Puerto Rico, Hurricane Irene, & The Not-To-Miss Dive Spot We Missed

Hotels & Resorts, Puerto Rico, Travel Products & Services — By on October 14, 2011 at 1:52 pm

When we first had the mission to book an extended weekend away using only AMEX points, the three of us chose Puerto Rico as our destination for a few reasons:

  1. Direct flights from New York to San Juan were quick and easy with Jet Blue offering daily nonstop flights (we didn’t want to waste our precious travel time in air!)
  2. Two out of three Lost Girls had never been to Puerto Rico, so we wanted to check off another place on our travel wish list
  3. The biggest reason we chose this locale was because we’d been hearing so much buzz about how spectacular the diving was off the small island of Vieques, and we wanted to see it for ourselves

So we’d planned on spending only a night in San Juan before taking a ferry to Vieques to explore the world’s brightest bioluminescent bay (a sea that glows in the dark!).  We’d already booked a few nights at the new, posh W hotel and made arrangements to go diving with PADI Dive Boat Operator Nan-Sea Charters.

The Lost Girls in Old San Juan

But as it often happens with travel, plans were made to be broken. It was actually a little pressure-cooker known as Hurricane Irene that put a wrench in our plans by churning up the ocean so much so that power and cell service went out for millions of people on the island, ferries stopped running altogether, and there was zero visibility for diving.

We were actually lucky to be one of the first flights to arrive in San Juan on the tail end of the hurricane. However, there was also no power at the El San Juan Resort & Casino, where we were scheduled to stay the first night when we landed. Luckily the Hilton Caribe had power and availability, so we happily settled in there to wait out the last of the windy, wet lashings of Hurricane Irene. There may not have been sunny skies, but there were still palm trees waving in the wind outside our window and a big, choppy ocean stretching into infinity from our ocean-view rooms.

Our one night in San Juan turned into three as we kept frantically checking for updates on whether ferry service to Vieques had been restored (maybe tomorrow, maybe not is what the locals told us nonchalantly), and dialing the 800 number on the back of our AMEX card, trying to figure out how to get our points refunded for a hotel such as the W that states on its site that it does not issue refunds without advance cancellation notice. Thank God the Hilton Caribe was able to accommodate us for a longer stay.

Between obsessively watching the graphic of the hurricane’s development on our iPhones, using up our cell minutes trying to figure out how to refund our AMEX points, and spending our annual getaway inside a hotel room, we were getting more than a little antsy. With a deep breath and a focus on the “f” word that is vital to travel—flexibility—we decided to go for Plan B. We’d also planned on making a one-night trip to Rio Grande to visit the U.S.’s only tropical rainforest, El Yunque National Park, and to stay at the Wyndam’s Rio Mar Beach Resort & SPA. Hurricane Irene had not only churned up the oceans, however, but also triggered mud slides and flooding across the main island, making rain forest hikes possibly dangerous.

Too travel weary to care anymore about losing our AMEX points, we hopped in our rental Jeep to chase the sun—and catch some waves—in the surf town on the far opposite end of the island known as Rincon. We’d heard it was the part of the island that wasn’t damaged by the hurricane, so we were hoping our travel luck would turn around by changing the direction of our trip.

As we drove, we saw blue ocean on our left and lush green hills on our right. We used our iPhones to help connect us with a hotel that had plush beds, ocean views, and delicious food. Our Google search led us to the Horned Dorset, which was described as “the ultimate in peace and tranquility.” Sounded good to us!

We were only on the road for a few hours, but our revised travel plans started to fall back into place–possibly working out better than our original plan. We called the Horned Dorset on the way and they had a three-person suite available with an infinity pool (we’d take turn sleeping on the convertible, pull-out couch).

We found sunny skies here at the lighthouse near Rincon

Moreover, all of our time on the phone with an AMEX representative paid off: We found out that if we booked a room on our AMEX Gold card, we’d be reimbursed for it later even though we couldn’t immediately “take” back our points from the other hotels we’d booked earlier in Vieques and Rio Grande.

The overarching lesson here to all our readers who use AMEX points to book trips: Trust that American Express will take care of you during an unforeseen and unavoidable circumstance such as a hurricane–even if you have to reroute and don’t get a confirmation immediately that the change to your plans has been officially “approved.” We wish we’d known that in advance so we would have spent less time on the phone and more time enjoying our trip. Once we were assured that we wouldn’t have to spend money that we hadn’t budgeted for, we were free to relax.

Though our trip had a bit of a rocky start, it turned out to be much better than we’d dreamed in the end. Next up: How we ended up taking surf lessons from the same pro who taught Jennifer Aniston when she was in Puerto Rico!

Lost Girls World is a proud sponsorship partner of American Express

    2 Comments

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