Naples' 38-year-old crown jewel has another spring in its step thanks to a $100-million renovation.
All corners of the spiraling family pool were humming. Gracious, uniformed attendants presented ravenous kids their french fries, and their thirsty parents giant daiquiris with pineapples for cups. The game lawn was just as lively, with fierce cornhole games and sign-up events, including a stuffed animal-making workshop (for the kids) and a water balloon toss (also for the kids, but an adult or two managed to sneak in). A made-to-order guacamole cart showed up by the entrance to the beach, as did a carnival-esque popcorn machine, candy-cane striped and cheerful. A tie-dye class was held indoors — but who wanted to leave the party?
Indeed, there were so many fun, whimsical activities during the course of our four-night vacation at the Ritz-Carlton, Naples, I turned to my husband and asked, only slightly kidding: “Are we really at a Ritz-Carlton?”
The resort is a 38-year-old crown jewel for the legacy hotel brand, which operates a string of marquee properties in Florida. But legacy today doesn’t signal starched shirts or stuffy service. In fact, this is a 474-room hive of activity along the Gulf Coast, so welcoming to groups and families that it feels more like a relaxed country club than a hotel.
With relatives living close by, I’ve stayed and dined here several times and can attest: the Ritz-Carlton comes alive during “season,” the period from roughly November through April when snowbirds, primarily from the Midwest, fly south to escape the cold. If you’re just here for a vacation, expect to see plenty of these seasonal locals, celebrating weddings or anniversary dinners with Champagne toasts. The sugar-soft beach is a safe, quiet space for everyone to build sandcastles, read the latest paperback, and splash in the cool, gentle Gulf waters.
And now, thanks to a $100-million renovation post-Hurricane Ian, the resort has another spring in its step. The giant overhaul includes the new Vanderbilt Tower, a 14-story addition that seamlessly connects to the original, Italianate-inspired structure. You truly can’t tell what’s old or new: it all sparkles with a coastal, airy vibe, thanks to architect Cooper Carry and Boston-based Parker Torres Design. Thankfully, some things have stayed the same. Gumbo Limbo, a casual waterside restaurant that sits on wooden stilts among the mangroves, remains one of the hottest reservations in town.
There are 474 rooms with contemporary, nautical palettes, the smallest being a very generous 434 square feet. All have coastal or oceanfront views, balconies, and marble bathrooms, most with just a spacious shower stall. Post-renovation, many of the old “standard” rooms were combined to make larger suites, satisfying the needs of today’s family traveler. My family of three stayed in a one-bedroom suite, which came with a generous living room, an easy-to-navigate coffee maker, and a bathtub — amazing for my son, who still enjoys a long soak. (If you’re a tub lover, request one of the 150 suites or queen-bedded rooms.) Grasscloth headboards and built-in bedside reading lamps give the rooms an upscale, residential vibe — as do the full-size bottles of Diptyque amenities, a lovely little luxury.
The new Vanderbilt Tower houses 70 “club floor” suites, which provide access to the 4,000-square-foot club at its base: Think of it as a special concierge area, or a separate hotel within the hotel. This is the largest Ritz-Carlton club floor in North America, and I was impressed by both the dedicated service (say hi to Esmeralda, who has worked at the resort for over 20 years) as well as the four daily buffet presentations. Here’s a sampling: crisp bacon, scrambled eggs, and muesli at breakfast; turkey club sandwiches, hummus, and crudités at lunch; and fresh crab, lobster, and made-to-order risotto at dinner. A cookie bar, conveniently located at the front of the club, is a delight — as is the full-service bar, where complimentary Champagne tastings are sometimes held, no sign-up required.
Food and Drink
With eight restaurants and bars on site, including formal steakhouse The Grill, sleek sushi spot Dusk, and casual coffeehouse Moka, you won’t have to go far for a meal. But winging it without a reservation is not a smart strategy: since locals often pop in, a good table can be hard to come by. We always look forward to a margarita with a side of sweeping Gulf views at the Sand Bar (an intimate spot that operates on a wooden pier leading to the Gulf). For more of a sitdown experience, there’s neighboring Gumbo Limbo. The signature dish? Sweet-and-savory coconut shrimp, which one dedicated kitchen staff member prepares — all 1,500 of them — daily. This casual restaurant is as close as it comes to a toes-in-the-sand environment. And when the pier bell rings to signal that sundown has officially arrived, you feel that all is right in the world.
Sofra, which sits below the base of the Vanderbilt Tower, is the sneaky, quietly good newcomer, focusing on Mediterranean-inspired dishes. Chef Johann Piscoya’s menu incorporates lots of local vegetables and feels lighter, more appropriate for the beach. We ordered several shareable plates and dove right in: think creamy hummus, spiked with onion crisps; a local heirloom tomato salad with barrel-aged feta; grilled sea bream, perfectly salted and slathered with a thin paste of garlic; and vegetarian manti, buttery dumplings bathed in yogurt, tomato sauce, garlic and mint butter.
Experiences and Amenities
It’s all about the water. The sunny family pool, upgraded with the renovation, gets busy (pro tip: go early to claim a lounger), but you can find quiet by renting one of the new 10 air-conditioned bungalows that ring the space. All named for Florida islands, the bungalows come with private baths, TVs, mini-bars stocked with water and soft drinks — and a dedicated butler for ordering snacks and cocktails. We rented one for the day, and ordered burgers, watched college football, and relished having a cozy place to warm up when the sun would dip behind the clouds.
The two new pools enhance the guest choice and provide a different environment. The adults-only pool, which has “cool off” lounge chairs built in, just below the shallow water, feels like a little oasis away from the shrieks and splashing; for an outdoor workout, check out the lap pool, which tends to get the least use. The 51,000 square-foot-spa and fitness center, spread out over three levels and anchored by a huge, spiral staircase, is another highlight of the property. What it lacks in intimacy (with 32 treatment rooms, the waiting area becomes busy during peak hours) it more than makes up for in the breadth of treatments and the expertise of the therapists. I tried a “Sea Holistic” massage, which incorporated herbal poultices and a light scrub, made of local salt. You can add things like a scalp massage or dry skin brushing for a cost to any treatment. In need of a workout? The fitness center is open 24-hours a day and has personal trainers, upon request. If that isn’t enough, the neighboring Ritz Carlton Naples, Tiburón, accessible via a complimentary shuttle, provides access to two Greg Norman-designed golf-courses and a family-friendly water recreation area, with three waterslides and a winding river.
The resort has wide hallways, large elevators, and a grand lobby, free of furniture in the entryway; there are 59 ADA-compliant rooms, including suites, coastal and oceanfront guest rooms. All restaurants and bars at the resort are ADA compliant.
The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, is located directly on the beach with easy, public access to the Gulf of Mexico. For an evening out, Fifth Avenue South – home to elevated restaurants, bars, and shops, is just a quick 10-minute drive away, as is Waterside Shops, an outdoor mall with boutiques like Tory Burch, Louis Vuitton, and a nice-sized Saks Fifth Avenue. Focusing on the plants of the tropics, the wonderful Naples Botanical Garden has extensive grounds, with ADA-compliant pathways. In case of a rainy day or when you need to take a break from the beach, the Naples Zoo; the Naples Train Museum; and the Naples Players theater are all smart options.
How to Get the Most Value Out of Your Stay
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