Conquest of Paradise

Arriving in San Juan, Puerto Rico early this morning aboard MSC Cruises’ MSC Divina. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Wednesday, February 11, 2015
If you’re wondering if you should splurge for a balcony stateroom on your next cruise, consider the morning I had aboard MSC Cruises’ MSC Divina as she slipped silently into the harbour in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The globetrotting Christopher Columbus discovered San Juan on what was literally his “Conquest of Paradise” in 1492-93, but it wasn’t until 1509 that the town was officially settled, and even longer – 1521 – before it was given its official name of San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico.

Is a balcony stateroom worth it? Yes - I watched as we silently slipped into San Juan early this morning. Not a sound could be heard. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Is a balcony stateroom worth it? Yes – I watched as we silently slipped into San Juan early this morning. Not a sound could be heard. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Positioned as a prime stopover point for ships carrying gold and silver to and from the New World, San Juan entered a 300-year period of repeated sackings, pillaging, battles and outright siege. The city’s famous fortresses and castle walls were built to protect the city, but that didn’t stop San Juan from becoming a veritable bloodbath. Battles were so common the townspeople could practically set their watches – if they had any – to them.

Disembarking MSC Divina was a snap for a ship her size. Plenty of signage indicates the ship's gangways, which today were placed at the Midship and Forward staircases. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Disembarking MSC Divina was a snap for a ship her size. Plenty of signage indicates the ship’s gangways, which today were placed at the Midship and Forward staircases. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Today, San Juan is part of the United States of America, but only very peripherally. An unincorporated territory, they use the U.S. Dollar here along with the propensity for heavily-armed police officers dressed head-to-toe in black guarding ports, monuments and Starbucks Coffee but other than that, San Juan still retains much of its Spanish colonial charm. In fact, you could argue that Havana, Cuba would appear a lot like modern-day San Juan had Fidel Castro not decided to go to bed with Nikita Khrushchev and a bunch of long-range ballistic missiles back in the 1960’s.

MSC Divina...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

MSC Divina…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...towers over the port of San Juan. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…towers over the port of San Juan. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Having been here just over one year ago, I opted to create my own shore excursion today by walking to Fort San Cristobal, then over to the equally-historic Fort San Filipe del Morro, before making a giant loop back to the ship by strolling through the main shopping district in Old San Juan.

Today, I created my own walking tour of San Juan, which is remarkably easy to do in the historic Old Town where cruise ships dock. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Today, I created my own walking tour of San Juan, which is remarkably easy to do in the historic Old Town where cruise ships dock. Photo © 2015

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