Ritz-Carlton Horror Stories: Why Is This Faux Luxury Brand So Awful?

It’s possible that my experiences are an outlier, but I’ve never had a good stay at a Ritz-Carlton property. I really do not understand the brand, or why it has a reputation for luxury.

I was at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman when I first coined the term “resort factory.” There were about several rows of beach chairs, and if you didn’t place a book on a chair by 8 a.m. you’d find yourself four rows back from the beach.

Staff turned my table at breakfast, seating someone else, while I was up at the buffet. And housekeeping entered the room without knocking while the Do Not Disturb sign was on my door.

Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman

That was probably my… best Ritz-Carlton stay.

How about the Ritz-Carlton Naples many years ago assigning a room with an unmade bed, and a used condom in it? And taking over 45 minutes to retrieve a car from valet.

The Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey where I’ve stayed three times is just a run down slum of a hotel, in rough shape. It’s not actively awful, however.

Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey

Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey

I always thought that the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City was the ‘worst Ritz’ from the era of building them attached to malls. But Tysons Corner, Virginia is surely worse.

I checked in recently at 7 p.m. and there was food trash in the hall – that was still there the next morning. And how on earth does this hotel not make coffee available before 6:30 a.m.? “That’s when breakfast starts.” This is supposedly a luxury hotel but there’s no overnight service. What about people just in from Europe, who are going to get up early? There are coffee machines in the room, sure, but no fresh creamer (and I don’t trust the cleanliness of in-room coffee machines).

Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner

Now, I actually appreciated my stay at Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbour despite poor room upkeep and being way overpriced because it was a place to go when so many hotels were still closed and at limited service during the pandemic.

Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbour

I don’t have beefs with any of these hotels as such – they’re perfectly ok properties I suppose. They just illustrate the disconnect, I think, between any sense of “luxury” and the on-property reality I’ve experienced with the brand.

When Marriott acquired Starwood I preferred St. Regis over Ritz-Carlton because Marriott exempted Ritz properties from suite upgrades and breakfast. Now Ritz-Carltons are supposed to upgrade Titaniums (but not Platinums) to suites. I didn’t realize St. Regises were actually better even if they weren’t all truly luxury hotels themselves.

Why do people like these hotels?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. How good or how bad a hotel is depends entirely on the management of that particular hotel. Lousy service at US hotels is a reflection of the fact that in the US the hospitality industry unfortunately is not a sought after profession and thus has a hard time attracting good talent. Whereas overseas it is considered an attractive industry that attracts people who want to make a career out of it and are motivated to do a good job…but not so in the US.

  2. The RC Marina Del Rey really needs to be deflagged. It’s more in line with a Marriott, or maybe a Westin or Renaissance. Just because it’s on the water, they get away with the RC branding when it’s anything but.

  3. Stayed 2x at the RC Montreal. Love this hotel. I believe it was the original one.

  4. Good article and good question! Generally agree—I’m sure there are many reasons, but an inability to attract and retain enough good, motivated talent is a big part of the problem, as is building or flagging SO MANY supposedly luxury hotels. (Two in DC, plus one in Pentagon City AND another in Tysons? Done purely for brand recognition at the suburban locations, and diluting the brand all the while.)

    Will say I’ve stayed at several RCs because the room configurations used to work well for family trips when my kids were younger and had some great experiences. The staff at the downtown DC property has historically been fantastic in my handful of stays. I was never a regular, but the bell captain remembered and asked after my eight-year-old son when I stayed alone for business probably nine months after visiting with my family. Sure I just got lucky with that interaction, but good job by the hotel hiring and keeping good staff around. Other properties just don’t do that and it undermines any trust in the brand.

  5. I have only been to Ritz Carlton Bacara (Santa Barbara/Goleta), and I’ve been very pleased with the room, the property, and the service/experience. Granted I’m not as discerning/bougie as many people. Hotel rooms are mostly just someplace to sleep unless I’m on business travel or have my kid with me

  6. Ritz Carlton in Santiago is the only RC I’ve stayed at, but it was one of the best hotel stays I’ve ever experienced. The room and hotel were immaculately clean and stylish, and the rooftop pool and spa facilities are fantastic. Restaraunt food and staff were absolutely top shelf. But the best part was the staff as a whole – but particularly one of the concierge, Ambrosio, genuinely treated us like a close friend. It was incredible. To top it off, I was able to use my $200 Amex Platinum FHR credit to cover most of one night, and included $100 per night food credit. I can’t speak to the Ritz Carlton brand as a whole, but the Santiago location is the definition of luxury to me.

  7. I found the RC Bacara in Santa.Barbara to be such a mediocre property with uncaring staff, bad food, a “meh” environment and overrun with kids. No “luxury” there for us.

  8. I had an excellent experience at the RC Laguna Niguel in Dana Point. Valet goes to retrieve rental car and it has a flat. Lead valet inquires where we are going, we answer dinner at a nearby restaurant, he immediately says our driver will take you, we’ll coordinate with the rental company to fix the flat, off you go. I say thanks, who do I call for the ride back, he says don’t worry about it, we’ll coordinate with the restaurant and your ride will be waiting, and he did. He wouldn’t take a tip himself, but we were nice to the driver.

    That level of service is real luxury.

