A Whole Big Island Out There! | Part 2

Monday, March 13, 2017

Without further adieu, I give you part two of our Caribbean adventures. 

Thursday, Feb 16
Thursday was our final day on St Thomas, and it was absolutely beautiful! We had breakfast on the beach, then after packing everything up, went and sat in the shade overlooking the ocean from a cozy little nook right off the lobby/beachfront bar. T ordered C a virgin strawberry daiquiri (a.k.a. strawberry smoothie), and T & I enjoyed one last tropical drink while lounging on a couple of oversized cushioned chairs soaking in the spectacular view before packing up our rental car for the 30 minute drive to the airport.

Little G was completely exhausted after having so much fun in St. Thomas and St. John. He fell asleep for a little catnap on the bed while we were getting everything packed up to check out. 

Our check-in and rental car return at the airport went surprisingly smoothly considering how difficult our arrival/rental car pickup had been as far as getting luggage to our car. On our return visit, we were lucky to have porter helping us tote around our 60 bags right away (jk...but we did have quite a few!), and know in advance where to take our vehicle. I should mention that while we did NOT need passports as St. Thomas is a USVI, we DID have to go through customs on our departure. Luckily, I had copies of both boys birth certificates on hand so they could be cleared to leave the island (I think this entire process could have been sped up if we would have been traveling with passports, but at the same time, it did not cause us any trouble to just have our regular IDs and birth certificates for the boys). The whole process of getting through security and customs took a solid hour, and was very busy, so if you go, make sure to allow plenty of time!  Our plane happened to be delayed an hour, so we had plenty of time to grab a snack while we waited, and C found a jet plane at the gift shop that he was entertained with for a good half hour. (I won't mention that G had a blowout we had to clean up as well...ugh). Once on board, our entire flight lasted a whole of 21 minutes, and then we were touching down in Puerto Rico. Really, the most stressful part of the entire day was getting our luggage from baggage claim in San Juan to the taxi stand without the help of a porter. Luckily, we only had to go about 100 yards, so in the end it all worked out! If you are thinking of island hopping, there are multiple daily flights offered between St. Thomas and Puerto Rico. We flew JetBlue, but there are several other carriers that also make this route a few times a day.

Five minutes later, we arrived at our hotel, the El San Juan Hotel in Isla Verde, a Hilton Curio Collection hotel. After checking in and getting to our room, C exclaimed 'Dis is the best room I've EVER seen!'...and then looking out our window 'Whole big island out there!'. Such a character! I would agree, the hotel had just reopened a week before we arrived after a full renovation. Our room was beautiful, as was the pool, restaurants, and lobby areas which have some of the biggest and most ornate chandeliers I've ever seen. If you ask C about them, 'Ho-Ho got dat'. I have no idea why he associates chandeliers with Santa, but apparently it's a thing! T & I had previously stayed at the El San Juan Hotel on a separate visit a few years back, so knew in advance it would be a great place to stay on this trip. The service was 100% on point, and we were taken care of from the moment we stepped inside...I can honestly say that the service here is hands down the best we've ever experienced, and was a wonderful welcome after a whirlwind day of traveling. The various pools and beach areas were great for kids, and there were several restaurants on site to choose from for meals, along with a few shops. Highly recommend! On a side note: If you stay here, this hotel DOES have an enforced dress code in certain areas in the evenings (no shorts or open-toed sandals for men), so plan accordingly.

After dropping off our bags, we tried out Viaggis, an Italian restaurant on the resort. It had a casual vibe, and had great pizza and pasta. A perfect stop after a busy day of traveling! Back in the room, C was excited to once again sleep in a 'big boy bed', and we were glad that everyone was wiped out and we had a comfortable place to call home for the next couple days.

Friday, Feb 17
Friday was a day of great adventures! After grabbing lunch at our hotel (see BLT topped with powdered sugar above), we took a trip to Old San Juan to visit Castillo San Cristobal Fortress and take in some history before stopping for a bite to eat and a coffee at Caficultura, T & I's must-stop every time we are in Old San Juan. C LOVED the 'fort', and had so much fun walking around and exploring. His favorites were the scale replicas of the fort throughout its history...or 'castles' as he called them, the cannon model in the gift shop, peaking out the windows at the city and coast from the sentry towers, and sharing a Gatorade with dad to cool off from the hot day. G enjoyed taking in the sights mainly from his shaded perch in the stroller, but did get out when we were resting in the shade for a nice cool bottle. Walking around San Cristobal means lots of steep ramps (or stairs for those not pushing a stroller), so we were happy to stop for a coffee and snack close by afterwards.

At the coffee shop afterwards, C was SO EXCITED when the barista brought him out a big cold glass of milk. I'm not kidding, I think the level of excitement was greater than Christmas morning. It wasn't always easy to find milk at every interval of our trip, so when we did, C was particularly happy about it. 

