When we were deciding where to take our next vacation following our Southwestern road trip, we weren’t sure where we wanted to go. All we knew was it had it to be relaxing and on a beach somewhere. Living in D.C. is great, there’s culture, art, young intellectuals, almost everything a twenty-something couple could ask for..if that couple didn’t move from a beach town. There’s just something about life on the coast. Once you experience it, you can never stay away too long.
Being that we’re -ahem- budget conscious travelers, we were resolved to make our mutual passions of yoga and photography work for us. We began thinking of ways we could establish relationships with businesses that shared our same values of healthy, mindful living. We figured a collaboration that would have us essentially marketing for a business in exchange for stay there was the simplest and most mutually beneficial way to leverage our platform. Since we’re lucky enough to have the benefit of being a model / photographer duo, we’re able to provide a level of content that could appeal to the right type of business.
With our plan of collaboration in exchange for accommodation in place, the next step was figuring out exactly where we would stay. We set the parameters to a beach location (obviously), preferably an island, ideally tropical and within relatively short distance from the east-coast to save on flight cost. Luckily for us, we recently befriended another fellow yogi, Mariebelle (@mariebellepr) who is a world traveler and proud Puerto Rican. One evening, while having her over for dinner, the subject of the upcoming trip came up and she immediately insisted that we had to visit Puerto Rico. For some reason Puerto Rico hadn't crossed our minds. Being relatively inexperienced travelers, we thought of the island as too “familiar” to our everyday experiences. I think since the Puerto Rican diaspora is so deeply engrained into modern American society, it can be difficult for typical mainlanders like ourselves to understand just how different the island can be. After listening to Mariebelle tell us about all of the incredible scenery and opportunities the island had to offer, we decided to seriously consider what the Island would have to offer. We quickly decided that it was the the location for us.
Because of the Islands unique relationship with the U.S., tourists can have the best of both worlds. you can experience all of the creature comforts of a typical American city in San Juan, where you can find nearly every major retailer and fast food chain you’re accustomed to sitting side-by-side with business unique to the island. Or, if you’re the more adventurous type, you can go completely off grid and immerse yourself in the culture of the countryside where you would be forgiven with mistaking many of the expansive tropical vistas with Hawaii or Africa in certain areas. The island really has everything you could want in a vacation.
We decided to split the difference and sample a little of both experiences. Our last vacation was the ultimate backpack living road trip, and we wanted at least part of this get away to allow for some proper pampering. So, of course, we chose the Ritz-Carlton (@ritzcarlton). A hotel long held as the standard bearer of luxury and hotelier excellence.
Confession time: We’ve never stayed in a luxury hotel. Not because we haven’t wanted to (obviously) it just hasn't be feasible for our previous locations. We’ve done luxury resorts for special occasions like our honeymoon, but for annual vacations, we usually stick to the mid-range hotel market and spend our time out taking (way too many) pictures. Since we’re getting older and life is making us act more like adults, we decided this would be the first vacation where we really pampered ourselves. What better place to do that than the Ritz-Carlton? Even the name sounds luxurious. I will admit, I had high expectations going into it. A hotel as storied as this has a lot of history to live up to. Its been regarded for so long as the pinnacle of elegance and refinement, that I was anticipating a let down. I could not have been more wrong.
From the moment we got on the grounds of the hotel, the attention to detail and level of guest service from the staff completely outdid any of my expectations. The staff at the location in San Juan knew who we were and treated us as if we were the only guest in the hotel. They didn’t dare let us carry a bag or open a door as they escorted us around the compound. Every staff member dressed in immaculately pressed suits radiating a genuine desire to make your stay special. It really set the stage for the experience that was to come.
We got to the room and the first thing we see is a little fresh juice flight to rehydrate us after our long commute. It helped establish the health conscious theme that would be reinforced in different ways through out our stay. After unloading all of our gear and taking a few minutes to decompress we realized there were no less than three different, hand-written notes from staff members wishing Holly a happy birthday and inviting us to different activities at the hotel.
Those little extra touches of hospitality established a new perspective within me. I became acutely aware of just how different a stay in a luxury hotel would be from our normal fare. The room was expectedly beautiful and spotless. A large luxurious tub (that I’m kicking myself for not using), huge balcony facing the ocean, and a bed that was so damn comfortable I shed a tear when we had to leave it behind.
The first night we were there we were treated to an incredible four-course birthday dinner at the in-house restaurant BLT Steak. We don’t normally eat meat, but it was a special occasion, so we went a little over board, to say the least. The chef even surprised us with a customized birthday dessert platter.
After the HUGE meal and a couple of well deserved cocktails, we waddled our way back to our room to go to sleep early so we could catch a sunrise shoot on the beautiful Puerto Rican beaches.
Unfortunately it rained the entire morning of the first day BUT we don’t let something like a little rain stop us. We decided to have some fun anyway. Sidenote- Sony cameras are NOT weather resistant. I had a little scare, but it turned out alright after it dried out. Luckily that was really the only heavy rain fall of the trip. After that there were a couple of light drizzles, but thats the tropics for you.
After shooting for a couple of hours every day we would work up an appetite. During our stay, we were granted access to the Club Level suite, which had perks like fresh made healthy breakfast and lunch buffets. It had everything one could ask for, from breakfast entrees, chef prepared lunches, artisanal coffee and tea, fresh squeezed juice, wine, beer, even your own personal concierge! Don't even get me started on the massive fresh baked cookies and full size candy bar station (I'm not proud of how many I had). We ate there every chance we got. It really was that good.
Because we wanted this to be more a relaxing stay, we didn’t bother to fill up or schedule with a lot of activities instead we spent the majority of our stay enjoying the grounds.
Laying on the beach lounging around the pool (eating some more) and just generally enjoying each others company. There was so much to see and do in the immediate area that we decided to take it easy and only go places we could comfortably walk to.
We visited some of the adjoining beaches to enjoy some photo time in different back grounds and interact with some of the locals.
We also got some gorgeous shots of the sunset over the horizon in front of the pool area.
We were treated to beautifully painted skies every night we were there.
The beach in front of the hotel was the backdrop for all of our photo shoots. It was beautifully manicured and serendipitously placed in a way that provided us brilliant sunrises and sunsets. After shooting we would go lounge around the pool or soak in the beachfront hot tub (insert emoji prayer hands).
Before we left for the next locations we wanted make sure we got some pictures from inside of the hotel. We were so enamored with the beautiful grounds we lost focus of how photogenic the actual building was. With all of its expansive and beautifully lit walkways begging to taken advantage of, it would’ve been criminal not to no take a few shots there. Luckily for us, we visited off peak. We were able to have a little solitude in certain areas of the hotel. We stumbled on the business wing that wasn't occupied at the time. It was completely awash with beautiful light thanks to the huge windows lining the walls.
There were contemporary paintings throughout the hotel, but the collection here was particularly beautiful.
You really can take a bad picture with lighting like this.
All in all it was really a special and memorable stay. Not one single complaint about the service, room, accommodations, food - nothing. I wouldn’t change a single thing and it was painful to have to leave. In terms of the high-end resort style vacation It was by far the best experience we've ever had. Can’t recommend The Ritz-Carlton enough and can’t wait to go back!