In making the decision as to where to stay during our vacation in Puerto Rico, I picked the El Conquistador in Fajardo because (1) I decided that on our first visit to Puerto Rico we would see the north east corner of the island, and (2) the El Conquistador seemed like a family friendly place.
For the most part, we enjoyed our stay at the El Conquistador. Our children liked the water park and my wife and son liked Palomino Island. The resort was in close proximity to El Yunque and the bioluminescent lagoon, which were two highlights of the trip.
The El Conquistador itself is a sprawling resort, and according to my Insight Guide, was at some point in the past a Maharishi University. My family stayed in the section of the resort called Las Olas, which in retrospect is probably the worst place to stay in the resort. The room itself was pretty nice and spacious, and we had a great view from our balcony. The problem with the Las Olas section was the location.
In the picture above, taken from the ferry as we were headed for Palomino Island, Las Olas is mostly obscured by the marina section, except for the scalloped roof. Las Olas and the marina were physically separated from the main part of the resort, which was set on the hill above. The only way to get to the main section was to take a tram car called a funicular to the top of the hill. There were actually two funicular tracks, an express track that went directly from the main resort to the marina, and a local that also stopped at Las Olas. The problem was, if you wanted to go from Las Olas to the top level, and you just missed the funicular as it was headed to the top, you would have to wait for the funicular to come back to Las Olas, go down to the marina, then back up to Las Olas before proceeding back up to the main level. Another option would be to go down the stairs to the marina level to catch the express funicular to the top level. Once you finally arrive at the top stop on the funicular, it was then a long walk and an elevator ride to get to the main lobby area where all the restaurants were and where you boarded the buses to go on the trips.
Another problem with Las Olas was that it was not very well maintained. In particular, the carpets in the hallway were noticeably worn and stained, and the building looked like it was in need of some serious overhaul. A number of reviewers at Tripadvisor.com made the same observation.
As I mentioned in another post, the El Conquistador is also incredibly expensive, especially the restaurants. While the food was good for the most part, considering that they were banging us on average $150 per dinner for the four of us, it should have been better than good. That being said, the staff were nearly all friendly and accomodating, with the exception of one girl who manned the ice cream and sandwich window at the El Caribe during the evening hours.
I had heard from a number of people, including our guide on the El Yunque rainforest tour that there were a lot of layoffs recently and that business is down at the resort due to the economy. The guide said that the week we were there was the first week where they had full attendance for the tour. Likely, that was due to the fact that the public schools were closed for the week and parents such as myself had the opportunity to take the family on a vacation without missing school.
I was also surprised by the number of fellow New Yorkers staying at the resort, including a family whose daughter attended the same kindergarten as our daughter. We also ran into the daughter of my uncle's second wife.
We plan on visiting Puerto Rico again at some point in the near future. For the next visit, I envision that we will start at the north west corner of the island, around Aguadilla, then make our way east to Arecibo and then San Juan so that we have the chance to stroll through Old San Juan at a more leisurely pace without having to worry about getting back in time to a tour bus. As for the El Conquistador, I don't expect that we will stay there again. If you are contemplating spending time in north eastern Puerto Rico, and you don't mind spending a lot of money, you might want to stay at the El Conquistador. There are steps you can take to reduce your costs, such as bringing your own water and juice for the kids, and researching local restaurants outside of the resort that serve good food at an affordable price. While I was not impressed with the Las Olas wing of the resort, I didn't really see much of the rooms in the other parts of the resort, so perhaps they are nicer as well as being more conveniently located.