Sunday, January 01, 2006

Travel: Weekend FT, Breakfast in basket, Sir?

Weekend Financial Times: New York is heaven for pampered pooches.
Julie Earle-Levine reports

Staying at the Ritz-Carlton in New York is divine. The views of Central Park commanding, the service impeccable and the bar scene lively. Just ask my dog.

On our last visit, he was welcomed by name, not me. "Welcome to the Ritz, Julio," said the doorman, with a bow and a sweep of his hand, clearing the way for Julio to enter the Ritz's grand foyer, tail wagging furiously, a little excited drool escaping his black lips.

Julio got a 22-carat gold plated ID tag, wore a designer Burberry coat and ordered steak au poivre, delivered on a silver tray. That's what you get when you are a VIP - "Very Important Pooch".

Julio was the first dog to try out The Ritz's VIP programme, but about 100 other dogs have followed in his paw steps since the program was introduced in August.

Americans in particular love spending time with their pets and it seems they want to go on holiday with them too. A growing number of hotels around the world are catering for well-heeled travellers with pooches.

The services are astounding - think massages for "pet lag" for dogs that fly, special pet menus, dog sitters, museum and shopping "dates" and trips to the doggy spa. "Would Julio like flat or sparkling mineral water with dinner?" Turns out, he likes flat.

Do dogs really enjoy staying at hotels? Julio tried out several New York hotels with mixed results.

At the Ritz, this hound sniffed his way around the suite, jumped on a silk chaise lounge and seemed generally delighted with his new surrounds. (He would, of course, be equally enamoured with a $39-a-night motel room with stains on the floor to lick.) For walks, Julio pranced in a Burberry raincoat, on loan from the hotel. He cringed when sprayed with an aromatherapy coat spritzer (with Pooch d'Ete Eau de Parfum). "Please don't do that to him. He smells like a woman," my husband pleaded.

At the W Hotel at Times Square, Julio took in the dazzling lights on Broadway's doorstep and spent a good deal of time by the windows, spying on the taxis, limos and tour buses 23 floors below.

Earlier, Louis Cardenas, the hotel's concierge had invited Julio for a shampoo at a nearby spa. Julio headed straight for the elevator - a bath is a bath even if it is at a sleek spa and costs $80.
Julio's private "dog sitters" arrived early, and it was time for us to dine at the Blue Fin restaurant in the hotel. Julio had a lightly cooked 8oz burger with kibble on fine bone china and a cookie treat, all washed down with still mineral water at $7 a pop.

While we dined on Maine lobster and spicy tuna rolls, Julio and his walkers took a spin around the hotel and ogled with all the tourists. He "had a great time" they told us, but he yelped with excitement and did a few laps around the room when he saw us.

The W's dog program includes a plush velvet cushion to lie on, a tiny duvet and a selection of toys, including a Statue of Liberty, which he managed to eat (and later vomit green gobs), a yellow taxi cab and a small plastic Frisbee.

The next morning, the concierge suggested a dog run on 11th avenue and 52nd, not a great walk through Hell's Kitchen to the river, but there was plenty of rubbish to smell and locals were grilling great-smelling sausages on a barbecue outside a house.

Julio was too big to stay at the elegant Peninsula Hotel, in Manhattan's mid-town, but his friend, a rat terrier called Pablo, met the 25lb-and-under weight restriction and marched around as though he owned the place, sniffing a business crowd having cocktails on the open terrace. Back in his room, he decided he didn't want the Schnauzer salad (apples, grapes and carrots) and settled on a soft canvas bed with scented cedar chips.

Julio did qualify for a stay at the Tribecca Grand, in downtown Manhattan. He created a scene walking through the lobby on a Friday night, where models and celebrities waited behind velvet ropes for a private party. Julio was invited in, no waiting.

In the suite, he headed straight to his "minibar" selected a box of heart shaped dog biscuits, then leapt on a sleek, grey sofa to devour them. Luckily for him, there was chicken flavoured toothpaste and a brush waiting. And the suite's private roof deck offered a good running track and room to sprawl.

Ritz-Carlton, 50 Central ParkSouth, tel: +1 212-308 9100;www.ritzcarlton.comW, 1567 Broadway and 47thAve, tel: +1 212-930 7400; www.whotels.comThe Peninsula, 700 FifthAvenue at 55th Street,tel: +1 212-956 2888;newyork.peninsula.comTribeca Grand, 2 Avenue of theAmericas, tel: +1 212-519-6600;
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