Trip Report – San Juan Puerto Rico

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I had never been to Puerto Rico, so when I saw that Southwest was taking over AirTran’s flights, I knew I wanted to go.  Then a Southwest promotion offering 3x points on flights to San Juan was released, so I had to go.  What made the deal even better, was that there was another 2x points promotion for Nationwide flights that was stackable!

 

What Were The Promotions?

I wrote about Southwest’s 2x Nationwide promotion in an earlier post that talked about 100% bonus (2x points) for flights Nationwide through November 21, 2013.

Then, Southwest released additional promotions which offered 3x points on flights to/from San Juan, Puerto Rico and 2x points on flights to/from Nashville, Tennessee.  While doing my research, I found out that these promotions were stackable.

And, since I have A-List Preferred elite status, I get 2x points on every flight I take.

Add these together, and I would earn 5x points on a flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico!

  • 100% of base points for the ticket bought
  • 100% bonus on Nationwide flight (2x points)
  • 200% bonus on Puerto Rico flight (3x points)
  • 100% bonus for being A-List Preferred

 

I was beginning to think that my net cost for this trip could be close to zero… if I bought the right ticket.

 

What Did The Flight Cost?

The flight itself cost just under $1,500 because I bought a Business Select ticket.  I could have bought a Wanna Get Away or Anytime ticket that was less out of pocket, but because Southwest rewards you with more points for buying a higher class of ticket.

Southwest points earned

Because I bought the Business Select ticket, I actually made $22 on the flight!

 

How Was The Flight?

I flew out on Veteran’s Day (Monday), with a return flight on Tuesday.  I wanted a taste of Puerto Rico, but since I was without my family, I wanted to save some sights for us to experience together.  Beyond that, I really wanted to earn some points so I could renew my Companion Pass and A-List Preferred status for 2014.

Because I was flying from Los Angeles and Southwest uses a hub system with few direct flights to pretty much anywhere, I knew I’d be in for a long flight.  My wife is going to grad school at night and I was leaving Timmy at home with her, so I planned on being in Puerto Rico for only 15 hours (midnight until 3pm the next day).  She’s pretty awesome and is ok with me traveling without her, but I didn’t want to push my luck!

The flight from LAX to Houston went smooth.  I brought a bunch of newspapers and a few books to catch up on reading.  When we arrived in Houston, we were supposed to stay on the plane, then change planes in Orlando for the final flight to San Juan.  Well… there were mechanical issues, so we had to wait.  And wait.  And wait.

Finally, we were called up to the counter and booked on another flight to Orlando.  Southwest gave me a $200 for a future flight, a hotel voucher, and a meal voucher.

In Orlando, we weren’t going to make the flight to San Juan, so we’d be put up for the night in Orlando and would catch the first flight out in the morning.  That wouldn’t be too much of a problem… except that I’d now only be in Puerto Rico for about 2 hours.  Essentially, I wouldn’t even be able to leave the airport!!!

Rather than explore the airport, as fun as that may seem, I asked the rep in Houston if they could do something else for me.  My wife’s class this semester is on Wednesday nights.  I HAD to be home in time to get Timmy from daycare, so they worked the schedule and constructed  custom intinerary for me to get home Wednesday afternoon.  AMAZING CUSTOMER SERVICE!!!

Once everything was settled, and I was on my way to San Juan, the views as we landed were pretty sweet.

Arriving in San Juan Puerto Rico

 

Embassy Suites Orlando

Before I could make it to San Juan, Puerto Rico, I had to stay in Orlando due to the mechanical problems in Houston.  There was a quick shuttle from the airport.  My Hilton Honors Gold status was recognized, so I received a coupon for free breakfast in the morning.

Hilton Gold breakfast

The room was a basic Embassy Suites room.  Nothing luxurious, but it was comfortable and spacious.

Embassy Suites Orlando Airport room

Their pool area was nice, but I wasn’t there long enough to enjoy it.  Plus, being November, it was starting to get a little too chilly to go swimming.

