For anyone who loves luxury hotels and also loves a bargain, I’ll share a secret. I’ve discovered a favorite family indulgence: the suburban Ritz-Carlton hotels. (My kids adore the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City, too, outside Washington.) The Ritz Carlton Westchester is not on the radar of many people visiting New York City with their kids, but if you’re driving to New York, it should absolutely be considered.
The Ritz-Carlton Westchester (check your dates for rates) is located in White Plains adjacent to the main shopping mall in Westchester County. A commuter train into New York City takes only 33 minutes to Grand Central Station if you catch an express train, or it’s a 50 minute drive to midtown Manhattan.
My children and I had a special mini-break while learning more about the robust culinary program the hotel offers to families in the area, the Crème de la Crème Academy.
The Ritz Kids Crème de la Crème Junior Chefs Academy
My daughter has been into watching cooking shows for a while, and I was very excited for her to have a proper cooking lesson. The Ritz Carlton pastry chef, Jackie, is a mom with small children who leads classes several times a year as well as private classes.
We met Chef Jackie in the lobby, and my children received aprons and paper chef hats. We started with a tour of the kitchen. I confess seeing the kitchen for in-room dining was interesting for me, seeing the behind the scenes action of the many meals that magically appear in our hotel rooms after a phone call.
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Jackie had chosen a mini apple pie for them to prepare. She leads classes with up to 10 children, and I was impressed with how adept at adjusting cooking tasks for both my five and ten-year-old she was. She’s a natural teacher and talented working with children.
My children were led step by step in a way that they could understand. My son used a peeler on local apples while my daughter was able to chop them. While my daughter completed that task Jackie took my son to the upright mixer where she showed him how to use a rubber spatula to push the crumble topping down the sides.
She moved through the entire lesson with patience, kindness, and authority, and my children were hooked, following her every word and facial expression when they tackled the next step.
As the tarts baked in the ovens, Chef Jackie showed my children how to decorate a plate with decorative crunch topping, chocolate and caramel sauces and paint brushes. My daughter was able to make an elegant pattern. My son believed more was more.
Jackie placed the warm, final products on their plates, and let them do one last sugar sprinkle on top. My kids’ proud smiles of their apple pies were, indeed, sweet.
Crème de la Crème Junior Chefs Academy offers quarterly classes fill up way in advance like hotel holiday teas, so plan ahead. Each session is $120 per child, targeted to children 10-18. Private classes are great for families with younger children or even birthday parties. They run $500 for up to four children with $120 per child beyond four.
2017 Class Dates for Crème de la Crème Junior Chefs Academy:
- Sunday, February 12, 2017 – 2:00 – 3:30 PM
- Sunday, April 9, 2017 – 2:00 – 3:30 PM
- Sunday, July 9, 2017 – 2:00 – 3:30 PM
- Sunday, October 22, 2017 – 2:00 – 3:30 PM
A Ritz-Carlton Staycation
I suggest adding combining the cooking program with an overnight stay like we did. A family movie, a swim in the rooftop pool, and a room service dinner is a restorative break from any family. Families can stretch out in large suites for a fraction of the cost as those sister properties in New York City.
The room service kitchen even delivered my children’s apple pies to us after our dinner for our own homemade dessert.
The Ritz-Carlton’s service philosophy is very distinctive in that it feels old-fashioned, like the kind of over-the-top spoiling reserved for over-indulging grandparents. It starts at check-in, when a red wagon filled with toys arrives for young guests to take. Chef Jackie had sent them a chocolate chip pizza cookie to decorate, though they ended up decorating each other with chocolate frosting.
The rooftop pool was the perfect family break. A complimentary basket of swim diapers and pull-ups and a few noodles are there to make every parent prepared. Though we are past the swim diaper chapter, I love when I see hotels offering them.
The mostly glass roof and floor-to-celling windows gave a light and airy feel to the rooftop pool to help it transcend the feeling of being at a health club lap pool.
After a swim, my children were greeted with a family movie package of candies, juices, popcorn, and games for our night in. I snuck into our oversized bathroom and enjoyed a long soak to avoid a second painful viewing of the Angry Birds movie before we dove into a game of Chutes and Ladders.
Like many suburban luxury hotels, weddings and events are big business at the Ritz-Carlton Westchester. So while many other hotel amenities felt like more abbreviated versions of larger city locations, the spa at the Ritz-Carlton Westchester was full-sized and capable of handling many guests with salon and spa services and offered several couples’ experiences and a full health club. The Ritz-Carlton Westchester also offers residences, so lifestyle amenities must work for the owners as well.
There are convenient advantages for staying at the Westchester location compared to the Manhattan locations, but the rooms and dining will not compare to the more luxurious Central Park property, for example. But your hotel dollar stretches further, and you see no sacrifice in the Ritz Carlton service that you receive.
As I grabbed a coffee in the lobby the following morning, I saw a woman breeze by me in a black suit, heels, and wet hair clutching her tote bag with an all-too-familiar, “Oh crap!” expression. The hotel’s bellman was only one step behind her, jogging at her pace while pulling a luggage cart. His expression of sincere concern was exactly what luxury travelers find addictive about Ritz-Carlton properties. And like her, everyone tries to push thier check out for as long as possible.