The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel: A stunning beachfront resort that falls short on luxury
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The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel is a five-star luxury resort in Dana Point, California. Perched on a 150-foot bluff, the resort boasts incredible views of the Pacific Ocean and is just steps away from Salt Creek Beach. The resort reopened in March 2021 after extensive renovations that include refreshed rooms.
Room rates regularly top $1,000 per night, making this a popular option for those looking to get maximum value out of their Marriott points. But is it worth it? Here’s a detailed look at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel.
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The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel is a Category 7 Marriott property, requiring 50,000 to 70,000 points per night. Room rates regularly go over $1,000, making this a great use of points. If you happen to find availability at the 50,000-point level, it might be worthwhile to use a free night award from the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card.
When I stayed at this property in June, the nightly rate was $780 per night, while award rates were 70,000 points. I did have to pay a daily $50 resort fee, but I got well 1.1 cents in value out of each point. So I still came out ahead.
The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel is in Dana Point, an oceanfront community in Orange County. The resort is about a 35-minute drive from John Wayne Airport (SNA) and an hour from Los Angeles International (LAX), assuming traffic isn’t worse than usual.
The resort takes up 18 acres of prime beachfront real estate and the views throughout the property are pretty stunning.
If you ever get tired of roaming through its impressive grounds, you can walk off the property and head to a small shopping center across the street, where you’ll find a Beach Hut Deli and Moulin bakery. Moulin is a great spot for breakfast if you don’t want to shell out $60+ per person at the Ritz-Carlton (where, frankly, the breakfast wasn’t that great).
If you want to venture out further to go shopping and explore the area, you may want to get a rental car. When I stayed at this resort in June, getting an Uber or Lyft was impossible. In fact, I never once found a ride through Uber, but I did get lucky and snag a couple of Lyft rides at 3x the normal rate. The driver informed me, “I’m the only rideshare driver working around here. I don’t get a break.”
He picked me up and dropped me off when I had lunch with friends at the nearby Coastal Kitchen. He also handed me his card and said to call him to prearrange a ride. He would make sure to make himself available, so I could get to where I needed to go (which would have been near-impossible otherwise). Long story short: Get a rental car.
We arrived at the hotel around 11:15 a.m. — 15 minutes past check-out — it was packed! This resort is a popular wedding venue and there were several wedding parties checking out. I’ve never seen so many people in a hotel lobby.
Check-in wasn’t until 4 p.m., but we landed that morning and had nothing else to do, so we figured we’d drop our luggage off, have lunch at the hotel and I’d get a head start photographing the grounds.
The front desk agent was very apologetic about not having a room ready, explaining that a large number of guests had checked out late that morning and housekeeping was short-staffed. Still, he was happy to store our bags and put us in the queue for a room once it became ready.
My room was booked under an Ambassador member’s account and while that status was acknowledged, the benefits were not explained to me. It’s worth pointing out that Marriott Platinum and Titanium elite members do not get free breakfast at Ritz-Carlton hotels. Instead, they receive 1,000 points per stay.
The agent informed me that I’d been upgraded to “a lovely ocean-view room” and that he would try to get me a key in the next two hours. Since check-in wasn’t until 4 p.m., I was perfectly happy with anything they could do for us. He confirmed my phone number and said he would call me when it was ready.
We had lunch at 180Blu, walked around the grounds, left the resort to go shopping and then returned for afternoon tea at Raya. A waiter we had chatted with at 180Blu earlier came by and asked how our room was. I told him we were still waiting and he was pretty shocked.
It was past 4 p.m. at this point, so I went to the front desk to check on things. The agent apologized profusely, checked with housekeeping and confirmed they were just too backed up. He asked if we’d had lunch and when I confirmed we did, he offered to comp the bill to make up for the long wait.
About a half-hour later, I got a text that the room was ready. I picked up the keys and was told our luggage would be on the way. When I walked down the halls, there were housekeepers still cleaning rooms.
