W Vieques Retreat and Spa Review

by on November 22, 2011 · 18 comments

in Starwood, Trip Reports

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Last week I got the opportunity to spend two days in Vieques Island, Puerto Rico at the W Retreat and Spa using two free resort nights from Starwood’s spring promotion. Getting to Vieques was an adventure in itself – check out those details and a background of Vieques here. For the record, this is a category 6 hotel with Starwood, so free nights are usually 20,000 points a night or 8,000 and $150 with Cash & Points.

What I liked about my stay
- The resort is gorgeous and the grounds are well kept. The infinity pools are immaculate and I had no issues getting chairs each day (granted it was a Sunday-Tuesday stay in November).

Lounging area outside of the main lobby

- The island is pretty much an unspoiled paradise – I mean there are no stop lights! – off the beaten path and far away from the hectic touristy areas of Puerto Rico.

-Transportation was easy. The hotel has partnerships with shuttle drivers and taxis so I never had any issues getting around – plus there was a rental car agency on site, which is convenient

-The Away Spa was expensive, but worth it. The  treatment rooms are arranged around a series of small canals, and had private outdoor showers, while some have sea views. I was also offered a 10% discount on treatments as a Platinum Starwood member – not sure if that’s a standard benefit, but can’t hurt to ask!

My spa room with outdoor shower

- The standard rooms are spacious, and mine had a private balcony overlooking the resort’s beach. It also featured a king-size bed with a pillow-top mattress, a 42-inch LCD television, a cool round loveseat-sofa thing, and a rainfall shower in the bathtub, which I love. Plus, as opposed to the usual blah beige-gray-brown-black W palette, the room had splashes of tropical colors all over to liven it up.

Lobby with pool table

Large, open room with balcony

View from the balcony

What I didn’t like about my stay
- $60 a day resort fee, which I knew about in advance, but it included horrifically slow internet and a business center that charges $6 per 15 minutes for the same slow internet. If you are going to gouge, at least provide good service – especially for one that’s already supposed to be a Platinum benefit. (FYI I had one of my two days taken off for the slow internet issue).

- The service was very hit or miss, especially with the front desk staff. The entire arrivals process was botched with no coordination between the airport arrivals lounge and front desk. The W Lounge at the airport is one of the hotel’s signature amenities and is supposed to get you in the resort frame of mind upon arrival, but it only frustrated me. When I arrived at the hotel at 1:30pm I was told my room would be ready in an hour, yet by 3:45pm I was still told to wait until I basically pitched a fit (a function of a 7am flight and frustration over being run around in circles) and a room magically appeared and I was given free breakfast for the inconvenience.

- No Platinum suite upgrade for me or any special perks. I know, I know, you can’t always expect an upgrade, but I thought I’d at least have a good shot, this being November mid-week, but nothing. And what’s the deal with no free internet?

- Food service is not well prepared or staffed. For example, one day I had coffee in the afternoon by the pool and the next morning the cups and trays were still there. Room service was the same. I called to have my used tray removed from my room when I was leaving for a couple hours. It was still there when I returned and still outside the door in the morning when I left it outside my door and called again.

- “Whatever, Whenever” is more like “Whatever, Maybe.” For example, one night when I had a question, I pushed the Whatever, Whenever button on my phone and no one picked up. Several times. Apparently only one person staffs the line at night. When I ordered room service one evening only 3 items were available from the list of approximately 8 that are on the menu.

The great thing about the problems is that a) this is only my one isolated experience and I’ve heard of many other wildly different and positive experiences at this resort and b) all of these things can be fixed. Even though I had some hiccups, I’ll still return and I hope they continue to improve their service levels to all guests. I know it’s difficult on a relatively remote island, but the W has huge potential to be a full-service, top-notch resort. However, they aren’t quite there yet – at least not in my experience!

What to do in Vieques
I was only there for 36 short hours, but I definitely recommend:

- Visiting the Bio Bay. It’s a $10 shuttle ride and $30 for a guided kayak tour of the bay at 9pm. Basically it’s a bay with organisms that glow at night when they are disturbed, so if you run your hand or oar through the water, it glows. It’s pretty unique, especially when you see large, glowing fish swimming in the water. Don’t go expecting to see crazy glowing unicorns and water shows – it’s a little anticlimactic, but its still beautiful to be out on the water and learning about the bay. I think it would be really cool to swim in the water since you’d glow, but it’s not allowed on tours and I wouldn’t want to bother with getting to the bay on my own (they specifically leave the roads rugged so tourists don’t have easy access on their own since they will likely mess up the ecosystem).

Getting a clear picture at night with no flash is not an easy thing to do

- Exploring the island and secluded beaches like the Black Sand Beach and Green Beach. I didn’t get a chance to do these, but my friends did and had a fun time renting a jeep and exploring the island (and trying not to hit the wild horses that often run across the roads).

