It’s no secret that if you are in Puerto Rico, and not just on business, it is probably because the promise of pleasant days, sunny skies, hot sand underfoot on the way to a refreshing dip in the ocean is just too tempting an escape from dreary weather or gloomy gray days.
Besides, sunny Puerto Rico is the ideal destination for a quick getaway or vacation, easy to fly to and endowed with all the charm of a foreign country where English is spoken widely and no passport is required. For active travelers, the island offers all the fun sports, from surfing and snorkeling to hiking and spelunking. But if all you want to do is relax on a golden beach – that is fine too.
Lodging options are plentiful, ranging from grand city hotels and cozy bed & breakfasts to budget hostelries and luxury resorts with spectacular ambience and sea-side locations. Visitors’ biggest quandary is probably deciding what hotel environment best fits their mood: luxe, romantic, urbane, laid back, or tropical.
The good news is that travelers returning or visiting Puerto Rico for the first time will find a revitalized hotel sector, part of an industry-wide revamp that is pumping fresh energy into the industry.
“We are open for business and have a totally refreshed, totally new product,” Clarisa Jimenez, president and CEO of the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association, told Bienvenidos.
Nearly a dozen hotels have undergone or are still in the process of major renovations while others have made improvements or tweaked their offerings.
New hotels have also come on board. Serafina, a $46 million boutique hotel in Condado, opened its doors in March 2018 while the intriguingly named O:LV55, an $8 million boutique hotel, was already taking reservations in October. It too is based in Condado.
The island’s tourism industry is currently in a process of vigorous expansion with as many as 28 projects under development. Some of these projects are part of large initiatives such as those currently underway at the Puerto Rico Convention Center District in San Juan. District Live! is a $150 million world-class entertainment hub featuring an 8,000-seat theatre, a 175-room Aloft hotel, restaurants, shops and eight movie theaters with high-tech features and interactive screens. It is slated to open in the fall of 2019.
Some 11 hotels have undergone full or partial revamps or are still in the process of renovation, with several properties planning reopenings during the first or second quarter of 2019. The renovations aim to give the properties a fresh new start and bring them in line with the needs of contemporary travelers.
Reopened are three of the island’s luxe properties, dreamy resorts that combine escape with the pleasures of high living: Dorado Beach-Ritz Carlton Reserve, in Dorado; the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, in Rio Grande; and El San Juan Hotel Curio Collection by Hilton, in Isla Verde.
Spread over 50 acres of luscious tropical landscape, Dorado Beach bills itself as “an enchanting sanctuary of exclusive luxury” offering three 18-hole golf courses, a state-of-the-art fitness center, an aquatic adventure park, and beachside dining.
As part of its latest revamp, the resort’s 114 beachfront guest rooms and suites were repainted in neutral tones, outfitted with clean lined, mid-century furnishings, and accessorized with curated art, bed throws and custom-designed rugs graced with Taino motifs. Su Casa, the Reserve’s splendid five-bedroom villa and former home of famed aviator Clara Livingston, was fully modernized with close attention to preserving its distinctive appeal.
There can never be enough green to beguile the eye so Reserve’s spectacular grounds, featuring palm-studded beaches and an 11-mile nature trail actively used by guests, was enhanced with 300,000 new plant specimens for an even richer experience of the lush tropical environment. And since all that fresh air is bound to build up an appetite, count on fabulous meals thanks to a menu redo.
With its latest $60 million renovation, the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort reaches new heights of splendor as all its 139 guest rooms and suites show off the polished new look that noted local designer Nono Maldonado put together with internationally renowned Hirsch Bedner Associates of San Francisco. The design features a contemporary, organic aesthetic and a palette of white and blues shades that beautifully complements the stunning setting of the resort. The renovation included the Plantation House, a glamorous gathering space that is the heart of the resort with its St. Regis Bar and signature fine-dining restaurant; the seaside pool and esplanade that now offer a casual dining option for guests; the spa and the ocean-front golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. Located on 483 pristine acres and boasting a two-mile stretch of private beach, the St. Regis is planning an upcoming $30 million expansion of the resort that will add 60 oceanfront rooms designed to be family-friendly and flexible.
Fresh from a $65 million renovation that preserved its old-world grandeur while weaving in a modern tropical vibe, the legendary El San Juan Hotel relaunched with a grand reopening. The redo took in all 388 guest rooms, poolside and oceanfront villas and suites, public spaces, pools, cabanas and landscaping. The goal: blend the historic with the modern. In restoring the hotel’s classic aesthetic, the hotel’s owners wanted to shine a light on the features that have made El San Juan such an iconic and beloved hotel, not to mention a favorite venue for school proms. These include the grand entrance with its stunning oval-shaped, hand blown chandelier from Czechoslovakia, the third largest in the world, and the lobby built out of hand carved cherry mahogany.
El San Juan, located on two miles of pristine Isla Verde Beach, recently voted the Best Urban Beach in the U.S., boasts four pools, a new state-of-the-art tri-level Well & Being Fitness Center, a nightclub (Brava) and two new restaurant concepts. Caña by Juliana Gonzalez offers a menu based on a new wave of socially and environmentally minded ways of eating. Its emphasis is on locally sourced, fresh ingredients from island farmers and fishermen. Chef Gonzalez, born and raised in Puerto Rico, has led some of the finest restaurants in Spain and Miami.