The pandemic has lead to staffing shortages in the hospitality industry, but it had never really impacted one of my hotel stays beyond being told that it wouldn’t be a daily service. Seeing the housekeeping staff work so hard to turn rooms around well past 5 p.m. was shocking, especially at a resort like this. There’s always room for grace, but nowhere else had I seen the extent to which hotels were struggling with staffing.
A standard award at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel gets you into a “Garden View” room, but I was upgraded to a “Coastline View” room. I loved the location on the west side of the resort because it was quiet and the view was beautiful. To get to the room, we took the elevator down one floor. The elevator opened up to a window offering stunning ocean views – a preview of what was to come.
The walk to the room was pretty long, but it helped me hit my step goals every day, so it was fine.
View aside, the room itself was pretty underwhelming, resembling a Sheraton more than a Ritz-Carlton. There were two full beds facing a desk and TV. The furniture looked rather cheap and the mattress was a bit springy and uncomfortable. The pillows weren’t fluffed, which is a minor detail and can be probably be attributed to the housekeeping shortage.
There were two power outlets by the beds, along with a pair by the desk and a row underneath the TV.
The room also had a closet by the door, which offered plenty of storage space and a bathrobe, safe, shoe polish and umbrella.
There was another closet unit next to the bed on the far end of the room. Inside was a Nespresso machine with plenty of coffee pods, sugar and tea provisions. Below that was an empty fridge, where we kept the five water bottles that were stocked in the room and replenished upon request.
About 10 minutes after we arrived, our bags were dropped off by a lovely staffer named Jeremy. He asked if we had stayed here before and whether we needed activity recommendations. It’s always nice to get recommendations from staff who know the area, so this was appreciated.
I began inspecting the room more closely and was disappointed at what I found. The back of the vase on the nightstand was covered in dust and so was the nightstand itself. It was clear only the front side was cleaned for appearance’s sake.
The door handles leading to the balcony were also dusty and there were crumbs on the balcony floor.
The patio furniture wasn’t clean either. After checking out of the room, we realized my dad had left his AirPods on the balcony. The iCloud tracker seemed to indicate they were on the balcony. Despite several calls to the hotel, they weren’t able to locate them and my guess is because they didn’t check (or clean) the balcony after we left.
There was no hand sanitizer in the room either, which is disappointing because even at lower-end Hyatt and Hilton hotels I’ve stayed at, there were hand-sanitizing wipes and even extra masks left out for guests.
That being said, the highlight of the room was definitely the view. It was incredibly peaceful and the loud roar of the ocean at night was totally eliminated with the door closed.
The all-marble bathroom was clean, though there was only one set of towels. Luckily the housekeeping cart was down the hall, so I was able to get two extra sets pretty easily.
The bathroom was outfitted with a glass-enclosed shower and tub.
A robe hung on the door, with a pair of slippers. Upon closer inspection, the slippers (despite being wrapped in plastic) had little bits of dirt on them, like they’d been worn before.
The shower and sink were stocked with Asprey amenities and a small jar on the left sink contained cotton swabs alongside a tissue box.
The toilet was separated by a door past the shower. It’s always nice when hotels separate spaces like this. It’s a nice change from the sink-in-the-room, class-door-separating-the-bathroom design you see in trendier hotels.
My only issue with the bathroom was that only one sink had a power outlet for the hairdryer. All the women reading this will find it particularly annoying.
Despite being told that housekeeping would be limited, we got a knock on the door at 3:40 p.m. asking if we needed a room refresh. It just happened this one time and we turned it down since we had assumed the room had just been cleaned before our arrival.
Food and beverage
The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel has four on-site restaurants and a bar. Additionally, you can walk off-site and grab breakfast or lunch at one of the casual dining spots right outside the resort gates.
Raya is the resort’s main restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, not to mention incredible ocean views. The menu highlights “Latin American flavors,” but that’s a bit of a stretch. The only thing vaguely resembling Latin flavors are items like ceviche, ahi tortas, and tacos.