- Eat at Next Course. I heard so many good things about the restaurant and decided to try it on my last night. I liked that the restaurant’s main tagline was, “Food inspired by travel.” The menu was mostly seafood and red meats, so nothing really international, but it was delicious. I got salmon stuffed with lobster that was fantastic.

Salmon and lobster ... two awesome things put together = phenomenal dish

While the service at the W Retreat and Spa in Vieques was not up to par – especially for the high category this hotel falls into, and the number of points you need to stay there, a weekend in sunny Puerto Rico, along with exotic activities like the bioluminescent bay and some good gourmet meals was exactly what I needed to recharge before the holidays.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • MS

    Wow. $60 resort fee, even to SPG Platinums, is completely unacceptable. Personally, I’m choosing not to patronize properties that hold such a policy. In the long run I think that will will hurt their business and they’d be better off eliminating it or including it into the daily rate.

  • Jane

    TPG, I had a similarly bad service experience at the Ritz in San Juan, PR awhile back. But at the time I could never figure out where to send a letter to complain about the poor service. Do you generally send a note in cases like this to complain about overall lack of service and if so, do you use Twitter or send a letter to corporate headquarters or something else?

  • L T

    The local tour guides in other bio bay in La Parguera (Lajas, Puerto Rico) generally let you go swim in the water if you want that experience. That resort fee is a bit out there!

  • Marianne Bergman, mom’s friend

    Excellent review! Thanks so much!

  • NS

    Too bad they did not let you swim in the bio bay. It was very cool when I did it in 2004, but they may have stopped because of a recent suspected shark attack:

  • Jdawg

    Yup … that sounds like service at any Puerto Rican resort / hotel, they’ll smile and nod at you all day, however not fulfill any of your requests or do it in mindbogglingly slow speed. It’s a cultural thing, with the number of locals working at the resort. Unfortunate, but you just have to go with the flow.

    Did you try asking for a room upgrade?

  • Jdawg

    I believe on my bio bay tour last summer we were told that there has been a recent PR law put into place prohibiting swimming in the bio bay, to preserve its beauty.

  • Dan

    I also just took a trip (same day out and back to PR) to Vieques, what a great island! I would recommend taking a taxi to Esperenza. The beach is excellent, nobody around, and an excellent restaurant/bar called Duffy’s. There are snorkel rentals right on the beach and if you swim out to the nearest island, there’s coral and fish that are close to as good as it gets for snorkeling.

  • Scott in ATL

    Thanks so much for both reviews of the W Vieques. I had 4 free nights and almost used them there too, but instead chose The Phoenician instead. Been traveling the world for the last 5 yrs, but had not spent time in AZ so it was a new experience. Very nice!!
    LOVE all the info on this site. It’s a daily visit for me…THANKS!!

  • Yoshapman

    Agreed. Can’t believe they can charge a $60 a day resort fee. Do you know of other hotels that have an even higher resort fee?

  • Anonymous

    Much like in Budapest, you probably would have gotten better service for a fraction of the price in a B&B.

  • Anonymous

    I got two nights for free using my free resort nights… even with a $60 a night resort fee, you can’t get much cheaper than that

  • Anonymous

    Nice- I’ve never been to the Phoenecian, but have head good things. Will have to check it out. Glad you like the site!

  • Anonymous

    Good to know- I’ll check that out on my next visit

  • Anonymous

    Our guides referenced that visit and basically told us that woman was an idiot and swam after the shark.

  • Guest

    Vieques is beautiful and a great choice for an easy weekend getaway from the US. But definitely pass on the W. My boyfriend and I are “expert” travelers (both work and leisure). We were at the W Vieques for a wedding. Other than the view, there was very little to be excited about in regard to this property. The service is terribly slow and unconcerned. Rooms stayed dirty, food service was incredibly slow, laundry was terrible, couldn’t get a towel at the beach to save your life. Sat waiting for a room for hours (after the published check in time). Try Hix Island House instead.

  • Julia

    I am a Platinum member and am considering this hotel for my honeymoon. While I stay in Westins for work travel, I am a “no-frills” traveler for pleasure. I rarely order room service or even eat at the hotel restaurant; I prefer to explore local establishments. But for work, I am the total opposite.
    My fiance and I are going to Peru and the Galapagos in January and Germany and Italy in Sept… so for our honeymoon, I wanted to do something relaxing and since I can use Points and Cash, this location seemed like a good option (and it’s close to Florida which is where we live). Having said that, how easy was it to rent a car and leave the resort? Were you able to veg-out on the grounds? All I am really looking for is spending maybe a day at the resort and the other days exploring the island… what are your thoughts?

  • Tony Bilodeau

    Yeah, the Bio-Bay was something that I just couldn’t capture, even with my underwater camera. They have some great festivals on Vieques too!

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