Your Next Caribbean Getaway Needs To Be Puerto Rico
If you’ve never seen a to-the-nines man pluck a Champagne bottle from an ice bucket and saber its neck with such speed the glass splits in two and the cork pops while contents fizzle over, you should. You should buy a plane ticket and fly to Puerto Rico. Maybe you should go now. You won’t even need your passport or to exchange currency, since PR is an American territory. So drive, taxi, Uber to the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, board a plane, watch a two-hour movie and take a 30-minute transport from San Juan Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport to the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort. Leave now and you might make it in time for the resort’s nightly Champagne sabering ritual, set in front of a sky turning pink over the glassy ocean.
The event takes place on the patio behind the plantation house. Flutes are distributed to onlookers who can recline in rockers and watch the sun disappear, or they can migrate indoors and take a seat at the lobby bar. Hanging above busy bartenders is a 3D mural created for the resort by artist Arnaldo Roche Rabell using elements from nature, including real leaves. The piece is called “The Long Awaited Voyage,” and it depicts a blindfolded man who’s navigating the rainforest by canoe. “He’s blinded by beauty, [but he has] a mirror in his hand to make sure he doesn’t miss a single detail,” says Jonathan Montalvo, sales and marketing coordinator for the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort.
It’s a fitting piece of artwork for a resort set on 483 tropical acres. And the guest experience, much like the mural, also proves to be multi-dimensional. Everyone’s favorite dimension? Food.
A trip to the Beach Club, one of three on-site restaurants, can follow the 6 p.m. Champagne toast. Golf carts driven by staff wait at the entrance of the plantation house, offering rides to the restaurant. Along the way is a bridge that travels over the Bahia Beach Golf Course, which was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. To the left, putting surface connects to the sand, which connects to the ocean; and to the right is a clear view of El Yunque Peak. Indian legend says Yuquiyu, the god of good, lives at the top of the mountain and protects the Puerto Rican people.
If the sky is already dark, sights are replaced with sounds. The coquís (native tree frogs) harmonize at night. “I once had a guest ask if I could turn down the chirping sound because they thought it was part of a soundtrack,” Montalvo says. Other wildlife to encounter during a stay includes 53 species of birds, the Puerto Rican parrot being one of them (there is a bird sanctuary on-site for enthusiasts), and 14 species of fish, which can be fed on the dock outside of the pro shop.
Arriving at the Beach Club, which is headed by the James Beard Award semifinalist chef Jose Enrique, guests enter a restaurant that uses simple and elegant design, with a perimeter of windows and all white décor. The menu is equally refreshing, with arugula to papaya that’s sourced from the property’s two-acre nursery. Chef Enrique says his No. 1 seller is the Grilled Tuna Sandwich, a lunch item that comes open-faced on a brioche with Ponzu marinated red onions, avocado and sesame mayo. “I like temperatures,” he says. “That sandwich is really room temperature because it’s hot outside. It’s almost cleansing.”
What’s also cleansing is a spa appointment that should be booked for the next day. While the Remède Spa is impressive with its floating pathway and secluded treatment villas, the beachside massage is a must. A peaceful playlist isn’t necessary with the sounds of real waves crashing feet away.
Before taking the 30-minute transfer back to the airport and cueing another movie on a flight back to South Florida, stop by the concierge to request a ride to Old San Juan. The historic island neighborhood abounds with open-air cafes, bars and shops set in century-old architecture. Tiled roofs, wrought-iron balconies and ornate doorways adorn pastel homes and buildings lining busy, cobblestone streets.
What happens when the “long awaited voyage”ends? Unlike the resort’s mural, guests likely use cell phone cameras instead of a mirror to make sure they doesn’t miss a single detail. Photos of the scenery at St. Regis Bahia Beach and culture found in Old San Juan will work to conjure memories. With those, the voyage never ends.