by Carlos Melia
Last weekend was my boyfriend’s birthday, and the request was clear and simple: a summer weekend getaway. A travel getaway (shocking right… which other activities can be associated with me?) But nothing comes easy, when you are a travel agent. The mood and request was very specific – a beach getaway, sophisticated ambiance, remote location within the United States, with a flight no longer than five hours, and a destination that both of us had never been before.
My research began, and in a way the restrictions were my best ally to filter the options. Hawaii was out. Miami – we had both been there over a zillion times, and lets agree that it is not the most sophisticated option. California was over the flight time. So I kept going down south, until a good friend and colleague of mine mentioned the magic word… Vieques. “Yes guys why don’t you go to Vieques, and spend a weekend at the W Retreat & Spa, I was there a few month ago and loved it…” he said. “¨”¨
I got online and started getting all the information about this new destination, which fitted perfectly the profile of the Birthday Summer Getaway we were looking for. Within the United States territories, only 4 hours away from New York City on a non-stop flight to Puerto Rico with a short connection to Vieques, on a remote and exclusive location, and at a funky retreat. “¨”¨
Vieques is an island in the municipality of Puerto Rico, in the northeastern Caribbean – part of a group of islands known as the Spanish Virgin Islands. Vieques is settled about 8 miles (13km) east of the Puerto Rico mainland and an approximately 20 to 30 minutes flight, on small 8 to 10 seater planes. The island is rather small, but I must say bigger than what I expected, 21 miles (34km) long and 4 miles (6km) wide.
Vieques became very popular years ago as a bombing range and testing ground by the United States Navy (2003). The island is now turned into a wildlife refuge and National Park. “¨”¨The name Vieques has many interpretations. Some say it comes from native spanish meaning “Small Island.” The island also has been named as “Isla Nena” alluding to being Puerto Rico’s small sister island, and “Crab Island” for the number of crabs leaving in the island, fact we experienced first hand during our stay.
I was sold, so the booking and planning began. Friday to Monday escape combining an exclusive new resort in Puerto Rico and and the Island of Vieques. My duty as a boyfriend was completed, so I wore my travel agent hat and along booked all the hotels, flights, tours and restaurants. “¨”¨
We had a lovely relaxing time and birthday celebration. Here are the TIPS and services we recommend if you are planing to follow our lead, either for a birthday, group travel, honeymoon, solo travel and/or Gay Wedding event”¨”¨
DAY 01 – NYC to Puerto Rico
We arrived to Puerto Rico, and since both of us had been there before, we decided to override all the classic sights and tours, and check us in at a brand new and exclusive resort that has opened over a year and a half ago, on the northeastern corridor of the island at the foot of El Yunque National Forest. We work hard, so when we travel we like to do it in style and to pamper ourselves. “¨
Flight / JetBlue
Non Stop flight New York City to Puerto Rico (approx. 3hs. and 30 minutes). Reasonable fare, with the option of Extra Leg space. (Departure at 3PM / Arrival 6PM) approx. USD 350 + Tax per person”¨”¨
Transfer / First Class Chauffers
We had our private transfer, who was waiting for us at SJU Airport on a Lincoln Navigator L SUV, to drive us to the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort (45 minutes drive) approx. USD 60 x person
Hotel / St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort
We stayed at this stunning, sophisticated and brand new resort , known by the locals as the best resort in the whole island of Puerto Rico, and they are perfectly right. Located right off the beach, the complex offers golf courses, beautiful pool area, top chef restaurant options, and residential-style rooms with private terraces, lush garden views. Imagine the following morning we woke up to share breakfast in the company of Jennifer Garner, Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson at the Fern Restaurant by Jean-George with dramatic views of the Atlantic Ocean. approx. USD 300 x person including breakfast + more info
Restaurant / Fern by Jean-Georges
On the first floor of the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, Fern combines a tantalizing selection of Jean-Georges’ greatest appetizers, side dishes, and accompaniments from his portfolio of domestic and international restaurants, including the highest-quality of meats and freshest local fish and produce available in the market. Sleek yet comfortable dining room is decorated in natural wood, accentuated by shades of white and silver. You may enjoy indoor or outdoor seating over the terrace with the sooting sound of the local frogs.
