Naturally I spend most of the time on this blog talking about luxury travel in Mexico, Central America, and South America. But I travel outside of that geography too sometimes and it’s interesting to see what else is happening in the industry, especially in the hotel world. My experiences with two very different hotels in Arizona got me thinking about the two ways luxury hotels and resorts are able to create that elusive “wow experience” – through spectacular visuals or spectacular service.

Spectacular Setting – Enchantment Resort, Scottsdale, Arizona

The first thing staffers ask you when you arrive at Enchantment Resort is, “How was your ride in?” They know the answer is going to be something like “fantastic,” “incredible,” or “unbelievable” because there’s absolutely no chance you won’t be wowed by what you see on the approach to the resort. Even if the rooms were just so-so, the spa was routine, and the food just adequate, this resort would still draw a crowd without trying too hard: the setting is so fantastic that you’re thrilled just to be there.

The rooms, spa, and restaurants are not routine though, which is why this resort often shows up atop readers’ polls and gets lots of return visitors. It’s a special place in a special setting, with service that matches the promise.

For great Latin American resorts in incredible settings, here are a few ideas: Llao Llao and Isla Victoria in Argentina, Cliffs Preserve and Explora Salto Chico in Chile, Casa Palopo in Guatemala, or Casitas del Colca in Peru.

Spectacular Service – Ritz-Carlton Phoenix

Ritz-Carlton hotels have a well-deserved reputation for superlative service. Much of this comes from smart systems and procedures behind the scenes: a daily line-up for each group of workers so everyone’s on the same page, the staffers’ ability to wrong a right or “right a right” for a guest without getting approval from their boss, and encouragement of actions that thrilled a guest instead of just meeting expectations.

The Ritz-Carlton in Phoenix is a city business hotel competing with lots of fancy resorts nearby, so it needs to do more than cover the basics, especially since it’s the hotel of choice for all the visiting rock stars and pro sports teams. I’ve got a picture of the tea set-up in a meeting room here because it’s just one little thing that’s above and beyond: four different kinds of loose tea and fancy painted pots for the hot water.

What really blew me away though was when I went to see the room of a VIP colleague who was at my meeting. In his room was an iPad to use, which is already pretty cool, but when he arrived that iPad was set to his own company’s home page, it was loaded with music he liked, and it had a slideshow of photos of him and his family pulled from the web! The day before he was to check out, they called and asked if they’d like his boarding pass printed.

And here’s the real kicker: months ago, at a different Ritz-Carlton, he had called the front desk to ask if they had any Glide dental floss because his had run out. Here, at this Ritz-Carlton, months later, there was a packet of Glide dental floss on his vanity in the bathroom. Wow indeed.

For great Latin American hotels that deliver incredible service time and again, here are some ideas: Four Seasons Punta Mita and Mexico City, Banyan Tree Mayakoba, Las Ventanas in Cabo, Machaca Hill Belize, Ritz-Carlton Santiago, Alvear Palace Buenos Aires, and Miraflores Park Hotel Lima.