Girls’ Weekend in San Juan

Girls’ Weekend in San Juan (January, 2016)

I can’t remember exactly when the tradition started, but for the last 10-15 years my sisters and I have planned an annual “Girls Weekend” where we take our mom on a little getaway so that the four of us can spend some time away from work, kids, husbands, etc. Over the years, it has evolved from a simple road trip to New Hampshire, Newport, or Maine into something a little more elaborate. This year we went to San Juan, Puerto Rico!


We left New York VERY early on a frosty Thursday morning in January, and landed in sunny San Juan about noon. From the airport, it was a quick cab ride to our nearby hotel – the Intercontinental San Juan, in Isla Verde.  Because we had arrived before check-in time, we had some lunch and sat by the pool until we were able to get into our rooms. We had booked two oceanfront rooms, and we had beautiful views over the pool to the Caribbean beyond. The rooms were spacious, though in need of some updating, but we didn’t plan to spend much time indoors, so that wasn’t really a concern. The resort has a nice pool area, plenty of lounge chairs by the pool/beach, and an assortment of dining options, from a casual toes-in-the-sand lunch spot, to a Ruth Chris steakhouse. The location was very convenient to the airport (about 10 minutes away), and the beach was lovely, but I think if we had to do it over again we’d stay in the Condado area, which has more shops/restaurants within walking distance.



That evening we enjoyed a cocktail at the hotel before hopping in a cab to Condado (about a 15-minute ride) where we had made dinner reservations at Oceano. We sat outside, just steps from the water, and enjoyed sangria and Puerto Rican specialties including fresh seafood and delicious mofongo. It was a perfect start to our weekend!


On the way back to the hotel, we asked the taxi driver for his favorite breakfast place, and he recommended the Bistro Café, which he said was “just down the street” from our hotel, so we made plans to walk there in the morning. The walk turned out to be a little longer – and sweatier – than we had anticipated, but it was more than worth it! We were the only non-locals in the place, and our friendly, patient waiter took the time to translate and explain every mouth-watering item on the menu (including about a dozen specials). We enjoyed some of the best coffee I’ve ever had, along with waffles, eggs, fruit and more. The owner stopped by our table to chat with us, and they seemed genuinely pleased that we had stumbled in. I would go back there in a minute!

The rest of the day was spent lazing by the pool, reading, swimming, and walking on the beach. There was a lot of seaweed, so we didn’t swim in the ocean, but the beach itself was wide and walkable, and remarkably uncrowded.



I had made plans to catch up with my college roommate (who is from San Juan) that evening, so we met her for cocktails at our hotel and then she and I headed out to La Placita, which is apparently where all the “cool kids” go on Friday night 🙂 This pedestrian-only area near Condado is an open-air farmers’ market during the day, but on certain nights of the week it morphs into a night spot with carts selling cocktails and cigars. It reminded me of Bourbon Street in New Orleans, with all the people walking around with open containers of alcohol, but everyone was dressed up for a night out (because it’s Puerto Rico) and the music wafting out of the bars and restaurants was Latin, rather than jazz. It was very cool!


We had a cocktail in the plaza and then headed upstairs to have dinner at Asere Cubano Kitchen and Bar. The restaurant has a really cool “speakeasy” vibe, and we enjoyed Ropa Viejo, tuna tartare, and other small plates, and then ended the evening with one last cuba libre on the second-floor verandah overlooking La Placita.

Saturday morning we had breakfast at our hotel and headed into Old San Juan for the day. It’s about a 25-minute cab ride from Isla Verde. We had the taxi driver drop us off in the main square, and then we just wandered. There are shops, galleries, museums, restaurants, bars and two historic forts — El Morro (Castillo San Felipe del Morro) and San Cristobal (Castillo de San Cristobal).  We explored El Morro (more than worth the small admission charge), and watched families fly kites on the huge grassy field outside the fort. Nearby, we sipped Pina Coladas at (supposedly) the bar where they were invented. We spied on two weddings at a gorgeous old church. We bought souvenirs at a local gallery. And then we ended the day with delicious tapas and wine at El Picoteo restaurant at the gorgeous El Convento hotel. NOTE: If you are headed to San Juan and don’t want/need to be at the beach, I highly recommend El Convento.


SJU 10

Sunday was our last day, but we had an evening flight, so we checked out and stored our bags at the hotel while we did a guided tour to El Yunque rainforest.  We had booked it spur-of-the-moment through the hotel tour desk, so we did not have a chance to research the different available tour guides and companies. Our guide turned out to be terrible, so I would not make that mistake again (Pro tip: book in advance, and do some research first, LOL) but El Yunque itself was interesting, and I would still recommend it as a nice excursion out of the city. We saw waterfalls and mountains, we climbed a lookout tower for views over the countryside to the ocean beyond, and we stopped for some questionable roadside snacks. Other available tours to El Yunque do some hiking, ziplining, and swimming, so I think I’d try one of those next time.


SJU 14

view of the lush green mountains of the El Yunque Rainforest in San Juan

When we got back to the hotel, we had some time to sit by the pool before using their hospitality room to get cleaned up and changed. We enjoyed one last cocktail on the terrace, and then took a cab back to the airport for our flight. We were back in New York just after midnight, and are already planning next year’s trip 🙂

Sailing the Southern Caribbean

Jen and Steve just returned from a fantastic honeymoon cruise from San Juan to the Southern Caribbean, and it was great to hear what they liked, what they learned, and what they appreciated about working with a knowledgeable travel professional!  Now, if I could only get my kids to admit that I give good advice 🙂 

The honeymoon was excellent! We had a great time.  Planning was smooth and seamless and the trip was also. 

The flights on American were great!  Delayed on the way home, but it was OK.  Definitely worth driving to Hartford for the non-stop both ways.

