Honeymoon in Paradise: Part One
Having owned several businesses, we are very sympathetic to those in the service industry. Most of the people in the industry truly have a passion, and it shows.
Since I have been fortunate enough to have traveled around the globe, my fiancé left the honeymoon planning up to me as she "trusted my judgment" (No Pressure Right?). The only stipulation she gave was that she did not want to go anywhere that I had previously visited, and since we had not taken a vacation in several years, would like to have the time spent on our honeymoon, "Extended" if at all possible.
Since I am a HUGE "Starwood" fan and just recently slept my way back to "Platinum" status, I was hoping to keep it in the family.
Now, to understand what sparked my interest in the places we ended up choosing you need to better understand my wife. She LOVES "Water", especially clean, warm water that you can swim in, and if there happens to be a beach attached to it, even better. Now here is a fun fact that doesn't really make sense, but helps with our travel decisions. We are both in the "Entertainment" industry, and would prefer to avoid large crowds if at all possible. We also are not “Traditional” people, for example, we made up our own vows, and there was no “Chicken Dance” to speak of at our reception.
I had spent several months asking friends, "Where is your favorite place you have ever been"? Or "If you were going on your honeymoon, where would you like to go"? Our Second stop "Costa Rica", came up repeatedly, but more about that later. Note: Look for: Honeymoon in Paradise Part 2, coming soon. There is one spot that I only heard mentioned once, but just so happened to be the location of a new "W Resort and Spa". This being a small island located approximately halfway between "St. Thomas" and "San Juan" Puerto Rico called "Vieques". If St. Thomas is a "Virgin" island, then the best way to describe Vieques" would be "Extra Virgin".
My friend "Patricia" and her BFF Jon have traveled to more places than anyone I know, and when I asked Patricia, "Trish", what her favorite was, without missing a breath, she not only said, "Vieques", but also said, "The W, in Vieques PR". The photos of this wonderful property that I had been viewing on the SPG website were still fresh on my mind, and since I trusted "Trish" more than most, Vieques it was.
The first decision I had to make was regarding "Travel". Getting to San Juan is easy. In fact, I never realized just how reasonable travel between the USA, and Puerto Rico was. The challenge came when I read that the boat ride was only $2 Ea. (Yes, Two Dollars), and the flight was $200 Ea. I read as much as possible on this topic, and the way I saw it was this. Without a doubt, a 20 min plane ride, vs. a 2.5 hour (X2) boat ride made for a close decision. However, when you factor in a "Strike" and several broken down ships, causing the remaining boats to take on some extra stops (their sister island for one), the “Possibility” of missing a connecting flight, not to mention it being our Honeymoon, and the decision was easy.
The second Transportation question came regarding a "Rental Car". It was very clear from virtually everyone I spoke with that having transportation on the Island was a "Must". However, what they don't tell you is that it is "Extremely" “Expensive”, choices are very "Limited", and that during the busy season, they often run out. We ended up renting a small 4 wheel drive from Vieques Rentals, and were very happy with our decision. Their representative "Joey” was extremely nice and we were very glad that we had it. The only thing I will mention here is that driving a car on the island of Vieques is not for everyone. There are only two or three "Good" (Although that word barely applies here), roads. Growing up in Michigan was the best training possible for navigating these pothole covered roadways. We ended up with a slow leak at one point, but were as good as new in a few min thanks to the well trained Fix a Flat specialists at the local tire store.
THE W RESORT
Being a HUGE Starwood Fan, and knowing that we were about to embark on our very first "Starwood W Resort" Experience, had me "Almost" as excited as the fact that I was about to marry the girl of my dreams. Think about it for a min... You have "Starwood" IMO "The best collection of hotels on the planet", combined with their "W" brand (Which my Best Man and I both love so much we even stayed at The W Lakeshore Chicago for my bachelor party weekend). Combined with a tropical Island that has only been inhabited by tourists for a few years, and what do you get... WOW is an Understatement...
