Donald Stamets, hotel manager of the AAA Five-Diamond, Forbes Five-Star Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach resort, is not given to the use of superlatives to describe the hotel he presides over. Words simply cannot do it justice. With an Ocean Boulevard address, in a legendary location, this very special hotel exudes all the charisma and mystique of Palm Beach.
The centerpiece of the Ritz-Carlton is a dramatic 3,000 foot oceanfront terrace—the only one of its kind in Palm Beach—which is set off by an equally dramatic 45 foot long water fountain wall. When the sun goes down, the terrace is transformed with a fire pit to provide a stunning backdrop for al fresco cocktails and dining.
For those guests who cannot leave work totally behind, a series of five poolside resort cabanas provides a new dimension to combining business with pleasure. Opening onto private terraces, these air-conditioned cabanas offer a practical space for business professionals to conduct meetings and conference calls and the hotel also offers much larger meeting and conference rooms if these are required.
The focus, though, is on providing a haven to relax, reflect and reward oneself away from the stresses and cares of everyday life. “From a functional standpoint, our proximity to the beach is unparalleled,” says Stamets, explaining that the boom of the Atlantic Ocean resonates in each of the exquisitely appointed guestrooms and suites. “As well as our amazing range of facilities, something that really sets us apart is our multi-generational appeal,” he continues. “Whether our visitors are children or more mature people, whether they are single, in a couple or a group, whether they are with us for a special celebration, or as part of a corporate event, they will all find a unique experience that has been crafted with their needs in mind.”
His role as manager is complex and multi-faceted, but two key elements of the task center on a requirement to create an ambience where guests can celebrate and feel inspired. “In order to achieve that end, we must become part of peoples’ lives. Our guests come here for a thousand different reasons. Our challenge is to understand each and every one of those reasons if we are to enrich their lives with a unique and unforgettable experience,” he says.
“Our heart and soul and the core of our ability to provide this sort of experience is the service provided by our ladies and gentlemen,” he continues. In the rarefied world of Ritz-Carlton, there are no staff, no associates and no employees. Rather, there is a 400-strong team of ladies and gentlemen, whom he is tasked with motivating, educating and nurturing. He sees this team as the Ritz-Carlton’s most critical asset.
“We look for natural talent matched with a fit for the ethos and philosophy of the Ritz-Carlton. We then take a very individual approach towards growth and development with regular human capital reviews to help people make the most of their talent. It is our belief that this approach creates happier people who can engage on a deeper level with guests,” he says.
“Our service model is based on ladies and gentlemen serving other ladies and gentlemen. This is how we always refer to and think of the people who work with us. It is this approach which really enables us to pull away from the competition and differentiate ourselves from the experience on offer at other resorts.”
Such is the Ritz-Carlton’s dedication to its guests that when a couple due to celebrate a romantic Italian wedding were unable to fly on account of the dust cloud from Iceland’s volcano obscuring Europe, the ladies and gentlemen decided to bring Italy to Palm Beach. “The whole room was decorated as a tribute to Italy and the Italian sense of style. The bride broke down and cried when she saw what had been achieved on her behalf.
“Of course, other hotels within our luxury segment have pools, beachfront positions, valet parking and so forth,” he says. “It can be very hard to differentiate but I believe we have achieved it with a very avant garde approach to service. Take the recent introduction of our pool divas for example, where we bring a concierge service direct to the poolside, in an informal and very innovative way.” It is all part of the hotel’s determination to create a new sense of ease and accessibility. In so doing, it has created a new benchmark for service within the Ritz-Carlton group.
The hotel’s ladies and gentlemen are also seen as a vital link with the local community. When the hotel closed for refurbishment in 2006, everyone was retained on the payroll, but assigned to one of the charitable or not-for-profit organizations across the county. The hotel industry is renowned for its high turnover; and Stamets found it very gratifying that 85 percent opted to stay the course and return to the hotel when it re-opened in March 2007.
When it comes to more tangible elements of the Ritz-Carlton experience, Palm Beach has also broken new ground. Todd-Avery Lenahan, principal with interior design firm ABA Avery Brooks & Associates, was responsible for the new look and feel of the resort. The $130 million transformation and expansion project featured a host of original design elements that caused even the sophisticated clientele of the Ritz-Carlton to pause and take breath.
The grandeur of the new foyer and its adjoining terrace, with stunning clear views to the ocean, is a fitting first introduction to Palm Beach. Each of the hotel’s oceanfront suites were also renovated, at a cost of over $100,000 each. The suites now offer unparalleled luxury with two bathrooms featuring multi-jet oversized showers, two HDTV flat screens, wood-lined custom closets and double-sized private balconies.
A series of restaurants is currently under the direction of executive chef Ryan Artim; and the hotel intends to add another evening dining experience to the portfolio later this year. “We want somewhere grown-up, sexy and casual to complement the restaurants we already have,” Stamets explains. Meanwhile, Breezeis already recognized as offering the best oceanside fare in the area—the restaurant is situated right on the water’s edge, with custom cocktails and gourmet burgers and has the best view for miles around.
The jewel in the crown, though, has to be the new Eau Spa by Cornelia, which has no fewer than 19 treatment rooms and extends across 42,000 square feet. It is the first facility of its kind in south Florida and incorporates an unusual garden design, complete with rainbow-hued butterflies and numerous elegant water features as a continuation of this key aesthetic that unites the hotel with the surrounding natural environment. The spa aims to offer adults a magical spa experience, but one with a twist. “Of course, everything is at hand for serious fitness followers, but the emphasis is on fun, indulgence and celebrating oneself and life. It is a place to visit with friends—somewhere to enjoy champagne and mini chocolate cupcakes, as well as soak up the serene environment,” Stamets adds.
Looking forward, investment in the hotel is ongoing. “Our ownership takes very seriously the need to invest in order to maintain our cutting edge. We want to be the first resort of choice whenever someone is coming here on holiday. In order to achieve that, we must evoke change in all its forms.
“I tell my staff that if you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always had. Here, we dare to do things differently. But perhaps most importantly of all, we enjoy what we do. Life is about having fun and so is managing this hotel,” he concludes.