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    San Juan Marriott
    But once I cleared customs all my frustrations went away, because the lone agent was friendly and I reminded myself I was in Puerto Rico, so life was all good. About four years ago I went on a press trip to the San Juan Marriott and made some good friends so I decided to visit them instead of rushing back to the cold. The hotel is just a 10-to-12-minute drive from the airport and located in the upscale Condado Beach area. It's amazing how much this place has changed, and the jury is still out on whether it's for the better--walking around there feels like downtown Waikiki with all the restaurants, high-end shops, and police officers.

    The hotel lobby was undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation which is set to open this week (I was a week too early) and it's going to be really nice. The one main change that I could see since my visit in 2008 is the hotel now offers guests a complimentary glass of champagne at check-in. Guests were really digging that. This Marriott is popular with leisure guests and one reason is because of its proximity to the airport, tourist sights, shops, restaurants, and the beach. The beach has plenty of cabana boys who will set you up with chairs and an umbrella for free (they do expect a small tip), but be careful when you go in the ocean because the rip current on this side of the island is dangerous--I would save your laps for the pool. NOTE: Be sure to bring a few extra dollars to the beach to buy some local ice cream (really frozen ice) from one of the three beach vendors. I recommend buying from the two that don't blow an annoying whistle--that guy prevented me from taking a cat nap.

    Since I've been to Puerto Rico numerous times and I was alone I didn't feel like doing the tourist thing. I just wanted to relax, so I ate all three of my meals in the hotel, which normally is a sin but with the amount of travel I do I think you can understand. Also, the hotel does have a great variety of offerings with four dining options, and it's not your standard Marriott menu. They have a fine-dining Italian restaurant, a casual Brazilian restaurant, a coffee shop, and a couple of bars. For dinner I ate outside at the beach bar since it was so nice and balmy out. To satisfy my appetite I ordered some Puerto Rican soup ($6) to start that had chicken, beetroot, and pork in it. That was a meal in itself, but I also ordered the citrus salad ($8) that had pineapple, orange, and jicama on mixed greens. I also had a side of fried sweet plantains ($3.50). I made friends with the bartender and she told me if I wanted to get some local hot sauce to walk six blocks or so to the H&R store (next to Gucci) to get Mi Madre Pique for $4.99. That was a wise move, because at the airport it costs $8.99.

    In the morning I had breakfast downstairs and it was your standard breakfast offerings, except their house-made granola with strawberry yogurt was addicting! It's part of the continental buffet which costs $11.95 (the full buffet is $21.95).

    BTW: The nicest person at the hotel just might be the night maid. She was so friendly and left me a couple extra mini Hershey bars by the pillow along with a Puerto Rico postcard and a lapel pin of the U.S. and Puerto Rican flag joined together. Another hotel notable: Internet access costs a whopping $18.95 for 24 hours. For more information see the San Juan Marriott's website or read my story from four years ago. San Juan Marriott, 1309 Ashford Avenue, San Juan, Puerto Rico; tel.: 787-722-7000, toll-free: 800-464-5005.


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