Where can you find a beautiful resort, thrilling water park, luxurious spa, and championship golf course—all without leaving the confines of the city limits? There’s only one place, and you needn’t look any further than just three miles off of 281N.
Nestled in the hills off of TPC Parkway just past the community of Cibolo Canyon, the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa—the world’s largest JW Marriott erected to date—boasts 1,003 rooms, two award-winning golf courses, an extravagant spa center, six amazing restaurants, and the most awesome resort water park in town.
My family and I had the pleasure of sampling this incredible venue for a one-day mini-staycation of our own last week, and let me tell you, it did not disappoint. In fact, I literally don’t remember a 24-hour period when the three of us have had more fun—and we merely scratched the surface of all the JW has to offer. Here is a closer look at our experience, as well as some general info as to why I’m convinced the JW Marriott is the perfect staycation spot for SA families.
From the minute you drive up to the JW Marriott, you’ll become instantly aware that this promises to be unlike any other resort you’ve ever experienced in San Antonio. The grounds are immaculately kept and manicured, and the staff provides white-glove service that you’d expect at only the finest hotels in the world. Enter the lobby through the front walkway, and you’re immediately struck by its beauty, grandeur, and Southwest charm, with gorgeous marble floors, exquisite overhead wooden beams, dozens of oversized lantern-style chandeliers, and towering stone fireplaces that combine to provide a relaxed yet elegant ambiance. We arrived a few hours before the usual check-in time, so our room was not quite ready, and yet the front desk was more than accommodating, storing all of our bags for us and providing us with a temporary card that would allow us pool and room charge access well before the 4:00 P.M. check-in time. After checking in, we trekked to the beautiful downstairs lobby, picked up our wristbands for the River Bluff Water Experience, and headed outside. Greeted by a giant rock water fountain and a stunning landscape of flowers and South Texas greenery, we made our way down the walkway to the pool area for our family sampling of the River Bluff Water Experience, the JW’s private water park.
RIVER BLUFF WATER EXPERIENCE
The JW’s water park is flat-out amazing and hands down more enjoyable than any other hotel/resort water park I’ve experienced. The park itself, dubbed the River Bluff Water Experience, sprawls across six acres of beautiful landscape and is designed by one of SeaWorld’s architects. It houses an enormous stretch of main pools, all of which are no deeper than 4 ½ feet—with some including zero depth, beach-style entry areas for even the tiniest water lovers to enjoy. Gorgeous rock cabanas line the main pool, which is situated along the right side of the park. Available for rental, the cabanas are draped and furnished and include their own private wait staff, a mini-refrigerator stocked with sodas and bottled water, an exclusive snack buffet, and eight private chaise lounges, half of which are partially submerged in the pool so that guests can relax in the confines of their own cabana space while cooling off in the water. Hundreds of loungers with side tables and market umbrellas surround the winding pools, and in true resort fashion, attendants will deliver cocktail and food orders right to your personal poolside space. While complimentary life jackets are available for all guests outside the Rivertop grill, lifeguards patrol all of the pools constantly, and I can personally vouch that they know what they’re doing, as we witnessed rescue drills at least two or three times during our stay.
A 1,100-foot lazy river—with a maximum depth of 3 ft. 0 in.—circles the entire park, so you and your family can float until your heart’s content. Double- and single-style tubes are available but not required for the lazy river. And even better: There is no height requirement, so even families with babies or young toddlers can enjoy this relaxing experience.
Located next to the Rivertop grill atop a 35-foot platform, the twin 275-ft. Acequia tube slides are perfect for guests looking for a little adventure in the midst of a low-key day at the pool. (Tip: The slide to the left is a little faster and fully enclosed so that it’s dark for almost the entire duration of the ride, whereas the tube chute on the right is almost entirely open-top except for a small section at the very beginning. Just a heads-up for those with younger kids who might be intimidated by speed and darkness.) The third slide, the Pedernales, is located behind the kids’ pool area. Completely open-top and the slowest of the three, it utilizes lower gradients and higher water volumes to recreate an experience reminiscent of a natural river. Plus, it has the added bonus of ending up in its own separate section of the lazy river that includes waterfalls and sprinkler fun. All three slides require kids to be 42” for single tubes; those between 36”–42” may ride in a tandem tube when accompanied by an adult over 42”.
The JW also houses a kids’ pool area with zero-depth water, three miniature kids’ slides, geyser-style sprinklers, water cannons, and more. Geared toward those six and under, the children’s pool is a great place for adults to relax poolside while kids play under the supervision of trained lifeguards. And for those looking to visit the JW Marriott without their little ones in tow, guests can also enjoy a gorgeous adults-only pool and hot tub with an absolutely stunning view of the AT&T Oaks golf course.
