Long Weekend in San Juan, Puerto Trip Report – Courtyard Marriott Isla Verde

1) Introduction
2) Flights: American Airlines Business Class JFK – SJU & American Airlines Economy Class SJU – JFK
3) Hotel: Courtyard Marriott Isla Verde
4) Activities & Dining

As mentioned in the introduction, this was actually my second stay at the Courtyard Marriott Isla Verde. The first time we stayed there was way back in 2008 on my first ever trip out of the continental United States (I’ve come a long ways now) and we had quite an enjoyable stay. Looking for hotels on this trip to San Juan, we wanted a hotel right on the beach and was close to the airport to minimize our driving time.

Many hotels of the hotels we were considering were ranging from $135/night to $225/night, including the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris CasinoInterContinental Hotel San Juan and the Courtyard Marriott Isla Verde.  Points for these hotels ranged from 35,000 to 50,000 a night but with cash rates so low for the hotels, it didn’t make sense to redeem points for our stay. Instead, I had a $500 Marriott Gift Card I purchased for 19% off (for a total of $405) during the American Express Daily Getaways, so my preference was for a Marriott hotel. In the end, we went with the cheaper option at $135/night for the Courtyard Marriott Isla Verde.

View From Our Balcony

View From Our Balcony

In doing some research on the hotel, I noticed it was undergoing a renovation in which rooms on the top few floors were completely renovated while the middle to bottom floors remained untouched. About a week prior to our stay, I emailed the hotel requesting a newly renovated room and they responded they would do their best but could not guarantee it. Our flight landed around 9:30pm, and since the hotel is only a 5-7 minute drive from the airport, we were at the hotel around 9:50pm after making our way out of the airport and finding a taxi.

Upon walking in to the lobby, the check-in area was deserted (not surprising considering it was almost 10pm) but an agent quickly checked us in without any issues. We were assigned a partial ocean view room on the 8th floor, but as you can see in the picture above, the partial ocean view was actually quite nice and not just some small sliver of the ocean. Our room also happened to be a newly renovated room and you could tell what a difference that made as everything was brand new with no marks, scuffs or scratches anywhere on the furniture.

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The room was modestly sized but had some character to it with the painted wall behind the bed and new wood cabinetry and furniture throughout the room. It was well designed, as the TV could swivel out depending whether you were on the couch or the bed and the mini-fridge could actually hold several large bottles of water and snacks. I forgot to take a picture of it but the room opened up to a nice balcony outside which had a small table and two chairs. Each morning, we would run downstairs to the little coffee shop in the lobby and come back to our room to have breakfast on our balcony.

Our favorite part of the hotel was the wide stretch of white, sandy beach right behind the hotel. As I stated in the introduction to this trip report, I think the beach here is nicer than the beach in front of the Ritz-Carlton. My reasoning behind it is even though it is the same stretch of beach (you can just make out the blue cluster of Ritz Carlton chairs in the top photo), the beach gets much narrower by the Ritz and the cluster of chairs makes the beach feel much smaller. Additionally, there are large apartment complexes or hotels on each side of the Ritz, crowding the beach even further, while the Courtyard Marriott Isla Verde is the last hotel on the strip and has a lot more privacy. Each morning, you could walk down to the beach and helpful hotel employees would set up an umbrella and chairs wherever you liked on the beach.

In addition to the umbrella and chair setup, their was food and drink service on the beach which is something that was non-existent the last time we went 6 years ago. Service was generally good though it sometimes took a while to get a drink since they came from the pool bar which was usually crowded. Speaking of the pool, it felt like a standard hotel swimming pool with a nice swim-up bar but the pool was always too crowded for our liking. The food and drinks from the pool bar were good with frozen cocktails averaging $8-$10 a drink and sandwiches/burgers/salads ranging from $10-$12 at lunch. I’m not sure what the prices are at the Ritz down the beach but I guarantee they are much higher than those prices.

