The Ritz concept has been sharpened considerably here for modern eyes. Overtones of the Raj and Barbados and everything British colonial are strong. It's all very masculine. The valets are dressed in plus fours and newsboy caps, like Leonardo di Caprio in costume for his latest film.
The iron railings in the lobby bar are made of crisscrossed golf clubs. And in lieu of dining and dancing, nightlife revolves around The Bar, with its pair of billiard tables, mahogany and leather, and chessboard ready for play. How manly!
The 295 rooms have less voluminous window treatments and a handsomer tone: an armoire detailed in crotch mahogany, a chest of drawers decorated with cane, a desk chair with a woven-leather back, a golfer as the base of a lamp, pictures of duffers on the walls. The classic
Ritz bathroom, with compartmented everything, has been improved as well, with twin sinks and a longer, deeper tub. You won't want your shave to end.
You may or may not miss the Ritz-Carlton dress code, loosened up here significantly. People appear in running shoes in the lobby, even after 6 p.m., and the occasional conference badge will sit down beside you, which wouldn't happen at the other Ritz. One night, a German soccer team, no slaves to Resort Casual, held court in The Bar wearing tracksuits, but their electrical charge was such, nobody called the manager in protest.
Something tells me that the hard-core resort crowd will still head to the original Ritz for the beach and a place to wear their St. John, while this new hotel will largely be a conference destination, and popular with couples and friends looking for shorter golf getaways. No, you can't watch the sun set over the Gulf here. But you can watch it rise over those towering pines shrouded in mist, and that's almost as beautiful a sight.
2600 Tiburón Dr.; 800/241-3333 or 239/593-2000; www.ritzcarlton.com; doubles from $189.
LAPLAYA BEACH & GOLF RESORT Imagine the best hotel on South Beach, eliminate any pressure to be fabulous, and you'll have a picture of LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort.
The original, Googie-ish building dates from 1968, when it was the grand hotel of a much sleepier Naples. Noble House Hotels & Resorts closed the property for nine months in 2001, and when it reopened the following January, it was an entirely new place. LaPlaya has 189 rooms, 141 of them with their toes practically in the sand. You cannot get closer to the beach: when they say "oceanfront" at this hotel, they mean it. Everything revolves around a meandering pool complex, which makes you long for a Cosmo and a 500-page paperback. SpaTerre is new, too—not huge, but sparkling and thoughtful and just different enough, with blue toile on the tables and a treatment menu inspired by Thailand and Indonesia. As at most resorts, the conference business is courted heavily, but in an arrangement that works nicely: the meeting rooms are across the street from the main buildings, so you won't find yourself swept up in someone else's sales rally.
The phrase Old Florida is overused these days as a promise of charm, but LaPlaya comes close to the romantic ideal. It's pretty (much prettier than Old Florida was, I'm certain), with fresh greens and warm yellows, mahogany furniture, bamboo-patterned bedcovers, and four-poster beds under gauzy hangings tied with ribbons and bows. Each room has a balcony, and even the standard rooms are as large as junior suites. Add the Gulf view, and you have everything you've come to Florida for.
One restaurant does it all here. Baleen begins indoors with mirrored banquettes and monkeys climbing plaster torchères, then spills out through big doors to a terrace with tables overlooking the gorgeous beach, and ends with a few more tables for cocktails where you'd be happy to be barefoot. Local fish with Asian flavors dominate the menu. You'll find seared sea scallops everywhere, but at Baleen, with lo mein-noodle cake and scallion-miso butter, they get it right.
The head chef of Noble House, Jeff Bowles, also understands the appeal of taking something American and familiar and standing it on its head. Even if you don't stay at LaPlaya, come for lunch on a balmy day, ask to be seated outdoors, and order the chopped BLT salad. You'll forget that the rest of the world exists.
9891 Gulf Shore Dr.; 800/237-6883 or 239/597-3123; www.laplayaresort.com; doubles from $229.