Caribbean Comeback: A Review of The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort in Puerto Rico
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When Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, it showed the island no mercy. Tragically, much of the island's infrastructure was badly damaged -- including many hotels that generate critical tourism dollars for the local economy.
One such hotel was The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, a sprawling, 139-room oceanfront property on the northeast side of the island. The resort is widely considered to be one of the island's best, and it closed for several months after the hurricane to execute a $60 million renovation to completely redesign and refurbish the guest rooms and suites, and restore the resort to its pre-Maria glory. I visited the resort less than two months after its reopening to see if it still offered a luxurious beach-resort experience.
A beachfront St. Regis is a recipe for a pricey nightly rate, and Bahia Beach was no exception. Granted, my stay was during the high season, but rates were hovering at just below $1,000 per night on the dates I was staying at the property. Luckily, though, award nights were available for the dates I needed to stay, so we used 120,000 Marriott points to book the two-night stay.
Bahia Beach is one of the properties that was supposed to move into Marriott's Category 8, but March 5 came around and it stayed at Category 7 pricing, which is great news for those looking to use points at a high-end beach resort. However, don't be surprised if it does end up moving into Category 8 in the coming days. If you want to get a head start on earning the points required for a stay at this property, consider signing up for the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card, which is currently offering a welcome offer bonus of 100,000 points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases within the first three months.
The resort charged a daily $75 resort fee, which actually came out to about $82 daily after taxes. It was one of the highest I'd ever encountered (though still a bit lower than the $95 before-tax daily resort fee at Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve), and included the following:
- Full service at the pool and beach, along with umbrellas and towels on the beach
- Use of the resort bikes (pending availability)
- Use of the property's boathouse with inflatable water toys
- Use of kayaks
- Use of the tennis center
- High-speed Wi-Fi
- Access to the resort's kids club (nanny service was an additional fee)
- Access to the driving range at the Bahia Beach golf course
- Welcome cocktails
Personally, I really don't think it's right that resorts can charge extra fees for amenities that are built into the resort already -- these things should be included in the price of entry, which, in the case of Bahia Beach, can be over $1,000 per night.
The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort is in Rio Grande, on the island's northeastern shore, about 22 miles from Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU). I'd already been on the island, so I didn't come directly from the airport, but my ride from the resort to the airport when I was leaving cost about $40 and took about 45 minutes.
The resort is in quite a lush setting -- it sits on 483 acres of land very close to Puerto Rico's El Yunque National Forest. Because of this, the resort was teeming with wildlife, and I really felt like I was in the rainforest as I walked between the property's buildings. Once I entered the resort grounds from the main road, it took another several minutes to get to the actual entrance of the hotel, which was the same situation I'd experienced a couple days prior when I checked into Dorado Beach. These resorts aren't your typical beachfront hotels -- they're massive, sprawling complexes.
My Uber driver dropped me off at the hotel's entrance, and immediately I noticed that the resort's main building resembled a plantation house of sorts. Sure enough, the resort was on a former coconut plantation. A bellman greeted me at my car and watched my luggage while I checked in. I made my way to the main building, dubbed "Casa Grande," to begin the check-in process, which started out with a bang, as I was greeted by a refreshing mojito to sip.
The lobby was bright, though not particularly large. It had a direct view of the ocean through floor-to-ceiling glass windows.
I arrived in the evening, so my room was ready for me. I received my room key within a few minutes and -- even more importantly -- was handed my voucher for complimentary daily breakfast, a valuable perk reserved for Platinum, Titanium and Ambassador elite members. The check-in agent introduced me to a butler who would be in charge of looking after me during my short stay. He took my bags and led me to my room, which was just a couple of minutes away from Casa Grande on foot. For the rooms located farther out, the resort offered golf carts to transport guests.
My room had its own private entrance on the far right side of the Casa Caribe building -- though there were quite a few stairs, so if accessibility is a concern, definitely ask for a room that's reachable by elevator and not on the periphery of any of the buildings.
As part of the resort's renovation project, all of the rooms got a facelift. The decor from before the renovation seemed very island-appropriate, but it was starting to get dated. So, in the renovation, designers went for a modern look with calming grays, whites and blues used liberally in the rooms. It definitely felt modern, but also felt like it had lost some of the character that I imagined the resort had in spades in its previous design.
With all of that said, the design was certainly attractive -- it looked very clean and instilled a sense of vacation calm.
The door to the room opened right into a small foyer, which contained a wet bar with a sink, mini-fridge, Nespresso machine with pods and honor bar that contained the typically overpriced snacks. (Confession: I consumed the gummy bears that were on offer, but I don't regret it one little bit.)
