Ritz Carlton Club Level: Unintended Community

All opinions are our own.

I’ve been a loyal Ritz Carlton guest since before it was bought out by Marriott.  I remember the days of cobalt blue goblets and amenity plates waiting for you on arrival to welcome you.  Gone are those days, for the most part.  We are still loyal.  As platinum preferred elite rewards members and Ritz Carlton Black Card holders, we love the benefits, and have more points then we know what to do with.

For us, it’s good business because it means luxury I can depend on and a quality environment for our family, whether it’s for business, vacation, or the growing staycation options.  Now that our kids are getting older, it is even more special to share experiences with them.

At check in, you receive a fancy gold card that separates you as being an ultra VIP, a hallmark of club access.  This gold card is classic, circa 1990s all the way, much to our pleasure.

As platium elite members and Ritz Black cardholders, we are entitled to certain amenities and upgrades, and our favorite must have is the club upgrade.

Depending on the property, there are 4-5 Food and Beverage presentations a day to include breakfast, lunch, high tea (limites locations only these days), heavy hors d’oeuvders, and desserts and cordials. Full bar service is available, and it’s all included.

As a business traveler on the go, it can’t be beat.  But if you’re like us, the line between business and family travel is happily blurred.  Thus, with three kids shaking us awake at 6:44am, you can’t beat walking down the hall to a gourmet breakfast with options for even the pickiest eaters.

Although, our kids eat everything and were practically raised in Ritz Carltons.  Therefore, they know how to act mostly) in most environments, from fine dining to amusement parks.  We are always getting comments on how well behaved our children are, but it still doesn’t stop that slight catch of breath in the throat of patrons and staff who watch intently to see if my toddler will run around screaming and pulling down the silver.  Spoiler alert, he didn’t.  He drank his milk quietly, thanks to amazing Club Concierge Wassim.

Fresh juice bar, yogurt and muesli are part of the original Ritz breakfast traditions, along with bagels+lox, and at this property, they take care to provide gluten free, vegan, and nut free options.

We came with the intentions of covering the Ritz Kids Program at Tyson’s Corner.  Actually, we were celebrating our Anniversary, but we couldn’t help ourselves–the opportunity was just waiting for us.

The Ritz Carlton has come to realize that to attract millenials, you need to wow our kids, because they are coming with us.

I should note that after two days, I finally tracked down the wagon (strangely, without the assistance of Guest Relations), and I have to note that this property’s wagon is less than impressive.  A treasure trove of cheap toys from Oriental Trading is hardly “on brand.”

The Marriott’s Renaissance property in Baltimore has a wagon overflowing with small stuffed animals–typically sea creatures to jive with the nearby aquarium–which literally wows our kids each time.  The doormen and concierges at that property are practically giddy with excitement to present the wagon to our kids.  It’s a stark contrast to Tyson’s Corner where you have to drag information out of strangely reluctant staff.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t get straight or consistent answers from the staff about the Ritz Kids Program at one local Ritz Carlton.  Of all the guests we talked to who had kids with them, only one family had heard of the program and only because they walked past a wagon full of toys and asked.

They also have a paper kids can fill out to identify their favorite Northern Virginia animal (a deer, an owl) and the pastry team will deliver a treat to your child’s room.  It’s a good idea in theory, but only about halfway thought out.  Why “Darby the White Tailed Deer” vs “Cheeks the Eastern Chipmunk”?  The names are cute, but there is no pamphlet  or anything to explain or show a picture of what these animals are.

The #RitzKids can select a snack to be delivered to the room at no charge:

  • Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • White Chocolate Blueberry Cookies
  • Brownies
  • Apples with Peanut Butter

But how would anyone know about this if they didn’t think to ask?

The program has changed several times over in the last several years, possibly fraught with some identity or focus crisis–do we or do we not welcome kids here?

The’ve added games and iPads to the club room for use, as well as high chairs, which are important symbols that tell parents that kids aren’t at least forbidden (I will stress, also not a clear sign that they are welcome).

