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Doubling Up On Visiting Puerto Rico
By Margaret Backenheimer, Special to the Tribune
April 13, 2003
Puerto Rico is an exotic getaway that's easy for Americans to handle. No passport is required, its currency is the American dollar, and English is widely spoken. For a look at the area's colonial past, as well as some time to squish the sand between your toes, you might well be tempted to book the "Town & Country No. 4" package offered by Hotel El Convento, with six nights divided between that historic hotel in Old San Juan and a beach resort on Vieques Island. (787-723-9020; or www.elconvento.com).
$2,268 per couple, valid May 1-Nov. 30.
Includes: In San Juan: three nights at Hotel El Convento, welcome bottle of wine, continental breakfast each morning, daily afternoon wine tasting with hors d'oeuvres, taxes; on Vieques Island: three nights at the Inn on the Blue Horizon, four-day economy car rental, welcome glass of wine, breakfast each morning, dinner one evening, tour of Bioluminescent Bay, taxes.
Not included: local transfers and transportation between hotels.
Of package-equivalent items, if purchased separately:
San Juan hotel: $799 (three nights at $220 plus 21 percent tax) for a "superior" room at Hotel El Convento, rate valid May 1-Nov. 30.
Wine: $30 for one bottle.
Breakfast: included in the room rate.
Wine tasting: included in the room rate.
Vieques hotel: $572 (three nights at $175 plus 9 percent tax) for a "casita" room with ocean view, rate valid June 1-Nov. 15.
Rental car: $160 (four days at $40/day) at local agency on Vieques Island.
Glass of wine: $12 ($6/person).
Breakfast: $42 ($7/person) for the "Sunrise Special" three mornings.
Dinner: $120 for two at the hotel's Blue Macaw Restaurant.
Bay tour: $46 ($23/person).
Total: $1,781 on our own for features similar to those of the package.
Difference: $487 less on our own.
BEYOND THE DOLLAR SIGNS
This package is one of six that links three days in San Juan with three at various seaside resorts. All begin at Hotel El Convento, a former Carmelite convent built in 1651. The 58-room luxury hotel is located in Old San Juan, near many other noteworthy buildings from the island's Spanish colonial days. The area's narrow cobblestone streets and houses with overhanging balconies typify its Old-World charm, and the entertainment and shopping spots of modern San Juan are close by.
The "country" part of this package is based at the Inn on the Blue Horizon, once a Spanish sugar plantation house on the southern shore of Vieques Island, also part of Puerto Rico. The inn has all the requisite resort fixtures: guest villas, beach, pool and an intimate restaurant serving cuisine labeled "intriguing." Relaxation, it seems, is the name of the game for the final three days of this vacation, especially since tiny Vieques has no movies, shopping malls or traffic lights. Some savvy beach lovers consider Vieques a hidden treasure, but getting there requires a short flight or a lengthy taxi ride and an hour-long ferry trip.
This transfer is not included in the package, nor is air fare to get from the U.S. to Puerto Rico.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Bioluminescent Bay tour is a must. Microorganisms called dinoflagellates put out strobes of bluish light, making the whole bay glow in the dark. But the bay can easily be made part of a do-it-yourself itinerary. Travelers might as well skip the package and use their considerable savings for a lengthier town or country stay.