Island hotels preparing for another banner year

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The Seacrest Terrace and Patio overlooks the pool at the Sonesta Resort. The indoor-outdoor dining area offers guests a relaxing, casual setting to enjoy lunch, appetizers and cocktails. COURTESY SONESTA RESORT

Most Hilton Head residents believe they're living in paradise, and Travel & Leisure magazine obviously agrees, naming it the No. 1 island for tourists in the country for the past three years.

Our internationally famous destination earns such a distinction because of its natural beauty, amenities and world-class resorts that attract a sizable slice of the 2.7 million tourists annually. National and regional magazines recognize Hilton Head's outstanding resorts, most of which straddle the Atlantic Ocean along spacious swaths of its 12-mile coastline.

This year, U.S. News magazine named the Sonesta, Omni, Westin and Marriott as four of the island's top five resorts. Conde Nast Traveler's "Readers Choice" awards ranked the Sonesta No. 6 in the "best resorts in the south" category, followed by Palmetto Dunes, Westin, Marriott, Omni and the Beach House in the Top 30.

Trip Advisor ranked the Sonesta as the No. 1 beachfront hotel in South Carolina.

They all share enviable oceanside perches, top-grade indoor and outdoor amenities, service, hospitality, spacious accommodations, dining options, luscious landscaping, clean wide beaches and exhilarating salt air.

"We have unbelievable resorts and destinations on this island," Sonesta general manager Jay Wiendl said.

The beachfront hotels gleam inside and out now, thanks to the investment of millions of dollars in capital improvements earlier this decade. The hotels crusaded with upgrades, renovations and expansions that restored their vibrancy, reinvigorated their personalities and enhanced their guest experiences.

Here's a handful of beach resorts that have modernized their properties over the past few years (timeshare and vacation ownership facilities not included):

Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island. Built in Shipyard Plantation in 1984 as a Marriott, then becoming the Crowne Plaza until 2012, the Sonesta spent $30 million renovating its 340 guest rooms, suites and public spaces in 2013. Inspired by the island's landscape, the hotel also introduced new custom furniture and upgraded bathrooms. It revamped its two swimming pools, added a full-service spa, recreated its lobby atrium with new sculptures, furnishings and a tech-friendly lounge and coffee bar. Five onsite restaurants and bars serve its guests.

"We are constantly making improvements," Wiendl said. "We just finished renovating the lobby restrooms. We have $3 million in capital improvements happening in 2019, from new security systems, new phone systems, replacing all the pool chairs. We're always tweaking to add that next piece."

"We're absolutely ready for the summer," he said. "We're geared up and ready to take care of our guests and show them a good time on Hilton Head Island."

Hilton Head Marriott Resort & Spa. This venerable hotel in Palmetto Dunes spent $14 million in renovations in 2015 and 2018 to its 513 guestrooms and suites and property. The overall theme created a fresh contemporary vibe to everything on the property. New floors, beds, furnishings in every room and bold artwork accent the hotel's transformation.

It also added the new Blue Restaurant & Lounge, updated its meeting space and re-invigorated its lobby. Built in 1976, the hotel features two pools, four eateries and two cocktail lounges.

Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort. This luxury resort in Palmetto Dunes Plantation completed its $17 million, three-year renovation in 2015.

The property's 323 studio rooms all received new flooring, kitchens and furniture, with the 20 oceanfront suites and eight garden-view suites getting new appliances, beds, bedding, furniture, and marble counter and tabletops. The front entrance, lobby, meeting facilities, fitness center, three swimming pools and spa were upgraded.

The hotel, which originally opened as Mariner's Inn in 1983, has four restaurants and bars.

Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa. The last phase of this hotel's $40 million renovation was the opening of The Grand Ocean Terrace in 2017. The all-glass banquet venue of 5,000 square feet affords up to 400 guests unblemished ocean views and a full-length balcony inside Port Royal Plantation.

Guests will find upgrades of its 416 rooms and lobby, and enjoy dining in its five restaurants and swimming in its three pools. The property was built in 1985.

Holiday Inn Beach House. Steps from Coligny Plaza, the circle and the beach, this Holiday Inn 202-guestroom facility underwent a $5 million renovation in 2014 prior to an ownership change.

Another $1.5 million was spent by the new owners in 2016 that included a new beachfront restaurant (The Porch Southern Kitchen & Bar) and upgrades to its lobby, hallways, pool area and ease of access to the beach. The five-story property was built in 1971.

Lowcountry resident Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.

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