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The resort for all seasons, Ritz-Carlton Sarasota

By Philip Sokol
Director of Operations

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Spring break, summer vacation, winter recess, long weekends. Where to go on vacation? It's a nagging question when you're trying to find that perfect place to get away for a few days or longer with the family.

Well, the answer is quite simple - Florida, and more specifically, The Ritz- Carlton Sarasota.

From the moment you drive onto the property, you realize you're in a special place, a distinctive resort that treats you just like family.

And family is what The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota is all about. The "Ritz Kids" program is so personalized and energetic that your children will not want to leave. We'll return to this feature a bit later, but first, an introduction is in order.

Upon arrival at The Ritz-Carlton, you're greeted by the most accommodating and outgoing staff that you have ever met. "The personal touch" is what they call it, and it lives up its billing. From the moment you walk in, it's like they've known you for years. The staff, from top to bottom, is courteous, helpful and polished, which is something that never gets tiresome. Resorts all around the world should take notice. This is not rocket science. This is common sense. Taking care of your guests and their needs...genius.

Moving on to the hotel. The facility is immaculate from head to toe, luxury at its best. For starters, 266 deluxe guest rooms, including 22 suites with views of the bay, marina and city skyline. The amenities and features are what you would expect of a Ritz-Carlton and more. Should you decide to take it up a notch, then The Ritz-Carlton Club Level is for you. Located in the heart of the hotel on the seventh and eighth floors, the Club Level is only accessible with a special key. Your own personal concierge and staff, five daily complimentary food and beverage offerings, including continental breakfast, light lunch and the ever-popular cocktails and cordials in the evening. By the way, if bigger is better for you, then it's the Sarasota Bay Suite, a two- bedroom suite, or the mega, 2,500-square-foot Ritz-Carlton Suite on the ninth floor.

Then, there are the residences at The Ritz-Carlton. Fifty units on the top eight floors of the hotel and 80 additional units at the Tower Residences, which are adjacent to the hotel. There are also 88 residences situated at The Members Beach Club on Lido Key, just a few minutes away.

And we've only just begun.

The "things to do" list at The Ritz-Carlton seems endless. From the Beach Club, to the Spa and Fitness Center, Tom Fazio-designed championship golf, tennis, heated hotel pool, not to mention the outstanding Sarasota-area attractions.

Let's begin with a program that is near and dear to my family, the "Ritz Kids" activity program at The Members Beach Club. Just like most parents, my wife and I are quite protective of our son. So much so, that in his six years, we have only used a sitter a half-dozen times. With that in mind, we were quite nervous about leaving him for 3-7 hours at a time.

"Ritz Kids" is a supervised camp, with fully trained counselors who are certified in First Aid, CPR and water safety. The program is designed for children aged 5 through 12, offering many exciting activities, such as arts and crafts, face painting, water balloon bowling, beach scavenger hunts, sandcastle building, pool and beach fun and much, much more. There are half- day (9 a.m. to noon or 1 to 4 p.m.) and full-day sessions (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.). The "Kids Night Out" is as exhilarating as the daytime activities, with karaoke, dancing and a raucous good time.

To say that my son had a wonderful time would be the greatest understatement of the year. So much so, that he was upset when we had to leave. In such a short period of time, he bonded with the staff, was singing and dancing and participating in all activities. That, as they say, is priceless.

Moving on to golf at The Ritz-Carlton Members Club. Opened less than a year ago, this 7,400 yard extravaganza is a perfect compliment to the resort. With six sets of tees, the Members Club is suitable for all golfers, not just the scratch player.

Master golf course architect Tom Fazio has carved a gem out of the Florida farm and wetlands, as he moved almost 2 million cubic yards of earth. With quite a large landscape budget, Fazio created some unique elevation changes, uncommon to the region.

For a complete review, go to:
The Ritz-Carlton Members Club.

How about a little pampering?

The Spa Club at The Ritz-Carlton is not to be believed, and your body will never be the same. From a Mink Oil Bath or Oceanic Body Cocktail, the Balneotherapy and Thalassotherapy treatments are quite relaxing, to say the least.

Picking which spa treatment is right for you can be confusing, since there are 13 different Massage Therapies to chose from. Hot Stone Therapy or a Couple's Massage, or how about Four Hands. That's right, two therapists performing a full body Swedish massage.

Then there's Body Treatments. The Dead Sea Salt Glow or the Mineral Force Revitalizer are just a couple of the amazing ways to pamper your body.

Let's not forget about skin care. Although you must be 18 years old or older to experience the Spa Club, no one can go without the Anti-Aging and Firming treatment. Ninety minutes to fight the effects of time and restore beauty. Some of us, including yours truly, would need this more than once. Facials and waxing are also available.

There's also manicures, pedicures, makeup applications and of course, hair styling for the whole family.

It comes as no surprise that Mobil Travel Guide named The Members Spa Club at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, one of "America's Best Hotel and Resort Spas" for 2005.

The food scene at The Ritz-Carlton is, in a word, "scrumptious." The center piece is the Vernona restaurant. Decorated in Italian flair, the restaurant was named for the Hotel El Vernona, which was built on the site of The Ritz- Carlton back in 1926. The Vernona continues the tradition of the Sarasota society scene with its outstanding fare and wonderful ambience.

Just some of the awards won are: AAA Four Diamond Dining Award for 2006; Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence for 2006 and finalist in Sarasota magazine's Annual "Best of the Best" Readers' Poll 2006: Best Brunch; Best Breakfast; Best Restaurant to propose and Best Restaurant to Seal the Deal.

For outdoor and casual dining, there's the Bay View Bar & Grill, and for those dessert hounds, the Boutique Chocolat, featuring coffees, teas and of course, gourmet pastries made fresh each morning.

Another key ingredient to the experience at The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota is the Members Beach Club. Just three miles from the hotel on Lido Key on the Gulf of Mexico, the Beach Club is a fantastic sanctuary off the beaten track.

Start off with complimentary transportation to and from the hotel, followed by white sand beaches, waterfront swimming pool, the aforementioned "Ritz Kids" program and all the amenities that you could ever want. The waterfront pool is heated with simple walk-in access, specifically designed for the younger guests. There's even an oversized whirlpool and private kids' pool area.

The Beach Club Grill serves lunch and dinner overlooking the pool and of course, the sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico. There's even a pool bar and grill with beach service. That's right, the Beach Club has its own private beach for hotel guests.

The food at the Beach Club is outstanding, from a succulent duck breast to Chilean seabass, or how about a grilled American bison tenderloin with chile spiked organic blue corn grits, wild mushrooms and tarragon emulsion. We would be remiss not to mention an opening course of Florida stone crab claws, West Indies barbecue beef ribs or crispy banana and coconut shrimp. Just some of the many tantalizing morsels for consumption.

If you decide to venture away from your home base, then downtown Sarasota, or better yet, St. Armand's Circle is the place for you. With well over 150 shops and restaurants, the Circle is a great destination to relax and explore some of the fine establishments of the region. From craft festivals and outdoor concerts to sidewalk sales and boat shows, St. Armand's Circle has it all.

When all is said and done, what will it take to convince yourself that The Ritz-Carlton should be your destination?

Consider what Sarasota and The Ritz-Carlton have to offer. Everything at your fingertips...wonderful child care...outstanding fare...amenities galore and service at the highest level. The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota is like having your own personal genie in a bottle. Your wish is their command.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Philip Sokol at psokol@sportsnetwork.com.

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