Rendering of pools at Hyatt Regency CuracaoThe year 2009 has not borne witness to very many hotel openings in the Caribbean. Instead, much of the news has focused on stalled hotel developments, with investors and banks backing out of deals.

Not so in Curacao, where the Hyatt Regency Curacao Golf Resort, Spa & Marina at Santa Barbara Plantation, a 1,500-acre, master-planned community along a natural harbor known as Spanish Water, rings in the new year with a soft opening Jan. 19 to be followed by the grand opening in February.

General Manager Diego Concha, who was at the Hyatt Regency Trinidad and the now-closed Hyatt in Grand Cayman before his Curacao assignment, is as enamored of Curacao as he is of the hotel. "Curacao is a totally surprising island. It gives a new definition of beauty, which is right in keeping with the new hotel," Concha said.

Each of the resort's 350 rooms has a balcony and faces the sea. Beneath hand-loomed area rugs, the flooring is of limestone in shades from white to rose, mined from a mountain quarry in Curacao near 19th century ruins that are being restored and preserved by the developer.

The Hyatt, a 20-minute drive from the capital of Willemstad, features 18,500 square feet of indoor and meetings space; access to several beaches; the 120-slip Seru Boca Marina; three pools; four tennis courts; three restaurants; a freestanding nightclub that features Cuban music; and an 18-hole, Pete Dye-designed golf course.

Hyatt has its eye on the family market, and its Camp Hyatt program for kids (the program has a daily charge), designed in conjunction with National Geographic, will offer educational programs with a focus on the natural environment, incorporating excursions to the underwater national park near Santa Barbara and a study of the habitats of iguanas and birds on Curacao.

The sprawling Santa Barbara Plantation complex was first inhabited by the Arawak Indians and later became a popular fishing area and bird sanctuary.

The complex, which will be dotted with hiking and biking trails, features a residential component whose first phase already has opened. In the second development phase, another 18-hole golf course will be added as well as timeshare units.

Reservation books have been open since June, touting introductory packages that include a free night when four are booked.

"We're bringing agents to Curacao this winter after we open. We are committed to them and need their support and business," Concha said.

Although he described airlift from the U.S. to Curacao as "a challenging situation," Concha is optimistic that more flights will be added as a result of Hyatt's presence.

Right now, American has two daily flights from Miami, and Continental has a weekly flight from New York Kennedy. Several inter-Caribbean carriers offer service to Curacao via or from Aruba.



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