Bermuda resort renews and relaxes

The pool area of the Elbow Beach Bermuda. The hotel reopened last May as an independent property.
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Ed Burns, the acting general manager of Elbow Beach Bermuda, would very much like people to know that the storied property is open.

That such a historical hotel, which just over a year ago flew the Mandarin Oriental flag, should have to remind anyone of this is the result of a series of factors that Burns and Elbow Beach ownership would like to put behind them as they embark on a process of restoring the property to its former glory.

Elbow Beach reopened last April as an independent property, banking on the strength of the name recognition that Elbow Beach has. Burns proclaimed his plan to "create the most luxurious resort in the world."

Mandarin Oriental had taken over management of Elbow Beach in 2000; by 2008, with the world in economic decline and Bermuda's tourism industry in tumult, it shut down all 130 rooms in the main hotel building, keeping open only its 98 suites spread out on the grounds. The hotel closed for a month last year when ownership decided not to renew its contract with Mandarin.

During a stay at the property in September, it was already apparent that Elbow Beach had begun the process of reinvention. Most significantly so far, the hotel renovated and reopened 9,500 square feet of meetings space in the fall that had been shuttered under Mandarin and kept the hotel open this year during the winter, for the first time in several years.

Future enhancements are in store, as well. Burns brought in new restaurant partners and will open a new eatery in September; cuisine style is still being decided.

Every junior suite will be given a soft-goods upgrade consisting of reupholstered furniture, new bedding, upgraded bath amenities and new patio floors (one has been completed so far).

A newly renovated, beachfront lanai junior suite.
A newly renovated, beachfront lanai junior suite.

Burns also hopes to see the 130 rooms in the main building converted into one- to three-bedroom suites, a decision ownership will make by March 1, with the hopes of opening them by November, in time for the first phase of the America's Cup yacht-racing trials. Bermuda was chosen to host the America's Cup in 2017, and like many hotels, Elbow Beach is already preparing for it. 

"The exposure for Bermuda will be terrific," Burns said. "We are all driven to make this top yachting event a success. The America's Cup will take Bermuda into a new space."

An obvious change under Burns is that Elbow Beach has brushed off its formality, ending the former requirement to wear jackets and ties after 5 p.m.

"We are more relaxed and laid back," Burns said. And although he called Bermuda the "honeymoon capital," he stressed that Elbow Beach welcomes families with kids, as well.

Staying at Elbow Beach, one quickly realizes that the hotel occupies a special place on the island and in local lore, which goes back to its roots as the first lodging property built along the island's South Shore beaches, in 1908. Elbow Beach's history is on display at the property, where two bellmen have worked for over 50 years each and a chef has cooked for Queen Elizabeth. Photos in the library and lobby speak to the property's heyday.

Elbow Beach has one of the island's best hotel beaches, a sandy, calm swath of the South Shore fronted by the resort's restaurants and beachfront cottages.

The property's design is traditional, with a grand lobby at the top of the hill overlooking the sea and 50 acres of manicured gardens that slope down to the pink-sand beach. The lobby is filled daily with fresh island flowers, and if the timing is right, guests will find a selection of fresh-baked cookies there.

Another new development is the reopening of the lobby's library honor bar. The comfy room has a pool table and dark leather furniture, a nice rainy-day hangout.

The property's 98 suites are sprinkled in groups across the gardens and go right down to the water's edge. Many rooms can be connected for families.

On Friday nights, locals and visitors alike know dinner and drinks at Elbow Beach's Big Chill at Seabreeze is the place to be. Be sure to get an outdoor table early to see a truly spectacular sunset over the ocean while enjoying plates of fresh sushi and tasty tapas.

Lunchtime is best at Mickey's Bistro, which offers beachside dining and serves huge portions from a varied menu offering pasta, grilled seafood and burgers. Be sure to try a pitcher of the signature sangria.

I was impressed that Elbow Beach actively encourages guests to get off campus and enjoy the many great restaurants on the island. For me they recommended Oriental, a pan-Asian restaurant in downtown Hamilton that even our taxi driver had trouble finding but which served up delicious and inventive fare.

Tennis players like myself will want to take advantage of the property's four courts, some of the best in Bermuda, while golfers will enjoy its affiliations with two courses, including Port Royal, where the PGA Grand Slam of Golf has been held.

A legacy of its Mandarin Oriental affiliation is the hotel's beautiful, Asian-style spa, with six treatment rooms.

Rates start at $399 per room, per night, double, with breakfast. All guests have access to kayaks, snorkeling gear and fishing equipment. 

Gay Nagle Myers contributed to this article.

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