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Trip Report Puerto Rico Trip Report - May, 2015

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Puerto Rico - May, 2015

This trip was to celebrate DH's 60th birthday. We chose Puerto Rico for various reasons. 1.) Our passports expired in January and we didn't want to renew at this time. 2.) DH's has back and mobility issues and going through customs and immigration as well as walking through the airport on a time crunch to get to the next gate has been an issue. 3.) We are moving to the Panhandle of Florida at the end of the year, so we will be traveling more in the US via car for awhile. 3.) Have already been to the USVI's.

We can only fly American or United to the Caribbean and since I have had major issues with American and their horrid customer service, we again choose United, which was more expensive than if we had booked through AA. Go figure. The day of departure, it was raining heavily throughout West, Central and South Texas, so of course United canceled our flight from Midland to Houston. It was set to leave at 5am. After an hour on the phone with United, we were rebooked on a 9:30am flight to Houston. We lost our direct flight from Houston to PR and was re-routed through Atlanta. Instead of arriving in PR at 4pm, which was our original schedule, we arrived at 10pm. At least we got there and in one day.

During the process of United re-booking our flight, they re-booked our return on American and proceeded to spell my first name wrong, so when I tried to check-in on-line it wouldn't let me. We spent almost an hour with a representative in the San Juan airport before they finally straightened it out and issued us boarding passes. We had a direct flight to Dallas from PR, and it never fails that AA in Dallas has to be one of the biggest messes that ever existed. We had 3 gate changes and over an hour wait past our original boarding time before we were finally off. We were talking to a group sitting next to us they have been waiting over 2 hours past their original boarding time and was on their 5th gate change. I have never heard so many announcements for gate changes ever. Hopefully, when we move to Florida we can find some better options for flying besides American and United. We love Southwest, but Southwest out of Midland is very limited on their schedules.

San Juan Marriott Stellaris Resort and Casino - We choose the Condado area due to several reports of easy walking distance to restaurants and bars and a closer drive to Old San Juan. We tend stay at All Inclusive resorts when we go to the Caribbean/Mexico, but PR does not have any. We are more pool people than beach. I booked a pool view room and was given room 233. This room was on the second floor with a balcony overlooking the pool area and right down the way from the lobby and the elevators to get to the pool and beach. It couldn't have been a more perfect location. Walking was minimal to get to the lobby, pool and beach. The room was a typical standard hotel room, with king bed, desk, one chair, standard bath with tub/shower combo, closet with safe and iron, and a mini frig with coffee station.

There is a resort fee per day. We were charged an additional $184 at check - out. I have not seen resort fees any where else except recently in Las Vegas. Really, the additional fees for the lame services that they state they are for, which comes standard with any other hotel in destinations that do not charge this, is just insulting. Just add those fees to the overall cost of the room and be done with it.

Marriott Dining - Since we arrived at 10pm on the first night, we opted to get something to eat at the Marriott. The Red Coral lounge serves a limited menu until 11pm. We had 4 Coors Light, fish tacos and burger sliders. Total = $62.00. The food was really good. We found the hotel prices to be high compared to the outside restaurants. Our server introduced us to the local beer Medella, which we really liked. Beer at the hotel was $7 to $8. Mixed drinks/martinis $15 to $16. I took a picture of a couple of pages from their menu and posted on my photo site.

Marriott Room Service - We had early morning tours on 2 days, so opted for room service. Room service starts at 7am. It really needs to start around 6am for convenience. The first day we ordered the American Breakfast, which consisted of 2 eggs any style, toast, bacon, hash browns and juice for $22. We ordered one plate and shared it. It really was enough for 2 and we had coffee from the room's coffee bar. The second day, we ordered the egg white Frittata with a side of sausage and shared it also. $33. Service was quick and efficient.

Marriott Pool - We chose the Marriott over the La Concho located down the way due to the look of the pool area. We really enjoyed the pool. There is a waterslide and it's not just for kids. There was only a handful of kids when we were at the pool and the adults were enjoying the slide just as much as the kids. I went down it several times. The slide is open from 11am to 4pm. Their is staff at the entrance to the slide for safety. The pool has a swim up bar and food can be ordered also. I just signed the check and they charged it to our room. We had Mojitos and Pina Colodas for $12 each. There are umbrellas for the chairs at the beach, but not a the pool. There are several large palm trees at the pool, so at least some shade can be found. I don't like to sit in the full sun, so umbrellas at the pool would be nice also. The weather was a little cloudy/overcast most days, so that helped. They play music at the pool that is really, really loud. I don't mind music, but it was just too loud. I prefer to read poolside, but the music was just so loud I couldn't concentrate to read. We could also hear the music while in our room. That didn't bother me as much and with the TV on, it usually drowned it out. The music begin around 11am and shut down around 6pm. The beach area was nice, but the surf was strong. We went to the beach and took a few photos, but we didn't hang out there.

