Our stateroom bed on MSC Seaside is quite comfortable. Still, I somehow woke up the morning after only about five hours of sleep. Looking out the window, I saw we’d arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico and then went back to bed for a bit - despite wanting to start the day early. Round two of waking up was slightly more successful, so we got dressed and headed to breakfast.
Most meals which we’ve had at the casual buffet venue have been at Marketplace Buffet on deck eight. There is however a second buffet, Biscayne Bay Buffet on deck 18, which has fewer stations. We opted to try Biscayne Bay for breakfast for the sake of different views (much higher on the ship) and less crowding. I tried to keep my breakfast light in preparation for a lot of walking – though still managed to down a cream-cheese glazed cinnamon bun after some eggs and such. Very light. We also pressed the bar service button I mentioned in the embarkation day live blog and was greeted in less than a minute by someone with a tablet, who took our order for two espressos, and two bottles of water to take ashore.
As with Sint Maarten yesterday, it’s been years since I was in San Juan. I remember many pretty sights, but also remember that in certain ways, it seemed like home (South Florida). If your ship is visiting San Juan you’ll dock in Old San Juan, but if San Juan is your embarkation port you’re actually going to be across the harbor. This is convenient as the airport is closer to the embarkation port, but most people visiting for the day will want to see Old San Juan unless heading to forest or other parts of the island.
Walking from the ship, the city indeed looked like home (but with hills), right up to the conveniently located Walgreens pharmacy. Once to the street, there were plenty of taxi drivers ready to help, though there was no heavy pushing of tours.
Because Old San Juan is built on a hill, you’ll want to start off at the top and walk down – and the top of Old San Juan is where you’ll find Castillo San Felipe del Morro, or simply, “El Morro.” This 500 year old fort has been used to defend San Juan and it’s harbor as recently as WWII, when anti-aircraft artillery were loaded up in the same places once decked with cannons warding off very different threats.
In 1983 El Morro was declared a historic site by the United Nations, and it’s now part of the US National Park Service. Admission is $7 per person, but is good for two days, and allows you entrance to several other forts and sites in San Juan. While guided tours are available from third parties, you’ll find great signage in English and Spanish, explaining the history of the fort, the island, and the exact area you’re walking through. The construction and history of the fort is incredible impressive – and since my first visit as a child I marveled at how heavy cannons were wheeled up and down steep ramps that we saw and walked on today.
Also impressive however are the views from El Morro. You can see many parts of the island, look over the green lawn in front of the fort, and of course, watch over the sea and the harbor which was once protected by soldiers in the very place you’re now roaming. It’s a great spot, and I really do recommend that everyone starts their day there.
Lunch at Barrachina
After a lot of walking around at the fort, we were ready for lunch. Friend, fellow cruiser, and generally awesome person Kayla suggested a restaurant called Barrachina. It’s located in the building which claims to be the birthplace of the Pina Colada and as such, is a popular and semi-famous establishment. We were there largely for the vegetarian mofonogo. Mofongo is a traditional Puerto Rican dish made by frying and then smashing green plantains, adding various spices, and chicharron (though we had a vegetarian variant). The food was amazing, and if you ever have mofongo, know it’s very heavy – so you may want to split it with a friend if you have plans that week. We also ordered a mojito – which is Cuban, not Puerto Rican, but it was National Mojito Day (apparently) and that’s what Larissa wanted. I have to say, I’m not a big mojito fan, but it was quite good and had a ton of mint.
Roaming About Old San Juan
I’d downloaded a walking tour app for San Juan, having played with similar apps in other cities and been pleased with the results. This one didn’t work out too well though. In part because I couldn’t get the actually walking directions to work (so that it would lead me from point of interest to point of interest), but also because this app didn’t have an audio version where it would just read me info about my surroundings. It was kind of a bummer, but honestly Old San Juan is so densely packed with beautiful buildings and historic sites that we ended up happy just wandering.