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There were also several other features of the hotel we didn’t get to experience including the fitness center which was large and overlooked the pool area. We didn’t have an opportunity to eat dinner at the hotel but we noticed on Sundays, they had a Puerto Rican dinner buffet complete with a whole roasted pig. There was also a small casino inside the hotel (right off the lobby) that had several blackjack, roulette, and craps tables in addition to tons of slots machines.

For a long weekend of 3 nights, I think at this price point (<$150 night), this hotel can’t be beat. It’s close to the airport yet only 15 minutes from Old San Juan (stay tuned for the next post in this series) and has a great beach which is definitely the highlight of this hotel. The renovated rooms are nice though I’m sure I would have been disappointed with a non-renovated room as they are probably still the same room we had 6 years ago. The staff is generally friendly and the drinks/food at the pool bar were good especially when they could be delivered to your beach chairs for no additional fee.

Feel free to ask me any questions about this hotel, I’d be happy to answer them. I’ve included a few additional photos of our room and the grounds.


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Long Weekend in San Juan, Puerto Rico Trip Report – Introduction

* I am going to try something new here on the blog and do a full trip report for our trip to Puerto Rico last month. It will be a 4 part series in which I’ll go over the miles/points/travel hacking aspect to the trip, followed by reviews of our flights and hotel stay and ending with some activities and dining we did to spur ideas for a possible trip for you to Puerto Rico. I’ll update each link below once the relevant post is up.

1) Introduction (this post)

2) Flights – American Airlines Business Class JFK – SJU & American Airlines Economy Class SJU – JFK 

3) Hotel – Courtyard Marriott Isla Verde

4) Activities & Dining

The first ever trip I took with my then girlfriend (now wife) was to Puerto Rico back in 2008. This was before I was into points and miles so I remember thinking back then I got a deal when I booked a vacation package on Orbitz.com for $500+ a person for a 4 night stay. Obviously now I wouldn’t consider that a deal especially considering my trip to Bora Bora cost less but I digress. For this trip, we were looking for a relaxing getaway for the weekend that was within a few hours of NY, had good weather and most importantly, had award availability for flights to make this trip as cheap as possible. The one location that met this criteria almost immediately was a return trip to Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico - 2008

Puerto Rico – 2008

For our flights, I’ve written about this before but being based in NY, British Airways Avios are quite valuable for trips to the Caribbean. The only limitations was that flights had to be on American Airlines and had to be direct to maximize the Avios award chart. I’ll go over the flight selections in the next post on the flight reviews but I was only able to find award availability to San Juan. There was none on the way home which wasn’t especially surprising since everyone is looking for a late Sunday flight home after a weekend getaway. Thankfully, I had some AA gift cards to burn for the return flight.

For the hotel, it was a trip down memory lane as stayed in the same hotel we did back in 2008 – The Courtyard Marriott Isla Verde. I wasn’t trying to be nostalgic but it made the most sense from a financial standpoint, which I’ll get into when I review the hotel. It is located about 5 minutes from the airport and I’d argue the beach at the Courtyard Marriott is nicer then the Ritz Carlton’s which is down maybe a half mile. It’s also #AVGeek heaven as the runway is located across the street from the hotel so you have some amazing views of planes taking off.

I hope you will stay tuned for my first trip report on the blog and if this proves successful, I plan to go back and review some of the bigger trips I’ve taken. My goal for doing this is by showing you how easy it can be to accumulate the miles/points, I hope to inspire you to start taking your own trips. I think seeing pictures and descriptions of the activities we did will only entice you more to make these trips a reality. I know this worked on me when I first started collecting points and miles as I would see bloggers post amazing pictures of their trip in Europe or Asia, followed by pictures of their first class seat or luxury 5 star hotel room that they got for free due to points and miles. Hopefully, this will have the same effect on you.

Puerto Rico - 2014

Puerto Rico – 2014