Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Guide to Puerto Rico

How to Get There: 
Jet Blue has direct flights from DCA. Within 3 hours, you'll land in San Juan. 

Where to Stay:  
The San Juan Water Beach Club Hotel on Isla Verde Beach has an amazing location, top quality food and outstanding service.  This South Beach-style hotel's Mist Ultra Lounge is the ultimate party spot and features some of the best DJs on the island.  Mobs of attractive people pull up to dance the night away.  You'll find swanky decor and lots of black lights.  The views from the rooms overlook the sapphire-blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean.  Zest restaurant offers a creatively designed menu with modern twists on the local Puerto Rican flavors. For business travelers and small groups, the hotel offers an oceanfront business center, a variety of meeting rooms and a 24-hour front desk service.  Recently, the Water Club was also the recipient of Trip Advisor 2013 Certificate of Excellence Award and Travelocity’s 2012 Excellence Award in recognition for its focus on providing visitors with an outstanding customer experience and the performance of the hotel and its staff.  Stay for yourself and you'll see why.

Oh, and ladies, you might enjoy the Alex Rodriguez look-alike working the front desk.    

The service at The San Juan Water Beach Club Hotel is exceptional.  The staff is extremely friendly and goes above and beyond.  In comparison to my trip to Nassau in January, the service was night and day.  Here, you will be greeted with smiles and people who are truly appreciative you have come to visit.  Doors are opened for you, chairs are placed out on the beach, and umbrellas are dug into the sand without hesitation.  The hotel makes you feel welcome from the minute you arrive until the minute you leave.


Zest: Chef Raúl Correa wowed us every step of the way with a seven-course tasting menu that would not be out of place in Miami or New York.  
The meal was, simply put, one of the best I've ever had. Each dish was thoughtfully presented, with modern twists on traditional Puerto Rican cuisine.  Chef Correa's playfulness shined most brightly with his truffle butter popcorn soup.  Do not go to San Juan without dining at Zest. This guy can cook!  
La Jaquita Baya:  We snuck out one night to La Jaquita Baya restaurant on Chef Correa’s insistence – apparently this is one of the go-to underground places for San Juan foodies in the know. The locale in the Miramar area is a bit difficult to find so it may be best to take a cab.  Upon arrival, the chef and proprietor, Xavier Pacheco, just started sending his favorite dishes, including smoked meats and house made flan. La Jaquita Baya is small and comfortable, with super friendly staff.  In addition to excellent Puerto Rican style tapas, dessert was heavenly.  Best of all, it was prepared by Chef Xavier’s mom, who doubles as his pastry chef!
Platos:  Platos is located in walking distance from the San Juan Water Beach Club Hotel.  We tried the Mofongos and the El Jibarito.  Both dishes were flavorful, but not overwhelmingly good.  I'd only recommend this place if you're staying for a while and don't want to eat at the American chains. 

Beaches, beaches, beaches!  My goal was relaxation, so I didn’t venture far from San Juan Water Beach Club.  In addition to the hotel’s excellent restaurant, there are all sorts of vendors selling Puerto Rican goodies like empanadas, fresh coconuts and yes, American hot dogs, reflecting PR’s mixture of Spanish, island and American culture. 

If you’re more adventurous than I was, however, there is a large casino just a few minutes walk from the hotel that seemed to be drawing in a very attractive, fashionable crowd.  There is also excellent snorkeling and diving off the world-class islands just east of the Puerto Rico mainland, Vieques and Isla de Culebra.  

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