When: Jan 27 - Feb 2, 2013
Room type: 2BR, Ocean View, Las Cascitas South Village
Who: Wife (36), Daughter (5), Son (3) and me (37).
About me: I have lived in NYC for 10 years, San Francisco for 1 year and presently reside in northern NJ.
My travel background: I have traveled around the world (Japan, Africa, China, Europe, etc) without kids. I have stayed in 4-star hotels, and have dined at some of the best restaurants around the world.
Previous family vacation during this time of year: Beaches - Turks and Caicos [see end of review for comparison]
Summary: We had a great trip. The kids had a great time, and we felt the vacation went by very quickly. I would go back in a heart beat. There was still so much more to explore (golf, tennis, horseback riding, jet skiing...)
Why we chose this vacation: 1) consistently warm weather in January, 2) a la carte meals and other services (we are no longer fans of the all-inclusive resort) 3) water park is connected to the hotel and reserved for hotel guests only, 4) direct flight from NYC, 5) roughly 4 hours or less travel time and 6) resort's distance from airport (about 1 hour).
Room: the 2BR in the south village was enormous by anyone's standards. There was a full kitchen with oven, 4-burner cook top, microwave, full size refrigerator/freezer and dishwasher. The only thing missing was a clothes washer/dryer which we had been accustomed to having at other condo style resorts. I read other reviews that guests should request the north village, because it is closer to everything. I think there is a lot of merit to this recommendation. The south village is further from the main hotel (with all the restaurants, big pools and access to the water park, etc), so we called a shuttle (van or golf cart at their discretion) which brought us to the hotel. We loved this option for the first 3 days as it was always prompt; however, days 4-6 we thought it was less prompt, and we began nudging closer to checking out the north village cascitas or renting our own golf cart ($95/day).
We rented a car. A parking space was included with the cascita. We liked having the car so we could go off resort for dinner. We intended to do some grocery shopping, although that didn't happen on this trip. A rental car is not necessary for this vacation, so compare with the cost of the hotel shuttle. Getting to the resort from the airport (SJU) was pretty easy - 50-70 minutes depending on time of day.
Timing: This was a great time to vacation, because they were lots of conventions at the hotel, but those guests were not using the pool or other facilities, so it felt pretty quiet...in a good way. We were frequently one of only a handful of families at the pool, water park or dinner. We never waited in line for anything and never made a reservation for dinner.
Staff and Service: We were thoroughly impressed with the staff. Everyone was really nice, and well trained in hospitality. Housekeeping was great too.
Breakfast: We intended to use the kitchen for breakfast, but at the last minute we got a deal where the kids' breakfast was included, so we ate at the buffet at Las Brisas each morning. Food was great and there was good variety.
Lunch: We ate all over and never had a bad meal. On occasion the food could have used a little more seasoning, but it was always cooked properly and the meat was good quality. Additionally, there was always a kid menu (chicken fingers, pizza, grilled cheese, etc) everywhere we dined.
Dinner (all with our kids): We ate 3 dinners off the resort (Passion por El Fagone twice and La Estacion once - I recommend both highly and they are about 5 mins from the resort). On the resort we ate at Cafe Bella Vista which was great for the kids, but our entrees could have been prepared little better. Cafe Caribe which was very casual and good. Lastly, we ate at Stingray which was their more formal dining experience and enjoyed it.
You can see some menus in the pictures I uploaded which includes the prices.
Water Park: wonderful for our kids. There are 4 waters slides, a lazy river and a couple of pools. Admission is an extra fee which you can find on their website. You can purchase a full day or half day pass. We were fortunate that our kids' nap schedules permitted us to show-up at 4p most days which qualified us for a significantly reduced rate of $5/person. Not sure if this occurs other times of year.
The first water slide is for real little kids who typically can't swim. It is about 8' long and great for getting little kids comfortable with a water slide. It finishes into a zero entry pool which is where the youngest kids play.
The second, third and fourth slides all descend from a two story tower. The second is a winding slide that my 5-year old daughter loved and was fun for my wife and me too.
The third slide uses a 1-person or 2-person tube and winds down in a similar fashion as the one above, but might be a little faster.
The fourth slide is nearly vertical and was way too scary for my 5-year old. I saw kids 10-15 doing it with ease. I did it a couple of times and found it fun.
The water park has lifeguards, but I did not feel comfortable with their attention to what was going on. You are pretty much the only one keeping your kids safe there.
This was our first time to Puerto Rico. We were pleasantly surprised by how similar it looked to Hawaii with the beautiful hills, cliffs and lush landscapes.
There is no beach on the resort grounds. You need to take the hotel's free boat shuttle to their private island (Palomino island). It is a lot of fun and there is much to write about all the good stuff on the island; however, it would have been nice to have a big sandbox or sand area as part of the water park or elsewhere for my son to dig with his toys.
Comparison to Beaches T&C - I have reviewed Beaches T&C twice and like the resort. We stayed in the Italian Village in a pool walkout room.
Things we liked about Las Cascitas as compared to Beaches T&C:
Price: We spent about 50-60% of the amount we spent at Beaches and enjoyed our trip more at Cascitas
Food: Everyone complains about food at Beaches T&C. It is not that bad; however, we thoroughly enjoyed the benefits of not being at an all-inclusive because we found the food quality higher and enjoyed going off the resort.
Rooms: The Las Cascitas rooms are so much larger and you get a full kitchen and the layout is so much better. The finishes in the bathrooms are not nearly as nice as in the Italian village @ Beaches T&C, but we were more than willing to forgo them.
Wireless: My wife and I typically need to get some work done in the evenings and I was so impressed with the WIFI at Las Cascitas and remember cursing the WIFI at Beaches T&C.
Location: It was nice staying in the US. No passports. No concerns if anyone needed medical attention. No international roaming with the cell phones.
Last thing: At Beaches T&C we had to apply bug repellant before going out each evening. We did not notice any bug issues during our stay at Las Cascitas.