Like most of you reading this, I read the reviews of this resort and saw quite a mixture of reviews – a love/ hate thing. If you are at all skeptical – trust that gut feeling. Run.Far.Away.Fast.
I think part of the trouble I had with this place was I expected waaay too much. The get there is about 45-50 mins of a very non-scenic drive from SJU airport. Upon arrival at the property, you are given great hope: a guarded gate, a very large expansive property, pretty decent looking golf course, and a ½ mile drive to the hotel. And then it begins.
Unfortunately, we picked a local holiday weekend (so I was told) as our time for vaca. The line to check in was INSANE. Slow. Disorganized. Even the Hilton Honors line was a mess. Place was a madhouse – 20-25 mins to check in. (and our room ended up still not being ready!)
Remember those phrases: SLOW. DISORGANIZED. It is your theme for the trip.
We stayed in Las Brisas wing as an upgrade, and I can only shudder to think what a non-upgraded room was like. The baseboards were moldy, the décor dated, the room – very “blah”. Nothing at all that indicated “nice” room. The walls were thin – which didn’t bother me so much (as I had my family with me), but a quiet solitude retreat in the room should not at all be expected.
You wait for nearly everything at this resort. Long wait to be seated for breakfast. Long wait to receive your breakfast. Want water? Guess what? WAIT. 15 mins for water at b’fast – an addition 5-8 mins to get coffee. Food was slow to arrive. Inattentive waiters post taking the order. Twice, I had to get the hostess for a coffee refill, and again to request the bill.
The funicular sounds great, doesn't it? (Are you kidding? An inclined cable car to bring you up and down the hill?! COOL!) Weeelllll, that is until you see the line that you have to (say it with me folks) WAIT in to go down to the marina area. It wasn't too terrible – we only had to wait for one load before we made it down. But then you have to (c’mon, you’re rolling now!) WAIT to get on the boat ferry to the beach. We made the mistake of arriving to the ferry at like 9:58. Ha – not even a shot of getting on. So, WAIT for the 10:30. But of course, everyone is trying to go. So you can’t just roam around in shops for like 20 mins – you have to stay in line (or wait for the 11am!) Ok – so no problem. The loading finally starts at 10:25. But – hold on – THEY’RE CHECKING BAGS! (You cannot bring any outside food or beverages to the beach! – you have now been warned!) By time loading and checking is done, we leave at about 10:35ish. (So, you’re wondering “well, if you were just standing in line, why didn’t they start to load the boat earlier if they were going to search everyone instead of waiting and then leaving late?” Silly you… that would make sense. Or be organized. And you are clearly in the incorrect place for that.) I dunno, folks… a 45 minute commute time to the beach when you have chosen a vacation in the Caribbean… well, it kinda kills your mojo. (btw – first boat shuttle is at like 9am and last is at 5:30pm. So no early morning strolls/run on the beach… no evening sunset walks… do consider this before you book this property. I missed it more than I thought I would)
Anyhoo… you get to the island, and now you’re ready for some beachin’ it up! The beach is very rocky (well, technically, very coral-ly). So BRING WATER SHOES. You will hate yourself (or buy a pair on the island) if you do not. It was a different type of beach for our family – but very enjoyable. Small sharks in the coral (non-biting type!), conches, coral… cool stuff. (Ok – I was happy for a bit – but let me get back on point here!…)
It’s lunchtime. We go to Iguanas to eat, of course. Aaaaaannd…. 30 minutes to get water, and a total of 1hr 15min for 2 burgers, a hot dog, and a salad. Seriously. (I must say, however, that the mgr at Iguana’s was very apologetic and nice, and comped the lunch, after my wife simply refused the salad that we saw sitting and waiting in the window for 20-25 mins without being brought to us.)
More enjoyable beach action. At final ferry departure time (5:30pm!!!), we jumped in line early this time so as to get a seat with a view (unlike the ride in). OK – now this is more like it! Untiiiiiilllll….we get back to the funicular line – which is insane. INSANE. 30 minutes to get on the funicular (remember – you’re just stuck. There is no “stairs” option). And the process is a complete mess. The guests staying in the Marina board from the second level – and once they are loaded, only 5 people from the “beach” line can load each time. (You truly are treated with second priority as a guest staying in the upper lands.) Everyone was pretty upset. Many vows never to come again, to call their travel agents, etc.
And on and on. (but you get the point by now.) Oh – wait – almost forgot! The water park! Went there on a Friday. Pretty packed. A ½ hour wait in line to get lunch – but, best of all -- one of the lifeguards wanted to have a fight with me because I would not give him my double floating tube that he accused me of not using (as my 6 yr old went to the restroom). I requested a manager. They sent a manager and security. We talked, and upon explanation, both apologized to me profusely, and said it was the kids 3rd day. But who wants to deal with this on vacation???
Oh, another thing: If you choose not to valet, you are in for an experience. The self-parking lot is down the hill – a decent hike – it is fairly rundown and very, very packed. There is not a paved sidewalk the entire way from the hotel to the lot, so walking it at night – esp. with your family – becomes a journey of concern. The trek is not lit, either, as I used my iphone for our illumination (and so drivers coming behind us could easily see us). Now, you don’t have to walk -- there is a shuttle service of the ol’ 9-passenger white van (semi-run down) with drivers that do not open nor close the door for you. (but tips are appreciated, of course!) But as we were so sick of waiting for everything at the tail end of the trip, we were happy to just walk. Just would've been nice to have a sidewalk.
So, there you have it. Look, once you’re on the beach, it’s nice. Once you’re in the pool, it’s nice. Once you’re on the waterslides and such, it’s great. If you’re in a lounge chair and looking out at the expansive views, it’s all good. It’s just the service and lines and completely chaotic logistics in getting to these items that will – absolutely – drive. you. nutty.
A couple of final items:
1) I did talk to a hotel manager about the experience, who could not have been any nicer. He offered what he could – but honestly, it wasn't a money thing or room thing… the service and logistics of this resort are simply just out of whack with what you expect for what is supposed to be an upscale property. Which brings me to point #2..
2) Kill any notion that you have of the Waldorf Astoria brand and this hotel. This is not a prestigious, luxury, service oriented hotel. (A horrible representation of that brand!) This is more of a very large, fairly decent Hampton Inn. Waldorf should seriously remove their name from this place.
Lower your expectations, anticipate some slow, disorganized-ness and lots of time down, and for you it might be just fine. For me – yeah… not so much so…