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. I’m not too much into high end hotels but due to points have stayed at a few places. Most recently Ritz Carlton in Vienna was exceptional. Even my wife said “everyone is friendly without the attitude”. If I had the points I would definitely stay there again.

    We don’t do the high end dining so we didn’t eat there.

    Can’t say I’ve stayed at any other Ritzs. I’m not a beach person so you won’t find me at those resorts.

  2. 100% agree, there are some truly awful RCs…Tysons being top of the list. But I was recently really wowed by the RC NoMad in NYC. Beautiful property and excellent service. It’s not your parent’s RC, ha. Hoping this is where the brand is going and this property isn’t just an outlier.

  3. Def agree that Ritz Tysons isn’t up to luxury brand standards might be expected other places. But you can use a 35K cer there and pay $200-$250 on the weekends and still have a great stay. They have the best Club staff I know. People working in there 20+ years.

  4. Chain hotels are mostly “faux” luxury. Hyatt, Marriott, whatever. They are *fine* but far from true luxury hotels.

  5. There’s been a downshift during pandemic and the years following, your’e basically getting mid range service and quality at “Luxury brands”. While mid range now typically have budget level service now. This is most pronounced in high cost regions like California. This is basically the effect of inflation.

  6. have only stayed at one (Kyoto) and it was great, but I’ve heard the Asian properties are significantly more competitive in their respective markets than the north American properties.

  7. The worst “luxury” hotel I have ever had the incredible misfortune of wasting any of my life at was Mandapa: A Rtiz Carlton Reserve in Bali. MEGA DUMP. I vomit a bit every time I think of it.

  8. @ Gary — Because the same stupid people who think Delta is super premium believe Ritz is super premium.

  9. Ritz-Carlton’s days of luxury ended a long time ago. The days of “We are Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen” are now just a memory. Yet another once proud brand relying on name recognition only. Honestly, I think the only consistently luxurious chain today is Rosewood. Let’s see how long they can maintain their standards, as they grow.

  10. The rooms are architecturally nice and the beds are attractive and comfortable. The service is unreliable, unpolished and a random function of who’s working that day..

  11. I am sure that Ritz-Carlton Tokyo and Kyoto are nice.

    I’d say though that the Ritz properties in North America lag Park Hyatt even. Even Park Hyatt DC > Ritz Carlton Pentagon City and Tysons Corner, while Park Hyatt Chicago and New York are certainly nicer than any of the Ritz properties mentioned in this post.

    That is not to say that Park Hyatt is anywhere close to Aman, Belmond, or Rosewood of course.

  12. Here’s the thing. Most markets are not big enough and lack sufficient staff for a true luxury hotel.

    It’s extremely difficult in most U.S. markets to find staff who view working in service at a hotel as career and not a mere job, which of course if amazing because as Americans we like to make a big deal about tipping for service. But in reality our service culture, tips notwithstanding, is awful compared to most other countries.

    There’s a reason why a Four Seasons or Peninsula can’t be found in every market with a Ritz-Carlton.

    At the end of the day, most Ritz-Carlton hotels are for New Money, corporate travelers, and people who don’t know any better. Many or most of the properties are equivalent to a Marriott, JW Marriott or Westin hotel of 20 or 30 years ago while many or most Marriott, JW Marriott or Westin properties are equivalent to a Holiday Inn or Courtyard of 20 or 30 years ago.

  13. RC Pentagon City is absolutely mediocre, even as a mainline Marriott it would only be passable. RC Tysons is better but seems always booked to capacity with the impersonal, assembly-line attitude that comes with that. I will say that I have had great room service meals there and the rooms are clean and fairly spacious, but the property as a whole is significantly less ‘luxury’ than the designer-saturated mall it is attached to.

    This is very much a niche experience, but the RC Almaty (Kazakhstan) was excellent. Upgraded to a beautiful suite and the service delivery was great, one small issue with the room resolved immediately and without hassle. The staff seemed to have pride in working for a major international luxury brand (however it might be perceived by readers of this blog) and it came through in their professionalism.

  14. How many times do you have a dissatisfactory stay at a Ritz before you learn not to stay at one ever again?

  15. I’ve stayed at the Ritz in Buckhead and Tysons and had great stays. Granted both were 6 years ago. The clubs were fantastic and really made the experience. My wife and I have liked the more modern rooms than say the St. Regis. We have stayed at 2 St regis’s (DC and somewhere overseas) and both times have been disappointed by the lack of a charger by the outlet. That being said, price premium + lack of elite benefits means the ritz frequently loses out to other less expensive options. JWs often look nicer and are cheaper.

  16. We stayed a few hours of our 4 night stay at the Ritz in Grand Cayman. The beds were so uncomfortable with the straw bedding that we moved to the Westin next door and had a great stay.

