Puerto Rico offers unique ecotourism experiences in the form of kayaking and snorkeling tours through the famed bioluminescent bays of Laguna Grande (also known as Bio Bay), Vieques and La Parguera. A microscopic plankton called Pyrodinium Bahamense inhabit the bays and are capable of giving off natural light at the touch of your hand; their presence creates a phosphorescent effect in the water so that every paddle stroke leaves a glowing swirl of light and the fish leave luminous trails behind them as they swim.
The island already has a strong reputation for its ability to host citywide conventions, and this is due to get a further boost as the Paseo Puerta de Tierra project nears completion. The $29 million boardwalk, scheduled to open late this year, will link the Puerto Rico Convention Center district to Old San Juan and give pedestrians easy access to tourist areas around the center.
New hotel offerings include the 319-room Condado Vanderbilt in San Juan, which opened at the end of December. ALong with 35,000 sf of meeting space, the hotel features the island’s first Hammam spa and the second restaurant by chef El San Juan Resort & Casino’s main kitchen. A rooftop herb garden at the 571-room Condado Plaza Hilton is the inspiration for a new catering menu that showcases more than ten varieties of fresh herbs. The hotel offers 40,000 sf of meeting space.
Seeking a glimpse into the real Jamaica is a popular trend for groups visiting the island, and several tours offer an opportunity to visit the small towns, meet local people and see how the Rastafarians live, eat and plant. Once such tour takes visitors to the Black River on the south coast, and includes a tour of a rum distillery and a chance to cool off in the Black River Falls.
New hotel openings include the Moon Palace Jamaica Grande, which will offer 25,000 sf of meeting space along with five lagoon pools. The all-inclusive adults-only Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall is an $85 million re-creation of the former Ritz-Carlton site in Montego Bay and is adjacent Hyatt Ziva. Situated near to Dunn’s River Falls, the 226-room Melia Jamaica Braco Village in Trelawny opened in November and is an all-inclusive, upscale beachfront property in easy distance of popular attractions.
Morgan’s Point in Bermuda is a peninsula jutting into the Great Sound water area, and was until 1995 the site of a Naval operating base established in World War II. In March, the plans for developing a high-end resort complex at the site came a step closer to approval, and final planning permission is expected to be granted by the summer. It will include an 84-room hotel and a marina, and the aim is to have it completed in time for America’s Cup in 2017.
The 98-room Elbow Beach resort reopened last year and is undergoing a multi-stage renovation that includes its meeting spaces. The boutique resort will focus on small corporate events and incentives, and buyouts will be available at certain times of the year.
The elegant 593-room Fairmont Southampton also completed a phase of its $10 million renovation this spring, while the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club–Fairmont’s other property on the island–completed a $90 million renovation last year that added a marina and a new restaurant to the complex.
St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands has much to offer groups, ranging from walking tours of historic downtown Charlotte Amalie, to golfing at the Mahogany Run Golf Course, to an exhilarating zip-lining experience high over the rain forest of St. Peter Mountain. Or for a quieter and more restful experience, soak up the unspoiled beauty of St. John. Two thirds of the island’s landmass is comprised of pristine national forest and it offers some of the most beautiful and secluded beaches in the Caribbean.
St. Thomas is the location for a $487 million project at the Port of Mandahl, which will include a 300-room Hyatt Regency Hotel, the first new hotel to be built on the island in more than two decades. It will also include a marina, 48,000 sf of retail and commercial space, and a new 30,000-sf convention facility. Meanwhile, the Westin St. John is undergoing a $50 million renovation that will transform the property into an all-villa resort by 2017.
Nevis is a little known gem of the Caribbean which offers a range of group experiences that keep the focus firmly on what is native to the island. For a slice of history, groups can dine at a 300 year-old sugar mill that has been converted into the only restaurant of its kind in the world. Montpelier’s Mill Privee is completely intact and its atmospheric surroundings can host a private dinner for up to 22 guests. Planners can add to the experience by bringing in actors to re-enact the history of the period.
The Four Seasons Resort Nevis was rebuilt and reopened in 2010, after having received damage when Hurricane Omar swept the island. It has 196 guest rooms, three infinity pools, a spa and a 18 holes of golf. The resort’s resident local, Mac Kee France (known as Uncle Mac kee), is known for his storytelling and sharing the natural wonders of the resort.
The resort has recently unveiled a new program for adventurous groups and seafood purists: the Dive & Dine. Up to 6 guests can join expert diver and Executive Chef Jason Adams on a private charter for a day of two-tank diving in the waters off Nevis. Learn how to catch lobster with a lasso and use a spear to catch lion fish and other fresh catch. After a day of underwater foraging, the group reconvenes for cocktails at a luxury cabana, as your guide swaps his wetsuit for Chef whites and leads a cooking demonstration using local produce and the seafood caught that day. Guests can take a turn at the grill and a lavish beachside dinner follows.