The Ritz-Carlton San Juan
If you happen to be heading to San Juan, Puerto Rico, the hotel options are dizzying. There's an endless stream of accommodations in every price range, but if you're looking for effortless, relaxing luxury, complete with a pristine beach and a prime location, I highly recommend the Ritz-Carlton San Juan Hotel, Spa, & Casino (above).
The Ritz-Carlton is located right on Isla Verde beach (pale, fine sand and completely cleaned out for swimming), two miles from the airport and six miles from Old San Juan. I actually had the pleasure of staying at this resort in its inaugural year (my parents say it was under construction but all I remember is the hot tub and the big door to the beach, which look the same -- the tub and the door, that is; the beach was rocky back then), as well as earlier this month.
There's an extra luxurious way to stay which may actually end up saving you money: Stay on the Club Level. Not only do you get access to the exclusive 9th floor -- accessible only by key -- and a gorgeous, two-bathroom suite, but there's a Club Lounge up there where you can have expedited check-in and check-out service, a super-attentive concierge and, best of all, free food and drinks all day long. Now, I don't recommend trying to make a luxury meal of the (lovely) buffet, but when you want a light lunch or a quick snack? The Club Lounge offers elegant, tasteful dishes -- including local desserts -- as well as wine, champagne, and pretty much anything you want if you just ask (this includes the endless morning coffee working people like me require). Considering what snacking (and drinking) can cost you at a many-star hotel, paying extra for the Club Level may actually work to your advantage -- and at the very least it eliminates the calculator from the frugal mind which is constantly adding up the daily costs of your vacation.
The hotel offers a full-service, well-regarded Spa and Casino, as well as some top notch restaurants, including a BLT Steak and Il Mulino. There is also a Tiffany & Co. and a Little Switzerland, for the shopping-inclined, and like I said, Old San Juan, with all its fabulous food and drink options, is just a six mile cab ride away. The real amenity of this hotel, though? Ritz-Carlton service. When you head down to the beach and drag the chairs all over the place, an RC employee will probably approach you -- and ask if he can drill a hole in the sand for you and plant an umbrella. Seriously.
For more beautiful photos of a beautiful property, click below.