wondering if this was a first in the Presidential Suite.

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Day three began bright and early with yoga in the courtyard. We breathed, we stretched, and we “ommmmmed.” It was intense. Like I said, I’m no gym rat and yoga definitely took a toll. I felt sore for days. But if I ever again try yoga, it will be outside on the grass with the gentle sound of the ocean in the background… If.

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The final group activity involved a cooking lesson from Executive Chef Ryan Artim. He took us on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Ritz-Carlton restaurants, and we were able to see what it’s like inside a fast-paced kitchen. He then helped us* make a yummy panini for lunch.  (*Completely on his own without us touching/tainting anything.) He also sat down with me and customized an “easy” three-course dinner menu for “effortless” entertaining. We’ll see about that, Chef.

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Regrettably, this brought us to the conclusion of the press trip. No more organized meals, spa trips, tours, or events. Farewell, adieu, bon voyage. Except… My flight was canceled due to the snowstorm on the East Coast. Uh-oh. One more day trapped in paradise! My stay was extended and I spent some quality alone time working by the pool, reading at the beach, on-demanding movies (of the PG variety!), and ordering in greasy cheeseburgers and ooey-gooey ice cream sundaes from room service. It was perfection.

My trip to the Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach was decadent in more ways than one. I splurged on calories, was pampered and prettified, and had every whim catered to by a genuinely kind staff in one of the most exquisite destinations Florida has to offer. It’s a vacationer’s dream, and the ideal setting for solo travelers, couples, groups, and families.

I had an exceptional experience. And, best of all, my winter blues have been cured by the sun, surf, and sand at the Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach.