Our trip to Puerto Rico was an unplanned trip and quite a pleasant surprise. No, it wasn’t a last-minute trip but rather a gift of recognition to Salem for all his hard work over the years. Salem was nominated as an employee of the month during 2012 and was one of the chosen few to be sent off to the annual Summit Club trip. It’s a different location every year – this year it was San Juan, Puerto Rico. Both the US and Canadian divisions of the company go on this trip together along with their spouses. How many people did that make this year? Between 200-250. Some people brought their children as well but they were not covered for activities or food – which is fine. I think it’s generous of them to foot the bill for their employee and their spouse for airfare, 4 nights stay, 4 breakfast buffets, 2 dinners (we also got one bonus dinner thanks to the Canadian GM), $250 spending money and one activity (we opted in for the catamaran trip since we didn’t get to do it when we went to Varadero).
We had a morning flight with American Airlines departing at 11:55 from Montreal to San Juan with a layover at JFK in New York. Checking in was a breeze as there was next to no one there – mind you I think it’s rather stupid that there’s a $25 checked luggage fee – why not just include it in the price of the ticket? Our way of paying only $25 and not $50 – pack all our crap into one large suitcase. My only complaint – would it kill US Customs employees to at least return my “good morning”? I’m not even asking for a smile, but if you see someone who’s in a good mood and wishes you good morning, a hint of civility would be nice. What did I get? A stone face! That put quite a damper on things. Honestly though guys, at least return the greeting.
I was also randomly selected for a pat-down or to go through the new bodyscan machine. Guess what I chose? High tech gadgetry all the way buddy! And guess what else – I’m still alive!
Uneventful flights, we arrived an hour before what was indicated in our tickets. No complaints here! But be prepared, no free snacks are provided on the flight – juice/water/soda/coffee is, but anything else will require you to pull out your credit card. The smaller flight (YUL-JFK) had no entertainment but it was only a 1-1.5 hour flight. The second flight had a movie though – one screen for every few rows.
I finally got to see New York! Well, sorta – from the plane. It’s huge! I’d like to go back some day and actually get to see the city. Probably not anytime within the next year though. Hmmm…
A highlight from the flight – I finally got to take a look at the Sky Mall catalogue. Wow! I had heard about it before but I never knew it was so full of weird crap. I laughed so much that I brought a copy home with me.
We landed and had a 15-20 minute shuttle ride to the Caribe Hilton (near Old San Juan). The hotel itself is very nice – they have a few restaurants, a Starbucks, conference rooms, a nice pool with bar and a grill, a nice semi-circular beach, very well equipped gym (we were pleasantly surprised) and nice sitting area in the lobby with parrots (in a cage, obviously).
Checking in was quick and easy and there was a welcome table setup for Salem’s work. What did we were given: spending money (in the form of a credit card) along with a nice beach bag, water bottles, local info and itinerary.
We were booked for room #730 – which, to our very pleasant surprise, was an oceanview room. Wooohoooo!!!!!
The room was nice and clean, nice artwork, nice washroom, there was a mini-fridge and there was also a table and 2 chairs on the balcony. Perfect! The only issue we had later on in regard to the room was the shower. The thing always clogged and started backing up after 1 minute of showering. Grrr + Ewwww! And we also thought it was funny that the bathroom door was on a track – like a closet door – and it never closed 100%. Couples – please be sure you feel very comfortable with one another – you might hear or possibly spot (through the crack between the door and the wall) things you never cared to see your partner do. Just saying. Salem and I are all good though!
The rest of the evening was spent relaxing – that’s what flying will do to you. We just picked up some sandwiches at the Subway next door and had supper on the beach even though it was quite windy and the sun had already set. Still, we enjoyed our time there – fresh sea salt air, waves crashing, and utter silence for the rest. Needless to say, we didn’t stay up late.
