One of the more popular Port Adventures offered in San Juan, Puerto Rico is the Casa Bacardi Rum & Distillery Tour. This tour filled up rather quickly before our March sailing. If you really want to go and the Port Adventures are full on your cruise, or perhaps you are spending some time in San Juan before or after a Southern Caribbean cruise, or if you just want to save some money, you can visit the Casa Bacardi on your own. Honestly, it sounds more complicated then it actually is. The main difference between the official Disney Port Adventure and the way we went about it was that Disney will handle the logistics for you. On the Disney excursion, you will be transported in an air conditioned bus from the ship to Casa Bacardi, which takes 30-40 minutes. Most importantly, if the tour gets delayed, the ship will wait for you. However, if you are comfortable exploring on your own and understand the potential risks of doing so, then (and only then) should you consider our way.
Casa Bacardi is not that far from where the cruise ships dock. You can see the distillery from the ship by looking across San Juan Bay for twin wind turbines and a red and white smoke stack.
After doing a walking tour of Old San Juan on our own, we made our way back to Pier 2 (right next to where the cruise ships were docked), which is where we needed to catch the ferry. We walked down the street to the commuter ferry terminal, which at first looks like a line of shops on the water with a Subway restaurant inside it. The cost of the ferry is $1 per person round trip (no tip necessary, as it is public transportation, much like taking a city bus). You are given a ticket each way, so make sure that you put them in a safe spot so you will be able to board the return ferry. We paid our $3 cash and waited for the next ferry to arrive. Depending on the time of day, the ferry runs every half hour and increases around rush hour (which we found out later was a good thing).
We boarded the 1 PM ferry to Cataño. The trip was just around 15 minutes. Upon arrival, we took a right towards a parking garage with awaiting taxis. Taxi fare was $3 per person each way. For the 3 of us we paid $9 plus tip (we tipped $3) costing us $12 for the 10 minute drive past a residential neighborhood to the Casa Bacardi main entrance.
We arrived at the check-in desk which is located under the pavilion at about 1:35 PM. We were given color coded tour tickets and told there would be approximately a 30 minute wait. Each person also receivs two drink vouchers to use at the bar. Guests under 18 (the legal drinking age in Puerto Rico is 18) receive two tickets for non-alcoholic beverages, which include soda and juice. The drinks are pretty small; I’d say about 6 oz. They fill the cups with ice, put in the shot of chosen rum, and then fill the rest of the glass with the mixer.
The wait was a little longer, but it provided us with the opportunity to sit and enjoy the complimentary drinks, as well as check out the Bacardi gift shop. I had no idea what to order with my free drink tickets, so I asked the bartender to surprise me.
There are restrooms available near the gift shop adjacent to the pavilion that I would suggest using before your tour starts. Our daughter had to use the restroom during the tour, which was not a problem other than it required the tour guide to escort her and my wife to the office area. Essentially, there is a restroom available during the tour in an emergency, but it is a good idea to go beforehand; as the tour is about 45 minutes.
Our tour began around 2:15 PM & we boarded a tram (similar to those at Castaway Cay) for what amounted to a very short ride over to the first building. The first room of the tour was an interior courtyard with a fountain featuring the iconic Bacardi Bat logo. Here we were told how the bat became the Bacardi logo. The notable item in this area are original tax documents showing Bacardi’s first tax payment to Puerto Rico.
The tour continued into a small theater for a brief (yet informative) video showcasing the history of the Bacardi company. Bacardi has its origins in Santiago de Cuba, but was forced out when their distillery was taken over. As is typical with videos, filming and photography were not permitted. There are a few video clips on the Casa Bacardi website that were part of the video. Surprisingly, the film was not really a commercial for Bacardi.
The next stop on the tour was a replica of the original Bacardi Distillery and office. The tour guide provided some additional history of the company and details about the original distillery, but I could hardly hear her with the piped-in background sound effects. Instead, I looked around the office area, which is more museum like with original documents under glass, and original bottles of rum that survived the move from Santiago de Cuba. Photography and video recording were not permitted in this area either.
The next room was my favorite part of the tour. The room had small rum filled barrels along the walls that you could shake and smell. I’ve never bothered to smell rum before, but you could really smell the differences in each variety, especially the flavored rums. As it turns out, the flavored rums are only popular here in the States.
Next, we entered The Lounge, a room with a bar stocked with Bacardi rum and a few tables. Tomás, the bartender, showed some of the various drinks made popular by the Bacardi brand. The drinks were all pre-made and Tomás focused mostly on the origin stories for each beverage while pretending to mix them. I was surprised that the finished drinks were not given away to someone in the tour group. The only samples available were out under the pavilion. While the origin stories were interesting, this was a full on sales pitch for Bacardi that ended with a plug for the gift shop.
The final room on the tour was a trophy room of sorts; a showcase of various commemorative bottles and awards.
At this point, it was back outside to the awaiting tram which took us on a brief drive around the property past the various buildings before dropping us off at you guessed it – the gift shop. We did not go into the gift shop this time, as we had plenty of time to kill before the tour and looked around it then.
We did not purchase anything from the gift shop. In fact, the rum was not priced much cheaper (maybe a dollar or so) and since Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, it is not duty free and taxes must be paid.
At this point, it was 3:07 PM so we hopped off the tram and headed directly to the taxi stand. The return fare was another $9 plus tip. We arrived at the ferry terminal just as the 3:15 PM ferry was pulling away from the dock. Luckily, the ferries run every 15 minutes during rush hour so it was not that big of a deal. We boarded the 3:30 PM ferry to Old San Juan and could have boarded the Fantasy by 4 PM; 30 minutes before the all aboard time. We ended up heading into Old San Juan to stop at a mailbox to mail some postcards and boarded the ship at 4:15pm. We certainly got a full day in San Juan!
The Casa Bacardi Rum Distillery Tour is free and includes two drink vouchers per person. The only expenses were the ferry tickets and taxi fare. All in all for two adults, and one child, we spent $27 on the excursion.
Per Person – Round Trip Breakdown
- Ferry $1 + Taxi $6 (+ $2 tip) + Tour $0 = $9
The cost of the excursion breaks down to $9 per person; not bad at all compared to the tour offered by Disney at $31 per person ($25 ages 3-9). Granted, we did have to do all the leg work which was very easy. All we had to do was ask our amazing server, Sergio. We mentioned our plan for the day during breakfast and he found another server who recently made the journey. (Bonus tip: ask the crew for suggestions in ports!) He provided us with all we needed to know to get to the Casa Bacardi. We also were very lucky to have our iPhones, which with having a map and reviews, were invaluable. Although we did not have the piece of mind that the ship would wait for us if we were delayed beyond our control, I would do it on our own again and pocket the $60 difference. And let’s be honest, we still spent the savings – it was spent onboard in Sea Treasures on the new Disney Cruise Line Chamilia beads for my wife.
We were a little hesitant to go over to the Bacardi Rum Distillery after reading a few online reviews which made this seem like a commercial for Bacardi and that the tour does not actually take you throughout the distillery. This is a fair and accurate summary of the tour, but I am still glad we went. I learned a great deal about the company from the video, and my interest in rum was peaked to the point I may just sign up for a rum tasting on our next cruise, but there is really no need to go back. The free drinks are not enough of an incentive to return. I will not say this is a tour you need to see while visiting San Juan unless the tour is expanded to the actual distillery. I would much rather spend more time exploring the historic fortifications in Old San Juan or take an excursion to the rain forest.
Have you taken the tour on your own or the Disney Port Adventure? What did you think?