Caribbean & Bermuda

Luxury Lands in Puerto Rico

written by | Posted on February 1st, 2011

In Puerto Rico, new luxury properties are proving that good things come to those who wait.

“The response has been remarkable,” says David Kurland, general manager of the St. Regis Bahia Beach in Puerto Rico. The luxury resort opened in early November, and when we spoke to Kurland in December, he sounded happily overwhelmed. “People have just been waiting for a luxury property to open in Puerto Rico. It’s almost as if there was pent-up demand, because what I hear repeatedly is, ‘We’re so happy that we don’t have to get on a second or third flight to get to our destination.’”

It’s true—the most many luxury travelers to the Caribbean ever see of Puerto Rico is the San Juan Airport, where they often wait during a layover to islands with more high-end product but less airlift. But a handful of new luxury properties in Puerto Rico are out to change that, and they’re having great success. Thanks to resorts like his, Kurland says, “People who leave New York on an 8 a.m. flight are already on the beach by noon. They’re not spending that full day getting to the property; they’re not wasting a long weekend.” Plus, he notes, because Puerto Rico is a U.S. commonwealth, passengers won’t lose any extra time waiting in customs and immigration lines. Add it all up, he continues, and “I guess that’s translated into filling up rather quickly.”

starwood One of the newest resorts in Puerto Rico, the St. Regis Bahia Beach aims not only to live up to the Caribbean’s high standards of luxury, but to redefine them, Kurland says. “What the St. Regis has done is redefine luxury, not only in Puerto Rico, but pretty much in the Caribbean as well,” he explains. And the first step of that is bringing the standards of service for which St. Regis is known to the Caribbean. “This particular property was the one that was chosen to begin St. Regis’ entry into the Caribbean. We had other options as well, but we believe that Puerto Rico was the place to start the trend.”

That’s because, Kurland continues, Puerto Rico’s natural landscape combines just about everything luxury travelers seek on vacation. “Puerto Rico has this remarkable, timeless, natural beauty. Then you combine the natural setting with rich colonial history…. It’s different than other Caribbean destinations because it’s not just a beautiful beach, and it’s not just a beautiful environment.” All it needed, Kurland says, was a “beautiful resort that is 30 minutes away from San Juan” to complete the trifecta.

Love for Puerto Rico isn’t surprising coming from Starwood; the company has launched two other resorts on the island in the last several years. Many consider the W Vieques, which debuted at the end of 2009, to have jump-started the luxury trend here. It’s another escapist property, but with a hip, bungalow vibe enhanced by urban-style amenities like Alain Ducasse’s miX on the beach restaurant, and the bohemian Living Room open-air cocktail lounge. Hot on its heels was the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino, designed to cater to meeting-goers at the adjacent Puerto Rico Convention Center. “The enthusiastic response to our first W and second Sheraton in Puerto Rico has paved the way for the successful launch of The St. Regis Bahia Beach,” explains Frits van Paasschen, president and CEO of Starwood.

Laid out over 483 acres, the St. Regis offers 139 rooms, all built in low-rise buildings to preserve the ambiance of the historic coconut plantation that once operated on its grounds. Decor includes custom-designed furniture and marble bathrooms, plus impressive modern features like TVs integrated into its bathroom mirrors. Guests can expect views of both the Atlantic Ocean and El Yunque National Rainforest. Fern, the resort’s signature restaurant, was developed by celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, blending the chef’s distinctive dishes with Puerto Rican ingredients for a fresh, local take on fine dining. And its golf course, featuring two miles of beach, a native maritime forest and plenty of views of El Yunque, is Robert Trent Jones Jr.’s first project on the island.

But one of the most luxurious experiences at the St. Regis, Kurland says, is a trip to its Remede Spa. “It’s different than other spas in Puerto Rico because of its Asian style,” he explains. “Clients are starting their journey in one building, and continuing through a walkway that takes you out to separate pods set up for treatment.” Private outdoor terraces, relaxation rooms, hot and cold plunge pools, steam and sauna facilities and even a curated library round out the amenities. “They’ve really covered all of the bases,” Kurland says.