Cruising Out of San Juan, Puerto Rico
There are many benefits to cruising out of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and I had the opportunity to experience those benefits first hand. I recently sailed out of Puerto Rico for the first time, and although many of the areas we visited are still recovering from the damage caused by Hurricane Maria, attitudes are positive, and locals greatly appreciate the return of tourists.
One of the most significant benefits of sailing out of San Juan is that you are already out in the heart of the Caribbean and much closer to the dozens of exciting vacation destinations in the Southern Caribbean Islands. Unlike many cruises, in which the number of days at sea outnumbers those at a port, cruising out of Puerto Rico means there will be a new island to visit nearly every day.
In the cruise I recently took, we visited St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, and St. Maarten. With all of these stops, it was not necessarily the most restful vacation, even though I spent many hours bathing in the sun on various beaches. However, it was adventurous. If you were to rate it on a scale, this journey pushes the peg to the adventure side more than the restful side, but adventures that include sun, sand and the sea are my favorite.
Another great benefit of cruising out of San Juan is the price. Even though there are more stops, the cost is typically less than the more popular Florida ports. Side note: Here’s another tip. Another great port to sail out of to save some bucks is Galveston, Texas. It also has some great destinations.
For the vast majority of us, this vacation begins with a flight. This is where a lot of the expense can be. Most flights to Puerto Rico are long and include a layover or two. We flew in March and had a layover in Baltimore where they were experiencing extreme winds. Allegedly, there was a flight into Baltimore the day before ours which was so rocky from the turbulence that everyone on the flight threw-up, including the crew.
Here is another tip. I invested in noise-reduction headphones, and although I was skeptical they could be that effective at first, they have been a lifesaver. For me, the turbulence is much less scary when I wear them. I think it is because I don’t hear the scary noises the plane makes during turbulence. Sometimes those noises make me feel like the wings are about to be ripped off. I also can hear what I am trying to listen to better, which is often a video. I have the Beats Studio 3 headphones, and I love them. They are the best bang for the buck, and some websites have rated them the best overall noise-canceling headphones. Of course, bigger and better electronics come out regularly, but they are still a great deal.
Once we arrived in San Juan, the airport showed no signs of damage. We thoroughly check the area out, and we did spot a mostly collapsed building at the edge of the airport property. It was also full of debris. But it was very out of the way. Otherwise, the airport is brightly painted and feels like the ambiance you want when going to the Caribbean, lots of white and outdoor spaces to feel the cool breezes that carry the smell and feel of the ocean.
We got there the night before the cruise. I do not recommend cutting it close when cruising. If you miss the debarkation time, the ship will leave without you. So give yourself plenty of time, and show up the night before if possible.
That night we dined at a rooftop hotel restaurant with views of the ocean. There are plenty of really cool locations in the downtown area near the airport. It was dark, and after dinner, we went to our hotel.
As we checked in, we heard a strange kind of whistle we thought might be parrots. We could not see any birds. It was late, and we were tired, so we did not look too hard for the source of the sound. The next morning, while we had breakfast at the hotel, we heard the sounds again. We googled whether there were parrots in the area and found out there was a parrot refuge that had been stricken by the hurricane.
We then drove to the cruise port, and that is when we caught our first glimpse of some of the devastation caused by the hurricane. Some roofs still needed repair, and some were just gone. We also saw at least two huge billboards that had fallen onto houses and still lay where they fell, on top of the buildings.
It was beginning to get cloudy as we found our way to the port. We usually cruise with Carnival, which is normally great, but what we found was one of the smallest and least organized embarkation points I have seen. We first went to drop off our luggage. There was no parking or signage and a bunch of taxis on the side of the road. We did not know where to park, so I just wiggled my way in-between some taxis. The taxi drivers did not seem too happy about it, but when traveling, sometimes you have to get in where you fit in. I found a guy with a Carnival badge who took our luggage. Then we went to back to the airport to drop off our rental. The airport was nearby, but we felt the sooner we drop off our larger luggage pieces, the better.
Typically on a cruise, you drop off your luggage and do not see it again until you get to your room later in the day. This may be many hours later, so anything you think you might need that day, you need to carry with you. This includes swimming suits if you want to enjoy the beach or the onboard pool.
Once we dropped off the rental, we caught a taxi to take us back to our ship. If you have never cruised before, there is usually a specific time when the ship begins allowing guests onboard. It is generally in the afternoon. In the morning, they have to empty the entire vessel of the people who just finished their journey. A benefit of getting onboard early is that there are usually shorter lines and you can start taking advantage of the food and amenities as soon as you get there.
Once onboard, we were able to enjoy the scenery. It is always fun to check out the other ships at port. From the Puerto Rico port, you can see the old town, a nearby airstrip and one of Puerto Rico’s most impressive sites, Castillo San Felipe del Morro. It is a massive fortification built by the Spanish to defend San Juan Bay and is now a National Historic Site. According to the National Park Service, The Spanish laid the foundation for the fortification in 1539, but it was not finished until 1787.
