JW Marriott Camelback Inn Resort & Spa

Welcome to Celebrated Living’s Readers’ Choice Platinum List, a perennial go-to guide and popular summer tradition. Our travel-savvy readers have declared these hotels, golf courses, spas, and cruise lines to be the best of the best. Did your favorites make the list? Consider the following pages the ultimate resource for planning your next vacation or business trip.

What makes a good hotel rise to the absolute top? The answers might — and should — surprise you.

Forget the marble bathrooms, the gold-leafed lobbies, the entrées under silver cloches. Luxury today, according to thousands of Celebrated Living readers who responded to our annual Platinum List survey of the world’s best hotels, is all about surprise.

It could be moving the bed outdoors for a night under the stars, receiving your room keys curbside, finding an iPad bedside — or even a former Grand Slam winner on the tennis court.

“Where before luxury travelers paid top dollar, now it’s about breaking the mold and looking for experiences that are personal,” says Tristan Dowell, director of brands for Park Hyatt and Andaz. “Guests today are looking for more of a sense of exploration and general satisfaction.”

Top 5 Asia

1. The Peninsula Hong Kong (tie)
(866) 382-8388

1. The Bulgari Resort Bali, Indonesia(tie)

3. Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong

4. Park Hyatt Tokyo
(877) 875-4658

5. Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok(800) 526-6566

Our survey, of course, is quantitative. But it is qualitatively based, formed by unique experiences such as jogging with the general manager, learning to make a mojito with the bartender, or tracking blue iguanas with a staff naturalist. In short, “It’s the X factor you go away with,” says James Lohan, founder and CEO of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, a London-based boutique hotel collection. “It’s collecting great experiences and sharing them with people you love.”

Teaching emerged as a key experiential trend among the highest-ranking hotels. American Express Travel in its 2011 trend report calls these “expectations,” built around passions. They include weekly dance lessons with World Tango Champion Monica Llobet at the Biltmore HOTEL in Florida. Each Saturday, chefs at the Camelback Inn, blue-ribbon winner among American mainland hotels, demonstrate how to make the cheese popovers its BLT Steak restaurant is famous for, and on Fridays, there’s a class in preparing guacamole tableside. The spa even introduced cocktail-making classes.

“It’s another way to engage guests, make them a part of the resort,” says the resort’s general manager, Jim Rose. “Our guests like learning.”

At Camelback Inn, much of the produce used in lessons is grown on the property, another trend among trendsetters. In California alone, the Hotel del Coronado debuts its new floral and herb gardens this summer; Montage LAguna beach just planted its garden with fruits and vegetables designed for use in restaurants, at the bar, and in spa treatments; and Pelican Hill recently marked its inaugural olive harvest, pressing virgin olive oil from groves on the 504-acre property.

These locavore initiatives dovetail with environmental commitments by such properties as the Four Seasons hotel Boston, which now boasts one of the city’s only green roofs, and the Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas, which is pursuing Audubon International certification for its golf program by reducing water and chemical use.