Hey y’all! It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks for me—I kicked off four back-to-back trips with a trip to Puerto Rico last month, which I am going to recap for you today. Since I’ve returned from Puerto Rico, I’ve been to Chicago for my cousin’s wedding, Austin for a work trip, and Scottsdale for a bachelorette party. (I’ll be sure to do a full recap on the latter, stay tuned!) I love to travel, but since the pandemic, I’ve realized how much I value time at home in my routine, too. Because these trips all revolved around weddings or work, they were out of my control schedule-wise, but let’s just say, I’m excited to be at home in good old Virginia for most of the summer.
Puerto Rico has been on my list as a place I’d love to travel to for as long as I can remember. So when the save the date for my former coworkers’ wedding arrived last spring, I was super excited for the opportunity to visit Puerto Rico. My first trip to the island was amazing and I would love to go back one day—and next time, I definitely want to make sure I have time to explore Old San Juan. Because I was visiting Puerto Rico for a wedding, I wanted to stay at the resort the bride and groom chose for their wedding block, which worked out perfectly because that’s where all my friends stayed, too, and we had shuttle transport to and from the wedding. Their venue was in the El Yunque rainforest, so the hotel was about a 45 minute drive from Old San Juan in the municipality of Rio Grande.
Because two of my former coworkers, Erin and Dylan, were getting married, this was such a fun wedding as about 15 of my former colleagues and their significant others were all in attendance as well. I had such a special first job that I will always hold a soft spot in my heart for—we had the best company culture and genuinely had fun with each other, which was such a nice extension of my social network as an early 20-something. This trip just reinforced that and I had fun from the moment we landed to the moment we were wheels up on the way back home.
HOW TO GET THERE —
My former coworker and great friend, Emily, and I were roommates for the weekend and coordinated our flight plans. The wedding took place on Good Friday, so we booked flights that arrived Thursday so we could be in town for the Welcome Party. We initially booked a JetBlue flight for Thursday morning from DCA direct to SJU. At 10:30pm the night before our flight was to take off, I got out of the shower to find a notification from the JetBlue app that our flight had been canceled. I knew there were very few direct flights from the DC area to SJU, so I immediately hopped on Google Flights to see what our options were. JetBlue had no other direct options and I figured since they canceled our flight, we could easily get a refund.
So, I started looking at other carriers and found a United flight out of IAD that would still get us to SJU around the same time as our original flight. When I tried to check out, United told me that flight was no longer available—right as Emily texted me to tell me she thought she booked the last seat. After refreshing a few times, I realized it was a lost cause and started looking at other options. Luckily, I was able to find another direct flight to SJU…out of BWI. But since it was my only direct option, I jumped on it and a few minutes later, that flight sold out, too, so I considered myself lucky.
BWI is about a 45-60 minute drive from my apartment, depending on the time of day. And because my flight was at 8am, I knew I would have to be there really early. I couldn’t drive myself there, because my flight home was out of IAD, so I’d have no way to get my car back. And I didn’t feel comfortable taking an Uber that far at 5am in the morning. So I called my mom and asked for a huge favor—could she get up really early and drive me to the airport? Because I have the most amazing, selfless mom, she said that would be no problem, and the next day, before the sun had risen, my mom showed up at my apartment to take me to BWI. She’s the best!
Luckily, my flight home on United into IAD was a lot smoother of a trip that departed on time and arrived early.
Though I have flown on JetBlue in the past and had positive experiences, given the struggles they are facing coming out of the pandemic, I probably won’t fly them again any time soon. Though I was able to get my money back from my initial flight, my new flight was almost double the price—but it was worth it for the great weekend I had. Another learning I had coming out of this situation is that if you’re flying somewhere that has very few direct flights, knowing what other flight options are available is helpful so that if your initial flight does get cancelled, you can move quickly.
WHERE TO STAY —
As I mentioned, I opted to stay where the room block was for the wedding, and I am so glad I did! There are some trips where you’re always on the move, but this was a true vacation where we basically didn’t leave the resort—we only left for the wedding. And because everyone was staying at the same resort and we all spent our days by the gorgeous pool, there wasn’t much planning or coordination needed to enjoy a lot of quality time together. We all basically just showed up at the pool around 10am and didn’t leave until 4 or 5pm in the afternoon.
The resort we stayed at was the Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve Puerto Rico. It was located at the back of a gorgeous gated property that had several other villas, condos, and a golf course on-site, and while we were there, I felt very safe. The resort itself actually reminded me a lot of the one I stayed at a few years back in the Dominican Republic—there was a main building that included a lobby, gift shop, a coffee shop offering breakfast and lunch foods, and stunning bar were located. Off of that main building were the resort’s main restaurants and the large resort-style pool. The property also offered beach access and had a lot of umbrellas and chairs available for guests that you did not have to pay to rent, which was a nice perk.
