Puerto Rico

(Originally published at Mile High Mamas).

Last summer, my daughter Hadley and I went on a mother-daughter trip to the San Juan Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino in Puerto Rico.

Three months later, she is still raving about it.

And what’s not to love? For a parent, the great thing about Puerto Rico is it feels like an exotic international adventure with all the conveniences of home that make traveling with kids a cinch.

As an unincorporated territory of the United States, Puerto Rico uses U.S. currency, locals speak English and Spanish, there are no roaming charges for most cell phone providers and Americans don’t need a passport.

They’re pretty swell to Canucks, too.

Puerto Rico is also resplendent with local culture. Latin music fills Old San Juan’s cobblestone streets, culinary delights ooze with flavor, El Yunque’s lush mountain rain forest begs to be explored and the white-sand beaches host families and sun worshipers from all over the world.

The Fun

Hadley and I spent an afternoon discovering Old San Juan’s quaint shops as we eavesdropped on a medley of foreign tongues. The area’s flat-roofed brick and stone buildings date back to the 16th and 17th century when Puerto Rico was a Spanish possession.

Old forts still stand sentry over the city but none is more impressive than Fort San Felipe del Morro. Perched on a bluff overlooking the ocean, “El Morro” is touted as the oldest Spanish fort in the new world and was built in 1539 to control entry to the harbor and protect San Juan from attacks. The charge is $3 per adult over 16.

Even though six-year-old Hadley was not interested in the details of this National Historic Site, she was enraptured by the 360-degree views on the top floor that encapsulated San Juan. A wide swath of ocean-blue spanned so far that you’d swear you could see the curvature of the earth.

Those were my words.

Hers: “Wow!”

A popular family activity is kite flying on El Morro’s vast lawn. A kaleidoscope of kites danced to the wind as we laughed, tugged and raced against a backdrop so surreal you’d swear you had been dropped in a postcard.

Tip: Be sure to cool down with Piraguas (icees) located at a nearby kiosk.


On our first day, San Juan was wrapped in a seamless blanket of moisture. On the second day, it was hot and humid.

This woosy Canuck will take the rain any day.

I was admittedly a bit worried to go to the pool first. A few years ago, my family went to Mexico and my kids never wanted to venture out to the beach because of the pool. Sure enough, Hadley immediately fell in love with the Marriott’s waterslide in the Main Pool and the fountains in the Kids Pool (with water depths ranging from 1 1/4-3′).

I fell in love with the Pina Colada Smoothies at the swim-up bar.

We all have our priorities.

I struck up a conversation with a mom who grew up in Puerto Rico and now lives in Florida. She brings her kids back every summer but always stays at the Marriott even before going to see their grandparents because the kids love the pool and activities.

You know it’s good when Grandma plays second-fiddle.

The activities to which she referred are housed in the towel hut by the pool. Guests can check out fun games that include a Giant Connect Four, Frisbee, Giant Tick Tack Toe, Giant Dominoes, Bowling for Kids, Beach Volleyball and numerous board games. There is also a different activity schedule posted poolside each day for adults and kids that include Arts and Crafts on Saturday & Sundays, Cookie decorating, Bingo, Yoga lessons, Zumba, Beach volleyball, Limbo for the Kids, face painting and more.


Much to my delight, Hadley loved Codondo Beach as well. Protected by a natural rock barrier, the beach is modest and under-crowded.

Haddie and I built lumps of sand we passed off as sand castles, drank a gallon of salt water as we catapulted over the swells and munched on crunchy coconut ice cream intermixed with sand, sunshine and happiness.

The Glorious, Glorious Food

I fell in love with Puerto Rican food. These tropical masterpieces’ roots are infused in cooking traditions from Spain, Africa, Amerindian Taínos and heaven.

Trust me on that latter locale.

A couple of our favorite restaurants:


I have been obsessed with plantains since I discovered them on my honeymoon and Raices restaurant in Old San Juan offered satiation at its best. The lively atmosphere is a bit touristy but they do a great job incorporating local customs with the colorful decor and staff uniforms.

Our appetizer plate, Boricula Festival, gave a great sampling of indulges that include cassava and cheese fritters, fried corn stick, fried cassava stick and plantains.

Mofongo is Puerto Rico’s signature dish and is a must-try for first-time visitors. Served on a bed of mashed plantains you have a choice of succulent beef, chicken or seafood. Raices’ version was the best I ever had.

OK, it was the only one I’ve ever had.

But I just can’t imagine how it could get much better.


Another must-visit restaurant is Jam. When my daughter and I walked into this ultra-cool and modern eatery, I immediately identified everything she could destroy in the room. It’s tough to say who was more delighted to discover the kid room tucked away at the back of the restaurant with toys and movies.

The extensive children’s menu included a number of drink selections (“Kid Tails”) dedicated to the younger set. Haddie sipped a Chocotini (chocolate and white milk with spiraled syrup in a martini glass) and dined on grilled churrasco strips with crispy tostones (fried plantains).

I sampled a number of different dishes, my favorite being a veritable cup of heaven: white bean soup with truffle oil. Pineapple Buanelos rolled in sweet coconut with Puerto Rican rum sauce topped off the gastronome evening.

Ristorante Tuscany

Ristorante Tuscany is the San Juan Marriott’s formal dining enclave and boasts a specially designed menu of Northern Italian cuisine fused with Latino culture. It was a perfect send-off for my final dinner. The Marriott does not offer on-site kids clubs except during the holidays so attentive, nurturing and fun Nanny on Call PR was brought in to throw the kids a Pizza Party in an adjacent room.

While the kids played games, watched movies and had their hair French braided, I dined on dishes such as Pear and Gorgonzola Salad with Fiocchi Pasta, Fettucine Michelangelo and Grilled Filet Mignon with Barolo sauce.

Julian, the San Juan Marriott’s Director of Marketing, delighted me with tales of the Marriott dynasty and his Australian upbringing. He divulged that as a young child, his mother often served him raw strips of beef for snacks.

Good thing Puerto Rico is much more civilized.

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