San Juan is the first US port of this cruise which means that everyone onboard Sky Princess must disembark and pass through immigration. Everyone. Even if they don’t want to go ashore.
All passengers have been issued with a disembarkation time – ours is 9:45am. Which gives us plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely breakfast in our stateroom.
But there’s a problem. Both batteries for Linda’s scooter are flat and they failed to charge overnight – despite checking everything was connected properly last night. I plug the charger into another socket and shove a battery in the charger as soon as I realise. We have about three hours until we have to disembark – and the batteries take eight hours to fully charge…
It looks like our ‘Stuff to do in San Juan’ list just went out the window. Will the battery even hold up long enough to go through the immigration rigmarole and return immediately to the ship?
When our departure group is called, I plug the battery into the scooter and it shows as being 100% charged. We leave the ship, keeping a very close eye on the battery level. And then the day gets worse…
The Luton Airport of cruise terminals?
Immigration processing takes place on the upper floor of the cruise terminal – and the lift at the entrance is out of order. Thankfully, one of Sky‘s officers leads a group of mobility impaired guests to a lift at the other end of the terminal where he loads eight of us into a lift.
The lift goes up. The lift goes down. The lift door does not open. The lift is broken. And cramped. And hot.
Finally, the door opens – back on the ground floor. After a lot of messing around, Linda and I finally make it to the first floor – it seems that there were too many people in the lift.
Now we get to join a queue to have our passports and ESTAs processed. An eternity later we’re out on the street in front of the terminal – and the scooter battery seems to be holding up ok.
There’s a geocache (#GC2CZN8) a couple of hundred metres away, so we head to a nearby park, Plaza de Hostos, where there is a small market taking place. One of the stallholders quickly realises what we are up to and leads us straight to the cache, hidden in one of the flower beds. The battery is still showing a full charge, so we keep walking along the broad, palm tree-lined Paseo de la Princesa, following it until we reach a fountain at the end.
The battery is still showing a good charge, so we keep following the road, winding between the sea and the high walls of Old San Juan. As we pass a tree hanging over the path, a large green lizard climbs above us which is quite cool. The path continues curving gently until we reach a large, red gateway – the original entrance to Old San Juan, Puerta de San Juan. This was on our list of Stuff to do in San Juan.
Passing through the gateway, the road climbs steeply, and unevenly, towards the Cathedral Basilica of San Juan. The sidewalks are narrow and bumpy and the cobbled streets are even worse. It is not a comfortable journey for Linda. But the area is very pretty and photogenic.
Top tip: The steep, cobbled streets in Old San Juan are not hugely friendly for anyone using a scooter, wheelchair or who has difficulties walking. Keep an eye for the drop curbs – they are painted blue to make them easier to spot.
Halfway up the hill I log another geocache next to a super weird Cat/Dolphin/Giraffe statue (#GC2JWTD). Turning right at the Cathedral we encounter a large crowd at the Calle de la Fortaleza, taking photos of the famous umbrellas hung above the street.
Top tip: Entering the city via the old gate has a couple of benefits. First, you will avoid the rush of cruisers heading towards Calle de Fortaleza for a while. Second, you get the hill climbing out of the way sooner – the walk back to port is all downhill. Third, you can imagine what it would have been like arriving in the city ‘back in the day’, passing through the thick and imposing defensive walls.
Add this to your Stuff to do in San Juan list
Pushing our way through the throng, we get to the second item on our Stuff to do in San Juan list – the picturesque Chapel of the Holy Christ of Health. The chapel has a cool legend:
During the San Juan Bautista celebrations of 1753 a rider, Baltazar Montanez, lost control of his horse and plunged off a cliffs onto the rocks below. The Spanish Secretary of Government Don Mateo Pratts was watching the drama unfold from a nearby balcony, and allegedly cried out, “Christ of Good Health, save him!” Though the horse didn’t survive the fall, the young rider did. Montanez then built the chapel on the exact spot where he had gone over the cliff.
Annoyingly, the chapel is only open on Tuesdays – and today is Wednesday.
Astonishingly, the scooter battery is still showing full charge. But rather than push our luck, we go east along Calle de la Fortaleza towards the port.
We still have some things to do in San Juan, Puerto Rico
Would we visit again? Maybe if we were passing this way again. Our Stuff to do in San Juan list included a visit to the old cemetery and the Castillo San Felipe del Morro, both of which we missed because of concerns about the scooter battery going flat. Linda would also like to visit the Hard Rock Café in Ponce, on the southern coast of Puerto Rico.
So far San Juan has been our favourite port on this cruise. And there’s only one more to go…