Thursday, May 6, 2010

Girls Getaway to Puerto Rico - Day 1

Puerto Rico is 100 miles long by 35 miles wide, and as a result of its geographical position in the center of the arc of the Antilles, the island is essentially a crossroads of Hispanic and Anglo cultures. Close to 4 million people live on the "Island of Enchantment," with more than a million in the greater San Juan metropolitan area alone. It is a vibrant, bilingual, multicultural society, which has been molded by Spanish, African, Indian and U.S. influences. With easy flights from the U.S. and no passport needed for travel, Puerto Rico is a great option for the perfect getaway.

For leisure travelers with varying budgets looking for a convenient vacation, I took a closer look at Puerto Rico and spent one day vacationing on a budget and one day vacationing in luxury. Here’s what I found:

I arrived at the San Juan Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino Sunday evening. While most hotels look like ghost towns on Sundays, the Marriott is alive and packed with people in the lobby. Every Thursday - Sunday night the Marriott hosts live music in its lobby bar, which can hold about 500 people. It is common to see locals, as well as hotel guests, partying well into the early morning hours at this hip hangout.

Monday was our budget day, Tony picked us up and drove us into town and to his office at Rent the Bicycle. Tony, and his wife Nancy, own and operate this bicycle tour company, which can accommodate groups from 2-100. We tested out our bikes, fastened our gray helmets and we were off! Tony and Nancy escorted us through Old San Juan and to one of the town’s oldest cafes, Cafe Mallorca, which has some of the best breakfast (and at reasonable prices) you can find. We fueled up on the day’s most important meal and were ready for some serious peddling.

We rode to some of the city’s most beautiful ocean views and historic sites, including Castillo San Cristobal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro. We also stopped at Don Q’s Rum Store for a tasting. Who knew there were some many kinds of rum available? We convinced ourselves we were there for “quality control” and took our job very seriously ;). I tried the Mojito Rum and loved it! We also got to try a cherry limber for the first time...anyone know what that is?

During our ride, a group of us stopped to wait for the others. While we were waiting a small kitten emerged from under a parked car. Shelley and I melted when she meowed. After looking for its mother (or any other cats), we placed our new friend in Shelley’s basket and re-joined our group. Since she also had gray on her head, we named her Helmet, and she is now the official mascot for Rent the Bicycle and a member of Tony and Nancy’s family. When you visit Puerto Rico, be sure to check on Helmet for us.

After our ride and working up an appetite, we stopped for lunch at Restaurant El Jibarito, which serves some authentic Puerto Rican delights. It is located in the charming Old San Juan downtown, where the brick streets are lined with colorful buildings that house shops, art galleries, restaurants and more.

We arrived back at the hotel for some R&R at their beautiful beach and pool. The Marriott is located directly on Condado Beach, which is absolutely beautiful. In addition to the beach, they have a huge pool (several), complete with fun slide, as well as a separate children’s pool. A new and unique feature at the hotel is the their YouTube concierge, which will stop by the pool area, video tape you on vacation and upload it so you can share your getaway with family and friends back home. Very cool!

Just a short drive from the hotel, we enjoyed dinner at Marisqueria Atlantica, in Isla Verde, where our favorite food there was, unexpectedly, the Codfish Doughnuts (yum). After a full and delicious meal at Atlantica, it was off to the Marriott’s Stellaris Casino where we received free blackjack lessons from Omar, who was a wonderful teacher. The Stellaris offers free gambling lessons every day of the week, with a different game featured each evening.

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