Life in Naples is quiet and gentle. People eat early and drive courteously. Vic Damone and Frank Sinatra can always be found on the radio. There are art galleries on Third Street and coffee bars on Fifth Avenue, but not so many that you can't see them all in an afternoon. Even the Gulf barely makes waves, though what a beautiful beach it is, with sand as fine and white as in the Bahamas. Quiet, definitely, and every day at sunset, when you walk on the beach, you remember why you chose the west coast of Florida.
The Ritz-Carlton put Naples on the resort map when it opened in 1985. The Registry has also had a loyal following. Now there's a second Ritz, as well as the remodeled LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort, open again after a long absence. Here's what the mood was on my last visit.
RITZ-CARLTON, NAPLES The Ritz-Carlton Naples has always been the Ritz that defines the Ritz. This is where Ritz culture was refined into a world in which all men are "Sir" and all drinks are libations. Eighteen years after it opened, there's still no other place quite like it. Where else can you find four live bands playing on a Tuesday night?Where else can a "gentleman" ring the "butler" for a Cigar and Cognac Bath?
The English manor-style rooms are starting to look rather eighties, with their choke-a-horse window treatments, but they are still well thought out and supremely comfortable. One of the nicest touches is the chest of drawers with a grog tray by the door: you drop your key and feel you've come home. Ritz innovations that once seemed sybaritic—the marble shower, the embroidered robe, the water closet—don't have the same impact they once did; we're all so much more spoiled than we were in 1985. But everything you could possibly want is there, and if it's not, you can be certain some "lady of housekeeping" will get it for you.
Expect a lot of pageantry at night. Drinks in the lobby, then dinner, then more drinks and dancing at the Ritz Club—the men all wear ties, and you even spot the occasional long dress. For dinner there are two grand choices. The Grill has a steak-house menu and looks like a Ralph Lauren shop, all wood paneling and roaring fireplace. Feign interest in the fish and then order what you really want: the blue-cheese soufflé, the 20-ounce porterhouse, and the chocolate bread pudding with rum raisin ice cream. The alternative is the Dining Room, a Continental fantasy. After a long consultation with a breathless menu in florid script (will it be the Scottish Hare à la Royale or the Fig-Leaf-and-Bacon-Wrapped Partridge tonight, dear?), you are hovered over for hours by what sometimes feels like the entire staff. Whichever restaurant you choose, the food is excellent and the whole room seems to sigh in unison as the pianist segues from "Days of Wine and Roses" to "Isn't It Romantic?"
In 2001 an immense spa was added. It's what you would hope for from a Ritz: no celestial hooey, but an attractive Anglophile setting, high-quality services, and a well-dressed staff that keeps a respectful distance. I had a Therapeutic Massage from someone who looked like an English teacher, put classical music on the stereo, and did superb work. Arrive at least an hour before your treatment so you can swim, soak, percolate, moisturize, meditate, and generally enjoy this impressive place.
Either you like all the pomp and circumstance, or you don't. If you come here, you have to really throw yourself into it, bringing lots of clothes, ordering that last brandy. On the other hand, if Ritz-Carlton Lite is what you want, consider the company's new Golf Resort.
280 Vanderbilt Beach Rd.; 800/241-3333 or 239/598-3300; www.ritzcarlton.com; doubles from $249.
RITZ-CARLTON GOLF RESORT, NAPLES No longer can you simply say you're headed to the Ritz in Naples. Now you have to specify which one: the original hotel on the Gulf or the new Golf Resort three miles inland, where the piney heart of central Florida begins.
The old Ritz is definitely the alpha dog. It has the spa and the beach—but this Ritz has Tiburón, an esteemed golf course designed by Greg Norman. In a novel arrangement, when you register in one hotel, you're registered in the other, and everybody shuttles between the two. You can eat pasta to classical guitar at Lemonia, the lovely Tuscan restaurant here, then have a nightcap and a fox-trot at the Ritz Club at the old hotel. You can swim in the Golf Resort's wonderfully deep pool, or head off to a blue canvas shelter on the Gulf beach. They know your name wherever you show up.