Not all Ritz Carlton’s are the same just like not all Four Seasons are the same. While both hotels are all things luxury at their core and focus on providing extraordinary service above and beyond amenities and features, there are some Ritz Carlton properties that simply shine a lot brighter than others. Of course, properties nestled in quiet corners of luxurious islands where the weather is always sunny and 80 degrees, have an added advantage, but what about a Ritz Carlton in a destination few people have ever heard of but is within a stone’s throw of the most visited city in America?
Less than an hour from New York City, the Ritz Carlton Westchester always seems to delight and surprise. Our visit in February was quite a contrast from our Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain experience, which is based in the middle of the Arizona desert and we happened to visit in the dead of summer.
When we pulled up to the Westchester location in downtown White Plains, it was four below zero and the wind was howling. Let’s just say that we couldn’t have picked a better place for a winter weekend getaway and we even had two kids in tow.
While I typically think of the Ritz as a great romantic getaway spot with incredible food and wine offerings and a full service luxury spa on-site, it’s not a top-of-mind property when it comes to family travel. What’s great about the White Plains Ritz is that they boast a number of suites, so you can get the privacy you need at night while having great shared space during the day. And, they also have a spacious heated swimming pool at the top of the hotel, which is great family activity any time of year.
Our suite had a separated living room area with a queen pull out sofa bed, and a wide walkway area which connected this space and the master bedroom. Here, there was a table which housed a coffee maker, tea, water and drinks. The bathroom had a separate shower area as well as a deep soaking tub and double sink area, making it very manageable and comfortable for a family of four. As you entered the suite, there was also a half bath so the kids could access their own toilet in the middle of the night if necessary.
Our first experience with the property was a year and a half ago, without kids in tow. It was a bit more relaxing as you’d expect and during a different season, so we didn’t access the pool nor did we spend as much time in the room or the hotel itself.
The lobby area albeit on the small side, is so elegantly done, that I found myself working downstairs next to the fire rather than in my room on two consecutive afternoons. The service is so over-the-top that why wouldn’t you want to lounge in a relaxing modern environment surrounded by tasteful art, warm colors and limitless pots of organic teas? Luis served us, the same Luis who served us in 2014, so we decided to sit at the same table and relive the experience it was so great the first time around.
What makes a Ritz live up to its reputation is largely the exceptional service. A 5 star property must anticipate their customer’s needs before they have them and then dramatically exceed the customer’s expectations over and over again. In other words, if you’re having breakfast, chances are you’ll need your car shortly thereafter, so proactively making the car appear so the customer doesn’t have to wait, makes them feel pampered and beyond. It also relieves any other stresses they may be facing on their trip and rest assured, travelers always have them. The hotel’s job is to minimize their other burdens by providing exceptional service and the “right kind” of decadence.
The “right kind” of decadence differs from customer to customer of course, but whether it’s having just the right year Tawney Port on the menu, delivering a mind blowing spa experience or having such comfy pillows that you melt into your bed at night, exceeding expectations is a must at a Ritz.
As long as the facilities, chefs, spas and check-in experience matches what you’d expect from a 5 star experience, the real “excellence” stems from the right hires. For example, our experience with Luis in 2014 and again this winter, made our stay that much more perfect. It’s all about the warm smile, the attentiveness, the generosity and authenticity and the above-and-beyond service that Ritz customers of old remember and still expect.
While the cereal 8 year old Jake wanted wasn’t on the breakfast buffet table, Luis made magic happen in the kitchen and out came a care package we could take with us that included his preferred cereal and a few extras to make our afternoon activities even more enjoyable.
Speaking of the weekend buffet table, whether you’re a sucker for carbs or tend to fill up on proteins like me, they’ve got you covered. From fresh croissants, muffins, rolls and bean burritos to traditional egg and sausage breakfasts and smoked salmon, it’s there for the sampling. You can also order off the menu of course and scrumptious fatty options are on offer as are healthier, lighter choices.
Ritz Carlton Fine Dining
If their breakfast buffet isn’t enough to whet your appetite, then be prepared to get excited over their evening dining experience. While the Westchester location has a traditional fine dining restaurant in the back of the hotel (BLT Steak), which we’d love to try at a future time, we opted for dinner in the Lobby Lounge which is an easier and more flexible choice if you are traveling with kids.
On both menus, the dishes include ingredients sourced from fresh, locally-grown and organic farms, as well as boutique, regional and organic wines by the glass and bottle. They’re known for their specialty cocktails and signature martinis, so we had to try them given their unique names and flavors. Anthony tends to have a sweeter tooth than I do, so he went for a strawberry cocktail whereas I chose the lime and cucumber martini — both were so refreshing!
From fresh chicken and goat cheese with cranberry salads, to homemade French traditional onion soup, our palettes were in pure heaven.
