The San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino has updated its guestrooms. // © 2014 San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino
It’s not every day that you get to see Channing Tatum twerking from the balcony of your hotel room. Last month, I had this incredibly rare, terribly entertaining sighting while staying at the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, where the sequel to the film “21 Jump Street,” starring Tatum and Jonah Hill, was being filmed. From my balcony, I sipped on a Medalla beer and watched, almost in awe, as the cast danced wildly to tunes curated by Diplo, an internationally renowned DJ and producer. While this wasn’t an average day at the San Juan Marriott, it certainly amplified my experience at the recently upgraded four-star property.
In early December, the resort completed an $8 million renovation to all 525 guestrooms. New decor combines wooden furnishings with fresh splashes of color, reflecting the hotel’s “Caribbean cosmopolitan” design concept. Guestrooms also feature new artwork, 47-inch televisions, balcony furniture and sandy textured carpeting. I loved the overall clean look of the room — its bed dressed in a plush white duvet, complemented with gigantic pillows — as well as the free Wi-Fi access that even worked on my balcony.
The recent refresh is part of the hotel’s ongoing effort to stay relevant in a competitive environment. A $2.2 million overhaul of the lobby, with the addition of the Red Coral Lounge, took place in 2012, and updates to La Vista Latin Grill and the La Isla Beach and Pool Bar were completed just two years prior. More facelifts, including upgrades to its meeting space and the Ocean Club fitness center, are in the pipeline for 2014 as well.
Oddly enough, I spent much of my time in the lobby, listening to music and conversing with guests at the Red Coral Lounge. The lounge was one of the happening spots to drink handcrafted mojitos (try the dragonberry mojito), meet locals and other guests and dance to a live salsa band, which plays every Friday and Saturday night from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. The casual atmosphere, accentuated with metal and indigenous wood sculptures, was rather seductive, and I found myself ordering sushi or light appetizers there before enjoying a night out on the town.
“Our hotel is located in an incredible location — in the middle of the trendy and upscale neighborhood of Condado,” said general manager Hans Georg Roehrbein. “We have a prime beach location, and there are more than 120 restaurants within a 15-minute walk of the hotel.”
Roehrbein encouraged me to venture off property and discover the neighborhood on foot, and I was floored by the range of restaurants I encountered. For example, across the street from the hotel is Bar Gitano, a Spanish tapas restaurant helmed by “Iron Chef America” contestant Chef Roberto Treviño. The chef owns another knock-out restaurant nearby, Budatai, serving contemporary Asian cuisine with a Puerto Rican twist. Another favorite, Yantar, overlooks the Condado Lagoon and is ideal for couples who don’t mind splurging on an unforgettable meal.
Everyone who stays at the San Juan Marriott should take a short walk to La Placita, an open-air market that turns into a mild street party around 5 p.m., when the after-work crowd waits out rush hour traffic. On the outskirts of the market is one of the city’s finest restaurants, Santaella, which sources its ingredients daily from La Placita.
Those who prefer the comforts of the hotel will not go hungry. La Vista Latin Grill serves local cuisine including sancocho stew and mofongo, the island favorite made with mashed green plantains and a flavorful broth. La Isla Grill offers ocean views, pina coladas and casual American fare, while Wan Chai Noodle Bar, located inside the Stellaris Casino, offers Chinese food and Asian fusion cuisine late into the night. Whether you want to eat your way through San Juan or simply let your hair down for a bit, the San Juan Marriott is ready to indulge you.
Five Fun Experiences to Have While Staying at the San Juan Marriott
- Rent a car from the Hertz desk in the hotel lobby and ask the concierge for a map of El Yunque Rainforest. The national forest features 1,000-year-old trees, miles of hiking trails, scenic waterfalls, the island’s beloved coqui frogs and other endemic wildlife.
- Thristy? Zipline straight into a bar perched above the treetops at Hacienda Campo Rico, a private 2,300-acre estate that features mangroves, lagoons and lush valleys. ATV tours and horseback trail rides through its subtropical forest are also available. The hotel’s tour desk can arrange an excursion with transfers.
- Order the popcorn soup at Zest restaurant in the nearby neighborhood of Isla Verde. Chef Raul Correa freezes kettle popcorn with liquid nitrogen and prepares a steaming hot truffle cream broth that is elegantly added at table side. This is molecular cuisine done right.
- Tour Castillo San Cristobal in Old San Juan, which offers panoramic views of El Moro and the San Juan Bay. San Cristobal is the largest fortification built by the Spanish in the Americas and is now managed by the U.S. National Park Service.
- Visit one of Puerto Rico’s three bioluminescent bays on a night kayaking adventure. The bays are teeming with microorganisms that produce an ultramarine illumination when the water is agitated. Studies show that Puerto Rico’s bioluminescent bays can contain up to 720,000 luminescent microorganisms per gallon of water.