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Friday, June 8, 2012

The Hyatt Hacienda del Mar in sunny Puerto Rico

Hyatt Hacienda del Mar Dorado, Puerto Rico
February, 2002
This is a re-print of an original post to the ThompsonFamilyWeb site about a trip we took to Puerto Rico in February 2002. It is completely unaltered from my original post.







Introduction
Our trip to Puerto Rico was somewhat "last minute". We had originally planned a winter trip to Southern California to visit my family, and even had plane tickets for our daughter Natalie's Spring Break week. However, we had been contemplating postponing the trip until the summer, when the weather would be better. Then my wife Andie got an offer in the mail: 4 nights at the Hyatt Hacienda del Mar in Puerto Rico for $199. All we had to do was go to a 90-minute presentation for the Hyatt Vacation Club (HVC).
We had accepted a similar offer from Marriott Vacation Club International when we went to Orlando in March of 2000, and had been very pleased with the result (although we did not buy an interest in their timeshare). So, I called HVC to make a reservation. When I told the reservationist what dates we wanted she informed me that they did not have any studios available - which was what the price was quoted for - but said we could stay in a 1 bedroom for $336 for 4 nights. This is for a room with a rack rate of $440 per night. Of course this was still an awesome deal and, truth be told, we would have preferred the 1 bedroom at any rate.
I then booked our flight, getting a great rate from Continental of about $200 each. This means that, for less that $1,200, we would have 4 nights and 5 days in sunny Puerto Rico. Not a bad deal at all. Our flight going out would get us there around noon and our flight back didn't leave until 5:00 PM, so we would truly be getting the most time in PR that we could.
The weather was gorgeous for the entire 5 days. We had a bit of rain on the 4th day, and it rained at night once or twice, but for the most part it was mostly sunny and in the upper 70's to 80's. We couldn't have asked for better weather.



The Resort
The Hyatt Hacienda del Mar (HHdM) is a stunning resort. Located in Dorado, the resort is about an hour drive from the San Juan airport. Hyatt has 2 large resorts in Dorado. The Hyatt Dorado Beach Resort & Country Club and The Hyatt Regency Cerromar Beach Resort and Casino. The two resorts are a short drive from each other and there is a regular shuttle bus that will take you between them. HHdM is located next to the Cerromar, sharing many of the resort's facilities (but not it's check-in desk).
HHdM occupies 2 buildings. The buildings are connected on the second floor, and do not have a common elevator. The buildings themselves are rather plain - bordering on ugly. They are simple 8-story boxes painted in a pale pink. The surrounding grounds are so beautiful, however, that the plainness of the buildings is something you rarely notice.
The grounds are, in fact, gorgeous. The property has the distinct feeling of a tropical paradise, with palm trees and plants everywhere. The walkways twist and turn, often including bridges over the properties fantastic river pool. There were ample lounge chairs for enjoying the sunshine. We did have a few minor complaints. First, to get towels we had to trek all the way to the Cerromar side of the property - another towel booth on the HHdM side would be welcome. Also you have to go all the way back to one of the main resort buildings to use a restroom.
The resort boasts 3 restaurants as well as a poolside eatery and an open-air bar. There is also a small convenience store on property, a day camp for the kids (Camp Hyatt), a gym and a casino. The Cerromar provides the usual list of resort hotel amenities including a concierge.




The buildings are rather plain



Paradise








The Room

We had what is called - using the timeshare parlance - a one-bedroom villa. It included a living room with a fold-out sofa and a separate dining area, a terrace overlooking the property and the ocean, a full kitchen, a master bedroom with a king-size bed and a bath with a shower and Jacuzzi tub. There was a TV with a VCR in the living room and another TV in the bedroom. There was also a small stereo in the living room, but unfortunately we did not bring any CDs.
Compared to other timeshare properties we've stayed at, I'd say the room was probably the smallest we've stayed in (even a bit smaller than the Boardwalk Villas at Walt Disney World). This is not to say, however, that the room was small. Timeshare rooms are considerably larger than your average hotel room, and this room was no exception. Regardless of the size, the room was bright, clean, nicely decorated and very comfortable.
Our only real complaint - common even in timeshare properties - was a lack of storage. There were only a few drawers and the closet was on the smallish side. Also, the TV in the bedroom didn't work, but we didn't watch much TV so we didn't even report it.




