Inspired by 16th-century architect Andrea Palladio, Pelican Hill rises like an Italian Renaissance masterpiece above the magnificent Newport Beach coast, on 504 acres surrounded by almost 50,000 acres of protected habitat. The Tuscan-style colonnades, arched porticos, rotundas, vaulted ceilings, courtyards and bubbling fountainsall gracefully connected by herringbone-brick walkways and Mediterranean landscapinglook like theyve always been there. Its as if the resort was designed to be a legacy.
As for the main attractions, get a pen. Aside from the luxe accommodations, there are two Tom Fazio-designed golf courses (with the most seasoned golf pros); a pool that is a perfect 136-foot-diameter circle of shallow saltwater, inlaid with 1.1 million (not kidding) hand-cut-glass tiles; a 23,000-square-foot spa with treatments rivaling the finest in Europe; and the resorts elegant signature restaurant, Andrea, a world-class contender.
Theres more. Given that the typical luxury hotel room is 450 square feet, the smallest bungalow at Pelican Hill (there are only bungalows and villas) is 847 square feet (the size of many apartments), and the largest villa is 3,581 square feet (larger than my house). Spacious doesnt cover ityou feel as if you are living in someones luxurious home, not a hotel. All 204 bungalows and 128 villas face the Pacific Ocean and have every amenity: HD flat screens, Bose sound systems, marble soaking tubs, limestone fireplaces and the finest china. The villas, each akin to a two-, three- or four-bedroom home, come with a stocked gourmet kitchen, a garage with washer-dryer and, yes, a butler.
The brainchild of real-estate developer, philanthropist and conservationist Donald Bren, chairman of the Irvine Company, Pelican Hill runs on the motto The possibility of perfection. So, how does an ultra-luxe destination successfully launch beyond anyones expectations in an economically challenging time? Its the people.
The method behind this risky business/madness boils down to details: Out of more than 16,000 applicants who clamored to be a part of the resorts operations, only 900 were hired. While many of the candidates were culled from Ritz-Carltons, Four Seasons, Westins, boutique hotels, prestigious spas, top restaurants, sports clubs and hospitality services from all parts of the globe, the Pelican selection process was a work of art, as the choices were not limited to the highly experienced. Neophytes were also sought for their passion to serve and ability to grasp the unique philosophy that drives Pelican hospitalityand for their smiles.
As for the attention to detail, its as if all the veteran hospitality professionals brought on board sat in one room and asked themselves, What detail would I like to add? What would contribute to the perfect experience? Thats why there are five types of coffee in each villa, a choice of soaps and Villeroy & Boch china; why no guest will ever have to request toothpaste, a razor or shaving gel; and why such touches as orchids in the sitting rooms and expansive patios with chaise lounges and tables contribute to the feeling that youre staying at a close friends vacation home. The details go beyond the guest rooms: Risotto is finished in a 28-inch wheel of Parmesan and served in individual silver dishes; the spa features temperature-controlled beds and a waiting room full of art books; and the lobby is a study in opulent minimalism.
The lengths to which employees will go to provide above-and-beyond service is unprecedented. The answer to every request is Fine, Yes, sir or Yes, maam, My pleasure when appropriate and Of course!all said with a smile. Every task is executed promptly. Want Variety delivered to your door? Its there. Canadian Club? Give them 10 minutes. A private Fendi fashion show? Model-ready by the next day. Peace and quiet? Say the word, and no one will disturb you. One guest brought her mother, who had been very ill. Once her mom was settled, she was brought a pair of slippers to make her more comfortable. Because the slippers provided were too large, a hotel staffer went to the store and bought a pair that would fit.
The service, smiles and attitudes are amazing everywhere at Pelican Hill. And heres why:
Giuseppe Lama, Managing Director
The dinner crowd is about to arrive at Andrea as Lama scrutinizes the room, eyeing the Rene Ozorio china and napkins made from drapery fabric chosen in Milan. He sees something amiss. From his pocket, he whips out three lengths of butcher string: 48 inches, 12 inches and a 20-footer. He uses the first to proportion the tablewarea knife to the opposing place settings fork, a fork to the opposite knife. The second gauges space between each settings knife, fork and plates. The third aligns all tables, chairs, vases and candles so a diner will see symmetry throughout.
Perfection does not take a day off, he says. I tell my staff if they cant produce perfection that day, then dont show up to work. It was just that perfection gene Lama was seeking when he met prospective managers. Its evident in how a person carries himself: standing straight, head erect, chin up, firm handshake andmost importantthe ability to look me in the eye. His most memorable lessonwhich he uses at Pelicancame from a managerial stint at the Westin Century Plaza, where he served lunch to former president Ronald Reagan every day. Reagan once told me whenever he met someone, he would look at the color of their eyes. The instant connection makes a deposit in a persons emotional bank account, says Lama. Thats what I teach every employee. Once you do that, the rest is easy.
Toby Moll, Guest Services Representative
Because he had taken an American sign-language class when he broke his jaw and had it sewn shut, when Moll observed a couple strolling through the grounds signing to each other, he was able to lend some assistance. I ended up helping them retrieve their car, he says. Glad to be of service.
Kimberly Erickson, Villa Coordinator
Like a pre-concierge, Erickson oversees the needs of villa guests. I call them about a month prior, just to say hello, she says. She notes each wish or request and follows through by organizing childrens activities, making spa appointments, stocking refrigerators, booking tee times and explaining transportation, email and phone systems. That way, people wont be overwhelmed by instructions and decisions when they arrive, she says. And that half-and-half? Order it once, and it will always be in your fridge.
Kevin Kovac, Villas Assistant General Manager
The villas are like a boutique hotel within a hotel, says Kovac. The Orange County native learned the main trick of his trade from his mother. She always told me, Do what you would do even if someone wasnt watching you, he says. Before Christmas, one guest requested a tree in her villa. Her sister-in-law owned a tree farm, so I coordinated with her and had it delivered on the 24th. The guest had ornaments, so one of our concierges, a butler and I put them up. After she checked out, we took all the ornaments down. Since she lived near me, I drove them back to her house. No problem at all.
Matt Rydell, Valet Supervisor