A reborn Puerto Rico classic
209 Rooms / 107 Suites
As you pull up to the early Spanish Revival facade of the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel in San Juan, the valets open the grand doors into the foyer and it becomes apparent you have come to the right place for luxury and relaxation. After all, the first thing you see as your eyes adjust to the indoor light is the sparkling ocean roaring beyond the glass wall of the spacious and comfortable lounge, the Vanderbilt Court. To the left is the concierge, staffed by competent men and women who help ease you into the Caribbean lifestyle with a glass of cold bubbles as you wait adjacent to a grand, winding staircase worthy of any Hollywood starlet’s heroic entrance. But who needs the glitter of the silver screen when you have the shimmering sea seemingly peeking out of every window, door and passageway? Such is the charm of this hotel, where most rooms overlook water of some sort, be that the nearby lagoon or the ocean itself.
Aside from beauty, the hotel has a rich history, too. Built in 1919 by Frederick William Vanderbilt, the space was meant to be a tropical escape in Puerto Rico. Vanderbilt enlisted the help of the architectural firm Warren and Whitmore, one of the best companies at the time (it designed Grand Central Station). The mogul got his wish, and soon the glorious hotel welcomed notable guests, including crooner Carlos Gardel, Errol Flynn, Bob Hope and the Roosevelts. Even though the resort flourished, after time it faded and so did the clientele, to the point where the building almost got demolished in the 1970s. Luckily, then-governor Luis A. Ferré declared the property a cultural heritage site, so the walls stood even though the rooms remained empty. That is, until now. After a $200 million renovation, the Condado Vanderbilt has returned to its former glory.
The hotel showcases two 11-story towers consisting of 316 guest rooms, including 107 suites. Each floor comes equipped with butler quarters, which means if you need something, no matter what time of day or night, aid will be there. Stay in one of the white-walled ocean-view rooms for true relaxation. Choose from a king-sized bed, two queens or a one-bedroom suite. Those seeking a room with even more luxury should book the Ambassador oceanfront one-bedroom suite, a space in the Spanish Revival building that includes vistas through beautiful French doors, a separate sitting area with a wet bar, a king-sized bed, custom-made dark wood dressing areas, double sinks and a whirlpool bathtub that peers out at the roaring sea. No matter which room you prefer, each wood-paneled space comes stocked with sweet-smelling C.O. Bigelow amenities, marble floors, bamboo towels, super-soft 300-thread-count Rivolta Carmignani linens, a French press, complimentary Puerto Rican coffee and bottled water, a HD television and free wireless Internet. The look is modern and sleek, maybe not what you would expect in a historic establishment, but just what a traveler likes to see when staying in a luxury hotel.
You get the same contemporary vibe in the outdoor recreation area. Here, the Puerto Rico hotel built a heated infinity pool that overlooks the ocean, so even if you don't want to dip into the salty water you can still revel in the soothing sounds of the sea. There’s also a larger pool perfect for swimming or playing, and plenty of comfortable reclining deck chairs for sunning. In fact, along the side of the hotel, you’ll find a glass wall with chairs lining the area, the ultimate spot to relax, tan and watch the water as the clouds roll by. The best part: If you get hungry or thirsty, Ola restaurant is right there, complete with waiters eager to bring you a coconut arepa (a corn cake) stuffed with shrimp and a refreshing mojito pool side.
The Food and Drinks
Need a break from the sun? Head under Ola's awning for lunch or dinner alfresco (or inside if you prefer) and order from the locally influenced menu. The restaurant specializes in grilled octopus with white bean salad and fingerling potatoes, longaniza (Spanish sausage) bolognese tossed with rigatoni, and thin-crust pizzas, which you can top with clams, mussels, herb pesto and ricotta, or iberico ham, mango, gorgonzola and arugula. For an upscale option, the fine-dining establishment 1919 serves hand-selected, local cuisine by chef Juan Jose Cuevas. Indulge in snapper crudo, venison with caramelized eggplant, Valrhona Guanaja chocolate and salted caramel tart and a bottle of 2004 Château Cheval Blanc, one example from the accomplished wine list.
You also can take advantage of the Vanderbilt Court. Nestle into a plush couch or cozy chair and read on a rainy night with a craft cocktail and plate of housemade ricotta with local honey and chorizo-potato croquettes. Or, opt for a low-key dinner and enjoy the live tunes of whatever jazz band that happens to be strumming away as you nibble on an array of tapas and flatbreads at the majestic bar. After, end your night with a glass of cognac and a smoke in the pristine cigar lounge.
If you need to unwind, check out the San Juan hotel’s spa. Book a turn in the elegantly tiled, special room that features the only hammam on the island, a Turkish treatment well worth the 80 minutes it takes you away from the pool. Also pamper yourself with its signature lavender massage or one of the bespoke facial services on offer. For those looking to burn a few calories when enjoying the burning heat of the sun, spend time in the 24-hour fitness room. During the daylight hours, snag a workout machine overlooking the pool and ocean, which will make that time just a little nicer. Not that you have to try and have a decent time at this hotel — it just happens naturally.