Hilton Ponce adds guest rooms and golf course

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The largest and most upscale resort in Ponce, Puerto Rico, is adding the finishing touches to renovations and expansion that not only increase its room count but also give the city more tourist activities.

To reflect the changes, the property formerly known as the Hilton Ponce & Casino altered its name a bit and is now called the Hilton Ponce Golf & Casino Resort.

Were always trying to change, said Betty Gonzalez, sales manager for tour and travels at the hotel. Were always trying to find out what people want.

The hotel, which opened in 1992, has been owned for the past three years by Serralles Hotels, part of the local empire that produces and distributes much of the rum sold in Puerto Rico.

Teeing off is a key to the Hilton Ponces strategy to attract visitors. A 72-hole golf course, the Costa Caribe Golf & Country Club, opened last year, with $65 greens fees for hotel guests. The course has 17 man-made lakes and the 12th hole is on a peninsula.

The country club features a new, 32,000-square-foot clubhouse, which includes Acqua Pazza, an upscale Italian restaurant; a pro shop; locker rooms; a cocktail lounge; and a swimming pool.

The golf club also has 100 new residential villas.

Golf in this region had been the missing link, said Gunther Mainka, general manager of the Hilton Ponce. The fact that there is now a championship golf course really is going to make a big difference on the south coast.

In October 2004, the hotel also opened 100 rooms in a new building, the Executive Tower, adjacent to the existing hotel.

Executive Tower rooms are decorated with local photos and colorful, upscale decor. Guests staying in these rooms can use the Executive Lounge, which has a separate check-in area and serves complimentary continental breakfast and hors doeuvres. It also provides free access to computers with high-speed Internet.

The property also completed a renovation of its casino, which now has the ticket-in, ticket-out system that enables gamblers to use paper tickets, rather than coins.

An updated lobby bar, Los Balcones, has been added, replacing the former Mexican Bar. By May, a new coffee shop will open for daytime visitors.

Even before the additions, the hotel was a destination unto itself for the region.

Its casino is open daily from 8 a.m. until 4 a.m. Theres a club with a dance floor and live music, restaurants and theme nights. Saturday, for example, is Noche Poncena (Ponce Night), with a traditional buffet and show by local dance students.

Families can make use of the hotels V.I.C. (Very Important Children) program, which allows children under age 18 to stay for free in the room with an adult. Children under age 5 receive all meals for free, and children ages 5 to 12 receive breakfast free and 50% off all other meals when accompanied by an adult. Guests with kids also receive one free baby-sitting service of up to four hours with a minimum three-night stay.

The property has 16 meetings rooms with 17,000 square feet of exhibition space and a business center with computers and two conference rooms.

Day trips are available to tour the city of Ponce or to scuba and snorkel at Caja de Muertos, a nearby island.

To contact reporter Mark Chesnut, send e-mail [email protected].

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