Plainspotting from the Courtyard Isla Verde

We ended our Puerto Rico trip at the Courtyard Isla Verde. We booked the hotel as we originally had an early morning flight, and the San Juan airport is a quick eight minute drive from the hotel. There are some glowing reviews of the resort online, and as the hotel is only a category four Marriott hotel, a basic room1 can be booked with a 35,000 point free-night certificate2. Since we were travelling with our young kids (two one year olds and a just-turned-four year old), the basic room looked to be small and we booked a suite. In the end, we did end-up using our free-night cert, although this stay proved to have some oddities that reminded us of our first night in Puerto Rico, where we stayed at the not-quite-done Hyatt.

Background

Our original plans would have seen us arriving in San Juan's Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport around dinner time, picking-up our rental car, and driving about ten minutes to the Courtyard so that we could feed the kids and try and keep our regular schedule. We'd then move to the St. Regis for the bulk of our vacation, and then return to the Courtyard the final night in order to be positioned to catch a 7am flight.

Most room categories in the hotel are 466 square feet (42 square meters), and vary based on the view (of the ocean, pool, or not much of anything). Those rooms come in either a single king and sofa bed, or two queen bed, configurations and allowing for either three people occupancy or four people respectively. There are smaller 322 square feet (30 square meter) ocean front king rooms allowing only two-person occupancy; and there are larger 616 square foot (55 square meter) junior suites (studios, three people).

The only true studio, with a separate bed room, is 710 square feet (64 square meters). As has been our regular practice, I eMailed the hotel ahead of time, to check if there'd be a problem if we brought our travel cribs and our three children. To my surprise, they responded—most hotels seem to ignore eMails. More surprising, they responded saying we wouldn't be allowed to have our kids in the same suite as us. Hyatt has a special family rate, where the second room is significantly discounted; so I inquired about whether there was a similar program, but was quoted the asking price of $370 for an additional, basic, room we didn't really plan on using. The total cost would have been more than we were spending per-night at the St. Regis which seemed outrageous, so we decided to find an alternative the first night.

Livingroom Bedroom

Given the early flight on which we were booked to leave, we kept that reservation and used a free-night certificate to cover the connected room. As things evolved, we wound-up taking advantage of some changes in Delta's schedule (which would have left us with 7 minutes3 to get everyone between terminals at JFK), and moved our departing flight to the afternoon which gave us a little more time to see the beach and the hotel, as well as grab breakfast in the morning.

The morning of our arrival, following continuous seismic activity in the south of the island, there was a 6.4 magnitude earthquake in the south of the island. The earthquake caused quite a bit of damage throughout the island, causing houses to collapse and landslides. The island's power grid was off-line, either because of damage or to prevent fires from igniting from subsequent damage. Most hotels, as well as the airport, were running on generator power; but certain parts of our stay were certainly directly impacted by recent events.

Beach entrance

Entrance to the beach at the Courtyard Isla Verde.

Courtyard Isla Verde

Arrival

Given that the entire island's power grid was off-line following the earthquake about 12 hours earlier, it wasn't a complete surprise that we couldn't check-in when we arrived. After we pulled-up to the valet station in front of the main entrance, we checked-in with reception to find out that their systems were down. Since we hadn't seen a valet, I finished unloading the car, and parked in the garage nearby. The garage was fairly empty, and presumably many people staying at the hotel given its location avoid renting a car.

Check-in

After only about 15 minutes, the hotel system appeared to be back-up and we formally began checking-in. The agent was surprised that they were requiring us to get a second room, in addition to the suite we had booked. He also proactively asked if we wanted late check-out; when I asked for a 1pm check-out he indicated that as a Platinum elite, we were entitled to 4pm; I thanked-him but indicated that we had a flight to catch, so we would certainly be out by one. He explained that the Platinum welcome amenity, which we chose over points, was a $10-per-person, per-room, per-day credit at effectively any of the on-premise restaurants (excluding gratuity and alcohol). The gentleman at the desk found us our rooms, but unfortunately they had not been cleared by housekeeping. He promised to come find us as soon as they were ready, and so I headed back into the lobby. Despite the chaos from the earthquake, the check-in process was efficient and pleasant.

Lobby

The lobby was fairly busy, despite us arriving between check-out and the standard check-in time, as people were walking through either to go to the beach, restaurants, or the car park. There were also a number of parents who had seemingly been waiting around for a while, judging from the young children sleeping next to them. We found an unoccupied part of the lobby, which was either small, or large and sprawling if you count the undivided areas near a traditional Courtyard-style counter-service restaurant on one side of a walkway and seating for the lobby bar on the other side. Continuing past those eateries was a casino in one direction, reception rooms next to the casino along the far wall, and towards the beach and separated from the bar seating by a low wall, the principal sit-down restaurant.