DAY 02 – Puerto Rico to Vieques
On the second day of our three nights getaway, we checked out from and transferred to the Isla Grande Airport to take our next flight to Vieques Island, and arrive to our final destination, the W Retreat & Spa. “¨
Flight / Vieques Air Link
On small 8 to 10 seater planes, we took off from Isla Grande Airpot, heading northeast to the sister Island of Vieques. The flight takes approximately 25 -30 minutes, and it is an attraction itself, flying on top of the Old San Juan, El Yunque National Forest and the blue/green waters of the Caribbean. We chose this airline, because featuring the same services as the competition, they offer fares 50% cheaper than others. (Departure at 2PM / Arrival 2.30PM) approx. USD 120 per person Round Trip + more info
(video) Landing in Vieques onboard Vieques Air Link
(video) Taking Off from Vieques onboard Vieques Air Link
(video) Flying over the Caribbean onboard Vieques Air Link
(Flickr Album) My experience onboard Vieques Air Link
Hotel / W Retreat & Spa Vieques
As soon as you land in Vieques, their staff is waiting for you, to take you to the W Lounge. Have a drink or two while they assist you with your luggage, and get your transfers ready, courtesy of the retreat. The property is beautiful, the beach features fine white sand, perfect temperature blue/green water. The AWAY Spa and the SWEAT Fitness Center are above expectations. The room are spacious and we got an Ocean Front Escape Room with stunning beach views. Although we truly enjoyed our stay at the hotel, I think we would have been much better off coming during the week. The crowd was not ideal during the weekend, lots of families with kids, but all changed from Sunday afternoon to Monday, so my TIP would be to visit the Retreat from Sundays to Thursdays, for a most enjoyable experience. MIX on the Beach by Alain Ducasse consulting is the main restaurant of the hotel, with lovely outdoor seating area overlooking the beach. Ideal for breakfast or a quick lunch, but falling a bit short for dinners, although, once again the setting and ambiance is right on. Ocean Front Escape from approx. USD 364 x night + more info
Enjoy the beach and the pool of the W Retreat. They offer private cabanas and two separate beach experiences, one only for Adults and clothing optional. You may choose from lying under the sun over drinks to relax and tan, or do some of the beach activities such as Kayaking, Snorkeling or Voleyball.
Rent a JEEP / Island Car Rental
Be adventurous and rent a JEEP to wonder around the island. You wont regret it. We spent over 4 hours driving around. The W Retreat offers free parking, and Island Car Rental is just walking distance from the lobby of the hotel. Visit Isabell II, Red Beach, Blue Beach and Sun Bay. approx. USD 80 per day.
(Flickr Album) Touring around Vieques on a JEEP
Restaurant / El Quenepo Restaurant”¨Located over the Malecon over Flamboyan Street. I would risk to say the most sophisticated, romantic gourmet option of Vieques Island. Fresh Puerto Rican/Asian fusion. Must try are the local Mofongo and the Conch. Quenepo is a Tropical fruit from a local tree in Vieques. + more info
Got back to the W Retreat, not before taking a short walk along the Malecon, to see how the locals in the island interact and entertain themselves. Quite exciting, and trust me after a while, you will be so happy to withdraw back to the quietness of the W Retreat & Spa.
DAY 03 – Vieques FULL Day at the W Retreat & Spa”¨
We woke up late to celebrate Rubin’s birthday, and decided after breakfast, to relax and spend the rest of the day lounging and sunbathing at the retreat. So we did. We also booked ourselves into the AWAY Spa for several treatments, which by the way, were performed beyond our expectations.
But everyone kept telling us, that being our last night in the island, we should try the Bio Bay. We spoke with the W Insider Hiram (aka. W Retreats version of a Guest Relations Agent), and he booked us into this, to be, magical experience. “¨”¨
Tour / Bioluminescent Bay Tour
The tour takes approximately two hours (6.30PM till 08.30PM). You will be picked up at the hotel and driven to the Sun Bay area, to transfer to Mosquito Bay where the Bio Bay Tour takes place, on board Kayaks. So expect to get wet. I called it a true unique and MAGICAL experience all the way. Hidden along the Caribbean coast is one of the most spectacular Bioluminescent Bays in the world. The mysterious blue-green light is created by micro-organisms which thrive in an environment uniquely suited to their needs. There are several companies providing this service, but the stars are without a doubt the million of glowing creatures in the waters of Mosquito Bay. approx. USD 40 per person.”¨
Restaurant / MIX on the Beach
Once back at the hotel, a bit exhausted from a day relaxing (yes relaxing sometimes can he exhausting), taking massages and paddleling for over an hour, we decided to stay in the Retreat and try the main restaurant of the hotel. By Alain Ducasse, the ambience and setting is very romantic and intimate, but the menu and gourmet experience fell short. This is when we regretted, not trying the last restaurant recommendations we had outside the hotel, which was Next Course Restaurant, but I guess we will save it for our next visit.
DAY 04 – Vieques / San Juan de Puerto Rico and Back to New York”¨
Last day of our Weekend Birthday Summer Getaway. Late wake up, breakfast and time to enjoy the Retreat and the Beach for the last time.
At 1.30PM was our transfer back to Vieques Airport and after a short visit to the W Lounge, we boarded our Vieques Air Link flight back to Isla Grande in San Juan. Short connection in Puerto Rico and by 11PM we were back home in New York, after a short flight on JetBlue Airways back to JFK Airport.
Going back to the initial specific request of beach getaway, sophisticated ambiance, remote location within the United States, with a flight no longer than five hours, and a destination that both of us have never been before, well I would give the whole trip a 7+ out of 10.
The overall experience was satisfactory, relaxing and we truly enjoyed our trip. Would I come back, YES 100%, but the only question remains for future reference, should we do it as a Weekend Summer Getaway, or we would be much better off as a Week Summer Getaway, away from the families and hordes of kids.? I think next time, we will definitely do a Monday on… Till next adventure in full luxury. Carlos Melia
Carlos Melia is a Travel Expert, Blogger, Niche Marketing Consultant, Jetsetter, and Bon Vivant, who travels around the world discovering what’s new and cool in Luxury Travel and Hospitality. His reviews on hotels, restaurants, destinations, and attractions, based on his own experiences as an OUT Gay Traveler can be found at www.carlosmeliablog.com