In spite of a record hurricane season in 2005, the Caribbean maintained its trend of positive growth, showing a 3.6 percent increase in arrivals for the year. The region opened its largest convention center, increased airlift, and continued to open luxury resorts.
One of the most storm-ravaged destinations was Cancun, blasted last October by Hurricane Wilma. Recovery is moving along quickly, however, and Cancun announced an early completion to its $22 million beach restoration project. Construction has begun on the second runway and a third terminal at the Cancun airport.
Aruba is investing $200 million in its tourism product with projects including the addition of a $16 million park stretching 10 miles from the airport to the end of the hotel corridor — the largest such park in the Caribbean. A $34 million expansion at Aruba's Queen Beatrix International Airport is ongoing, and Sint Maarten; Curaçao; Montego Bay, Jamaica; and San Juan, Puerto Rico are expanding their airports as well.
The U.S. State Department and the Department of Homeland Security have issued a proposed rule that would require citizens of the U.S., Mexico, Canada, and Bermuda to present a passport when entering the U.S. by air or sea beginning January 8, 2007, as part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. If that rule is approved, anyone traveling from the Caribbean into the United States must have a valid passport by that date. The change will not affect travel from Puerto Rico and The U.S. Virgin Islands into the mainland U.S.
The Occidental Grand Aruba Resort, a luxury all-inclusive, has opened. The former Allegro resort in Aruba has undergone $24 million in renovations and upgrades and has reopened as Occidental Grand Aruba Resort. It has 391 rooms and suites, seven restaurants, a spa, casino, and a 50-room boutique-style hotel within the resort.
The Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort & Casino is undergoing a $20 million overhaul of its 360 guest rooms, meeting space, and spa, to be completed next spring.
This spring, the RIU Aruba Grand will close for a $40 million expansion to add 286 guest rooms. The resort will reopen as the five-star, 451-room RIU Palace.
The Divi Aruba Phoenix Beach Resort will undergo a $20 million tower construction project scheduled for completion in fall 2007, doubling its size.
The Aruba Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino is undergoing a $3.4 million room renovation, and it will spend another $12 million renovating rooms in 2007.
Radisson Aruba Resort & Casino is opening the 13,000-square-foot Larimar Spa in November.
The Wyndham Aruba is being reflagged as the Westin Aruba. After renovation, it will relaunch late this year or in early 2007 with 478 rooms and 24,000 square feet of meeting space.
Cable Beach Resorts are nearing completion of the renovation of the 224 guest rooms and 33 suites within the Wyndham Nassau Resort's C Tower. The properties are undergoing an $85 million capital investment program including a renovation and re-branding of the Radisson as a Sheraton and extensive renovations and upgrades to the Wyndham.
Atlantis, Paradise Island is undergoing a $1 billion expansion, to be completed in 2007. The hotel will add 1,000 rooms and about 100,000 square feet to the Atlantis Conference Center.
Four miles from Nassau, Ritz-Carlton Rose Island, Bahamas is scheduled for a 2009 opening.
The 350-room Hilton Barbados opened last June with more than 10,000 square feet of meeting space.
Cambridge Beaches has completed a $2.5 million pool renovation, creating Bermuda's first multi-level pool with waterfalls. The 94-room cottage colony resort is also in the process of adding two new pool suites.
The beachside suites of the Hyatt Regency Grand Cayman have reopened.
The 340-room Westin Casuarina Resort & Spa — Grand Cayman, which became an entirely smoke-free facility, has installed new carpeting and wallboard in the guest rooms and interior corridors, added new teakwood furniture poolside, and refurbished the hotel's Casa Havana and Ferdinand's oceanfront restaurants. High-speed Internet access is available in all guest rooms, suites, and meeting room areas, plus wireless Internet has been added in the lobby. The property has also installed a new business center. The resort includes seven meeting rooms and two ballrooms.
The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman opened in December 2005 with 365 guest rooms and more than 13,000 square feet of meeting space.
The 305-room Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort has undergone a $15 million redesign.