Our pre-cruise stay at the El San Juan was nice — very glad we made this choice as opposed to some of the other hotels, it was a great fit for us.  There are many bar options and lots of restaurants as well.   Lots of nightlife, we went to one of the hotel restaurants and nightclubs on our last night there, tons of fun!   The swimming pools and lounge chairs near the pools are great!  There was a large convention going on at the resort while we were there, but it still felt like the place was empty.  Never a problem getting a pool chair, and there were only a handful of people in the pools at any time. 

Upon check-in, they upgraded us to a pool view room since you told them it was our honeymoon, thank you!!!!  Then brought up a bottle of champagne!  We did eat breakfast in their buffet one morning, service was slow and it was $25pp, which was a waste.  Wouldn’t have done that if I  knew how much it cost…can’t eat that many eggs  🙂

Only complaint, which I already told you about was that even though you paid in advance on my Amex, they charged us again when we checked in on my debit card.  They refunded the money to the Amex card, which I did not want.  5 phone calls later to the hotel and Hilton customer service, they still have not corrected the problem.  I have been a Hilton Silver or Blue member for several years and actually will never stay at a Hilton property again because I am so disgusted by their lack of customer service.

While in San Juan, we booked an excursion for the Bacardi factory & Old San Juan tour through the hotel-what a RIP OFF!  It cost us $128 for a FREE tour!  I should have taken a taxi, but it was fun.  Then after the Bacardi factory, the tour guide dropped us in Old San Juan and we stayed instead of going back to the hotel in the hour and half that they gave us.  We went to Senor Frogs, Don Q Bacardi place and ate some tacos and local food off a food truck. 

Walked around the shops and then stopped in a great pizza & beer place…good time!

On our last night there, we walked over to the cock-fight arena, but we missed it, it was already over.  On Sunday after we  arrived back from the cruise, we found an excursion for $20 and the guy was great!!!!  He took us on a tour of San Juan and showed us a lot of things, all the forts, very nice…and he held our luggage all day and then dropped us at airport.  He recommended a place for lunch, Cafe Puerto Rico….real Puerto Rican food, and the BEST sangria I have ever had in my life.

When we first got on the ship (Serenade of the Seas) at 2pm, we checked out our closet-size room (which I was expecting so it was OK) then we did the once-over on the boat.  First impression, thought boat was nice, but both Steve & I wanted to know where the rest of the pool was!!!  It was tiny!!!!  We sailed at 8:30 which was our dinner time, so feeling the boat move, we were both uncertain if this was going to be for us. Steve and I actually said “what island are we flying home from?”….but by the next day when we had adjusted to the boat, everything was fine!!

I know you and I had discussed that I didn’t know how I was going to like sitting at a table with strangers, well I will tell you…that was your best advice!!!  We had the best table on the ship, we were with our tablemates every night and went on excursions with them.  We had 2 other couples on their honeymoon and the other couple was celebrating their 10 yr anniversary. 

On the last day they charged us $100 for towels, but Steve complained and they gave us a credit for $200, so that all worked out.  I guess everyone wants to rip us off!

The cabin was OK, definitely could never do a cruise in a room w/o a balcony.  Also, made friends with the people in the next cabin and they had a handicap room- they told us we need to ask for one of those next time!!! Their bathroom was the size of our entire stateroom.

Our waiter in the dining room was a stiff and we got bad service the first night, but it was better after that for the rest of the cruise.  Food was always delicious.  At peak times, it was very hard to find a seat in the buffet.  But overall fabulous!

Entertainment was awesome!!!  We did something every night….Steve won “Finish that Lyric” and our table won the Quest, which was sooo fun!  Ricki the cruise director was awesome and his staff too.  We went to a magic show, a comedy show and meet the captain night.  Did the nightclub twice and Bingo twice.

When we got to St Thomas, we took a cab to the shopping street, it was all jewelry so we didn’t buy anything…not big jewelry people. Then we went back to the ship for our excursion, we went on a catamaran ride to St John!  It was awesome!!!!  The catamaran itself was fun, and on the way back they had champagne and punch!  Steve went snorkeling at the beach and the guy took me in the little boat to the beach, I have never seen water like that anywhere!!!  We saw a shark in the water, sea turtles and a deer walking on the beach!

In St Kitts we went zip lining and on the way there, the driver gave us a tour. Very poor there….it was depressing, but otherwise we had a great time and I would definitely recommend zip lining there to anyone! 

In Aruba, we decided to wing it and we rented a jeep with our table mates for the day $80- a bargain!!!  We drove to the natural bridge, which fell down apparently, and saw some rock formations.  Then we went to the beach, right in front of the Riu, it was hot!!!  Nice time, then went back to the boat.

Curacao was our favorite island.  We just got off the ship and walked around the shops, they were gorgeous and we stopped and checked out several bars along the way!!  

We felt this was the safest place and really clean!

My tips for someone else taking a similar trip:

  • Make sure they iron their clothes before they go!!!  I found out the night before there was no iron on the boat so I spent all day Sunday before we left ironing everything we brought. 
  • I would also suggest booking excursions off the boat, to save a lot of money.


– Jen and Steve

You provided excellent guidance for us. I appreciated that you really had us think about what was most important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say. THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family! It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Clare and Mark (family cruise to Alaska)

The level of service we experienced was out of this world (and we did NOT make it easy on Ann). We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to go, when we would be able to go, or what “vibe” we were going for. After asking us some key questions (what we liked, didn’t like, why, etc.) Ann helped us narrow down our trip details and planned the honeymoon of our dreams. She helped book some of our excursions, answered some emergency questions while abroad and was always available/willing to help. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be using anyone else for future travel planning – Ann is a rockstar!

Carli (Italy and Spain)