by Stephen Jermanok
Everything is big in Texas, especially the sprawling JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa, the largest JW Marriott in the world. A 20-minute drive north of the San Antonio International Airport, on the edge of Texas Hill Country, this 1,002-room property caters to both the business traveler here for a convention and the family traveler who can relax in this tranquil setting on vacation. The resort is surrounded by a bird sanctuary, where construction is forbidden for the next century. Look out from your balcony on the expansive lawn, ringed by two golf courses, and beyond that, only forest.
The resort is shaped like an X. Enter the front entrance into the spacious two-story lobby and you know you you’re in Texas. The columns are limestone, the wood is a dark oak, the sofas are leather and the mirrors are lined with copper, all indigenous materials. Walk to the left and you’ll enter the convention part of the resort, with its large ballrooms for meetings and events. Walk slightly to the right and then outside and you’ll find the enticing River Bluff Water Experience, a six-acre complex of pools, hot tubs, water slides and a lazy river — the main reason why parents rave about this property. Add two golf courses, the largest spa in Texas, the Range Riders Kids Club, a game room and wonderful restaurants, and you understand why families who know this JW Marriott return year after year.
Our Editor Loves
- Glorious pool and water slides
- Surprisingly good food offerings
- Activities offered at Range Rider's Kids Club
- Horse Back Riding
- Theme Park
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Family Room 5+
- Game Room
- Kids' Pool
- Kids' Theme Meals
- Onsite Dining
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All rooms have a bright palette, with prints of Texas Hill Country wildflowers hanging from the muted, yellow-colored walls. Standard family rooms come with two comfortable double beds, a balcony with sunrise or sunset views, a sofa and leather chair, 37-inch TV's, a mini-fridge, a desk with a connecting panel to plug in all your electronic devices and ample closet and drawer space. Bathrooms are spacious, featuring a deep tub, shower with great pressure, large mirror ringed with dark wood and Aromatherapy Associates soap, lotion, shampoo and conditioner. The make-up mirror is also a nice addition.
Families can opt for the Two-Bedroom Suite, which features a second bedroom with two twin beds and a second bathroom for the children. The largest suite can sleep up to 10 people. Cribs and rollaway beds are also available, upon request.
I'm a platinum level Marriott member and there are no real perks here. I got the free continental breakfast or 1000 points. That's it! There is no concierge/executive lounge or even extra snacks or treats. Honestly for a JW I would think there'd be something more. I did have a nice room and a nice view. But I didn't even get an upgraded room. Very disappointing.
Arrived and one of the two rooms was ready (we were a little before checkin time, so time to hit the pool).
Once we got the other room, we saw both rooms were very nicely done with the renovations recently and all was good. Appreciate the upgrade to a suite for my main room so we had room to celebrate my daughters 6th birthday. Food was amazing all weekend as we have come to expect at the JW.
Friendly smiles everywhere and of course the kids (plus adults) enjoyed the pool area. Have some small improvement ideas for the pool area service, but overall a solid stay and we will absolutely be back.
Hint: Breakfast is awesome and totally worth it. Also 18 oaks is well
worth a visit while on property.
Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for ages 4 to 12, the Range Riders Kids Club offers a large list of activities. Depending on the week you're there, activities can go far beyond typical arts and crafts and Nintendo Wii playing. Giddy Up Cowboy has a real cowboy teach roping demonstrations and ranch skills. The Making of a Prima Ballerina will teach your daughter the art of pirouetting in her pink tutu, only to leap across the stage in the arms of a prince. Then there's bead making, tattoo art and the chance to personalize your own inner tube for the lazy river. Parents will also have the opportunity to leave their kids at Range Riders at night, where the children will have dinner, play fun games and watch a movie. The club is $12 per child, per hour.
The water park caters to all ages, with a kiddie pool with small slides for younger children. Older children, at least 42 inches in height, will want to speed down the two thrilling tubes called Cibolo Falls and Pedernales. The rambling main pool is heated to 80 degrees year-round. The pool has ample chaise lounge chairs so you don't have to wake up early to save your place. You can also rent a private cabana for the day, which offers seating for eight and a refrigerator stocked with water, soda and fresh fruit.
