The minute I purchased the flights to Orlando, I knew it was a mistake.
Sure, I was eager to take to the skies again after COVID-19 brought the world of travel –– and our lives as we knew them –– to a halt. But when you have a family of eight, including six kids between the ages of 5 and 12, sometimes simply getting everyone through the front door can be a Herculean task.
Did I really want to spend the wee hours of my birthday –– I was to turn 41 the day of our outbound flight from Austin –– standing in security lines, breaking up sibling squabbles and dousing little hands in sanitizer? Or would I rather be lounging poolside at a Hill Country resort, cold drink in hand, as my kids happily splashed in a sparkling pool?
If I’ve learned any lesson from the past year of quarantine, it’s that there is no shame in being honest with myself.
Orlando? Cancelled it. JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country? Booked it.
Tucked amid 600 acres of verdant hills and home to a 9-acre waterpark, two 18-hole championship golf courses and an indulgent 26,000-square-foot spa, the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa is a multifaceted gem beloved by many Texans because it’s so hospitable to various ages, group configurations and types of travelers. Our summer pilgrimage to the resort is probably the annual trip that my kids look forward to the most, and one of the only places on earth where they don’t fight constantly.
After grabbing welcome cocktails that are included in the resort fee from Crooked Branch bar, we bee-lined to the River Bluff Water Experience, which, between its lazy river, tube chutes, beach area and body slides, feels like a miniature Schlitterbahn.
We always start in the kiddie pool, where three easy-going slides, a zero-depth beach entry and a large, friendly armadillo water feature offered a welcoming start to the afternoon. From there, we tested out the rollicking 275-foot-long tube slides, which offer both panoramic views of the Hill Country from the top of the 35-foot-tall water tower and snakelike twists and turns that brought squeals of delight from our kids.
The most exhilarating part of the water park, though, are the body slides, which, from the ground, both appear to drop straight down. They can reach up to 20 miles per hour, making them among the most heart-pounding water experiences we’ve ever tried, and the thrill of having conquered these towering tubes of terror –– aside from our 5-year-old, who didn’t quite reach the height requirement –– was worth all of the trepidation at the top.
Dinner from the poolside Rivertop Grill was the perfect end to a first day at the resort. I’m not sure it was their excitement about being there or the appetite they had worked up after a fun day in the sun, but the kids all said they had the best cheeseburgers of their lives that evening. I can’t disagree.
The next day, we would do countless loops around the 1,200-foot lazy river, build sand castles on the on-site beach and watch our girls test out new cheer stunts in the water. As the bright afternoon sun grew softer, we found ourselves enjoying perfectly crisp chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and country gravy at signature restaurant Cibolo Moon as our kids played within eyesight on the great lawn. Finally, we watched flames kiss the marshmallows we held on two-pronged skewers over the open fire pit during nightly s’mores, a messy, sticky and delicious tradition we can never get enough of.
If you want to steal away to the spa, a round of golf or a relaxing hot-tub soak in the adults-only section, the property also hosts various children’s programming that may include everything from decorating your own inner tube to building your own birdhouse.
You could easily spend an entire week at the resort and never leave. But if you want to get a taste of what San Antonio has to offer, it’s a quick 30-minute drive to see many of the famous downtown attractions. One morning, we took in the historic Alamo (we didn’t go in, as reservations are required), strolled the River Walk and window-shopped at the historic Pearl and still made it back to the resort by lunch.
Travel with a family of eight is rarely easy. But at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country, it actually is.
As we tucked the kids in after a packed and sun-filled day, I realized I couldn’t have asked for a better place to spend my birthday.
And as I blew out the candle on my birthday cupcake, I couldn’t help but wish for more weekends like this one.
If You Go
The JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa is a one-hour, 15-minute drive from central Austin.
Tuck yourself into one of the resort’s 1,002 guest rooms, including 85 suites, that feature plush bedding, gorgeous décor and stunning views of the rolling Hill Country landscape.
If you’re traveling as a family, the River Bluff Water Experience, which spans 9 action-packed acres, is a must do.
Whether you’re craving a juicy steak or want to grab a quick cocktail, the resort has a half-dozen restaurants ready to suit the needs of its diverse groups of travelers.