Overview: An in-city hotel that didn’t deliver as a luxury hotel
Strengths: Some water views, outdoor bar
Drawbacks: Disappointing breakfast, no in-room water or bar, service lapses at front desk
Notable: Rooftop yoga classes
A quick business trip brought me to Chicago earlier this month. Having stayed at the Mandarin, Four Seasons, Park Hyatt, Waldorf, W Lakeshore, Intercontinental and other even lesser properties on previous trips, based on some positive reviews that I’ve read, I decided to give the Ritz Carlton a try this time.
While there were no glaring lapses, overall, the property was not impressive and I wouldn’t seek to return.
Arrival and Check In
A colleague and I arrived via taxi from the airport. A doorman greeted us and held the door into the street level lobby. We took the lifts from the street lobby up to the proper lobby up on the 12th floor.
We were fortunate in that there wasn’t a queue to check in when we arrived, though by the time we were finished checking in, there were over five parties waiting with just two desk clerks working. A bellman came by and offered water bottles to the guests waiting.
Check-in itself was relatively quick, and the desk clerk walked through some of the benefits included with our Ritz Stars bookings. She also thanked me for my loyalty as a Ritz Rewards Gold member (thanks to spending $10k on the Ritz Rewards credit card) and gave me a bottle of water (this would be helpful shortly).
Notably, the RC Stars breakfast benefit was only a continental breakfast, though there was also a $100 general food and beverage credit (which covered the overage beyond the continental breakfast for me). She did not mention any possibility of an upgrade (which should be available due to both the RC Stars booking and the Ritz Gold membership) nor ask if I needed a late check out time. Not “needing” either (how often do you “need” a room upgrade), and just wanting to get to my room, I didn’t ask or push for either.
Two other colleagues had arrived earlier in the day – having reserved via the same agent and into the same room category – and they let us know that they were both upgraded to suites without asking for upgrades. I suspect the hotel didn’t proactively review their Stars bookings arrivals in the morning and simply left room assignments to the lottery at check in. This is not the way things should be run.
Late check out is offered, subject to availability, for Stars bookings and is guaranteed at city hotels as a Ritz Gold member. Many other Ritz properties proactively inquire at check-in if the guest will need late check out; here it wasn’t mentioned.
The agent checking me in noted that a FedEx package had arrived for me and said she would have it delivered to my room.
Unlike my recent stays at the Four Seasons New York and Four Seasons Washington DC, neither my colleague or I were escorted to the lifts or even told where they were. (The lifts for the rooms was at the far end of the lobby, not visible from the reception desk.)
The lobby felt dated, with many aspects having a 1980s design feel. The furnishings were in good repair, however.
On the way up to my room, I noticed the hotel had a 13th floor…but then skipped the 14th floor!
Rooms and corridors at this property were recently refreshed, and had a much more up to date feel compared to the lobby.
Though there were a few quirks, overall, the room was very nice and the furniture was in good condition.
The bed was comfortable and the desk area reasonably spacious. The room was silent.
There was a bed-side power module with a number of traditional and USB power outlets. The telephone equipment, however, was easily 20 years old. One of the telephone handsets had an annoying rattle – something I’ve found with many of this model telephone over the years at hotels.
Rather than a sofa or a chair, the room had a contemporary settee. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but the comfort of a chair or a sofa would have been much more welcome.
Despite being on a Ritz Stars booking, there was no welcome amenity.
The bathroom was oddly designed. The layout of the two sinks around the corner from each other was such that if two people were using sinks simultaneously, they’d likely bump into each other.
There was just a tub and no step-in shower. The European-style partial glass partition did little to keep water in the tub. There was a gap between the glass and the tub rim so that water could flow out onto the floor. By the end of my shower, the floor in the toilet/shower room was quite wet.
Despite the bathroom being recently renovated, the door frame around the door to the toilet/shower room had visible stains on it.
The entire minibar was empty and there was a note in the refrigerator saying to call room service if I wanted a “customized” minibar set up. There weren’t even bottles of water in the room.
At turn down, one (roughly) 8 ounce bottle of water was left in the room. There was an ice bucket (at the unused minibar), but no ice was provided.
Clearly, minibars haven’t proven profitable for many hotels. That said, the ability to have a cold bottle of water – or something more – at your fingertips is a reasonable luxury to ask for at a purportedly high-end hotel. Even upper midscale hotels (Marriotts!) that often don’t have minibars any longer typically have several complimentary bottles of water in the room for guests. Here there were none (other than the small bottle at turn down). As a business traveler at an in-city hotel, having to call to have a minibar set up – and waiting for room service to come and do it – simply doesn’t meet my needs. There also was no coffee or tea option in the room.
