No on-site fitness center; daily fee for nearby Sports Club/LA
Parking, by valet only, is pricey.
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.
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.
While the Ritz takes a more casual approach to service than the Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental, that sometimes translates to inadequate service.
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.
Guests are asked at check-in what newspaper they'd like in the morning, something that doesn't happen at the Four Seasons. There's a choice between USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, but they delivered when I asked for the New York Times.
There's a house car, but its hours are quite limited compared to the cars at the Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental.
Doormen and porters are helpful and congenial, but not ever-present.
Concierge on duty during the day., not 24 hours like the hotel website says
Twice daily housekeeping and evening turndown with bottled water and both dark and milk chocolates
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.
The nearest stop on the T, Boylston Street on the Green Line and Chinatown on the Orange Line, are just over a block away.
Faneuil Hall, a historic marketplace and modern day mall, is 0.7 miles away, 10 to 15 minutes by foot or via public transportation.
The Boston Common and the start of the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile path that passes through 16 of the city's historic landmarks, is half a block away.
Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox, is a 10- to 15-minute drive away.
Harvard Square in Cambridge is across the Charles River, about 20 minutes away via public transportation
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).
Standard rooms (425 square feet), called Deluxe Rooms, have one king or two double beds
Luxurious beds with Frette linens, down featherbed and comforters
37-inch LG flat-screen TVs have about 40 cable channels, including HBO and a handful of international channels like Al Jazeera; a few are in HD. For the best entertainment options around, including 13 free movie channels, Blu Ray DVD players, and a DVD library, head to the Mandarin
Dozens of movies, many in HD, are available for purchase via LodgeNet on demand; "Just Missed TV" is limited to PBS Kids, Disney on Demand and free exercise and golf tips.
Desks have a nice strip of outlets and chairs on either side, allowing them to function as tables.
Both wired and wireless Internet available for a fee, purchase includes a roaming password for connecting throughout the hotel (free Wi-Fi in the lobby)
Lovely bathrooms (better than the Four Seasons, not quite as amazing as the Mandarin Oriental's) with Bvlgari toiletries, separate showers, deep soaking tubs, separate toilet stalls, marble, plush towels, robes, and classy little extras like a jewelry holder and Ritz-Carlton-branded nail polish remover wipes.
Deluxe rooms with city views are available, for an extra fee per night, but only the top suites have park views.
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.
Access to Sports Club/LA Boston for a fee
Not one but two free, 24-hour business centers. The lobby level center has just one computer, a printer, and a paper shredder -- tiny but elegant with wood-paneled walls and nice lighting. A 2nd-floor center, amid the hotel's meeting spaces, has two computers and a massive color laser jet printer.
The hotel's bath menu allows guest to order specially themed baths drawn by a personal attendant in their room. Options include a "Boston Tea Party Bath" with lavender, natural sea salts and cup of herbal tea and the "Isn't It Romantic" with scented bubbles, rose petals, champagne, and strawberries.
On-site serviceable restaurant and bar, but neither are destinations unto themselves
The 19-screen Loews Theatres Boston Common is next door to the hotel and available for videoconferencing.
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.
Deluxe Rooms with two double beds available; Deluxe King and Deluxe Double Rooms can be adjoined.
Free cribs and rollaway beds; rollaways can fit in standard rooms.
Half a block from the Boston Common, where swan boats are available in summer, and ice skating in winter
In-room dining has a kids' menu with options like a "no crust" peanut butter and jelly sandwich and hot chocolate
24-hour in-room dining includes a build-you-own pizza option and "movie time" snacks like freshly buttered popcorn
The Gallery, in the lobby, regularly hosts seasonal kid-friendly activities like a "Ho Ho Holiday Cupcake Tea" and a "Nutcracker Brunch"
At check-in, kids get a scavenger hunt and are given a prize if they complete it; the front desk also has a wagon full of toys for kids.
The hotel doesn't have a pool of its own (unlike the Four Seasons), but the adjoining Sports Club/LA does. However, it's only open to families on Sunday between noon and 3 p.m. Kids can swim for free, but accompanying adults must pay the standard fee per day to use the sports club.
Sports Club/LA has an extensive children's program that hotel guests can use for children ages three months to 8 years old. There's both drop-off day camp offered and classes for kids, both of which are affordable, like "HipHop Kids" and "Crafternoon."
The bath menu features a "Make Way for Ducklings" bath geared towards children (or adults wanting to connect with their inner child) with a rubber duck, hot cocoa or chocolate milk, and homemade cookies.
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.
24-hour in-room dining with a build-you-own pizza option and "movie time" snacks like buttered popcorn
The lobby Gallery doesn't typically serve food, but it has occasional special events like Sunday tea and Christmas Day brunch.
In-room minibars have a standard selection of liquor and snacks like Pringles and Grey Goose vodka
The Ritz is flexible and accommodating regarding weddings, but for a pretty penny.
Wedding Size: Up to 210 guests; two weddings may occur at once
Extra Fees: There is a site fee for both the ceremony and reception space, as well as extra fees for just about everything. For the most part, this is a venue for couples who don't need to watch the bill too closely.
Ceremony and Reception Locations: While the main ballroom does overlook the park, the spaces look much more modern than other leading venues in Boston. The hotel has two large "double spaces" (The Ballroom and Studio or the Washington Room and the Hamilton Room) for weddings at either end of the hotel. Each has its own separate coat check and bathrooms, so there is no shared space if two weddings are taking place at once.
Food and Drinks: The Ritz, in general, focuses on organic and seasonal ingredients to create a French-inspired New England cuisine, such as sole roulade with lobster filling in a chive emulsion. However, you can speak with the chef to create your own custom menu. For drinks, you can either go with a flat-rate "open bar" or open up a tab and pay per drink. Kids', kosher, vegetarian, and gluten-free menus are also available upon request.
Cakes: The pricing starts at an especially steep per person rate, and varies depending on flavor, size, and decoration.
Spa Treatments: The hotel is connected to the Mar Harris Spa and Salon.
Honeymoon Suite: The bride and groom generally get a free suite for their wedding night.
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