From the moment we landed we knew this was going to be something special. How many resorts have their own "Lounge" at the airport? (Although IMO it needs a little something more, such as a "Special” “Welcome" Island Cocktail, complimentary chair massage tied into the spa, welcome gift, etc). It may have been a slow day, but this is a missed opportunity. Also, it is not very clear where you go when you first get off the plane and when it is “OK” to go there. They are 95% there and it wouldn’t take much to go the extra 5%.
Soon we were off to the resort itself (About a 5 min drive) in a beautiful new SUV. Both gals who checked us in were extremely nice. Since it was our honeymoon, they upgraded us to a slightly nicer room, and off we went. We faced what they called "The Quiet Beach", and the waves sounded like they had been scripted by a relaxation guru. Prior to booking a Starwood “W” Property, I read loads of reviews, and one thing that popped up several times was “Music”, which honestly I would much rather hear deep relaxing chill/ house music, than the same 21 songs you hear on the radio all day long. This also adds a much more sophisticated feel to the “W” properties, and is appreciated by most well traveled people. However I would agree that they need to deepen their selection, so that you don’t hear the same CD/Tracks play with any noticeable frequency. The “W” brand has been out for a while now, and I’m sure they have a good backlog of “Licensed” material to choose from.
Our first morning I was awoken by my "Bride" (who almost always sleeps in longer than I). She was gushing with excitement, and couldn't wait for the morning fog to clear from my eyes so I could focus on the photo she had taken on her phone. Apparently, my wife (Who is one of the biggest Horse fans I have ever met), went for a morning walk to see the property, came around a corner, and to her surprise, nearly ran into a pack of wild horses, who had gathered right in the middle of the path. I had heard that there were "A Few" wild horses on the Island, but little did we know that there are a few "Thousand" wild horses who roam free like deer all over the island. We ended up seeing horses "Everywhere" we went; The Beach, The Hotel, The Gas Station, The Road, I mean, "Everywhere". It's the craziest thing, and to a horse lover, a dream come true. What made this even more special was that several of them had recently given birth, and there were new born babies stumbling around everywhere. Very Cool.
OK, since everyone else isn’t nearly as excited about my honeymoon as they are about the details, time to get to it:
First of all, the W Vieques has one of the nicest hotel Fitness Centers I have ever experienced, and they had a full time person who kept it well stocked with towels, water, and kept it as clean as a whistle.
The “Snack” spot (Can’t remember the name) located next door to the Fitness Center was lacking in selection, especially if you were looking for a quick “Healthy” snack. Again, I’m sure that obtaining good, quality produce, and more on an island faced with shipping strikes, combined with being the nicest place on the island, presents its share of challenges, but a nice “Smoothie” bar with Protein, and vitamin boosts would be nice, as would “Fresh Squeezed Juices”. When we asked why they didn’t carry any “Fresh” items such as “Blueberries”, the person behind the counter said, “Have you seen the price of Blueberries here”, to which I wanted to respond, “Have you seen the price of the rooms here”?
The Pool is simply incredible, and would give the smaller hotel Pools in Vegas a run for their money. There are chairs positioned in the water that allow you to stay completely dry, while resting only inches from the water. There are also some of the nicest cabanas in the Caribbean, which can be rented upon request. The layout of the Infinity portion of the pool, combined with the chairs virtually floating just above the water, makes this all very surreal. The music being played over the hotel sound system was perfect for the environment Note: If you are looking for the same music you hear every day over the radio at home, sorry, but you have just been given an upgrade. Keep in mind; you are at a "Retreat"/"Spa” Very relaxing, with the best part being that there were even speakers under the water, to further enhance your experience. Nice! The Staff was very friendly, and took very good care of us.
The lobby was extremely, FUN. With a pool table, games, bar, and a fire pit located just a few feet outdoors, that set it all off just perfect. However, they do need to do a better job maintaining what they have. Note for mgmt: We searched thru every pool cue stick, and did not find one with a tip. There were also missing pieces from a couple of the games we tried to play.