Waiting

After waiting about 30 minutes, the agent who checked us in walked over, and handed us a set of keys. While our suite was still being cleaned, the connecting room was ready. We gathered our bags and started towards the elevator so we could begin setting-up the baby's room and work on dinner. While waiting for the elevator, our four year old asked for a potty trip, meaning we were delayed another 10 minutes. When our party was reunited, the elevator again arrived, and we started to get on the elevator when the reception agent came-up to us and said our other room was now ready. Stepping back out, he walked us through the same overview as he had for the connecting room: the key cards, the room number, the free drink coupons and discounted gambling coupon we were going to have an no opportunity and no desire to use respectively. For a third time, we pressed the elevator button and waited. For a second time, I started loading the trolley with our bags, but before my wife and the kids could get into the elevator someone scurried behind me and snuck into the elevator which seemed somewhat odd and annoying given how long we'd been waiting there and how obviously awkward managing all of the bags and young kids should have been.

View from the Vestibule Elevator Vestibule

Room

The person who had slipped into the elevator with us got off on our floor, and then insisted on pushing the trolley the rest of the way; apparently he was a porter who intended to help us to our suite. Despite the same person checking us in for both the connecting base room and our suite, he clearly wasn't going to help us bring our luggage up to the quality room as we'd almost gotten on the elevator twice before getting the key to the suite. When we got to the room, he rolled the trolley in, took off the luggage, and disappeared without a word4. We began settling in, as the kids ran around; we clearly had more than enough room in just the suite portion, so we messaged the hotel in the app, insisting that we did not need the second room, and it seemed like people who had been waiting around in the lobby might have a better use for it. We heard back promptly, confirming that we could not have more than four occupants in the suite, so we were stuck with the cribs in the adjoining room.

Suite

Suite

The suite was spacious, opening into the living area, which had a kitchenette, and then the bedroom. The bathroom was a reasonable size, but certainly nowhere near the size of those at the St. Regis' suites. It connected directly to the bedroom near the shower, and at the end with the vanity, there was a connection to the living area via a sliding door in the kitchenette. The set-up made it easy, initially, to restrict the toddlers to the living area as we could lock the bedroom door and get back-and-forth via the bathroom.5 The sliding door did not look like the original for the room, as the cut-out in the wall was almost twice as thick as the door required, and the pocket between the relevant walls was clearly visible from the bathroom. There was also no spot in the wall for latch on the sliding door to connect, meaning there was no way to lock it.

bathroom door

There was nothing for the latch to catch on the door, so it wouldn't lock.

gap

A picture of the pocket into which the door slides, the gap was obvious from inside the bathroom.

The windows in the living area which provide reasonable natural light, and provide a view looking east along the coast line. Parts of the pool and the airport are visible if you look to the south east. The bedroom looked out at the ocean, but a collecting puddle dissuaded us from spending time on the narrow balcony. Oddly, one of the windows had the curtains drawn in the bedroom, while the other curtains were opened. Looking behind, it became clear that it was drawn in an attempt to hide an incredibly dirty window.

Balcony window

The kids were looking out at the ocean. I was watching the water continuously dripping into the puddle to their left, just outside the door.

The hotel had the fairly standard set-up of a TV in each of the bedroom and the living area. It did not have Chromecast support, but did support Amazon Prime and Netflix streaming and automatically cleared credentials upon check-out6. Both TVs were oddly high, making it uncomfortable to watch except from the high-table in the living area. Watching from the sofa, bed, or other chairs meant looking upwards which tends to tire your neck. Fortunately, our kids are less picky (and the bed is far enough away to somewhat mitigate the issue there).

The bedroom had plenty of space, we had no trouble laying-out our daughter's cot and plush toys, even as she was sitting elsewhere in the room watching cartoons and we'd laid-out clothes to dry and some bags. Quality of components were clearly at least one level below our other two stays. I had kept a couple bottles of Remède toiletries from the St. Regis7, but there wasn't anything to be done for the bed which—while not horrible—was the least comfortable of our stay.

Cot

Quality Double

The quality double also was fairly spacious. The sound dampening on the window seemed more effective than in the suite: whereas the latter seemed to have a thin glass pain, the quality room's only window was a set of sliding doors with a gap in-between. When closed, its intent was to keep the air-conditioned air inside, and had a strong muting effect on the airport noise. Unfortunately, when we first opened the door, the room was incredibly humid and the temperature was in the upper-80s. Keeping the AC on max and opening the connecting door to the suite, we were able to get the relative humidity down to 68 and the temperature down to 78 just as we put the toddlers down for bed.