The Marriott has a live band most nights. One night we listened to the "Classics". The lead singer was channeling Elvis and did a very good job singing hits from the 50's and 60's. The weekend bands consisted of Salsa and Meringa music. We went to the casino once. We like Video Poker and they had a handful of Game King VP machines with Double, Double Bonus Poker. Compared to Las Vegas, their machines are beyond tight. We can usually play in Vegas on their VP machines and hit enough 3 and 4 of kinds to play for awhile. Not here. We spent about $100 in 15 minutes and it was gone.

Down the street from the Marriott is a CVS and a Walgreens. We went to the CVS and bought a 12 pack of Medella for $9.99 and a few snacks. I brought with me a soft side insulated cooler bag that holds 10 beers and we took it to the pool with no problem. I saw other people with similar bags/coolers and several with insulated cups.

We liked the Marriott and didn't have any issues with the hotel or the area. We found the service to be very good and the staff very polite and courteous. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to anyone.
Additional Dining

Di Zucchero - Located directly across the street from the Marriott. We had the beef Carpaccio, spaghetti, lobster ravioli, and crème brulee. They had sangria 2 for 1, and we had 4. Total = $80. The food was good. The spaghetti and crème brulee was very good. The served fresh warm garlic French bread with a garlic vodka sauce, which was so good.

The Greenhouse - Located down the street from the Marriott. We had the chicken cacciatore, which was on special for $9.95, the rib eye steak with baked potato for $24.95, 2 beers, 1 soda and flan. Total = $55. The chicken cacciatore was really good. I'm not one for red sauce, but it was really tasty. I asked for sour cream or ranch dressing for the potato and was told they didn't have either.
Buns Burger Shop - Located directly across the street from the Marriott. We had a cheeseburger, foot long hot dog, Cajun fries, a vanilla milkshake and one beer. Total = $27. The food was really good.

Buenos Ayres - Located down the street from the Marriott. Turn left at Walgreens and it's located on the other side of Walgreens. We had the beef and shrimp kabobs with grilled onions and green peppers. The plates consisted of 2 of each. A salad of shredded lettuce, red onion and ranch dressing. It was all very good. It was also served with fresh garlic bread and a garlic/cilantro dipping sauce and a garlic/tomato salsa. Very tasty. We had crème brulee for dessert with fresh cream florets and it was awesome. 4 beers. Total = $58.

Cocina Abierta - Located behind the Buns restaurant. This was the worst food. We ordered the onion soup, which was terrible and the squash soup, which was barely above that. I had the Beef Wellington. The meat had a twang taste to it and the pastry was soggy. There was a small shredded lettuce and carrot salad on the plate with a horrible dressing and a dredge of some type of cream on the plate for the steak that was also horrible. Total yuck! DH ordered the pork ribs with mashed potatoes. It was better, but not by much. One soda and one water. Total = $49.
Madre Restaurant - Located in Old San Juan. We had the chicken soft tacos and the ceviche with 2 beers. The chicken in the tacos was dark meat, which I don't really care for. The ceviche was made with lime and orange juice. I prefer lime only. It was all OK, but I wouldn't go back. 2 beers. Total = $38.

La Casita Blanca (The White House) - During our City Tour, our driver took us to this restaurant. He told us if we didn't like the food here he would pay for our entire stay in Puerto Rico. When we sat down they brought us 2 cups of chicken soup, a basket of garlic French bread and a basket of fried something (not sure what it was), and 2 complimentary rum punch drinks. The menu was written on a white board in Spanish and our driver translated for us. We had the beef stew and flank steak served with rice/beans and fried plantains. For dessert, we had the best tasting flan I've ever had. 4 beers. Total = $35. The food was fabulously delicious. I couldn't believe the price was so little. I don't know if this price was typical or we got a special deal being with our driver, but I would recommend this restaurant to anyone.

