Tuesday, April 18, 2006

I've got the itch!

I know that I just got back a couple of weeks ago from that lackluster trip to South Beach. But, I've really got the itch to get back to New York City again.

Beny will be travelling to Singapore to see his family in early July, and naturally the first leg of his flight takes him to New York City before departing for Singapore. This seems to be the perfect opportunity for me to join him for this first leg and spend a few days in New York with him. After that, he can head on to Singapore and I can head back home to Orlando (yes--crap brown for O-town).

Sounds good, in theory. Logistically, booking all of those multiple flights gets a little complicated. To complicate matters even more, we are looking to take the spoiled dog, Chopstick, with us. This severely limits the hotels we would be able to stay in while in NYC. I was really hoping to head back to the comfy andperfect Four Points by Sheraton in Chelsea. Unfortunately, this hotel does not allow pets. This hotel was a perfect base of operations for us last time, as it was rather close to the great shopping in SoHo and the new trendy shops in Chelsea. But, even better was it's proximity to the gay bars we fell in love with (Barracuda, the Rambles at the Park, etc.)!

Now, I've had to resort to looking for a different hotel. There are some with real potential, like the new "Night" hotel by the same folks that brought you "the Time" and "Dream" hotels. Very trendy. Very cool. But, the location moves us too close to the congestion of Times Square.

Another option is "the Regency". It's a Loews hotel and they are pet-friendly. But, it's way up on the Upper East Side. I'm afraid that area will roll up the sidewalks by 9pm!

Regardless, I'm not even sure I'm actually going to go through with this NYC this year. But, it sure is fun to "Dream" of "the Time" when I'll be laying my head on my pillow at "Night" after consuming the energy in NYC.

But, staying ten blocks away from the best burger in the world at Porter's in Chelsea...well, that's just torture!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

When Good Vacations ATTACK!

It sounded like a great plan to me...using large "points" collected on various credit cards to have a "free" vacation.

We (Beny & I) cashed in large numbers of points to stay at the Ritz-Carlton on South Beach, Miami.

The four-day weekend was cut down to three days, but we still went and were ready for uber-relaxation and pampering. Instead, we got lackluster service and dealt with overly pretentious morons on South Beach.

I used to visit South Beach regularly. I always had a great time. Beautiful city, beautiful beach, fine clothes, good food, and great partying.

This trip took on a decidedly different tone. I now despise South Beach and all that goes with it. Perhaps the place has become too big for it's britches? Regardless, the people were horrible. Unfriendly, clickish, and humorless. The employees at the Ritz-Carlton were bland, robotic, and pretentious.

You know the people in South Beach are bad when you find yourself commenting how INCREDIBLY friendly and helpful the people were in NEW YORK CITY! Seriously, we didn't encounter a bad apple at all in the "Big Apple".

We found the pits and seeds in South Beach.

South Beach manners aside, below is the letter that I will be mailing to the General Manager of the Ritz-Carlton. I think it speaks for itself.

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Mr. Roos:

Please allow for me to share my recent experiences at the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach. While I was pleased with the property in general, I provide these details with the hope that you will review them with the appropriate leaders and staff for the responsible departments. I am currently employed at a large travel company in Orlando and do not feel comfortable recommending your hotel as a result of my stay.

Despite the established name of the hotel chain and the quality and comfort in the room, the service was quite simply not up to Ritz-Carlton standards to which I am accustomed. My traveling companion and I did, however, have a wonderful view from the top floor balcony -- beach to the right and bustling streets below and to the left.

Beginning with a tremendous challenge regarding the reservation process and the exclusion/failure to mention of a $250 non-refundable pet deposit (ritzcarlton.com), we were already considering a move to the nearby (and pet-friendly) Loews Hotel. However, after many calls to the hotel directly and to the Ritz-Carlton Customer Service, the pet deposit was waived. This was much appreciated gesture and an added assurance that we would receive the service we are accustomed to from Ritz-Carlton. (This pet deposit is not required at Ritz-Carlton hotels in Asia.)

On our arrival date of April 1, 2006, we called the hotel directly to book spa treatments. We were connected directly to the spa concierge desk and had decided to book a 50 minute Swedish Massage for that evening. We had specific requests of a Swedish Massage for each of us at approximately 5:00 pm. Unfortunately, nothing was available until 6:00 pm. Considering the short booking window, we agreed to this.

Upon check-in at the hotel at approximately 3:00pm, the front desk staff member (Guillermo) was simply gracious, elegant, and charming. This was a wonderful first impression! He is a stellar example of great service.

After shopping on Lincoln Road, we headed back to the hotel and down to the Spa. Upon check-in at 5:30 pm at the spa, there was no record of either of our 6:00 pm reservations for spa treatments. The spa hostess called the Coral Gables Ritz to see if our reservation had “accidentally” been booked at that location. The Ritz in Coral Gables also had no record of our reservation at 6:00 pm. To her credit, the hostess at the spa worked quickly to remedy the situation and called in someone (from City Massage) to give my companion a massage beginning at 6:45 pm. I was to receive a massage from a therapist that was willing to stay late at 7:30pm -- a full 90 minutes after our original non-reservation! I must elaborate here and point out that by the time both of us were finished with both of our treatments a full three hours had elapsed since our arrival time at the spa. This severely hindered our already limited time in Miami.

To complicate matters further, the massages were not Swedish Massages -- they were Deep Tissue. No apology was offered to us for these errors. The following morning, I felt bruising pain at various places on my body and head. This is something I have never experienced from any massage (including Deep Tissue) I am accustomed to at the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando. I was unable to function or leave the hotel room in the morning for a few hours.

Our original hotel reservation had been booked through American Express and we were promised a late check-out at 4:00 pm along with a complimentary breakfast. Overnight, the hotel had slid our folio under the door for review attached with a memo reminding us that checkout was at 12:00 pm. My companion called the front desk and asked for them to check their records because of what had been promised to us during the original booking process. The front desk assured us that neither a late check-out nor complimentary breakfast was a part of our reservation.

To verify, we placed a call to American Express and were eventually conference-called with the front desk to reiterate by the American Express representative as to what benefits we were to receive. The hotel staff would only then agree to a late check-out of 4pm. I was left to wonder why the front desk staff extended the courtesy of working with the American Express representative, but was unwilling to do so with us. At this point, we were dissatisfied with this Ritz-Carlton location and ready to check-out. If other companies are allowed to book the hotel, please ensure that both parties are in agreement as to what services will be provided.

The Ritz-Carlton has failed on many accounts:
--The reservation processes appear to be flawed and do not seem to be accurate or consistent with other Ritz-Carlton locations.
--The staff did not seem to be paying attention to simple details.
--With a few exceptions the hotel staff did not go beyond “robot mode” in terms of sincerity throughout the property.
--There were many errors and miscommunications.

--The stay should have been effortless, and for us it simply was not.

I do not agree, nor accept, having to negotiate simple situation after simple situation while staying at any Ritz-Carlton. I request that you please acknowledge the receipt of this letter and would appreciate your insight into these experiences of our stay.

Thank you for your prompt attention.


Sincerely,
tripaway2day (well, I'll use my real name, but you know...)

UPDATE! – 4/6/2006
Today, we reviewed our American Express statement online and have noticed a “no-show” charge of $250 for the spa at the Ritz in Biscayne. We have spoken with the accounting department for that property and they are investigating if the fee can be removed.

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Do yourself a favor. If you are looking for a beautiful beach in Florida, visit Clearwater.