PALM BEACH, Fla. -- After $8.5 million in renovations, the 600-room Holiday Inn Aruba Beach Resort & Casino here took on a new name this fall.

The resort was branded as the Holiday Inn SunSpree Aruba Resort & Casino and now features a "greater emphasis on activities, meetings, value and fun," said Michele Olivier, director of sales and revenue management.

"We completed the renovations [in 1999] in hopes of becoming a SunSpree property within the next five years or so," said Olivier. "To our surprise, it took just over one year."

SunSpree properties have standards that are not found in typical Holiday Inn properties.

Some of the standards include in-depth activities and children's programs, an open-air lobby, access to numerous on-site recreational amenities and facilities for meetings.

Although the new signage went up on the property in November, Olivier said an official launch will come after the property's restaurants are remodeled.

"We are very excited and proud of the fact that we are a SunSpree property," she said, "but we want to wait until all renovations are completed before the official launch."

Remodeling of the restaurants should be completed this summer.

With the status of a SunSpree property, the resort is putting a new emphasis on capturing a bigger meetings market, which currently accounts for about 8% of total business.

In the works are plans for a business center on site and extra amenities in the meetings areas.

The main pool deck was retiled last summer and now can accommodate up to 1,000 people on the deck for dinner and meetings.

Also to coincide with becoming a SunSpree property, the resort opened an Intermezzo Day Spa.

A local firm operates the facility; there are locations in four additional sites on the island.

The spa features four treatment areas, including one facial room and one wet room.

A variety of massage and facial treatments as well as manicures, pedicures and hair styling are offered daily at Intermezzo.

Also as part of the overall upgrade to the property, Olivier said the individual shops, which are not run by the resort, also have been upgrading.

"After seeing what we have done and still plan to do, the shops have taken the initiative to try and improve their products and attract a higher-end crowd," Olivier said.

For instance, the Excelsior Casino upgraded its venue with new tables, carpeting, games and employee uniforms.

Renovations on the rest of the property included refurbished guest rooms, the addition of an open-air lobby, new soft goods throughout all public and private areas and upgraded grounds.

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