Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Highest Hotel in the World

Mark DeCocinis gets high every day at work. But not to worry, he's not breaking the law. He's the regional vice president and general manager of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Hong Kong. Topping out at 490 meters high and towering 118 stories above the West Kowloon district and Victoria Harbor, it is the highest hotel in the world.

It's always nice to have bragging rights, but it wouldn't mean a whole heckuva lot if the hotel didn't measure up when it comes to service and splendor, too. It does both. The hotel, which opened in April of this year, simply shines. The views on a clear day are stupendous. Hong Kong doesn't enjoy clear days every day, to be sure; I peered out from my club level room on my first day to see a grey soup of clouds and smog. On the second and third days of my recent visit, however, the skies cleared and the view through the floor to ceiling windows was breathtaking.

DeCocinis, a native of Salerno, Italy who grew up in the United States, managed the Portman Ritz-Carlton in Shanghai after serving as GM at the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco in the 1990s. His experience and flair shows in the way the 312-room Hong Kong Ritz-Carlton is run. Staff are friendly, attentive, anticipatory. Decor, by leading-edge Japanese designers, pushes the boundaries of design without becoming ridiculous or outrageous for its own sake.

If you visit Hong Kong, be sure and go up to the 118th floor, where the Ozone bar occupies the highest perch in the hotel, even if you're not staying. Ozone is trendy without being chilly and has an outdoor terrace from which to drink-in the view. Western cocktail culture hasn't fully taken hold in Hong Kong yet - a fact reinforced when a fellow travel journalist ordered a manhattan and had to explain to the barman what bitters are and how to mix it all up with bourbon. But the bar crowd is attractive, the bar food is tasty the the vibe is appealing.

The hotel has knocked itself out to come up with sumptuous dining. Tosca is the lively, fine-dining Italian restaurant. The Lounge & Bar is an engaging spot on the 102nd floor - the hotel occupies levels 102 through 118, with an arrival lobby on the 9th floor - and there is a clever Chocolate Library with edible treats in the form of books and other decorative objects. I supped at Tin Lung Heen, the hotel's wonderful traditional Chinese restaurant, and it is hard to beat.

The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong also offers a sumptuous spa, and has a posh Club Lounge on the 116th floor for executive-level guests. I was fortunate enough to have access to the Club Lounge with its chef-prepared breakfasts, evening cocktails, spirits and wine, express check-out, two free-use PCs with printer and complimentary wireless access. And, of course, there are stunning views from this level, too.

The new Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong makes a big change from the group's former hotel - a traditional gem in the city's vibrant Central district, on Hong Kong island, that was demolished several years back. The new property is much bigger and more contemporary than the earlier Ritz-Carlton. It must be noted that much of West Kowloon - a future arts and culture district rising on landfill where a rail line is also presently being built - is a big construction site. Walking around outdoors is tough to do for now, unlike in much of Hong Kong. However, the hotel sits atop the bustling International Commerce Center - the world's fourth-tallest building - so it's far from quiet or dull. At the base of this ultra-modern skyscraper is a multilevel, upscale shopping mall, which connects via a cascade of escalators to the city's superb train and subway system, so getting around is no problem.

All in all, the new hotel is a triumph - and it marks a triumphant return to Hong Kong for Ritz-Carlton Hotels and Resorts.

1 comment:

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