  17. Thanks Gary. I was one of the naive sorts who assumed until now that RC, as a luxury brand, was actually luxury. Never stayed at one, and you’ve spared me the probable disappointment.

    Would enjoy more brand-wide assessments like this one.

  18. @ECR12
    Nothing in the US compares to Japanese properties. I spend 5-6 weeks a year in Japan and have stayed in everything from Hilton in Shinjuku to a 14 room mom and pop in Koriyama. My go to now is the Keio Plaza. It’s in the business district in Tokyo but just a couple of minutes from the train station. I was upgraded from a double room to a 4 bed two bath suite for 9 nights in January. And as a 4 star it blows away any 5 star in the US. Before the pandemic I hit 100 nights at IHG. All that got me was a first floor room next to the elevator. I quit being loyal to anything a long time ago.

  19. RC is the worst luxury brand of all the major chains. Rogue brand within Bonvoy that has maintained its attempt to be snooty when most tastes have changed.

    STR is by far the best Bonvoy luxury brand for me and my favorite all around.

    I’ve stayed at at least 20 RCs over the years, all as a Titanium or Ambassador. If it’s my choice, I will never stay at a RC again

  20. I try to avoid RC properties at all cost. But as we know sometimes you’re forced to take the medicine. Staff is rude, arrogant and acts as if they’re doing you a favor to get a glass of water. The rooms are basic with nothing more than a Courtyard. All of this for 3xs the price. Give me a JW over a RC anytime!

  21. How does the RC Reynolds in GA maintain as a RC? It was awful when I stayed there recently. It should be rebranded as a Sheraton

  22. Had a great stay at Ritz Bali on my honeymoon but Kempinski next door is nicer and has bigger pools

  23. Ritz is now Marriott with fancier furniture. My most memorable travel nightmares always seem to be at a Ritz. Walking down a road in Jamaica to take my sick kid to a doctor because Ritz Rose Hall couldn’t find someone to drive the shuttle van. Filthy rooms at Ritz New Orleans, and they bring me extra water bottles instead of a cleaning crew. Waiting until 6pm for our room to be ready at Ritz Half Moon Bay, getting charged twice because their computers were down, and having to threaten legal action to get them to fix it. Ritz Atlanta stay was so bad, they fired the evening manager after hearing about my stay. Just like another once great brand, Hertz, I only use them if the business logistics make it impossible to avoid.

  24. The Ritz at Grand Cayman is a terrible property. I have stayed there once, versus a couple dozen stays at the Westin and Marriott. The only time I thought that RC deserved its claim as a luxury hotel is when they first opened one in Singapore (the Millenia) almost 30 years ago.

  25. I don’t really consider Ritz when traveling, didn’t realize it got this bad. Last RC I stayed at was maybe 25 years ago with family in Tampa (Miami? Somewhere in Florida). Still have the slippers.

    Ritz Laguna Niguel has a nice view but my friends and I didn’t stay and look inside.

    Historic reputation goes a long way, glad in this era with bloggers and reviews as prevalent as ever we have as good of opportunists as ever in getting rid of these of preconceived notions.

  26. We checked out early of the Ritz-Carlton Shanghai after multiple service issues. I have to say I have never been blown away by any stay at a RC, unlike say the Waldorf Astorias.

  27. @Gary – But there are some pretty grim mainline Marriotts. I assume, for example, that Ritz Carlton standards preclude popcorn ceilings and window-unit HVAC.

  28. What a tragedy in not being able to get a beachfront chair after 8:00am. Such a serious issue demands only one response; beat the staff until the morale improves. The expectation of stellar servitude when booking with the game of points instead of real money is crushed when you are refused anything for free and treated just like regular working class mortals.

  29. I liked the Ritz Carlton in Amelia Island and the Ritz Carlton in Coconut Grove.

  30. Speaking of the whole beach chair reservation thing… “…you’d find yourself four rows back from the beach…”
    Can’t you just pickup your chair and move it?

  31. I agree with you about Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey; the service was among the snootiest and most mendacious that I have ever had in any hotel or any hotel chain. The same for Ritz-Carlton Moscow (before the pandemic). The Ritz-Carltons in Astana and Almaty were outstanding, but I think that most of your readers aren’t going to get to Kazakhstan.

  32. This is such a a “fun” little game because it’s entirely true and the rational response from a franchise perspective would be to lower guests’ costs (i.e., charge less) before too much devaluation of brand standards destroys customer goodwill. But instead the business geniuses at Marriott will instead simply whip up a new “Ultra-Luxury” brand where staying there costs more than a Ritz and comes with the type of experience you used to see at a Ritz. And in the long run, everyone gets less while paying even more.

