Ritz-Carlton San Juan and sightseeing by private car

Ritz-Carlton San Juan and sightseeing by private car.

The Ritz-Carlton San Juan Spa and Private Puerto Rico Tours

Fort San Cristobal in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
Fort San Cristobal in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

San Juan is where most people want to stay when they want to visit the rain forests, the bioluminescent bays, historic old San Juan, the forts, and of course, the wide variety of food that Puerto Rico has to offer. I chose Puerto Rico for our tenth wedding anniversary trip for a few reasons. First, it is in the perfect climate for a beach retreat during some of our coldest winter days in Virginia. Second, I could book a flight with no passport, as my husband’s had expired.  And, last but not least, it is just a three-hour flight from Charlotte to exotic tropical beaches with coconut palms and clear blue waters. What I did not know was how much I was going to fall in love with Puerto Rico! One of my husband’s partners is from Puerto Rico, and when we asked him what we must do there, he said, “See the rain forest and eat, eat everything you can! Try all the delicious foods, you are gonna love it.”

I decided to split up my trip into two distinct vibes, sightseeing primarily in and around Old San Juan for the first half of the trip, and serious spa services in Dorado Beach to end the vacation completely relaxed.  I have had the Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Dorado Beach on my spa bucket list since it opened in 2012. What better combination than to do and see all that San Juan has to offer, get a feel for Puerto Rico, then finish out our vacation the way I prefer, lounging at a gorgeous beach and spa? I’m not a travel agent, but my plan worked like a charm. We checked in at the Ritz-Carlton, San Juan on a mission.

Ritz-Carlton San Juan
Ritz-Carlton San Juan

The Ritz-Carlton, San Juan was the perfect home base for the sightseeing portion of our vacation. Not only is the hotel centrally located for all the best sites, my concierge, Angela, ensured I saw the best that San Juan had to offer. She helped me coordinate our tours, spa services, and an easy transfer to the Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Dorado Beach, later in the week. The Ritz San Juan actually has two types of concierge at this property, one for general requests like dinner reservations and spa services and one just for off-property excursions. I was able to book private car tours of all the sights with the very best tour guides and skip lines, crowds, and other time-consuming hassles.

I was paired with the most experienced tour guide from Castillo Tours, Roberto Garcia, for our tour of El Yunque National Park, the rain forest. He picked us up at the hotel and chauffeured us into the park. My husband and I were amazed at his knowledge of all things Puerto Rico. His seventeen years of experience led to great conversations on the history, people, plants, animals, climate, and culture that made the trek enjoyable. He literally walked us into the rain forest and pointed out all sorts of interesting facts. It was very educational, but he also picked up on our laid back style and made the day fun and enjoyable. Of course he had towels, water, and umbrellas for us.  We made several stops along the mountainous road to see different waterfalls, take some pictures, and pick up souvenirs. He was also outstanding at giving us tips for the rest of our week.

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We also booked a private car to take us to the Bacardi factory. Roberto did let us know that despite all the tourist information that is out there, this is actually the second most popular tourist destination in Puerto Rico. San Juan is the most popular destination. I was happy to hear this as I found this information much more useful in my daily life. For example, did you know that the number one drink in the world is the Cubra Libre? Well, it is easy to understand as rum and coke are so easily available to so many people, but to really make this drink, one must use rum that has been aged at least eight years in an oak barrel, add Coca-Cola, and serve it with a wedge of lime– otherwise it’s just a rum and coke. There is a difference! The luxury of being able to enjoy a tasting or two and not have to drive is amazing, and as far as I am concerned, the only way to go.

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We chose to visit Fort San Cristobal, and wander around Old San Juan to get a feel for the culture and food firsthand. Getting a taxi from our hotel to the fort was easy, as was walking through Old San Juan. We felt safe, and most people we met were bilingual. Again, I was armed with a map from my concierge, Angela, and notes from Roberto of great places to eat with stunning views, but we chose to wander for the most part and let the city open up to us naturally. We did find this amazing bean-to-bar chocolate restaurant, Casa Cortes ChocoBar, that was on my hit list and did not disappoint. We also stumbled on Barrachina, a great restaurant with the claim to fame of having invented the pina colada. We shopped, and ate, and shopped, and ate, until we found a Buddhist bar with a day spa. More on that later–it deserves a post of its own. I am a spa blogger after all. Funny thing about drinking in Old San Juan, I kept hearing Spanish, so I almost felt like I was in Mexico.