We were up bright and early – ok, 7 am is early for us when on vacation – because breakfast was provided for by Salem’s work for the first 4 mornings of our trip. No complaints here! It would seem it’s the Hilton Caribe’s buffet (I heard it’s something along the lines of $25 per person). Where is it? On the second floor of the main building. You can sit indoors or outdoors – we ate outside every time, of course! What’s available? Patisseries, eggs, muffins, cereal, bread, breakfast meats (no thanks), fruit, juice, milk, coffee, tea. A good selection overall.
Salem had a short meting at 9 so I headed to the beach to wait for him there. I was surprised at just how very few people were on the beach at that time (maybe a handful). I was in the water by 9, no one else went in for at least another 30 minutes. Honestly, nothing beats a morning swim on an almost deserted beach.
Of course, I just had to get a nasty sunburn. I was careful! I used waterproof sunscreen, I put it on when I got out of the water. And there was my problem this time – I was in the water for a 2 hour stretch at one point. I guess I will never get a break eh?
There were quite a few people seated near us from the Canadian division of Salem’s work. It was oddly relaxing to talk to people in the water. It’s just really nice to have relaxed discussions with people, none of the daily distractions, tensions melted away.
A few of us decided to go to the Atlantico Pool Bar & Grill for lunch but it was utter chaos. In the end, the people from our group that did order from there had to wait well over 30 minutes before getting their food (it would take 10-15 minutes to put in your order).
Salem and I decided to check out the Pina Colada Club that’s part of the hotel. We sat outside and promptly put in our order. 1 order of soft-shell mahi mahi tacos and a chicken avocado wrap. Oh my! Oh my! The food was great! The mahi mahi tacos had lightly breaded and fried mahi mahi pieces, guacamole, sour cream, salad, cheese, peppers and tomatoes with a roasted habanero salso on the side. I really wish we had something like this in Montreal. I’d be eating it all the time! 3 tacos (I had to give one to Salem, I was too full) for $17.00. The avocado chicken wrap had avocado, chicken , lettuce, cheese, fried plantain (chips) and tomato and came with a side order of fries – all for $12.00. We had really good service, the staff was really nice and friendly. We knew we’d be back!
We were back on the beach after lunch (quelle surprise!) and stayed there until the end of the afternoon. We went to the gym afterwards and had a nice workout. The Hilton’s gym was actually really nice and pretty well equipped! I was able to do my full workout, with a few small substitutions.
That night, there was a beachside dinner, the Canadian team was spread out over 3 tables. We had some really good conversations and also some interesting happenings. I won’t go into details, but I will say I have never been more ashamed and embarrassed by someone who embodies the worst stereotypes of my culture (and then some). Lets just say I don’t think I have ever been so unable to even look at someone, had my eyes go so wide in surprise or exchanged so many awkward glances with people all in one sitting. One tablemate summed it up pretty well “Well, THAT was interesting!”.
Alright alright, enough of that, what about the food? It was buffet style with a salad bar: mixed greens salad, dressings, tomato and bocconccini salad, jicama and veggie salad and a shrimp and veggie salad. All of which were very tasty! We had to be a bit more vigilant with the hot buffet: Puerto Rican rice (with ham), chicken with sauce, pork with sauce, red snapper in a garlic, caper and cream sauce annd with some meat-stuffed pastries and plantain. Given that the sauce being served with the chicken had no incredients hinted, we stuck with the red snapper, plantains and salads. The meat-stuffed pastries looked good but the coordinator couldn’t tell me what kind of meat. That’s ok, there are plenty of other things to eat! Dessert was really tasty as well – though have you ever heard me complain about dessert? (actually, I did in a previous post, but I think that was the only time) Available was: chocolate cake, vanilla cake and some sort of mango mousse with a fruity syrup at the bottom, served up in a champagne flute.
I noticed most people left around 9, but we stayed until they closed up at 10:30. Salem and I ended up heading off to the lobby and spending the rest of the night there before going back to our room.