Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne – Review

view of Atlantic ocean from 12th floor Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne

Consistently solid service and casual elegance keep us coming back to Florida’s Atlantic coast


Summary

The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne is located just southeast of Miami away from the crowds and commercialism of the large metropolitan city yet only 30 minutes from Miami International Airport. The resort’s consistent staff and high service level attracts guests from all the eastern US and beyond. This property has a feeling of luxe seclusion even though it’s nestled amongst the condominium complexes that line the eastern shore of Key Biscayne.

Who Will Enjoy It

The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne is ideal for guests looking for a great beach getaway, but who don’t want to go to the Caribbean or to be immersed in the frenetic spirit of the Miami beach scene. This resort has appeal for a variety of ages. Young children will enjoy the kid’s pool and Ritz Kids Club, while adults will enjoy top notch service and fabulous dining options.  For tennis buffs, the Ritz-Carlton features 11 well-maintained clay and hard courts with resident tennis pro Cliff Drysdale and his devoted staff.

This property caters well to families and couples alike with thoughtfully crafted spaces to accommodate both. Adults looking for a little peace and quiet will find it at the adult pool located next to the Dune Burgers on the Beach restaurant. Teens with a little flexibility to roam will enjoy exploring the very bicycle-friendly town or riding to either one of the two large parks that bookend the island, including Crandon Park Tennis Center to the north and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park to the south.

When To Go

We have visited this property over a couple of different holiday weekends and can attest that the Ladies and Gentlemen of the Ritz-Carlton handle the surge in guest census very well. We’ve also visited during random weekends and noticed no difference in service levels. If traveling with family, we can easily recommend Easter/Passover weekend as well as Labor Day weekend for whole-family enjoyment. The weather in south Florida is fairly consistent, but genuinely HOT in the summer through August. If you like a warm pool and warm ocean, this is your time. Be advised that peak hurricane season in this area is August to October. The location is great to escape a bitterly cold winter for a warm weather long weekend as it’s only a 3 hour direct flight from Newark, NJ and 3.5 hours from Minneapolis.

What Makes It Great

The Ladies and Gentlemen make for a solid foundation for this property. Some have been in service for years and are committed to making the guest experience a great one, welcoming you home with a smile from visit to visit. Notably, Sandra at the beach and a number of the wait staff at the restaurants have delivered consistent and excellent service for many years.

Lightkeepers restaurant is the main restaurant for the property and delivers at each meal. With indoor and outdoor seating, Lightkeepers offers up a substantial selection of coastal favorites and handcrafted cocktails. Try to book a package that includes breakfast at Lightkeepers; the buffet is both plentiful and delicious.

During holiday weekends when families flock to the property, the main lawn becomes a natural activity center for children. Our kids spent hours playing in pick up soccer games with other kids in a very open and welcoming environment. The hotel also offers many planned activities on the great lawn during holiday weekends, like a carnival (complete with enormous bounce houses, carnival games, etc).

The Ritz Carlton Key Biscayne underwent a recent renovation and the rooms are all spacious, clean and airy.  We’ve stayed in a King Room when traveling as a couple and a one bedroom suite when traveling with our children.  We can’t recommend the One Bedroom Suite highly enough; the extra half bath in the living area combined with a comfortable queen pull out couch allowed the children to feel as though they had their own space, while we were able to close the door to the bedroom and enjoy reading or iPad time long after they went to sleep without bothering them.  On one occasion we enjoyed a One Bedroom Residential Suite.  This would be ideal for families that do not have Club Access or who simply prefer to take some meals in their room as it has a small (but fully equipped) kitchen (full fridge, stove and microwave) instead of a half bath.

The Club Lounge (available for an additional fee), located on the 10th floor of the hotel, has plentiful food and alcohol offerings during the day.  They offer a traditional club breakfast spread (omelette station, waffles, fruit, pastries, etc), a light lunch (finger sandwiches, chips and crudité), evening hors d’oeuvres, and a nightly dessert offering.  The club had a few varieties of wine (usually two reds, two whites and a rosé dispensed through a wine dispenser) as well as a few types of beer. Hard alcohol was available upon request. The lounge for breakfast was pretty kid-friendly, but ours struggled a bit with the finger sandwiches and crudité. The pasta station featured one night was a god-send and the desserts were always a hit, especially the homemade (right in front of you!) ice cream station.

