In 1939, Swedish industrialist Axel Wenner-Gren built his Shangri-la on the white-sand beaches north of Nassau, the Bahamas. His creation, which he in fact named Shangri-La, remained a private home until 1961, when then-owner Huntington Hartford II, grandson of the founder of the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co., transformed the villa into a 52-room hotel. The Ocean Club, as Hartford rechristened the property, since has undergone several changes of ownership and style, the most recent of which has steered the resort back toward its private-retreat beginnings.
Ten years ago, hotel management company Kerzner International acquired the Ocean Club and initiated a $100 million renovation project. In 2000, the resort unveiled a new spa where the reception building had been, a Tom Weiskopf—designed golf course, and a Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant, Dune. Kerzner also had doubled the number of rooms at the resort, although the total was kept to a discreet 106. (In contrast, the 2,300-room megaresort Atlantis, also owned by Kerzner, towers over the pastel buildings of Nassau and includes a casino and water slides.)
The upgraded Ocean Club, which Kerzner rebranded the One&Only Ocean Club, presented perhaps the finest accommodations and dining in the Bahamas. Every room and suite in its new Crescent Wing offered commanding views of the blue horizon, while Dune’s pastiche of Asian- and Caribbean-influenced flavors far surpassed standards for tropical resort fare. Still, Kerzner’s initial improvements did not satiate the appetites of the Ocean Club’s highest-end clientele. “More professionals are traveling with their families, and they want enough space to spread out,” says the resort’s general manager, Russell Miller. “They essentially asked for a home away from home.” Kerzner responded with an additional investment of $20 million, this time to build three 4,500-square-foot villas that would offer an experience akin to staying in one’s own vacation home.
In the Ocean Club villas, which debuted this summer, it is easy to feel at home. Each of the residences is appointed with a “nouveau colonial” motif: nouveau because of the portable iPod players, plasma-screen televisions, and infinity-edge pool; colonial because of the mahogany furnishings, vaulted ceilings, and garden courtyards. The kitchen is stocked with your favorite provisions, which a private chef will prepare for you at your whim. A dedicated butler, who has undergone training from London’s Ivor Spencer International School for Butlers, tends to you with service that is steeped in the ways of European aristocracy but becalmed by the warm island breezes.
A stay at an Ocean Club villa is unlike any other resort experience in the Bahamas, and the hotel’s guests have responded accordingly. The villas have been booked steadily since they opened, and each is reserved for much of the 2005 season. More important, guests appear to be adopting the residences as their own Bahamian Shangri-las. “It’s pointless trying to coax them out of the villas,” says Daphne Brookes, the resort’s director of villa services. “Even with the numerous water activities and nightlife in Nassau, we find many of them hardly leave.”
One&Only Ocean Club