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Puerto Rico — cruise mecca?

If you’re want a hint at what cruise travel to Cuba might be like a few years from now, Royal Caribbean might give you a foretaste next year in Puerto Rico.

You could call this “Go big and leave home.”

Starting in 2016, two vessels of Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class — Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas — will be making regular port calls in Puerto Rico.

Capable of carrying up to 6,00 passengers each, these two behemoths are the largest cruise ships in the world (at least for now).

They will hit the PR ten times next year, part of a concerted drive by Puerto Rican tourism officials to bring more cruise ships to the island. The fact that they brought in nearly 18,000 cruise passengers in one day last month tells you just how concerted that drive is.

I look at this as a kind of preview — and for Royal Caribbean, perhaps a kind of dry run — for what may happen in Cuba once the US trade embargo is gone. The Old Havana cruise port could see that same kind of traffic within a year or two of opening fully to US mass-market tourism.

In San Juan, however, they’re not waiting that long. And for the traveler, the push to bring more cruise ships to Puerto Rico means a new and comfortable introduction to a beautiful and perhaps a bit under-appreciated Caribbean jewel.

If you go, you’ll almost certainly find your way to blue cobblestones and colorful historic homes of Old San Juan, not to mention the massive and imposing Morro Castle.

But don’t pass up a shore excursion that takes you out to the El Yunque rainforest or lets you paddle a kayak in a bioluminescent bay.

And if your ship stays overnight in San Juan, you’ll definitely want to check out the restaurants and nightlife along Ashford Avenue in the Condado district, where the lovely little Condado Lagoon and the mighty Atlantic Ocean are separated by about three blocks.

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