  33. The only Ritz that -to me- is rightfully in your target area is the one in Naples. It’s a complete joke. I’ve stayed at a number of them- and have been very pleased with not only the physical product, but the people who work there.

  34. RC Properties outside of the USA tend to be far better. I have had great experiences in europe, but always medicre experiences in USA – Atlanta, Marina Del Rey. In the old days Pasedena and Amelia Island were both great. I do not use them in the USA anymore – I prefer Four Seasons and even Intercon

  35. The problem is that a lot of the properties are not owned by Marriott and just licensed the name and right to us Ritz Carlton. So the quality is going to be all over the place.

    The Ritz Carlton Orlando and Ritz Carlton Kapalua Maui are nice properties that I have stayed at.

    The bigger issue is that Marriott has gutted its loyalty program and has devalued their points. I prefer not to stay at Marriotts as much as possible. The hotels that were a part of SPG seem to be better run in my opinion. But again it’s mostly in Europe where I stay at those properties.

  36. Ritz Marina Del Ray has basic rooms for sure, tho the Cast & Plow makes it all worth it. Such a fun place for food or drinks. At some point hopefully they’ll renovate the rooms (although we will all then complain about the construction noise). I like Ritz GC, as well as Ritz Boston, Amelia Island, Singapore (not bonvoy anymore though), Paris and Dallas. I once had a concierge at RC Dallas go to the airport and grab a bag for me from Lost & Found that I had accidentally left on the trolley. Loved Ritz Cancun but it changed hands.

    Also basic rooms but fun location and great service are Ritz Chicago and Ritz San Francisco. Both also have fun bar scenes.

  37. My last stay at the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey was disappointing. After a long flight from Sydney, I was eager to relax; my room was quite dark, small, and on the dingy side, not exactly a luxury stay. The high fees added to room service doubled the bill for my dinner. Disappointing.

  38. Recently wasted 30k points and a guest of honor at hyatt grand Tokyo. The breakfast was in the club with no egg choice. I ordered eggs and got a bill for the full $33 for the downstairs buffet. Room was a Simmons old mattress slapped on wood. Same when I did a room change. Guess I was spoiled by 5 nights at Conrad tokyo

  39. The average Ritz-Carlton offers an experience that the average Marriott provided 20 years ago. The average Marriott offers an experience that a Holiday Inn provided 20 years ago.

  40. And how about those “Club Level Upgrade” certificates as a benefit of the $450/yr Ritz-Carlton credit card? They are rarely available for use, and even then only with elevated base rates. Despite numerous attempts to find a Ritz-Carlton that fits my plans, I mostly find better value and “luxury” at a Hyatt, JW Marriott, or Westin.

  41. Can’t recall a great RC stay. My last one, at Half Moon Bay, was entirely forgettable, except for the stunning views. Conversely, can’t recall a St Regis stay that wasn’t fantastic. Overall, amongst big chain hotels, Waldorf stays have been the best.

  42. forgot about ritz HMB. love it there. again, the rooms are nothing special but the grounds are phenomenal.

    agree st regis is a sure win/better but there is a significant price differential so idk that you can compare (same with peninsula)

  43. Recently had a three week stay at the RC in Amman. It was absolutely wonderful, and I’ve stayed at many a hotel and resort. Perhaps check a reliable site with ratings by guests before you go to see what you are getting into, and leave a review yourself for others to see. Tripadvisor for example comes to mind.

    Club lounge was awesome, great workout room and spa, restaurants excellent too. Room comfortable, new property, and staff the nicest of just about any hotel I’ve ever been at.

  44. It’s the branding/reputation, and people fall for it all the time. The instagram generation fawns over places like the Ritz because everyone knows the name and its connotation of luxury. Posting a photo from somewhere way more luxurious (like a Belmond, Auberge, Aman, etc) doesn’t have the same name cache as the Ritz.

  45. Have heard a lot of negatives about RC Grand Cayman. The Kimpton Seafire earlier this year was fantastic.

  46. Long time reader, first time commenting. Interesting take, and I tend to agree. I’ve stayed at some Renaissance by Marriot properties that seemed a cut above the Ritz.

    For example the Ritz in Cleveland ranks as about 3.5 star property in my book. The neighborhood isn’t safe (I say that coming from downtown Chicago), the rooms are small, without a luxury feel, and dining leaves a lot to be desired. I felt the same about the Downtown Atlanta property.

    A lot of chains seem to neglect the “legacy” 5-star brands. (See Waldorf in Chicago). If it’s not a newer property, I definitely look for something on the “boutique” list if budget allows… Or if I’m willing to deal with an older hotel, it should at least have some historical landmark / relevance. A lot of these places are just plain old, period.

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