Paradise on points: A review of the Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve Puerto Rico
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Editor’s note: During the COVID-19 crisis, our team has temporarily ceased taking review trips. Instead, we have been publishing a selection of our most popular reviews from the past year. However, we have resumed the publication of new, previously unpublished flight, hotel and lounge reviews, from trips taken before the lockdown. We hope this will help you choose once we’re all ready to start booking trips again.
This stay occurred before the coronavirus pandemic caused restrictions on travel to many destinations. Puerto Rico specifically remains only open for “essential travel” and has postponed its plans to reopen to tourists from the mainland United States.
Puerto Rico, also known as La Isla Del Encanto (the enchanted island in English), is an island full of spectacular beaches, wonderful hospitality, delicious local cuisine.
Even better, the United States territory is just a short flight away from many mainland U.S. gateways, and you don’t need a passport or to exchange currency upon arrival.
It’s a destination that makes you want to come back for more, and perfect for anyone who loves the sun and sand. I’m one of those people. In fact, my husband says that I’m “solar-powered.”
Before the coronavirus pandemic emerged in the U.S., I traveled to Puerto Rico for a work trip, and I decided it was simply not an option to not stay for the weekend and enjoy the beautiful weather.
In February — when much of the United States is cold and dreary — Puerto Rico is often 85 degrees and sunny, making it perfect for a quick getaway. After a little cajoling, I convinced my husband to join me for the weekend.
We chose to stay at the newly opened Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve Puerto Rico. Formerly the Melia Coco Beach, the hotel closed after Hurricane Maria, was purchased by Hyatt and reopened as the Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve.
It seemed ideal for a two-night stay, given its large pool, private beach and multiple onsite restaurants. Plus, it’s just a half-hour drive from San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU), the island’s main gateway. Despite the resort’s proximity to the airport, it feels a world away.
This property is gorgeous. The grounds feel like a tropical paradise, and the service was fantastic. However, we did experience a few hiccups related to the newness of the hotel — more on that below.
Here’s what my weekend at this new-ish Hyatt property was like.
Base-level rooms at the Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve Puerto Rico typically start at around $300 per night, but as a Category 3 property on The World of Hyatt award chart, it’s a fantastic deal on points — only 12,000 are needed for a free night.
And, since Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio, you could earn enough points for a whopping five-night stay just by signing up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. That bonus is worth $1,200, according to TPG valuations.
The resort is located in the municipality of Rio Grande about 45 minutes from downtown San Juan. This makes it far enough from the hustle and bustle of the city, but the aforementioned proximity to the airport makes it easily accessible for weekend trips.
El Yunque National Forest is only about eight miles away from the hotel, but since we only had a couple of nights to spend, we didn’t visit. The forest and its imposing mountain peak serve as a stunning backdrop for the resort and its beautiful golf course.
When we arrived we were greeted by friendly and attentive staff members.
Our bags were put on a cart immediately, and the entire check-in process took less than 10 minutes. The staff offered us a delicious rum punch upon arrival, but it was served in small plastic cups. It didn’t quite match the beauty of the newly renovated lobby with views straight to the ocean, but it was refreshing nevertheless.
We were upgraded to a junior king suite with a garden view and it included club access with free breakfast, snacks, water, and soft drinks. We were given waterproof wristbands that served as room keys and were color-coded to show who had club access.
We also received an activity list, a map of the resort and a list of restaurants. No cash is accepted on the property; credit cards or room charges are the only payments accepted.
Our porter showed us the club and took us to our room in a golf cart. The rooms are located in individual buildings spread out around the grounds of the resort, so the golf carts are particularly handy if you’re in a room further away from the public areas of the property.
The resort fee is 18% of the room rate per night. When checking in we were told that the resort fee is actually a tax in Puerto Rico imposed on resorts, but officially it includes the following items:
- 20% discount on spa services
- 15% discount on Green Fees
- 10% discount on select tours
- Two welcome drinks
- Two bottles of water daily
- Unlimited local calls
- Use of tennis and pickleball courts
As I mentioned earlier, we were upgraded to a garden view junior king suite. As soon as we walked in, we were impressed by the chic design and ample space.
