What if blind sampling of hotels were possible, with brand names hidden? What if we could dis-associate brand expectations from actual experience…and reassess accordingly? Back-to-back stays at two very upscale hotels in the Miami / Ft Lauderdale area provided the perfect opportunity for this type of strenuous, high wire evaluation gymnastics. So, working without a net, without a safety device of any kind…here goes.
First was a three-night stay at the Ritz Carlton South Beach, followed a few days later by two nights at the Hilton Ft. Lauderdale Beach Resort. The room cost at the Ritz was $599 per night – compared to $299 for the Hilton.
(One well-known, high profile booking site recently promoted these two hotels side by side…and the price difference was even greater – $600 per night – albeit for dates two months apart.)
The Ritz –
Now the Ritz is the Ritz! The aura of exclusivity alone gives one license to do some serious name dropping – to say nonchalantly to fellow worker bees at the office -“Prince William and Kate were so disappointed that we had to depart early, but a lovely suite awaited us at the Ritz.”
The room at the Ritz was a ‘Deluxe Partial Oceanview’ with private balcony overlooking the pool area. (I was so excited when I read that, having never before seen a “partial ocean”.)
A very informative and personable bellman escorted us to a well-appointed room of about 375 sq. ft. – spotlessly clean, elegantly decorated – with a bathroom that seemed carved whole from a solid block of marble.
Surprisingly, there were a couple of glitches that one would not expect in a hotel of Ritz caliber.
Every other time the toilet was flushed it would run continuously – until the back was opened up and the little valve thing-a-ma-jiggy was tapped.
The shower was huge – beautiful to behold, made of floor to ceiling etched glass – but it leaked. Anyone going to the toilet area within an hour or two of a shower needed hip waders to stay dry.
And, lastly, one of two telephones – the cordless one on the desk – did not work. Checking plugs, connections and much pushing of random buttons did not remedy the situation.
The front desk was told of these little annoyances on the first day of a three-day stay and we were informed that a maintenance person would be “sent right up”. When we checked out on Sunday none of the three issues had been addressed.
Bottom line on the Ritz –
You would think that a hotel brand obsessed with perfection – and priced accordingly – would never allow such aforementioned room malfunctions to persist. Otherwise, the Ritz Carlton South Beach is a lovely little boutique hotel located smack dab middle of all the SOBE action. Great restaurants, night clubs and upscale shops populate the blocks surrounding the hotel. The staff is very well trained, knowledgeable and friendly. The hotel has direct beach access. It is the place to be for SOBE hipsters, or wannabe jet-setting hipsters (Pretense aside, this is no longer my tribe…my ‘jet’ done ‘set’ a long time ago).
The Hilton Ft. Lauderdale Beach Resort –
Three days after leaving the Ritz we checked in to the Hilton for a two-night, pre-cruise stay. Where the South Beach Ritz fronted the beach, the Hilton was across Ft. Lauderdale Beach Blvd from the beach. The Hilton lobby was beautiful, of similar size and decor to the Ritz – but with room location layout much easier to comprehend. (Somehow we managed to get lost trying to return to our room at the Ritz. This was in spite of a very chatty bellman as escort, who insisted on demonstrating how each and every little button and light switch worked. In hindsight, we should have left a trail of breadcrumbs when leaving the room…and have asked the bellman to do a test flush of the toilet.)
The Hilton room was a Junior Suite – comprising a living room with couch, desk , large flat screen TV, kitchenette and balcony with sliding glass door – plus a separate bedroom with king bed, a second TV and another balcony with glass door (see “balcony view” image). The two-room suite was spacious, spotlessly clean, very contemporary in decor and – I’m guessing here – around 600 sq. ft. combined.
Bottom line on the Hilton –
What was missing from the Hilton experience relative to the Ritz? Well, we didn’t have the chatty, oh-so-informative escort to our room – although I’m sure that would have been an option had we requested it. Bragging rights were reduced by one rating star. We had to cross the boulevard to get to the beach. That “partial ocean” was nowhere to be seen – instead we had a beautiful view of the Atlantic. Food and service were the equal of the Ritz and the staff equally congenial, if not a bit more so.
So, if this had been a “blind tasting” with brand names hidden, how would we assign the respective $599 and $299 price tags? While both stays were highly enjoyable, very upscale – it is a tough call – however, I would assign the higher price tag to the Hilton Ft. Lauderdale Beach Resort experience.
Let me leave you with an interesting question. How much does brand name alone influence experience…and perceived value? How much extra are you – or your clients – willing to pay for that distinction?
Me? I’m conflicted.