Heading to the two Margaritaville Vacation Club by Wyndham properties in the Caribbean, I found some unknowns actually made the trip much more exciting. For one, I had never been to the Caribbean before, and I had dreams of clear water and sandy beaches. The other was I knew pretty much nothing about the Margaritaville brand. Maybe it’s because I’m not very fond of country music, but I also had no idea who Jimmy Buffett was — sorry Mr. Buffett.
Buffett is the founder of Margaritaville, who turned his song about melting your troubles away by “nibblin’ on sponge cake” and “wastin’ away in Margaritaville” into an empire. Yet, the two Margaritaville Vacation Clubs I visited, one in Puerto Rico and the other in St. Thomas, had very distinct differences. And depending on how you like to vacation, you may be tempted to choose one over another.
Puerto Rico: The Margaritaville Vacation Club Rio Mar has a different layout than most other Margaritaville Vacation Clubs. The Margaritaville Vacation Club Rio Mar has a different layout than most other Margaritaville Vacation Clubs. Because the Margaritaville shares the property with the with a neighboring hotel, vacation-goers get the best of amenities from both a vacation club and a hotel stay. The hotel is about 45 minutes away from San Juan’s major airport and its location allows guests to enjoy all of the luxuries of being on a beach while also being surrounded by mountainous views of the rainforest.
Upon arrival, I checked in and asked what side of the resort I was staying on. At this location, the Margaritaville Vacation Club shares the resort with the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar, a traditional hotel. She then gave me a wristband that was my room key and a map of the resort because it was massive. Once I headed to my room, I immediately felt like I was on island time. I stayed in an ocean-front studio with a king-size bed, but the property also had deluxe studio rooms and one-bedroom suites. While the room wasn’t quite as modern, I loved the fact that it had all the luxuries of a living room area kitchenette with the iconic Frozen Concoction Maker, in addition to all of the island decor throughout the room that gave it a very chic look. But the best part was the view — absolutely stunning.
Guests can also enjoy the on-site amenities, including golf courses, the casino, a fitness center, fire pits, hammocks, cabanas and tennis courts. I, of course, had to check out the pool and swim-up bar, which serves great drinks. I also made my way to the beach to put my feet on the golden sand and listen to the crash of the blue waves which is so relaxing. I could have definitely moved in, long-term.
St. Thomas: The Margaritaville Vacation Club in St. Thomas had a distinctly different vibe. The resort is about a half-hour from the airport and tucked on the island’s eastern shore along Water Bay. After checking in, I got a tour of the property. All of the rooms are inside little cottages across the property. It can be difficult to get around the hilly property, so golf carts are available, and hotel employees will pick you up and drop you off as needed. My favorite part of the property is the cute, little town square in its center.
Guests can go to “city hall” to learn more about vacation ownership, while also checking out the shops, a cafe, a store for essentials, and more. I stayed in another studio with similar amenities as the Puerto Rico property, but this room felt much larger. The St. Thomas property has similar amenities: cabanas, hammocks, hot tubs, and a fitness center plus beach access. Even though this beach is much smaller, there is Coki beach just across the way with crystal clear water, which is a ten-minute walk from the hotel.
Both of these Margaritaville Vacation Clubs are vacation ownership properties. You can book a stay in them like any other hotel, but you can also become a vacation owner. Vacation owners have a homeport on the property of their choosing, but they also have access to nearly 200 resorts worldwide through Club Wyndham and Wyndham Club Pass. These perks run on a flexible point system that grants you access to 240+ apartment-style resort accommodations through the club, or you can exchange points for stays at around 4,200 affiliated resorts worldwide.
Food and drinks
The Puerto Rico property has 10 different restaurants. Of course, if you’re trying to save money or planning on an extended stay, you can definitely buy groceries and make full use of the kitchenette in your room. However, the food I ate was pretty tasty. On my first morning there, I had breakfast at Marbella, which has a buffet option, but I decided to order fresh off the menu.
I ordered a typical American breakfast — scrambled eggs with chicken sausage and breakfast potatoes plus a side of avocado to smear on my toast. The restaurant has a gorgeous view of the ocean, but the must-visit spots are poolside. I had lunch at the 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar, where of course, the star of the show was the margaritas. I had the “Fins to the Left”. It’s a twist on their classic house margarita with blue curacao. So, if you liked blue raspberry slushies as a kid, ask them to make it frozen. You won’t regret it! And definitely take advantage of the swim-up bar.
By comparison, you can tell the St. Thomas property was designed with long-term stays in mind. There are only a few places you can get food while on the resort, and all of them are independently operated — meaning you don’t get the convenience of charging it to the room. The 5 o’Clock Somewhere patio and bar are also poolside. But there’s a little gem tucked away into the town square where a shop makes breakfast-to-go, including coffee and breakfast sandwiches. It’s the perfect choice if you’re planning on getting out to do excursions early in the morning.
What to do close by
In Puerto Rico, the unique landscape close by the hotel is worth exploring. Just 20 minutes away, you’ll be in El Yunque National Forest. Many of the trails are still shut down due to hurricanes, but there are still natural waterfalls and lots of viewpoints available to explore if hiking is not your thing. I highly recommend taking a tour with a park ranger at the visitor center, redesigned after the hurricane. The ranger takes you on a 15-minute guided walking tour, explaining the biodiversity and significance of the rainforest.
I’d also recommend getting off the property to go to the kiosks. Kiosks on Sundays are treated like the mainland tradition of barhopping. Kiosks are little shops that sell street food, souvenirs, and other little knickknacks. On Sundays, the locals will hop around to each booth to try different food and congregate with friends. My favorite thing I tried was surullitos, a traditional Puerto Rican corn stick with cheese inside. And, of course, you should definitely check out Old San Juan for a classic bar-hopping scene.
While you stay at the Margaritaville Vacation Club, I would recommend the walk to Coki Beach. The beach was terrific, but the best part was the traditional island food. I stopped by one of the little booths to order a plate of traditional island food. I ordered a surf and turf plate with chicken and fried shrimp and by far, it was one of my favorite dishes of the trip. It came with beans and rice, macaroni salad, plantains, and corn. The portion was so huge that there was no way I would have finished it all!
If you’re into watersports, then take some time to go snorkeling. A short drive took us to Cas Cay Kayak, Hike & Snorkel Adventure Tour. The three-hour ecotour was outstanding. First, we kayaked through a protected Mangrove to get to a flatland hike. Then finally, we had a chance to get our toes wet and dive into the water to see lots of fish and other wildlife. Our guide was very knowledgeable about the island’s history and nature.
Whatever you do, do not leave St. Thomas without trying BLUE 11. David Benjamin, also known as Chef Benji, is long due to receive a Michelin star. The restaurant offers a tasting menu where you can opt for seven, nine, or 11 courses. I chose the 11-course meal, and it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had, with items like lobster in a decadent cheese sauce and a homemade donut served with banana ice cream– 10 out of 10!
When deciding which Margaritaville to stay at, you can’t really go wrong when choosing your slice of paradise. The Margaritaville Vacation Club properties are the perfect landing place for your island getaway. When it’s time to come home, you’ll be so relaxed you’ll end up like me — never wanting to leave.