San Juan and Vieques: Suna nd Fun!

Mar 26th, 2012, 01:14 PM
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Join Date: Sep 2003
Posts: 1,762
San Juan and Vieques: Suna nd Fun!

This I was our second trip to Puerto Rico and we have become more enchanted with it as a Winter vacation destination. This year we broke the trip up to 3 days in San Juan, 2 on Vieques and the remaining 2 back on the main Island. First time on Vieques and we will definitely return.

San Juan, or more correctly Carolina:

We stayed at the El San Juan Resort and Casino. I slight step up from last years stay at the Caribe Hilton. The hotel is large with a tower and a few garden rooms. The Tower rooms have been re-done in recent years in a Philippe Stark meets Puerto Rico kind of look, lot’s of white punctuated with bright colors. All in all relaxing at the end of a day in the sun. We did note that some rooms are in considerably better shape than others, suggesting that the renovation had been done over a long period of time. Avoid the 3rd floor rooms! The 9th is ideal for views. I did read that the balconies in the tower have been enclosed and made part of the interior rooms. This seems plausible in that the rooms are very spacious. The garden rooms have not been re-done, and their last “re-do” was a British classic plantation look…very tired at this point, but many do retain balconies/patios.

The hotel offers several dining options and as you would expect they all are fairly pricey. It’s a resort hotel. The Japanese restaurant does some nice sushi, the steak houses is a Palm, there is a good Italian restaurant as well as Puerto Rican Fusion option and a recently re-opened BBQ place outdoors on the 10th floor (ironically next to the gym). All in, the food is good…just expensive…. There’s also a Starbucks!

Around the corner from the hotel is Platos an “authentic” Puerto Rican restaurant. Food was very good, but try as I might I just can’t get into Mufongo…..

We did also eat at BLT steak house at The Ritz Carlton. The meal was a huge disappointment. Here’s the problem, they take a beautiful nicely aged cut of prime beef and then pack it with herbs and salt while cooking. The net product is one where the flavor of the beef is completely lost – quite a shame.

The El San Juan does of a hint of faded glory, but it is a very real part of it’s charm. The lobby is truly a work of art. There were quite a lot of noisy Spring Breakers in the Hotel. Not surprising these days. Kudos to security who with one phone call was at the doors of rowdy guests within minutes and brought the noise to a swift halt (we had to call on 2 different nights…(1 AM is my limit for noise).


First trip and definitely not the last. We stayed at the W Retreat and Spa and based on my observations of other lodging options it is really the only option. The other choices are a bit more adventuress than I like…..something about bars on the windows makes me nervous.

The W is fabulous, but not in a traditional W way. It is a retreat, very relaxed and casual. Reminds me of the higher end lodges you might stay at on safari. They have a single restaurant “Mix”, with good variety of food items and strong delivery. Rooms are HUGE and have the added feature of mesh netting on tracks, allowing you to create rooms within your room based on your “whim”. They are “dark” in that lighting could be a bit better… but it’s by design, relaxing is the point….. The pools are wonderful with sweeping ocean views. There are a few wild horses on the property who come to visit… keep your slider closed…..

Note: become a Starwood Preferred Guest before you book, you can get rate reductions and discounts on food and beverages.

Both beaches are very private with an active surf…and a massage at the beach is a great treat!

We went on the Bio luminescent bay tour that is offered at the hotel and managed by a third party. Quite the adventure, the ride to the bay for us was in the back of a gateless pick-up through a “jungle” on a bumpy road (yes I was sure no one would ever hear from us again)…. But the late night Kayaking was well worth the ride…. It’s a fascinating experience!

One dinner outside of the retreat at Conuco which is in the town of Isabella Secundo. EXCELLENT local food, The whole fried snapper was spectacular! And the coffee flan almost made me cry it was so good! This is a must do spot for a good local meal!