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Valentine’s Day dinner in our bathing suits was pure luxury for us. It was snowing hard back home. We skipped the crowded restaurants and dined next to the ocean at the Ocean Bar and Grill which is wedged between the pool and the beach. The atmosphere was casual but the cocktails and food were top shelf. After several delicious mojitos, we ventured to try our luck at the casino that is on property at the Ritz. I’m happy to report that Lady Luck was on our side. We decided to quit while we were ahead so we could get up early and go for a walk on the beach. The local surfers love the way the waves break just a short stroll down from the Ritz.

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Knowing I was going to one of the best spas in the world later in the week, I just booked a couples massage, as that is what my husband requested. Ok, full disclosure here, I am not usually a fan of couples treatments. The main reason is that my husband usually falls asleep on the massage table and starts snoring, not exactly relaxing or romantic for me! Angela booked me with Millie and Mildred knowing my high standards. Our therapists spoke with us ahead of time about the typical issues, as they generally do, sore areas, recent surgeries, allergies, etc. Ok, this was it. This was the time for me to speak up and tell Mildred that she needs to give Mike that really deep tissue massage that he prefers and and if he starts snoring, go deeper! Wake him up! Of course Millie and Mildred were true professionals and took my comments in stride, but hey, I think it worked! He made it through 90 minutes, 30 minutes longer than his normal massage attention span, and no snoring.  Both therapists met my standards for treatments not just in technique and touch, but also on an emotional level. They hit all the marks I am looking for in a solid service. Thank you, ladies!

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I fell in love with the people and the all the interesting nooks and crannies of Old San Juan. It is a very large city with nearly 400,000 residents, but everywhere we went, we found everyone really friendly and genuinely warm. Off-property, most restaurants we went to offered us a free dessert, a little extra drink, or something to make us feel special. The spa at the Ritz-Carlton, San Juan was no different. Every guest at the Ritz is a treated like a V.I.P., but somehow someone always seems to make a personal connection. The ladies at the spa front desk put together some Valentine’s-themed spa products for me to take back to my room. How sweet! I love this place.

My tips for San Juan:

Get out of the resort and explore the island and all of the culture. Find some adventure. Eat local.

Staying in the city is key for many of the major sites like the rain forests, Bacardi factory, and beaches. I skipped some famous beaches like Flamenco Beach, Culebra. I knew I would be at Dorado Beach later in the week. I never left the Dorado Beach Reserve once I checked in, so I was right about that.

Skip the kayak tour of the bioluminescent bay in Fajardo. We spent more time getting instructions on how not to fight with our boatmates from our guide than actual kayaking instructions, and both were needed! It was overbooked with teeming hordes of tourists who, like us, don’t know how to kayak, trying to find their way into and out of the pitch black mangroves, running into trees and other boats, and dodging the occasional motor boat. I understand there is another tour where you can walk up to a beach in Vieques that might be better. Either way, no one is allowed to get in the water. It was definitely a test for our ten-year marriage, but we survived. Bioluminescence cannot be photographed without special equipment either, that is why I don’t have any pictures of it.

Valentine’s Day does mean something to the people of Puerto Rico. Many folks go out to dinner, and we found the hotel crowded with people (kids) from the northeastern U.S. getting in a quick vacation while their kids were off from school for Presidents’ Day.

Normally, when I visit a spa resort, I book treatments every day. This half of the vacation was different for me, but still fun. My tip for this spa would be to bring your tennis racket. Not too many tennis courts are on the ocean with a spa right next door.  Book individual spa treatments, and spend time together in the relaxation room and co-ed jacuzzi, unless of course it’s your anniversary.

Stay tuned for the 411 on the incredible spa experience at the Ritz-Carlton Reserve, Dorado Beach!

Mile High Massage at the Ritz-Carlton, Denver

Sunset at the Ritz-Carlton Denver
Sunset at the Ritz-Carlton Denver

There is definitely excitement in the air in Denver. Some might even say the town is buzzing! I found myself checking in at the Ritz-Carlton, Denver on a mission. I wanted to kick off our new “empty nest” status with a last minute fun trip. When I read about one of my favorite rock bands since high school days, The Cure, playing a rare stateside concert, I booked my flight and tickets literally the day before the concert! How is that for being available on the fly? Of course, one does not need to do a ton of hotel research when staying at a Ritz-Carlton property. They make it easy for both business and pleasure travelers and always seem to anticipate my needs. On this trip I wanted to rock out yet relax, and get some spa services, too! RiotFest and the Ritz-Carlton, I would have never imagined this combination in 1988, the year I graduated from high school. Life is good.

