Destination Desire

Puerto Rico unmatched mix of settings and design professionals make staging any event sure bet.

By Darien Rivers

People searching for someplace to stage special events need to look no further than Puerto Rico, where stunning natural backdrops and the Caribbean’s best infrastructure help ensure exemplary experiences for any and all.

Besides sumptuous sun and scenery, Puerto Rico has the facilities and settings to fit any kind of organized activity ranging everywhere from dream weddings to cutting-edge corporate gatherings. Look around and it’s clear to see.

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“Puerto Rico is such a beautiful destination. It has a vast variety of options from glamorous ballrooms to rustic estates. Plus the weather is amazing year round,” noted Javier Martinez, president and top designer at Akua by Event Design Group.

From the award-winning modern Puerto Rico Convention Center to the elegant charm of the Antiguo Casino, the island boasts some of the best facilities for any type of event. Not to mention the beaches, golf courses, Spanish-colonial forts, haciendas, and picture-perfect resort hotels of all kinds that provide places to stage individual and corporate events.

Imagine staging a stately affair at a beautiful Spanish colonial hacienda in the northeastern part of the island that belonged to a horse ranching baron, or a cocktail party at a restored 16th century nobleman’s home where its lush gardens host a breathtaking view of the San Juan harbor and La Fortaleza, the governor’s residence.

Not your cup of tea? Then opt to hold an event in a Spanish colonial-style castle in Ponce designed in the 1930s adorned by lavish gardens, a butterfly pavilion, beautiful terraces, and spectacular views or at a magnificent botanical garden in Caguas full of splendid natural beauty that is purely organic.

There is no limit to what you can stage in Puerto Rico; it’s just a matter of following your imagination to create the most remarkable event you’ve ever dreamt of having.

If you prefer to throw a party at one of the island’s main hostelries, practically all in Puerto Rico have breathtaking ocean-front locations and luxuriant palm-dotted grounds, providing the appropriate cinematic ambiance for a memorable affair.

Less visible, but no less important, are the island’s top-notch design teams that help make sure everything and everyone comes together without a hitch.

Puerto Rico’s designers use their creativity and skills to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, the mundane into the memorable and the simple into the spectacular. The seeming ease with which they elevate events may tend to gloss over the hard work, deep thought, and close collaboration that goes on behind the scenes to make the most out of every gathering.

“A creative and well-executed design makes guests feel special,” said Mitch Zorba, event designer for GSI.

While design trends may come and go like the seasons, the pillars on which Puerto Rico’s decorators and designers stake their reputations remain steady – passion, performance, and professionalism are key among them.

“Puerto Rico is home to excellent professionals in the fields of event design, production and coordination. The island offers everything needed to stage a world-class gathering at accessible prices,” said Norberto Fontañez, cofounder of Mossaico. “All that is required from clients and their guests is that they show up. We’ll take care of the rest.”

Although each designer brings their own unique vision to projects they share a fundamental commitment to listening to their clients first and foremost. The art is in how they take that input and deliver well above and beyond what was expected.

“In terms of design, I don’t rest on just taking orders from clients. I try to expand on what they say they want by offering creative upgrades. It’s all about re-imagining tradition and producing events beyond client expectations,” said Zorba.

Each event has a unique design, and Puerto Rico’s designers are loath to copy or repeat past work. They are vigilant to keep abreast with trends in the industry while also bringing their own inspiration and vision to the table.

“Design themes for social and corporate events are rarely set in stone. It all flows from the message that each client is aiming to convey to their guests and the atmosphere they are trying to create for them,” said Efrain Martinez, co-founder of Mossaico.

Being in the beating heart of the Caribbean, clients often and understandably so come calling for a tropical design for their events, a theme that remains hot year after year.

“Because it’s Puerto Rico, people often want tropical designs and that’s cool. Tropical is really hard to pull off and a lot of people have the wrong idea about what it truly is. There is such a thing as tropical elegance,” Zorba said.

GSI really showed off its stunning range – and that of Puerto Rico – through a series of signature events staged by the company including a masquerade ball for Helms Briscoe, a global leader in meetings procurement, at the Antiguo Casino in Old San Juan, a 1917 Beaux Arts-style beauty that has been thoroughly updated and lovingly restored to its original grandeur. GSI converted this elegant venue into a lavish gala event full of over-the-top sculptures, a plethora of stylized lighting installations and floral centerpieces turned into masked characters.

