December 10, 2003 -- They're having fun again, down Puerto Rico way. The whole island is aflutter, anticipating the winter arrival of a flock of snowbirds with the "Puerto Rico is Fun" promotion including a variety of package combinations from just as many providers. The best deals include your air, hotel, morning meals and a car rental, plus some nice perks mentioned below.
For those staying in the island's hotels and resorts, the program offers free extra night incentives, Caribbean breakfasts, upgrades to ocean view room, a LeLoLai Cultural Entertainment program and/or folkloric and salsa shows on Tuesdays through Sundays, a replenishable phone card initially good for 20 minutes, a Hertz car rental discount, and more. The Hertz deal includes choice of 30% off standard rates, free upgrade or one free day (with four-day minimum) depending on the hotel you pick.
Each participating hotel, resort and packager has a slightly different program -- it's apple to oranges, really, to compare. Only a few operators use the more moderate places to stay, most preferring the big resorts right on the beach. Some go for a four-day minimum -- you get the fourth night free. Some for seven, you get the sixth and seventh free.
Here are the best programs for a vacation in 2004 from five reliable travel providers. These packages do indeed seem like fun, and at reasonable prices no less.
Complete with Air
US Airways Vacations has come in with a remarkably low price of $736 out of New York for five nights at the Park Plaza Normandie San Juan, a marvelous, Art Deco style hotel in the heart of San Juan itself (the builders designed it to look like the old Normandie luxury liner). You have to book by December 31, 2003 for travel January 1 through April 30, 2004. You get the amenities of the Puerto Rico is Fun program mentioned earlier, but you will have to cough up the taxes and tips for your free breakfasts.
Upgrades to snazzier digs from New York include:
- $951 for the same package and amenities at the Wyndham Condado Plaza Hotel & Casino
- $1,103 at the Courtyard by Marriott Isla Verde Beach Resort
- $1,367 at the Wyndham El Conquistador Resort
- $1,597 at the Wyndham El San Juan Hotel & Casino
Add-on rates are available from all US Airways gateways, of course. These sample rates are per person, based on double occupancy and are valid for Thursday and Friday departures January 1 through April 30, 2004. Rates do not include airport taxes and fees. For reservations and more information, contact US Airways Vacations at 800/352-8747 or visit www.usairwaysvacations.com, then.click on "Save $100 to Puerto Rico."
Next most inexpensive on a per diem basis is the program offered by United Vacations, affiliated with United Airlines. Guests here will get their fifth night free, daily Caribbean breakfast for two, free upgrade to ocean view room (when available), the kids-stay-free program, the calling card, and the cultural programs. The cost starts at $1,139 for seven nights out of New York or Washington, D.C. and staying at the same Park Plaza Normandie San Juan mentioned above, but in a Superior Room. Departures are on Saturdays from January 23 through March 20, 2004. Airport taxes and fees not included, some blackout dates may apply.
Typical add-on prices for the above are $30 from Chicago, $195 from Denver and $290 from either Los Angeles or San Francisco. Contact United Vacations at www.unitedvacations.com.
Working out at about $207 per night is a package offered by Liberty Travel, at the very posh Intercontinental Resort & Casino in San Juan. You have to book by January 25, 2004 for travel from January 1 through April 30, 2004. Their PRIF package includes the fifth night free, room upgrade, daily buffet breakfast for two adults and two children under 12, cultural entertainment program, the phone card and a discount or free upgrade on a Hertz rental car, plus hotel tax and service charges. Airport taxes and fees not included. The price mentioned is for roundtrip midweek departures. Contact them at www.libertytravel.com or phone 888/271-1584.
American Airlines Vacations sells land-only packages starting from just $475, which give you five nights, daily breakfast, room upgrade to ocean view when available, the cultural entertainment program, the calling card and a kids stay free offer. The rate mentioned is for a sojourn at the Rincon Beach Resort in Mayaquez in pool view room category, between January 4 and April 15, 2004. Contact them through www.aavacations.com.
Inter-Island Tours is selling similar land-only packages starting from $429 good for travel from December 10, 2003 through April 10, 2004. They can be reached online at www.interislandtours.com or toll free at 800/245-3434.
When I looked at the websites for the 11 tour operators recommended by the program, I found one had gone out of business already and another was quoting prices for 2001. (After I informed the director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Office about that, he said the website would be updated as quickly as possible.) To be on the safe side, use the website (www.puertoricoisfun.com) for a general guideline, then make a phone call for price confirmations before making any reservations.
Four operators were quoting prices for the 2003 program only, which ends on December 15. If you can really hurry, you might even make that date.
As we mentioned, at the time of this writing the other recommended tour operators found on the Puerto is Fun site had somewhat soon-to-be-outdated and in some cases, dubious, information. Sites offering deals only through 2003 include Brendan Tours (www.brendantours.com), Delta Vacations (www.deltavacations.com) and Continental Vacations (www.covacations.com/promotionDetail.aspx?code=523). If you prefer to book through a travel agent, check the for-agents-only Travel Impressions (www.travelimpressions.com/specials/island.html). Don't bother with the Travel Four listing, if it's still on the PRIF website by the time you read this -- the Tourism Office says they are out of business.
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