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Bermuda’s Hotel Revolution

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Photo: Annie Schlechter

Elbow Beach

In 2010, when the last stroke of clotted cream–colored latex is lovingly applied to the grand dowager duchess of Bermuda resorts, when the last lacy fan of dried marine algae is mounted in a box frame and hung, the 235-room property will have been under nonstop renovation for a heroic four years, all with the end result of branding it a Mandarin Oriental Resort. (The company currently holds only the management contract.) Scuttled once and for always are the juicy pinks and greens and hothouse florals so beloved by that portion of Elbow Beach’s fan base who descended on the resort as college students on spring break in the 1950’s and 60’s and who returned on their honeymoons to sip the sweet champagne of nostalgia.

Today, in place of that endearing, but—let’s be honest—ultimately dippy look is something that might almost be called cool, or at least soothing and serene. If you shrink from bright hues, have a low clutter threshold, and like sharp tailored furniture in blond wood and natural wicker, you'll love the new guest rooms. The spa—all bamboo floors, hand-carved granite tubs, and river-rock showers—is a page from the same book.

In other ways, everything old is new again at Elbow Beach. It still offers two distinct experiences: one to those staying in the hulking five-story main building, the other to guests in the colony of intimate, classic Bermudan cottages posed here and there above the hotel’s private half-mile beach. Washed in the sugary blues and greens of cupcake icing, the cottages have stepped whitewashed roofs with urns at the corners, scalloped eaves, pie-crust gables, and, of course, lanais.

I have only three quibbles with Elbow Beach. One is the whistling tree frogs, which don’t so much whistle as shriek. According to a recent unscientific census, they number 1.23 trillion at the resort. My second objection is to the pictures of Princess Margaret enduring some social function, tumbler in hand. They are too wonderful to be so casually displayed. Lastly there’s the artwork. It looks like it was bought by the yard. 60 S. Shore Rd., Paget; 441/236-3535; www.mandarinoriental.com; doubles from $475.

9 Beaches

Having flamed out as the Daniel’s Head Village eco-resort in 2001—Bermuda proved hostile to such a high level of crunchiness—this property is earnestly trying to reinvent itself as something simpler and more seductive: a funky, younger, “flip-flops required” alternative to the island’s classic big-gun hotels. But if that message is clear, the one about what to expect from the place still needs sharpening.

Many people arrive all juiced up, anticipating Tahitian-style bungalows- on-stilts with hard walls and roofs. The resort delivers the stilts, and the 84 accommodations (including overwater ones) do look like bungalows, but they are essentially tents—aluminum frames sandwiched between vinyl-laminated panels similar to sailcloth. Telephone-pole platforms are surfaced with a composite of plastic-and-hardwood sawdust. Each 225-square-foot unit has a tiny bathroom with a fully qualifying toilet and shower behind a solid door, a queen-size bed, a futon sofa, screened windows with roll-up/roll-down flaps, an air conditioner that takes up too much floor space, and a 25-square-foot porch. Snuggled on a ravishing 18-acre peninsula with nine swimming coves (whence the hotel’s name), and designed by John Gardner of local firm Cooper & Gardner Architects, the tents took a direct hit from Fabian’s eye wall—meaning gusts of up to 150 mph—and hardly sustained a blemish.

But are they comfortable, or at least amusing?I'm sure they could be if there weren’t such an agitating sound track, composed of rattling window frames and flapping fabric. (I can’t lay this on 9 Beaches, but I have officially become one of those tiresome people who can’t sleep with the sound of surf slapping the shore.) Perhaps this is obvious, but I also think it’s worth mentioning that the tents are damp. And the first time I stepped into the shower there was a wet washcloth in it. Still, my problems probably had more to do with me than with the resort. As we all know, one man’s damp and agitating is another man’s romantic: 9 Beaches is a place you have to be in the mood for. In the right one, and with the right person, I'm sure it can be magical. Sandys; 441/232-6655; www.9beaches.com; doubles from $225.

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