In addition to the pools and attractions, the River Bluff Water Experience also offers a menagerie of poolside crafts and in-pool activities to keep the little ones busy. For example, temporary airbrush tattoos are available in a variety of designs and colors next to the Rivertop grill, and kids will delight in decorating their own inner tube for use in the River Bluff Water Experience (additional fees apply). And, for guests staying on Sunday mornings, check out the Sunday Morning Duck Races at the activity pool, where kids can decorate and race their rubber duckies to compete for special prizes. It’s a super fun family experience that is free of charge for all guests.
The River Bluff Water Experience is open from 8:00 A.M.–10:00 P.M. daily, while activities (e.g., lazy river, slides, kids pool) are available from 9:00 A.M.–8:00 P.M. during the summer. (Hours vary depending on the season.) Pool access is controlled via colored wristbands that you may pick up outside High Velocity sports bar and restaurant after checking in. Four wristbands are provided per room, and wristbands are non-replaceable, so make sure to keep yours on at all times during your stay. Outside food and drinks are not allowed into the area, but wait staff is constantly on hand taking drink and food orders to keep guests comfortable, hydrated, and happy. Tip: The pool area can get a little slippery at times, so be sure to bring some water shoes. However, there’s no need to bring a towel to the JW—you can pick up as many of their trademark turquoise-and-white striped pool towels as you like next to the Rivertop grill, courtesy of the resort.
Our Experience: So much fun! Jeff, Harper, and I had a blast on the lazy river and swimming in the large pools, and we each enjoyed taking a turn on the tube slides. Harper shied away from the close-top tube chute but rode the open-air slides over and over. I thought that perhaps at age five she would be too old to enjoy the children’s pool, but that wasn’t the case at all. We spent at least an hour each day in the kids’ pool area; it was the perfect spot for Jeff & I to take a break and relax with a cocktail while Harper maneuvered the small slides and “shot enemy targets” along the lazy river with the water cannons (possibly her favorite part!). When we visited the main pool in the morning, one of the JW staff members spent at least 30 minutes playing organized pool games with the kids (e.g., Sharks & Minnows, Noodle Races, and Golf Ball Treasure Hunts). Harper loved this, and Jeff & I were impressed with how wonderfully the staff handled the kids. This particular staff member even remembered Harper’s name and went out of her way to say hello hours later when we bumped into her elsewhere in the water park.
RANGE RIDER KIDS CLUB
Designed with both kids and parents in mind, the JW Marriott’s Range Riders Kids Club is a program that provides daily activities and entertainment for kids ages 4–12 years old. Open from 9:00 A.M.–5:00 P.M, the Range Rider Kids Club is overseen by well-trained, energetic staff members who provide an endless array of fun activities to keep kids busy and entertained. Daily activities at the Range Riders Kids Club vary from season to season but incorporate San Antonio’s Southwest culture through crafts, creative activities, scavenger hunts, Texas trivia, and physical activities such as hide-and-seek, etc. The cost is $12/child per hour, and lunch or dinner may be added into a child’s itinerary for an additional $10.
For those looking to enjoy an adults-only evening, the JW Marriott offers an evening drop-off program as well. Kids’ Night Out takes place at the Range Riders Kids Club and centers around a different theme each night:
Sundays—Lift-off Space Adventure: Kids will have a blast as they make homemade Play-Doh and space monster puppets, play Alien vs. Monster flag tag, and enjoy a space-themed movie.
Mondays—Kids’ Sports Night: Kids will have a ball making sports key chains, sand art, and team pennants, playing volleyball and team flag tag, and finishing the evening with a sports-themed flick.
Tuesdays—Lights, Camera, Action (Hollywood Night): Children will enjoy games such as pin-the-tail-on-the-Hollywood-donkey, host a disco dance party, create a paparazzi picture frame, and finish the evening off with a movie.
Wednesdays—Sweet Candy Kids’ Night: Kids will sweeten to the idea of making art creations via the Pucker Powder Station, candy necklaces, and a candy flower craft; the evening will conclude with a sugary sweet movie.
Thursdays—Under the Sea Kids’ Night: Activities will include seaweed limbo, bubble contests, and mermaid races. After making a message in a bottle and completing their choice of a crab or jellyfish craft, kids will wind down with an ocean-themed flick.
