By John Petrou

With numerous direct flights from the East Coast, a relatively modern infrastructure and all the beauty of other “more exotic” Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico is an ideal choice for vacationers, disabled or otherwise.

You needn’t travel far from America’s oldest city, San Juan, to discover the types of pristine beaches and tropical gardens that the Caribbean is famous for. The Hyatt Dorado Beach Resort (787-796-1234) is located just minutes away on Puerto Rico’s northern coast. Made up of approximately 1,000 acres, the grounds of Dorado are lush with flower and fauna every bit as varied and verdant as the best Hawaii has to offer.

The resort itself is divided into two areas. One consists of eight clusters of two story cottages; about 20 cottages in each cluster. Every cluster contains one accessible room, with accommodations that include lowered light switches, roll-in showers, alert kits and bathroom wall bars. A sliding door and accessible patio at the rear of the cottages provide spectacular views of a landscaped yard and the beach just beyond.

Connecting all of the rooms, and throughout the entire resort are a system of paved pathways that provide easy access to this tropical wonderland. As you explore the resort what you will find are amenities that compare favorably with those of any Caribbean hotel. In addition to the exclusive beach and its extensive array of water sports, there are three outdoor swimming pools, a full-service spa and beauty center and 7 tennis courts. For golfing enthusiasts there are even 2 award-winning, 18-hole Robert Trent Jones golf courses.

This half of the Dorado resort also features three restaurants, though one is inaccessible to wheelchair users, as well as a beach-side grill. The Ocean Terrace Cafe serves lunch and breakfast on an open terrace facing the Atlantic Ocean. For dinner, The Surf Room is a charming space in which to enjoy primarily continental fare while overlooking the breaking surf. Finally, housed in an inaccessible, old oceanfront Hacienda, Su Casa Restaurant specializes in Spanish/Puerto Rican cuisine.

The “cottage area” of the resort is, on its own, enough to provide a completely enjoyable vacation. However, for a change of pace and scenery, Dorado’s second campus has exactly what you’re looking for.

The second section of Dorado Beach consists of a luxury, three story hotel called Cerromar, located about one mile from the cottage area. A shuttle bus, complete with wheelchair lift, makes runs between the two facilities every fifteen minutes.

While the cottages represent the ultimate in peaceful seclusion, Cerromar boasts a livelier, glitzy atmosphere. There is even an in-house, Las Vegas style casino and nightclub. Several of the restaurants and the entire hotel and casino offer good access for disabled visitors.

Cerromar’s grounds include a 1,776 foot freshwater river pool with 14 waterfalls, hot tub, slides, walkways and bridges. There is also an outdoor Olympic pool, kid’s pool and whirlpool, not to mention the spectacular white-sand beach.

As with the first area of the resort, a spa and beauty center are available, as are an additional 8 tennis courts, jogging and bicycling trails. There are even two more 18-hole Robert Trent Jones golf courses to compliment the two near the cottages.

The Cerromar portion of the resort provides further dining options as well. The Steak Company is set against a lush backdrop of gardens and waterfalls, and cooks up steaks with a Caribbean flair, along with choices of seafood and pasta dishes. The Swan Cafe, with spectacular, open-air views of the ocean and the pool garden, serves three meals daily. Finally, for Asian cuisine, Zen Garden offers Chinese fare and Japanese dishes such as sushi and sashimi.

If the beach, pools, tennis, golf and gambling aren’t enough, accessible transportation, provided by the resort, will take you to the nearby city of San Juan. This excursion presents a terrific opportunity for changing your routine while staying at Dorado. Once in San Juan your options are plentiful, though not always accessible. With care and pre-planning, however, touring the “old city,” parts of the fortresses and the “Rain Forest” are all possible and add another layer to your experience of the island, making the trip all the more meaningful.

Puerto Rico is an island full of history, natural beauty and excitement. For those travelers who seek an outstanding Caribbean vacation without the hassles of switching planes, limited transportation options, dealing with foreign currency, or worrying about disabled access, Puerto Rico is a fine choice. Moreover, the Dorado Beach Resort offers the best of the island’s paradisiac tranquility, its energetic party atmosphere, and convenient access to 500 years of historic sights; whether you want your vacation to be a relaxing retreat from the world or a whirlwind of non-stop activity, Dorado Resort and Puerto Rico have it covered.