The 350-room Hyatt Regency Curaçao Resort, Spa & Casino is scheduled for completion in 2008. It will include an 18-hole Pete Dye-designed championship golf course and 28,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space.
Construction is under way on the $500 million Cap Cana, a mixed-use development near Punta Cana. The property will include three Jack Nicklaus Signature golf courses. The project, to be completed in phases over the next 10 years, will include 500 hotel rooms. The first hotel component, Altabella Sanctuary Hotel & Spa, is scheduled to open this winter with 177 suites, eight restaurants, and a convention center for up to 500 attendees. By the end of the year, the first golf course will be completed.
The 228-room Hilton Santo Domingo opened last July along the Malecon, with nearly 17,000 square feet of meeting space.
The Westin Roco Ki Beach & Golf Resort, under construction in Punta Cana, will have 315 guest rooms, 56 condominium suites, 20 bungalows, and 20,000 square feet of meeting space. It is scheduled to open in October 2007.
The all-inclusive Allegro Punta Cana, an Occidental Hotel, offers 540 guest rooms, six dining options, and spa, all still fresh from a multimillion-dollar renovation.
The 210-room Playacar Palace opened last year in Playa del Carmen with more than 4,600 square feet of meeting space.
The 400-room all-inclusive Riu Palace Riviera Maya opened in February.
The 426-room Hilton Cancun Golf & Spa Resort has reopened following a $40 million renovation.
The Fairmont Mayakoba, Riviera Maya, opened in May with 397 guest rooms, 27,000 square feet of indoor meeting space, and a Greg Norman — designed 18-hole golf course.
Barceló Riviera Maya Beach Resort has opened a freestanding conference center in conjunction with two new hotels: the all-inclusive Barceló Tropical Beach Hotel and Barceló Maya Colonial Beach Hotel.
Palace Resorts has acquired Club Maeva Tulum on the Riviera Maya region. The 300-room resort will close from late December until August 2007 for a complete renovation. When the hotel reopens under a new name, yet to be determined, all rooms will include double Jacuzzi tubs. The resort will have convention facilities and a spa.
Xpu-Ha Palace has reopened following hurricane-related renovations. The eco-centered resort on the Riviera Maya has 144 rooms in bungalow-style buildings. Every room features a Jacuzzi built for two and 24-hour room service.
Work is under way on a 500-room hotel to serve the Puerto Rico Convention Center. The $175 million facility is projected to open in late 2008 and will be managed by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide under its Sheraton banner. The hotel will include a casino and entertainment complex, with music hall for live performances, two ballrooms, banquet and meeting rooms, a full-service spa, and rooftop pool.
Starwood is investing $200 million to expand and renovate the Martineau Bay Resort in Vieques to make this the Caribbean's first W Hotel. Scheduled for completion by the end of 2006, the W Vieques — Martineau Bay will offer 156 guest rooms, two restaurants, and an 8,000-square-foot spa.
The Paradisus Puerto Rico has received the Four Diamond award from the American Automobile Association. Puerto Rico's first and only all-inclusive resort offers 486 junior suites and 13 meeting rooms. The resort is now connected to San Juan by the new Route 66, cutting transfer time to 18 minutes and making this the closest resort to the city.
The El San Juan Hotel & Casino is beginning a $52 million renovation project to include complete refurbishment of the resort's 382 rooms, followed by upgrades to the pool, lobby, and casino.
Condado Plaza Hotel & Casino is undergoing a $65 million renovation to its 570 guest rooms, pool, lobby, and restaurants.
The Condado Vanderbilt Hotel is scheduled to open the third quarter of 2008. The 300-room luxury property will feature 20,000 square feet of meeting space, a gourmet restaurant, bistro, spa, and two oceanfront pools.
The Renaissance La Concha Hotel & Casino is scheduled to open by the end of this year with 248 rooms in its first phase. The second phase will open in 2008 and will include 250 additional rooms. The property will offer 15,000 square feet of meeting space, a casino, three restaurants, oceanfront pool, and a fitness center on the beach.