I was happy I had accepted the water bottle during check in and drank it while I was getting organized.
About half an hour after I arrived in my room, the front desk clerk called to say she forgot about my FedEx package and to ask if I still wanted it sent up. It came shortly thereafter.
My room did offer (partially obstructed) views of the lake.
The room had an old, keyed switch on the wall at eye level as you entered the room. I hadn’t seen one of these since grammar school.
Food and Beverage
Arriving back at the hotel after a long dinner, one of my colleagues and I stopped for a drink at the bar. The server was friendly and service was quick, but not overly attentive.
There was an appealing looking outdoor bar area, as well. It was still quite hot outside, so we didn’t venture out – but on a pleasant afternoon or evening, this could be a welcome respite.
I ordered breakfast via room service in the morning and then headed down to the pool for a swim. I asked for the waiter to deliver the meal to the room if I wasn’t there. When I returned, my meal was waiting.
The Eggs Benedict was hot, but wasn’t particularly good. The ham was unusually thick and the English muffin had an institutional quality to it. I ate less than half, which is probably good for me, but is certainly unusual for me, too! The potato strings were not hot and were under-seasoned (despite the Parmesan cheese, which clearly came from a can, sprinkled on top). The fresh berries were nice and the grapefruit juice (not pictured) was freshly squeezed.
The salt in the salt shaker had solidified. How many times would you guess this shaker been delivered to guests in this condition?
Gym and Pool
Instead of my usual lakeside run, I decided to go for a swim in the morning. The gym and pool are located one level down from the lobby. There is a dedicated lift from the lobby servicing just two floors. I found stairs on the way back up.
The fitness facilities at the hotel are oddly designed, and the spa treatment rooms, gym and pool are all interwoven. To get to the locker room, I had to walk past several spa treatment rooms.
The locker room was set up to accommodate the Carlton Club, which appeared to be a private gym club for locals. Similar to the Four Seasons Palm Beach (which also has a private club for locals), if you lived in the residences of the Ritz’s tower, this could be a convenient gym option. The feel of the locker room – and seeing some of the apparent club members – made me think this club was targeted to a mature membership. This contrasts to the Ritz in Washington DC, which has a much larger Equinox sports club as its house gym – and a much younger membership.
The pool itself was fine and of a comfortable temperature. It was cool enough for laps but not too cold. Notably, there was a deep end that reached ten feet deep – unusual for a hotel pool. There was no diving board.
There was also a hot tub in the corner. It had an uninviting, institutional look to it.
The only apparent way to the pool was via the mens’ or womens’ locker room. If you were a parent with say a seven or eight year old child of the opposite sex, this would present an awkward challenge. The locker room was a bit of a maze. Do you send your child unescorted into their sex’s locker room, hoping they find their way, or do you take a child a bit too old through the locker room of the sex opposite theirs?
Beyond a reasonably sized gym with lake views, the hotel also offers outdoor, rooftop yoga classes.
When I went to check out, there was only one clerk at the front desk, and she was on the telephone. Two concierges were standing at their desk, both also on the telephone. As I was waiting, four staff members walked by at different times and each said, “Someone will be with you shortly.” While acknowledgement is typically welcome, no one made any effort to find additional staff to help with the growing queue of guests. I ended up waiting over ten minutes to be assisted, and I was first in line. By the time I was assisted, perhaps half a dozen guests were lined up behind me.
My bill was accurate. The Ritz Stars credits were properly applied and everything but the room and taxes had been removed from the bill. I appreciate not having to negotiate the check out.
When asked how my stay was, I mentioned the lack of water or drinks in the room. The clerk’s response left me feeling that the suggestion will go no further than her ears. Why even ask?
The desk clerk did not offer a bellman’s assistance with my luggage.
* * * * *
I left this property reasonably disappointed. My two interactions with the front desk each had issues and the lack of any refreshments in the room and the lack of attention to Stars/Gold guests left me feeling the hotel was more in cost cutting mode than luxury mode. Each member of the staff that I interacted with was reasonably nice, but the overall experience didn’t have a luxury feel to it.
Without any glaring faults, there were enough disappointments with my stay to put this property in the Not Recommended category. I hope this property is not indicative of the direction Ritz Carlton properties are heading.
Ritz Carlton Chicago
160 East Pearson Street, Chicago, IL 60611
+1 (312) 266-1000