By: Esilda Buxbaum
We had a few days when my family could all take off from work and take a long weekend in the sun. We had been to Grand Cayman during the school Winter Break, but longed for more sun and beach. I had recently read that Dorado Beach had been taken over by the Ritz Carlton and they had done a real bang up job. At the same time, an old friend who was a chef in NYC had left for Puerto Rico and was cooking at a fancy hotel/restaurant in Condado, so we decided to combine the two and go.
The end of March is somewhat of a crap shoot weather-wise. We arrived with rain and most of the day was cloudy. We stayed at the Ritz Carlton in San Juan which is about five minutes from the Muñoz Marin Airport, so you land and soon enough you can be at the beach, that is if the hotel does not manage to misplace all your luggage for almost two hours. Since it was Easter vacation, the place was really full. Because the ocean was a bit rough and it was windy, almost everybody had settled themselves on beach chairs around the pool. It was unpleasantly crowded. But, we were there mostly to have dinner at “1919” the restaurant where our friend Juan Cuevas was cooking. Juan was previously the executive chef at Blue Hill in NYC and his cooking style was represented very well at 1919. We had a fabulous meal and a great time.
Before the Ritz Carlton took over the hotel had a deal whereas if you stayed at the San Juan hotel, they had a complimentary transport to the Dorado property. Too bad they stopped that service, it was very convenient. So, the next morning, we drove on our rented car the 45 minutes long drive to Dorado Beach. If you don’t want to drive, an arrangement can be made for a hotel transfer at a charge.
Once a plantation estate, this is now a new Ritz Carlton ultra-luxury resort built on the footprint of Laurence S. Rockefeller’s original Rock Resort. With 115 guestrooms spread across fifty acres and one mile of beachfront, it does not have the crowded feel of a typical family resort.
The beachfront residences, set up as two-story townhouses, are indeed luxurious. Garden level units each have a plunge pool facing the beach and some of the upper rooms have a rooftop plunge pool. One-bedroom suites feature a huge living room and dining area with a second/half bathroom and a pull out couch. The large master bedroom enjoys a walk-in closet and dressing room and a huge bathroom with both indoor and outdoor showers. A huge terrace that overlooks the pool straddles the length of the two rooms.
World-famous, culinary innovator and Spanish chef Jose Andrés created the menus of the resort’s premier restaurant, Mi Casa, which serves tapas as well as larger dishes. There is also Zafra restaurant and Bar in La Hacienda and two beach- and poolside grills for casual al-fresco dining.
Beyond enjoying the beach and multiple pools, there are a myriad of other activities. A magnificent water park, dubbed “The Watermill,” boasts two thirty-foot-long water slides that hook into a “lazy river” perfect for navigating in inner tubes provided by the resort. There is something for every age here, including a shaded sandbox with climbing equipment for little ones. All water sports and equipment are complimentary (surfing, wind-surfing, kite-surfing, etc.). For adults, four championship golf courses beckon with their captivating vistas of mountains, forest, and sea. Bikes are available for cruising a scenic eleven-mile trail. The resort also has two gyms, one of which is open 24 hours a day.
One complaint is that the minute you arrive, they take your car and drive you to your accommodations on a golf cart. And then anytime you want to get to one of the activity areas, many of which—including the Water Mill, surfing area, and golf courses— are too far to walk to, you must call for a golf cart. While we never waited long to get somewhere, we twice waited twenty minutes for a cart to return us to our room. The second time we were there, in November, we got bicycles and were able to go around easily. Other than that, the place feels special and is a great vacation spot for those who like to avoid crowds. If you go, ask for Jaime Rodriguez to be your “embajador” – he is your personal concierge.