“Club on the Beach” was presented during our most recent stay. Offered at peak times like holiday weekends, it was a great way to extend that special feeling of being a club-level guest down to the beach. A staff member was available in a small sectioned off area with a selection of wine and beer and little snacks for guests with club-level privileges. It was in a word, lovely.

Taco stand by the pool at Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne
The taco stand by the pool makes for a great snack or light dinner option

Among the special moments created by the Ritz-Carlton were the pop-up taco stand near the Cantina Restaurant one evening, live music in the evenings in the lobby lounge, and a live DJ at the Dune Beach Restaurant. These little things really add to the richness of the experience at the resort.

For spa lovers, the 25,000 square foot spa is a quiet retreat offering the full gamut of services from massages to facials, manicure and beauty treatments. It is clean, modern, and well-maintained. The massage treatment was top-notch.

Needs Improvement & Buyer Beware

This property has done a lot to optimize their staffing ratios and make the guest experience great. The have even hired a consulting firm to analyze their guest load and movement to inform how they staff different areas of the resort at different times. This information has helped them get it right more often than not. We observed that they could have used one or two more staff in the Club lounge over the holiday weekend, but understand that it was a peak time.

While the landscaping is quite well maintained, the exteriors of the buildings are in need of some attention. The salt air and occasional storms make for a constant battle against nature for sure, but there are some damaged portions of the roof and the top exterior moulding that are in dire need of repair. A few of the awnings on the front of the hotel were in need of replacement as well.

We encountered a couple of shady operators running the water-sports and bikes. One offered to let us rent the bikes for half price if we paid in cash. Even though we declined, we felt a little dirty afterward. It felt like the pristine nature of the Ritz-Carlton had been tainted by the illicit solicitation.

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The staff spreading out thousands of plastic eggs for the Easter egg hunt

Must Do

Tequila tasting with the Tequilier at the Cantina Beach Bar and Restaurant. Tour through some amazing tequilas and learn some interesting facts from the resident Tequlier (essentially a sommelier for tequila) as you sip and watch the shadows grow long as the sun sets.

Sunset from the club lounge. The lounge’s western facing windows allow for a perfect view of the sunset as you sip a wine or cocktail. While you may prefer to spend your evenings at the Dune bar or the Cantina Beach Restaurant, this is a must-do for at least one sunset if you have Club privileges.

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Ice cream sundae on the beach

Eat/Drink This

A mojito at RUMBAR or a piña colada at the beachfront bar at Dune. Gino, the head bartender at Dune, has been a fixture in Key Biscayne for years. Sporting a strong Magnum P.I. vibe, he’s seen it all and will regale you with tales of a lifetime in the service of the wealthy and famous. Gino mixes a solid cocktail too.

key-biscayne-lighthouse.jpg
The lighthouse at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park

What You Should Know (That No One Else Will Tell You)

Bike rental at the Ritz is convenient, but a little spendy and the bikes are in rough condition. There are a couple rental shops across the street that are a bit more reasonable. A bike ride to Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park only takes 15 minutes and features an interesting lighthouse that you can ascend and enjoy nice views from the southern tip of the key.

We would recommend grabbing a package that includes breakfast when you make your reservations at the Ritz. The breakfast buffet at Lighthouse is pretty substantial and makes for a good value over eating breakfast a la carte.

If you’re so inclined, there is a well-stocked wine shop just a 5 minute drive (or 13 minute walk) from the property. Stefano’s offers a good selection of wine, beer, and liquor if you should want to pick up something to enjoy on your balcony in the evenings.

Useful Resources

Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne
Key Cycling (Bike rentals) – Bikes that are in better shape and more reasonably priced than renting from the Ritz.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park – A beautifully situated state park on the southern tip of the key featuring a historic lighthouse, public beach, and walking trails.

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