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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).
– 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!
– 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.
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).
– 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.
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.
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