Fridays—Wild West Night: Little buckaroos will enjoy activities such as the Texas Tangle, the Howdy Rowdy Rodeo, the Texas Tater Game, and the Wild West Water Showdown. Country crafts—make your own bandana, decorate a cowboy hat, and horseshoe art—will keep everyone busy before settling down with a classic western kids’ movie.
Saturdays—Super Hero Night: Kids will create super hero masks and capes that they can wear through the super hero obstacle course, while playing super hero bingo, and during puppet theater play. The end of the evening will be “saved” for a super hero-themed film.
Kids’ Night Out at the JW Marriott is offered daily from 6:00 P.M.–10:00 P.M. The cost is $65/child and includes dinner. Reservations are required, and parents must remain on the JW property at all times during their children’s stay at Kids’ Night Out.
Our Experience: Our experience with the Kids’ Night Out program couldn’t have been better. My husband dropped off Harper and her friend, Lyla, at 6:00 P.M. sharp, and was pleasantly surprised when the girls were allowed to select an item of their choosing for dinner directly after checking in. (Harper opted for a grilled cheese, fruit, and apple juice, and made sure to let me know that the grilled cheese sandwiches I usually prepare at home are not nearly as delicious as the JW’s. Thanks, kiddo.) Harper and Lyla stayed at the Kids’ Night Out program while Jeff and I double-dated with some friends at the on-site steakhouse (more on that later). We returned to pick up our girls at 9:35ish, and Harper was genuinely a little miffed at us that we’d returned earlier than our 10:00 P.M. deadline—you know your child has had an absolute blast somewhere when they are upset to have to leave! I asked Harper what she did during Kids’ Night Out, and she eagerly explained that she and Lyla made homemade Play-Doh creations, created art projects, and designed a solar system with scaled model “planets.” They also held a “freeze dance” competition, camped in a two-person tent, and had their nails painted in a color of their choosing by one of the Range Rider staff members. After dinner, in accordance with the space theme, they settled down in cozy beanbag chairs to watch “Space Jam” on a projection screen. When I asked her to describe her favorite part of the JW’s Kids Night Out program, she said, “All of it. It’s impossible to choose.”
ADDITIONAL KIDS’ ACTIVITIES
In addition the Rough Riders Kids Club and Kids’ Night Out, the JW Marriott goes the extra mile to provide a unique and incredible experience for kids through a variety of other classes and activities.
Channel your inner-Wyatt Earp and witness live roping demonstrations and ranch skills taught by a real cowboy. Get up close and personal with live animals from all around the world with the JW’s Zoomagination Wild Animal Experience. Check out the Bound Outdoors® nature experience for hikes through the naturalist landscape, stargazing, nature walks, fossil-digging, and geocaching. And finish the day off by roasting marshmallows and making s’mores with the staff. All of the activities mentioned above are complimentary to guests, but for a base fee, you can take the fun one step further with classes, tours, and other entertainment options perfectly suited for your family.
Does your child dabble in the performing arts? Check out “Inside the Little Actors Studio,” a class that promotes confidence and creative expression through stage games and performance activities (for ages 4–12, $35/child).
Is your daughter a budding ballerina? Consider the JW’s “The Making of a Prima Ballerina” class (ages 4–12, $35/child), where your daughter will learn basic ballet moves from trained dance instructors. Girls who sign up will receive a pink tutu, tiara, wand, and ballet slipper socks, and even perform a short dance at the end of the class.
Or take some time out for a “Mommy & me” painting session at The Royal Canvas, where you and your child can have a blast engaging your artistic sides. All ages are welcome, but under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. Cost is $30/painting.
This is just a smattering of experiences the JW Marriott has to offer. For more information on activities and availability, pick up a weekly activity schedule in the main lobby.
Celebrate an upcoming holiday at the JW Marriott for an experience you’ll never forget. Enjoy pumpkin crafts on Halloween; participate in a resort egg hunt and visit the Easter bunny during Easter; but for the ultimate holiday experience, don’t miss the JW’s Christmas spectacular. Dubbed the JW Hill Country Christmas, this month-long celebration features complimentary nightly Christmas light illumination shows, carolers, and a polar plunge for guests brave enough to dare the single unheated resort pool. Kids will delight in visiting Santa’s Workshop, where they can write a letter to Kris Kringle (to which he may reply during your stay!), meet the JW elves for storytime, and enter the holiday card contest. For additional costs, guests can participate in a Gingerbread Craft Workshop, arrange for kids to be “tucked in” each night by one of the JW elves, enjoy brunch with Mr. and Mrs. Claus, and take pictures with Santa himself!