We opted for air travel from San Juan to Vieques. The ferry service has been spotty in recent years and we did not want to risk it. Vieques Air Link provides very easy service from San Juan Isla Grande airport. This is a very small airport just across the water from Old Town. Hint: at least as of now there is no TSA screening, so don’t worry about liquids…like the bottle of rum you may want to take with you! Baggage weight is limited, so read the VAL details carefully. On our return a storm kicked up and we wre delayed. We learned the VAL flies visual/instruments, the y do not have the sophisticated equipment Cape Air has. We were grounded. But after an hour the VAL implemented plan B, which was a 10 minute hop in a Piper, during a break in the weather, directly across to Puerto Rico (rather than flying the length of the island in a storm to San Juan). They then provided cab service back to our hotels. It took about an hour longer, but we got there and saw some great beach scenery along the way. Some of the passengers were staying at the newly opened W St Regis….. fantastic property, but very remote to everything. Lesson learned for others, don’t plan to fly out of Vieques the day of your departure from San Juan… it could be risky.

Back at the El San Juan….gambled….. broke even after several hours of Roulette and Black Jack!

Home to an early Spring in Connecticut!
seafox is offline  
Mar 26th, 2012, 07:20 PM
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 363
Thanks for sharing your report! I am secretly counting down the days for our arrival to Fajardo, Puerto Rico. This will be our first trip to PR and I am still in the planning stages. Hearing about your experience to the biobay is kind of what I am expecting; hoping for the best.

If all goes well, we will venture to Viequese our second trip to PR and will bookmark your comments.

Thanks again
ruwithme is offline  
Mar 27th, 2012, 11:15 AM
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 481
Great trip report and thanks for all the insight and tips!
lenlu is offline  
Mar 27th, 2012, 02:13 PM
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Posts: 5,141
Seafox, great report and isn't Puerto Rico perfect for a winter break! I miss Vieques.
The Westin W resort wasn't open last time we were there and we rented a house in Esperanza not far from the Malecon so I think by your description we were adventurous!

Next time you're there check out the flan lady in Esperanza. She sells flan from her home and it's very good, too good I think!
sassy_cat is offline  
Mar 28th, 2012, 02:57 PM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Posts: 3,648
Enjoyed reading your report. We've never spent more than a night in San Juan but I've always wanted to explore further, especially Vieques and the Western side of Puerto Rico.

This is very helpful. And a good tip about not planning to leave Vieques on the day of your departure from SJU. It is such an easy place to reach from the East coast.

Would you stay at the El San Juan again or try a new place?
cw is offline  
Sep 6th, 2012, 07:29 PM
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What house did you rent? I have no desire to stay in a resort.
Deb15July is offline  
Sep 7th, 2012, 05:53 AM
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Deb, here's a link to my trip report on Vieques. The house was called Des Moines.
sassy_cat is offline  
Sep 12th, 2012, 07:10 PM
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 1,366
thanks for posting. We were trying to pick a destination for a trip in March next year and I had forgotten about Vieques. I looked at the W and we may be heading there.
mnag is offline  
Sep 26th, 2012, 04:59 AM
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 2
There are A LOT of excellent options for places to stay on Vieques beyond the W (which we all love). But there are also other options - the Malecon House in Esperanza or Tamerindo - both lovely properties. You can also rent a Villa or Home for the week - there are a lot of spectular options (this is what most repeat visitor do). Shop around on-line - there is something for everyone's needs and taste from simple to uber luxurious.

Yes - there are "Rajas" or bars on a lot of the properties window - this common throughout Puerto Rico. Many of the beautiful homes are used by their owners only seasonly - the rajas are both for security and for protection of the glass from flying objects (like coconuts) during storms.

There great options for things to do this season - there is going to be a 47 foot power catamaran offering sunset cruises, recreation cruises and a "Boat and Breakfast" option. There is horseback riding on the beach, a Stand Up Paddle company starting and of course - diving, and the famouse biobay.
VSJComments is offline  
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