The king bed was soft and comfortable and the sitting area perfect for two people, and easily could have accommodated four. Although the balcony was private and the view was nice, it didn’t have the same luxurious feel as the rest of the room as it still had paint splatters from the renovation.
We were conveniently located near the main pool area and resort amenities. However, that would later prove to be a double-edged sword.
The bathroom in the room was simple, but stylish, with one sink and a separate water closet. The oversized soaking tub was the highlight of the bathroom and more than satisfied my love of bubble baths. My husband found it notable that the tub and shower are visible – through a full-glass wall with a curtain – from the bedroom.
Romantic? Weird? Up to you.
The closet was big enough for a weekend trip but the drawers were shallow and there wasn’t much space to hang full-length items, which was a challenge, considering all I packed for dinner were island-style maxi dresses. The robes and slippers were plush and comfortable, though.
The room included a coffee maker with complimentary coffee, a small refrigerator that was refilled every day with two bottles of water and a decent-sized safe. The only thing missing was a minibar, which was probably a good thing, since that helped me avoid a $15 late-night Snickers bar, which I’ve been known to have once or twice.
During the first night of our stay there was an outdoor wedding reception with live music very close to our room. It probably would have been fine, but then the karaoke started.
It was so loud that we called the reception desk and were told that the music would continue for about two more hours and were offered an identical room in a building further away. We opted to make the move and were thankful that the hotel was able to move us so we could get some rest.
Since the resort wasn’t at capacity it would have been nice to be given the option at check-in of a room with a more-quiet location.
Food and beverage
If there’s one part about the stay that was disappointing, it was the food. There are six onsite restaurants featuring various international foods, as well as three bars. We found the drinks to be delicious across the whole property, but unfortunately the food was overpriced and often left much to be desired.
Our first night we had drinks at the modern Martini Bar, which was lined — to a very cool effect — with lights made out of Absolut Vodka bottles.
My French 75 was fantastic, but the bartender struggled with my husband’s classic dry Martini — there was too much Vermouth. Given that the bar’s name is literally Martini Bar, he was expecting more.
We followed drinks with dinner at Prime 787, the hotel’s upscale steakhouse. I wanted the food to be delicious, and it looked delicious, but upon tasting it, we found it to be average, which was disappointing for a dinner that cost more than $200.
The standout was our octopus appetizer and the gluten-free chocolate dessert that the waiter specifically brought over from another restaurant. The great service almost made up for so-so food.
Our first morning at the property, we took advantage of the free breakfast at the club, which didn’t have tons of options but was enough for us. The fruit was fresh and delicious, and there was cheese, charcuterie, cereals, toast and egg muffins.
The El Jefe Mexican food truck was the only food available for poolside service, so we tried it for lunch our first day.
The tacos and burrito we ordered were simple but good. The presentation was a little lacking, though. It was delivered in takeout containers in a paper bag. Today, however, that’s likely to be the norm, even at high-end resorts.
Poolside bar service was fantastic and servers came up to us continuously throughout the day to ask if we wanted drinks or water. We tried a few classic tropical cocktails. All of them were delicious and fresh. The piña colada was truly one of the best I’ve had, made from scratch with fresh pineapple and coconut milk. My husband is still talking about how good his Painkiller was.
At check-in, we received a card for a free drink at the lobby bar if we “liked” the hotel on social media, so we decided to stop by before dinner on our second night. After we did that and arrived at the bar, we were told the free drink was the bartender’s choice and they were only making a Tom Collins. I’m not a gin fan — and wanted to drink rum since I was in Puerto Rico — so I passed.
On our second night we went to Nori, the resort’s upscale Asian restaurant. We were initially very interested in Passion, the Puerto Rican restaurant, but many hotel staff members told us to go to Nori and that we would have to go into town if we wanted good, authentic local cuisine.
