A trip to my godson's wedding reminded me, an African American travel writer, that the reason I've loved Puerto Rico for so many years is not just the quiet life, endless beaches, delectable food, tasty rum and Medalla beer, but the people. The wedding I attended put everything in perspective again. And a trip around the island reconfirmed the island's rich offering of diverse honeymoon destinations.
When I received a wedding invitation to my godson's wedding, I asked myself, "Did that baby I once cradled in my arms really grow up into manhood that quickly?" Yes, he did. Twenty-seven years had rolled by in an instant. I live in New York, he was raised in P.R., so I've only seen him sporadically over two and half decades, when I've visited the island or the rare times he has come to NYC. Buying him books and clothes for elementary school, encouraging him to study in junior high, helping him learn English and advising him that his mother knew best in high school seemed like normal things to do. Being invited to Puerto Rico to sit at the table reserved for family for a wedding and reception was a surprise honor. After all, it was his single mom who miraculously juggled work and child rearing; she did the day-to-day hard work that got him through college, where he met his fiancée.
The wedding and reception were held at a banquet hall in Old San Juan, not far from the capital buildings of Puerto Rico. Guests gathered in a vast room, the wedding planner skirted around, the photographer set scenes. A female pastor took her place at the head of the room. The groom, the flower children, best man, ushers, bridesmaids and the bride with her father walked in. Reverent, spiritual, complete with the best man fumbling for the ring and chuckles from the audience. I've been to friends' weddings before. Never had I been to a wedding where the fruits of my labor were on view in the guise of a young man who was ready to take the next step.
When the ceremony was over, hors d'oeuvres and a buffet dinner were served, mofongo, rice, beans and pulled pork. My love for Puerto Rican food is verified by my waistline. Then it was like someone turned on a switch. The room went wild. Dj music blared, rum flowed and people table-hopped. I was introduced around the room to various relatives and friends. We took photos and selfies. My Spanish is limited, sometimes their English was too, but the warmth they gave me knew no language barriers.
Then my formerly shy godson took the microphone. He thanked people in the room and proceeded to rap to music with his buddies (look out Pitbull, you have competition!). And it was on. Conga lines. Salsa music and fancy foot moves. The Cha-cha-cha. Merengue music and dancing. The exuberance and abandonment was earthy and fun. I thought African Americans could party (the Electric Slide). I thought West Indians knew how to get down (love the steel drums). I've been to a Jewish wedding where they hoisted the bride and groom up on chairs and waltzed them around. But this wedding party, buoyed by the magic elixir of dance, was about as pure in spirit and fun that I've ever experienced. The frolicking went on until the wee hours. Call it island spirit, culture, whatever. That wedding kept a smile on my face for days, and reminded me why I love the island. The people.
Honeymoon Destinations on P.R.
The wedding is the public floorshow. After the "I Dos," the wedding cake has been cut, the dancing has stopped and the garter has been flung, there's the private honeymoon. My godson and his new wife decided to honeymoon at the Condado Plaza Hilton, in the tourist area where all the action is: casinos (at the Marriott, Wyndham, or Radisson), bars (Bar Gitano, La Concha Hotel bar, La Placita) and restaurants (brunch at the Oceano Lounge on Vendig street, lunch at Pure & Natural Juice Bar on Ashford). After the wedding, I took off my godfather hat, put on my travel writer cap, and explored the island scouring for honeymoon havens that offer unique experiences.
Rio Grande, home of the El Yunque National Forest, is a tropical haven. The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort sits on 483 verdant acres on a former coconut plantation, along Bahia Beach in the town of Rio Grande near the El Yunque Rain Forest. One-hundred-foot palm trees, seagrape, almond and flamboyant trees dot the landscape and the Espiritu Santo River snakes through the property. "Casas" (swank, bungalow-type accommodations) are strewn over the property. For fun: Kayaking, hiking, golf at the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed course, tennis on courts where pros like Fernando Verdasco have played. Romantic stuff: A couples massage at the Remede Spa, dinner for two right on the beach with food from Chef Jean-Georges' chic restaurant Fern (try the tender Black Pepper Octopus or Roasted Grouper with Aromatic Black Beans), cozying up in the marble bathroom showers that are the size of New York apartments.
The northeast coast city of Fajardo is a major boating community, home to 750 ships and the largest marina in the Caribbean. The town's El Conquistador Resort, a Waldorf Astoria Resort sits on a 300-foot cliff over-looking the Atlantic Ocean. It uniquely offers newlyweds, families and vacationers alike a diverse range of accommodations (five different building choices, including Las Casitas Village, pastel-colored villas with butler service) and activities. Lots of things to do: The Coqui Water Park and the heart-stopping El Gigante Dormido speed slide. The challenging, 18-hole Arthur Hills Golf Course features the highest elevations to the lowest elevations in the Caribbean. The resort's private 100-acre isle, Palomino, features a quiet beach, horseback riding, windsurfing, sailing, snorkeling and scuba diving. Romance: The "Paradise for Two" packages (massage with herbal mask & brush, with essence for life oil, and a head massage) at the Waldorf Astoria Spa. Handholding and meditating, as you walk through the outdoor, green grass Spa Labyrinth. A quiet dinner at Chops Steakhouse (try Chef Donovan Campbell's specialty, "Mofongo with Lobster").
The new Dr. Pedro Rosselló González, Puerto Rico Convention Center is located in Isla Grande, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and seconds away from the Condado and minutes away from Old San Juan. If you're taking a honeymoon cruise around the Caribbean that starts in Puerto Rico, your ship leaves from a nearby port. The conveniently located Sheraton Hotel Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino anchors the district. Things to do: Catch a cool event at the Convention Center, like the Puerto Rico Comic Con. Gamble at the Sheraton casino. Dine at the all-you-can-eat, Brazilian barbeque restaurant Texas de Brazil Churrascaria. Daytime strips to Old San Juan for discount shopping (Coach Outlet), visiting venerable forts (Castillo de San Felipe del Morro) and dining (Cafeteria Mallorca for pastries). Romance: Lounging by the 4th floor outdoor infinity pool eyeing the view of ocean liners and anticipating a Caribbean cruise. Walking around the grounds of the Convention Center at night.
Leaving the San Juan metro area is the best way to see the island and meet its people. On the west coast, the 240-year-old town Rincon is now a surfing village. For sheer, quiet elegance; get a room at The Horned Dorset Primavera Hotel, a stylish, 50-room boutique hotel with a European feel. The vibe is mellow in this village, people stream along the streets with surfboards under their arms. Things to do: Go surfing, snorkeling or deep sea fishing. Visit Punta Higuero Lighthouse, walk along the cliffs at El Faro park and view whales. Visit the Science Center and Museum in a domed, former nuclear plant. Romance: Eat out. Ode to the Elephant (Thai), Pools (sushi) and The English Rose (brunch). Watch the sunset at Calypso Café (nice time to hoist a Medalla beer.)
Puerto Rico is a cool place to have or attend a wedding, and an even better place to experience a honeymoon. The people make the vacation!
Visit NNPA Syndication travel writer Dwight Brown at www.DwightBrownInk.com