An iguana keeps watch at our hotel

 DAY ONE (Nov 12, 2010) — Maria Arocho breathed a sigh of relief poolside.


“Five minutes of serenity,” she laughed.  Her three boys were happily playing in the pool—the 13 year old playing water volleyball. His two younger brothers careening down the waterslide as their dad watched. The family, who live on the Southside of Puerto Rico, had checked in for a weekend of fun at the 600-room Wyndham Rio Mar located smack in between the El Yunque Rain Forest and a mile stretch of ocean beach. “We come for the pools and room service,” she said. “The kids love the room service.”


They love the breakfasts too. But mostly, says their mom. “They are either in the pool or in the room and they love it. We’ve tried other hotels on the island and this is the best,” she said.



And a good deal too, depending on when you book with deals as low as $99 a night. (Call 800-474-6627 and code DIS88 or visit


The hotel is on 500 acres along this mile long section of beach adjacent to the Caribbean National Rain Forest and the Mameyes River.  This is the only resort in Puerto Rico, I’m told, with a rainforest in the front and a mile-long beach in the back.


The kids love the resident iguanas we spot by the pool and I’m told, the kids club as well as dive-in movies and s’mores around the resort’s fire pit.


Across the pool, Amy Saladino said she her husband and 16-month old had come on the recommendation from a friend to celebrate her birthday. “So easy,” she said. “A three hour flight from New York and no passports needed.” The hotel, she added, was very accommodating to the baby.


For many who turn up their noses at Puerto Rico in favor of more exotic islands, they’re missing out on a lot. First is the ease to get here. But beyond that is the fact that you are still in the United States—American currency—and that no matter what the weather, there is plenty to do beyond the terrific beaches. There is the rain forest, of course, the chance to kayak in the Bioluminescent Bay–home to large colonies of dinoflagellates that light up like fire-flies producing glowing waters, especially under the moonlight; explore historic Old San Juan; go fishing (Puerto Rico is known as Blue Marlin Alley, even explore a cave at Rio Camuy Cave Park.


This afternoon, after we arrive, we enjoy lunch in front of the crashing waves. And then we spoil ourselves at the resort’s Mandara Spa. My aching shoulder felt so much better. Do I have time for another massage before the weekend is over?


The Wyndham  Rio Mar has 11 restaurants and bars—Northern Italian at Palio and Asian at Shimas, steaks in The Grille Room, local fish at Aqua Luna and burgers at Marabella. There’s even a David’s Cookies and the chance for private dining on the beach. My friends and I opt for Palio where we start with Beef Carpaccio Ravioli (thin slices of raw tenderloin filled with Sun Dried Tomatoes and Eggplant. There is fresh Halibut or favorites like Chicken Parm, Lasagna and Saltimbocca. I opt for one of the restaurant’s signature dishes Fettuccine alla Pescatora which is served in a spicy tomato sauce chock full of  lobster, shrimp, clams mussels and scallops It’s the kind of dish I’ll be thinking about next week when I’m eating leftovers.


We practically roll ourselves over to the casino which is packed and try our hand at a few 2 cent machines. No luck.  I lose two dollars and call it a night.