Guest Reviewer: Chris
An avid traveler and obsessive points and miles hound, Chris is my travel buddy extraordinaire. I love him for his enthusiasm, his sense of adventure, and his many lounge access credit cards. Hope you enjoy his perspective!
Recently I took a weekend trip to Puerto Rico in order to earn some elite-qualifying miles with American Airlines (maintaining Executive Platinum status is hard work!). To book my hotel, I decided to use Hotel Tonight, which is an app that offers deals on last-minute hotel reservations. One of the hotel choices for my one-night stay was the Condado Vanderbilt, located about a 15-minute drive from the San Juan airport. It wasn’t the cheapest option at $269 including taxes, but it was listed as a 5-star hotel and was in the “Luxe” category of the app, so I figured I’d give it a shot.
The Condado Vanderbilt was built by the Vanderbilt family in 1919 and was the first luxury hotel to open in Puerto Rico. Normally I’m not a fan of old hotels - while I appreciate their historic architecture and charm, I find that they usually have musty, cramped guest rooms. Fortunately, the Condado Vanderbilt went through extensive renovations a few years ago, so you get the best of both worlds. It’s located in the Condado neighborhood of San Juan, which is an area containing many restaurants, shops, and resorts. There was a lot more to do in the surrounding area than there was at the last hotel that Jen and I stayed at in Puerto Rico, the Ritz-Carlton San Juan.
I arrived at the hotel around noon and was greeted by a doorman who showed me to the reception desk. He also offered me a glass of champagne, which I was more than happy to accept. As I was there a few hours before the official check-in time of 4pm, I wasn’t expecting a room to be ready, but the front desk lady said that they did have a room with a queen bed available. I’d originally booked a king, but as I was traveling alone, I was totally fine with taking a queen bed instead. As a consolation, she told me that the room was “a little bit bigger” than the one I’d booked, so I didn’t feel like I was getting shafted. She escorted me to the elevator, and I headed up to my room.
In my past experiences with Hotel Tonight, the hotels have usually stuck me in the worst possible rooms. There was one memorable case in Portland where I’m pretty sure they put me in a converted janitor’s closet. Since you’re booking the most discounted rates, you end up at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to room assignments. So, as I was taking the elevator up, I had really low expectations for how the room would be.
This time, however, things were different. When the front desk lady said the room would be a little bit bigger, what she forgot to mention is that they’d upgraded me to a suite instead. My room had two entrances, two foyers, a bedroom, a living room, and two bathrooms. Needless to say, it was way beyond what I was expecting.
The room had a view of the city, and although some of the rooms in the hotel have balconies, this one didn’t. There was a complimentary minibar containing soft drinks, chips, and a Snickers bar (which I may have helped myself to). It also came with a coffee station featuring pre-ground beans, a kettle, and a French press. As someone who dabbles in coffee-making, I thought it was a pretty good setup, although if they’d included a grinder I would have been really impressed…
The bathrooms weren’t large, but they were clad in white marble so still felt luxurious. One of them had a shower with a rain head, and the other had a shower-tub combo. The toiletries were C.O. Bigelow branded, and were pleasant enough.
After changing into my swim trunks, I headed outside to explore the property. The hotel has two pool areas: the main tower has a large pool and an ocean-facing infinity edge pool, and the east tower has a smaller adult pool and hot tub. There’s also a small private beach (the main Condado beach is only a few minutes walk away, for those who prefer a larger beach).
I stopped by the pool desk to pick up a towel, and the attendant accompanied me to set up a lounge chair of my choice. There were plenty of available chairs to choose from, and many were even in the shade, which I appreciated. The staff regularly stopped by to check if I needed anything, and I enjoyed a few beers while I lounged by the pool. All in all, it was an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.
The hotel has five onsite restaurants, but I only dined at one of them during my stay: Ola, where I had breakfast. I was given the choice of indoor or outdoor seating, and opted to sit outside. The waitress soon came by with a glass of ice water, and I also ordered a cappuccino, which was delivered promptly. The were two buffet options to choose from: the continental buffet ($28) and the full buffet ($40), along with some a la carte options. I decided to go with the full buffet since I was feeling rather peckish.
The buffet had enough to satisfy even the hungriest man’s cravings. There was an omelette station, some hot dishes (such as sausages, potatoes, and frittata), yogurt, fruit, cereal, bread, cold cuts, cheeses, and pastries. While the selection was good, the food was hit-or-miss: I really liked the pastries, but the hot dishes were a bit lackluster.
Overall I really enjoyed my stay at the Condado Vanderbilt and wouldn’t hesitate to return, even though I doubt I’d be as lucky in getting a room upgrade the second time around. The hotel exceeded almost all my expectations, and I found it to offer amazing value for the price I paid - though it’s worth noting that rates are much higher during peak season. The service was impeccable, and I found my stay relaxing, even though I was only there for 24 hours.
I've admitted this many times and I'm honestly not afraid to say it - my boyfriend and I are insane. Now that I've made that disclaimer, I'll mention that we took a quick weekend trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico in June. We flew out of SFO on Friday night, arrived in San Juan on Saturday morning, hung out for the day, and were back on the plane home on Sunday afternoon to arrive at SFO on Sunday night. Yeah, okay, flying over 7,000 miles for a 24 hour stay is a bit ridiculous.
That said, it was a really fun trip and it was awesome to visit Puerto Rico for the first time! I love that you don't need a passport, but it absolutely feels like you're in a totally different country. Since we were in town for a very short while, we decided to book a room at the Ritz Carlton San Juan, which is conveniently located very close to the airport (with that, keep in mind that the hotel is actually quite far from Old Town San Juan and necessitates a $25-30 cab ride each way).
Our flight arrived a bit before 10AM, so we arrived at the hotel shortly after. Chris booked our stay through American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts, which offers a 12PM early check-in benefit, so we figured we wouldn't need to wait long for a room. Unfortunately, we were quite wrong. Our room didn't end up being ready until almost 2PM, which was a huge disappointment when we had less than a day to enjoy our mini vacation. The front desk agent offered to hold our bags for us and said that we could use any of the hotel's facilities, but after an overnight red-eye, we really wanted a room to change and leave our things in. Because of the extremely late availability of our room, we were hoping it meant we got a good upgrade for our room (another benefit of AmEx FHR is a complimentary room upgrade). Again, we were wrong. We ended up in a standard king room with no view to speak of except for a small sliver of ocean if you leaned against the glass. Oh well. Since we were in Puerto Rico for 24 hours, we didn't plan to spend much time in the room anyways.
As I mentioned, our room was a standard king room and, despite this being a Ritz Carlton, which I always associated with the epitome of luxury, it wasn't much different from any other hotel room I've stayed in. The room had a bed, a love seat, and a desk. The bathroom was nice and had double sinks with a separate enclosed toilet area.
Just a twenty-something with a full-time job and a full-time obsession with traveling. It's best to LiveTraveled.