I had breakfast and dessert at Raya and stopped by for dessert. The dessert was great and we managed to snag a table by the window. There was a 30-minute wait and the hostess ended up seating us at a table that hadn’t been cleaned yet. When I pointed this out, a staff member came over and wiped it down.
Other than this little hiccup, the service was quick and attentive. The server promptly brought out water and my iced coffee was delivered five minutes later. I’m #teamicedcoffee year-round and the mark of a good iced coffee is when it’s so smooth that you don’t even need to add creamer. This one definitely fit the bill.
Next came the pana cotta topped with vanilla ice cream. It was so delicious, I finished it in about three seconds flat. Sitting there at that window, taking in the gorgeous scenery while enjoying my favorite dessert and iced coffee? It doesn’t get better than that.
The following morning, we had breakfast at Raya. Now this experience was a bit underwhelming. There was no QR code at the table, so we had to wait on that for a while.
I ordered the eggs Benedict while my parents had eggs with turkey bacon (major kudos on that, since most hotel restaurants do not offer turkey bacon). We also ordered juice and a bowl of shared fruit. The total came to around $150. I charged it to my room and used the annual up to $300 statement credit for eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program from the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card to cover it.
The presentation wasn’t the greatest. Between the plates and overflowing ketchup bowls, I got greasy diner vibes more than upscale resort. The table also didn’t have salt or pepper and when I requested it, the server brought me a plastic cup with salt and pepper packets. It’s a small thing, but presentation matters.
Beyond the appearance, the food was also cold. With breakfast being so underwhelming and overpriced, we followed a recommendation from Instagram and had breakfast at nearby Moulin the next morning. It was a much better experience and about a third of the price.
180Blu is an outdoor dining restaurant with a large patio overlooking the beach. The restaurant gets its name from the fact that it offers 180 degrees of breathtaking ocean views. It’s absolutely stunning and you’ll see lots of guests strolling in just to take selfies. The menu is almost identical to Raya’s, with small plates and drinks served from 3 to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends. (Photo by Ariana Arghandewal/The Points Guy)
We went to 180Blu for lunch on the first day and it was pretty packed. Despite only one waiter serving about a dozen tables. Despite this, we were seated pretty quickly and the waiter did his best to be attentive and friendly.
Our drinks were served about 15 minutes after ordering and our food arrived about 40 minutes later. Service was definitely slow but totally understandable in this scenario. Our waiter still rushed around, making sure that drinks were refilled and guests had what they needed.
We ordered the burger, steak tacos and salmon dip with tortilla chips. Everything tasted just fine — nothing exceptional. The highlight of 180Blu is definitely the view and not so much the food.
The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel offers lots of amenities, including two pools, a tennis court, a golf course and a gym with an unbeatable view. In exchange for all these amenities, guests have to pay a daily $50 resort fee. Here’s a closer look at what that gets you:
The hotel gym was located on the first floor, across from the spa. There was never anyone working when I visited, but plenty of folks would snap photos, grab an apple from the complimentary bowl, and then leave. With views like this, who can blame them?
There was all the usual workout equipment – treadmills, stationary bikes, elliptical, weights – along with yoga mats.
The gym was spotless and there was a hand sanitizer dispenser at the entrance. Overall, I felt the place was clean and well-equipped for a workout.
The resort has two pools: one kids’ pool closer to the lobby and a main pool located on the west side of the resort. The main pool is inside a courtyard of sorts, surrounded by palm trees and countless lounge chairs.
Early in the morning, the place was foggy and swarming with crows, though the pool chairs filled up in the afternoons. I stayed here during a busy period and I didn’t get the sense that you needed to leave a towel on a chair in order to reserve a place. There were plenty of loungers for everyone.
There were two pool lifts for wheelchair users, which is one more than you typically see at most resorts.
The pool area also has a cafe that’s open Thursday to Sunday between 11:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. and serves up drinks and casual fare. Guests can also order food and drinks for poolside delivery Monday through Wednesday during the same operating hours by using a QR code to place an order.
