Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
A relaxed, downtown approach to luxury
If Shakespeare's Hamlet were pondering Boston's luxury hotels, he might say "the Ritz or the Four Seasons: That is the question." It's hard to talk about the Ritz and not compare it to the Four Seasons. And, with the opening of the Mandarin Oriental Boston, there's a new fancy kid on the block to add to the discussion.
With a downtown location and less formal service, the Ritz-Carlton Boston Common offers a more urban, relaxed approach to luxury, as opposed to the Four Seasons' old-fashioned feel and the Mandarin's modern Asian touches. With just 193 rooms -- a relatively small number for a Ritz-Carlton -- it offers a lovely intimacy. Front desk staff and concierge are quick with smiles and offers of free bottled water as guests come and go. Check-in takes place sitting down, creating a relaxing atmosphere from the start. But it's less than relaxing later when calls from the room to the front desk and concierge go unanswered, as they did repeatedly when I visited.
A massive, $11-million renovation in 2008 refurbished all rooms and some common areas. There are unique touches, especially for a Ritz, throughout, from the $1 million worth of modern works by local artists decorating the lobby and 2nd floor to the peacock feathers sitting in bud vases outside each room in the lacewood halls. But, it's still the Ritz, and room decor, though elegant, is slightly bland, as it is at the Four Seasons. The Mandarin's brand new rooms best them both with a muted Zen aesthetic and amazing bathrooms.
In 2012, the Ritz's lobby had a major facelift and also gained the Avery Bar to the area. Design is much more streamlined and modern, but is not without warmth. Featuring a fireplace, wood paneling, and dark color palate, the new lobby and bar possess a stylish but comfortable elegance. This vibe continues throughout the new restaurant, Artisan Bistro.
The three properties' amenities further differentiate them. The Ritz's claim to features fame is access to the Sports Club/LA, one of the city's best gyms that's located right in the building. Sadly, guests have to pay to use it. Meanwhile, the Four Seasons has its own great pool with food service and views of the Public Garden, and the Mandarin has an amazing on-site spa.
Ultimately, with the occasional service issue, the Ritz experience isn't quite as seamless as the Four Seasons, but some may prefer the Ritz's more relaxed feel. It may not be the best hotel in Boston (we'd give that to the Four Seasons, or, time telling the new Mandarin Oriental), but it's still a reliable luxury option.
Plenty of services, but inconsistent delivery
Check-in takes place sitting down at the front desk, and I was offered a bottle of water -- nice. From there, things went downhill. My room was already turned down when I came in, even though it was just after 1 p.m. I alerted the front desk to this when they called to see how I liked the room. They apologized, but didn't do anything else. Since I'd already expressed disappointment at not getting the bed arrangement I wanted, I couldn't help but wish they'd made some sort of gesture -- say sending up a fruit basket -- to make me happier.
My calls to the concierge desk went unanswered multiple times. When I tried to call housekeeping one morning, I got a voicemail. This was especially annoying as guest room phones have buttons for the concierge and housekeeping and the restaurant, but nothing for reaching the front desk or generic guest help. Quite a few times during my stay, I ended up pressing "0" to reach an operator for help.
Centrally located downtown, just off the Boston Common
The Ritz is centrally located in downtown Boston, with its front entrance less than a block from the Boston Common, the city's 52-acre central park. It's a fairly lively area just a few blocks from Chinatown and the Theater District and scattered with Emerson University's buildings, but it's not as fancy as the Four Seasons' location in the tony Back Bay area. Still, the two hotels are only a five-minute walk apart, and the Ritz has some top suites with beautiful park views. Also, there are three T stops (Boston's subway system) (Downtown, Chinatown, and Boylston) nearby, each no more than a five-minute walk. The hotel's surrounding blocks are lined with bars, Irish pubs, Chinese restaurants, steakhouses, and seafood joints. Handily, the hotel is just around the corner from the 19-screen Loews Theatres Boston Common, which is available for videoconferencing or simply movie-going.
Understated decor and lots of space
Large rooms deliver the tasteful elegance you expect from the Ritz, but there's little wow factor (for that, try the Mandarin Oriental, which has the best rooms in the city). Decorated in shades of cream and light blue with cherry wood furniture, decor at the Ritz is soothing but not thrilling (just as it is at the Four Seasons). A peacock feather in a bud vase outside each room adds a welcome surprise, however, and at 425 square feet, standard rooms are spacious for the city and slightly larger than those at both the Four Seasons (375 square feet) and Mandarin Oriental (400 square feet).
Access to one of the city's best gyms, but it'll cost you
The hotel's own features are a bit limited, but the Ritz-Carlton makes up for that with direct access to one of the city's best gyms, the Sports Club/LA Boston (yes, the name is confusing). Too bad there's a $15-per-day charge to use the 114,000-square-foot gym, something no one at the hotel ever mentioned to me. Extra costs aside, the gym is a beauty, with dozens of fitness classes, squash courts, an Olympic pool, and its own spa and salon. It's also easily accessed via the same elevator that ferries guests to their rooms. For more about the sports club, check out their website. If you want a hotel with its own lovely gym and pool you don't have to pay to use, the Four Seasons is the choice.
Pets up to sixty pounds allowed
There's a nonrefundable per stay fee for four-legged guests. Pet amenities like bowls and beds are provided. A location less than a block from the Boston Common is great for dog walkers.
A great luxury pick for families
With spacious guest rooms, child-friendly seasonal activities, and access to the day care program at the Sports Club/LA, the Ritz has plenty to offer families.
A thoroughly clean hotel
There are no cleanliness issues here; rooms and public areas are well maintained.
A new restaurant and bar are not destination spots unto themselves, yet
Opening in 2012, the Artisan Bistro is a complete design departure from its predecessor, Jer-Ne. Akin to the renovations to the lobby, the restaurant is now much more modern in design, featuring a large bar area, clean lines, modern decor. The food focusess on fresh, local ingredients and seasonal fare, resulting in familiar dishes that are prepared well and visually pleasing, as well. The bar features numerous microbrews and a seperate Bloody Mary menu. The vibe is stylish, but relaxed.
The Avery Bar in the hotel lobby also opened in 2012. Design is much more streamlined and modern, but is not without warmth. Featuring a fireplace, wood paneling, and dark color palate, the new lobby and bar possess a stylish but comfortable elegance.
With no celebrity chef or big accolades, the Ritz's renovations continue to ably satiates hotel guests, but are also seeking to put themselves on the map in Boston. While still not a Boston institution like the Four Seasons' Bristol Lounge nor in possession of a James Beard Award like the Mandarin Oriental's L'Espalier,the Artisan Bistro is still a step up from its generic predecessor.
The Ritz is flexible and accommodating regarding weddings, but for a pretty penny.
The Boston Ritz-Carlton is refreshingly intimate with spacious, luxurious standard rooms and access, for a fee, to one of the city's best gyms, with its own spa, salon, and pool. But it doesn't thrill stylewise, service is uneven, and the restaurant is unremarkable.