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Puerto Rico Trip Report

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Thanks to all of you wonderful fodorites for all of your help in planning our long weekend in Puerto Rico. Thanks to you we had a wonderful time.

First I want to say that I was a little nervous about our trip after reading some mixed reviews on Puerto Rico, but we found the island to be lovely, the people warm and friendly, and we never felt unsafe.

We arrived on Friday at 2:00pm, picked up our rental car and checked into the Normandie Hotel. The Normandie is more style than substance. It has a lovely art deco appearance, the rooms are well decorated and clean (although ours had a mild musty odor - it is the tropics afterall), but a very tiny pool and almost nonexistant beach. We got an outrageously good deal on priceline, and for a quiet bed for the night and a base for exploring San Juan, the Normandie fit the bill perfectly. The lobby is lovely and the N Lounge on the roof is a nice spot to relax for a drink.

We took a cab into the old city to explore for the evening. Had a mohito at the courtyard in El Convento hotel (absolutely gorgeous). We visited the Fortress at El Morro and took a lovely sunset walk through the old gate and along the sea wall beneath the fortress. We had a fabulous dinner at Ostra Cosa. The seafood was out of this world and the tropical courtyard was so beautiful. We ate in a secluded grotto while being serenaded by coqui (tree frogs). I can't recommend this place enough. Definitely get the mussels.

We took a walk down to the cruise ship docks and checked out the casino at the Sheraton hotel. I'm not a gambler, but had a good laugh about putting my nickel into the slot machine and winning a whole $13! We watched the blackjack and poker tables for a little while and then took a cab back to the Normandie. We took a short walk over to the Caribe Hilton to check it out. It has a slightly bigger beach and a nice pool, but I was still not all that impressed. If you want real beach you really need to go down to Isla Verde or Condado, or over to the Carribean side of the island. We had a drink at the N Lounge at the Normandie and then a nice, silent night's sleep in our room - aahhhhh.

Saturday morning we drove over to the El San Juan at Isla Verde and used their parking lot. We had a wonderful (though expensive) breakfast overlooking the ocean and then walked onto the beach and found a couple of beach chairs to lounge away the day. Technically there are signs posted saying you're not supposed to do this, but nobody stopped us, and the beach itself is public. If you are less brazen you can walk past the ESJ and past the Intercontinental to where they are renting beach chairs for $4.

That afternoon we drove out to Fajardo for a tour of the bioluminescent bay in Las Cabezas nature preserve. I wish I could remember the place we stopped to eat (a simple bar and restaurant on the road to Seven Seas beach). We had meant to just have tapas before our kayak tour, but when our waiter Ramone brought out the plate with the fresh caught fish they would cook up for us we couldn't resist. Seafood croquets and red snapper in a peach sauce that were simply divine - with a couple of Caronas for $35. Well fed and happy we continued on to our kayaks. We used Las Tortugas kayak tours and our guide, Alvin was wonderful, teaching us about the mangroves and pointing out the iguanas along the way. He gave enough information to be interesting without overkill. There was only one other group of 4 with us and the 6 of us had the entire bay to ourselves while a convenient cloud cover kept the full moon out of the way. Swimming in the glowing waters is magic! On the way out we passed a group of over 40 going into the bay. I was so happy we'd picked our little intimate tour. We drove back to the Normandie and conked right out that night.

Sunday morning we drove into old San Juan for breakfast at La Bombonera. It was absolutely worth the trip. The mallorcas are heaven on earth, and with pastillos, fruit and coffee for two our breakfast was only $12. Then we checked out of the Normandie and headed off to the El Yunque rain forest - where it rained of course! We got totally soaked, but had a wonderful hike to the waterfall all the same. I got to rib my husband a bit that wasn't I smart to pack a raincoat and towel from home (he'd scoffed at me at the time!) The visitor center and gift shop at El Yunque are quite nice. From there it was a 15 minute drive to our final night at the Westin Rio Mar.

We paid less than 1/2 price for the Westin through priceline. Had we paid full price I would have been sorely disappointed with this resort. The grounds are lovely, the casino is lively and the golf course looks great (my husband had planned to play the next morning but it ended up raining all night so he cancelled his tee time rather than spend the very high grounds fees). But our room had two double beds instead of the king I'd requested and confirmed twice. It had a handicapped shower that flooded the bathroom and no bath tub. And even though my husband is Starwood Prefered club member they couldn't accomodate a room change. The drinks by the pool were overpriced and very weak. We ate dinner at the AAA 4 diamond Palio restaurant. This was horrible. The service was dismal. We had to ask for our bread twice and our wine never came. The food was completely oversalted and overcooked. To the restaurant manager's credit he tore up the check when we complained. But I would have expected better from such a pricey and well reviewed restaurant. The next morning we had a room service breakfast (terrible) and I went down to the spa to find that they had messed up my appointment time for a facial and massage. Luckily they could get me in later that afternoon, so we went to sit on the beach. The surf was too rough for swimming, but the beach itself is long and wide. Brown sand, instead of the white that you get in the carribean though. It was cloudy, but warm and relaxing to just sit at the beach.

I went to the spa and had a wonderful massage and the best facial I've ever had (Thanks Juan Carlo!), and then it was time to check out and head to the airport.

We got to the airport with plenty of time to spare, so we decided to eek out one last meal on the beach, and went over to the Intercontinental to have a delicious meal at Ciao Mediterranean Cafe, which is right on the sand.

After that it was time to bid the warm weather goodbye and board our plane back to chilly Newark!

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