• Saturday, May 27, 2017

Puerto Rico Vacation

Escape to Puerto Rico
January 7, 2014
By , Families Contributor

The holiday season means chilly temps, but it also means vacation for the kids, making it the perfect time for a warm-weather getaway. Easily accessible from most major East Coast cities, Puerto Rico offers everything you expect of the Caribbean: beautiful white sand beaches, turquoise waters, snorkeling, sailing, fishing, golf, tennis – you get the idea.

If your needs end there, you might as well book a flight to Florida. But if you’re ready to add a little something extra to the mix for you and the kids, jet off to Puerto Rico for its rich tropical cuisine, colorful arts and crafts, vibrant music, and stunning natural wonders.

Good for: Families eager to escape the winter weather – and the confines of a typical beach resort.

Suggested stay: 5–8 days

The Highlights

  • Soak up the sun along Puerto Rico’s 270-plus miles of beaches
  • Day trip to El Yunque, the only subtropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest Service
  • Paddle through a glow-in-the-dark bioluminescent bay
  • Stroll the streets of Old San Juan and the historic 16th century fort that protects its rugged shoreline
  • Zipline through the lush forest canopy of Toro Verde Nature Park, one of the longest of its kind on earth

What to know: Unlike most of the Caribbean, there’s no need to run out and get a passport for the kids. Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States, so arrival and entry is as simple as visiting another state. Even though all the same driving rules apply, beware that most signs are in Spanish, the distance markers are in kilometers, and the gas is sold in liters. So brush up on the metric system before you arrive.

Life’s a Beach

For a family-friendly resort close to Old San Juan – but far enough away to bask in tropical tranquility – head to St. Regis Bahia Beach, which is just a 30-minute drive from the airport. Straddling an old coconut plantation, this resort has all the luxurious St. Regis trappings, along with the giant green iguanas that that have taken up residence here.

The spacious Astor, Luxury, and St. Regis Suites offer separate living rooms with pullout sofa beds, walk-out terraces overlooking the ocean, garden, or pool, flatscreen TVs, and two full bathrooms – ideal for a family of four. 

As the Caribbean’s first and only Certified Gold Audubon Signature Sanctuary, there will be no problem in getting the kids to put down the electronics. The Iguana Children's Club features a wide range of activities, including kayaking, nature walks, turtle-feeding, and, of course, the pool and beach. While the kids are off doing their thing, take advantage of the alone time and get pampered at Remède Spa with facials, massages, and other body treatments. Top it off with chilled champagne, Jacques Torres truffles, and Kashwere throws. Or, get sweaty in yoga class, pump iron at the Athletic Club, or spend the afternoon at the 18-hole Robert Trent Jones, Jr.-designed golf course.

When it comes to dining, there’s no need to leave the property – it’s all here. Most of the restaurants are casual enough for the kids, yet possess a sophistication that will please the parents. Molasses, in the Bahia Beach club, is ideal for lunch, while at Seagrapes, you can munch on pizza from the open-air brick oven while taking in Atlantic views. They even have s’mores and storytelling for the kids on Saturday nights. Or, treat yourself to fusion Latin and Afro-Caribbean cuuisine at Jean-Georges’ Fern.

Take a Hike

Though it might be tempting not to leave the resort, take a twirl around Old San Juan. Even if the kids don’t fully appreciate its history – not to mention the great cafes and local art shops – they can burn some energy running around the well-preserved El Morro and Castillo de San Cristóbal (and learn a bit about life under Spanish rule in the process).

Also, don’t miss El Yunque National Forest, a tropical rainforest that rivals any you’d find in the Caribbean. The kids will really dig hiking the many trails that snake through the jungle, and discovering waterfalls, natural pools, and plenty of wildlife (especially birds, frogs, and insects). Just try to get there early to avoid the crowds.

Glow in the Dark

If you really want to wow the kids, wait for the sun to set and visit one of Puerto Rico’s bioluminescent bays for what just might be the world’s most spectacular natural light shows. There’s one located in Fajardo, about a 45-minute drive from San Juan. 

But the most brilliant bioluminescent bay – according to the Guinness Book of World Records – is in Vieques, a small island–municipality just eight miles off the mainland that’s easily reached by ferry or small plane. Sleepy, verdant Vieques is what much of the Caribbean must have been like before the arrival of the big hotels and cruise ships, which makes it a unique place to spend a few extra days.

The island’s only resort, the W Retreat & Spa, nestles on two private, secluded beaches. Their airport lounge is a nice welcome and the ten-minute drive to the property is complimentary.  Once there, the kids will likely make a beeline for the pool while you can sip a cocktail in the eclectic, neo-bohemian Living Room designed by Patricia Urquiola.

The on-site Black Beard Sports offers a great opportunity for the kids to see the characters of Finding Nemo for real, in entertaining snorkel and scuba classes. But the sea creatures you really want to see are in Bio Bay. It’s best to visit on or around a new moon for maximum effect, but even if you go during a full moon, you’ll experience the magic created by the dinoflagellates that thrive in this unique and rare ecosystem.

Bieque Eco Trips guides will lead you, in kayaks, along the shores of (appropriately named) Mosquito Bay, where the most amazing phenomenon starts to happen. When your paddles hit the water, these single-celled organisms emit a flash of bluish light that lights up the water below your boats in what looks like a cloud of pixie dust. As you splash around in the water with the kids, a spray of glowing sparkles will shower over you. Who needs Disney World?

(Photos courtesy of St. Regis Bahia Beach and W Retreat & Spa)