24-Hour Room Service: W Retreat Vieques, Puerto Rico
The pool is alive with the sound of music
Saturday 14 August 2010
Synchronised swimmers have always had my respect. All that underwater jiggery-pokery, fixed grinning, superhuman breath-holding, and North Korean march-past exactitude: hats off to them. But I imagined they could only hear the music when their ears were out of the water, that they were keeping the beat in their heads when submerged.
No. Submerged speakers can pump clear tunes into swimming pools for us humans to enjoy, too.
I know this because of my time at the newly opened W Retreat and Spa, on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico. To complement the hotel's two beaches, there are two, tiered infinity pools surrounded by private, be-draped cabins (TVs work better in the shade) and artfully arranged deckchairs. I lay on one in the sun listening to an equally artful playlist of chillaxing tunes. Lift music? No way!
The eclectic soundtrack had soothed me in the uber-cool lobby when I checked in (and would check out "paperlessly": all part of the "eco" package). It had accompanied me to WET: the poolside bar where I ate a fine club sandwich. And when I slid into the pool to escape the heat, the song I was listening to didn't stop.
Wet: see what they're doing there? The W thing. W is for: Welcome, Wish, Wanderlust, SWEAT (inelegant, but it's the gym), Worldwide, WicNic (a packed lunch: I'm not making this up), Wake-up, Wow-vows (the Wedding package), WIRED (the business centre), Wisely, Whatever/Whenever (the concierge). Oh, and it's for P.A.W – the Pets Are Welcome policy as well. I know all this because the hotel literature and signage told me about it, the Whole time. Reclaiming the word for a moment: whatever.
Brute fact: this hotel is amazing. The service is superb. The food is faultless. Everywhere I looked – over the edge of my enormous marble bath, past the tactile and tasteful furnishings (all grey-taupe-dun, but hold on, this chair is orange, and still fits in, and that thing there somehow works despite being fire hydrant red), past the billowing bougainvillea, and the perfect palms, to the creamy sand, and the Photoshopped Caribbean beyond it, just there – I saw something beautiful.
So you'd have to be an almighty curmudgeon not to enjoy a stay here. And if you were, and didn't, and somehow needed to go Walkabout (I might trademark that) there's more than enough to do beyond the hotel's unobtrusively positioned walls.
Vieques Island is five miles east of Puerto Rico, a 20-minute flight from San Juan, the capital. You fly in a small plane. Very small. It's great. The pilot curled our twin-prop on to the landing strip like a well-flung Frisbee. The US military occupied the island until 2003, which meant nobody developed it and consequently there are no high-rises or unsightly condos. The W has its own private lounge at the airport, where fruit juice and croissants arrive before your air-conditioned ride to the hotel – five minutes away.
The island is known for having the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world. The hotel organises trips to the bay: you can then kayak and swim in your own pulsing, spot-lit, neon glow. I did, and I'll never forget it: a WorldWonder (they can have that one for free).
There's superb snorkelling, diving, fishing and surfing to be had at the many secluded and pristine beaches spread around the island. Or you can kayak through the mangroves and ride horses through the mountains inland instead.
Despite being part of a global chain, the W's rooms have an organic, ethnic feel, with natural fibres, cane and driftwood winning out over steel and glass. My suite had 15 chairs and two toilets, so sitting down was no problem. If I'd tired of the headland-to-headland view from my private veranda, I could have looked at it through the silver kaleidoscope which the good W folk left at an angle on my desk.
They'd thought of pretty much everything, in fact. From the complimentary Bliss lemon and sage body butter, to the "Intimacy Kit", whose contents included not one but "two lubricated prophylactics", a "femme fresh wipe" and "two oral fixation mint packets", available for £15 from the "munchies box", I felt my physical bases were covered. Technologically, too, I was sorted: in case of Weight-Gain I had a pair of digital scales; there was Wi-Fi this and Widescreen that; and everything was dockable.
But just in case I found sleep elusive in my emperor-sized bed, and sinking a couple of Hemingway cocktails next to the fire-pit out front didn't help, it was good to know I could "Zen out at Spa Chakra" instead. (UnnecessaWy, but WeassuWing.)
W Retreat & Spa, Vieques Island, State Road 200 KM 3.2, Vieques Island, Puerto Rico, US (OO1 787 741 4100; whotels.com/vieques)
Doubles start at $348 (£232), room only.
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