Less attentive service than at other Ritz-Carltons
The Ritz-Carlton is St. Thomas' classiest resort, located only five minutes from Red Hook's fun dining and yacht scene. Its private sailboat, fitness center, spa, and soft-sand beach -- a marine-life sanctuary -- are all among the best in St. Thomas. But the food and service don't compare to swankier Ritzs elsewhere.
This Ritz is the most exquisite place in St. Thomas, but that isn't saying much. The main draw? It's on a marine-life reserve, which makes it ideal for scuba diving and snorkeling.
In terms of service and food, the coral- and terracotta-toned Ritz in St. Thomas doesn't stand up to most Ritzs elsewhere (like the Rose Hall Ritz in Jamaica). It is, without doubt, the fanciest place on the island -- marble floors, Grecian columns, thriving orchids, giant French doors, intricate chandeliers, and antique urns scattered throughout the massive, open-air property -- but then again its only real competition comes from the less-expensive Frenchman's Reef Marriott. Its only real advantage over the Marriott is its poolside and beachside drink service, the balconies in the standard rooms, and its location -- it has a somewhat better stretch of beach and closer access to the dining in Red Hook.
What differentiates this Ritz from the others (and the rest of the hotels in St. Thomas, for that matter) is that it is located on a protected marine-life reserve, meaning that it is near some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in the U.S. Virgin Islands. In hopes of achieving an exotic, international look, the hotel imported trees from around the world. Among them are the strangely out-of-place African sausage trees and the more common coconut palms (which are less common on the island). Wooden plaques around the property identify the flora. But its in-house beauty really can't compare to that at the Caneel Bay resort, which is located along seven isolated beaches inside a national park.
Off the Ritz's central building -- which includes the lobby, reception desk, jewelry store, and gift shops -- the 180 guest rooms are set inside a collection of sprawling, flower-named buildings (I stayed in the Begonia building). Employees have golf carts to get around the property, but guests typically have a long, 10-minute walk to the beach, the pool, the restaurants, and anywhere else -- not ideal for guests with young children or mobility challenges. Though staff members occasionally stop to offer a lift, I found this rarely reliable (especially at night). Many times, they'd drive right past me.
Honeymooners, families, retirees -- the Ritz is big, so most groups don't have to directly interact. Generally, guests need to make their own fun. Like most Ritzs, the nightlife is scarce and most guests are off to bed by midnight. Live entertainment is rare. Also, as the hotel is a prime wedding destination, sections of the resort -- like the Sails restaurant by the beach -- often close for wedding receptions.
Employees are polite enough, but many of them don't exhibit the fantastic service for which the Ritz is known -- common, for the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The service keeps up the Ritz-style appearances -- you'll be welcomed on arrival with a mango-tango rum punch and a porter to help you with your bags. But in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where service anywhere tends to be a bit less enthused, the greeting from the Ritz might feel a bit stale -- begrudged smiles and a mumbled "good af-er-noon." Unlike the Ritz-Carlton in Rose Hall, Jamaica or in Key Biscayne, Miami, the St. Thomas Ritz was far less warm, friendly, attentive, or even polite. Most veteran Ritz-guests agree -- it's nice service, but not Ritz-nice.
Still, there are some extraordinary employees. At the Great Bay Lounge, the bartender offered to make me a drink about two hours before the bar opened. At the pool, the towel-tent employees offer to spray guests with sunscreen. Some guests praise the constant service on the beach, where employees offer sliced fruit and rum shots (but I didn't witness anything like that while I was there).
The beach has some of the best snorkeling on St. Thomas, but its shores tend to get crowded early in the day.
Located on Great Bay (a protected marine-life sanctuary), the beach at the Ritz is exclusive, clean, and has some of the best snorkeling in St. Thomas. But like many Ritzs the world over, guests need to wake up early to get a lounge chair. Though stacked shoulder to shoulder, there are still never enough.
Soft sand and gentle waves
Guests can sail to nearby islands on the Ritz-owned Lady Lindsay sailboat; the popular "sunset sail" offers gourmet appetizers and an open bar for $80 per person.
Nonmotorized water sports -- like windsurfing and kayaking -- are free for all guests (included as part of the $55 resort fee).
The Patagon scuba-diving center hosts daily excursions, training, and even kids' diving programs around the island.
Large, comfortable, modern guest rooms -- but the walls are thin
The rooms are large and have marble floors, intricate, dark-wood furnishings and uniform, gold palm-patterned rugs, curtains, and bedspreads. Generic by design, the Ritz's rooms won't win any style awards, but they certainly have comfort down pat.
Rooms start at a comfortable 450 square feet -- a bit larger than the rooms at the Frenchman's Reef Marriott (but not by much).
The Ritz is incredibly clean, but it shows more wear than one might expect from this brand.
This Ritz is immaculate, at least to the minimum extent that guests expect from the Ritz-Carlton brand. But the St. Thomas Ritz is a little less polished than others I've been to. Bathroom faucets show obvious wear. Some fountains dribble from the molded lion's head. There were a few neglected ashtrays outside the rooms. But on the whole, the hotel is remarkably clean.
Also, it's worth noting that like many resorts in the U.S. Virgin Islands, there are plenty of cats running around the property, occasionally begging for food. To correct the problem, the resort keeps cat food dishes around the property. To some, these cats are a cute addition to the resort family; to others, they're a nusance.
Food at the Ritz is the most expensive in St. Thomas. It's certainly decent, but you can find a better meal (at a better price) in Red Hook, five minutes away.
To some, the Ritz has the best cuisine in St. Thomas. Others argue that Havana Blue at the Marriott has better, more interesting food (though I disagree). Havana Blue has the style, sure, and a better wine list, but its fusion cuisine is fairly bland and often, poorly prepared. That said, the "better restaurant" is a toss-up. At both the Ritz and the Marriott, the food is fairly ordinary, overpriced, and underserviced. For better food, I suggest venturing five minutes away to Red Hook (check out the Poet's bistro, among others).
The Ritz, however, easily holds the title for most expensive food in St. Thomas. Dinner for two at Bleuwater can cost as much as $140, and that's without drinks! Even a breakfast for two people, if you both oder the cheapest items on the menu, can cost about $54. Like any Ritz-Carlton, the food is pricey, but the quality of the food here doesn't come close to the quality of food at other Caribbean Ritzs, like the one in Rose Hall, Jamaica.
For breakfast, the Ritz has a top-notch buffet at the Bleuwater restaurant -- most guests love the crepes.
For lunch, you can dine at the Sails restaurant, which is by the infinity pool and the beach and has some tasty sandwiches and salads at comparatively fair prices.
Coconut Cove, on the resort's time-share edge of the property (a long hike from the traditional resort), serves similar food as Sails.
For dinner, the Great Bay Lounge serves subpar (for the price) sushi and other Asian fare.