On the terrace


It actually starts at the Cerromar end of the property. You take several winding paths and climb a rise until finally you reach a pool at the top. At one end of the pool is a small slide that deposits you in another pool. There is another slide, another pool and one more slide. The last slide empties into the river, with a waterfall on one side and a swim-up bar on the other. Most folks fail to notice the stairway next to the waterfall that lead to a small wading pool at the top of the waterfall. Now you are in the river itself, and one difference between this river pool and most others is immediately apparent - this actually is a river with the flow provided by gravity.HHdM boasts a very nice "Olympic" pool, a "kiddy" pool and - most of all - an absolutely awesome river pool. Most river pools are of the "lazy river" variety - a loop that maintains its flow via a series of water jets. The river pool at HHdM is something very different.
It is obvious that the pool designers gave a lot of thought to its layout. Just like a real river, the pool goes through different sections that reveal different personalities. By altering the width and depth of the pool they were able to alter the speed of the current, with several very fast portions that empty into calmer, slower moving waters. At one point the current flows particularly fast and the walls become craggy and more like natural stone. This particular part of the pool is especially fun for clinging on to the side and attempting to go against the current. It's quite a workout.
The river finally empties into a large pool that has a small island and waterfall at its center. This part of the pool also has a large (by resort pool standards) water slide. When I first saw the slide it looked like the ride would be similar to that of the "Keister Koaster" at Disney's Boardwalk Villas. Boy, was I wrong! The ride is very radical for such a small slide - provided you lie down. The sitting-up position always provides a slower ride on these slides, but the difference on this slide was incredible. Sitting up the ride was pretty tame. Lying down it was quite hair-raising!
There are also 3 Jacuzzis (which explains why we never bothered to fill the tub in our room), each with a different personality. One was right next to the kiddy pool - very smart. The second was separate from the rest of the pools and much quieter. The third was in a rocky grotto about a quarter of the way through the river pool. Needless to say, there was a Jacuzzi for whatever you're in the mood for.




The main pool slide





It's hard to see, but this is the grotto Jacuzzi


















The beach at Dorado is quite beautiful, with the lush landscaping from the resort reaching all the way to the soft, fine sand. The resort provides ample lounges and chairs for relaxing surfside. The water was quite warm, but appeared to be a bit too rough for youngsters. Venturing into the surf, however, we were surprised and pleased to discover that the surf looked much rougher than it actually is. The waves tended to churn up quite a bit of foam, but it is in reality all bluster. There was hardly any undertow at all, and we eventually found ourselves to be quite comfortable taking the kids into the surf - so long as we were right there with them.

Restaurants
There are three restaurants, as well as a poolside eatery located on the HHdM property shared with the Cerromar. Three more restaurants are a short shuttle drive away at the Dorado.
The poolside eatery provides the usual assortment of sandwiches, bar snacks, burgers and drinks (including the usual assortment of frozen drinks). Their attempts at local cuisine - such as the "Cuban Sandwich" fall flat, but the burgers are large and tasty. In fact we split one burger between two adults on more than one occasion and the servers were kind enough to provide us with an extra serving of chips on each occasion. There is also a children's menu. The food is plentiful, the pina coladas are quite good (although the other frozen drinks aren't as good), and you can't beat the atmosphere. The service is tropical (translation: don't be in a hurry, but why should you be?) The sandwiches and burgers were in the $8.00 - $9.00 range, with kid's items at about $3.00 and frozen drinks for about $6.00.
The Swan Café is the resorts family friendly restaurant. The restaurant has a large outdoor dining area that borders a large pond filled with turtles, koi fish and swans. The dining area is completely enclosed in netting (presumably to keep the birds out.) On a warm tropical evening it is a wonderful place to enjoy a nice family meal. We decided to get a bit adventurous with the food, ordering the Jibaro Sampler ($6.50) - while also being more cautious and ordering a Chicken Caesar salad ($10.75). The sampler was, well, interesting. It was sort of like deep-fried tapas. We were unable to pinpoint exactly what the ingredients were in most of the selection, although one was clearly some sort of cheese and another was plantain. It wasn't bad, but I think it would be advisable to stick with less challenging cuisine. There is also a children's menu, so this restaurant should be your first choice for a family sit-down meal at the resort.
The Steak Company is - no surprise here - a steak house. The restaurant is in the lobby and shares its kitchen with the Zen Garden. The atmosphere is casual elegant combining Steak House ambience with a tropical setting. We ordered New York Strip steak ($27.00), Ribeye ($28.00) and a side order of onion rings ($4.00). The steaks came with sautéed button mushrooms. The steaks were very good and prepared properly. Everything else, however, was not up to par. The mushrooms were so-so, and the onion rings tasted like frozen, store bought rings. Still, it's the steak you are there for and given that, we can recommend this establishment.
The Zen Garden serves Asian style food, both Japanese and Chinese, including Sushi, Sashimi and Hibachi style.
For a romantic dinner, you can't beat Su Casa located at the Hyatt Dorado beach. Su Casa is located in the residence - built in 1928 - of the property's original owners. The building has a Spanish/Mediterranean feel to it, with curving stucco walls and Old World accents. The dining room, which is on the second floor, is open air and boasts breathtaking vies of the beach. With its subdued lighting and ocean breezes, it is a truly memorable dining experience. The musicians lightly playing music on harp and guitar complete the picture. Once again, unfortunately, the food does not live up. We had Rack of Lamb ($30.00) and Shrimp and Garlic ($29.00) with an appetizer of Mozzarella and Tomato ($12.95). The appetizer was actually quite good, however the entrees left something to be desired. Lamb is difficult to prepare properly, and I'm afraid it was a bit tough and seemed under-cooked. As for the shrimp, once again it seemed as if they were trying for a local taste and not quite getting it right. Still, the food was passable and the surroundings breathtaking.