I was happy to spend my morning at the spa and head out for the music in the afternoon. The RiotFest was a weekend-long alternative rock concert hosted at Sports Authority Field, AKA Mile High Stadium, home of the Denver Broncos. Since I am so far out from my high school graduation, balancing pampering at the spa, with fine food and a fun evening of loud music provided just the right amount of yin and yang. One of the cool things about Ritz-Carlton spas is that most generally offer services tailored to the location, to give you a local taste of the culture. A perfect example is the Voodoo Love treatment offered at the Ritz-Carton in New Orleans. Denver is also known for more than 200 micro breweries, not just legalized marijuana 🙂 The spa had a couple of seasonal treatments with beer. Treatments like Hops and Honey Pedicure and Mile High Malt Scrub are seasonal. Be sure to ask about specialty treatments when booking.

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Day one, I had an emergency nail issue! Two broken nails, one was broken deep in the nail bed and painful, and I had some large chips on other nails as well. I always blame it on laundry, but it was probably golf. I generally do not consider getting my manicure while at destination spas, as I consider a regular manicure part of my general maintenance. But, I had issues! I wear gel polish, which can be a little tricky to maintain on the road. For those unfamiliar with gel polish, it essentially is baked onto your own nail, using a special light, and it can last chip free for 10-14 days. It was not a problem for Kristin, she was lovely! She fixed me right up with a soak off and polish change. I must say I was very impressed with her skills. She gently repaired my nails and was even able to match my pedicure polish, even though the polish was a different brand than what I was wearing. Of course I wanted it to match my toes. It was sandal season. I am a little more particular than the average nail client, I can spot poorly filed nails or chunky cuticles like a hawk. Kristin was extremely professional, polite, and gave an incredible gel manicure. If I lived in Denver, she would be my girl!

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Day two, Amanda, my esthetician and I bonded instantly. I could talk skin care and treatment regimens for hours. So could Amanda, she is extremely knowledgeable. But, we just had 90 minutes to swap secrets. She picked some delicious smelling products based on my preferences and skin care needs. I was looking for a relaxing facial with extra attention paid to my dry skin. And as always, I was looking for a way to look youthful and fresh. I was there to see a band I loved since high school after all! Amanda had a delicate touch, yet delivered a thorough exfoliation. I left feeling extremely relaxed, yet ready to get my riot on. My excitement could not be contained on this day. She could relate. She also introduced me to a few new products that I had not tried. She wrote down all my steps and products on a sheet so that I could remember them later. If I am lucky, I get spa brain and feel so relaxed post-service, at times I can’t recall all the many steps or products I want to remember, particularly on facials. She made it easy for me. I left with a print out and several samples of some of her other favorites. How kind! I definitely had spa brain. My skin felt moist and soft to the touch. It was an excellent facial by any standard.

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Day three, did I really see the The Cure last night? Was I dreaming or was it just like heaven? Evenings at Riotfest were so fun. We sampled great food from the slew of food trucks at the venue. I met a lot a friendly people. It seemed like many folks were new to town and excited about the new green economy. I learned a lot on this trip. Weezer and Wu Tang Clan, all in the same weekend…yeah, I’m gonna need a massage. Noemy helped revive me. I booked a herbal peaks poultice massage based on a recommendation the ladies made in the spa on the previous day. It incorporates a poultice that is hand-made with organic herbs. The idea behind this treatment is to steam the firm, round, herb bag and use it as a roller over the muscles to help ease tension. It feels amazing and smells even better. Noemy used the ball part of the poultice to roll deep into sore muscles, mainly on my back and hamstring muscles (crappy airline seats!). On other parts of the body, the poultice is used for heat and pressure. By pressing the ball on my upper chest muscles it provides heat and releases the scents of lemongrass, lavender, and a handful of other herbs, making this treatment smell incredible and gives an added benefit of aromatherapy. Of course this is the Ritz-Carlton, so the poultice they used was super fancy. Noemy gave me mine to take home. If I lived locally, I would have definitely reused this poultice at home many more times by dampening it and popping it into the microwave for a minute. Since I was flying home, I decided to leave my herb-filled bag at the hotel. I have to admit I was a little freaked out about going through airport security with a questionable herb bag from DENVER! I did not want to have a long conversation with the TSA agent.