A couple new accommodations for children and families.

Classic staples of this The Ritz Carlton Tyson’s Corner include around-the-clock fresh cookies and macaroons.  Having experienced the Easter Egg decorating class and Gingerbread Decorating class with our kids, I can attest that the pastry chefs here are the best in the country.

I’m looking forward to chatting with Ritz Carlton Headquarters Social Media Manager, Laura T., to be able to get the actual scoop on Ritz Kids for those of you looking for family vacay or staycay, because despite the jumbled state of the program, there are quality pieces simply in need of a spruce, marketing presentation and staff training (oh, and accuracy, please)!  I think she may have been likewise surprised that Guest Relations was less than accommodating and assured me that they would get back to me.  Not surprisingly, they did not.  Okay, perhaps more than simple, but certainly doable with about 10 hours of intentional focus, right?

Community Everywhere

An unintended consequence was the community created at the club level this weekend, in part due to the lack of focus for Ritz Kids.

Families tend to congregate around food.

And if your kids are like mine, they are always hungry.
We found parents were equally confused about the kids programs, pool rules, and what would be really fun for the littles, providing quality bonding time.

But it was fun to start up conversations with families and their experiences at other properties and other kids activities in the area.

They were appreciative, and so were we.  Ritz Carlton guests tend to be pretty brand loyal, so it is always fun to reminisce about experiences at different properties (my favorite domestic locations are Kapalua and Reynolds Plantation Lodge).  I actually studied for my LSAT most weekends at Reynolds Plantation.  Fond memories.
What was interesting is that the collective confusion led to great conversation starters and new friendships with guests from all over the world.

Now I am sure the Ritz would rather up sell and monetize the demand for kids programming, with staff on different pages and with brand ambassadors like us running around, we simply can’t help ourselves from connecting people who are essentially in a child-programming vacuum, but hopefully the Ritz Carlton will be able to fully develop Ritz Kids to keep and attract business to and on property.

We have a few ideas (don’t we always?)

If I were the #RitzKids Ambassador:

  1. Narrow the focus.  What is this property about? Do we welcome kids, are they a secondary nuisance, or are we ambivalent.  Part of Tyson’s Corner’s issue is I don’t think they have decided which camp they are in.  We hope they decide to welcome families.  Here’s why via Forbes and The Ritz Carlton’s own fabulous Allison Sitch.
  2. Complete the thought.  The Ritz Kids information sheet is a good start.  We recommend to include a bookmark with photos and brief information about each of the four indigenous animals to make this an educational keepsake and much more meaningful than a xerox copy.  This would take 2-3 hours of a graphic designer’s time, or better yet, partner with Northern Virginia tourist society or Virginia Wildlife associations. I am sure they would be happy for the assist!
  3. Promote #RitzKids consistently.  Make sure your website is accurate.  Right now it promotes a Peter Rabbit Tea from Thursday-Sunday, but Guest Services says its only on weekends (and depending on who you talk to, this is Friday-Saturday or Friday-Sunday).  You have awesome programs like the American Girl Package, Gingerbread Decorating, Easter Decorating class and brunch, and please bring back the scavenger hunt!  Our kids have been doing that for years and 2016 was the first Easter we didn’t spend here because the property dumped most of the programming that had been a part of our family’s tradition!
  4. Onboard your Staff.  Make sure ALL of your staff know about the #RitzKids program.  At check in, make sure customers know about it.  Even if they dont have children with them today, they might just come back with their kids if they knew about what was offered.  Make sure the club concierges approach all families to ensure they have had the opportunity to participate in Ritz Kids.  If housekeeping notices kids things in the rooms, have them leave a promotion flyer with information about #RitzKids.

These are easy and no cost steps to go the extra mile, which is of course a hallmark of the Ritz Carlton brand.

Until then, we have our own community of moms and dads, and hey, we stick together!
It’s all about #RCMemories, right?

Ritz Kids article coming soon courtesy of the Mom Blog Network + Ritz Carlton PR + Social Media Teams!  Check back!


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