The room's closet was just about walk-in size and contained a safe and the typical laundry bags and list of (also overpriced) laundry services. To the left of the foyer was the entrance to the room's very large bathroom, which was beautiful and featured a double vanity high-end hardware throughout.
The shower and tub were together, and the shower itself was positively gargantuan and had both an overhead rainfall shower head as well as a handheld one.
Toiletries were Remède-branded, as is typical for St. Regis properties.
Perhaps my favorite feature of the room was the high ceiling with decorative beams and moldings. To me, it was the most island-y feature, and certainly made the room feel more open and spacious. I also appreciated the presence of a ceiling fan -- even with the air conditioning, sleeping under a duvet can get hot.
The bed itself was lovely. It was dressed in crisp, white linens with four large pillows (you'd better believe I used all four), two decorative pillows and a gray throw at the end. At the foot of the bed was a gray bench that served as a home for my backpack during my stay. The whole thing was finished off with a gray, upholstered headboard that featured swiveling LED reading lights. Needless to say, it was a great place to spend two nights.
From a technology standpoint, you could tell that the room had just been renovated. Another one of my favorite features of the room was the USB outlet that was built into the room's telephone. It made plugging in my phone next to the bed extra easy. The lamps on the nightstands featured AC outlets and USB ports in their bases, which was also convenient, and the speaker was Bluetooth-enabled, which made it simple to play music from your phone.
Since my room was on the end of the building, it had two additional windows on the wall framing the TV, but I honestly never even opened them, as I spent most of the day out of the room, and I got plenty of light from the glass wall leading to the terrace. The media console continued the room's gray-white-silver theme, and I found it to be very attractive. On one end was a two-person white marble table that I used as a desk when I needed to do some work inside. The chair in the opposite corner of the room added a pop of color and was one of the few reminders in the room that you were at a beachfront location.
The room's terrace was enclosed, which meant you could watch the almost daily rainstorms from the comfort of a chaise lounger, but the space was obviously not conducive to reading a book and tanning simultaneously -- you had to go to the pool for that. The view was less spectacular than the one I'd had from Dorado Beach, but I'll never complain about looking at palm trees.
All in all, I liked my room. The renovation definitely made things more modern and trendy, but I can't help but think that the rooms lost a little of their island vibe. It could have fit in well at practically any high-end hotel, resort or not. Regardless, it was a large, comfortable and well-appointed room that I'd gladly spend several days in again.
Food and Beverage
The food and beverage department is where I found this resort to be somewhat lacking. There just weren't a ton of options for eating and drinking. There was The St. Regis Bar, in Casa Grande, that served cocktails and lighter dishes; Seagrapes, the resort's casual, all-day dining and pool bar combo restaurant; and Paro's Restaurant, the more formal Mediterranean-inspired restaurant, which was booked for private events both nights of my stay. There's also a nearby restaurant called Beach Club Restaurant, which is about a mile away from the main part of the resort but still within the greater Bahia Beach complex -- you can ask the staff to take you there in one of the house golf carts.
Like I mentioned above, The St. Regis Bar was in Casa Grande, and featured spectacular views of the resort's lawn and beach beyond that. There was a combination of indoor and outdoor seating, though I very rarely saw people sitting in the inside portion -- though how could you with views like these?
The outdoor seats were obviously in higher demand, especially around 6pm, when the resort put on the ceremonial Champagne sabering -- a tradition at each and every St. Regis property.
On the night of my departure, I decided to have a snack and a drink while watching the sunset before the ceremony and ordered tempura shrimp and a Negroni, both of which were quite delicious.
The St. Regis Bar is a swanky-but-relaxed space -- it features a gorgeous, colorful mural behind the bar along with modern and Caribbean-cool furniture throughout.
I ate just about every other meal, though, at Seagrapes. I thoroughly enjoyed my two breakfasts there. The first day I ordered steak and eggs ($32), which was served with a tomato salad and local cheese. Delicious.
The next day, I ordered an omelet with that same tomato salad ($22) and a side of bacon ($8). Also delicious!
There was also a buffet option, though I'm glad I ordered a la carte, as I get too overwhelmed with all the choices. Either way, though, breakfast was free, which was a great perk that can save a significant amount of money, especially during a longer stay.