It is easy to see why it took so long. The fort is huge. I wanted to explore it, but it began raining, and the rest of my group decided to stay on the ship. It is no problem to leave the ship and come back, and old town San Juan and the fort are within walking distance. The rain did not bother me, but the group wanted me to stay onboard. Luckily I was able to get some great pictures.
Interestingly, our cruise set-sail late in the day. We got going just before sunset. One of my favorite things to do on cruises is watching from the deck as we leave or enter a port. It gives you a chance to see more of the place you are leaving. As they say, it was smooth sailing, but soon began to get a bit rocky. Every cruise I had been on before this had been very smooth. This was the first time I experienced the boat rocking. At first, it was no bother. It was kind of fun to experience, and fortunately, I was not getting sick.
Cruises feature comedians every night, and it was funny to watch him try to stay steady on stage. Of course, there were jokes about the rocking. Drinking is a big pastime on cruise ships. That means there are always drunk people around. However, this evening you could not tell if people were drunk or just having a hard time due to the rocking of the ship. I do not drink very much, but the rocking began making me feel drunk.
I admit that when I went to bed, the nostalgia of the rocking boat had worn off. I fell asleep quickly but was worried the rocking would ruin the trip. When I awoke, we were at our first port. When you eat breakfast at the sit-down restaurant, you can either sit by yourself or at a shared table. I was the first one up and ended up going to breakfast by myself. I sat at a shared table A few of the people I sat with had gone to bed early and did not have a problem with the rocking. However, the late nighters, like myself, had plenty of stories of people getting sick.
Later that day on the beach I spoke with a couple of British cruisers on a different ship. They had just come from where we were going and said it had been smooth. Sure enough, the rest of the cruise the only rocking and rolling was the onboard entertainment.
The ship we were on is the Carnival Fascination. It is an older ship. It took to the sea in 1994. Its home dock is San Juan, and after the hurricane, it remained docked there housing FEMA relief workers. One of the ship’s crew members told me they worked as usual during this time serving the relief workers as if they were any other guests.
After housing relief workers, in early 2018, the Fascination underwent renovations. When I got onboard, it had a new feel and smell to it. It has a Hollywood theme, and although it was smaller than any other cruise ship I had been on, it was cozy. My girlfriend felt that the reason the first leg of our trip was so rocky was that the ship does not have the advanced stabilizers the newer, bigger ships have. Perhaps. Although, it may be that it is a smaller ship, or it could be the area we sailed through is commonly like that. I am not sure. I asked crew members, but none of them knew or seemed to be too concerned about it. I also did some online digging, but I did not find anything there either. Perhaps one of you readers have an idea about this and can share it below.
I am not going to cover much about the ports we visited in this article, but keep checking back at ModernAmerican.News, because I will write about them in future posts. In this article, I just wanted to focus on sailing out of Puerto Rico.
As for other observations, I liked Puerto Rico. It is very green and exotic. The people were charming, and the culture was fascinating. I am of Hispanic descent and have always lived in the Southwest, so I am no stranger to environments with large amounts of Spanish speaking. Puerto Rico was a bit different. It is hard to describe, except to say it felt somewhere between the Mexican-American culture I am familiar with and the Caribbean cultures of the smaller islands. I found it exotic and fascinating. Especially considering it is a U.S. territory.
Leaving Puerto Rico, we made another surprising discovery. When we arrived at the airport in San Juan, a week earlier, I had noted there were a lot of images of frogs and frog stuffed animals. I made a note to look out for frogs, figuring it was a mascot of sorts which is likely because there are some cool looking frogs around.
After our cruise, while we awaited our flight home, I wandered over to one of the souvenir shops. A lady who was also awaiting her flight was holding one of the stuffed animal frogs and began to tell me how cool she thought the frogs were. She said she had heard the noise they made while visiting. She squeezed the stuffed animal, and it made the sound we had heard when we arrived. Parrots caused the noise, we had thought. It turns out it was the Coqui frog, which is native to Puerto Rico and named after the sound it makes. It was a fun discovery that made for some excitement in the airport before we boarded our plane for the long flight home.
I had wanted to cruise out of Puerto Rico for a few years. I thought it seemed like a great idea since you can see so many places in one trip. I also thought the pricing of the cruises was very reasonable compared to other Caribbean cruises. I was not disappointed. The trip was indeed an adventure. I highly recommend trying it at least once. I look forward to doing it a second time.
Alejandro Rojas is a blogger, journalist, podcast host and real estate agent. His stories appear on The Huffington Post, The Roswell Daily Record, and Den of Geek. He has been interviewed on several cable news networks. He has also appeared on the Travel Channel, Syfy, National Geographic, and E!. He is the creator and editor of ModernAmerican.News.