I’m a single mother with two teenagers and a limited budget. Every year my kids and I take one week’s vacation in the summer. Last year I carefully planned out a trip to an all-inclusive resort in Tulum, Mexico near Mayan ruins. The trip combined history with snorkeling and windsurfing, and I wouldn’t have to cook meals and clean up. I fantasized about my kids improving their Spanish and having fun playing soccer with Mexican kids.
But a week before we were to leave, I found out that a hurricane had razed the resort. I had only days to put together a new vacation.
On the advice of a travel agent, we ended up going to Puerto Rico and I was really disappointed by our trip.
My goal is to be relaxed with my kids. To do that, we needed some activities, have some meals provided, and not spend more than $3,000 total. A travel agent said the western side of Puerto Rico was a gem and she could get us a good deal as it was off season. She booked us into the Villa Montana, a gated resort in Isabella.
A guidebook said the snorkeling was great in the area. I looked up the resort on the Internet and saw that honeymooners go there a lot. That should have told me something, but in my haste to make a plan, I glossed over it.
As we drove for two hours from San Juan to Isabella, the view from the highway was mostly one long strip-mall. MacDonald’s, Wendy’s and Sam’s Clubs (owned by Wal-Mart) dominated the landscape.
Villa Montana and its secluded beach were pretty, and we felt privileged to eat in the outdoor restaurant by the ocean. But pasta dishes and bottled water for the three of us cost $86. We would have to eat the rest of our meals outside the resort, except for breakfast which was included.
Villa Montana was quiet. There was no dancing or shows at night. Honeymooners aren’t looking for that.
Horseback riding would have been fun, but I couldn’t see spending $46 each to do it. We did have a great hour of snubaing (a mixture of snorkeling and scuba diving). We scarcely saw any fish, but it was sublime to cruise through the water with my kids. Another day we saw huge caves, and driving through exotic, rain forest type terrain was an adventure.
The travel agent had told me it was dangerous to be out at night in Puerto Rico, so after eating dinner out we watched TV. I had imagined touring quaint villages, but outside the resort there was an HP plant and more strip malls. Most people spoke English but my son practiced Spanish when we ate lunch at truck stops on the side of the road.
My son isn’t a beach person, and since there wasn’t much to do outside the resort, I called the agent and she booked us into a five-star resort on the east coast. We did some fun things: jet skied for an hour, had a tour of the rain forest with a charming tour guide, went canoeing at night in water that glowed electric blue, and toured old San Juan, whose beauty I hadn’t anticipated.
But it was a stressful trip. I’d had no time to prepare, and every day I had to figure out what to do. Our new hotel room was in a tall building – the opposite of what we were looking for. I had hoped to connect with other families but we didn’t in that impersonal resort. It was supposedly a good deal but the expense at such a place for meals, tennis, and parking took the pleasure away. I had to say no to more snorkeling and I couldn’t justify spending $18 each on the buffet breakfast. We had cereal for $11 each and I felt like Scrooge. Not my idea of a good time.
My only other experience on an island was St. John, half of which is a nature preserve, having been bought by the Rockefellers in the 1950s. It’s a beautiful, undeveloped island, and I wish other people had been so visionary.
I was demoralized that Puerto Rico is so overrun with fast food restaurants; I came away from that trip feeling that American corporations have taken cruel advantage of Puerto Ricans. I appreciate that companies like HP are providing jobs, but the urban sprawl on that island is a shame.
I have heard that the southwestern part of the island is where the Puerto Ricans go on vacation because it’s more appealing. We were in the northwest…This is the kind of information that could have been useful, if I hadn’t been in a rush to make a plan.
In the future, if a natural disaster like a hurricane makes me change my vacation plans, I will not rush pellmell into another plan. I’ll do something local and modest instead and save my money for a future trip, giving myself time to do research. I’m also not going to put my trust in an agent who doesn’t know me.
Photo Courtsey of http://www.plainjanestudio.com/.
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