The JW Marriott is home to six on-site restaurants, each with its own unique design and menu. Located to the left of the downstairs lobby, Cibolo Moon, the resort’s main restaurant, features a menu showcasing the authentic tastes of Mexico, Germany, Louisiana, and the Texas Hill Country. The breakfast buffet is to die for—with cooked-to-order omelets, Belgian waffles, French toast, pancakes, made-from-scratch pastries, tacos, and of course fresh fruit and granola for those looking to stay on the healthier side. While known for its breakfast/brunch, Cibolo Moon boasts an amazing lunch and dinner menu as well.
The ultimate spot for sports fans, High Velocity features American fare and a full bar with over 20 homemade local brews on tap. Stop by to check out the amazing 120-foot video wall for a unique look at all the sports action, or snag a booth with a private screen so you can enjoy an up-close view of the game of your choice.
For upscale dining, look no further than 18 Oaks, located inside the TPC Clubhouse and overlooking the 18th greens of both TPC golf courses. The prime cuts and traditional steakhouse fare pair with a gorgeous golf course view to create a delicious dining experience that oozes with both elegance and charm. However, 18 Oaks employs a resort casual dress code—no jacket required—so you needn’t worry about having to over-fancy yourself for the occasion. 18 Oaks is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; reservations are highly recommended.
The perfect spot to drop in for a light lunch or pre-dinner cocktail, Crooked Branch is located in the center of the gorgeous downstairs lobby. Serving small plates, appetizers, and a variety of wines by the glass, Crooked Branch is open for both lunch and dinner.
Take a break from the water at the casual, open-air Rivertop in the middle of the JW’s water park. Whether you’re looking to sample a signature frozen cocktail or stop in for a burger, salad, or sandwich, the Rivertop boasts a full bar and quality poolside fare that will leave you refueled for more fun in the sun.
Located in the luxurious Lantana Spa, Replenish is the ideal venue for a relaxing lunch following a morning spa treatment. Serving healthy, organic lunch cuisine, Replenish offers a tranquil atmosphere with amazing views of the pool and outside cabanas.
And for those whose day is not complete without their morning specialty coffee, the JW Marriott houses its very own Starbucks, located just across from the lobby gift shop.
Our Experience: Given that our staycation lasted only 24 hours, we weren’t able to test out all of the JW’s on-site restaurants, but those that we had the pleasure of sampling did not disappoint. After dropping off Harper at the Kids’ Night Out program, my husband & I joined some close friends and ventured over to 18 Oaks, the JW’s signature steakhouse. A beautiful stone building warmly decorated with a stunning view of the TPC golf course, 18 Oaks promised to be amazing dining experience from the start. The service was spectacular, and our meal was to die for. We sipped cocktails and munched on 18 Oaks’ delicious freshly baked bread before placing our appetizer orders—Jeff & I shared an order of Seared Gulf Crab Cakes while our friends enjoyed a Wedge Salad and Lobster Bisque. We ordered our entrees an hour later, soaking up our adults time away, confident that our children were having just as much fun as we were. For entrees, I ordered the Wagyu 8 oz. Filet Mignon with Peppercorn Sauce, cooked medium plus, while Jeff selected the 16 oz. Bone-in Ribeye, cooked medium rare. Our friends opted for a Smoked Berkshire Pork Chop and a Slow-Baked Seared Scottish Salmon with rye bread crust. Sides are served family style at 18 Oaks—large enough for at least two people to share—so we each ordered our own: Yukon Gold Puree, Goat Cheese Gratin, Baked Mac & Cheese, and Grilled Asparagus with lemon and olive oil. Prior to the meal, the waiter came around the table and displayed a small box of assorted steak knives: stainless steel- or wooden-handled, serrated or smooth, the choice was ours. It was a nice touch, one that made each of us feel honored and appreciated—something the JW knows how to do very well.
My husband & I both agreed that our steaks were some of the best we’d ever had (which is saying a lot, as I’m married to a steakhouse lover), bursting with flavor and cooked to perfection. The salmon and chop earned rave reviews from our friends as well. Following a few delicious desserts—a Warm-Centered Chocolate Cake and a unique twist on your typical Crème Brûlée—we savored a final cup of coffee and casually strolled the hotel grounds before heading back to Range Rider Kids Club to retrieve our children from the Kids’ Night Out program. It was a truly memorable evening and experience, and Jeff & I both vowed to return to 18 Oaks again the next time we have a special occasion to celebrate.
