You know what you’re getting at the Ritz and this one is no exception. In a spectacular building and with a great location, it more than lives up to its famous name.
Philadelphia is a place we know well. Chris’ family live in the city and across the Delaware River in New Jersey, so we make a point of trying to visit at least once a year. We had some time in our schedule just before Christmas so we made our way over there to catch up with the relatives. It was a good time to be there as the city was just beginning to light up for the festive season. To be honest though, I am happy to be there at any time really - the center has such a cool east coast feel with its historic buildings and tall skyscrapers. It has a busy atmosphere which I sometimes miss back home in San Francisco.
Both of us are also big fans of the Ritz-Carlton hotel group, and we always stay in their hotels when we can. So during our visit, we knew we had to check out the The Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia. Th hotel is located in the heart of the city, right next to city hall -- so you can’t really get more central than this! It is within walking distance of famous landmarks such as the Liberty Bell and Washington Square. Of course, this means it is also very well connected, and it is easy to get to via subway, train, or bus. If you are traveling with luggage however, our recommendation is to take a taxi – it’s just easier!
As any American school kid will tell you, Philadelphia is famous for the prominent role it has played in US history. From the very beginning it was one of the most important cities in the Thirteen Colonies, and amongst other things, it was where the declaration of independence was written and home to Benjamin Franklin. Thanks to this rich heritage, the city is full of beautiful old buildings of historic importance. It is no museum however. The city center bustles with activity and is home to busy shopping malls, lively bars and world class restaurants.
The oldest part of the city is up against the Delaware river and as you move west you reach the modern part of the center. This is where the Ritz-Carlton is located on the busy Avenue of the Arts. Immediately you are struck by the impressive facade with its huge columns and imposing portico. This grand entrance and the welcoming bellman make sure that you know you’ve arrived at the Ritz.
It looks like something out of ancient Rome, and it is a product of the trend for neo-classical architecture that came in after the Chicago world fair. Built between 1904 and 1908, it was originally used as a bank and was only converted into a hotel in the year 2000. The lobby is almost impossibly grand with more marble columns lining the edges of the large open space. It is crowned with a dome – over 101 feet across – which was the largest in the western hemisphere when it was built. It is my favorite part of the hotel and absolutely stunning to stand in. Last year the hotel underwent a $25 million renovation which gave it a new restaurant (located underneath the dome), as well as a new club lounge and new rooms.
Upgrade to Club Level
We got to see the new lounge first hand as we decided to treat ourselves to Club privileges. We’ve said it before and we will say it again: always go for the Club privileges, especially at the Ritz-Carlton! As well as access to the lounge (with its snacks, canapes, and drinks), you get a specialized service. Everyone knows your name and will go that bit further to help you. The team knew we we're battling a cold for example, so they would bring our favorite tea to our room and make sure the kettle was always on when we headed up there.
Our Suite at the Ritz-Carlton
Our room became our sanctuary while we recovered from some nasty colds. It was spacious and comfortable with a nice clean design, and the bathroom was large and well lit. The view was outstanding! Our window looked right out over the clock tower of city hall – we couldn’t have asked for anything better. We were on a high floor, which meant at night you could see the lights come on across the city, as well as the traffic whizzing down the avenue.
Dining at Aqimero
As part of the renovation, a new restaurant -- Aqimero -- has been built and is situated right in the middle of the lobby. In my opinion this is the perfect place for it, and it makes the dining experience feel grand and elegant. It is trendy and hip, with comfy lounge chairs and arty glass screens separating some of the tables. Best of all it serves Latin American food – something we have developed a liking for during our travels there.
They have some salad options and meats (cooked on a wood fire grill), but the main focus is seafood, all of which has been caught using sustainable methods. We had seared ahi tuna and Nikkei ceviche for starters, and decided to try the grill and shared some steak and some jidori chicken as our main course. It had a smoky mojo marinade on it that made it beyond delicious. To top it off there was an extensive mezcal collection, making me pretty happy.
The Ritz-Carlton Spa
The hotel is also home to the Richel D’Ambra Spa & Salon, pretty well known in Philly, so we decided to spend a few hours getting pampered. It seemed like a better idea than going out in the winter cold :) They offer a large range of treatments as well as beauty services in their salon. Having come to mid-winter Philadelphia straight from tropical climates, my skin was dehydrated and just felt awful. I went for a custom facial with some anti-aging therapies. Chris had a massage to help with his achy muscles. I left feeling like my skin got a big gulp of water and Chris’s aches were soothed by the massage he had…which he still deems as one of the best ever!
In between the spa and going out with the family, we found a little bit of time to wander around the city. I love being there around Christmas as it feels all magical and festive. There is a Christmas market nearby, and with the general old-world feel of the city, walking around the stalls reminded me of being in Europe. There’s plenty to see and do nearby - whether you like going shopping, seeing the historic sights, or simply wandering around. Philadelphia is a city where you won’t be bored.
Thanks to its reputation, the hotel attracts all sorts of rich and famous people. On this trip I ended up riding the elevator with David Spade so keep your eyes open! It is easy to see why they come. If you want a bit of luxury and a great central location, the Ritz-Carlton is a great place to stay. You know what you are getting with this brand (top quality service and comfort), and here there is the added bonus of the spectacular building which houses the hotel.
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