Room Key: Renaissance Curacao Resort & Casino
Address: Baden Powellveg #1, Otrobanda, Curacao N.A.
Phone: (011) 599 9 435-5000
Reservations: (888) 778-4722
Rooms: 237, including 14 suites.
General Manager: Maylin Trenidad, resort; Walter Theysen, casino
Rates: Through April 16, from $199 per room, per night, double; April 16 to 30, from $339; from $249 in May; from $215, June through Dec. 21. Sand Dollar package rates require four-night stay (fourth night free) and include daily buffet breakfast for two, from $369 in April, $279 in May and $235 June through Dec. 21. Rates do not include 23.05% tax and service charges.
It's disorienting to arrive at a new hotel at night, especially so in the Caribbean, where water, waves and palm trees add unfamiliar tropical elements to the arrival experience.
Walking through the door and into the brightly lit lobby of the new Renaissance Curacao Resort & Casino in Willemstad on a recent evening, I was caught completely off guard.
The scene was sophisticated, contemporary and chic with large, modern wall art; sleek chandeliers; and colorful fabrics on chairs and couches. Added to that were the lights and clatter of slot machines from the Carnaval Casino, directly across the lobby from the teak check-in desk.
This was hardly the Caribbean lobby scene I've come to expect. But then, the Renaissance was no ordinary hotel, as I came to discover over the next few days.
In morning's light, the details began to coalesce. My oceanview balcony overlooked the resort's signature "eternity beach," a marvel of modern maritime engineering. The beach, which is open only to hotel guests, is on the roof of a one-story building that is part of the soon-to-open Renaissance Mall, a shopping, dining and entertainment complex.
Above, and beyond, the sea
Complete with mature palm trees and sand barged in from Aruba (Aruban sand is coarser than that on Curacao and doesn't fly around as much), the beach is attached to an infinity pool overlooking, and above, the Caribbean Sea beyond and below.
The sandy bottom of the infinity pool is home to large starfish and a few schools of small fish, which act as vacuum cleaners to keep the water clean.
Food and drink are served at the beach bar, and from the chaise lounges, guests have an up-close view of the activity at the cruise ship dock. (Willemstad also has another dock within the harbor area.) A word of advice: The blast of a ship's horn will put an end to a snooze on the sand.
From my balcony, I could see the ships arrive and depart (the activity depends upon the day of the week). The spacious room came with a queen bed awash in comforters, pillows and a duvet; a safe; a separate shower and tub; flat-screen TV; Internet access; and a computer workspace with an outlet console at desk level.
Business and corporate travelers figure into the guest mix, along with leisure travelers. The meetings rooms, business center and function space are geared to that market.
Over breakfast in the Nautilus restaurant, I learned the challenges of opening a hotel in the current economy from Peggy Muzo, director of sales.
"We opened Feb. 1, a tough time to launch a property," Muzo said. "The Renaissance is the first branded hotel to open on Curacao in 15 years, and there's been plenty of buildup to its debut.
"We're seeing bookings beginning to move up from the U.S. and from the Dutch market," she said. "Our location is a key selling point."
The Renaissance is connected to the Rif Fort, built in 1828 as one of the three forts that guarded the entrance to Curacao's natural harbor and now is a Unesco World Heritage site. A two-minute walk from the lobby along a winding, cobblestone pathway brings guests to the arched stone entrance of the fort.
Inside the fort is a "village within a village," according to Muzo: a large, tree-shaded courtyard bordered by Douwe Egberts Cafe, Indi's Spice Bar, Anchor Bar and Seafood Restaurant, the Chihuahua Cantina, the Bistro Le Clochard, an ice cream shop, an herb store, Le Creperie and the Sopranos Piano Bar, which offers a fun photo op for a picture of Tony and a tourist.
Within the courtyard setting, more retail shops, art galleries, a six-theater cinema complex, the hotel's tour excursion desk, a dive center, a car rental outlet and its Aqua Spa will soon open.
The fort had been abandoned for years until a group of developers created the village concept. The original cannons, removed for a rust cleanup, will be reinstalled at the fort's entrance.
The fort and village within are open to all visitors to Curacao, "but for our guests, the fort and its operations serve as an extension of our hotel offerings," Muzo said. "The Renaissance is a destination within a destination with nightlife, entertainment, gaming, dining and shopping all in one place."
It's a strong selling point. Guests get the best of both worlds: a beach resort and historical Willemstad all in one place.
In keeping with the 18th century, brightly painted, colonial-style architecture that dominates Willemstad's Handelskade harborfront street, the Renaissance blends right in without appearing manipulated or phony.
Its four stories that stretch along a cobblestone street resemble the architectural style of its neighbors. Across from the main entrance is a green, two-story building that fooled me completely. It is Curacao's first pay-to-park garage, hidden behind a facade of old Willemstad.
Within the hotel, I ordered a latte at the Express-o coffee shop, peeked in at the gleaming fitness center, devoted 15 minutes and $10 to the slot machines (I lost) and met a Dutch couple at the Blue Lobby bar on their 10th visit to Curacao and first to the Renaissance.
They told me they'd long awaited a Curacao hotel located in town but with a beach, adding that they'd already booked a return trip for next March.
"And this is the experience we can offer our guests: sun, sand, sea and starfish with the history of Curacao right at our front door," Muzo said.