After some coffee and appetizers, C passed out for a nap in the stroller (a.k.a. had a mini-meltdown after all of the exploring at San Cristobal) while G got to enjoy the view from Dad's arms as we meandered through the blue cobblestone streets of Old San Juan peaking into various shops as we went. Before heading back to our hotel, we made a stop at the Himalaya Ice Company for artisan hand rolled ice cream - delicious by the way, and a beautiful setting for a cool down before grabbing a taxi back to our hotel. C, of course, woke up the minute he realized we were having ice cream, and enjoyed sharing a few bites along with a package oh goldfish for a snack. After eating, I stayed behind to give G a bottle in the shade & a/c, and T & C crossed the street to check out a hatmaker. C was so excited to share with me when he came back that he had seen 'shepards', and immediately grabbed my hand and dragged me back to the store so I could see them too. They turned out to be wood carved figurines of the three wise men, so he wasn't too far off the mark! 

Taxis were not an issue by the way for any of you out there traveling with littles. Technically, U.S. laws apply, and the boys should have been in car seats, but in the interest of not renting a car and having to find our way to and from and through the complex streets of Old San Juan, we were glad to hold on tight and hop in a cab for the short trip to and from our hotel (about 15 min away in Isla Verde and $21 for the four of us). Old San Juan is a great walking city as the entire thing is only about two square miles. The streets have well maintained sidewalks, with plenty of room to push a stroller, and as long as you don't mind some hills, are really fun to walk around. SIDE NOTE: If you prefer to drive to Old San Juan, there was an Enterprise directly across the street from our hotel, but I wouldn't personally recommend it since Old San Juan is full of complicated one-way streets, and parking could prove to be difficult. If you are venturing anywhere else, go for it! Puerto Rico is relatively easy to navigate with well maintained roads, and some of the other sites on the island - think El Yunque, etc, are worth the trip.

Saturday, Feb 18
Saturday morning was our last day of vacation, and we made the most of it. We grabbed coffee and a pastry at the Cafecito coffee shop at our hotel, then headed out to the pool area to enjoy our last breakfast overlooking the ocean. After breakfast, to the beach we went for one final chance to build a sandcastle and dip our toes in the ocean before coming back to the pool for a quick swim before getting all of our gear packed up and ready to go. G loved jumping in the waves at the beach, and swimming in the pool, while C was content to build as many sand castles as possible and sit on the top platform step in the pool and splash around. After getting our gear all put together, T & I enjoyed one last glass of cool crisp wine sitting poolside in the warm Caribbean breeze to top off our trip before cabbing it back to the airport for the trip back home.

Sometimes, building sandcastles requires holding hands with your brother.

 The San Juan airport was only about a five minute drive from our resort, and before we knew it, we were checked in, through security, and having a snack at our gate while waiting to board. C, as usual, was all about watching the planes and all of the people, but I think more than anything, he most enjoyed snacking on a big bowl of fruit I got for him at one of the airport snack shops. I'll be honest, it was probably the healthiest food he ate all week after all of the mac & cheese, grilled cheese, and quesadillas that are standard kids menu items! 

On our way home, we were super lucky to fly first class...which happened to be only $40 more than a standard ticket the day I booked our flights...unheard of right?! T was super excited about it, and I was just glad to not have to pay more for our luggage and have the extra space for our 5 1/2 hour flight home. I was not expecting the drinks, movies, snacks (apple/cheese/cracker plate which C LOVED, bananas, brownie brittle, warm chocolate chip cookie), or meal (Caesar salad, bread, roasted chicken in a mushroom sauce with kale and potatoes - giving a whole new meaning to airplane food - it was delicious!), but can see why flying this way typically is quite a bit more expensive. If you ever have the opportunity to do so, do it! The boys did great on the flight, C once again sat in his car seat, while G split time between our laps...flirting with the flight attendants every time they walked by. Both boys slept about 1 1/2 hrs of the flight which was the perfect amount of time for T & I to enjoy a movie. When C did wake up, he looked out his window and exclaimed 'Whole big city of Geoppolis out there!' (A reference to one of our favorite wintertime story books, Katy and The Big Snow). Upon arrival in Minneapolis, we caught the shuttle back to our car, checked in at our hotel (we didn't get back until 7:30-8ish, so it was too much to worry about trying to tackle a three hour drive at night after the long day we had already had), and called it a night. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency, and it was a lovely hotel that we would definitely stay at again someday. All in all, we had an absolutely wonderful vacation on our first big trip as a family of four, and are so glad that we decided to take a risk and visit someplace new with our crew. Can't wait for our next big adventure!

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Thanks for visiting! Let me know if you have any suggestions of recipes I should try, fun ideas to do with the kiddo, or a suggested adventure to add to our bucket list!

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