I can’t eat gluten, so I typically shy away from Asian food. However, when we made the reservation at Nori we were told that they could make all of their dishes with gluten-free tamari, a huge plus for me. I was looking forward to our dinner but the sushi appetizer was just OK and the hibachi food was way too salty. It was alright overall, but again felt too overpriced for what we got. Bonus points for having surprisingly good sake, though!
On our second morning at the hotel, we decided to order room service for breakfast. It arrived in 25 minutes, but it was lukewarm.
The worst part was that breakfast cost $50, and after I finished I was still hungry. For example, given that a coffee maker is in the room, I expected $6 to get me something better than slightly chilly coffee in a paper cup.
Lunch on our second day was the best meal we had during our trip. We ordered poolside takeout from the Water’s Edge, the hotel’s casual restaurant. The salad was fresh and delicious, the fish tacos were crunchy yet tender and the tostones and yuca hit the spot. I wish we’d tried Water’s Edge earlier in the trip and eaten more meals there.
We spent most of our time at the beach and pool, which are the resort’s highlight.
The resort sits on a peninsula, with a pristine palm-tree-lined beach.
Perfect rows of chairs and umbrellas frame the resort along with an undeveloped far side. Since the hotel was newly opened when we visited, it wasn’t very crowded, but I can’t imagine ever having trouble finding a chair. There were rows of lounge chairs set up in various locations along the private beach with tables and umbrellas scattered throughout.
Friendly staff members were plentiful, and they were happy to help move a chair or reposition an umbrella to ensure your comfort by keeping you in shade if you liked.
The pool is massive with even more lounge chairs, outdoor daybeds that were available at no extra cost and plenty of shade. The pool has multiple different sections with built-in lounge chairs, sitting areas, a shallow kid’s area, and a swim up bar. While the look of the pool was serene, when renovating the hotel it seems that a full renovation of the pool deck was overlooked.
A few areas had been resurfaced but most of it was rough and uneven, so I had to put my sandals on every time I wanted to walk from my chair to the pool because it hurt the bottoms of my feet. This took away from the overall luxury feel of the hotel and felt like an oversight when they’d clearly taken a lot of care to renovate other areas of the hotel.
Also, although my husband found it a fascinating example of the raw power of the hurricane, it was obvious that the beach had been moved, given the foot-showers on paths to nowhere but none coming from the beach. It’s testament to the still-under-renovation feel we experienced.
There is a nice — albeit basic — gym with various machines and weights, onsite tennis and pickleball courts and various fitness class options including beachfront yoga and aqua aerobics.
There is also a kid’s club play area by the pool, with a small jungle gym, craft tables and lots of shade.
When we booked this property we knew that it was newly opened but what we didn’t know is the extent to which it was still under construction. The construction never bothered us, but it limited some of the other amenities.
The onsite market stocked just a few bags of chips, coffee and sandwiches to buy. There was no gift shop or store yet, there were “coming soon” signs posted all over and the spa was still being renovated. A block of rooms was converted into a temporary spa but it didn’t include the full experience.
While some aspects of this stay under delivered, the service was memorable — in a good way. From check-in to pool and beach attendants to restaurant servers, the staff was a delight. In fact, the outstanding service almost made us forget about the sometimes-mediocre food and still-under-construction feel of the property. I hope that as the resort reopens to tourists in the coming weeks that the incredible staff remains.
I’d go back to this resort in a heartbeat, but would be extra sure all the construction had been finished and may opt to eat more meals off the resort.
The beach and pool were fantastic, and the service was truly top notch. I can’t say enough good things about the wonderful staff at this hotel. That being said, the food was expensive and disappointing, which in more than a few ways left bad tastes in our mouths.
I hope with more time that they’ll be able to work out all of the kinks that come with opening a new hotel.
Given the obvious enthusiasm of the staff, I think they just might get to where they need to be.
All photos by the author.
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