San Juan is an ever popular Caribbean destination and was an excellent choice for some brief winter sun. After arduous research I chose to stay at the Condado Vandebrilt, the island’s newest five star resort. Though youth is not a guarantee of innovation I felt compelled to try something new and as this was a nearly soft opening the hotel was running a  “Getting to Know the Vanderbilt” promotion boasting a substantial discount.

Upon arrival, the property was impressive and well situated. I chose the location over the Ritz Carlton because of its proximity to Old San Juan without being in it. We were greeted by a friendly army of bellboys and valets and ushered inside to check in where a welcome glass of champagne awaited. Check in was an overall pleasant experience though I was surprised not to hear two words “Happy Birthday”. It was my wife’s birthday and I emailed in advance to attach my loyalty number and let the hotel know of the occasion. Sadly my email did not reach the necessary attention in time for check in (more on this later).

We booked and stayed in an “Ocean View King Room” which was in the lower middle range of their offerings. We were escorted to the room by a bellboy who showed us its various features and offered future assistance shall we need any. The room was tasteful with some classic elements but very inclusive of modern technology and furnishings which is hugely important to me. I really enjoyed the personal reading lights in bed, large TV, oversized shower, turn down service (with chocolate treats) and the overall functional space.

But were in Puerto Rico….. who cares about the room! One of the hotels greatest assets is its massive pool and deck area. What a spot! The pool and pool bar staff Hector, Gloriana and Tairi are an absolute credit to this hotel. When arriving at the pool you are presented with towels and escorted to a sun chair where they kindly put a cushion and towel on the chair before offering their service and calling for a waiter. My wife and I ventured to the pool in the morning and upon returning to the hotel in the afternoon we were greeted by name which I thought was a fantastic touch. We thoroughly enjoyed the drinks and the service pool side and it was far and away the best part of our stay. If you are looking for sun and a nice pool I have nothing but kind words about this stunning location!

I’ll be honest, I was really frustrated by our check in as I mentioned above. The property was five stars, the pool was five stars, the food was five stars and the only thing letting it down was the front desk which sadly was our first impression. A happy birthday at check in would have been more than sufficient to make things special. After this opportunity had been missed I took it upon myself to go back down to the front desk to take matters into my own hands by arranging to pay for a meal, spa treatment or upgrade. I was sadly presented with more questions than answers and eventually retreated with nothing.

When something goes wrong its good to have people that can fix it and fortunately for the Condado Vanderbilt they have Maria Larracuente. After a lackluster first night we spoke to Maria at breakfast to let her know of our frustrations but general love of the property and stay.  Following our conversation she went out of her way to make sure that every minute of our stay was perfect from then on. Maria went above and beyond by sending a very kind birthday celebration to our room, securing us a dinner reservation and sending a mimosa to us poolside with a happy birthday. We are not VIPs’ and when a hotel notices that you have chosen to celebrate with them and they recognize your special occasion with a kind gesture it makes for a wonderful stay.

In the end we had a wonderful trip.  Our complimentary flight upgrades cleared before each leg and on our last night we experienced some fine dining at 1919. The restaurant is well on its way to Michelin Star(s) and the service operates at the highest level.  This new property was innovative and perhaps age will add to its efficiency. The hotel has so much going for it and offered one of the greatest pool areas and best restaurants I have been to. When it comes to accessible winter sun that you can manage in just a long weekend I can’t think of a better place in Puerto Rico. I highly recommend the Condado Vanderbilt and believe that time will only improve this five star experience. 

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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