The Food was fantastic. One thing to note here is that our vacation was during the time of year when many of the Island restaurants were closed. Since we were staying for 9 days, we had the opportunity to eat several times for lunch, dinner, snacks, and even room service. The food in the restaurant was so delicious I found myself getting cravings for it. The Chef had a "Special" dish that we tried on a number of occasions, and were blown away by how incredible it was. Even some of the appetizers like our favorite "Hummus" were done to perfection.
We only found three other restaurants that were worth mentioning. Duffy’s - Not really into "Bar Food", but this place does it right. The Staff was fantastic, and they played old Music Videos hosted by the legendary Wolfman Jack during Lunch. If you are looking for a Sandwich or happen to be on the other side of the Island and decide that you’re hungry, Duffy’s is a "Safe" bet: we ended up there twice. "Next Course" - We ate dinner here three times (And were very lucky as we heard that it had just re-opened the week prior) and enjoyed it immensely. And lastly, "El Patio", which was also very good but had zero atmosphere and a staff who albeit nice, seemed very detached. They did have one of the tastiest Lobsters we had. Be warned, it’s a bit of a shock going from the “W”, to virtually “Anywhere” on the island, due to its rustic nature. At first glance (Other than “Next Course”) we had to remind ourselves that we had heard very positive things about the food.
Excursions - What to do while visiting the Island. I am a little partial here, as it was my honeymoon, and everything was perfect right? Without a doubt, plan to “Relax”. There are some of the most beautiful “Beaches” we had ever seen and my new bride was very happy. The drive from one beach to the next is not for the faint of heart. The roads are littered with Potholes, and often covered by water, but the reward when you finally do reach the beach is worth the price of admission. “Yes” after a tropical storm the seaweed washes up on the beach, but the beaches are so amazing, that their beauty shines through.
“Bioluminescent” – Bay was quite possibly the coolest thing I have ever seen, and Vieques has the largest in the world. If you have seen the movie “Avatar”, then you will have a better idea as to what to expect, but I can say with certainty, “Expect the Unexpected”. The small “Naked to the human Eye” creatures that live it these waters light up when they are disturbed (Which means they are almost always glowing). Even the small whitecaps of the waves glowed, but this was nothing compared to the glow that shined when you paddled the kayak. We went thru a company called “Abes”, and they were some of the nicest, most well informed people you can imagine. I would not miss this under any circumstances. One note however, if you are “High Maintenance” this excursion is probably not for you. Most of the people running the show were incredible, but very ummm, ahhhh “Earthy”. The ride was rough to say the least, and from “Crabs” to “Spiders”, we saw many of God’s creatures. Also, unless you are coming prepared with the proper gear to film these creatures, leave your camera at home, as you will simply increase your chances of losing it.
This is where many hotels and restaurants rise to the occasion, or simply fall apart. Having stayed at numerous W Hotels over the years, we had a fairly good idea regarding what to expect, but when you factor in the challenges faced by a hotel of this caliber, on an Island such as this, you had to be a little open minded. When we say that the W Vieques is by far the nicest property on the Island, we aren't kidding. Up until a few years ago, this Island was used by the military for Bombing exercises, and while we were there, the restaurant we chose to eat lunch at our first day (Not at the W), ran out of Lettuce due to a food shortage as a result of a local boat company strike. We never ran into any issues like this at the W, but it helps to illustrate some of the challenges faced by a "Commercially" new island.
There were also some challenges encountered during our stay at the “W”. "However", IMO, it's not the "Issues" that a hotel or restaurant encounters that make or break a property, but how they choose to deal with those "Issues" when they do (And they "Always" will) arise. One thing for certain, the “W” is heading in a positive direction.
