Puerto Rico is a place that I truly want to enjoy. However, as with previous occasions, I leave the island feeling somewhat let down, a bit disappointed. The basis for my feelings is somewhat elusive. Certainly the governmental powers publicly profess the importance of the tourism market, and this is evident in the growing number of new and remodeled hotel properties. Yet, something is amiss and it may be with the people that staff the hotels, a seeming hesitancy to fully embrace the service attitude that is so essential to the tourist trade.
Enough introspection. Our trip to Puerto Rico began with a direct US Airways flight from Baltimore. A "direct," rather than "nonstop," connotes a flight that will make a stop enroute to the final destination - but there is usually no requirement to disembark the plane. Our US Airways flight was completely full, but I had the convenience of a requested bulkhead seat. At Puerto Rico's airport we arranged for a taxi at the ground transportation service desk located in the baggage claim area. A very convenient service, especially since it takes the guess-work out of taxi fares.
With friends living in Old San Juan we wanted to stay close-in so we decided on the Caribe Hilton. This recycled 50-year old property reminded me of a dowager trying to keep up public appearances - the lawn and gardens are well maintained but the interior of the property shows increasing signs of genteel decay. However, from an "accessibility" perspective, the Caribe Hilton warrants a grade of "B". Its fully accessible rooms were refurbished in 1994 and the roll-in showers are excellent. The biggest drawback is that the accessible rooms each feature a single, queen-size, Murphy bed! Certainly you can request the maid to leave the bed in the horizontal position. But, if you don't want to share the one bed with your traveling companion, it means a roll-away bed in the room. There is a two-room accessible suite with two double beds, but it has a bathtub instead of a roll-in shower. The other annoyance, albeit minor, was the lack of a ramp to the Terrace Bar, which was a direct access to the pool and beach area. A personal irritation was with the coffee maker provided on the bathroom sink counter. Unlike other hotel properties we inspected that provide a coffee service in your room, at the Caribe Hilton you have to buy the coffee from your room's mini-bar! Attention Caribe Hilton management: if you can't provide the coffee get rid of the coffee maker - ala San Juan Marriott, et al. Lastly, the Caribe Hilton recently closed its casino.
Rico Suntours was the company that provided our transportation and tour arrangements. Its management recently decided to expand its customer base by modifying one of its vans with the installation of a rear-entry wheelchair lift. Our driver/guide was extremely courteous and solicitous, but I was secured in the van's rear "cargo" space with my head touching the ceiling and feeling every curve and bump in the road. It was the first time that I ever needed the seat belt that came with my wheelchair! In fairness, the company has made an initial commitment and plans on future improvements.
The Puerto Rico Tourism Company had been extremely helpful in providing advance information about accessible attractions so we had a fairly fixed two-day itinerary. With Rico Suntours our touring included the following:
Restaurants we especially enjoyed were Ajili Mojili in the Condado area which features Puerto Rican style fare, and Augusto's in the Hotel Excelsior with its outstanding continental cuisine. Also in the Condado area is Houliganís Restaurant where I rode its lift down to the dining level and enjoyed a great salad.
During our stay we visited other hotel and resort properties and a brief "accessibility" report is included in this TVST issue. We had considered renting a car but since we were confining our time to San Juan and its environs the traffic congestion, including that on the highways, was enough to dissuade US.
One final note about San Juan. We strolled along Ashford Avenue in the Condado area on at least three occasions. It was sad to see the Convention Center, the La Concha Hotel, and the Condado Beach Hotel all closed down. It is easy to envision Ashford Avenue as an attractive "collection" of hotels, restaurants and boutiques - and I hope that it will evolve into such a place, complete with curb cuts. Certainly I would advocate saving the original part of the Condado Beach Hotel and, perhaps, putting a beautiful park in place of the Convention Center. Will we return to Puerto Rico? Absolutely! For more information contact:
Puerto Rico Tourism Company, 575 Fifth Avenue, 23rd Floor, New York, NY 10017, telephone 212-599-6262 or 800-223-6530.
The Very Special Traveler
New Windsor, MD 21776
This newsletter comes out six times a year and is devoted solely to travel. The
author Beverly Nelson travels extensively and writes about her experiences as
well as offering travel tips. The cost of a one year subscription is $25.00.
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