My family and I were lucky enough to enjoy a recent Disney Cruise aboard the Disney Magic sailing a Southern Caribbean Cruise from San Juan, Puerto Rico. We flew into Puerto Rico the day before embarking on our cruise. After collecting our luggage, we were greeted by the Disney Cruise Line personel who directed us to our hotel shuttle. We chose to stay at the Caribe Hilton. http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/puerto-rico/caribe-hilton-SJNHIHH/index.html?WT.srch=1. I had researched this hotel prior to arrival and thought the beach area would be inviting. We arrived to the open air hotel lobby and checked into our room. The hotel was undergoing renovations, but we did not find that to be any problem. After enjoying our complimentary chocolates and fruit, we set out to explore the hotel grounds. The hotel is positioned on a peninsula, offering both oceanview and downtown skyline view. The grounds are beautifully landscaped and include a bird sanctuary and tropical garden. In addition to the pools, there is a beach area that is protected from the oncoming waves. Historical ruins are within eyesight and on the grounds, as is the case with this region of San Juan.
There are several eating establishments at the hotel and even more within walking distance. We chose to walk a bit and eat at a local restaurant. Go no further if you are a Starbuck's fan, as there is a location in the Caribe lobby. We found our rooms pleasant but the highlight of the Caribe for our family was the magnificent beach area.
The next day we boarded the Disney Magic, it was a short shuttle ride from the hotel to the port. Our Southern Caribbean cruise was reversed in itinerary due to Hurricane Gonzalo, which was scheduled for landfall in Antiqua on our arrival date. The Disney Magic was able to rearrange our cruise to still include all ports but in varying orders. It was probably my imagination but the first day, it appeared we were sailing quickly for such a large ship. In my mind, we were outrunning the hurricane, but I had no inside information to support this thought. Nevertheless, our weather was wonderfully sunny for nearly the entire cruise.
Our first port was Grenada, West Indies. This was a fairly undeveloped port and a largely agricultural island. Our excursion for the day was river tubing in the Grand Etang Rainforest. I highly recommend taking motion sickness medicine if one is prone to nausea as the 45 minute drive encompassed frequent tight turns as you ascend the mountain. Narrow streets provide the tourist with an up close view of island living. Grenada appeared to be highly agricultural in this region as we passed a grain mill and as our guide pointed out various spices growing along the route. Grenada is known as the "Spice Island" and we did have an opportunity to purchase locally packaged spices upon completion of our tubing excursion.
The river tubing excursion was by far our most favorite excursion of the cruise. Floaters donned helmets and life vests as we set down the river in our tubes with the assistance of the local operators. It was requested that no sun screen be worn as they have found it to be harmful to the natural environment. The float occurred through densely shaded area, so sunburn was unlikely. The tour operators positioned themselves in the river throughout the route to guide any unruly tubes and keep everyone on track and enjoying themselves. As I was noticing a fellow floater slowly sinking, I realized that it was not uncommon for the tubes to succumb to punctures by boulders located along the route. Never fear, the operators made sure inflated tubes were readily available should a replacement become necessary.
The scenery was jungle like, yet safe and enjoyable. Monkeys are found in this region but guides informed us they were largely active in the mornings, much earlier than our arrival time. More information on the river tubing can be found at the following link: http://www.adventuregrenada.com/rivertubing.html.
After our river adventure, it was another convoluted ride back to the port terminal. Be prepared to have single American dollars available if you should need to use the restroom at the port. It will cost you one dollar per person unless you are luckier than myself and happen to locate a "complimentary" restroom. I didn't look too far as I feel a dollar is more valuable to the person collecting than it is to me. I am fortunate enough to not have to mince over a dollar. Do not pass up purchasing local spices, especially nutmeg and cinnamon. There are also local beers of which my husband decided he was going to seek out on each island.
Since Hurricane Gonzalo altered our course for the Disney Magic. our cruise ended in Antigua. Disney Cruise Line was able to reverse the order for Port of Calls, resulting in a few modifications to our schedule. Our initial excursion was cancelled due to damage from the hurricane. We chose to partake in a beach break at Jolly Harbour Beach. We had never participated in a "beach break" excursion when cruising, as we are generally on the more active side. We all thought that sitting on the beach was far from exciting. Despite our preconceived ideas, we discovered a lot of "active" beach time. If you are more inclined to sit beach side under an umbrella with fruity drink in hand, that is certainly an option. We chose to rent jet skis and explore from the water.
The beach was delightfully clean, provided some small shopping opportunities and lots of whatever you would fancy from rest and relaxation to watercraft rentals. Somewhat spoiled by previous beach days at Castaway Cay, Disney's pristine and beautiful private island, we were a bit leery. Lunch and two beverages were included with our excursion. There was a small bar and dining area. This was one of the most inexpensive excursions, so i would say we got a top notch getaway for a steal of a price.
Upon our return to San Juan we chose to explore more of Puerto Rico's offerings upon disembarking as our flight was a late flight out. We rented a car for the sum of $23 which we reserved in advance online and picked the car up from the airport. With map in hand and accurate directions from the car rental agency, we drove to Laquillo Beach, what was considered one of the nicest public beaches, per the concierge at Caribe http://www.puertorico.com/beaches/luquillo/. Although the road signs were in Spanish, we found it easy to navigate as the highway system is American by design. We did need a bit of local intervention to find the main entrance, but it was only a couple of blocks away. We were able to stow our luggage in the rental car while partaking in the beach for the day. The parking fee was nominal, as was the fee for all day use of the shower houses. A wrist band allows for access to the shower houses throughout the day. There was plenty of restrooms, showers and changing areas available.
The beach itself was lined with coconut trees and calm waters due to the offshore reef. Upon initially entering the area, one can eat at the restaurant near the main entrance or walk further down the beach to experience a variety of food stalls. I did not find the restroom facilities near the food stalls as appealing as those located at the main entrance. Beach chairs are available for rent and shade is abundant near the main entrance. This beach ranks high for accessibility and is easy to navigate. As Puerto Rico is a US territory, is must comply with ADA guidelines. We had plenty of time to enjoy the beach, shower and return our rental car before boarding our plane for the flight back home. There were so many other things we wanted to do in Puerto Rico, but time would not allow. We have to return as we would like to explore Old San Juan, El Yunque rain forest and the world's only bio-luminescence bay. We won't even need a passport to visit!!