La Muralla - During the El Yunge Rainforest's tour, our driver took us to La Muralla. Their was a girl cooking pork and chicken kabobs on a gas grill and then they had additional menu items to choose from. We got the chicken kabobs, which were really good. $3.00 a stick. We also got fried beef tacos, fried meat and plantain turnovers and 2 beers for $16.00. Medella Light was $2 a can. It was all very good.

Margaretville at the San Juan airport - Had a breakfast burrito a piece served with tater tots (considered hash browns). They were really good. Total = $30. (Ouch!) It was the only thing open that early that was directly by our gate, plus we always tend to eat at a Margaretville when we can find one.

Activities/Excursions - I booked all of our activities and excursions on-line before leaving. I had the hardest time finding a City and Rainforest tour that wasn't already sold out and this was 2 weeks out.

Eastwind Catamaran and Snorkel tour to Icacos island - I really wanted to take the Culebra tour instead since the snorkeling is better there, but after reading the description, it stated that it may not be appropriate for people with back issues, so we decided not to chance it. There were 49 people on the boat, which was a lot. We went to Icacos island first where we got off the boat to swim or lay on the beach. The water was very clear and calm. The beach had beautiful white sand. Then a second stop to a reef for snorkeling. The water there wasn't as clear and the reef/snorkeling was meh. The water was also a little choppy making it a challenge to snorkel. The crew served a very nice lunch of make your own sandwich with a variety of options, coleslaw, pasta salad, garbanzo bean salad, chips and fresh fruit. Also, a variety or juices and rum. Beer was $3. It was a very nice trip and we enjoyed it.

El Yunge Rainforest Tour - I booked this tour through Sunshine Tours on-line. When I received e-mail confirmation it stated to be serviced by Juan Amador of Amador Island Tours. I didn't think it was going to be a private tour, but that is how it ended up, which in hindsight was good. With DH's mobility issues we were able to go at our own place without hindering anyone else and was able to slowly get to see everything that the tour offered. Juan was fabulous and very helpful.

Old/New San Juan Tour - We also book this tour with the same company and again it was a private tour with Juan. The San Cristobal Fort was rather challenging. Lots of walking up hill and stairs. Juan was very patient with us. I think if their had been others on this tour, we would have missed a lot since we wouldn't have wanted to slow up anyone. It was a very nice tour. We saw a lot of that area of PR and Juan took us the White House Restaurant for lunch. I would definitely recommend.
Favors San Juan Food Tour - We done tours like this in other areas. This one really reminded us of the food tour we took in New Orleans. We found the architectural in San Juan to be very similar to New Orleans with the wrought iron balconies and street lanterns, but colorful painted buildings like in Aruba and Curaçao. We went to the following for food/drink tasting: Aromas Coffee House, Senor Paleta, Cafe El Punto, Spicy Caibbee herbs/spice shop, Rosa de Triana, Choco Bar and the Mezzanine. During one of the stops, we assisted in making mofongo. I'm not a fan of mofongo as I don't care much for plantains. But, the shredded chicken it was mixed with was very good. It was a very good tour to try a sample of various food/drinks in the area.

Spoon Tours - I also booked a bar tour with this company, but they canceled it due to lack of participants.

Weather - Once we got to PR, the weather was fabulous. Sunny, but a little overcast, so not too hot. It rained Saturday morning as we started our City Tour, but lasted about 30 minutes and it was gone.

Summary - We had a great time. I would like to go back again and check out the other areas of PR that we didn't get to see. I would also like to take one of the cruises out of San Juan to the Southern Caribbean Islands. It's on my future 'to-go' list. This time of May, the crowds were low and not a lot of children at the hotel. Though we found the food to be overall good, it was a little hit and miss. I still prefer the food in New Orleans and Cabo San Lucas overall. We also still prefer AI vacations as it's just less expensive. I spent twice what I would have for the same amount of time at an AI in Mexico, but sometimes we just have to pay the price to experience other destinations. I chose the Condado area due to reading that it had more restaurants/bars within walking distance of the hotels, but after seeing some of the Isla Verve area and the hotels/restaurants there, I don't think that statement is all that accurate. I think it really depends on the hotel. We saw the Intercontinental and the El San Juan hotels and there were several restaurants within walking distance to them. The beaches are also better in Isla Verde, so next time, I think I would go with it instead.

I took 330 photos including underwater snorkel photos at the reef and all we ate/drank. They can be found at:

https://kvrlvnphotogallery.shutterfly.com/pictures/10718

Click "all" at the top to just go right down through all of them without having to click multiple pages.

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