The STAFF was close to perfection, with many going above and beyond the call of Duty. My favorite act of kindness came from a Tall, Curly haired native island boy named, “Kevin”. I'm not sure what exactly Kevin’s classification would be, as he seemed to do a little of everything, Bellman, Valet, Etc. I had received a bad Sunburn and was in a great deal of pain. Kevin suggested that I might need some Aloe to which I agreed. Since it was afterhours and the onsite surf shop was closed, there was no immediate solution available. What I didn’t know until an hour later when we were heading to dinner, is that Kevin made a quick stop at the store during a run for another customer, and brought me back a gift. I have seen things like this happen under orders from a manager before, but not from an individual (Using his own money, and "Yes", I reimbursed him, but he tried to say no). Kevin was also the employee who helped us to ultimately find our Rental car keys. Thank you is an understatement, as the cost "Per our Rental Agreement" (Make sure you read your contracts) was $500 if we had in fact "Lost" our keys.
It wasn’t until we actually made it to dinner that night that we met “Christian” (General Manager of Mix on the Beach) and we realized that there was a pattern here. Our first encounter came off the heels of a brief tropical burst of rain. My new bride looked at me and said, “OMG I feel sorry for that manager”, as he was quickly moving from table to table, finding positive solutions to every customer he encountered. Now I must say that we have owned and operated restaurants, and short of being a good owner, you usually don’t see that type of “Over the top” attention to detail from anyone these days. Since he caught our attention, we kept watching and quickly realized just how incredible he really was. Take “The opposite” of your average restaurant manager, who begrudgingly strolls up to your table and offers a “forced”, “uncaring”, “How is everything tonight”? We watched as he went from table to table, and spent a fair amount of time with each, all the while carefully watching, working with, and assisting his staff toward service perfection. When he finally made it to our table, we experienced firsthand what we had observed from afar, quite simply, “He was AWESOME”! Not only did he make it to each and every table, he started over again, and visited most “Twice” if not more. Now there is a person that “Truly” cares about his customers! Over the balance of our trip, we had the pleasure of speaking with him several more times and all we can say is that they are VERY fortunate to have such an amazing person on their team.
Having stayed in hotels over 150 nights this year alone, I have certainly witnessed the GOOD, THE BAD, and THE UGLY. I tend to give “Most” the benefit of the doubt as there are “Usually”, things happening behind the scenes that would explain (Not justify) what has taken place. For example, one of the biggest challenges on an island such as this is the labor pool, especially when you’re already the best in your market. On our last night, we had the pleasure of meeting the “New” General Manager – Greg White, and what a great guy. We were fortunate enough to meet both he, and his wonderful assistant “Iris” during our visit, and would anticipate nothing but positive changes in the future. Early on in our stay we had a couple of issues that arose, and since Greg was attending a conference, “Iris” stepped in. She has an amazing way about her, acting almost like a counselor, and truly listening to your concerns. Not only did she address these, post haste, but she personally followed up to make certain that the problem had been resolved to our satisfaction. Most of the balance of the staff seemed like really good people, but simply needed better direction, and needed to learn to communicate better. In our opinion, it’s not that there was a problem in the first place that concerns us as much as how it is dealt with once it is brought to the attention of management. One of the biggest reasons we still selected this location in spite of a few bad reviews, was that there was almost no talk of conversations with mgmt. If mgmt is never made aware of a need, how are they supposed to make corrections? From looking at the history of this resort, it has not been a “W” for very long, and the New Management team was still getting their feet wet. Based on what we saw, I would expect very positive changes in the future, as we watch yet another Starwood property go from “Good” to “Great”!!
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Located on two private, secluded beaches, W Retreat & Spa - Vieques Island is a resort in Puerto Rico that provides the perfect getaway for a relaxing and luxurious villa-style vacation with infinite indulgences. ... more less
- Reservation Options:
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- Also Known As:
- w Retreat And Spa Vieques
- w Retreat & Spa Vieques Hotel Isla De Vieques