Looking for some time to unwind after a busy morning with the kids at the pool? Head over to the JW Marriott’s Lantana Spa, a 26,000-square foot wellness center featuring 30 treatment rooms—including two couples treatment suites with fireplaces, as well as multiple secluded outdoor massage rooms—a private, lagoon-style pool, steam rooms and saunas, a nail salon, and fitness facility, not to mention its own boutique and Replenish bistro. Take advantage of one of the Lantana Spa’s signature massages or body treatments, enjoy one of ten distinct facials, or perhaps just stop in for a relaxing manicure or pedicure. With a luxurious atmosphere and only the most knowledgeable therapists, the Lantana Spa ensures that your senses will surrender to the tranquil environment right from the start. Begin your journey at Lantana with the Ritual of Los Siete Nudos (“The Seven Knots”), wherein you will be given a piece of red ribbon upon entering the spa. Inspired by Native American healers, the tradition implores you to tie seven knots in the ribbon—one for each worry—with the seventh knot completing a perfect circle. After finishing your spa experience, you’ll leave your ribbon—and, symbolically, your worries—behind as you start the day rejuvenated and renewed.
Golfers (and/or golf-loving husbands!) won’t want to miss an opportunity to tee it up at the JW Marriott’s two premier 18-hole golf courses. One of only two TPC—that is, Tournament Players Club—courses in Texas and sprawling across 2,800 acres of rolling Texas Hill Country, this is where the pros play.
Featuring sweeping oak trees and pristinely manicured greens, TPC San Antonio includes two championship courses: the AT&T Oaks Course and the AT&T Canyons Course, available only to TPC members and guests of the JW Marriott. While similar in surroundings and beauty, the two courses are distinctive in their design and difficulty. A challenging course for even the most skilled golfer, the 72-par, 7,435-yard AT&T Oaks Course features deep bunkers, water hazards, and narrow, tree-lined fairways. Designed by the legendary Greg Norman and Sergio Garcia, the Oaks Course has served as the venue for the PGA TOUR’s Valero Texas Open every spring since its debut in 2010. By contrast, the AT&T Canyons Course—a 72-par, 7,406-yard course suitable for golfers of every skill level—showcases natural terrain, wide fairways, and amazing panoramic views. Constructed by Pete Dye, the Canyons Course hosts the Champions Tour’s AT&T Championship every October.
Both courses lie adjacent to a 700-acre nature preserve, so there are no buildings or houses to distract from the breathtaking natural landscape. An added bonus are the golf carts, which are equipped with GPS technology that allows golfers to “fly over” every hole before making the appropriate club selection. Forgot your clubs? No problem. The pro shop provides top-brand clubs available for rental should you need them.
In addition, TPC San Antonio includes a 23-acre practice facility, complete with two putting greens and a driving range, as well as world-class instruction at the TOURAcademy. Lessons at the TOURAcademy are available for golfers of any skill level—and kids are welcome. In fact, TPC San Antonio hand-picks instructors to work with little ones and devotes a separate section of its TOURAcademy specifically to juniors, providing lessons, golf camps, clinics, and after-school programs to even the youngest golfers.
Fees for play vary depending on the tee-time and season, but during our staycation we saw signs in the JW lobby for heavily discounted afternoon tee-times. To request more information on pricing or book a tee-time, simply check with the desk during your stay or call (210) 491-5806. Whether you’re looking to hit the links yourself, earn Wife of the Year by booking your husband a tee-time, or further your child’s golf game, one thing is for sure: The JW Marriott’s golf experience is unmatched in San Antonio.
Whoever coined the phrase “it’s all in the details,” surely must’ve been talking about San Antonio’s JW Marriott. Every inch of the resort is beautifully designed and maintained, with thoughtful consideration to both San Antonio’s rich culture and its surrounding landscape. From its amazing pool and water park to the plethora of kids’ activities, the luxurious spa to the immaculate golf course, the six unique dining venues to the attentive detail to guests’ every need, the JW Marriott provides families with an unforgettable resort experience.
Being a mom is hardly a glamorous job—between the piles of laundry, dirty dishes, kids dismantling your house, and complaints of summer boredom—but I think all moms deserve a little indulgence from time to time. Spending a weekend, or even just a night, at the JW Marriott gives you the chance to take a break from the everyday stresses of motherhood and feel welcomed, pampered, and catered to. I returned home refreshed and renewed by our short break from reality, and I couldn’t have dreamed up a more perfectly suited staycation spot than the one literally six miles away from our house.
To make your reservation today, visit the JW Marriott online or call (210) 276-2500.