We stayed at the Caribe Hilton for 6 nights in celebration of our anniversary at the beginning of August. We had never been to Puerto Rico before, and I was looking for a hotel close to Old San Juan, but also with a nice beach. We got both in the CH. I scored a nice rate as part of a promotion late in the spring.
I reserved a King Villa Stuido in the Condado Lagoon Villas portion of the CH. At check-in, we were upgraded to a larger suite with a full kitchen and right on the water. I am a Hilton Gold member, so the upgrade was automatic. There was almost no line for check-in on a Thursday. The weekends can be a different story.
The lobby is beautiful, open, and airy. We enjoyed the parrots. The gift shop was well stocked and Starbucks was always busy.
We were awed by the view from our fourth floor room. The balcony was directly facing the fort and ocean so we had a completely unobstructed view. There was a large table, two chairs, and a swivel chair and stool on the patio. We loved the patio and spent a lot of time relaxing there.
The bed was very comfortable with a ceiling fan overhead. The kitchen was full size, with a dishwasher, full-size refrigerator, stove and microwave. There were lots of cupboards with pots, pans, plates, everything we needed. My husband especially loved the ice maker in the freezer. The air conditioner was downright frosty. There were only four small drawers, so for a longer stay for 2 people, we did have to get a little creative with where to put our clothes. I think every room must be a little different in the Villas section. The room was very clean, and the daily maid service was fantastic - they always came in the morning, which suited our schedule well.
There was also a bar area with stools, and a dining table with 3 chairs. Lots of places to enjoy a meal in your room. A large chair with ottoman was also in the room.
The bathroom was tiny, which may have been necessitated by the full size kitchen. There was a makeup mirror and scale. There was also a marble shower stall with a glass door that opened outward. The door was under 6 feet high, so while I had no problem getting in and out, my husband routinely bumped his head on the shower door frame. There was absolutely no hint of mold or mildew smell in the room or bathroom.
The hotel itself was very clean. Based on prior reviews, I was expecting dirt everywhere, and it just wasn't so. We saw cleaning people all the time.
There are lots of shortcuts that you can take to get around the resort, but it is sprawling and it took us two days to get comfortable with the layout. Therefore, this might not be the ideal hotel for just a one night stay.
The beach itself is lovely. The breakers provide for a very large, calm swimming area. There were plenty of lounge chairs around the beach and pool area. We never had a problem finding a lounge chair. Most of the days, the beach was not crowded, but on Saturday, it was packed. I think they get a lot of families there for the weekends only. We never used the lovely sundeck, but I did take advantage of one of the many hammocks.
The pool area is well designed with three levels including waterfalls. The swimup pool has whirlpool like jets with bench seating on either end, which were very relaxing. The service at the Atlantico pool bar was very good and everyone was friendly. There are also two heated jacuzzis connected to the pool area. There are also a separate small pool and jacuzzi in the Condado Lagoon Villas area.
I knew going in that this hotel catered to families, and as a parent, I have no problem with that. However, as a hotel that is obviously also trying to attract couples, I have one small request. The swim-up pool (the smallest of the 3 pools) should be adults only. And please make one of the jacuzzis adults only. There were kids doing flips from the swim up pool to the second level, splashing, snorkeling, and it just wasn't enjoyable for us.
The wildlife area was also a gem - we enjoyed watching the white and black swans, along with the turtles, geese, lizards, and peacocks.
The fitness center is one of the best that I've seen in the Caribbean. Everything is new and state-of-the-art Precor equipment. There were 7 ellipticals, 5 treadmills, 4 bikes, along with numerous weight machines and free weights. It opens at 6:00 during the week and at 7:00 on the weekends. We used it every day and loved it. Plenty of towels, water, and sanitizing wipes, too. My husband jogged outside a few days, and thoroughly enjoyed the views.
True, the hotel is not within easy walking distance to many restaurants. We did succumb to the temptation of Subway about midway through our trip after a full day of touring old San Juan. The convenience store across the street from the hotel is not a good option for stocking up for the week. We got a few supplies here (including an overpriced bottle of rum), then hit the SuperMax near the Doubletree on Friday.
We made the decision to take advantage of the cabs. We enjoy a few cocktails with our meals, so we did not want to drink and drive. What a luxury to have cabs everywhere! The ride from the airport was $19 plus $1 per bag. The ride into Old San Juan was $12 (plus tips). El Morro was $14. When we factored in the price of a rental car and parking, it was MUCH cheaper to take the cabs. As long as you understand the situation going in, it shouldn't be a concern. Tip: the cabs congregate near the end of Forteneza Street and Colon Plaza, so it's easy to catch a ride back to the hotel.
We got free passes for continental breakfast at Il Giordino (I think because of the Gold status). There was a huge selection of pastries, breads, fruit, cereals, juices, and even hard boiled eggs. We "upgraded" for $5 one day to try the hot selections, too. There were sausage, eggs, and the usual hot items, but you only get one go around, so we were perfectly happy with our free continental breakfast the other days. Seating was easy most days for breakfast, however the weekend was crazy. The line was out the door for the restaurant next to Il Giordino on the weekend.
We had our anniversary dinner at Lemongrass. We ate outside on the deck area and enjoyed dining to the sounds of coqui. I had the angus steak special which was so tender I could have cut it with my fork. The total price was $180/two (including tip), but that included appetizer, bottle of wine, and cocktails (remember, we weren't driving, yipee!).
We had to try to Pina Coladas at the Oasis lobby bar one evening. They were quite tasty and I believe under $10, so really just normal big hotel prices.
We LOVED Old San Juan. We went into town several nights for dinner. Our particular favorite was the Parrot Club (live jazz on Tuesday evenings). The service there was fantastic, and the Cuban Burger is to die for (hamburger, pork, ham, swiss cheese and impossible to finish). Booty's bar and grill also had the best made from scratch Mojito in town.
We toured El Morro early on a Saturday and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The views are amazing, and it is incredible to stand in a structure that was started in 1539.
We loved strolling the narrow cobblestone streets of Old San Juan.
We took a snorkeling cruise on the "Spread Eagle" which was coordinated through the Tour desk at the hotel. This is a very long day, as the bus picked us up at 8:10 a.m., and we didn't get back until 5:00. But the catmaran crew was excellent. They provided lunch and drinks (except beer, which was available for $2.14). We stopped at two different places to snorkel. One family brought a young toddler (less than 2), and I strongly caution everyone that this is not the place for very small kids.
The snorkeling directly off the CH beach was just fine. Lots of fish towards the breakers and along the rock walls.
All in all, we thought the staff were all wonderful and friendly and we completely enjoyed our trip. The only thing stopping me from giving the CH resort five stars is that I stayed at the Phoenix in Belize last year, and that sets the standard for five star resorts. Also, the lack of an adult only pool and jacuzzi was a downer at the CH. But other than that, we loved the Caribe Hilton.
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