I've rebuilt this hotel three times," says James Costello, architect and builder of the 290-room Renaissance Grand Beach Resort, St. Thomas, USVI. "I hope this time is the charm." With 204 low-rise rooms set into a hillside above the bay, the new property looks pretty permanent. The other 86 rooms are in seven villa-like units by the beach. The entire property is landscaped with tropical plants. Contributing to the tropical ambience is the occasional iguana that steps out onto the pool deck to take the sun.
Located in St. Thomas's exclusive East End, the hotel has suffered three batterings by hurricanes since opening as the Wyndham Virgin Grand Beach Resort in 1984. In its latest, $20 million reincarnation, the Renaissance Grand Beach features its own beach, swimming pool, a bar that delivers drinks to either, and oceanfront and poolside restaurants. There is also a 5,654-square-foot ballroom (divisible into three sections), 1,800 square feet of additional breakout space, and a director of creative services for meetings.
"We used to be the catering department," says Susan Novarro, director of creative services. "Being the creative department is like wearing a sign that says 'I am a beautiful woman.' We have to live up to it!" Accordingly, the hotel offers not two or three, but seven theme party options, each of which is considered a starting point for further creativity.
"Optimal group size runs from 75 to 300," says Novarro. "We have had groups as small as 20 and, in off season, as large as 500." The audiovisual supplier is an on-property contractor, Presentation Services. "The equipment they have here on St. Thomas handles about 90 percent of our needs, including rear-screen projection, computer-screen projection, and theatrical lighting for our theme parties," she says.
Productions requiring very high-end equipment need extra lead time, because the equipment must be barged in from the mainland. Presentation Services will deal directly with clients for such operations. "We've done some elaborate presentations for medical and insurance groups--elaborate by Caribbean standards, anyway," says Novarro.The hotel also has an on-property water sports service run by Captain Glen Davis, who also offers yacht charters and day trips to nearby islands. For an extra-special event, he'll bring a group of 20 to 30 persons to tiny Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands for a barbecue at Foxy's, a local bar where patrons are serenaded by the voice and guitar of Foxy himself, and a visit to the nearby Soggy Dollar Bar--visitors wade in from shore to reach it, hence the name.
In addition to rebuilding and refurbishing the hotel, Renaissance has clearly taken pains to rejuvenate and retrain the staff. Visitors to the U.S. Virgin Islands who have experienced competent but unenthusiastic service at other properties will be very pleasantly surprised by the Renaissance staff.