Puerto Rico Feature

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Cruising to Puerto Rico

San Juan is a home base for many cruise ships and a staple of itineraries for cruise ships sailing from Florida. It's an excellent way for first-time visitors to sample Puerto Rico, as most cruise companies offer excursions beyond Old San Juan. Some itineraries begin or end here—a chance for more extensive exploration.

Arriving in San Juan

Most cruise ships dock within a couple of blocks of Old San Juan; however, there is a second cruise pier across the bay at Isla Grande. If your ship docks here you'll need a taxi to get anywhere on the island. The Paseo de la Princesa, a tree-lined promenade beneath the city wall, is a nice place for a quick stroll—you can admire the local crafts and stop at the refreshment kiosks. Fortunately, major sights in the Old San Juan area are mere steps from the piers. Two major tourist information booths are within one block of the cruise-terminal area.

Carnival Cruises. They call themselves "fun ships" for good reason, with lots of entertainment and youthful things to do aboard. Singles, couples, children, and even older folks will enjoy these cruises. In fact, the kids' programs earn rave reviews. 888/227–6482 www.carnival.com

Celebrity Cruises. Celebrity's focus is on service, and it shows. Every aspect of your trip has been well thought out. They cater to adults more than children, so this may not be the best line for families. 800/647–2251 www.celebritycruises.com.

Holland America. The grande dame of cruise lines, Holland America has a reputation for service and elegance. This company includes San Juan on its itineraries departing from Fort Lauderdale and Tampa. 877/932–4259 www.hollandamerica.com.

Norwegian Cruise Line. Billing its relatively relaxed, family-friendly cruises as "freestyle," NCL was one of the earliest companies to specialize in the Caribbean. It boasts the youngest fleet on the planet. 866/234–7450 www.ncl.com.

Princess Cruises. Princess strives to offer affordable luxury. Its prices start out a little higher, but you get more bells and whistles (more affordable balcony rooms, nice decor, more restaurants, personalized service). It has a wide range of itineraries departing from Fort Lauderdale and San Juan. It draws a slightly older crowd. 800/774–6237 www.princess.com.

Regent Seven Seas. Aiming for the high-end market with deluxe staterooms, noteworthy speakers, and performance troupes, this company's ships are among the most sophisticated afloat. 877/505–5370 www.rssc.com.

Royal Caribbean. Royal Caribbean is known for its spacious and stylish mega-liners. In keeping with its reputation for being all things for all people, Royal Caribbean offers a huge variety of activities and services on board and more shore excursions than any other cruise line. 800/521–8611 www.royalcaribbean.com.

Seabourn. With the most luxurious vessels afloat, Seabourn specializes in intimate service and a tranquil cruise experience for the moneyed crowd, using small ships. 800/929–9391 www.seabourn.com.

Silversea. Silversea serves deluxe cruisers with small vessels renowned for exquisite decor and attentive service. Expect classical performers among the entertainers. 877/276–6816 www.silversea.com.

San Juan Best Bets

Castillo San Felipe del Morro. Explore the giant labyrinthine fort.

El Yunque National Forest. This rain forest east of San Juan is a great half-day excursion.

Casa Bacardí. Rum lovers can jump on the public ferry and then taxi over to the factory.

Old San Juan. Walk the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan.

Shopping. Within a few blocks of the port there are plenty of factory outlets and boutiques.

Although Puerto Rico is U.S. territory and no passport is required for U.S. citizens, you'll still need yours for ports of call in other Caribbean islands.

Almost all the ship's shore excursions can be arranged more cheaply with local tour operators. Taxis are also available near the dock. Within the city, metered cabs charge an initial $1.75; after that, it's about 10¢ for each additional 1/19 mi. You can negotiate with taxi drivers for specific trips, and you can hire a taxi for as little as $36 per hour for sightseeing tours. You can also prearrange a rental car if you'd prefer to drive yourself, but be sure you leave plenty of time to return it before your ship sails.

Most mainland cell phones will work in Puerto Rico, but that is not usually the case while at sea. Check with the cruise company before setting out.

Updated: 2013-10-16

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