Quality Double

Balcony

The Quality Double did not have drips forming a puddle on its balcony.

Balcony

Taking photos on the balcony with my daughter.

Noise

We had thought that, with the kids in their own room and the living area separating it from our bedroom, that we would not be able to hear them if they were having any issues; this turned out not to be an issue. While the doors between rooms were relatively solid, the doors connecting the hall were not well insulated letting in quite a bit of noise from the hall. A big crashing sound around 9pm startled the boys awake, and a second a couple minutes later brought them to full-scream. I went into the hall, but could not find an obvious cause—the ice maker wasn't making noise, and there was nobody moving around or visibly closing doors. As I turned to go back into the main room, I was startled by the door opening from across from our rooms. As its operator left the service elevator, she bumped it into the frame of the elevator as she attempted to manuever it through, causing it contents to crash and clang. When I explained why I was in the halls—that a couple of loud bangs had just woken-up our kids, she said she hadn't seen anyone. When I explained that we thought we'd figured it out, that it seemed to be the sound of the cart travelling through the elevator, she said she would have security walk around the floor. It was an odd exchange, and as we realized it was unlikely to be an issue once she got going, we thanked her and went back inside.

On the other hand, the airport noise was mostly not a problem. If you're a light sleeper but not an earlier riser, you may regret choosing the suites as the airport opens-up in the early morning. The non-suite rooms had better sound insulation from the airport, with fewer windows; and in the case of the double room we had, effectively the structure of the building serving to shield the window from sound directly coming from the airport. Nevertheless, shortly before 10, one of the last departures of the evening was enough to reignite the cries from our children who had not fully settled down from the noise in the hall earlier.

View

Other than from the restaurant, the hotel clearly does not provide the same view that you can get at other, smaller, hotels. Our ocean view suite did provide birds-eye views of the beach, the coastline, and parts of the roof. While the beach views with the tiny, uniform balconies, feels very motel-ish, there is a unique prospect given by the vantage of the airport. From either the window in the living room, or the balcony in the quality double, we could watch planes taking-off, before turning north and heading out over the ocean. While it's not a view I need to experience every night on vacation, it was a fun experience hanging-out on the balcony with my daughter and taking pictures of the planes at sunset.

SJU airport Plainspotting at dawn

Plainspotting in the evening Coast Coast Coast towards the city

Restaurants

There are two dinner-only restaurants, Sirena and Papaya, which we hadn't tried. My wife and kids had breakfast at Café Tropical while I loaded the car. We hadn't been sure if we were going to have breakfast before leaving, so we'd split our room-service order for dinner across both rooms, in order to use the full $40 food credit, even though this meant an extra $8 service charge. Unfortunately, only one credit was applied, but I was able to get the folio adjusted the next morning on my way back from bringing our bags to the car.

Café Tropical

Café Tropical opened into on-beach seating. The buffet breakfast was about what you'd get at a Residence Inn.

Bar

The bar was closed in the early afternoon, but had plenty of seating blending, into the lobby seating, for when it picked-up.

Room Service

Room service was reasonable. Food quality is probably what you'd expect, the process was painless, but it took a bit longer than their time estimate.

Bananas

The traditional Courtyard counter-service restaurant was Bananas, located between the check-in desks and the casino area.

Value Proposition and Audience

The principal reason the Courtyard Isla Verde seems to show-up online is that, as a Category 4 hotel, it's redeemable using the free-night certificate provided with any of the Chase or American Express Marriott credit cards8. It does share its beach with the Ritz Carlton San Juan, which has been closed since Hurricane Maria, but could be the better bargain if you were to choose between the two when the Ritz Carlton re-opens.

Lobby

The clientele certainly skewed younger than at the St. Regis or Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve. The average age at the Courtyard appeared to be mid-twenties, with a healthy representation of younger college-aged guests. We saw more than a few groups carrying large coolers down from their rooms or from their cards through the lobby. The feeling was very much a toned-down spring-break atmosphere than the family vacation or escapist isolation. If that's your scene, or you need to be close to the airport for an early flight, the Courtyard can be a great value for 1-4 guests; I would not book an extended stay here for a quiet vacation.

Lamp


  1. Quality king or double queen

  2. standard redemption rate is 25,000 points; with peak and off-peak shifting by 5,000 points

  3. nb: the jitney leaves every 10 minutes

  4. This trumps the experience at The Current in Tampa for weirdest experience with a porter bringing us to our room

  5. Of course, that only works as long as the older child doesn't give away the secret.

  6. or via on-screen prompts

  7. As with other Marriott Courtyard hotels, the hotel had Paul Mitchel products.

  8. 25,000 points at standard level; even at a peak rate all of the current cards with free certs would cover the 30,000 points required for a night