Next to Range Riders, there's a small game room where kids can play air hockey, Pac Man and other video games. The resort also features Teen Scene, where on scheduled nights from 9 to 11 pm, children ages 13 to 17 play a variety of glow-in-the-dark games at the tennis courts.
The Lantana Spa is a wonderful retreat for parents who yearn for serenity. It features its own fitness center, pool and spa bistro. It also offers fitness classes, water aerobics, cardio sculpt, Pilates, yoga and zumba. The men's and women's locker rooms feature rain showers, where a sheet of water pours down on you, and steam, sauna and aromatherapy rooms. Guests of all ages can enjoy manicures and pedicures, but the spa is primarily for those 18 and older. Body treatments, massages and facials are also offered.
The two golf courses are designed by Greg Norman and Pete Dye and host the Valero Texas Open and AT&T Championship. Their golf school is a great place to improve your swing or improve your putting. It's available to all ages.
Start each morning with a Texas-sized breakfast at Cibolo Moon. Located on the ground floor with indoor and outdoor seating on the patio, the restaurant features an All American Buffet. Expect made-to-order omelets and eggs, Belgian waffles, bacon, sausage, home fries, fresh fruit, yogurt, granola, cereals, bread and pastries. The restaurant also offers a breakfast menu if you prefer something smaller like granola and fresh berries. Cibolo Moon also offers high chairs and coloring books with crayons, upon request.
If you simply want to grab a cup of coffee and perhaps a muffin or slice of banana nut bread, head to the Starbucks, located across from the gift shop on the convention side of the resort.
Cibolo Moon also offers a lunch menu with kid-friendly options like macaroni and cheese, quesadillas and burgers. For parents, there's a good selection of salads and sandwiches. Most families head to the Rivertop Grill at the pool for lunch. Expect to find burgers, sandwiches, wraps, lemonade, sodas and a selection of local craft beer.
18 Oaks, the restaurant at the TPC San Antonio Clubhouse, is the place to splurge for dinner, preferably without the kids. The selection of steaks includes an 18-ounce bone rib-eye from nearby Windy Bar ranch and succulent wagyu beef. Seafood choices include scallops and a Texas favorite, redfish. 18 Oaks is also open for breakfast and lunch. Cibolo Moon offers a more casual setting for dinner, with menu items like baby-back ribs, bison meatloaf and burgers.
Other restaurants on property include High Velocity, a sports bar known for its 120-foot long video wall that serves lunch and dinner, the lounge, Crooked Branch, which serves small plates and cocktails, and Replenish Spa Bistro, which is open for lunch only and specializes in seasonal greens and healthy cuisine.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Across from Starbucks is an excellent gift shop where Texas artists create more than 80 percent of the merchandise. Particularly impressive is the glass art created by Gini Garcia. Also enjoyable are the peach preserves from the nearby Texas Hill Country town of Fredericksburg.
The concierge service is top-notch, booking restaurants, spa services, tee times and providing maps and driving directions if necessary. A babysitting service is also available, so be sure to ask at check-in.
Waits for valet-parked cars are reasonable, and valet services cost $27 per day. Complimentary self-parking is also available.
The Art of Smart Timing
Texas Hill Country is known for its cool breeze, so even in the sweltering heat of summer, it feels a bit better. Temperatures can go below freezing in winter, though that's a rarity. The best time to visit is spring and fall, when the weather is sublime.
If you rent a car, depart San Antonio International Airport on S Terminal Drive. Turn right onto US-281â€¨North. Close to the 9-mile mark, turn right on TPC Parkway. Three miles later, turn left onto Marriott Parkway.
You can also hire a taxi for approximately $55.
For Mom and Dad
Place the kids in the Range Riders Kids Club and choose between the 18-ounce bone rib-eye at 18 Oaks or the Couple's Massage at Lantana Spa. It's a hard choice to make.