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
Rooms & Rates
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.
Stayed here for a conference and the property is so beautiful. Rooms were clean and hotel was well maintained. The staff was also very polite and so helpful. Truly a great property and worth every penny.
I am going to start with how I got here and then I will review the hotel.
My experience: We arrived for a quick weekend trip with our two small children after our five hour drove from Fort Worth. Our first night (6/14) was fine. The next day we left the room at 8 am and were out of the room and at the pool until 4 pm. When we arrived back at 4 pm we found our room had not been cleaned. This happens sometimes even at good hotels, a Omistake but one that can be easily corrected. This is where the downward spiral of my customer service began, all they had to do was step up there game but they just dug a deeper and deeper hole.
I explained over the phone to reception that we would be in our room until we left for dinner at 6:30 pm and we would like housekeeping then to clean our room after we left. So what did they we do? The receptionist did not listen and immediately sent a housekeeper to our room, who we did not want at that time because we had been away from our room all day and were resting up and getting ready for dinner. We told the housekeeper to come back at 6:30 PM. When we returned to our our room from dinner at 9 pm, we again came back to a room that had not been cleaned. At this point we were upset and called down to reception again. We explained that the housekeepers never came and that it was too late and we no longer wanted our roomed serviced because it was late and our young children needed to go to bed. The female receptionist, who was very condescending and robotic, said she was going to call the house keeping manager, which I told her would not help at this point because it was too late. So guess what happened next, 15 minutes later we get a knock on our door, waking up our small children, and it’s housekeeping again, doing precisely what we asked the receptionist not to do. So at this point I am really unhappy and I called the receptionist again, who was clueless to how poor of a job she was doing and I asked to speak to her manager. I spoke with her manager calmly and explained the series of our unfortunate customer service events with his hotel. He asked me how I thought I should be compensated, I told him that was up to him. The next morning we left our room that was never cleaned, to check out and pay our bill. I expected that they would at a minimum would have taken off the daily resort charge from our bill, but nothing had been done and no note was in our file of our experience and or apology.
Hotel management had 5 chances to provide excellent services but each time just gave more evidence to how poorly this hotel is run. It just really left a bad taste in our mouths and we will not return to a JW Marriott.
Quick hotel review:
The good: the TV was amazing and the food throughout the hotel was excellent. We also were able to get pool seats and drink service at the pool and the water park was ok but not magical. The hotel was also clean and beds were adequate.
The bad: I thought JW meant that it was the signature resorts of the portfolio but our room was filled with cheap and outdated fixtures and material that felt like a 3 star hotel. The pillows were also cheap and very hard to sleep on. Our room also never got cold enough. The decor of the hotel and restaurants were boring and generic with very little character or point of view. It’s really is just a big convention hotel.
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.