The Hottest Luxury Resort Amenity.
Every tiny detail matters when you’re a hotel or resort trying to stand out in the luxury market. Surely, these days will go down in history, written for all future generations to read about, the times of the great “Hotel Wars”. But these wars didn’t bring about doom and destruction, they ushered in a new level of luxury and pampering.
Already, we’ve endured (and enjoyed) “Toiletry Wars”. Those tiny bottles of Bvlgari, Hermes and L’Occitaine containing the finest ingredients to pamper our hair and skin. More than our fair share has come home after a few days of playing “hide the soap” to make housekeeping think we were out of toiletries, scoring a few extra. And then there were “Mattress Wars”. Oh blissful, blissful sleep. How we’ve loved hotels battling it out offering everything from $10,000 adjustable beds in our rooms to pillows with 4 firmness levels of French goose down to choose from with Italian sheets by Frette, Sferra and Yves Delorme, arguably the world’s finest.
But the latest and the hottest trend in luxury lodgings? Welcome to the Canine Ambassador Wars. Yep, hotels have truly gone to the dogs these days by employing adorable, noble, well trained furry faces to be the de facto embodiment of all that is wonderful and to bring a little “dog magic” to your stay. At resorts costing upwards of $500 Million to build, big paws are needed for this job. Their job is to simply to be a dog and by using their dog magic, that makes them the most popular and beloved staffers on property.
Before we get to what these dogs really do and why they’re there, how does it all work? Do the dogs just live there and have free rein to raid the kitchen at night and take a swim in the pools at leisure? No. We learned about it all on a visit to the Montage Deer Valley, in Park City, Utah.
The Montage is a mountain castle in the summertime and an ice palace in the winter. Ruling over this kingdom are Monty and Jonas, two Bernese Mountain Dogs with paws like the platters at a Golden Corral Buffet. We got some time to sit down and visit with Siri Zakaras who worked in accounting to learn more. Aside from her “regular” job, Siri took the mantle of also being handler to the boys. Monty and Jonas are actually owned by one of the hotels managing partners. They lived and slept in his home each night but came to work just like you or I would every day. Much of their office time was spent napping beneath Siri’s feet while she crunched numbers, but several times a day, they host meet and greets in the lobby, kids club, and their favorite…. free time on the resort’s grand lawn. What a joy it was to watch these two majestic dogs run free across a snowy field in wild abandon, rolling in the white stuff, chasing each other and letting visiting children join in their winter games. Snow balls, fur balls, no matter how you look at it, it was just a magical scene. And in essence, that’s the point. That’s the dog magic, a moment was created that will be remembered. Suddenly, you aren’t just having a nice stay, you’ve become endeared and emotionally attached to that time, that place and those dogs.
It’s not just the kids getting in on the dog magic either. While chatting in the lobby, we watched the high class, jet-set, mink coat wearing types strolling in, looking all serious and a bit aloof, instantly fall to the ground, dropping everything in their hands to roll around on the floor squealing baby talk with a dog they’ve never met. Dog magic.
Luxury hotels guests aren’t the only ones reaping the benefits of this Ambassador Dog magic. Siri, and many other handlers like her, are certified with the pups as therapy teams. Visiting hospitals, children’s facilities and veterans groups, the dog magic is spread throughout the community to those who really, need it the most.
A few of our other favorite hotels for a little Ambassador Dog magic are:
XV Beacon, Boston—Heidi, a Bernese Mountain Dog, charms the weary business traveler and calms the big city bustle right out of you the minute you come through the door.
Ritz-Carlton Reynolds Plantation, Georgia – Dooley the chocolate Labrador might be the laziest but most noble of them all. Sleeping most of his day away on a huge bed behind the concierge desk, he loves to be relocated around the resort, attending to his duties while being pushed on a luggage cart by the bellmen.
