Old San Juan and Condado, Puerto Rico

Central America Caribbean
October 16th 2010
Published: October 28th 2010
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After counting down the days for our upcoming cruise, Jason and myself boarded our Airtran flight from Atlanta for San Juan Puerto Rico. The plane made it to the runway and then turned around to go back to the gate. They’d forgotten to load some of the luggage onto the plane… including ours. I know this because we watched it then be loaded from our seats inside the plane! Wide eyed, we looked at each other. Both of us wondering how that would have played out if we’d missed our bags and hadn’t gotten them by the time we left for the cruise!

Outside of that minor detail, the flight, landing, and drive to the hotel in San Juan were uneventful. After some heavy traffic in Old San Juan, we arrived at the Howard Johnson in the city. We chose it because of location. We didn’t want to have to take a cab everywhere and it was in the center of the city. Old San Juan is a peninsula and it’s not too difficult to walk from the north shore to the south shore.

There are not many hotels in the center of the city, and due to the age of the building, you can feel it in the hotel. The rooms are dated and the atrium area is sweltering. Only the rooms and small lobby area were cooled. We did not have warm water for our shower - cold showers don’t make one happy in the morning! We did not have a window in our room either - we knew this going into the arrangements, but its something to keep in mind for those looking for a room in the city center.
We much preferred our hotel in Condado when we came back from the cruise. We stayed at Conrad Plaza which is a hotel/casino with restaurants, multiple pools (fresh water and salt water) as well as a beach area. The hotel is very modern. We had a 7th floor city view balcony room which had a 3 glass walled shower to the ceiling, mod sofa, flatscreen TV, etc.

But there’s more to a city than a hotel!

We’d originally planned to visit the Casa Bacardi for the free tour and rum tastings, but given the 3 hours it would have taken (tour plus round trip ferry to taxi) we opted to visit Don Q instead. It’s another free rum option on the southern waterfront. …but it was Saturday. It’s closed on the weekends! All was well and we continued to roam the city. We ate Mexican on the water, looked at merchant wares, and took pictures of the architecture. A friend saw the pictures and said it reminds her of New Orleans, but I’ve never been to know. (Accepting offers!)

We walked up to the northwest end of Old San Juan to El Morro. It’s an old fort which is MASSIVE that overlooks the water. For $3 we went in and explored. To get there we walked across a huge lawn filled with locals flying kites. It was neat to see all the families there and even individual adults. Some with their kites so high you could barely see them any more! This was alongside an old cemetery which also bordered the water. We would have entered to explore the dates on the stones, but the gate appeared locked.
El Morro was HUGE. Tired from our walking in the city, we didn’t get a chance to see every little area in the fort, but had a great overview regardless and wondered how long it took to build.

Exhausted from the day, we walked back to the hotel (the free trolley was full.. and they had a laugh at our expense when we realized there were no more seats) we rested before heading out for the evening. We did the tourist thing that night. We went to Senor Frogs for dinner and also found Hard Rock café. We didn’t find too much for dancing, discovering that many of the places are restaurants that turn into clubs as the night progresses.

When we woke up Sunday, we headed to an early lunch and then headed to the ship via taxi. There are two port areas in San Juan, Royal Caribbean’s port requires a taxi for the best arrival. I don’t recommend trying to walk there from the city center!!! We were on the ship by 1:45. It was one of the quickest boardings I have ever had and our room was even already ready. Not bad considering the boat didn’t depart until the scheduled 8:30!

I do have other entries that detail the trip:
Oct 17 - Ship
Oct 19 - Curacao
Oct 20 - Aruba
Oct 22 - Dominica
Oct 23 - St. Thomas / St. Johns

When we returned, we took a taxi to the Conrad Plaza hotel at Condado Beach. It was a HUGE improvement from the HoJo. The pictures speak for themselves! Our last day was spent resting on the beach. I bought a bracelet from a vendor made from bamboo, palm, and cacao woods. The night wrapped up with a little time in the casino, ah, finally comped drinks!

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