On a recent trip to Puerto Rico I got to wondering what defines luxury? Throughout my week in the US Commonwealth, I stayed and toured resorts that all billed themselves as “luxury”, yet all were different, and some more luxurious in my book than others.
The conclusion that I came to is that luxury is an extremely personal thing. What is luxurious to one person may not be to another. But I think if there is one tangible thing that makes a property a luxury destination it’s exemplary service. And if there is one intangible thing, it’s simply the feeling I have at the property
As a traveler, when I book a four, five or six star hotel I expect that it will be nice, and that the property will be a destination in and of itself. For this to happen I have to feel comfortable at the hotel. A big component of luxury for me is a room that invites me to spend some of my precious vacation time simply relaxing in it. At this level, it’s a given that the room is clean, quiet and has my basic needs covered. What sends it over the top is a sumptuous experience, whether that be great design, billowy linens or a bathtub like the one I found in my room at the W Retreat & Spa-Vieques Island
Besides the room, the property itself can help or hinder the luxury experience. The W Retreat is aptly named, and the feeling of escaping to a top-end hideaway starts the minute you step off your tiny airplane into the Vieques airport (so small security as we know it is non-existent) and are ushered to the W’s private airport lounge where no matter the time of day there is a bottle of Puerto Rican rum available to go with your soda or juice. The W gets luxury. It managed to make a first impression before I ever set foot on its grounds.
The W is secluded on the Northern tip of the island and offers two beaches, landscaping dripping with palm trees and a view that puts the mind at ease. The pool area, dubbed Wet, featured a negative edge pool with lounge chaises floating in the water. It screamed come, relax, read a book and admire the view. I am a type A personality and find it hard to simply sit down and stop. The W creates an environment where this can happen. To me, that is luxury.
While the W wooed me with its intimate setting, I also found the grande dame El Conquistador to be a luxurious experience, albeit entirely different. While the W adds to its luxury feel by being small, the El Conquistador, a behemoth 900-plus room property, wins me over with all of its amenities. You can’t help being a little impressed by a place that has its own water park and private island. It’s the 100-acre private island that does it for me. After taking the resort’s boat over to this small swatch of paradise I have the opportunity to snorkel in the ocean, something I haven’t done in ages that brings back great memories and is very relaxing. The Golden Door Spa also impresses. I was having a serious back issue and my therapist Millie was able to fix the problem. That was just the kind of service I needed on that day.
At the St. Regis Behia Beach Resort, the only five-star property on Puerto Rico, service is clearly what is allowing this expensive getaway to be nearly impossible to book. Like all St. Regis properties, suites come with signature butler service. Butlers have been known to arrange and staff private romantic dinners at the beach or create a luscious bubble bath that is warm and ready when the guests return to the room.
The Wyndham Rio Del Mar Beach Resort offers a stunning ocean front location and is the only property on Puerto Rico that offers both an ocean (Tom Fazio) and river golf course (Greg Norman). But for me, despite the setting, the hotel fell short as a luxury destination. The large property felt cold with all its tile surfaces, and the public areas were surprisingly dark. It didn’t make me want to lounge about inside. And when it took over 40 minutes, two phone calls, two trips to the lobby and flagging down an employee in the hall to get my TV to work, the property lost me on service.
My reaction to each of the hotels is just that, my reaction. There were people in my group that hated a hotel I liked and liked the one that didn’t do it for me. What defines a luxury experience is intensely personal. What does it for you?