The Montage Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina – Four. That’s right, four English Labradors named New, May, River and Cooper, all named for local bodies of water wait to show you what a perfect Southern porch dog is all about.
Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch, Colorado – Home to Belle and Bachelor, two more stunning Bernese Mountain dogs charming everyone in this former silver mining village now Colorado mountain playground.
No matter where you visit when you enjoy your fist Canine Ambassador dog on vacation, when your trip has come to a close, years later looking back, you may not remember how that fine soap smelled, or how high the thread count was in those Italian sheets, but you’re going to remember those dogs, and a little spot in your heart will melt when you think about how they made you feel. And with a smile now crept up on your face, there you’ll still feel after all this time a little bit of that dog magic. It’s real.
Scott and Charlene Cooner spend their days pampering others as owners of Tangle Me Knot, arguably the best hair salon in their town of Apollo Beach, Florida. It’s both rewarding and hectic.
Making time for a getaway can be tricky when you’re self employed so when Scott wanted to surprise Charlene with a weekend away, we started brainstorming.
February weather in Florida is tricky. Even sunny Miami can be too cool for lazy days poolside as the water is often chilly for a native Floridian. It’s also “high season” there with high hotel rates. Getting creative and throwing chilly weather aside we sent them north, to the Amelia Island Ritz-Carlton.
The Amelia Ritz is on Florida’s short list of AAA 5-Diamond Resorts. Their restaurant, Salt, on an even shorter list. As good as your favorite restaurant is, only 3 in Florida are true 5-Diamond winners, none of which are in the Tampa area.
Making sure they’d have a spectacular time we buzzed our long time friend who happens to be the Guest Relations “goddess” at the Ritz and requested VIP treatment. Immediately, a room upgrade, unlimited spa access, gifts waiting in their room and being removed from that nasty wait list for Salt, into a prime table were done.
Scott said, “We had the Chef’s Adventure Tasting Menu and it was spectacular. The attention to detail, service, creative dishes and choice of 150 varieties of salts to compliment every bite were perfection”.
You can do a lot or a little on Amelia Island. On their first day, they decided to savor that 5-Diamond luxury, spending it at the spa enjoying several treatments, thermal areas and swimming in the adults only solarium pool. Finally, taking time to pamper themselves.
Excited to explore the historic island they set out to sample her charms. Amelia is only 13 miles so seeing the sights is easy. Getting there is half the fun, driving along the ocean one minute, then suddenly surrounded by moss draped oak trees on sleepy streets filled with Victorian era homes.
Visiting the historic district of Fernandina Beach, Amelia’s largest town, they strolled the streets admiring the architecture. They visited shops -- some tacky, some quaint but most importantly stopped for drinks in The Palace Saloon, Florida’s oldest and reportedly haunted. As Florida destinations go, Amelia is different. It's very old having been claimed by the French in the 1560s. Eventually, it became a booming port town famous for it’s shrimping industry. It retains much of it’s charm and old buildings.
They visited the must-see, Fort Clinch State Park with its Civil-War fortress, situated on the Amelia River and Atlantic Ocean. The park’s 1,400 acres overlook Cumberland Island and the ruined winter mansions of the Gilded Age elite. The scenery is beautiful with panoramic Atlantic views, sand dunes, ancient oak trees, and the fortress itself. Charlene remarked, “It was so interesting to experience the fort and see what life for soldiers was like during the Civil War.”
A bit of history about those mansions over on Cumberland: Reportedly, the younger Carnegie boys (of the Carnegie Steel fortune) would ferry from their Cumberland estate to Amelia. Often imbibing too much at the local saloons they spent many a night in the county jail. Nothing too good for her boys, Mrs. Carnegie paid good money refurbishing a cell so her boys “would feel more at home”.
After their visit, we think Scott and Charlene would agree, everyone would feel quite at home on Amelia Island.
Enjoy this short video and small gallery, certain to lure you away to Amelia Island.
We're going places and so are our clients.