The guest rooms were located in individual two-story garden-style white buildings around the property, each room with a balcony or patio of its own. The resort had staff on golf carts to take you to your room if it was farther away—our room was pretty close, so we didn’t do this often, but it was helpful when we had luggage.
Emily and I both loved our room—it was set up perfectly for two friends to share. For one, it was extremely spacious, with its own sitting area and balcony, so we had plenty of room to spread out and didn’t feel like we were on top of each other. For another, the bed was extremely comfortable and the fan stayed on all night, so it leant itself to perfect sleeping conditions. One morning, Emily got up almost two hours before me and I didn’t hear her at all! There was also a mini fridge and the hotel kept it well stocked with water bottles.
To be candid, the only thing I didn’t love about the resort was the food—other than the lunches we ate by the pool, everything I had left a little to be desired. There was a coffee shop off the lobby that offered breakfast foods like yogurt parfaits, breakfast sandwiches, pastries, and coffees, it wasn’t necessarily bad but it didn’t stand out either. (I also paid $6 for a yogurt parfait one morning and there was less than half a cup of yogurt in it!) The one redeeming factor was the coffee shop was open late, which was nice if you wanted to get a snack or water before bed.
I stayed at the resort for three nights, and two of the nights we had wedding-related events, so we only ate at a resort restaurant one of the nights. If you’re heading to the resort and want to eat dinner there, I highly recommend making reservations in advance. (A concierge will email you ahead of your stay and offer to take care of any reservations for you!) We tried to get a reservation at the steak restaurant and the hibachi restaurant on Saturday night to no avail—we also had a large party of 10 people—and so we ended up at the only restaurant on property that didn’t take reservations, Pasion. We split a bunch of appetizers and then for my main, I did a white fish. I thought all the food was over-salted and somewhat flavorless. I’m not sure if they were having an off night, or if there’s just not a lot of incentive to have good food since the resort is somewhat remote.
That all being said, I would definitely stay at the Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve Puerto Rico again and would recommend it to anyone looking for a relaxing place to stay in Puerto Rico.
GETTING TO THE RESORT —
From SJU, the Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve Puerto Rico is about a 40-45 minute drive. It’s easy to get an Uber or taxi at the airport if you choose not to rent a car. Since we were only on the island for a short time and knew we were going to stay on the resort, we opted not to rent a car—but if you had a longer amount or time or wanted to explore other parts of the island, I’d highly recommend renting a car.
Getting to SJU from the resort is a bit trickier. Because the resort is on a gated property and sits very far back from the main road, it’s pretty hard to get an Uber. I didn’t want to risk it, so I asked the hotel concierge to arrange a taxi for me, which was super easy. My taxi driver texted me the night before to confirm and was prompt in picking me up. The one thing I will flag is that most Puerto Rican taxi drivers only take cash—luckily I had brought cash (which was also helpful for tipping the staff throughout my stay) and I am so glad I did as otherwise I would have been out of luck.
WHAT TO DO —
As I mentioned before, we really didn’t leave the resort—which made for magical days spent by the pool! While our resort did have access to the beach and its beautiful Caribbean waters, most of us opted to spend our days by the pool. The chairs and umbrellas on the beach, while free, did leave a little bit to be desired and weren’t as nice as the offerings by the pool. For another, the sand was somewhat grainy and not as soft as what we’re used to in many parts of the East Coast. That being said, the water was extremely calm and clear, and several in our group did go swimming. I also made a point to walk on the beach in the mornings and at night to take in the beautiful views in this stunning part of the world.
The resort-style pool was huge, and it had chairs and umbrellas lining the entire pool. The resort had a cabana where you could pick up towels and purchase sunscreen and pool toys, if desired. Like many hotels, people would often leave their towels on chairs and then not claim them for hours, which was annoying, but it seemed like there were more than enough chairs to go around. We also got there pretty early every day so we never had a probably finding a chair. The biggest perk of the pool was the swim-up bar—nothing beats drinking an ice cold margarita in the pool on a hot and sunny day! You could also order food and drink to your umbrella from the bar (which you could also access from the pool deck), so we ate lunch at the pool most days. Their salads were really good, but the biggest hit among our group were the chicken tenders off the kids menu. I had the best time spending my days by this pool relaxing with great friends.
The wedding itself was at Hacienda Siesta Alegre and it was such a special day celebrating my friends Erin and Dylan and the start of their happy life together! It was an honor to be invited and I am so glad I was able to attend.
Old San Juan, I am coming for you next! If you have any questions about my trip to Puerto Rico, don’t hesitate to drop me a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PS—the details of my yellow dress I wore to the wedding are in this post!