San Juan In A Day

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San Cristobal Castle

My great grandparents were born in Puerto Rico, so it was a “must-see” for us while visiting the Eastern Caribbean. San Juan is the capital of Puerto Rico and an unincorporated territory of the United States, purchased in 1898. Similar to American Samoa, Mariana Islands and Guam, Puerto Rico is an organized, self-governed territory consisting of locally elected governors and territorial legislatures. Founded by Spanish colonists in 1521, San Juan is the second oldest European-established capital city in the Americas. Half of Puerto Rico’s 2M people live and work in San Juan. Old San Juan is a colorful neighborhood of cobblestone streets and historic Spanish Colonial buildings from the 1500s. While visiting San Juan, we had to explore the historical, defensive fort San Cristobal.

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First stop, San Cristobal Castle~ Castillo San Cristóbal, also known as Fort San IMG_7251Cristóbal, is part if the San Juan National Historical Site and was built by Spain to guard Puerto Rico against land attacks. San Cristóbal was completed in 1783 on 27 acres of land and is the largest fort that the Spanish built. Built on a hill, Cerro de San Cristóbal contains cisterns (tanks to store water) that are 30 feet high and 60 feet wide which were used during the ages of the Spanish Colony. The cisterns doubled as bomb shelters during World War II. Tourists walk around at their leisure, exploring the grounds and reading the historical significance.

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IMG_7301Let’s eat!!!! At Barrachina Restaurant in Old San Juan, you can eat, drink and even get married!! There are usually people standing around waiting for their name to be called, a sign of how popular and fabulous the restaurant is. The piña colada is the national drink of Puerto Rico since 1978. National Piña Colada Day is celebrated on July 10th in the Caribbean. Ramón Portas Mingot claims to have created the drink in 1963 at Barrachina Restaurant. The piña (pineapple) colada (strained) is made with rum, coconut cream or milk, and pineapple juice. They offer virgin pina coladas for the kids. Try the specialty sampler or monfongo! It was our first experience eating monfongo, which is made of plantains.

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Special Sampler with grouper, calamari & plantain

Barrachina Restaurant Old San Juan is recognized as the king of “Paella”. They have been serving up creative Spanish and International cuisine for over 50 years.

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Monfongo

Mofongo is an African-Puerto Rican dish made of fried plantains. The plantains are picked green, before they are ripe and mixed with garlic and salt. Mofongo is served in a variety of ways but most commonly with fried meats and soup. The dish is often  packed with vegetables, chicken, beef, shrimp or octopus. Mofongo relleno has seafood inside along with braised meat or seafood poured over the top, pictured above. I would describe it as very firm, dense and not much flavor.

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Shopping District

Shopping!!! There are several places to shop in Old San Juan, Calle (street) Fortaleza,IMG_7286 Calle San Francisco, and Calle del Cristo to name a few. Calle del Cristo has higher end shops such as Coach, Ralph Lauren, Burberry, Tommy Hilfigger, Dooney & Bourke, Crocs, and Polo. You’ll also find galleries with Puerto Rican crafts, local cigar shops, clothing and shoes stores as well as boutiques and souvenirs.  Calle Fortaleza, also known as SoFo, has shops, restaurants and hotels for up and down the street for blocks. It is considered the main shopping district for Old San Juan. Calle San Francisco is the place to shop for artisans, skateboard & surf wear, street fashion and bistros. The Mall of San Juan, Plaza del Sol and Martemar Plaza are located in Calle San Francisco.

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$$ Saving Tips: The portions at Barrachina are huge, so be sure to split. We took a guided tour through Old San Juan, but it’s really not necessary to pay for a guided tour if you just want to shop and walk the streets of Old San Juan. The streets are accessible from the cruise ship and there is a lot to see and do. Bring your own sunblock, hat & bottled water as it is very hot! We were there mid-March and it was humid and sticky.

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Old San Juan

 

 

Labadee, Haiti

 

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View From the Ship

When planning a trip to the Eastern Caribbean, initially I was hesitant to spend time in Labadee, Haiti. After researching Haiti, I learned that Labadee is a 260-acre port built in 2009 along the northern coast of Haiti- truly a private paradise. The resort consists of lagoon-like bays, very touristy and guarded by private security. Guests are permitted from leaving the area. Royal Caribbean International leases the beach-rimmed peninsula from the Haitian government through 2050.

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The minute you step foot on the island, you’ll be greeted by the welcome band, playing traditional music and dancing. Make your way through the excursion desks,IMG_7117 pick up a colorful map and you’ll see an open-air shuttle that takes guests to the various stops on the island. I wasn’t feeling great that day and didn’t plan on getting off the ship so my husband and kids explored. I decided to get off later and met up with them. While wandering around looking for them, I felt very safe.

What is a Labadoozie? Wait staff walk around all day selling the Labadoozie made of Orange, Pineapple, and Papaya Juice, Coconut Cream, Dark Rum, Coconut Rum, Grenadine and crushed ice. Royal Caribbean provides all of the food for the barbeque, bottled water, and cocktails (for purchase) on the island from on-board the ship.

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Time for zip lining!!! The Dragon’s Breath Flightline is the longest zip line over ocean in the world! The scariest part may be the ride up to the zip line, 500 feet above the beaches, in an open safari vehicle, along a winding road. The tour includes an orientation and then the practice begins over at the “Little Dragon” zip line. Enjoy the thrilling ride down at 40-50 mph overlooking 2,600 feet of gorgeous beaches and the Caribbean. The zip line ends at the Dragon’s Breath Rock, where you can step off the zip line and play in the ocean or wander on over to a jerk-chicken style barbeque.

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Arawak Aqua Park

The first thing that we spotted upon disembarking the ship, were the inflatables. It was like a huge jungle gym afloat in the Caribbean, perfect for families. Arawak Aqua Park includes fun, floating trampolines, water slides, a riding and rolling log, as well as several other floating toys.

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Dragon’s Splash Waterslide~ This saltwater slide is fun for the entire family! My husband went down at a snails pace and couldn’t quite get the rhythm while our kids came barreling down doing spins. The slide is just under 300 feet long and ends in a 18-foot splash area. The pathway to the slide is called Columbus Coves’ forest where you’ll climb a stone pathway through the jungle to reach the Dragon’s head. The waterslide pass is good for the entire day!

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There is so much to do in Labadee!!! We cruised into the port on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas ship. As you can tell by the pictures, it was an overcast day with bright sun and then rain the next minute. In addition to the excursions that we participated in, there is a DreamWorks Photo Safari, Dragon’s Tail Coaster, Haiti coastal cruise, lounge chair & cabana rentals, yacht sailing, Sandbar Island Adult Party, beach bungalow rentals, full day beach bed rental, kayaking, historical walking tour, sport fishing, snorkeling and jet skiing. We are definitely doing the jet skis next year!

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Shopping!! Shop for beautiful handmade, local artwork, woodwork and crafts. Some of the vendors can be pushy and I read in reviews, that they can be aggressive as well. We did not experience any aggressive vendors. The shopping area is separate from the lounging beach area and the vendors cannot leave the shopping area. I noticed beautiful jewelry, sculptures and purchased an ornament. The shopping area is very clean and strategically placed on the pathway to the waterslide, inflatables, and jet skis.

Interesting Facts~ Royal Caribbean employs 200 locals at Labadee and allows another 300 to sell their wares on the premises. Royal Caribbean pays the Haitian government $12 per tourist.

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Fabulous day in Labadee

We will definitely be heading back to Labadee next year for Spring Break!!! Ironically, it was our favorite port in the Eastern Caribbean.