We stayed at the Marriott SJ for a few days before starting an eastern Carib cruise on the Carnival Valor. We'd never been to SJ before.
First, as usual, Marriott service and the competent, friendly staff made the hotel stay thoroughly enjoyable. The consistency across Marriott resort properties (e.g., comparing the MSJ with the Marriott Kauai Beach Resort) is amazing.
We had a city-side room with view of the mountains, though all we saw were the perpetual April rain clouds over the mountains. We stayed on Marriott Reward Points, but we didn't know to try for a beach-side room. The room was spacious, comfortable and fastidious.
The location is a good proximity balance between Old SJ and the upscale hotel-casinos with good beaches on Ashford. We learned the hard way (our own fault, we didn't check) that you really can't walk comfortably from MSJ to Old SJ and the fortresses. The cab ride is short, but most importantly it saves a tough hill climb.
Ashford has some great restaurants, and the MSJ concierge gave us good advice. We're gluten-free, and his recommendations were perfect. (Of course, it helps that traditional PR cuisine is pretty low-/no-wheat anyway.)
The MSJ beach is excellent, and the staff helpfully setup your beach chairs and dig in the umbrellas. You can walk the beach (all public) past other hotels quite a ways up the beach toward the west end, not so far to the east. Unfortunately, with the strong trade winds, which established the PR colony in the first place, almost every day is a Red Flag day. The hotel staff is vigilant whistling swimmers away from rock outcrops on the west side of the beach in front of the MSJ. There's still plenty of good swimming away from those rocks, and the surf is decent for boogie board rides. In the distance (maybe quarter to half mile?), you can see big breakers over the reef that protected Spanish PR from its British, Dutch and French competitors, and today protects PR from hard hurricane seas. We saw some nut jobs out para-surfing maybe a 100 yards just inside the reef--MSJ wisely doesn't offer those beach toys. Parents should realize that MSJ doesn't provide a lifeguard in the State-side sense. Talking with MSJ staff, I got the impression that the PR lifeguard service normally performs recovery, not rescue, so watch your kids.
The pools and big slide seemed a bit small for the size of the property, but the beach is a better draw anyway. Landscaping separates the two pools and provides a sense of limited privacy for sunning poolside.
Like other Marriott properties we know, MSJ strictly limits vendor presence on the property, and the vendors are very polite. On the public beach in front of the MSJ there were more vendors, but I suspect the MSJ staff encourages them to be polite, too.
Arriving late the first night, we ate at the hotel restaurant, which was quite good.
We were most suprised and pleased to find that MSJ has live Latin dance music several nights each week. The concierge told us that most of SJ doesn't have live Latin music anymore. The bands were "real," not just a guy doing guitar play-along with his amped-up Mac Book, as we saw at other hotels. (Apple and its software authors are destroying performance music.) The dance floor is VERY tight on Friday and Saturday night, less so other nights. The crowd was extremely friendly.
Across the street are a Starbucks and a Haagen-Daz. Walgreens is half a block away, so you can affordably get the sunblock, aloe gel, etc, that you either forgot or didn't want to pack. The Walgreens sells some alcohol, and there's also a full liquor store just another half block away.
We hope to revisit SJ, as we had just barely begun to explore it, and there's a lot to see and do in PR. We expect to stay again at the MSJ.