We've been at the San Juan Marriott Resort for about five minutes before my son coins a new tween phrase: “I’m ROFLing in awesomeness.”
I’m not 11, but I have to admit, I’m ROFLing in awesomeness too. In tweenspeak, ROFLing is usually reserved for a fit of laughter so all-consuming that it reduces you to rolling on the floor. Instead of laughter, what’s got us so astonished is the view from our room: We’ve just pulled back the curtains to find a balcony with a view of the twilit pool, with waterfalls and lush landscaping surrounding it. Beyond is the white-sand beach, where we can hear the crash of gentle waves. Our fourth-floor room sits amid the crowns of the rustling palm trees, making it feel like the world’s best-appointed treehouse.
“Let’s explore!” my son says, so we put down our bags and we’re off to discover the rest of the resort, even though the balcony is just the balm I’m craving for my travel-frayed nerves. No matter; we’ll have time to relax later.
After a look around, we head to dinner at La Vista. I'm not one to frequent hotel restaurants, prefering to venture out on my own for a taste of the local cuisine, but I'm happy to discover that here, we don't have to choose between local flavor and on-site convenience. I'm thrilled to see chillo, whole red snapper, on the menu. As we enter I'm braced for something stuffy and not very kid-friendly, but we find exactly the opposite. The bustle in the open kitchen creates a festive, energetic atmosphere, and the décor is chic but relaxed, with terrazzo floors and banquettes upholstered in a patchwork wryly fashioned from traditionally formal fabrics like velvet and pinstripes. As we follow a mosaic-tiled half wall in beachy shades of blue, green and copper to our table, we see plenty of families, some with kids sprawled out napping. A solo woman in the corner reads Isaac Asimov as she nibbles her grilled grouper with tamarind sauce. Our waiter writes his name on the paper table topper, and we struggle to choose between the entrees, opting for mahi mahi with spicy coconut mango chutney, and, of course, my favorite chillo with mamaposteao rice and plantains. We also sneak a peek at the dessert menu, with twists on traditional Latin favorites, from passion-fruit flan to a roasted pineapple tart with basil ice cream.
After dinner, we explore the lounge and coffee bar in the lobby area, which explodes another of my long-held hotel myths, that unless you’re at the bar, there’s no common area to relax if you’re feeling sociable and don’t want to hang in your room. The Red Coral Lounge not only offers wi-fi and a comfortable area for a non-drinking crowd to relax, but also gets major style points for its dramatically lit carving of a coral reef and the artistry of its oversized, slat-wrapped light fixtures. I’m normally not one to wax on about hotel lighting, but these - especially the three minivan-sized chandeliers over the bar - got our attention.
Next, we head out on foot to explore the hotel’s neighborhood, Condado. There goes another resort myth: After a few experiences with tropical resorts that warned visitors about the dubious wisdom of going off-property, I had begun to assume that attitude was the norm. It certainly wasn’t the case here. Guests streamed out of the hotel to explore the walkable neighborhood, which is close to Old San Juan and also boasts its own attractions and a spate of international and traditional cocina criolla restaurants.
Thanks to the San Juan Marriott for hosting our stay.
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Alisson is a freelance writer and journalism teacher based in Florida. Her first trip out of the country was to the Bahamas at age five, where she told everyone who would listen that she was from another country. No one was impressed, but the trip did leave a lasting impression of the transformative power of travel. Her writing appears in National Geographic Traveler, the St. Petersburg Times and mental_floss as well as newspapers, magazines and web sites in the U.S., Canada and Australia.
Located: Gainesville USA
Likes: outdoors, family travel, Florida, off the beaten path