Embassy Suites Orlando Airport pool

After a good made-to-order breakfast, it was time to get to the airport.  Luckily for me, I have A-List Preferred status and a Business Select ticket, both of which allowed me to skip this horrible mess at the Orlando airport!!!  There was also a TSA PreCheck line available, but Southwest wasn’t participating yet.

Lines at Orlando Airport

 

Finally, I Arrived In Puerto Rico – Radisson Ambassador Plaza Hotel & Casino San Juan

On the airport shuttle in Orlando, I met a lady who lived in Puerto Rico and she suggested I visit the Bioluminescent Bay in Fajardo.  She mentioned that there were 8 of them in the world, and Puerto Rico has 4.  This sounded like such an amazing experience, I knew I wanted to do it.

I signed up to tour on Tuesday night.  They would provide an hour-long bus ride from the hotel and back, along with the kayak to go out into the bay for $99.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have enough people to run the tour.  What a bummer!!!  In doing some research, the bioluminescent bay “went dark” on Monday, November 11th, the day before I arrived.  So, this might have been the real reason why the tour was called off.

I booked a room at the Radisson Ambassador Plaza Hotel & Casino San Juan since I had a free night from a Buy 1, Get 1 night promotion that I took advantage of in December 2012.

Radisson Ambassador Plaza Hotel & Casino San Juan zero cost

I was offered an upgrade to a Club Room when I booked my reservation for $14.  Since my night was free, I figured I would splurge.  Luckily, when I checked in, I was recognized for my Gold status with Club Carlson, so I didn’t have to pay anything for the upgrade.

Radisson Ambassador Plaza Hotel & Casino San Juan upgrade to Ambassador Club Room

My room was a little outdated, but overall was a good size with an entry area with a desk

Radisson Ambassador Plaza Hotel & Casino San Juan room entry

There was a nice welcome package thanking me for my stay waiting upon my arrival

Radisson Ambassador Plaza Hotel & Casino San Juan welcome gift

It reads:

We are really excited you have come to visit us!  This is our way to express our appreciation to your stay with us and for being an Elite Gold Club Carlson member.  Please call us at the Front Desk if you wish an extended check-out.

It’s the little touches like this that make you enjoy travel that much more!

The bed was comfortable… even though I only slept in it for 5 hours due to my early morning flight back home

Radisson Ambassador Plaza Hotel & Casino San Juan room bed

I checked out my balcony and realized that the beach was only a block away

Radisson Ambassador Plaza Hotel & Casino San Juan room balcony

When I got back to my room that evening, I played a little black jack at the casino on the 1st floor

Radisson Ambassador Plaza Hotel & Casino San Juan casino

Then I hit the rooftop pool for a night swim.  The water was 80* and very comfortable, even with the light rain that occurred.

There is also a gym with some weight and some ellipticals and treadmills to work out on.

Radisson Ambassador Plaza Hotel & Casino San Juan rooftop pool

In the Club Room on the rooftop deck, the hotel offered continental breakfast from 6:30am to 9:30am, but I had to leave the hotel before 6am to catch my flight.  In the evening, they offer light snacks and beverages from 5:30pm to 7:30pm.

Overall, with the amenities, location, and service, I would definitely stay at the Radisson Ambassador Plaza Hotel & Casino San Juan again!  Nightly rates are around $200, but you can get a 25% discount if you book a prepaid non-refundable room.  Alternatively, you could book the room with 38,000 points per night or do points and cash with 10,000 points and $120.

I would book using points and my US Bank Club Carlson Visa, which provides the last night free when booking 2 or more nights!

 

What Else Is There To Do In San Juan?

Since I was not able to do the Bioluminescent Bay in Fajardo (which is about 1 hour East of San Juan), I had to figure out what else there is to do.  My cabbie from the airport told me that my hotel was in the Candado area of San Juan.  There is also Isla Verde (Green Island) and Old San Juan, which he suggested was a 30 minute walk… more like an hour, but who’s counting.

