October 28, 2011

The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe

Two years ago, I attended a pre-opening party for The Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe at San Francisco's Jardinere, where we got to preview the blueprints for this luxury resort. There was much hype and excitement over the development of this property, and the remarkable amenities it promised to offer. We all eagerly waited in anticipation for its unveiling.

Last week, I was amongst a handful of Wedding Planners to be invited to their FAM tour. FAM is short for "familiarization", and is an opportunity for us to experience the resort to its fullest potential, to establish relationships with the catering team there, and to understand the logistics of planning an event in the spaces that they offer.

The 3 day FAM tour was scheduled to began on Sunday, but since I had a wedding in Half Moon Bay that day, I was not able to join the first day of activities, which included tours of the Village at Northstar and the town of Truckee, and a "Rehearsal Dinner" at Manzanita restaurant--the resort's premier restaurant headed by Traci Des Jardins.

My husband accompanied me on this trip, mainly because he didn't want me driving by myself in the middle of the night, especially knowing how tired I am after a wedding. He drove the entire 4.5 hours and I slept for 4 of those hours! We arrived to the resort in the middle of the night, shortly after 3:00am, where we became mesmerized by this striking view:

Photo taken from Ritz-Carlton Highlands website
"We've been expecting you Ms. Lau!" the enthusiastic staff at the resort said as they greeted us at every step of the way from valet to the front desk. I was half asleep at that point, but was genuinely impressed already by the friendliness and professionalism of the staff there, even at 3am!

We were escorted to our room on the Club Level, and though I immediately wanted to collapse on the inviting King-size bed in front of me, I took a minute to take in all the beautiful details of the room, including the thoughtful Welcome Bag that was given to us by the Catering team.

I got about 4 hours of sleep on that amazing bed before I had to pull myself together for the second day of activities. It was wonderful to see my fellow colleagues, many of whom I consider close friends in the wedding industry. Ofcourse, it was equally as delightful to make new friends as well, which is one of my favorite part of these FAM trips! We started the morning off with breakfast in their Club Lounge Hospitality Suite, which was our temporary "home-base" for this FAM tour. Then, we were given umbrellas for the resort tour, since it was raining outside. I couldn't stop admiring the surrounding pine trees that seemed to stretch for eternities. Back in April when I attended a FAM tour at Pebble Beach, I was convinced that being surrounded by the ocean was the most beautiful and breathtaking feeling of all. To my surprise though, I realized through this Lake Tahoe FAM trip that I love the serenity of being wrapped around by the mountains and trees just as much! There is something so peaceful and tranquil about the stillness of the mountains, and I suppose it is for this very reason that writers claim to be most inspired when they are able to hide and write uninterrupted in the mountains.

Fall is a quiet, yet marvelous time of the year at the Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe, but imagine arriving to this scenery in their winter months...

Photo taken from Ritz-Carlton Highlands website

Simply astounding, right? The snow brings magic to this already magnificent property, and with its convenient ski-in, ski-out access to the Northstar lifts, you'd better be booking way ahead of time to get a room here between the last week of December through early April. 

Photo taken from the Ritz-Carlton Highlands website
I was told that most people who choose to wed in Lake Tahoe holds a sentimental tie to this gorgeous area. Many have wonderful memories of good times spent in their parents' summer home by the lake, or they enjoy the nostalgia of fireplace coziness under a snow-filled sky. No matter the reason though, the Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe has an amazingly talented, professional, and top-notch team to help you host your event in the most memorable ways possible. With 8 different sites, both indoor and outdoor, on their own property, there is certainly no shortage of options available for all kinds of events, big or small. I love that their two ballrooms both have terraces wrapped around their adjacent foyers, allowing a lovely indoor/outdoor flow. They also have floor to ceiling windows that offer an unimaginable view of the Sierra Nevada! 

Wedding Ceremony at The Meadows | Photo taken from Ritz Carlton Highlands website

Wedding Ceremony in The Woods | Photo taken from Ritz-Carlton Highlands website

Reception at Fireside Terrace | Photo taken from Ritz-Carlton Highlands website

Wedding Reception in The Ritz-Carlton Ballroom | Photo taken from Ritz-Carlton Highlands website
One of my favorite part of the resort is what they call the Living Room, where you are surrounded by sweeping views of the Martis Valley, with lots of cozy sitting areas. At the center of it is a 55' tall granite fireplace, resembling a "tree trunk". The wooden ceiling beams were designed to mimic branches coming out of this "tree trunk." 

Photo taken from the Ritz-Carlton Highlands website

Photo taken from the Ritz-Carlton Highlands website

The cozy fire pit, looking into the Living Room | Photo taken from Ritz-Carlton Highlands website
It is especially interesting for me when we get to see the "back of the house" on these FAM tours, as it is very helpful for me to understand their operations for our event logistics in the future. We were completely blown away when the Executive Chef met with us in the kitchen, and showed us first hand their state of the art equipments. They use an Italian conveyor belt for their "plate-up", which significantly increases the efficiency of food service for events. In just 4 short minutes, they are able to serve 80 guests! This may not mean much for those of you who are not in the event industry, but efficiency in the plate-up process can really enhanced the culinary experience for guests! 

Our site tour concluded with a light lunch back at the Club Lounge, before we dispersed for our individual spa treatments. FAM tours almost always includes a spa treatment for us, because experiencing the spa is a very important part of any luxury resort! The spa at the Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe did not disappoint, and is truly a "forest sanctuary." I chose a full mani/pedi instead of a massage this time, and their level of care and comfort was superior. At the conclusion of our treatments, we were offered champagne and a delicious assortment of cake pops, because they are just that thoughtful and hospitable at every step of the way.

In between our spa treatments, the hotel arranged some optional activities in the Club Lounge for our leisure--The Making of a Wedding Cake 101, Wine & Cheese Pairing, and Mixologists demonstrating some cool new cocktail recipes. I was only able to attend the wedding cake class, which was a whole lot of fun! The pastry chef walked us through step-by-step in how he creates his masterpieces. It is quite a labor intensive process, and extremely detail-oriented, for those of you who wonder why wedding cakes cost so much.

That evening, we enjoyed some lovely conversations over a scrumptious dinner, followed by an exquisite dessert presentation filled with some of my favorite sweet bites! 

An artist painting the lively decor during the cocktail hour

As if there would be any possibility that we weren't full enough, we went back to our rooms to this special plate by our bedside....

On the last day of this FAM trip, we started off with a divine brunch in front of a striking view of the pine trees and mountains. Lots of laughs and fun conversations over our omelets and croissants.

Then, a shuttle bus was arranged to whisk us away towards the glittering blue lake, where we got a private tour of the magnificent historical site, Thunderbird Lodge, also known as the "Castle in the Sky". It is indeed, a stunning property prominently situated on the lakeside; the kind of secluded property that makes your jaw drop when you arrive. It makes for an extraordinary and unique site for any special event, though they only accept 8-10 weddings a year, in order to protect and preserve its historic grounds. They have a wonderful partnership with the Ritz-Carlton, where the hotel can provide catering for the weddings and special events held at Thunderbird Lodge, allowing them to maintain a very high level of excellence. 

We had the pleasure of lunching on their waterfront patio after the tour, where we enjoyed the scenic view of the lake in front of us. It was the perfect way to end our FAM tour! 

A sincere thank you to Andrea, Clodagh, and their phenomenal team at The Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe, for their hospitality and care in making our FAM trip a truly memorable and five star experience. I would absolutely love to have the opportunity to plan an event up there! 

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