Travelers heading south this winter will find many new doors have opened to guestrooms, villas, inns, cottages, plantations and bungalows in prime tourist areas throughout the Caribbean and Mexico.
Hotel openings, expansions and name changes sprouted across the sector in both regions this year, even as some development projects stalled, sputtered or remained on hold as financing flagged and investors hesitated.
In the Caribbean, Sandals Resorts purchased two properties late this year: LaSource in Grenada in November, which it is reviving as an all-inclusive resort — its first in Grenada — and the 88-room, all-inclusive luxury Veranda Resorts & Residences in Turks and Caicos, which it will open Dec. 17 as Key West Luxury Village, part of Beaches Turks and Caicos.
Sandals plans to expand the 100-room Grenada resort on Pink Gin Beach to 200 guestrooms as part of a multimillion-dollar renovation project that will inject an anticipated $100 million into the local economy and account for 425 new jobs. The rechristened Sandals LaSource Grenada Resort & Spa is scheduled to open in early 2013 when the $30 million first phase of the renovation is completed (pushed back from this month).
The $25 million second phase will add an additional 65 rooms by December 2013.
On completion of the third and final phase, Sandals LaSource Grenada is expected to have 265 rooms and a staff of 425.
The purchase of the Veranda marks the first major addition to Beaches Turks and Caicos since the opening of the resort's Italian Village in 2009.
On St. Lucia, the former Jalousie Plantation has a new name and a new look: Sugar Beach, A Viceroy Resort. Located at the base of the Pitons, the resort has been managed by the Viceroy Hotel Group since 2008 and was officially rebranded on Nov. 30, marking the completion of its $100 million, three-year renovation project.
New to Sugar Beach are 59 luxury beachfront bungalows, 11 renovated sugar mill rooms, a 9,427-square-foot Rainforest Spa, several dining venues and a new kids'club, lobby, pool and garden cabanas. Winter season rates start at $375 per night, double, excluding VAT and service charges.
The 144-room Buccaneer Resort on St. Croix will wrap up its 65th anniversary year with the Jan. 4 debut of its six-bedroom Beach House on Whistle Point.
The new complex includes a two-bedroom main house with kitchen and living room, a one-bedroom villa, a two-bedroom cottage and a one-bedroom cottage with a kitchen.
Guests at the Beach House have use of all Buccaneer services and amenities.
In a suburb of Port-au-Prince, the 106-room Best Western Premier Petion-Ville is scheduled to open on Dec. 13, a sign of hope and progress for the beleaguered country. It has been built to withstand earthquakes up to magnitude 9.
Setting the luxury benchmark for the Caribbean this winter in Puerto Rico is Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, formerly the storied Laurance Rockefeller estate 20 miles west of San Juan.
The 1,400-acre, 115-room oceanfront resort opens Dec. 12 and features Su Casa, the original plantation hacienda renovated to its 1920s style to serve as a four-bedroom villa, the five-acre Spa Botanico, and Mi Casa restaurant.
Guests will have to wait until late 2013 to bed down at the 69-room H Barbados, located on a Hastings Beach boardwalk in Christ Church, Barbados.
The hotel, a $5.5 million conversion of the former Allamanda Beach Hotel, will mark the debut of the lifestyle H brand from U.K.-based Harlequin Hotels & Resorts.
The company operates the all-inclusive Buccament Bay Resort on St. Vincent, which opened in August 2011, and Blu, St. Lucia, which launched this past summer.
Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic is teeming with new properties, and more are in development.
The Riu Palace Macao reopened in Punta Cana last summer after a $14 million makeover, the 124-room Four Points by Sheraton Puntacana Village opened in October, and the Westin Puntacana Resort is scheduled to open late next year.
Solaya Hotels & Resorts, a Spanish chain, unveiled the first phase of its freestanding suites at Eden Roc Cap Cana boutique resort in Punta Cana this fall.
Karisma Hotels & Resorts on Dec. 1 opened the all-inclusive Seashore Bay Beach Resort in Negril (the former Beaches Sandy Bay, operated by Sandals Resorts International until Aug. 31), and Ladera Resort in St. Lucia added Paradise Ridge, a secluded luxury enclave for its top-tier guests, with a villa, four suites, a yoga studio and butler service for all.
What's new in Mexico
Down Mexico way, one needs a scorecard to keep track of what has opened, what's still to open and what ribbon-cutting ceremony follows after that.
The former Cancun Palace was reflagged as the Hard Rock Hotel Cancun in August, followed by the Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta in Puerto Vallarta (the former Vallarta Palace).
The resorts are the first two of four properties in Mexico being rebranded under a deal reached in 2011 between Palace Resorts and Hard Rock International.
In 2013, the Aventura Cove Palace and adjacent Aventura Spa Palace will become the Hard Rock Riviera Maya.
Hilton opened its first all-inclusive resort in Mexico, the 259-room Hilton Puerto Vallarta with five restaurants and a tapas lounge.
AMResorts will introduce its all-inclusive Secrets and Sunscape brands in Cozumel late this month, beginning with the 174-room Secrets Aura Cozumel, formerly the Sabor Cozumel Exclusive and Aura Cozumel properties, which were combined into one Secrets.
Sunscape Sabor Cozumel is set to open in mid-January, a combination of Sabor Cozumel and Regency Cozumel.
The boutique El Ganzo property opened its doors in November in Los Cabos; the adults-only Secrets Puerto Los Cabos will offer 500 suites when it opens in 2013, the same year that the 157-room Hotel Hyatt Palace opens for business travelers.
On the drawing board for 2014 is the Ritz-Carlton Los Cabos, and 2015 will bring the JW Marriott Los Cabos.
The 30-room El Dorado Generations Maroma, near the existing El Dorado Maroma, welcomed its first guests in August, and the even smaller (three rooms) Gardenias Inn Tulum will open its front door late this month.
JW Marriott Mexico City Santa Fe opened last June, and the Riu Palace Mexico in Playa del Carmen reopened this month following a $20 million renovation of its 434 rooms and public spaces.
Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.