Certain experiences carry with them a certain, significant weight of expectation: buying a Rolls Royce, flying first-class, eating at a world-renowned three-star Michelin restaurant. Anything short of total delight is liable to disappoint, which is why the examples above must not only match the sky-high expectations we bring to them, but must go above and beyond to delight and surprise. And now I understand why a stay at the Ritz-Carlton hotel belongs firmly on that exclusive list of special experiences.
The Ritz-Carlton, Okinawa is situated in a commanding position atop Nago, which affords the hotel sweeping panoramic views that overlook a lush forest and manicured golf courses. The building itself adopts the Okinawan gusuku (castle) architectural aesthetic, which gives an enchantingly grand yet welcoming sense of place. From the moment you begin the tropical-tree lined ascent up the hill to the hotel, it becomes apparent that you are going to be staying somewhere very special.
After being shown to our room, my partner and I were given a concise rundown of all its features and fittings, as well as a reminder that we had arranged a massage at the hotel's ESPA facility. This was a special anniversary trip for us, and we wanted to celebrate in a special way. The quality of the surroundings, the attention to detail and the anticipation of any possible needs we may have had was instantly striking to me. Our room slippers, bath robes and roomwear (which all had a very soft, gentle quality of touch) were magically provided in sizes that fit the both of us perfectly. The toothbrushes, shaving razor, Asprey soaps and lotions, shaving gel and so on also all left a high impression of quality.
The beds in our Deluxe Twin Room were large, beautifully-upholstered and sumptuously comfortable, the lighting and window shades were all fully adjustable to allow us to create the ideal ambiance, and the premium furnishings complimented the inviting, relaxing atmosphere. Adjoining the main room was a balcony that gave a spectacular view over the East China Sea and the adjacent golf course. Fortunately, due to its hill-top location, you are promised an excellent view wherever your room is located.
After having taken in the very pleasant reality of where we would be staying for the duration of our anniversary, it was time for our 4pm treatment at the Ritz-Carlton Spa by ESPA. Upon arriving at the spa facility, I was immediately taken aback by the building itself. Organic materials are used in all design points and there is a very soothing deep forest motif throughout, creating the illusion that you are nestled deeply within a forest canopy. Indeed, it's somewhat more than just an illusion: the treatment rooms themselves offer views over the ancient Yambaru forest. We were taken to the couple's "Forest Suite" room and were recommended the Ocean Shell Body Treatment, a two-hour course designed to "melt away tension and bring your body and mind back into balance". The feeling of rejuvenation I was given seemed like something that my body, particularly my back and neck, had been crying out for for years.
The ESPA facilities were beyond everything I was starting to come to expect of a Ritz-Carlton establishment. Sauna, steam room, vitality pool, hot dipping pools and relaxation areas, swimming pool, gym and spa cafe were all available to enjoy and the facilities themselves were all held to the highest standard, from the luxurious towels and robes to the complimentary chilled water outside. We could have quite easily spent a whole day there.
At 8pm, it was time to return to the hotel for our anniversary dinner at the Chura-Nuhji, an Italian fine-dining restaurant helmed by renowned Executive Sous Chef Koji Hayakawa. Every course was mouth-watering: the flavours unique and wonderfully complimentary, the presentation beautiful, and the ingredients of the freshest-tasting, highest standard. The Okinawan pork sausages with the broccoli sauce and conchiglie pasta was a particular favourite of mine, but in truth, it was all sublime. Dessert was a beautiful chocolate cake, with a palette of lively accompanying sauces.
Then came a Ritz-Carlton surprise for my partner and I, as Hayakawa-san himself approached our table and delivered his carefully-crafted anniversary dessert, consisting of two different types of cake, a chocolate truffle for each of us, and "Happy 1st Anniversary" elegantly written in chocolate sauce along the rim of the plate. This was entirely the staff's handiwork, with no prior direction from myself. As with the hotel, the room, and the ESPA, I can only sing the highest of praises for the Chura-Nuhji restaurant. We were made to feel like the only two diners in there and treated to the highest level of personalised care and service.
The following day, after the most relaxing night's sleep I have ever had in a hotel, it was time for breakfast at Gusuku, an all-day dining experience that serves Japanese, Okinawan and international dishes. I was frankly bowled over by both the choice and quality available. Everything from French toast, to pancakes, to delicious pastries, an array of fresh fruits, yogurts, cereals and condiments, meats, cheeses, you name it. If it's something you would consider eating for breakfast, chances are not only that it's available, but it's also delicious and tastes so pleasingly fresh.
Soon after breakfast came the sad reality that check-out time was approaching. Returning to the lobby, I took some photos of the beautiful surroundings while the hotel staff loaded our luggage and brought the car to the front door. As we were escorted to and into the car, we were given a warm farewell from the hotel staff and invited to come back again soon.
There is one final thing worthy of mention in this review. My partner left a necklace in my tote bag, which I took into the men's spa changing room, prior to trying out the sauna and vitality pool. Seeing the necklace in the bag, I placed it in my pocket but upon returning it to her, she noticed that the pendant had fallen-off. The following day, she received a call from her spa therapist; the pendant had been found and would be sent to her home address. Two days later, it did indeed arrive, carefully packaged and presented on a cotton pad, with a short, hand-written note thanking her for her visit to the ESPA. This says it all. I noted numerous other examples of stellar customer service, but then again, half the joy is in discovering those surprises for yourself. So I'll leave you do to just that.
The Ritz-Carlton, Okinawa was not just a hotel for us, and neither will it be for you. It was the making of a very memorable trip, marking a very special time in our lives. If you're going to Okinawa and want that truly special experience, an experience that will live with you and leave you eager to do it all again as soon as possible, the Ritz-Carlton, Okinawa is one place worthy of your careful consideration. And if you have the chance to share it with a loved one, so much the better.