Craig recently had the chance to visit San Juan, Puerto Rico, a place I haven’t been to, and really haven’t seen a lot of coverage of late. He offered to write a guest post, and I gladly accepted, as I think he adds a unique perspective, as I don’t really cover much in IHG. He’s been convincing me of the virtues of IHG, and I’ve been trying to get him on a long-haul premium cabin flight. TBD on that. Without further adieu, here’s Craig!
I’ve been married for five years now and originally our goal was to go on an anniversary trip to somewhere different every year. Life got in the way of our worldly plans in the form of small children, so for the past two years, we haven’t been able to meet our yearly goal. This year the youngest was old enough to leave at home for a quick weekend so we decided to use our IHG Mastercard free night certificate and 25k points at Intercontinental San Juan.
Growing up a WWF/WWE fan as a young rascal immediately brought thoughts of the Intercontinental title when seeing this hotels name. I pondered whether I should bring my Yellow scale-replica Intercontinental Title (ala Ultimate Warrior) to the Intercontinental Hotel, but alas I decided not to believing it would put us over the 50lb checked bag limit and we were only trying to take one bag.
I had never stayed in an Intercontinental Hotel before and was very impressed with this one. Prior to arrival I contacted the hotel asking for early check-in; to which they notated my account and if available would provide this luxury. We arrive around 12:30pm and was told that no room was available. Upon noticing my Platinum Elite status with IHG, she stated she could upgrade me to a Junior Suite, which was a nice touch. I also received a 15% off coupon at the hotels bars/restaurants, 2 free drink coupons at Sak-I (which I still have if anybody wants ’em), and 2 bottled waters and chocolates in lieu of 600 IHG points.
The Junior Suite was nice with two balcony’s facing the entrance and beginning of the airport runway, but it was a tad smaller than other Junior Suite’s I’ve stayed at in other hotel chains. This in no way took away from the beauty and cleanliness of the hotel and our experience there.
After spoiling my wife with bottled water and two half melted plastic-like chocolates, we went to the pool bar Akua for some lunch and drinks. Prices at the restaurants/bars at the Intercontinental are on par with any hotel; a bit on the higher side. The bar itself has a swim up bar in addition to the higher level chairs, with 3 TV’s in total. The Mofongo was tasty and fresh and my wife’s Chicken Wings were plump and flavorful.
This was the only time we ended up eating at the hotel. There was also an Italian restaurant: Trattoria Italiana in addition to Sak-I.
The pool at the hotel was plenty big enough for all the guests who used it and on one side had 3 separate waterfalls where you can sit and relax, as well as a small ‘pool’ like area in between some of the falls that kids liked to play in. This smaller ‘pool’ had a rock formation separating it from a larger pool, which was over 6 feet deep. On our last day I ended up bellying up the courage to stand on these rock formations and doing cannonballs with a few 7-8 year olds. It was the highlight of my life.
There were plenty of loungers and umbrellas during our stay so if you enjoy pool time as much as I do, you wouldn’t have to spend much time looking for a place to post up in the sun/shade. Pro tip: there is a small food/drink place that seemingly is associated with the hotel (since it was connected to their deck in between the pool & loungers and the beach) that has different food and lower drink prices than Akua. It wasn’t listed on my 15% off coupon but my wife’s Coco Loco’s were $3 cheaper here. We only found this out on the last day.
There are steps from outside the pool leading to the Q Bar which is half inside half out that we never checked out. It was mostly empty each time we walked by. To the left of the Q Bar if you are walking inside from out by the pool, there is a Coffee Bar that had fresh fruits, pastries, various coffee drinks, and even Whiskey and Cigars. One thing I noticed this trip was that Dewar’s Whiskey is really big in PR. I’m not sure if it is just heavily marketed here or what but it was much cheaper than it is in the Continental U.S. and several places had Dewar’s on Happy Hour. The food and coffee was moderately priced and good enough for us. We aren’t very hard to please either, but it was good.
All of our first day was spent at the hotel pool and the beach except when we went for dinner at Metropol Restaurant & Bar nearby. This restaurant is next to Club Gallistico where there is a huge Cockfighting sign.
Although personally against it, I was interested in seeing it while there. Unfortunately my wife didn’t agree and it was not open by the time we left Metropol. Maybe next time. Metropol has good ratings online and you get plenty of food. It was a bit costly but worth it and I highly recommend checking them out. The plan was to stay for the salsa night Intercontinental hosts on Friday nights, but ultimately decided to pass out and catch up on sleep that we never see much of, because you know 1 year olds.
Our second day we had booked a walking food tour in Old San Juan with Flavors of San Juan and had planned on hanging out there the whole day/night. Our Uber app wasn’t working right so we shelled out for a taxi (a costly mistake as we found out later) and got there right on time. The guides are very knowledgeable about food and the city itself. The tour was 3 hours and was structured well enough that I would definitely do the same one again. By this I mean after walking up a longer, steep hill we stopped and got popsicles at Señor Paleta that are seemingly popular and after our last food stop we had coffee/expresso. On this tour I met an older gentleman from Orlando who just so happened to be in the points/churning game with a side of reselling. What a small world! We discussed cards, trips, deals and then we came to blogs we both check out and unfortunately he had not YET heard of Tagging Miles or Saverocity, but seemingly knew Dr. of Credit at least. I pushed him hard to check out these blogs and to shy away from the bigger and sometimes more pushy well known blogs (I hope you approve Mr. Saverocity!)
Because I had brought a book bag with our camera, water and for souvenirs, I decided it best to go back to the hotel to drop the stuff off and come back for dinner and nightlife. One of the tour guides was talking about the transportation there earlier so we went to the bus stop to hop on the T5 bus to save some dough. This is where we found the ghastly mistake of our ways earlier by shelling out over $20 for a taxi when we could have spent $1.50 total to ride the bus. This was also where I found the Don Q rum museum was permanently closed and I would not be able to taste the samplings before heading to dinner as I had hoped and dreamed of. Finding out this news was one of the worst moments of my entire life. In any case, we came back to Old San Juan and hit up one of the spots we stopped at on our tour, Café el Punto.
Early in the day upon buying some local non-exported rum from this place I had called the attractive cashier a ‘mamacita’ and also provided a wink for full effect. I let her know she shouldn’t tell my wife, who was perusing other items nearby, and she replied ‘of course not’. In retrospect, by coming back to this place later in the evening she probably suspected that I was actually back to see her. Inevitable it was truly for the food but she didn’t look displeased so #winning.
We checked out a few places for after dinner drinks and stopped at La Factoria, Barrachina, and La Taberna Lúpulo. I was told the legal drinking age was only 18 in PR and this became quite noticeable when we were walking on Calle San Sebastian. There were a lot of kids in the streets and waiting to get into various places up here, so we decided it was best to head out. We stopped for some late night chorizo pizza at Pizza City on the way back and it was just ok. I actually expected a bit more but on the late night when you’re hungry it’s worth it.
Our final morning we packed and with checkout being 12pm, were in a predicament whether to go to the airport 4 hrs before our flight or milk the pool/beach till the last minute. No offense to the #avgeeks but the pool was calling our names. We finished with a bang and 2 for 1 mojitos and left into the sunset aboard a beautiful Southwest 737.