What You Should Know About Cruises from San Juan

Last year my wife and I took our first cruise from San Juan, Puerto Rico… We loved it. In fact, We would even choose to cruise out of San Juan over cruising from Ft. Lauderdale if it came down to those two choices. Since we live in Atlanta we typically try and cruise out of Tampa or Port Canaveral so that we can drive to save on costs but now that we have experienced cruising from San Juan we may have a new favorite cruise port.

Why we love San Juan Cruises

  • Old San Juan
  • Convenience of the Port
  • Southern Caribbean Cruise Itineraries
  • The Best Hotel We Have Ever Stayed In
  • 3 1/2 hour flight from Atlanta

 

Castillo San Felipe del Morro

Old San Juan
The Spanish charm of Old San Juan is everywhere from the blue bricked streets to the sidewalk cafes. It is a great place to spend the day before or after your cruise and all of the main sites can be visited on your own personal walking tour. The whole family will enjoy El Campo Del Morro and walking around the city walls. Don’t forget your camera because there are plenty of photo spots around every corner. When you get tired just find a little sidewalk cafe and enjoy some plantains and mofongo.

Don’t miss out on breakfast at La Bombonera which features a Cuban coffee maker that is older than most people on your cruise ship. La Bombonera serves up some of the best cafe con leche and freshly made mallorcas you are likely to get this side of Spain.

At night head down to Barrachina’s for a Pina Colada. Barrachina’s along with the Hilton hotel in San Juan claim to be the home of the original Pina Colada. We didn’t get a chance to try the one at the Hilton but the one at Barrachina’s was pretty good… all though I doubt the famous recipe included frozen smoothie machines which they are now poured from.

Southern Caribbean Cruises from San Juan
This is the #1 reason to choose to take your next cruise from San Juan. The location of San Juan means 7 night less expensive cruises can visit more of the Southern Caribbean islands such as Aruba, Curacao, Dominica, St. Kitts, Antigua, St. Lucia and St. Croix. If you were to cruise to these places from Ft. Lauderdale or Miami it would take extended 10+ day cruises and the difference would probably be more the flight cost to San Juan.

We had gotten tired of the same old islands of the Western Caribbean itineraries and most of the Eastern trips only went to St. Thomas and St. Martin. This was a great way to see more of the top 10 Caribbean islands such as Dominica (which is awesome by the way)

San Juan Cruise Port Terminals
Most of the ships docking in San Juan will dock right up against Old San Juan allowing those who choose to stay at one of the surrounding hotels to just walk straight from the hotel to the ship. In our case however, out ship was docked across the canal so we had to take a taxi over to the pier. I don’t remember exact cost but I’m sure it was less than $10.

Hotel El Convento

Where to stay in San Juan
The best two places to stay for your pre-cruise hotel is either in Old San Juan or down by the beaches. If you are traveling with children the beach area may be your best bet since the kids will love the beach and it really isn’t that far from Old San Juan so you can easily spend part of the day walking the Old Town. Some of the hotels in Old San Juan such as the Sheraton are even located across the street from some of the cruise piers. The Sheraton also has a pretty nice casino for the gamblers in the family.

If you are looking for one of the nicest most romantic hotels in the area then look no further than Hotel El Convento in Old San Juan. El Convento is a restored 350 year old convent that has been ranked as one of the top ten hotels in the Caribbean. I can’t say enough nice things about this hotel. We absolutely loved it. Friendly staff, great rooms, free wine and cheese everyday, and located within walking distance of all of the Old San Juan attractions.

Prices can be expensive at the El Convento but if you know how to game the Hotwire system a bit then you can find great deals there. We paid around $150 a night for a $300+ night hotel room. Here’s a hint… The El Convento is currently the only 4 star Boutique hotel in Old San Juan. Now that could change but it worked for us and it’s worth a shot to save some money.

More Hotel El Convento Pictures

The San Juan Airport
Going in to our trip this was our #1 concern about traveling to San Juan. If you read around the cruise message boards they are loaded with negativity about the airport. The biggest complaints are no directions, long lines and having to go through a special agriculture line. We experienced none of this. Maybe we got lucky but we had planned ahead anyway just in case and I suggest you do the same. Here were our theories and solutions to the problem.

The CrowdsMany of the complaints revolve around having to wait up to two hours in all of the checkpoint lines before you can get into the terminals. This has caused many to be late for planes and was a concern for us. We however believe this has more to do with number of ships returning to port and time of day more than anything. We believed early morning would be the busiest time so we booked a later flight and stayed on the ship as long as we could. Turns out we were the only ship in town that morning and lines at the airport were non-existent. My advice to you would be try and find out how many ships will be returning at the same time as your ship. If it’s more than one, you could experience more of a delay.

No Direction & the Agriculture LineAt the San Juan airport everyone must put ALL OF THEIR BAGS (including purses and carry on) through an agriculture x-ray machine and you MUST DO THIS BEFORE GOING THROUGH CUSTOMS OR CHECKING YOUR BAGS to get a special sticker on your bags. Don’t get stuck waiting in line to check your bags only to be told you have to go back to the agriculture line. It is easy to miss the signage for this and there aren’t any helpful airport staff hanging around to help you.

To combat this issue my wife and I decided to use the ships luggage program that for $25 a bag would take our luggage straight from the ship to the plane. This would keep us from having to check any luggage which would at least get us out of one line (the check in line). We still had a purse and backpack to run through the Ag line… but like I said we walked right up and there were no lines.

Bottom line - Plan ahead, if more ships will be in town take advantage of the ship luggage service. Take a later flight or even spend another night in San Juan to take some tours of other areas of Puerto Rico such as the Rain Forest or head over for an unforgettable experience at Vieques.

Mallorca from La Bombonera

Vieques
Vieques is an island about 8 miles off the coast of Puerto Rico that is known for two things. First, as a former Navy bombing range and second as home to one of the most spectacular bioluminescent bays in the world. If you are planning to cruise from San Juan then you must try and work a trip to the bioluminescent bay into your schedule.

The bioluminescent bays are filled with tiny micro-organisms which glow when they are disturbed. Swimming in this bay at night is compared to swimming through star dust. Fish even leave comet like glow trail as they swim by. Because this works best in dark waters the tours do not run during the full moon… guess which moon phase was happening when we were there… correct…the full moon.

I was lucky enough to see this in Florida once on a freak occurrence and I can tell you it was amazing. I can’t wait to try Vieques once we go back to Puerto Rico… and this time I will have my lunar calendar beside me when planning my cruise.

Flights to San Juan
For us living in Atlanta provides us access to one of the best international airports in the country. Because of this we can usually get a direct flight to anywhere we want to go at a reasonable rate. For San Juan we found tickets for about $250 a person and the flight only lasted a little over 3 1/2 hours. Considering the price of gas this isn’t a bad price to pay and like I mentioned above we would have easily paid an additional $250 for one of the longer cruises to some of the islands we visited on our trip.

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