Eventually we decided that we needed coffee and stopped at Caficultura, a neat spot not too far from the cruise port. We enjoyed some espresso as well as the look of the building. Toward the back it was open to the sky and had balconies looking down into a small courtyard – the type of construction you see in older buildings constructed during Spanish colonialism. As we walked out, newly energized, we noticed that we were quite close to another fort, and had just enough time to explore.
Fort San Cristobal
We walked to the entrance of Fort San Cristobal, the largest fort on the island, though less visually impressive than El Morro. To enter, we showed our receipt from El Morro and had a nice chat with the ranger at the front, who interestingly, spoke Portuguese after learning it from TV and films – I hope to one day learn how to improve my English this way. This fort is unique in that it offers almost 360 degree views (and protection) of Old San Juan. It also had cisterns which once stored tens of thousands of gallons of water for those on the island.
We didn’t have nearly as much time as we’d have liked here, as it was getting late and our feet were pretty well done, too. What we di enjoy were tunnels that go through the fort, connecting different areas and giving me the opportunity to enjoy history while loudly humming the theme song from Super Mario Brothers. Oddly, other visitors didn’t sing along.
Back on MSC Seaside
As we walked up to Seaside I noticed that the ship had four entrances on two decks open to allow guests back on board. This was great and prevented long lines at peak times. They also routed people to different elevator banks once boarded, optimizing the flow even further. Good job MSC! Further, they set up tends next to the ship where you can get a cool rag, water, or just sit in a chair and rest while waiting for the rest of your party. This type of thing isn’t uncommon on premium lines, but we were impressed to see it on MSC.
We headed right for the cabin to clean up a bit and prepare for sail-away, which we watched from our verandah, and then from Seaside lounge where we found some Kiwi friends we’d met earlier in the cruise. The Seaside lounge, like many venues, has an indoor and outdoor section, so it was easy to Periscope, grab a drink, enjoy A/C, etc – all within a 30 second walk. After more chatting we realized we needed to shower and consider the rest of our evening.
Evening Plans – Or Lack Thereof
We’re wiped out. We both wanted to see tonight’s show, but it just wasn’t in the cards. Heading to the Venchi Creperie by the South Beach Pool, we had a pre-dinner dessert (we’re on vacation, it’s allowed). The crepes were great, though not covered on the drink package. I mention this as it seems this is a recent change, and some documentation still shows it as being included. We’ll cover this more in a future article – but in short, while we find the drink package valuable, they could stand to simplify things a bit.
After a walk around the ship, dinner was again in the Marketplace Buffet. Dining in Marketplace later in the evening seems a very popular routine for some officers and entertainment staff, especially toward the back of the buffet.
Tonight is the White Party, which we didn’t really plan for sans a few accessories. I’m not particularly big into theme events, but that’s just me. We’ll see what we end up making it to, as Larissa is currently having a 10:15pm “nap.” Hopefully we can at least grab a quick drink up in Seaview where we’re been really enjoying Bourbon Quartet. Oh, and last night, after writing the blog, the cruise director, who was socializing in the lounge, ended up singing Georgia on my Mind and killed it! Even the entertainers seemed unaware of his talent in this arena.
Tomorrow is a sea day, and we are going to try again to enjoy the outdoors, including the zip line, though we’ll see how things go based on this low-pressure system currently sitting in our path on the way to the Bahamas.
Random Observation -or- Why Billy Almost Went "Smart Casual" in San Juan
When packing for this trip, things were a bit mad because of moving, business trips, etc. As such, I didn’t pack as well as I usually do and had to sink-wash several things in our stateroom. I hung several items from hangers using magnetic hooks, and left a few things on a clothes line in the shower. Once again, I found that the items in the shower were still wet, but those hung in the stateroom using the hooks were dry. I’m glad, or else I may have explored San Juan while wearing a button down flannel shirt.
MSC Seaside Live Blog Preamble
MSC Seaside Live Blog Embarkation, Day 1
MSC Seaside Live Blog Sea Day, Day 2
MSC Seaside Live Blog Sea Day, Day 3
MSC Seaside Live Blog St Martin/Sint Maarten, Day 4
MSC Seaside Live Blog San Juan, Day 5
MSC Seaside Live Blog Sea Day, Day 6