Casino
HHdM's casino is small and seems to cater to a mostly local crowd. This is actually good if, like me, you don't like high-stakes gambling. The blackjack tables all had either $5.00 or $10.00 minimum bet, and when there was only one table open it was always a $5.00 table. There was the usual assortment of table and electronic games, including roulette, craps, slots and video poker. The electronic games were mostly quarter machines, with the occasional nickel and dollar machines. There was no sports book, nor were there any poker tables.

Still, we listened attentively to the presentation and were very impressed with the program. Being owners of Disney Vacation Club (DVC), and having already attended a similar presentation for the Marriott Vacation Club, we came into it with a pretty clear understanding of the pros and cons of vacation ownership and different timeshare programs. The main thing DVC has going for it is flexibility. There is no concept of purchasing a "week", you can by "vacation points" in any amount from as little as 150 (worth about 5 days in a one-bedroom), you can bank and borrow points freely, and you can exchange outside of DVC with great freedom. The main drawbacks to DVC are it's cost, the fact that many of the trading opportunities are with high-end and expensive properties, and the fact that it ends in 2042.In order to get the room rate we got, we had to agree to a 90-minute presentation of the Hyatt Vacation Club (HVC). We are in the process of building a major addition to our house, so we had no intention of making any major purchases, so it wasn't likely that our sales rep was going to make her quota off of us. Our rep, Stacey, was gracious and informative (although she answered some of my questions with "I don't know" when I have little doubt that she did), and the presentation was low-pressure.
HVC also has an end date - 2070 - although it was unclear to us whether that was HVC in general or HHdM in particular. Regardless, we realized after listening to the presentation that - depending on your needs - HVC is, indeed, an excellent program. While not as flexible as DVC, the program provides an excellent balance between owning a specific week in a specific unit ant the ability to trade out for other timeshares. In a nutshell, the basic idea is that you buy a week in a two-bedroom unit. You are guaranteed that unit during that week as long as you let them know of your intention. Or you can trade out all or part of your interest. You can break up the week into a "week-end" or "mid-week" component. Also you can either use or trade any portion of the villa - the one-bedroom portion, the studio portion or the full two-bedroom villa. Also, you can trade any portion of the villa to Interval International and stay in other timeshare properties worldwide (although you must trade a whole week.)
The bottom line is, even as uninterested as we were going in, we came very close to making a purchase. I do think that it is very likely that we will purchase HVC eventually, but probably at a different property. HVC has other properties in Lake Tahoe, Colorado and Key West, with more on the way. We are most interested in Key West, and I won't be surprised if we own an interest in HVC within a few years.



The end of a wonderful vacation

1 comment:

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