I’m a sucker for a Piña Colada inside of an actual pineapple as much as the next girl (or guy, let’s be real here, fruity alcoholic drinks are for everyone). With fall quickly approaching and after spending the previous week in frigid, rainy NYC for CMJ Music Marathon, I was all too happy to ditch the layers and head to sunny Puerto Rico for a weekend in the #BacardiTriangle. Since I recently attended Bud Light’s foray into experiential marketing, titled #WhateverUSA, I was all too keen to see how Bacardi’s event would compare.
Bacardi decided to invest several millions of dollars into flying exactly 1,862 people from New York, London and LA down to Puerto Rico for the weekend. The number of attendees was a reference to their founding year, pre-prohibition, pre-20th century. We stayed in the Waldorf Astoria, a five-star resort on the very edge of the island that was stumbling distance from the ocean. There were DJs on DJs, pool parties and hot tubs, as well as (limited) free Bacardi. On the final night, we were ferried to a private island to see “the biggest artists in the world” Ellie Goulding, Kendrick Lamar and Calvin Harris perform. The swag was, almost obviously, a handle of Bacardi sitting on the hotel room pillows, in lieu of a small mint. “I could get used to this,” I thought.
Of course, we were there with a purpose—Bacardi brought all of us to Puerto Rico to tweet about and Instagram the heck out of it, and tell people how much we love this particular brand of rum. Despite only meeting other members of media for the first part of the day (we talked to a lot of people), I started to meet actual contest winners. Most of them didn’t seem to know why they were invited; we were able to discern later on that most of the people who’d been invited to go had at some point or another signed up for a Bacardi mailing list or randomly entered on an iPad at a show. It seemed pretty hush-hush. Meanwhile, #WhateverUSA made a huge to-do with their contest, getting people to flood social media with videos showing how “up for whatever” they were. Bacardi’s buzz instead, was giving passes to all forms of media and other company to give away to their audience.
We got two drink tickets on the plane. The balding man in front of me was yelling at his assistant on the phone, and a young guy kept getting on the plane’s intercom and trying to entice us to play trivia, or tell jokes about rum. It felt like college open mic night gone wrong, so I went to sleep until it was time to land.
Contrary to what you might think, the spark for triangle motif was not the locale (we’re south of Bermuda, if you know what I mean) or the performers, but rather the three ingredients that make up a Cuba Libre—rum, Coca-Cola, and lime. According to the festival organizers during our press briefing the first day, they started from these three ingredients and built out the threes + triangle concept from there, landing on the three major cities and three performers.
There were DJs spinning (or, iPod-ing) by the pools from about noon to midnight every day. For the most part, it was great background music; they didn’t really announce the start or end of a single set, the music was kind of just there. The Bacardi app had a spot to show you who was playing at one time, but it’s not like we saw anyone trying to get up front for a DJ set. All in all, great music — not dubstep, like I’d expected, but erring on this new electro funk I love so much.
With our RFID-enabled wristbands given to us on arrival, we were allowed six drinks per day: three between noon and 8:00 PM, and three between 8:00 PM and midnight. Anything beyond that you had to pay for. While this seems like a cheap and uncool move on Bacardi’s part, I think it’s for the better they made an attempt to restrict the number of people getting sloshed at their party. Remember, this whole party is for the sake of pictures and video, and seeing someone drown in a pool would really ruin the vibe.
We had so many drink options besides Cuba Libre, which is basically just a rum and coke. The bartenders, who were professionals flown in from high-end bars around the world, seemed more than eager to make us anything else. I got to try an Old Cuban, a Collins, Rum Punch, a Julep, Rum Swizzles and a whole mess of Piña Coladas. At one point I sipped my drink and found a staple in my mouth—going to chalk that up to the utter damn chaos of the weekend; the bartenders weren’t hesitant to tell us they wished they’d had more help.
The events were pretty open-ended, much more so than #WhateverUSA, where we couldn’t fit everything we wanted to do in a single day. The schedule was basically to hang out at the pool from dawn to dusk, and gather together for planned evening events. Friday night (Halloween), they hosted a Black Magic Pool Party at the resort’s own water park, and Saturday night was the ferrying to the island for the blowout performances. We were there for an hour or so of the pool party, two of just a handful of people who were actually in the pool. The rest of the crowd was standing around the edge in clusters, people in costumes who clearly hadn’t planned on getting in the water that night.
The Saturday night spectacle was definitely a night to remember—after waiting for over an hour in a line to get on the ferry (we were supposed to have scheduled departure times, but it was logistically a mess), we were taken to Isla Palomino five miles off the coast. The three performers were amazing—Ellie Goulding played an hour set with endearingly funny banter in between, Kendrick Lamar brought the house down with guest appearances and renditions of his most popular music, and Calvin Harris built the house back up again with his spectacular light show and DJ set. This last part is great, because he hadn’t made it to Puerto Rico by Saturday morning and according to our Bacardi rep friend, they were worried he was even going to show up. Glad he did.
The most interesting part with the Saturday island event was the locals—none of the Puerto Rican locals were allowed to attend the festivities (quite the opposite of #WhateverUSA, where locals outnumbered contest winners), so they pulled their boats up a little off the beach in a row, and watched the show from there. People were in the water, on the sand, facing off a team of security personnel determined to keep the groups separate. At one point, Ellie Goulding jokingly dared them to break down the barriers and come join the party and I was nervous they’d take her up on it.
Seriously the most beautiful place I’ve ever been in my whole life. Every single direction you look is a postcard image—the rain storms way off in the distance, the trams (called Funiculars) that took us up and down the mountain, the marina, the pastel-colored buildings, and the infinity pool. Yes, an infinity pool (and an infinity hot tub)! We left the pool party when we couldn’t bear the tension anymore, and instead chose to go to sleep early and get up at 5 AM to see the sunrise from the infinity pool. I thought, yes, I could live here forever. There was a walking labyrinth, live iguanas just hanging out inches from my camera, and jungle popping out of every crevice. The buildings had these lovely art deco features mixed with Spanish architecture, some parts recently renovated and some parts in their rustic glory. If I could, I’d rate the resort 11/10.
Bacardi’s presence at the Waldorf Astoria was arguably limited, at least compared to #WhateverUSA. In Colorado, it was nearly impossible to take a picture during the weekend without catching a Bud Light logo, or at least swatches of their signature blue. In Puerto Rico, a country already known for their rums and rum paraphernalia around the area, I could honestly see someone forgetting the reason they were there—to engage with Bacardi’s brand. Where Bud Light’s hashtags, notably #UpForWhatever, embodies an ideology that can stick around, #BacardiTriangle fell short in their lingering brand awareness and stickiness. This weekend was less to me a deep-dive into the Bacardi brand and history, and more of a weekend where I got to go to an amazing resort for free and drink some rum drinks.
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