Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Laguna Beach's Ritz-Carlton is hotel heaven

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LAGUNA BEACH, CALIF. -- I'm a sucker for a great hotel, in love with crisp white sheets, room service and chocolates placed on my pillow before bed.

I adore walking into a clean bathroom with piles of fluffy towels. Like Eloise at the Plaza, I love to lounge in a deep tub filled with expensive-smelling bubbles.

The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel is my new way-station on the way to heaven.

The hotel sits on top of a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a three-kilometre beach stretching out for guests to enjoy. In early morning and near sunset, neoprene-clad surfers chase the perfect wave. During the day, one of the hotel's "beach butlers" is available to ferry guests down to the water's edge, build sandcastles with kids and set up beach chairs. You'll never have to carry your own sand bucket again.

There are 396 rooms with 29 suites and 32 Club Level rooms. The latter give you access to free food and drink throughout the day and evening. Kids big and little can't resist the wall of candy jars stuffed with sweet favourites. There are stacks of newspapers and great coffee.

The Ritz-Carlton refers to its staff as "ladies and gentlemen" and they are trained to provide service guests didn't know they needed. When I reported a lost set of sunglasses to the front desk they apologized so profusely I had to assure them it was my fault they were gone. When I got back to my room that evening there was a message from security apologizing they still hadn't been located.

(I'd left them in a Laguna Beach restaurant and retrieved them the next morning).

I was complimented frequently, for my unique glasses, red shoes and haircut. I chose not to question the sincerity of the ladies and gentlemen.

Sunset-seekers can lean off their balconies, sit on an Andironack chair on the bluff or in any of the bars and restaurants for a spectacular view. 180blu, the main bar, serves smoked swordfish tacos and salmon tartar won-ton tostados that will make you moan. Raya, the signature restaurant, has a bank of windows overlooking the Pacific. The ahi tuna ceviche is a reminder the ocean below was the source of dinner.

There are lovely touches, such as the Ritz-Carlton's signature floral arrangements. When we visited, the entry was decorated with long-stemmed roses. A staff member pulled a wagon through the lobby. It was a treasure chest for young guests, he explained, filled with beach toys.

The spa? Don't get me started. An hour-long massage was divine.

The hotel has an eco-adventure centre where guests can (at a price) learn about the organic kitchen garden, take surf lessons or head out whale-watching. We boated through a mega-pod of dolphins, more than 2,000 cavorting around us.

Laguna Beach proper is a favourite Orange County spot, close to Disneyland and neatly nestled between Los Angeles and San Diego. Nearby Huntington Beach is the original Surf City, U.S.A. The Sugar Shack serves up a cheap and filling breakfast. Mostly, you'll shop and gape at the waves.

The sinful luxury of the Ritz-Carlton doesn't come without cost. The fabulous Club Level oceanfront rooms range from $825 to $1,195 a night on weekends. When I win the lottery, I'm moving in.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 27, 2013 D2

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