Next to the cafe was a jacuzzi that featured both a ramp and lift for wheelchair users.
The kids’ pool was in a courtyard in the Monarch wing, which is the east side of the property. It’s easily accessible from the lobby, straight past the front desk and down the staircase to the right. Alternately, you can take the elevator in the Monarch wing down to the first floor and make a left into the courtyard. This is the best option for guests utilizing wheelchairs or those conveniently staying in the Monarch wing.
The kids’ pool was fairly large and featured a pool lift and about three dozen lounge chairs. If you’re traveling with a family and plan on making use of this pool quite a lot, I would recommend asking for a room in the Monarch wing, preferably on the first floor, for the easiest access.
The beach is probably the best amenity offered by this resort. You can easily get to it by walking down designated pathways or by requesting a ride on one of the resort’s golf carts.
Whether you want to catch a wave or a tan, the resort has a little shack set up that can help you arrange any beach activities. It’s located on the path from the back of the resort down to the beach. You can set up a surfing lesson, grab a beach chair, or anything else to make the most of your day at the beach.
At the end of the day, you can trek back up to the resort and rinse your feet off at a conveniently located faucet.
Related: The 22 best beaches in California
It might be odd to category the resort’s grounds as an amenity, but it’s definitely a highlight of staying here. The grounds are absolutely stunning and a huge incentive to get your steps in every day.
There are beautiful places to just lounge and relax, like the fire pit and lounge chairs offering incredible ocean views. You might even encounter a wedding or two, depending on when you’re staying here. The lawn areas are often decorated with chairs for wedding ceremonies. We dodged a massive wedding weekend and missed the action, but it’s something worth noting if you’re partial to (or want to avoid) the pomp and circumstance of an outdoor wedding.
If you’re a more active traveler, you’ll enjoy the walking paths throughout the resort, leading all the way up to the beachfront golf course. It’s incredibly scenic and you can even stop to try and observe the sea life through binoculars conveniently located along the path.
Good Wi-Fi is important if you’re working during your travels and The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel definitely has that covered. I had my phone and laptop hooked up to the resort’s Wi-Fi and it worked well both in the room and in public areas like the firepit.
The service at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel was good overall, though not always proactive. This isn’t the type of resort where you’ll run into staff on the grounds and get a friendly “hello.”
When my dad realized he’d left his Airpods in the room, it took repeated calls to get someone to look into it and my last call, asking them to double-check the balcony, went unanswered.
Again, there’s a pandemic happening and hotel stays are not going to be perfect.
I also did my usual security test where I pretended I lost my room key to see if the front desk would check my ID. To my disappointment, they did not.
Note on accessibility
The resort offers wheelchair-accessible rooms and public spaces. The entrance to the lobby, meeting spaces, spa, pool, business center and gym are all wheelchair accessible. You’ll also notice wheelchair lifts at the pool and jacuzzi, as well as ramps winding down the back of the resort toward the beach.
The resort also allows offers accessible guest rooms with 32-inch doors, roll-in showers and tubs. During the booking process, you can choose a room type and specify which of these features you’re looking for. The hotel will assign you a room that fits your needs within the category you choose.
Unfortunately, not all room types are accessible. Based on the hotel website, only the Garden View, Club Garden View, Ocean View, Executive Suite offer accessibility features.
Related: Best hotel credit cards of 2021
Overall, I enjoyed my stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, though there is definitely room for improvement. Whether you’re paying for the room or just stopping by for a meal, you’re definitely paying more for the location than the service or amenities. The resort grounds are absolutely stunning and reminded me I don’t need to fly to Hawaii for an incredible beachfront resort, but the room wasn’t in the best shape.
It’s important to acknowledge that the hotel was short-staffed, which might explain some of the shortcomings when it came to housekeeping, dining and service. Hopefully that’s addressed in the future because this is a unique property worth checking out if you want to put your Marriott points to good use.
Featured image by Ariana Arghandewal/The Points Guy
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