Grand Cayman Marriott makes impact with renovations

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Room Key: Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort

Address: Box 30371-Smb, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, Bwi

Reservations: (888) 236-2427

Telephone: (345) 949-0088

Fax: (345) 949-8088

Web:www.marriottgrandcayman.com

E-mail:[email protected]

Managing Director: Chris Sariego

Rooms: 307

Nightly Rates: From $237, until Aug. 1; from $205, Aug. 2 to Oct. 31

Commission: 10%

GEORGE TOWN, Grand Cayman -- The impression that a Caribbean resort makes on me has as much to do with how well it incorporates the destinations allure as with the propertys physical appeal and level of service. There are plenty of great hotels in the Caribbean and just as many enticing islands. But when the two come together, making it difficult to tell where the island ends and resort begins, the right formula for a memorable getaway is achieved.

On a recent visit to the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort, a 307-room pastel-yellow beauty on Grand Caymans Seven Mile Beach, I discovered a resort that has made it a priority to bring the destination indoors, creating an atmosphere of barefoot luxury around every corner.

That the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort wasnt your typical cookie-cutter hotel was evident upon walking into the lobby, where colorful artwork created by local artists hangs on the walls.

The Marriott has gone beyond simply acquiring the art. It has struck a partnership with the National Gallery in George Town to display museum pieces in the hotels public spaces. The resort also brings in local artists on a monthly basis to exhibit their work and meet the guests.

The courtyard off the main lobby features a pond stocked with turtles, with quiet seating areas surrounding the pond for admiring the creatures. The Marriott works with local marine conservationists on a turtle hatch-and-release program that enables guests to observe newborn turtles and return them to the sea, yet another way of integrating the island with the resort.

But it wasnt always this idyllic. In September 2004, Hurricane Ivan walloped Grand Cayman, arriving at the worst possible moment for the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort: The property was wrapping up a $7 million renovation.

Chris Sariego, the resorts managing director, said that Ivans furious winds struck the Marriott mainly from land, sparing it from the storms destructive sea swells.

Still, the resorts facade was destroyed and its windows blown out, and the property was closed for nearly 10 months while a second, $16 million renovation was completed. The resort officially reopened last November.

Sariego said rooms were taken down to the sheetrock, carpets were replaced and a new roof was put on. Seeing an opportunity to start from scratch, the resort wired every guest room for high-speed Internet access, outfitted guest bathrooms with marble and put 300-thread-count linens on every bed.

While workers set out to rebuild the hotels physical structure, Sariego and his team set out to reshape the resorts image, which he said had become staid.

We launched a local campaign to promote and reposition the new Marriott as a property that works more closely with the community and gives back as much as it receives, Sariego said.

The renovation also took in restaurants and lounges, which Sariego said were given new names and reinvented with an emphasis on sophisticated Caribbean fare.

Resort spa La Mer was enlarged by 1,500 square feet during the renovation, including four treatment rooms with private dressing areas, a couples suite with a Jacuzzi and a cabana for outdoor massage.

The on-site dive shop, operated by Red Sail Sports, offers open-water PADI certification and all-inclusive dive packages. The dive shop and a water-sports center will be moved to a larger building near the beach.

A childrens activities club is planned. The resort also has hired a recreation manager to create an activities program this season.

To contact reporter Jorge Sidron, send e-mail to [email protected].

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