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By Jeannette and Dan Dudek
Our Caribbean cruise departed from San Juan in Puerto Rico, so we decided to fly in a day early to explore and enjoy this historic city. After staying in the San Juan Marriott Resort we wished we would have arrived several days before our cruise!
There are at least three reasons to seriously consider arriving in San Juan a few days before departing on a cruise: first, it virtually ensures your luggage will arrive in time for your ship’s departure; second, it gives you more vacation for the dollar as there is no additional air fare to visit the city; third, it gives you the opportunity to experience the Marriott Resort and its attached Stellaris Casino.
Can you imagine starting your long-anticipated cruise without your luggage? It happens, and it happens to two or three people each cruise. An industry insider, whose responsibilities include security, told us that on a 2,000 guest ship typically only 2 or 3 bags do not make it to the ship on time; however, if there are severe weather conditions, checked luggage may miss tight connections, and the count goes up.
Arriving in San Juan a few days before your cruise gives you the opportunity to visit the castles, countryside and Old Town – and to enjoy the city’s beaches and local cuisine.
For us, the primary reason to arrive early was to decompress from our hectic schedule and prepare for our cruise. What better way to start a luxury cruise than to spend some time in a luxury hotel, especially when the hotel’s location includes a fabulous beach, and an historic old town nearby. We chose the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino hotel located very close to the old town San Juan; and close to the departure location of our ship.
As soon as we arrived at the Marriott we felt transported into a tranquil place; the smiling and extremely friendly staff made us feel relaxed and welcome. The hotel has a smoke-free policy, a fitness center, outdoor pool and a whirlpool. Each day’s activities, including classes are posted on a chart outside the pool area. There is something for everyone. Several golf courses are located nearby, as are opportunities for scuba diving, snorkeling, horseback riding and kayaking. AAA rates this hotel as 4 Diamonds.
Quick and efficient service got us into our immaculately clean room within just a few minutes of our arrival. Our large room had a bed we wanted to take home with us; it was that comfortable. Two bottles of complimentary water were on the table, and our porter told us he would bring more if we desired. Our knowledgeable porter explained the hotel’s facilities, answered all our questions, and gave us local input as to things to see and do.
The room amenities also included wireless Internet access, personal safe, mini-bar, iron & ironing board, hair dryer, high-quality bed linens and bath towels.
Our room overlooked the stunningly beautiful beach where the Marriott’s splendid and responsive beach staff provided us with complimentary quality lounge chairs and an umbrella. When on this beach, with the warm water gently massaging your body – you remember why you like vacations!
Lobby and Lounge Bar
After getting settled in our room, we did a walking tour of the hotel. Although some things appeared a bit dated, this did not distract from our overall impression that this was a first class facility. The bar/lounge area just inside the main entrance was very stylish, and it turned out to be one the “hot spots” on the island during weekend nights. The Friday night we visited testified to this claim as the dance floor was packed; the throbbing, intoxicating Latin beat of the band kept most from leaving until long after we called it quits for the night.
The Stellaris Casino’s entrance connects to the hotel’s main lobby. This large, elegant casino features numerous table games with “live” dealers. During peak times, it draws in a large, enthusiastic and friendly crowd; the wait at peak times at the popular $5 Black Jack tables can be a half-hour or so. You do not mind waiting as you can “people watch”, listen to the up-beat music from the band in the adjoining hotel foyer bar, and talk to others waiting with you. When you do get a chair, you will find the dealers helpful and friendly to everyone. Even those just learning the game will have fun, and may win a few dollars (with some help from the dealer and your new friends at the table).
For those that wish to play the slots, you may be interested to know that recently, the management converted a large conference room to a playing area for slot machines. This change increased the total of slot machines to 462! Soft drinks, beer, wine and house brand mixed drinks are complimentary for all players.
Besides being only about a 15 minute drive from the airport or the cruise line terminals, the hotel’s location in the middle of the popular Ashford Avenue put you in a hub of some local establishments. Just across the street from the hotel is a 24 Hour Walgreen drug store (it supposedly has the least expensive pricing for alcohol and other beverages). If you walk in either direction on Ashford, you will find many restaurants, many that offer local food and spirits. The Marriott’s front desk staff will gladly provide you with an extremely detailed map of the hotel’s surrounding area; and this map lists all the restaurants and the walking time to each.
