When we were deciding where to take our next vacation following our Southwestern road trip, we weren’t sure where we wanted to go. All we knew was it needed to be relaxing and on a beach somewhere. Living in D.C. is great, there’s culture, art, young intellectuals, almost everything a twenty-something couple could ask for.. if that couple didn’t move from a beach town. There’s just something about life on the coast. Once you experience it, you can never stay away for too long.
We set parameters for the destination. It had to be a beach location, preferably an island, ideally tropical and within relatively short distance from the east-coast to save on flight cost and travel time. Luckily for us, we recently befriended another fellow yogi, Mariebelle (@mariebellepr) who is a world traveler and proud Puerto Rican. One evening, while having her over for dinner, the subject of the vacation came up and she immediately told us we had to visit Puerto Rico. For some reason we hadn’t considered going there. I think because the Puerto Rican diaspora and culture is so deeply engrained into modern American society, it can be difficult for people like ourselves who are unfamiliar with the island to understand just how different and unique it is. After listening to our friend tell us about all of the incredible scenery and photographic opportunities the island had to offer, we decided to seriously consider visiting. It didn’t take long for us to agree that Puerto Rico is was where we had to go..
Because of the islands unique relationship with the U.S., casual tourists can have the best of both worlds. You can experience all of the creature comforts of a typical American city with San Juan. There you can find nearly every major U.S. retailer and fast food chain sitting side-by-side business unique to the island. Or, if you’re the more adventurous type, you can go completely off grid and immerse yourself in the culture of the countryside and rain forest. Visiting there you could easily mistake many of the expansive tropical vistas with Hawaii or even parts of Africa. Puerto Rico really has everything you could want.
We decided to split the difference and sample a little of both experiences. Our last vacation was the ultimate backpack living road trip, and we wanted at least part of this vacation to allow for some proper pampering. So, of course, we chose The Ritz-Carlton, San Juan (@rizcarlton). A hotel brand long held as the standard bearer of luxury and hotelier excellence.
The Ritz-Carlton, San Juan:
Confession time: We’ve never stayed in a luxury hotel. Not because we haven’t wanted to (obviously) it just wasn’t feasible with our previous vacation destinations. We’ve done luxury resorts for special occasions like our honeymoon, but for annual vacations, we usually stick to the mid-range hotel market and spend our time out taking (way too many) pictures. Since we’re getting older and life is making us act more like adults (ugh), we decided this would be the first vacation where we really pampered ourselves. What better place to do that than The Ritz-Carlton? Even the name sounds luxurious.
I will admit, I had high expectations going into it. A hotel as storied as this has a lot of history to live up to. It has long been regarded as the pinnacle of elegance and refinement. Honestly, I was anticipating a let down. I could not have been more wrong. From the moment we got on the grounds of the hotel, the attention to detail and level of guest service from the staff completely outdid any expectations I may have had. The staff knew who we were almost instantly and treated us as if we were the only guest in the hotel. They didn’t dare let us carry a bag or open a door as they escorted us around the compound. Every staff member was dressed in immaculately pressed suits and radiated a genuine desire to make our stay special. It really set the stage for the experience that was to come.
We got to the room and the first thing we see is a little fresh juice flight
to rehydrate us after the long commute. It helped establish the health conscious theme that would be reinforced in different ways through out our stay. After unloading all of our gear and taking a few minutes to decompress we noticed there were no less than three different, hand-written notes from different staff members wishing me a happy birthday and inviting us to different activities at the hotel.
Those little extra touches of hospitality established a perspective of just how different a stay in a luxury hotel would be. The room was expectedly beautiful and spotless. A large luxurious tub (that I’m kicking myself for not using), huge balcony facing the ocean, and a bed that was so damn comfortable I shed a tear when we had to leave it behind.
The first night we were there we were treated to an incredible four-course birthday dinner at the in-house restaurant BLT Steak. We don’t normally eat meat, but it was a special occasion, so we went a little over board to say the least. The chef even surprised us with a customized birthday dessert platter.
After the HUGE meal and a couple of well deserved hand-crafted cocktails, we waddled our way back to our room to go to sleep early so we could catch a sunrise shoot on the beautiful Puerto Rican beaches.
Unfortunately it rained the entire first morning BUT we don’t let something like a little rain stop us. We decided to have some fun anyway. Luckily that was really the only heavy rain fall of the trip. There were a couple of light drizzles, but thats the tropics for you.
After shooting for a couple of hours every day we would work up a crazy appetite. During our stay, we were granted access to the Club Lounge. It had everything you could ask for: breakfast entrees, chef prepared lunches, artisanal coffee and tea, fresh squeezed juice, wine, beer, even your own personal concierge! Don’t even get me started on the massive fresh baked cookies and full size candy bar station (I’m not proud of how many I had). We ate there every chance we got. It really was that good.
Because we wanted this to be more a relaxing stay, we didn’t bother to fill up or schedule with a lot of activities (though you definitely could) instead we spent the majority of our stay enjoying the grounds. Laying on the beach, lounging around the pool in our private cabana, eating some more and just generally enjoying each others company.
There was so much to see and do in the immediate area that we decided to just take it easy and not go anywhere we couldn’t comfortably walk to.
We visited some of the adjoining beaches to enjoy some photo time in different back grounds and interact with some of the local beaches.
We also got some gorgeous shots of the sunrise and sunset over the horizon in front of the pool area.
We were treated to beautifully painted skies every night we were there.
The beach in front of the hotel was really the backdrop for all of our photo shoots. It was beautifully manicured and serendipitously placed in a way that provided us brilliant sunrises and sunsets. After shooting we would go lounge around the pool or soak in the beachfront hot tub.
Even though we were up pretty much at the crack of dawn everyday, we couldn’t skip out on our work out regimen. Luckily we didn’t have to skip a beat. The gym had everything we could ask for. Far from the regular low rent hotel gym, this was the real deal. Real benches, heavy dumbbells, yoga and cardio studios, the whole nine. And after we finished breaking a sweat, they had a beautiful spa to wind down in. Really, what more could you ask for?
Again, The Ritz-Carlton, San Juan lived up to it’s promise.
Before we left we wanted make sure we got some pics from inside of the hotel. We were so enamored with the beautiful grounds we lost focus of how photogenic the actual building was. With all of its expansive and beautifully lit walkways begging to taken advantage of, it would’ve been criminal not to no take a few shots there. Luckily for us, we visited off peak. We were able to have a little solitude in certain areas of the hotel. We stumbled on the business wing that wasn’t occupied at the time.
It was completely empty and awash with beautiful light thanks to the huge windows lining the walls.
You really can’t take a bad picture with lighting like this.
There were wonderful contemporary paintings throughout the hotel, but this collection was particularly beautiful.
All in all it was really a special and memorable stay. Not one single bad thing to say about the service, room, accommodations, food – nothing. I wouldn’t change a single thing and it was painful to have to leave.
In terms of the high-end resort style vacation, It was by far the best experience we have ever had. For as large and expansive as the grounds were, they made sure that we felt the entire staff was just for us. We can’t recommend The Ritz-Carlton, San Juan enough and can’t wait to go back!