The specific promotions described in this article have now passed, but it remains online so that the resources named will be of future use to travelers.
If there were one word I could use to describe San Juan, Puerto Rico right now, it would be "redevelopment". Old San Juan area is a buzz with restoration projects, bringing the 18th and 19th century historic buildings to life again, with bright coats of paint, transforming once crumbling facades into art galleries, stunning private homes and boutique hotels. Restaurants are becoming more sophisticated with fine cuisine, and patrons dressed to the nines waiting outside places like the Dragonfly -- a Latin Asian fusion restaurant from the same owners as the delicious Parrot Café.
Not to be outdone, the Condado beach area is also experiencing a renaissance of sorts with the construction of new hotels (the Condado Vanderbilt, opening in 2006) and the refurbishment of existing properties (Renaissance La Concha Hotel and Casino -- opening in 2006). Despite the barrage of building work, you still get to enjoy the same peaceful and relaxing day on the beach without the interruption of heavy machinery (or maybe the pina coladas drown out any noise).
Many of the original Condado hotels were built in the 1970s so are receiving a sprucing up, like the Marriott Resort where we stayed. The beaches are still enticing with warm waters but a wicked undertow that can challenge even the most seasoned swimmers.
The redevelopment of San Juan's Luis MuÂ¿oz MarÂ¿n International Airport is yet another example of the upgrades currently adding to Puerto Rico's charm (the airport puts many a US airport to shame with its beautiful interiors and streamlined design). Earlier this month the state-of-the-art Puerto Rico Convention Center officially opened as the centerpiece of a $415 million waterfront development project and construction is under way on the Sheraton hotel, which will be the flagship property at the center.
Despite the lure of some of the more luxurious five star resorts outside the San Juan area, my preference is still to stay centrally while in Puerto Rico and take advantage of a beach getaway and soak up a dose of history and culture in Old San Juan at the same time. Visitors tend to be spending a few days acclimatizing before boarding cruises, or going yachting in the Caribbean, or like us, just wanting a few days away from the harsh fall climate of the northeast.
If San Juan is too fast-paced, consider staying at one of the 23 country inns or Paradores (www.gotoparadores.com/portada_en.asp) located throughout the island. Best known for their affordable rates and picturesque locations, each of the inns offers a comfortable base for exploring a variety of attractions like pristine beaches, picturesque mountains, colonial towns and historical sites. Prices start from approximately $120 per night and usually include meals depending on the property.
Puerto Rico remains an affordable and attractive Caribbean option with a lot of personality, friendly locals and great cuisine. Getting there is a simple exercise in online research and whether you choose a package deal or put your own combination together, you'll get value for money and a great suntan.
We flew Song down to San Juan from New York and after experiencing a comfortable and fun flight, I am particularly saddened by the airline's imminent demise. The in-flight competitive trivia game where you compete against fellow passengers is an excellent way to pass a few hours. Midweek flights on Song (www.flysong.com) to San Juan from New York start at $79 one-way plus taxes in December, 2005, with prices going up to $139 to $299 one-way in January 2006. From Orlando, one-way flights start at $99 or $154 from Boston in December, 2005.
JetBlue (www.jetblue.com) likewise has some great deals to San Juan throughout the winter with its new package deals. Based on New York departures (Mondays) in December, 2005 the following packages, which include round-trip airfare plus four nights' accommodations, are available:
- El Conquistador Resort & Golden Door Spa is priced from $451
- Condado Plaza Hotel and Casino is priced from $519
- Hyatt Dorado Beach Resort And Country Club is priced from $594
- Westin Rio Mar Beach Golf Resort and Spa is priced from $606
These prices are person based and double occupacny and include taxes. Prices go up by an average of $200 to $400 per package in January 2006, so if you're after a discounted break from the cold weather, December is a better option.
Flights alone on JetBlue are "SuperFly" with $59 fares one-way from Newark to San Juan (no advance purchase required. Travel must be completed by December 15, 2005) or $79 from New York to San Juan, Ponce or Aguadilla (seven-day advance purchase is required and travel must be completed by December 21, 2005).
Cheap Caribbean (www.cheapcaribbean.com) has a last minute special if you book by November 28, 2005. Enjoy round-trip airfare from New York and four-nights atEl Conquistador Resort & Golden Door Spa in Fajardo in a garden view room from a super low $399 per person based on dual occupancy (or if there's three of your traveling together, only $329). Taxes are additional. Valid for travel from now until December 23, 2005 or the same package is priced from $689 during the winter season.
Sun Finder Vacations (tel. 888/786-8688; www.sunfinder-vacations.com) is offering midweek round-trip airfare from New York during December plus four nights accommodation in the following packages:
- Normandie Hotel: San Juan: $503
- Rincon Beach Resort: $562
- Radisson Ambassador: $564
- San Juan Marriott: $652
Prices are based on dual occupancy, and taxes are additional.