Puerto Rico has had a long road to hoe. After Hurricane Maria pummeled the island in September 2017, many of its citizens spent months without power, water or shelter. And 18 months later, the U.S. territory continues to struggle while it waits for $13 billion in federal disaster assistance that’s stalled in Washington.
“As Americans, Puerto Ricans deserve a swift recovery from Hurricane Maria. It’s been over a year after the catastrophic event. We are still waiting for the disbursement of most of the funds already allocated by Congress,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said this week during a lengthy “State of the Commonwealth” address.
Even in the face of ongoing challenges, however, there is progress worth celebrating. Among the island’s many bright spots, for instance, is its travel and tourism industry, whose swift recovery is a case study in resolve and resilience. In particular, the island’s hotels and resorts are reopening en masse with improvements and enhancements that promise to make Puerto Rico a more attractive destination than it ever has been -- especially for meeting and incentive groups, who are finding in rebuilt and revitalized properties new possibilities with which to reinvigorate tired programs.
The list of resurgent hotels in Puerto Rico is as long as it is heartening, but here are five whose offerings are especially emblematic of the island’s enduring hospitality:
• Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve. When Hurricane Maria struck in 2017, Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve (pictured), was just five years old, having opened in 2012 as the world’s first-ever Ritz-Carlton Reserve resort. The ultra-luxury property on the island's northern coast occupies 1,400 acres of the former Laurance Rockefeller estate, which Rockefeller established in the 1950s as an eco-friendly destination for well-to-do American tourists. Although it suffered minimal damage during Maria -- save for its landscaping, which was destroyed -- the resort nevertheless seized the opportunity to complete a top-to-bottom renovation. After reopening in October 2018, it now features 114 redesigned beachfront accommodations, nearly 5,000 square feet of indoor meeting space, more than 300,000 new flora and fauna, and a renovated spa. The revamped restaurants are joined by the new COA, which opened this month with a specialty in fine steaks and seafood and a wine cellar in which groups can host private dining experiences. Also renovated was Su Casa, the property’s five-bedroom villa for families, groups and events.
• Caribe Hilton. Occupying 17 acres on a secluded peninsula between historic Old San Juan and San Juan’s trendy Condado area, Caribe Hilton is one of Puerto Rico’s most iconic meeting properties. Originally opened in 1949, when it was the first Hilton hotel outside of the continental United States, it was forced to close after being heavily damaged by Maria. After undergoing a $100 million restoration, however, the hotel will finally reopen in May. Its offerings include 652 guest rooms and suites, eight food-and-beverage outlets, a fitness center, a spa, a tennis center, and 65,000 square feet of meeting and event space for groups of up to 3,000 people.
• AC Hotel by Marriott San Juan Condado. Having opened in May 2017, the AC Hotel by Marriott San Juan Condado -- Marriott’s first AC Hotel in the Caribbean -- was brand-new when Maria arrived. While it did not sustain significant damage and already was taking new reservations a month after the storm, it nevertheless is tapping into Puerto Rico’s spirit of recovery by embarking on an $800,000 expansion of its meeting space, it announced this month. The 233-room hotel, which already has 10,000 square feet for gatherings, plans to add a new meeting room for groups of up to 100 people, as well as a new boardroom for up to 14. Scheduled for completion this summer, the project will add 2,000 square feet of meeting space to the property, which also plans to re-launch its lobby bar and restaurant, as well as its rooftop pool area.
• El San Juan Hotel. Carolina's El San Juan Hotel, part of Hilton’s Curio Collection, has been one of Puerto Rico’s most iconic destinations since it opened in 1958. Fortunately, the timeless property has endured -- despite undergoing significant damage during Maria, which battered the exterior and flooded the lobby and ballroom. Although the hotel had to close after the storm, it reopened in December 2018 following a $65 million renovation. Along with a new roof, an upgraded generator and an improved drainage system, guests will find 40,000 square feet of meeting space, including a redesigned 11,000-square-foot grand ballroom for groups of up to 1,000 people; 388 updated guest rooms; a restored lobby; four pools; several restaurants, and a new tri-level wellness facility with a spa and fitness center.
• The Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Puerto Rico Golf & Beach Resort. Like so many of its peers, The Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Puerto Rico Golf & Beach Resort in Río Grande was forced to shutter in fall 2017. It reopened, however, in March 2018 and remains one of the largest resorts in Puerto Rico thanks to its 500-acre wingspan, which encompasses 400 guest rooms and suites, a 7,000-square-foot casino, two 18-hole golf courses, a 7,000-square-foot spa and fitness center, two beachfront pools, nearly a dozen bars and restaurants, and a 27,000-square-foot oceanfront conference center that includes two ballrooms: the 6,485-square-foot Caribbean Ballroom for groups of up to 320 people, and the 20,913-square-foot Rio Mar Ballroom for groups of up to 2,000.