I also ate both dinners there. On my first night, I ordered a Caesar salad along with a chicken-and-broccolini dish. The salad was great (I rarely have a bad Caesar salad at a resort), but the chicken and broccolini would have been bland without the sauce that was served on the side. It was a little underwhelming, especially at $28. The second night, I tried one of the wood-fired pizzas -- I ordered the quattro formaggio ($17) which featured mozzarella, parmesan, ricotta and gorgonzola. It was delicious, but very rich. I could only finish a couple of slices, but I took it with me and had a midnight snack a few hours later.
Seagrapes also provided the poolside food, which I tried once. I ordered the mahi mahi tacos, which I expected to be grilled, but they were served fried. Normally, I would never be disappointed to be served anything fried, but I happen to think mahi mahi just tastes better when grilled. There wasn't a lot of fish, either, so I was slightly disappointed with them.
Additionally, the service was hit-or-miss each time I visited. Everyone I interacted with was pleasant and eager to help, but each time I dined at the restaurant things seemed to get lost in the shuffle, and I waited quite a while for drink refills and for the food to be served. I had nowhere else to be, so I wasn't bothered, but it's important to remember that there's a chance you'll be served on "island time."
The resort's oceanfront location was perhaps its best amenity -- there's no tiring of taking one step outside and immediately seeing the expansive ocean immediately in front of you. Plus, given its location practically inside El Yunque National Rainforest, you can visit one of Puerto Rico's top sites without a ton of effort.
I found the beach itself to be less stellar than the one at Dorado Beach, but it was plenty wide and provided some spectacular views. Plus, it seemed to be groomed bright and early, judging by the pristine state I found the sand in each day.
Food and beverage service was offered at the beach, but I didn't try it out because the Wi-Fi didn't reach that far, and I had to stay connected during the day.
The resort's pool was a sprawling, multitiered affair that cascaded down toward the beach. There were plenty of lounge chairs and cabanas (for renting) spread around the various layers of deck -- I had no trouble finding a chair that was optimally oriented for tanning potential.
The resort's Wi-Fi network was strong at the pool, crucial for any road warrior working remotely. The pool was beautifully blue but quite cold, so I didn't do much swimming. Luckily, the weather was breezy, so I didn't get too hot sitting on the deck.
Servers came around a few times with small scoops of fruit-flavored sorbet, which was a nice sweet treat to have in the sun.
Seagrapes was adjacent to the pool, and the room that housed the breakfast buffet turned into the bar to churn out tropical drinks for guests at the pool. I had a mojito with my fish tacos, and it was a delight.
Outside the restaurant was a small patio that had several seating options with an unobstructed view of the beach -- this seemed like the perfect spot for an evening cocktail as the sun was setting.
The resort featured plenty of grassy lawns used for events as well as activities such as croquet. This resort clearly wanted to make you relax, and it did a fine job of that.
If you wanted to get even more relaxed, you could head to the Iridium Spa on the property. It was housed in a separate building next to Casa Grande and offered the requisite steam rooms, saunas, Jacuzzis and cold plunge pools. There were also seven massage villas where you could get one of many treatments on the menu.
The resort's fitness center shared its home with the spa and was well-equipped with plenty of cardio and strength-training machines, as well as free weights. There was a good amount of natural light coming into the space.
The St. Regis had plenty of other amenities I couldn't get to, such as the boathouse, which was inland from the ocean on a lagoon and featured a number of inflatable water toys as well as kayaks. This would be a great feature for families, as the ocean was quite rough during most of my stay. There was also a tennis center, which I would have loved to use had I been traveling with someone else, and a golf course complete with a driving range.
Just like all St. Regis properties, I had access to its signature butler service, which meant that I could call the butler assigned to me to bring complimentary coffee in the morning, but I'm not a coffee drinker so I didn't utilize the perk. Also, my butler offered to press two pieces of clothing per person, per day, but I didn't wear anything besides my swim trunks, so that was also not needed. It was nice, however, to be able to call the butler and have him show up at my room just before I had to check out in order to store my bags before leaving later that night.
I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at The St. Regis, I just wish I'd had more time to explore the huge resort. With the property freshly renovated and open for business, it deserves consideration from anyone with Marriott Bonvoy points to burn. While the rooms did feel a bit on the generic side and I found myself wishing there had been more food options, I think the property lives up to the high expectations that a St. Regis hotel sets. To me, it doesn't have the same sense of place that I felt while staying at Dorado Beach on the other side of San Juan, but you can redeem points at this property, which in my opinion more than makes up for its shortcomings. San Juan is only about four hours away by plane from most of the Northeast, so The St. Regis Bahia Beach makes a perfect destination to relax, unwind and get away from the craziness of daily life.