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Ritzy Ya-Yas 

Bonding and sharing adventures on a journey through life is the basis of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, a hit book and movie that has captured the hearts and imaginations of Americans. The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans (921 Canal St., 524-1331; www.ritzcarlton.com) also has sparked national interest with Ya-Ya-inspired packages and a local benefit tea and auction of hats designed by local celebrities and personalities.

The silent auction of hats will start at 2 p.m. Aug. 24 during the Ritz-Carlton's afternoon tea. Proceeds will benefit the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) Riverfront, which educates students in dance, music, creative writing, theater, visual arts and media arts. Call 524-1331 for reservations and information.

"This thing is going crazy," says Char Schroeder, director of public relations for Ritz-Carlton New Orleans. "Everyone from (singer) Irma Thomas to Mayor Ray Nagin's wife have accepted our invitation to design a hat for the auction. Hopefully it will raise a lot of money."

The public is invited to don their own favorite Ya-Ya hats for the tea and bid on hats made by Thomas and Nagin as well as Lt. Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco; Sen. Mary Landrieu; former U.S. Rep. Lindy Boggs; television personalities Angela Hill, Margaret Orr, Meg Farris and Peggy Scott Laborde; actress Becky Allen; chef Susan Spicer; designers Mignon Faget and Angele Parlange; musician Marcia Ball; Gambit Weekly publisher Margo DuBos; restaurateur Ella Brennan; and dozens of others.

"The list of people just keeps growing," Schroeder says. "It's going to be a lot of fun; I can't wait to see what designs people come up with. The whole point of it is to create hats that reflect the individual and give us a little insight into who they are, more than just what they do ... a little signature as to who they are."

Schroeder says she got the inspiration from a benefit organized by movers behind the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood movie in which they solicited female celebrities to design personality hats, then auctioned them off over the Internet and donated the money to Big Brothers and Big Sisters programs. That auction included hats designed by Naomi Judd, Jane Fonda, Ricki Lake, Marlo Thomas, Barbara Bush, President George W. Bush's twin daughters and a host of others. The highest price in that auction was $2,300 for a cowboy hat designed by Martina McBride.

"That's where I got the idea," Schroeder says. "I wanted to plan something at the hotel that would be fun but also would give back to the community. Because it is a school for the creative arts, we felt like NOCCA was the right charity."

Another sisterhood-inspired offering is the Ya-Ya Journey of Beauty at the Ritz-Carlton spa, which begins with a limousine ride to the spa for a "sisterhood" group of women, who will be pampered with an essence of magnolia massage, an anti-aging facial, lunch at The Spa Cafe, a manicure and pedicure, and afternoon tea, complete with sandwiches, pastries and a glass of champagne. Book the package that ends with a one-night stay at the Ritz and enjoy a discount of up to 55 percent off the regular prices.

Other special summertime packages also are available at the hotel, which has played host to celebrities such as Britney Spears, Bono, Eric Clapton, Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson. Its programs and facilities have earned it a five-diamond hotel rating from AAA, the only such designated hotel in the state, and it has won accolades from USA Today, the Travel Channel, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel and Leisure, Southern Living and other publications.

"We've gotten a surprising response to the Ya-Ya packages," Schroeder says. "National Geographic Traveler and its online (publication) has it as a A-list deal. It's coming out in Travel Agent Weekly and it's in the July edition of Travel World News ... and other places. It's a significant discount for the spa and one-night stay."

The spa menu also includes a variety of other luxurious treatments, most inspired by the pampering therapies used by the French court of Louis XIV. Afternoon tea and cocktails are held daily in the Lobby Lounge, there's a full-service fitness center, casual dining and musical entertainment in the French Quarter Bar and fine dining at Victor's Restaurant, lauded for its food and presentation in myriad publications such as Virtual Gourmet and The New York Times.

The 452-room luxury hotel opened in the French Quarter in October 2000 after developers undertook massive renovations to the old Maison Blanche and Kress buildings, both designated Historic District Landmarks. The result of the $200 million renovation and restoration is a graceful hotel with architectural and interior design elements reminiscent of the Antebellum South. Guestrooms are decorated in the spirit of 1800s Garden District mansions, and the business' philosophy is based on elegant and pampering service that begins when a visitor is greeted upon arrival by a uniformed doorman.

click to enlarge Afternoon tea at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans is always a treat, but will be even more fun Aug. 24 with a benefit auction of Ya-Ya hats designed by local celebrities.
  • Afternoon tea at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans is always a treat, but will be even more fun Aug. 24 with a benefit auction of Ya-Ya hats designed by local celebrities.
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