The Perfect Storm

How a Class 4 hurricane actually benefited a resort

By: Mimi Kmet

A boulder the size of a washing machine sits in the lobby of Puerto Vallarta’s Sheraton Buganvilias Resort & Convention Center, next to the elevators a souvenir from Kena, a Class 4 hurricane that hit the hotel on Oct. 25, 2002. The gigantic stone came to rest there, about 300 yards from the shoreline.

Visiting the hotel today, you’d hardly know that the boulder was part of 180,000 cubic feet 1,000 truckloads of debris left by Kena. After a $20 million renovation that was completed in February 2004, the Sheraton Buganvilias looks like a new resort, especially on the first floor and the grounds, which took the brunt of the damage. The hotel’s new slogan, “Something’s Different,” rings true the second you step into the spacious lobby, with its natural colors and marble floors, accented by inlaid “stone carpets” and other organic elements.

The project’s architect was Juan Carlos Name, a follower of Luis Barragan, who pioneered Mexican regionalism in architecture. This style embraces rusticity, filling spaces with color and light and integrating the natural environment into the overall design, according to Beatriz Gonzalez, the hotel’s sales manager.

Beyond the lobby, the building opens up to a newly renovated and landscaped pool area and the Bay of Banderas beyond. The hotel resurfaced and retiled its two swimming pools with 22,500 square feet of Venetian mosaic. Its newly landscaped grounds feature 45,000 square feet of grass, foliage, shrubbery and flora, including a heart-shaped garden near the beach for weddings and other private gatherings.

A 50-foot-high palapa (thatched roof) crowns La Villita, the hotel’s new, open-air, casual restaurant, site of an authentic Mexican Sunday champagne brunch, complete with a roving mariachi band. The restaurant evokes a decidedly Mexican ambience, with local handicrafts such as baskets, clay pots and large, pounded-iron pans adorning the structure.

Gaviotas, the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant, offers an eclectic decor and menu with indoor and al fresco seating. Above the dining room is Patio Las Gaviotas, a new, indoor and outdoor space offering a Mexican Fiesta night each Thursday for dinner. The adjacent Embarcadero Bar (on the ground level) features live music nightly.

A lobby bar, two pool bars, room service and an open-air, poolside restaurant serving light fare round out the food and beverage offerings.

Fifty ground-floor rooms and 150 suites underwent renovation due to hurricane damage, and the first-floor rooms now feature marble floors. All 600 rooms had undergone renovation in 2001, but the hotel went a few steps further this time and installed Sheraton Sweet Sleeper beds in every room. In addition, the Towers rooms (concierge-level accommodations on the top two floors) received new furniture and Mexican-embroidered bedding.

Overall, the guestrooms are spacious and simple, with white walls and few adornments, except for a ceramic sculpture in a shadow box set into the stucco wall. Overhead, canned lights above the beds substitute for table lamps. The bathrooms feature marble finishes, separate sink and vanity areas and extra amenities such as talcum powder and a toothbrush and toothpaste.

Although only the first four floors of rooms offer balconies, all rooms feature sweeping views of Banderas Bay. Tower guests receive butler service, as well as complimentary continental breakfast and afternoon wine, champagne and hors d’oeuvres, in the lounge.

The property’s two spas one in the hotel, the other in the adjacent timeshare building offer basic treatments such as Swedish massages and facials. The spa in the hotel has a storefront facade with floor-to-ceiling glass separating the brightly lit reception area from the property’s main corridor. There are no lockers or changing rooms. Its treatment rooms, however, are cocoon-like, with subdued lighting, each with a private shower room.

New for meetings is a 5,582-square-foot exhibit hall (a former parking area), a 1,200-square-foot meeting room divisible into two smaller rooms, and five executive boardrooms. These areas, added to the existing meeting areas, add up to 35,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space.

The Sheraton also offers a business center, two lighted tennis courts, a fitness center, and a golf concierge for booking tee times at Marina Vallarta and Vista Vallarta golf courses. In addition, an onsite Vallarta Adventures kiosk books tours to attractions such as Las Caletas, a secluded beach playground that was once owned by the late film director John Huston.

The hotel even revamped its infrastructure, with a new air conditioning system, rain ducts and electric cables. And it relocated its electric plant, air conditioning chillers and main switchboard equipment from the basement to a new building located on higher ground, farther away from the ocean.

More improvements are under consideration, according to Alma Rosa Alvarez, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing. Among them are an expanded spa offering a more complete spa experience and new menus with low-carbohydrate selections and calorie counts.

These and other ideas are the result of the sales office’s location in Los Angeles, where many of the hotel’s customers live. Out of 22 years with the hotel, Alvarez has spent the last 19 in Los Angeles. Gonzalez also is based in L.A.

“In order to understand your market, you have to immerse yourself in it,” Alvarez says. Nightly rates start at $143 for a standard room, $183 for a tower room, depending on the season and specific room type. Travel agent fam rates start at $75 and $115, respectively.


Sheraton Buganvilias Resort
& Convention Center

Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico
322-226-0404; 800-433-5451; fax: 322-222-0500

Hits: Gorgeous views; great food; plenty of nooks and crannies to relax around the grounds.

Misses: The spa is very basic; not a complete spa experience.

Be Aware: There is a nominal fee of about $4.50 for use of the fitness center, which is located in the timeshare building; the business center is closed on Saturday and Sunday.

Plugging In: Each standard room has five electrical outlets at 100 volts. There is only dial-up Internet service in the guestrooms, but the business center offers three computers with Internet access. The cost is $7.50 per half-hour.

Clientele: The leisure/business mix is 75/25. Target markets are couples, families and meetings and incentives.

Rates: Standard rooms from $143; tower rooms from $183. Agent rates of $75 to $115.

Commission: 10 percent