San Juan Embarkation Port and pre-cruise stay

So, overall, San Juan embarkation is smooth and it is an excellent port to embark from.  After landing, we went and picked up our luggage, and, as we flew first class, we got it fairly quickly.  We then headed for the taxi line.  Uber is not allowed to pick up passengers at the airport, so this was the only option.  But, it was set up very well.  A uniformed women took our destination when we reached the front of the fast moving line, told us our fare, and directed us to our taxi.  A taxi ride from the airport to Old San Juan, the best place to stay when leaving for a cruise as the pier is right there, takes about 30 minutes.  The streets can be quite narrow at times, so be prepared to stop a lot.  But, the scenery of the old forts and buildings makes for a pleasant drive.

We booked a boutique hotel, the Decanter Hotel, for this stay.

Hotel Front

Mrs. Tophat walking towards the front of the Decanter Hotel

It came highly recommended on a lot of review sites and it was very convenient to restaurants and the pier.  We were not disappointed.  The rooms surrounded and central courtyard and each had its own balcony.  They even had regular keys for the room rather than keycards, which I had not seen in a while.  The hotel had a bar that looked very nice, and offered wine for sale to take back to our room (sticking with the wine theme of the hotel), but we did not make use of either.  The bed was very comfortable, and I would very happily stay here again.

The room and balcony at the Decanter Hotel

We were tired from our flights, so we decided to just walk around a little and find some food before calling it a night.  We had a post-cruise tour of the city booked, so we did not feel the need to explore a lot.  There is a great deal of shopping and historical sites in Old San Juan, but, as this is also a cruise stop, that is not surprising, and most of the shops were the typical places you see anywhere in the Caribbean.  We wanted some authentic Puerto Rican food, and used Yelp to find us a good place.  So, we ended up at the Barrachina.

The food here was excellent.  We started with an appetizer of local favorites, call Puerto Rican Favorites, including turnovers, corn fritters and croquettes.  I ordered the fried red snapper for my dinner, while Mrs. Tophat got the Chicken Breast Manchego.  The fish is some of the best that I have had in a long while, while Mrs. Tophat loved her chicken.  The red snapper is a very popular local dish, and while it was deep fried, it was not greasy at all, and fell apart as soon as you touched it with a fork.  Of course we had a few drinks, and, as we were sitting outside, we even had a dinner guest join us.  All in all, it was an excellent meal.

Our little friend, appetizer, and meals at Barrachina.

Before calling it a night, we walked over to a little ice cream place, the Ice Cream Rolls Lab, for some dessert.  It is directly across from the cruise pier and Mrs. Tophat really liked it.  I decided to have a local beer from a little bar next door instead, so we both won.

Ice Crem

A rolled chocolate ice cream creation from the Ice Cream Rolls Lab in Old San Juan.

We returned to the room a little early as we wanted to get up and get some breakfast before heading to the pier.  I am so glad we did this.  We had found a chocolate bar named Chocobar de Case Cortes online, and they served breakfast.  If you are even in San Juan you must go to this place.  The hot chocolate cannot be described, and the chocolate french toast and chocolate pancakes were just amazing.  This place is definitely in my top 5 restaurants that I have even eaten at.

Breakfast menu, french toast, and pancakes at the Chocobar

We returned to the hotel, had the front desk call us a cab, and we were on our way to the pier, which we reached in 10 minutes.  The driver let us off right at the entrance and the stevedores took out luggage, for which we tipped the standard amount (2-3$ a bag).  The doors did not open until 11am, and we were about 10 minutes early, so we took a place in line and waited.  The doors opened promptly at 11am, and, after checking our id, we were on our way.

As we were in the penthouse suite, we looked of the platinum guest line.  This is how Carnival gives out suite perks.  They upgrade your loyalty club level for that cruise.  After a little confusion on where to go, we made it to the correct desk.  The grabbed our cards, which were pre-printed, we had our pictures taken for the ships system, and we were headed on board.  Once on the ship, we headed straight for our room, which, as a suite, was ready for us.  Total time from the doors opening at 11am to our room, 20 minutes.  Carnival does an excellent job of getting people on this ship as fast as possible.  I wish I had pictures of the inside of the terminal, but the frown on that.  But, we did skip the embarkation picture, which was a very nice bonus, those pictures never turn out for me.

The room, as one would expect, was amazing, but that room deserves its own post, which will be posted very soon.

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