For years, the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort has been our happy place, offering an opportunity to get away from it all for a night or two and laze about the lazy river, take in a kid-friendly flick on the sprawling lawn or enjoy delectable buttermilk biscuits from the on-site Cibolo Moon restaurant.
So when we heard the resort was reopening at reduced capacity and with heightened safety measures in June, we planned a one-night stay to correspond with Father’s Day weekend and my 40th birthday.
As my mask-clad family entered the main lobby of the resort, which is located about an hour and a half from downtown Austin, we quickly noted floor markers ensuring that we stood a safe distance from other visitors (of which there were few) at check-in.
Our attendant (also mask-clad) walked us through new COVID-19 precautions and handed us a sheet that outlined them. The precautions included: requiring guests to wear face coverings when 6 feet of separation is not feasible; offering QR codes around the property for guests to scan with updated menu and activity information; installing numerous hand sanitizer stations; performing daily temperature checks and requiring masks for employees; limiting housekeeping services to by request only to maximize distancing; and offering contactless self-serve bell cart luggage delivery. The hotel has also instituted a Cleanliness Certification and Safety Program and increased sanitation efforts resortwide.
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We were hesitant to spend much time indoors, so we centered our stay around the River Bluff Water Experience, which spans 9 acres and includes a 1,100-foot lazy river, multiple slides, a beach area and a dedicated children’s pool. At the time of our visit, all slides and water features were open, and signs across the water park reminded visitors to stay 6 feet apart.
We easily ordered dinner by the pool, then made our way to the fire pit, where we received our chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers from a gloved and masked employee named Samantha and waited our turn for the fire — due to social distancing, there was a six-person limit around the pit. (Shoutout to Samantha for swooping in with an extra graham cracker when our 5-year-old broke her first one and was on the verge of an irreparable meltdown.)
The night’s family movie offering, "Zootopia," was screened poolside, allowing guests to spread out on inflatable tubes or lawn chairs across the pool deck.
At the time of our visit, the fitness center was open, as were the spa and the resort’s 18-hole championship golf courses. Children’s activities, including the popular morning rubber duck race in the lazy river, were also offered.
Due to reduced capacity, the resort, and particularly the pool area, felt spacious and uncrowded, and social distancing throughout our stay was, thankfully, not a problem. We also appreciated efforts the hotel made to ensure safety, including individual sanitizer kits in all guest rooms.
Perhaps my favorite part of our quick trip was sipping coffee on the balcony overlooking the about-to-open lazy river and the lush Hill Country behind it with my husband as Kacey Musgraves’ "Dime Store Cowgirl" softly played on the outdoor pool speakers, our sleepy-eyed and sun-kissed kids just beginning to stir in their beds.
After months living in a virtual world filled with Zoom meetings and online portals, celebrating our milestones somewhere we loved — even in its new, socially distanced, highly sanitized state, and even if just for one night — seemed like the best gift of all.