“Sometimes you just need a pina colada,” my 8-year-old son said with a blissful smile as he stared out at the tranquil turquoise of the Caribbean from his perch on a chaise. He’d never had a pina colada before our arrival, but he quickly decided they were an asset to every meal. Including breakfast and snacks.
“But I don’t want any rum in mine,” he’d tell the wait staff, and they were gracious enough to smile and nod in agreement.
I, on the other hand, was only too happy to ask for mine fully loaded, particularly as we’d arrived at the at the Rio Mar Beach Golf Resort, Spa, and Casino, a Wyndham Grand Resort (and a mouthful), for some desperately needed r’n’r.
After a hellaciously busy time at work, it was heaven to get off the plane at the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, be met by a resort driver, pile into the hotel’s van, and take a drive through the less scenic yet still fascinating portions of city sprawl to the west of the city, then watch as the road gradually became twisting and more scenic, ending up at the resort.
Puerto Rico is a rectangular-shaped island in the Caribbean, about 1,000 miles southeast of Miami, Florida. It’s small, at only about 9,000 square kilometers (or roughly three times the size of the tiny American state of Rhode Island) –but there are 501 kilometers of coastline, which make it an ideal island for anyone interested in vegging out on a beach or doing any kind of water sports. Fortunately for me, my water sport of choice on this trip was sitting in the Jacuzzi by the pool. And it sure was just what I needed!
Discovered by Columbus on his second voyage to the New World, Puerto Rico was quickly (and often savagely) dominated by the Spanish until it became a United States territory in 1898. And while Puerto Rico is not the richest island in the Caribbean—in part due to overcrowding, as there are nearly 4 million citizens living there, making it one of the most densely inhabited islands in the world, as you might recall from the lyrics Anita so sassingly sings in “America” in West Side Story—it is one of the friendliest and most charming. Which makes it a great place to bring the kids. Particularly as the micro-climate is so varied in such a small area—you can travel through a rainforest in the mountains and then drive through the much more arid interior, wind up touring some caverns before going off to mountain climb or surf, all in a short period of time.
Rio Mar is one of those resorts with enough variety to appeal to the entire family. It’s enormous, for starters, at over 500 acres of lushly manicured tropical beauty. Those who like golf can play all day on either the Ocean (designed by Tom and George Fazio) or River (designed by Greg Norman) courses, or hit one of the 11 tennis courts. I had a clinic one sultry morning with the resident pro, Joao Oliveira, who whipped my butt into shape and gently gave me some helpful pointers (translation: he was infinitely patient with my uneven play at the net). There’s an on-site spa for massages, the all-important beach mani-pedi, facials should the heat fry your skin, as well as a salon should the humidity frizz your hair. There’s a casino where many of the locals come to play, especially as many of the slot machines take nickels or dimes so you can avoid losing your entire stash of discretionary dosh.
For grateful parents in need of some time off, there’s also the Club Iguana for the kids, where you can have them safely entertained during the day so you can duck out for a trip or retire in privacy to your bedroom. And there are 6 restaurants to choose from—or 7, if you include my son’s favorite (yeah, room service, what can I tell you—he’s an accomplished traveler with his mom’s penchant for luxury).
If you can bear to rouse yourself from the stupor of the pools and the beach, there are plenty of excursions: shopping in Old San Juan’s historical district, horseback riding, ATV adventures, snorkeling, sailing, diving, deep sea fishing, or kayaking. But bear in mind that these half-day or longer trips usually aren’t particularly geared toward young children. We wanted to take the Rainforest Nature Hike—a fabulous idea for fit grownups and older kids/teens, as you end up at a gorgeous waterfall–but it was several miles on a trail in the humid heat. We also wanted to take a nighttime Bio-luminescent Eco-Tour at the Las Croabas Bio Bay, to see the millions of phosphorescent dinoflagellates that release energy in the form of light, but it didn’t end till near midnight, and that would have wreaked havoc on our planned activity of vegetation by the pool early the next morning.
That’s because, frankly, at the end of the day (or rather, at the beginning), we were happy to do absolutely nothing more strenuous than get down to the pool early to find a chaise that had some shade nearby, and not get up except for a languorous swim or a slippery splash off the large water slide, or to take a walk on the beach (which is shallow, with soft sand, so it’s great to play on), or to follow the resident iguanas around. These are not small and cute lizards. They’re enormous, and when you look up to see one lurking in the palm tree over your head, it can be a little disconcerting. Still, the highlight for many of the kids was the daily iguana feeding, where staff members held out pieces of lettuce for a photo op as the little ones squealed in happiness as they got to feed the critters.
Just beware of the power of the tropical sun. My little boy has always instantly turned a golden bronze whenever he’s gone out in the summer, but after our first afternoon with all the neatly applied sunscreen ending up in the pool, he was fried but good. On the bright side, I’ve never had any trouble since then slathering the goop on him.