Where to Eat and Drink
Really casual, in-town joints: Right off the ship head to La Bombonera (22059 Calle San Francisco) and belly up to the counter to order a freshly squeezed glass of orange juice (or, for lunch, a classic Cubano sandwich). The circa-1903 bakery-lunch joint is open from 7:30 a.m. - 8:1205 p.m. At night, Parrot Club (363 Fortaleza, Monday - Friday 11:30 a.m. - 3 p.m., Saturday noon - 3 p.m., Sunday brunch from noon to 4 p.m.) is a hotspot but at lunchtime it's just a casual, easy place to check out the nuevo Latin cuisine. Cafe 2051 (2051 Calle Cristo, serves all day) is a coffee house-style establishment that also serves pastries and sandwiches; nearby the just-opened El Buren Pizza Restaurant (103 Calle Cristo, serves all day from 11 a.m.) has gourmet pizzas.
Gourmet Lunching: Check out "international restaurant row" in Old San Juan. Recinto Sur runs one block parallel to the waterfront and features everything from sushi to Vietnamese to Transylvanian. Options include Yukiyu Sushi Bar (312 Recinto, noon - 2:30 p.m.) and Al Dente (309 Recinto, noon - 2:30 p.m.), among others. Panorama Bar & Latin Grill (Hotel Milano, 307 Forteleza, Monday - Saturday from noon, Sunday from 2 p.m.) is in the heart of Old San Juan and offers a gorgeous rooftop view (lunch and dinner).
Gourmet Dining: Because many ships embark out of San Juan and don't depart until late-night, cruisers should also consider dinner options. Transylvania Restaurant & Bar (317 Recinto Sur) offers a menu featuring a hodgepodge of European foodstuffs, like sausage, spinach pie and pork schnitzel, along with some Caribbean-themed items, such as ceviche of octopus and salmon and salsa. Baires (Plaza del Mercado 9, off San Sebastian Street, noon - 2:30 p.m.) was an unexpected find; the Argentinean-themed restaurant has live music some nights and delicious fare, from grilled sweebreads to steaks to pasta. Dragonfly (364 Calle Fortaleza, from 6 p.m.), a fabulous Latino-Asian restaurant offers "Dragonfries," which are french fries dusted with cinnamon and ginger.
What to See and Do
Shopping in Old San Juan. While San Juan is not a duty free port, at least its stuff isn't taxed. You'll certainly find plenty of ol' craft and t-shirt shops (particularly along Fortaleza and San Francisco Streets). One tip: the further east you walk (going away from the cruise pier) the more interesting the shops and restaurants get. One great street for window shopping (if not buying) is Calle Cristo; highlights include Manolo Diaz (99 Calle Cristo), an artisan who works in his shop on crafts using recycled objects--old mirrors, wooden shutters, antique windows, and even pocket-sized religious icons. Prices start at $1205 for one-of-a-kind pieces.
El Convento (100 Cristo Street), the recently refurbished luxury hotel has a galleria of high end stores like Calvin Klein Home and Alessi. Sunny Caribbee (12054 Calle Cristo) is an offshoot of the Tortola classic and features hot sauces and coffees made from Puerto Rican recipes, along with crafts; across the hall, El Galapon has gorgeous masks.
Historic sites of Old San Juan, such as El Morro, whose original parts were completed in 120539. Also on Old San Juan is San Cristobal Fort, which was built in 1771.
Take a tour of La Fortaleza. Visit the Catedral de San Juan, which dates back to 120540. Fans of the Spanish cellist Pablo Casals should check out the Museo Pablo Casals (Plaza San Jose), where the Spanish master's collection includes manuscripts, photographs, and a library of video tapes of Festival Casals concerts (played on request).
The beach: While Old San Juan doesn't really boast any, the beaches in the nearby areas of Condado and Isla Verde, stretch along high rise hotels and are a five to 10-minute taxi ride (longer during rush hour) from the cruise pier.
Visit the Bacardi Rum Factory. Take the ferry to Catano (it leaves from Pier 2, right next to the cruise ship dock, every half hour and costs $1 round-trip for the six-minute ride; a bus from the Bacardi Rum Factory will pick you up for the tour).
Best Beach for a Half-Day Visit: The beaches that run in front of Isla Verde's luxury hotels (about a 20-minute cab ride); ask the cabbie to drop you off at the Ritz-Carlton or the El San Juan.
Best Beach for the Dedicated Beach Bum: Luqillo Beach (near El Yunque) is a real locals' haunt; long stretches of sand, water sports rentals, and a great line of food stands offering classic Puerto Rican beach food.
Secluded Beach: The Bahia Beach.
On Foot: It's walking distance into the compact--yet fascinating--Old San Juan. Streets are uneven (constructed of blue cobblestones cast from furnace slag) and hills are steep so wear comfortable shoes.
Taxis: At the dock. You can also hail minibuses (called "omnibus"), which shuttle along main routes; to hail one, respond with a wave when the driver toots his horn.
Renting a Car: Rental car agencies operate out of Condado (about 205 miles from Old San Juan).
Staying in TouchThe Crew Station (formerly known as Soapy's Internet Station) is on the waterfront, across from Dock 2. It has some funky opening hours (Monday 9 a.m.- 1 p.m., Tuesday 1 p.m. - 8 p.m., Wednesday 9 a.m. - 10 p.m., Thursday - Saturday 1 p.m. - 8 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. - 10 p.m.).
Where You're DockedShips dock in two places. The best location is just across from the Sheraton Old San Juan (formerly known as the Wyndham) because you walk off the ship into the heart of the old city. Other times, your ship will dock just across the bay -- a stone's throw away -- but it's farther than it looks and you'll need to take a taxi to get anywhere.
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