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Friday, June 25, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

The lap of luxury

By Jane Wooldridge
Knight Ridder Newspapers

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NWsource: Travel

Looking for a luxurious place to stay? Here's a rundown on some top luxury hotel groups, with hotels in the United States, Europe, Latin America and Asia.

Four Seasons

Beautiful, sophisticated surroundings married with friendly, unpretentious service has made Four Seasons one of the world's most vaunted luxury names.

Each of the 62 hotels — 33 in the U.S. — is designed to fit its surroundings. Result: The George V in Paris presents a different world from, say, the Four Seasons in Bali. What is the same: attentive staff that is concerned and genuine, but professional and ever-so-slightly Old World.

Details: Most hotels have 200-250 rooms. All have children's programs; concierges make an extra effort to find activities families can do together.

Room rates vary widely, from $800-plus in some European cities to $290 in Chiang Mai, Thailand; packages often available. 800-819-5053 or www.fourseasons.com.

Mandarin Oriental

The Mandarin Oriental group takes its name from two of Asia's best-known hotels: the Mandarin in Hong Kong and the Oriental in Bangkok, legendary for its 125-year history of service.

In the U.S., the company has hotels in Hawaii, Miami, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., with two in New York City (Mandarin Oriental and The Mark.) Hotels are under construction in Boston and Cancun, Mexico.
 
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Each Mandarin Oriental hotel is individually designed to reflect its location, says Wolfgang Hultner, CEO of the Americas. Still, each has a hint of Oriental style, though it tends to be subtle and gracious rather than cloying. Each hotel prides itself on its signature restaurant. In the past several years, the hotel group has also become known for its luxurious spas.

Details: Most Mandarin Oriental hotels have 150-300 rooms. The company holds an ownership position in some hotels; in others, it is the manager only. Some but not all have children's programs. Rates vary widely by location; in Bangkok, they run about $250 per night, in New York $600 and up. 866-526-6567 or www.mandarinoriental.com

Peninsula

If you've been to Hong Kong — or contemplated going there — you've probably heard of the Peninsula, the colonial grand dame on Kowloon where afternoon tea to the strains of a white-gloved orchestra is a ritual.

Today, in any of the Peninsula group's seven hotels, the focus is on service and luxury.

In the U.S., Peninsula has hotels in New York, Chicago and Beverly Hills; the others are in Asian cities.

Details : All hotels have spas and a well-rated restaurant; all offer amenities or programs from children. The average room rate is $450 and up. 800-262-9467 or www.peninsula.com

Leading Hotels

Leading Hotels of the World has 415 members, with 55 in the U.S. Unlike some other marketing associations, hotels represented by Leading Hotels are run by various companies, including the London-based Dorchester Group or the Peninsula in Hong Kong. Hotels are inspected anonymously, and regularly. All must offer 24-hour room service.

Details : The average nightly rate is $375. Some hotels have children's programs; others do not allow children under a specified age. Packages and specials are noted on its website. 800-745-8883 or www.lhw.com

Orient Express

Orient Express takes its fame from the luxury train that once ran from Paris to the Far East. Today, the company has more than 30 hotels around the world, including the Cipriani in Venice and the Copa Cabana in Rio de Janeiro; a luxury boat in Myanmar (Burma) and luxury trains in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

In the U.S., the company has four hotels plus New York's vaunted 21 Club restaurant. "

Details : Most lodgings offer children's programs fitting to the location, such as cooking school or museum tours. Rates vary widely, from around $300 in Latin America to $800 in Italy. Packages and specials are offered on its Web site. 800-237-1236 or www.orient-express.com

Relais & Chateaux

Only 11 percent of the hotels that applied to Relais & Chateaux were admitted to the prestigious association this year.

Worldwide, about 450 privately-owned boutique hotels are members, and what distinguishes Relais & Chateaux hotels is their attention to gourmet dining.

Hotels have an average of 30 rooms. "Not only must the service be exceptional, the hotel must offer an individualized experience. We want you to feel like staying in someone's home,'' says Brenda Homick, director of North America, where Relais & Chateaux has 45 members. Members are inspected repeatedly and anonymously.

Details : Rates start at about $250 at some properties but can run much higher. Children's programs vary, but many do not allow young children. 800-735-2478 or www.relaischateaux.com

Ritz-Carlton

Ritz-Carlton is the homegrown luxury brand.The company — which manages but typically does not own its 60 hotels, including 28 in the U.S. — has gold standards of friendly service throughout the brand.

Detractors argue that Ritz-Carlton hotels are simply a dressed-up version of sister brand Marriott, with a cookie-cutter style. But most of its new hotels are individually designed to reflect a sense of place.

Details : Most hotels have 200-250 rooms; all have the Ritz Kids program. Most have a spa and serve afternoon tea. Rates generally start at $250 or higher, but specials are sometimes available. All Ritz-Carltons have a club-level floor, typically priced at $100 above the regular rate, where guests get complimentary snacks and cocktails. 800-241-3333 or www.ritzcarlton.com

Rosewood

The name Rosewood may not be familiar — the company has downplayed it — but for connoisseurs of luxury, its lodgings are: Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, Caneel Bay in St. John, the Carlyle in New York. And soon, Acquilina in Miami Beach. Of Rosewood's 12 hotels and resorts, eight are in the Americas.

Details : Hotel sizes vary; the average number of rooms is 100. All hotels have children's programs. Rosewood owns some hotels and only manages others. Rates vary widely, starting around $400 in cities and about $950 at the highly acclaimed Las Ventanas al Paraiso in Baja, Mexico. www.rosewoodhotels.com

Small Luxury Hotels

Small Luxury Hotels of the World is a consortium of 300-plus independently owned lodgings, with more than 40 members in the U.S. Hotels pay to belong to the network, but are inspected by a mystery shopper when they apply for membership and every other year after they've been admitted. This year,150 applications were rejected and 44 accepted, said public relations director Lanny Grossman And yes, hotels have been kicked out for not maintaining standards.

Details : The average number of rooms in member hotels is 55; the largest, Banyan Tree in Bangkok, has 200 rooms. Lodgings include city hotels, resorts and country houses. Some offer kid-friendly programs; others don't allow children under 16. The average room rate is about $300. 800-525-4800 or www.slh.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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