Meat Market is for meat lovers. This contemporary steakhouse boasts a sophisticated ambiance and its menu offers a variety of prime cuts of meat, exceptional seafood and cutting-edge gastronomy, coupled with a top-notch Wine Spectator award-winning wine list.
Also with a greatly revamped appearance is the Ponce Hilton Golf & Casino Resort, a first-class hospitality resort in the island’s southern region. All its 255 rooms, including the 100 rooms of the Ocean Tower, were refreshed with new color schemes and furnishings such as beds, wall frames, lamps and décor. The revamp also covered the lobby (which got new tropical style furniture, gardens, ambience); El Bohio Sport and Pool Bar (new bar counter and tropical furniture); and the Fitness Center (new carpeting, painting and premier fitness equipment). In other improvements, the tennis court facilities were reconditioned, a state-of-the-art parking system was installed and the casino facilities were revamped. Serralles Hotel, Inc., owners of the property plunked more than $3 million into the renovation.
While some hotel properties remain closed in anticipation of future reopenings, others are able to undergo revamps while doing business as usual. That’s the case of the San Juan Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino which has been able to continue operating normally even as it forges ahead with its renovation agenda.
It debuted a new pool deck, pool area’s landscape design and new beach front restaurant, Gingambo (after the African word for okra). The eatery captivates guests with its light and airy design. Furnishings, natural and wood elements, tiling and decor create a Caribbean ambience founded on a simple but elegant style. The menu includes tasty salads and Puerto Rican recipes.
The renovation of the 123 guest rooms in the Marriott’s Cabana Tower should be ready by spring 2019. Also newly renovated are the ocean Club Spa & Wellness Center and coffee house La Panaderia on the main floor. Both are open.
Embassy Suites San Juan completed its remodeling in three stages where they repainted the building to give it a more modern and fresher appearance inspired on the ocean. Besides a new paint job, the furniture, rugs and meeting room sound system were replaced.
Over at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Dorado del Mar Beach Resort, the upper level rooms were refurbished. Every room in this Caribbean haven is a two-room suite with a separate living area. Even though the property was under renovation, it still open its doors while work was going on.
At the stunning oceanfront Condado Plaza, located in the heart of the Condado District, renovations focused heavily on beautifying its luxurious contemporary guest rooms and suites as well as restaurant outlets. The property remained open during renovation process and simply waived the resort fee.
The former ESJ Towers property in the Isla Verde reopened its doors as AZUL following a $12 million investment. Touted as a vacation ownership/timeshare offering with a hotel component, AZUL features 450 rooms in 17 floors, ranging from studios to three-bedroom apartments with kitchenettes or full kitchens. The renovation of the building and its grounds, including hallways and landings on all floors, game room, a lobby bar and lounge area, as well as the addition of a new hospitality center. AZUL also constitutes the first in a series of properties to be called the esj Collection.
Sheraton Old San Juan Hotel, whose building calls to mind the prows of the ships docked right across from it, began its renovation last year. All 240 guest rooms and suites were completely redone from top to bottom, with the revamp extending to all public spaces as well. The hotel, whose Palio restaurant has an outdoor terrace offering stunning, views of the bay and tropical sunsets, added a new upscale eatery.
While Puerto Rico hotels busied themselves with their renovations, new hotels joined the hotel landscape. Serafina, located next door to the Vanderbilt and La Concha duo on Ashford Ave., opened ready to attract affluent millennials looking for a fun getaway. The luxury hotel has 92 rooms and a signature restaurant, aMare (an Italian word that means “to love” or “to the sea”), that sits 120 people and features traditional Italian seafood tweaked with Puerto Rican culinary flavors. There is also a poolside lounge that serves up light fare such as burgers, pizza and sandwiches along with handcrafted cocktails and, in the lobby, PiñaCo bar does double duty: during the day it serves as an espresso bar that also serves light breakfast dishes, pressed juices and revitalizing detox shots. At night, the bar serves handcrafted cocktails prepared by master mixologists.
Some of the hotels that did not require renovations, either because unnecessary or already been done in recent years, turned their attention to making improvements to other areas such as food, a key aspect for any hotel. For example, InterContinental San Juan, a 398 room hotel in Isla Verde, this year opened Aleli, a new restaurant that features local cuisine. InterContinental, a lively spot on week-ends thanks to its live music program, including Salsa Night on Fridays, also operates the popular Saki restaurant, featuring an Asiatic fusion menu. AC Hotel by Marriott, a stylish hotel that opened in Condado in 2017, carried out improvements not related to the food area.
In coming months, more hotels are scheduled to reopen their doors for business. They include the Caribe Hilton, the Melia Coco Beach in Rio Grande. The Ritz-Carlton San Juan is expected to reopen during the second quarter of 2019.
The Caribe Hilton is celebrating its 70th anniversary and renovations were done to the lobby and registration area, its 55,000 square feet of meeting and conference space, the spa, all guestrooms, the five restaurants and two bars, landscaping, lighting and new tennis courts.
Meanwhile the former Wyndham Garden hotel in Humacao reopened under its original name, the Candelero Beach Resort in Palmas del Mar. The property has relaunched as Puerto Rico’s only all-inclusive resort, it offers the experience of a resort with the amenities of a full-service boutique hotel. The feature includes meals and all beverages in any of the bars and restaurants in the resort. The property features 107 recently renovated rooms and five restaurant bar experiences — to be increased to eight by spring 2019 — nearly 18,000 square feet of banquet space, a boardroom, and business desk, which cater to the corporate client.
All reopenings will bring the island’s lodging inventory back to its former level.