On Jan. 16, AAA released its annual lists of Four and Five Diamond hotels. In total, 96 properties across the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean were added to the prestigious lists this year.

AAA's Diamond Rating is one of the few hotel appraisal systems that rely on physical on-site evaluations. AAA's inspection team members assess each of the more than 28,000 eligible properties based on comfort, cleanliness, security and offered services and amenities. Each hotel is then awarded a Diamond Rating between one and five, with five being the best.

Of the more than 28,000 hotels that were evaluated, just 121 properties earned Five Diamond distinction this year. Eight of those hotels are newcomers, including Orlando, Florida's only Five Diamond-rated property, the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort, which opened in August 2014. Meanwhile, the Four Seasons Hotel Denver in Denver, One&Only Palmilla in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa in Santa Fe, California, Grand Luxxe in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico, and the Shangri-La Hotel in Toronto moved up the ranks from the Four Diamond list to achieve Five Diamond status in 2015. The remaining two new properties that received Five Diamond ratings are The Langham, Chicago and The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.

These newcomers still have a ways to go before achieving the longstanding success of the eight Five Diamond properties that have managed to hold on to the top-tier status for the past 25 consecutive years. Those hotels range from luxury outposts backed by the Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton brands to smaller boutique lodging. The properties are: the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington D.C., the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston, the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago, The American Club in Kohler, Wisconsin, The Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Virginia, The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel in Dana Point, California, The Ritz-Carlton, Naples in Naples, Florida, and The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead in Atlanta. Even more impressive? The 39 straight years racked up by The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado, which has maintained its Five Diamond status since AAA first implemented the Diamond system for rating hotels in 1976.

"Five Diamond establishments stand apart by redefining personalized service, using creativity to enhance guest comfort and providing memorable experiences," said Michael Petrone, director of AAA Inspections & Diamond Ratings, adding the level of accommodation and service at these hotels is unparalleled. "At the ultra-luxury level we're seeing an increasing number of hotels offering guests the choice of high-end service by white glove or touch screen — in person or electronically."

The Four Diamond Award list is not as selective as the Five Diamond list, but Four Diamond properties are still among the best. This year, 88 new hotels were added to the Four Diamond Award roster, including Montage Beverly Hills in Los Angeles, The Scarlet Huntington in San Francisco, Capella in Washington D.C., Castle Hotel, Autograph Collection in Orlando, Hotel Wailea in Maui, Hawaii, 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, The Joule in Dallas, Delta Prince Edward in Charlottetown, Canada, Dreams Riviera Cancun Resort & Spa in Cancun, Mexico, and Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts in Aruba.

Even more remarkable are the hotels that earned Four Diamond Award distinction within their first year of operation, which include the Park Hyatt New York and Archer Hotel in New York City, Generations Riviera Maya in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, The Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage in Rancho Mirage, California, and Delano in Las Vegas. In total, 1,544 hotels earned a Four Diamond Award rating this year. These newcomers will strive to join the likes of the Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa, California, and Stage Neck Inn in York, Maine, just two of the 12 hotels that have retained Four Diamond status for 39 successive years — or aim to surpass them to capture the coveted Five Diamond Award rating.

Once again, New York City secured the highest number of diamond awards, boasting eight Five Diamond and 49 Four Diamond hotels. NYC also lays claim to the most Five Diamond properties, while Las Vegas falls just behind with seven Five Diamond hotels. Chicago rounds out the top three with five outposts. But neither New York state nor Nevada nor Illinois topped the list of states with the highest number of gemstones. That honor goes to California, which is home to a whopping 18 Five Diamond and 184 Four Diamond hotels. 

To learn more about the Diamond Ratings or to view all of the Four and Five Diamond Award recipients, visit AAA's website

About the author: Erin Shields is a Travel Editor at U.S. News. You can follow her on Twitter, circle her on Google+ or email her at eshields@usnews.com.

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