San Juan, PR

June 20, 2016

SJ Accordian

San Juan, PR
The Ritz-Carlton Spa

Ritz Carlton. The double-barreled name that historically woos patrons by shooting them plush darts of grandeur and gleam. At the San Juan Ritz Carlton Spa it’s all there – understated elegance, almost obsequious service, and long list of options. But I left feeling like we owed each other something more.

Every staff member at the Ritz, from the front door, to the spa, to the restaurants, seems to regard the patrons like royal children. A greeter in the hotel’s lobby walked me to the spa, smiled and nodded every time I answered her friendly questions. As we wound  through the property’s dense tropical landscape of palms, flowers, sculptures, pools and chaises, she mentioned that the 12,000 square-foot spa had been renovated three years ago. “You’ll love it,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”


In terms of quality, it is beautiful. Beige and white marble and tile meet glass at every height and in every corner. While simple is often better than overdone , it felt bland and cold. Just ask the woman who walked into the cathedral-ceilinged reception area from the locker room, wrapped in a towel, wondering where the hot water was.

(A word on hot water. It’s elusive in Puerto Rico. This does not faze a regular visitor. It can, however, perplex visitors of a five-star hotel. Puerto Rico is US territory in the 21st Century, but there’s almost always a tinge of third world. It’s the appeal and the detraction.)

An attendant, ran into the locker room and somehow elicited hot water from the pipes, smiling and apologizing the whole way. Like everyone else in the spa at 6 o’clock that evening, she was buoyant enough to make you think you were the first client ever to walk through the door.

Once in the pretty but plain lounge, sipping citrus water, wearing the white, plastic Ritz-insignia sandals, I unfairly predicted the massage would be forgettable moisturizing session. It was plenty oily, but not unremarkable. The therapist should be in everyone’s life for her kindness alone. Though the work did not have the composition-changing effects on my muscles every deep-tissue massage should, it induced that sweet lullaby-brain that is, truly, the other transformative ability of massage. The therapist applied pressure, sometimes a little off center, sometimes with no particular path or rhythm, but sometimes, right on point and always followed by sweeping movements that seemed to soothe my body and brain. sandals

At $190.50 for a 60-minute session, spending some time in the steam room and shower was necessary. The hot water was great. The shower curtain (hygiene, please) was not. Nor was the tepid steam room in need of new grout.

As a beacon of classic professionalism and making clients feel wanted and appreciated, the Ritz-Carlton San Juan shines bright. Even though a more distinctive atmosphere and detailed skill were missed, the spa deserves another chance. No matter what is offered on a service menu, it’s a consumer’s responsibility to make requests in line with a place’s personality. Should a vegetarian expect an award-winning meal at a BBQ restaurant? No. It’s not much different here. A workout recovery massage wasn’t a fair expectation, even if offered. One of the spa’s Caribbean-inspired treatments, like the warm sea shell massage would have been (think hot stones instead of shells). Leaving room for unlikely success is fine, but being fair is better. Next time, bring me the shells.

6961 Ave Gobernadores
Carolina, PR 00979
+1 787-253-1700

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