We chose to eat lunch at Café Del Angel at 1106 Ashford Avenue. This small restaurant served authentic local food and the locally brewed beer, Medalla Premium. Our selections included “Combinacion Puertorriquena El Angel” (Angel’s Puerto Rican Combination), which consisted of Roast Pork, rice with pigeon peas, sweet plantains, and one pastel. You could cut the pork with a fork; it was tender and very tasty; and the side dishes complemented the meal perfectly. The other dish ordered was “Filette de mero en salsa de alcaparras”, i.e. grouper, copers rice with Pegio Peas and French Fries”. The grouper was perfectly prepared and the French Fries were quite good. Both were excellent authentic local meals that we thoroughly enjoyed.
Part of the pleasure of dining at Café Del Angel included the ambiance. The friendly waiters danced inside as well as on the curb outside the restaurant and were extremely attentive and helpful. All-in-all, we had a great local meal at a very colorful restaurant – a very enjoyable time.
The service at Café Del Angel was not only delightful, but the portions were very generous. We had planned on eating dinner at the Marriott as on Friday nights they offer a Surf-n-Turf with a Rib Eye Steak and Caribbean Lobster Tail; however the late and very filling lunch forced us to skip dinner.
Returning to the Marriott after strolling around town, we talked to the Assistant Front Desk Manager, Santos Sanchez. He stated that “the hotel management makes it a priority to take care of the staff, so they will take care of the guests; and that ensures the guests will have a good time in Puerto Rico and hopefully return.” Santos explained this supports the Marriott San Juan’s Mission Statement, which is: “Take care of the guests so they will come back again and again”.
In our opinion, the management and staff are on target with taking care of their guests; and we are certainly anticipating returning to this resort in the future.
Saturday morning meant two things: Brunch and Checkout. While the Marriott’s restaurant offers a la cart selection of many breakfast items, the fixed price buffet is chosen by most. The buffet includes fresh squeezed orange juice, an assortment of fresh fruit, muffins, doughnuts and pastries, and an excellent selection of items, including custom prepared eggs and omelets and complimentary Mimosas. Obviously, the Brunch Buffet is highly recommended.
The hotel’s Brunch setup is pictured above; pictured below are typical selections including: various types of sausages, potatoes, bacon, custom omelets, eggs prepared to your specification, French Toast, pastries, etc.
You choose the time you wish to leave the Marriott resort. You are allowed to use the resort’s facilities, including their scenic pool, beach-side bar, beach lounge chairs and umbrellas, for the entire day of your departure – even after you checkout. Changing rooms with showers are available for your use.
When you are ready, a cab can quickly be summoned to take you on the 10 to 15 minute drive to the cruise line terminal or to the main international airport for about $30.
During our time at the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino we met several people who were spending their entire vacation at the hotel, i.e. people not departing on a cruise. To a person, each expressed how much they loved the hotel, the beach and exploring the fabulous and historic city.
If in the future you fly into San Juan for a vacation, or to start a cruise (be sure you arrive a few days early), head directly to one of the friendliest and relaxing hotels anywhere, the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino. If you want to be pampered, submerse yourself in a tranquil warm sea, enjoy exquisite Caribbean cuisine and drinks; and dance the night away to intoxicating Latin music – this is the place you seek!
If You Go:
Note: Jeannette and Dan were hosted by the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino for one night in January 2013.
Jeannette and Dan Dudek travel extensively domestically and internationally; visited over 30 countries; and have been to most U.S. states and Canadian provinces. Jeannette’s career has included teaching elementary school classes; as well as English classes for middle school students; she also as has been a business manager and accountant for several firms. Jeannette’s passion is gourmet cooking and hosting special gatherings for friends and family. Dan spent his career as an international consultant; assisting large firms implement computerized project and portfolio management systems. Besides international travel, Jeannette and Dan enjoy traveling North America in their RV, as well as handgun competitions, sailing, hunting, hiking, mountain biking and other outdoor sports.