  9. I worked for RC for decades, working at multiple properties across the US, and unfortunately, everything you mentioned is common. I also had the opportunity to be on the other end as a business traveler later on. Besides all the operational failures, the staff (especially the front desk staff) are usually very snooty and condescending, no matter how one dresses or speaks. It’s a good experience only if you like being treated poorly. Older staff said the decline started when the brand was purchased by Marriott decades ago.. definitely not worth the money or hassle.

  10. Gary, if RC so consistently bad, why do you keep returning. Isn’t this a classic definition of insanity?

  11. @Alan – sometimes I’m speaking at a conference and that’s just where the conference is! sometimes the property is literally next door to a meeting. I’m not saying the hotels are dumps per se, just that there’s such a huge disconnect with the branding. I’m not fooled, I know what I’m getting going it.

  12. Marriott oceanfront properties here in Palm Beach have deflagged due to arguments between their owners and Marriott. The only RC here in Palm Beach County was deflagged and renamed the Eau Palm Beach after litigation between its owner, Simon Properties, and Marriott. The Marriott in Delray Beach was deflagged and renamed the Opal Resort and Spa after litigation. Both properties alleged excessive fees and failure to perform by Marriott. Both were and are excellent properties.

    The only oceanside Marriott property in Palm Beach County (where about 20% of U.S. wealth resides from January to March) is on Singer Island – and it’s a combination hotel and vacation club. There are no RC’s left in Palm Beach County, to my knowledge.

  13. I’m an AE with Marriott and had lovely stays each time at many RC properties. The ones in Atlanta need retired but our stays have been fantastic at RC Bali, RCR Mandapa, RC Dove Mountain, RC Maui, RC Amelia Islands, RC Maldives, RC Dubai, RC Tahoe, RC Half Moon Bay – these all easily standout as unique and quality hotels in the RC chain. Maybe these locations are better due to being in “resort” style areas?

  14. They are over-priced Marriotts, with Marriott management. ‘nuf said. I used stay weekly at the RC Tysons, it has really gone downhill. The nearby old Hilton is now actually better IMO.

  15. I was always a Starwood fan (platinum) , and staying at the Ritz versus other Starwood properties when travelling was always a special treat. Just trying to use my points during the Marriott takeover was exhausting and ever since I’ve been back to a few properties including the Palm Desert and Dana Point locally, the quality of the brand has cheapened themselves into resembling just another Marriott.

    If I travel for work, I’ll stay ay a Bonvoy property if I have to, but for personal travel I try avoid the whole Marriott brand altogether.

  16. I assume you are only talking American RC hotels. If you want wonderful service and facilities just stay at the Ritz Carlton Cairo. I would go back there in an instant. Everything about the hotel is the best.

  17. Gary, seems that all you do now is print stories about negative experiences and then generalize that to the entire brand. All negative, just bitching, or retelling stories people tell you. Find a real job.

  18. The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, the “highest” hotel in the world on the top floors of a skyscraper, was easily one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed at (out of 400+ different hotels). The views of Victoria Harbor and surrounding area were amazing. You could easily eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the club lounge (an extra charge even for elite members but worth it) with all day open bar and a constantly rotating food selection. The fitness center was well provisioned and the service was all around very good. There were also two Michelin-star restaurants on property but was happy with the club food.

    The one in Dallas is very highly rated too. I used to stay at the Tyson’s Corner one a while back and service was very good so sad to hear if it’s gone downhill. I’ve only been to conferences at the Pentagon City one and had no issues but most of the hotels around that area near DCA that I’ve stayed at seemed tired and in need of renovations.

  19. I’ve only stayed at the Ritz in Vail and Aspen. They are fantastic, service is impeccable. They are my favorite hotels. It’s disappointing to hear that they’re not all like these two.

  20. I’m so sad to see what’s become of the RC chain. I used to stay regularly in their properties and was normally impressed and pleased with the experience. The hotels had formal interiors patterned after English manor homes. Walls hung with silk damask, crystal chandeliers, intimate lobbies, beautiful artwork, elegant club floors. Royal blue glassware was a signature touch.

    I stayed in the RC Boston, Laguna Nigel, Huntington, Atlanta & Buckhead, Orlando, Central Park South, Naples, Key Biscayne, Denver, Marina del Rey, St Louis, San Francisco, Half Moon Bay, Cleveland and Detroit (Dearborn). I actually lived at RC Dearborn while consulting with Ford Motor. My wife and I spent part of our honeymoon at RC San Francisco. With very few exceptions, the service, rooms and food were outstanding. Staff members on the Club level were often calling me by my last name before the end of the first day. The in-room amenities were thoughtful and the toiletries were luxurious and smelled divine.

    Now, RC has no discernible design/decor theme. It’s that 2020’s contemporary mixed with MCM that strikes me as soulless. No rich woods, silks, crystal. Now it’s all chrome and muted colors and lamps and pictures that look like they’re from the 60’s. Doesn’t read luxury at all to me anymore. My last stay in Atlanta included a Formica desk with a large chip out of it, frayed bedspreads, water-damaged wall coverings in the bath and a faulty HVAC. The room look plain and mid-market at best. But the worst is the service. Disinterested and disengaged describes it best. Back 25 years ago RC staff members were beautifully tailored in their blue uniforms and they beamed with pride to be working at a top hotel. I managed a country club in Michigan in the 90’s where we used then RC’s “Ladies & Gentlemen Serving Ladies & Gentlemen” training materials. All of that has been trashed now, it seems. It’s very sad.

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