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Day Four, my final day in Denver. It is sad, but I have booked a 75 minute tranquility wrap with Noemy to take the edge off. It has been a fun trip with lots of relaxation, music, cold beverages, and incredible food. I am feeling a bit dehydrated, I’m sure it’s the altitude 😉 Noemy is an excellent massage therapist. She does her best to make sure I leave the spa on a high note with a great massage followed by a wrap. As I marinate on the heated, cushioned, massage table all wrapped up like a gourmet burrito I can’t help but grin. I saw Manchester Orchestra last night. I love them! I bet some high school kids love them too 🙂 I am a 45 year old lady, an emptynester, with no business flying across the country with my husband acting like two kids dating 🙂  I think we have time to stop in the club lounge for one last glass of bubbly before our flight.

What to know before you go:

Excellent gym in the spa with a rock climbing wall
The spa is going through a two month refresh now, check to make sure they are fully open. I cannot wait to return to see the upgrades!
John Elway, the retired really cute quarterback for the Denver Broncos, owns and operates, Elway’s in the Ritz. It is an upscale steakhouse with some great Broncos memorabilia tastefully sprinkled throughout the restaurant. You might just run into him or one of his teammates in the lounge. It is very popular on game day.
Consider booking club level. The fantastic displays of food seemed to change all day long and provided a stress free way to just grab a bite or beverage and get out and enjoy the city.
Write down your appointment when you book services. Set a timer in your phone, or get a print out. Much like spas in Las Vegas, the girls in the spa said some some folks had trouble making it to appointments in the early morning or did not make it to the treatments due to their inability to “remember” booking the appointments at all!

Midweek spa specials have a flare for fun like Martini and Massage Monday, Wine Wenesday…I love this place!

 

No special consideration was given to me other than being a paying guest at the Ritz-Carlton. This is my life.

 

 

Marie Laveau Voodoo Love Bath & Massage

I applaud the Ritz-Carlton for making such a creative treatment for their spa in New Orleans. As a serious spa enthusiast, I generally book treatments that are the specialty of that spa. This treatment set a nice tone to start out my week in New Orleans. What makes this treatment a little different from just a soak and a massage is the tone set by the room, the whirlpool, and the staff.

Double chaise whirlpool tub used for the Voodoo Love treatment
Double chaise whirlpool tub used for the Voodoo Love treatment

A double lounge whirlpool tub that is  programmed for lighting, temperature, and time greeted me in a room that definitely had a New Orléans vibe. Red Drapes, red tub lights and a hot bubble bath set to 20 minutes was ready on my arrival. In the room incense was burning, and my therapist turned on some music featuring a drum vibe with a voodoo chat that set the tone nicely. Bubbles filled the tub and continued to build up during my soak. Lots of red candles surrounding my bath and tall stand candles operas in the room enhanced the bath. Ice cold towels within an arms reach were ready to cool off my neck, head, and wrists as I soaked. I also sipped Champagne which the helpful staff handed to me upon my arrival.

Bath Bubbles and Bubbly
Bath Bubbles and Bubbly

The most interesting  portion of the massage treatment was the oil they used. Kneipp warming massage oil with arnica and ginger, smelled great and had a warming effect and is the formula for the voodoo oil.  The therapist used a combination of long soothing strokes, heated wet towels,  a few hot stones, and of course the special voodoo oil. After my massage my skin felt soft and the aches from my flight were gone.

Kneipp warming massage oil with arnica and ginger a.k.a. Voodoo Love Oil
Kneipp warming massage oil with arnica and ginger a.k.a. Voodoo Love Oil

If I were to book this treatment again, I would. My tip would be to book it in the late afternoon or early evening, and if possible, with your significant other. The treatment had a very romantic vibe, thus the “love” in the treatment name. It would be more fun to experience as a couple. This would be a great treatment to have prior to a late night on the Quarter. This service would also pair nicely with a late dinner. End your evening after midnight with a bar crawl down Bourbon Street to The Dungeon. This local bar features lots of skulls on the wall, caskets hanging from the ceiling, and drinks served in chalices with dry ice that give the appearance of blood. Continuing your voodoo vibe will make for a fun night. We are in New Orleans after all! I booked this service  at 11am, as a solo with a pretty good hangover…but I was still thrilled to get into the spirit of the Quarter and still found it fun.

Roses: Champagne on arrival, ice bucket filled cold wash clothes, cool voodoo music, unusual theme, incense, very comfortable bath tub, probably the coolest treatment I have ever received

Thorns: Better as a couple

I have experienced many unusual treatments, but none really that had a “cool factor.” Please let me know if you have had a spa experience with a cool vibe!

This was not a paid visit. No special treatments were given other than being a guest of the Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans. This is my life.