So, I headed down Asheville Avenue (one of the main roads) and decided to walk to Old San Juan.  It was about a 3 mile walk, so I wouldn’t recommend you do this unless you like to walk.  A cab would be less than $20.  However, I enjoy walking and experiencing the places I visit by foot or public transportation whenever I can.

I came across an interesting park with an amazing looking tree with benches underneath to sit, relax, and enjoy the afternoon shade.

San Juan Puerto Rico tree

Along the way, a 2-3 foot long iguana stopped in an intersection, which caused traffic to back up.  I laughed out loud when people honked at it, and, in return, the iguana postured and bobbed up-and-down like it was getting ready for a fight!  HAHAHA  In LA, people would have just run it over!  But, here, a few people got out of their cars and shoo’d it away until it climbed this tree.

San Juan Puerto Rico iguana

Further down the road, across from the San Juan Capital Building, is the Walkway of the Presidents where there are bronze life-sized statues, accompanied by historical markers, of Presidents Ford, Kennedy, Eisenhower, Truman, Roosevelt, Hoover, and Obama.

San Juan Puerto Rico Walkway of the Presidents

There are two forts in San Juan that you can explore.  I visited the first one I came across, Castillo de San Cristóbal.  The other is further West, Castillo San Felipe del Morro.

San Juan Puerto Rico Castillo de San Cristóbal entrance

Inside, there is so much to explore.  It doesn’t look that big from the outside, but it is huge inside.  What struck me most was how vibrant the colors were… at the fort and in San Juan, in general.

San Juan Puerto Rico Castillo de San Cristóbal cannon turret

Some nice people took a picture of me.  The walkway was so narrow to this turret, that we had trouble squeezing past each other.

San Juan Puerto Rico Castillo de San Cristóbal me the tourist

In the courtyard, there was a small gift shop.  Since the entrance fee was so inexpensive at $3, I almost felt an obligation to buy something because the experience of visiting this fort was spectacular.  Luckily, there were some cool trinkets to bring home to my wife and son.

San Juan Puerto Rico Castillo de San Cristóbal courtyard

When it was time to leave, I was pretty lost, but managed to find an exit, even though it wasn’t the same way I came in!  I totally recommend spending a few hours at each fort.  I look forward to visiting both again when I bring my wife and son back with me.

I continued walking for a little while longer and just loved how everything was so colorful.  The pastel homes reminded me of Miami… or how Cuba might look.

San Juan Puerto Rico colorful houses

 

What Else Is There To Do In Puerto Rico?

Simply, a lot.  Or lounge around and do nothing… the beaches were pretty empty in November, but the weather was in the 80s and the ocean water was very warm.

My wife is excited to return, even though we don’t have a date in mind.  Definitely, we need to visit the Bioluminescent Bay in Fajardo when the glow returns.  Besides that, I want to visit the rest of the island and the other bioluminescent bays, including the one in accompanying Vieques Island, which is supposed to have the brightest glow.

I’d like to snorkel or scuba and experience the underwater scenery.  Also, the Rio Camuy Cave Park seems like a lot of fun to explore.  It was also suggested to me to hike at the Boqueron Forest.

But, now, it was time to leave.  I waited as long as I could for the sun to rise, but it wasn’t cooperating with my schedule.  Even at 5:30am, the ocean water was very comfortable to walk in.

San Juan Puerto Rico almost sunrise on the beach

 

Conclusion

I was only in San Juan for less than 24 hours, but I feel I made the most of it (including sleeping as little as possible!).  This is definitely a year-round vacation destination given the great weather I had in mid-November.  I enjoyed myself and everyone I met was very friendly.  Everyone spoke English, so my horrible Spanish wasn’t a hindrance to communicating.  Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the US, so you don’t need a passport to visit and the US$ is the common currency.  After this little taste of Puerto Rico, coming back with my wife and son is something that will happen sooner, rather than later.

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