El Conquistador Resort & Golden Door Spa has begun construction of a new $27 million conference center scheduled to open in March 2007. The facility will feature two adjacent conference areas with a total of four ballrooms. The resort has 983 rooms, suites, and villas.
In 2009, Ritz-Carlton will open a 275-room oceanfront resort and residential retreat near Laborie, St. Lucia. All guest rooms will have ocean views; the resort will also feature a 20,000-square-foot spa and access to two 18-hole golf courses, including one designed by Arnold Palmer. The resort will also offer 7,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 5,000-square-foot ballroom.
The Westin St. Maarten Dawn Beach Resort & Spa is under construction; the 310-room resort is scheduled to open November 2006 with more than 20,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor flexible meeting and event space, including a 10,000-square-foot ballroom.
Scheduled for completion October 2007, the Hilton Trinidad & Conference Centre is undergoing a complete renovation. All guest rooms will be renovated, and room inventory will increase from 380 to 419, with 27 suites and two expanded Executive/HHonors Floors.
Dellis Cay, a private island, will be developed by Vienna-based O Property Collection. The $1 billion hotel and villa resort is scheduled to open in 2008.
The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas is undergoing a $40 million renovation project this year.
Antigua and Barbuda Tourist Office
(888) 268-4227, (212) 541-4117
Aruba Convention Bureau
(800) TO-ARUBA, (954) 767-3395
Bahamas Ministry of Tourism
(800) 823-3136, (212) 302-2000
Barbados Tourism Authority
(800) 221-9831, (212) 986-6516
Bermuda Department of Tourism
(800) 223-6106, ext. 213
Cancun Convention Bureau
(800) 833-5254, (202) 797-1222
Cayman Islands Dept. of Tourism
(345) 949-0623, (305) 599-9033
Curaçao Tourist Board
Dominican Republic Tourist Board
(888) 374-6361, (212) 588-1012
Jamaica Tourist Board
(800) 233-4JTB; www.visitjamaica.com
Puerto Rico Convention Bureau
(800) 875-4765, (202) 457-9262
Sint Maarten Tourist Board
(800) ST-MAARTEN, (212) 953-2084
U.S.V.I. Department of Tourism
(800) 372-USVI; www.usvitourism.vi
Ocho Rios — bound groups can avoid the delays and bumpiness of the North Coast highway upgrade project with an intra-island flight from Montego Bay to Oracabessa, Jamaica.
Seaplanes and intra-island flights often have a much smaller luggage allowance than larger aircraft, both for carry-on and checked bags.
A number of Caribbean resorts now offer hurricane guarantees for coverage in case trips are interrupted by these storms. Hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30.
Although passports are not required for U.S. citizens visiting the U.S. Virgin Islands, several popular day cruises take groups to the nearby British Virgin Islands, which necessitates a passport.
The Islands of the Bahamas has a Tax Information Exchange Agreement with the United States, so meetings held there are tax-deductible. Aruba, Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago also have tax agreements with the U.S.
Up to 400 attendees can be accommodated at Pedro St. James on Grand Cayman. The National Historic Site, called the Birthplace of Democracy in the Cayman Islands, includes a 1780 greathouse, expansive lawn area, and multimedia theater. (345) 947-3329, www.pedrostjames.ky
Attendees can arrive by boat at Bermuda's Royal Naval Dockyards for an evening of street parades and galas. Events can be held at the dockyard's parade lawns with a backdrop of the Clocktower Building. Upstairs, two rooms can each host cocktail receptions for 400 guests. (441) 234-1709, www.bermudatourism.com
Near Ocho Rios, Jamaica, Cranbrook Flower Forest and River Head Adventure Trail offers four landscaped lawns for events in the 130-acre gardens. (876) 770-8071, www.cranbrookff.com.
At the edge of El Yunque rain forest 35 miles east of San Juan, Hacienda Siesta Alegre offers a Spanish colonial — style venue. Groups of 200 can dine beneath a tiled roof, and 250 people can be accommodated on the tented lawn. A new terrace can be used for up to 175 attendees. (800) 762-1458, www.haciendasiestaalegre.com