“To take things to unexpected territory we provided our guests with an emotional operatic duo performance and a special recreation of pop singer Madonna’s famous performance of ‘Vogue’ with all the masked performers in full Marie Antoinette fashion from the 18th century,” Zorba said. “It fit the theme and venue perfectly.”

Other big-time events included the Best Buy Blitz at the Ballaja Barracks in Old San Juan, a sprawling Spanish-colonial installation built around an interior courtyard that served as a parade ground for the king’s troops. The event took almost a year of pre-planning, coordination and managing a multitude of vendors for catering, tenting, lighting, sound, and decor, etc. Transportation alone was a logistical maze that GSI had to tackle in conjunction with municipal and state permits to deliver seamless transfers to the venue.

The company did not rely solely on the historically stellar venue to win over the young professionals who packed into the party and were constantly entertained from the moment they walked in and were greeted by drummers, dancers, a great DJ, and a showstopper of a band that was got people to get up and dance. Rounding out the high-energy scene were larger than-life electro stilt walkers and giant butterflies.

“We had people forgetting they had to catch flights the following day,” Zorba said. “When you have more than 2,000 people engaged, singing, and dancing for hours despite early departures the following day, you know your event was a hit!”

GSI’s Enchanted Rainforest for Microsoft at the El Conquistador Hotel Ballroom stands out as one of its more theatrically produced events, where decor, entertainment, and a synchronized dinner were key in wowing some 1,200 guests. Video mapping captured the magic of the rainforest, enveloping the venue in the sights and sounds as they progress from dusk to dawn. A specialized company was even brought in to create a rainforest scent for the event.

“When doing an event in a hotel ballroom, one can never underestimate the importance of collaborating side by side with the hotel to make sure that no stone is left unturned,” Zorba said.

Events don’t necessarily need a theme to be special, which is why all good designers keep timeless yet creative designs always on their radar.

Romantic weddings are made to look like a walk in the park for Puerto Rico’s design teams, who make sure everything is perfect before couples walk down the aisle, exchange vows and maybe waltz on to the dance floor or off into the sunset.

The island has emerged as a premier venue in the growing arena of destination weddings and its designers play big roles in making sure lovebirds are able to get hitched without a glitch.

Among corporate clients, Martinez said Akua has successfully handled a wide-variety of requests ranging from a sophisticated tropical feel to futuristic themes that emphasize a company’s success. Just ask leading local businesses like FirstBank, GFR Media and the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, all of which enlisted the firm for design work over the past year.

Shades of gold, white and black are some of the colors that never go out of style and are constantly present in designs, according to Martinez, adding that among Akua’s signatures is playing with different textures such as using sequins, lace, diverse types of wood, metals and mirror.

Tropical casual and vibrant Caribbean street festival themes are always popular with offshore clients, as are beach parties framed by soothing and clean white and cream décor mixed with wood, soft lighting and torches, according to designers.

“Puerto Rico has a lot to offer. We are truly a blessed island and our design professional possess limitless quality and talent,” Fontañez said. “It is up to all of us to show that to the world.”

Akua’s Martinez has more than a quarter century of turning clients’ floral and design dreams into reality, building the business into a pillar of the industry in Puerto Rico through an unwavering commitment to unique designs, personalized service, and high quality standards.

“Each event has a unique design. Akua does not copy or repeat past work,” he said. “No matter the theme, the main goal is to transform any occasion with creativity and out-of-the-box ideas.”

And Akua’s motto is “there is no such thing as a little event. Each one is always an opportunity to create something amazing.”

At the end of the day, it is Puerto Rico’s unmatched mix of settings and design professionals that make staging virtually any event on the island a sure bet.

“What it all comes down to is creating awareness of how magnificent Puerto Rico really is. We can do it all, from providing great venues, to a plethora of décor inventory and producing live entertainment that rocks,” Zorba said.

Beautiful beaches, world-class infrastructure, and outstanding service, are the other ingredients in your recipe for success — and a great way to impress!

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