Kids can do, learn, experience, enjoy the darndest things at Ritz-Carlton. At The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park, for example, at noon daily children (accompanied by a hotel staff member) step out to feed the horses parked with their carriages along Central Park South, while at The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach, teens are invited to join in a 5-hour, innovative, lady-in-training program at Charm Camp. The hotel company takes its youngest guests seriously with an extensive Ritz Kids program that is available in different formats throughout the collection, including recreational, artistic and educational experiences. But the piece de resistance is its Ambassadors of the Environment program, unique in the hospitality industry.
The brainchild of environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau and his non-profit organization Ocean Futures Society, the Ambassadors for the Environment program made its debut at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman in 2006, offering youngsters a whole new roster of eco-tour adventures under a program called 7 Wonders on 7 Mile Beach. Cousteau’s concept—developed first for 4th through 12th graders on Catalina Island off coastal California—introduces Ritz-Carlton guests of all ages to the natural wonders and rich cultural traditions of Grand Cayman. It uses the island as a natural classroom and living laboratory, in which kids, families and adults learn while having an amazing amount of new-found fun. Eco-tours are designed to offer meaningful experiences that imbueAmbassadors with a deep appreciation and respect for nature, as well as an understanding of how to live more environmentally responsibly back home.
Denise Naguib, now corporate director for environmental programs for Marriott International, came to The Ritz Carlton, Grand Cayman from the Cousteau organization and was the key player in developing the program for the resort. “Ambassadors for the Environment caters to our guests who value the education segment of vacations,” Naguib explains. “Two years after Grand Cayman, Ritz-Carlton signed a 10-year partnership with Jean-Michel to expand Ambassadors to other of the company’s properties, and those now in place—each special to its particular environment—are: The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, Maui in 2009 and this year, the Ambassadors program came on shore in California, introduced at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel.” According to Naguib, “for the future, Ritz-Carlton is looking at opportunities at existing and future hotels, even at tailoring Ambassadors for city hotels.”
Take a brief look at a sampling of what’s on tap for family Ambassadors:
At The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, the 15 Ambassador Kids (ages 4-9) activities range from Life’s a Beach, Discovering Sea Turtles and Gardening Gurus to Nature’s Melodies, Sea Floor Submarine Adventure and The Case of the Missing Sting Ray.Ambassadors Youth (ages 8-15) have nine choices, including A Snorkel Odyssey and Mangrove Kayak, Focus on Photography, Eco-Chefs and Into the Wild. Adults and families join in the Blue Iguana Recovery Program, as well as naturalist-led snorkel and kayak excursions, not to mention photography and coral-reef studies.
At The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, 16 adventures are available for Ambassadors Kids and Youth (ages 5-18), ranging from Gentle Giants to In the Kitchen, Fires of Pele and Marine Debris to Artistry. Adult and family programs include Cities Under the Sea(underwater photography) and Malama Ke Kai (“Caring for the Ocean”).
Each day, The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel dedicates itself to different aspects of Southern California’s natural wonders—kelp bed, the intertidal zone, the sandy beach, terrestrial ecology, native, culture and sustainable living. Eco-Excursions for Kids of All Ages range from The Biggest Show on Earth (studying whales) to Take Pictures, Leave Bubbles and Acjachemen Arts (the Native American way).
While all Ritz-Carlton hotels and resorts have some variation of Ritz Kids features, properties in Florida provide a good example of the variety that families can choose from. For instance, The Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne keeps an eye on its younger guests (ages 5 to 12) in its supervised Ritz Kids program. On the activities roster, parents find tennis and basketball sports clinics, pool and beach games, fishing, arts and crafts, computer and board games, and treasure hunts. Full- and half-day sessions are available daily, and Saturdays it’s Ritz Kids Night Out (from 6 to 9 p.m.) And come next summer (June-August), it’s Adventure Camp for young explorers (ages 5-12) who enjoy week-long sessions—half- or full-day—that are action-packed with activities, sports and excursions.
Families with young children (age 5+) staying at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples will enjoy an active and enriching program at its eco-themed Nature’s Wonders Center, a sanctuary fitted out with 11 aquariums hosting numerous fish, crabs, mollusks, jellyfish, alligators and an eel. There is also a kid-size lab filled with microscopes, slides and Petri dishes, and a Nature Vision Theater where National Geographic specials, Discovery programs and Disney moves are shown. Daily, environmentally focused activities include nature walks with Ranger Randy and nature scavenger hunts, boat rides with a naturalist in the estuary, and “guided” beach combing.