Passion Points: Family
I once heard someone call Puerto Rico “the Bronx of the Caribbean,” and in some ways, at least, it’s an appropriate comparison. While most people travel through it to get to high-end destinations, they don’t generally stop to explore its nicer areas. But given that one of the most frequent requests we receive at Indagare is for assistance in locating a warm, easy-to-reach, not outrageously priced family-friendly destination, we thought we’d venture beyond the connections terminal of the San Juan Airport.
What we found was a pleasant surprise. El Conquistador, which first opened in 1962, sits on 500 acres of tropical coastline on Puerto Rico’s eastern tip. Approximately a forty-five minute drive from San Juan’s airport, the sprawling resort has 750 rooms, twenty-three restaurants, an eighteen-hole golf course, and a Golden Door spa. The true gem for high-end travelers, however, is neighboring Las Casitas Village. Joined to the resort but set a short walk from the main hotel (the spa is between the two), Casitas’ 157 villas feel like a smaller, more private retreat. The homes, which range in size from one- to three-bedrooms, were recently renovated and boast full kitchens, living areas and terraces with views of the sea. Guests at Casitas still have access to the resort’s restaurants and other amenities, but they’ll be transferred by individual car service from the airport, have a separate check-in area and be greeted by their villa’s private butler, who will whisk them directly to their house. Casitas even has its own pools and cafes that are accessible only to villa guests.
All this privacy lends a more exclusive air to a large resort that’s received mixed reports from Indagare members. When combined with the more refined Casitas, however, there are big advantages to El Conquistador’s size. Sure, a morning Starbucks run might not be your idea of Caribbean isolation, but as a mother, I am thrilled to have that option when my toddler wakes me up bright and early. As for activities, skip the nightclub and casino, but definitely check out Palomino Island, the Conquistador’s private island accessible by a short ferry ride from the marina. Another popular activity for families is the water park, complete with twisting water slides and a “river” that’s sure to enthrall younger guests. (Note: there are plenty of other pools on the property out of hearing range, so the squeals need not disturb sunbathers.) Adults will love the Golden Door’s 26,000-square-foot facility, which includes a boutique, expansive fitness area and enough treatment rooms that even when full, the space doesn’t feel crowded. Although I went straight for a heavenly massage, fitness buffs can sample the class offerings, which range from spinning to outdoor, moonlit yoga. Apparently Mariah Carey, a frequent guest at Las Casitas, was so taken by the exercise regimens that she hired the head trainer to accompany her on tour.
Who Should Go: Families who want a quick and easy getaway with more reliably warm weather than Florida offers. (Puerto Rico is on the same latitude as the Virgin Islands.)
Who Shouldn’t Go: If you need constant pampering and haute amenities, this isn’t for you.
Where To Eat: Meat lovers should try the Strip House, an outpost of the popular New York steakhouse. Executive chef John Schenk, who won Food & Wine’s 1995 “Best New Chef” award early in his career, puts his skills to work with the eatery’s great cuts of meat (not to mention the gargantuan signature desserts—try the cheesecake). This restaurant also has a more adult feel, should you want to leave the kids in the villa and enjoy a parent-only dinner.
What To Know: The villas are built into the side of a cliff, so the lower-level ones have steep steps leading down to them. If traveling with young children, ask for the upper ones to avoid the climb. Also, the newest villas (constructed in 2004) are even more removed from the resort. If more seclusion appeals, book one of these but ask your butler to reserve a golf cart for your party. Trips to the main hotel will be much quicker.
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For family travel advice or to learn about special trips or preferred rates at hotels, contact our booking department by calling 212-988-2611 or by sending an inquiry
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