Attention to detail is part of the Ritz Carlton brand, so regardless of where you are in the world, your experience should be magical and memorable, as they were for us in Westchester, Dove Mountain and the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay, which we’ve stayed at (and dined at) on more than one occasion.
Despite the brrr cold temperatures outside during our stay, we opted for healthy seafood options instead of a heftier steak, stew or comfort food dish like a creamy pasta. Apparently a local favorite is their Seafood Alfredo, which they prepare with sundried tomatoes, caramelized onions, shrimp, scallops and lobster over a penne pasta.
I’d recommend their seared seabass which they serve with a mushroom polenta cake, wilted kale and paprika coconut bouillabaisse, or the Lemon Poached Salmon, which they prepare with coconut black wild rice, asparagus and seaweed salad with a saffron veloute. Pair either with one of their two Chardonnay’s by the glass on the menu.
If we had another night, I would have loved to try their Orange Glazed Cornish Hen with homemade stuffing, and sauteed spinach with corn. Yum! For vegetarians, they have a Vegan Burger with black beans, quinoa, parsley and vegenaise guacamole. Gluten free options are available as well, although if you have no issues with gluten, then go for the onion rings, truffle or sweet potato fries (they were out of this world), or the grilled cheese and tomato bisque combo, which is a great choice for kids. Their preparation includes Prosciutto and Gruyere Cheese on Brioche Toast.
For smaller bites, you can get chicken or beef sliders (they make a great winter snack), a side of their sauteed brussels sprouts, chicken wings, a chicken quesadilla which Anthony tried on the afternoon we arrived, Prosciutto fig flat bread with spiced orange marmalade, or the truffle mushroom flat bread with Talcott cheese, sundried tomatoes and onions. The latter would be my number one vote on a cold afternoon in front of their blazing fire in the lobby.
Desserts are as decadent as you’d expect at a Ritz Carlton, from Molten Chocolate Cake with vanilla creme Anglaise, macerated berries, peppermint gelato and spiced pumpkin cheesecake to berry ice cream cake (below) served with a salted Graham crumble.
It was Julissa’s birthday so they decided to help her celebrate by bringing a birthday cake up to the suite after our dinner, where we had already celebrated with exquisite cake and ice cream desserts.
Their classic Dulce de Leche Praline is a great choice for those with an extra sweet tooth — think salted caramel gelato and praline nougat. The Ritz-Carlton cake is among my favorites; not only is it beautifully presented (below), but this dark Valrhona chocolate cake is made with Grand Marnier Candied Orange and comes with a side of Bailey’s Irish Cream, which you can pour over the cake or drink separately. I tried it both ways. Oh so delicious – four thumbs up!
They also have a Decon Pistachio Green Tea Tiramisu, which is prepared with Mocha Creme Anglaise and Pistachio Brittle. WOW!
Despite the delicious fare regardless of what time of day, we felt like the stay was still rushed. We later learned that they offer something called Cocoa Lab, which are uniquely-chocolate, pastry and dessert cooking classes as well as group culinary educational experiences and team-building activities. Apparently it’s something you can also do with kids, which we thought was a great idea to educate them about food and why where your food is sourced and how it is cooked is so important.
Their on-site spa is so incredible that I discovered several women in the relaxation and lounge area who are locals and come regularly for services. While it may have been the East Coast in the heart of winter, I felt as if I were on vacation on a remote island when I escaped to their 10,000 square foot space, which among other things, makes it the largest destination spa in the county.
Think all things tranquility, solitude and serenity combined with a whole lotta luxury and pampering. Whether you’re going simply to relax and unwind or have a more healing treatment focused on wellness and renewal, their menu is so comprehensive, that they’re bound to have what you want, or more importantly, need. I’d argue that it’s worth the trek from Manhattan given how close it is to the frenzied Big Apple — jump in a train, head to White Plains and be prepared to surrender to a world of peace and calm. Ask for Cecile, their amazing French-born spa director and tell her I sent you.
It is luxurious, quiet and relaxing with no shortage of services, from massages, facials and body wraps to pedicures, manicures and other frills you might want for a special occasion, such as a wedding or anniversary. I went for an anti-aging facial — if you can add on a collagen mask, I’d recommend it, especially if you’re there for a romantic retreat. They also have a full service salon where you can get your hair colored, permed, cut and styled or your make-up done by a pro.
A true story from a previous visit: Maria (their on-site make-up artist) and Cecile (spa director and hair stylist), transformed my look so much on a summer visit that Anthony didn’t recognize me as I passed him in the hallway afterwards. Following your treatment, they have lovely organic teas and healthy snacks to enjoy while you’re reading a magazine in a dimly lit relaxation room. Two thumbs up the second time around – it did not disappoint and likely never will!