Old Fashioned Opulence at The Ocean House

Elegance never goes out of style at the Ocean House in Watch Hill Rhode Island

Our arrival at the Ocean House in Watch Hill, Rhode Island was like something out of The Great Gatsby. The clouds cleared and its welcoming front porch was bathed in golden early evening light. A crisp American flag snapped proudly in the sea breeze atop the hotel’s distinctive tower.

The smiling valet who opened my door in the half moon drive made us feel like the entire staff couldn’t wait to share their special hotel with us. Then our five-year-old’s eyes lit up when the team of doormen who were helping us inside pointed out the bike they’d set up especially for him. The little bike even had a “reserved for Sam Springer” sign on it. We felt like family and we hadn’t even checked in yet.Ocean House We breathed even more deeply once we settled into our two room suite and heard the birds chirping outside our window. But none of this would have been possible if Charles Royce didn’t have the foresight, courage, and most importantly, the love—to save the Ocean House when it needed to be saved. Its grand scale and location atop a bluff overlooking the ocean epitomized the luxury of the golden age when it opened in 1868. But as tastes and fortunes changed, and maintenance costs soared, the Ocean House fell into disrepair. It was slated to be demolished when Royce stepped in. And what began as a “renovation” project quickly turned into a exactingly accurate “historical reconstruction” project. In the end, the old building was too far gone to be saved, but the new, and very much improved, Ocean House is a historically accurate replica with all of the grandness and the uniqueness of the original (even the fireplace and the original elevator car were rebuilt exactly as they were). Meanwhile, the interior was reconfigured to accommodate 49 large, well-appointed guestrooms and 18 Signature Suites that are a significant upgrade from the 159 original rooms.Things got much, much better once we’d really settled in. Sam was charming the staff and well on his way to being the prince of the place in an Eloise at the Plaza sort of way. And we’re not too proud to report that the ice cream sundae his Ocean House-organized-babysitter ordered from room service made it easy for us to escape and indulge in a romantic dinner for two at Coast. In fact, the pre-arranged bike and babysitter are only two examples of the high level of service that sets Ocean House apart. The dining was another.

Our dinner was spectacular, and it comes as no surprise that the Ocean House has won many accolades including being a member of the Relais & Châteaux collection of unique luxury properties, and being one of only 13 hotels in the world to receive Forbes Travel Guide’s Triple Five-Star rating (for hotel, restaurant, and spa).  But Sammy didn’t care about awards when we dug holes at the beach, made sand castles, unplugged, re-connected as a family, and dipped our feet in the chilly, early summer surf. The beach house has all the toys, chairs, towels and refreshments we needed to stay down there all day. But, we didn’t have all day.

Just because I was lucky enough to bring my family on this particular “work trip” (I know, it’s tough but somebody has to do it!) didn’t mean we could just chill at the beach when I could be exploring some of the property’s most exclusive accommodations. The Tower Suite was exactly what I’d expected it to be—a four-story, ultra-luxe retreat on the absolute top of the house. Meanwhile, the Penthouse Suite’s three bedrooms, separate den, two dining areas, two living rooms, large open kitchen, and enormous deck offer the ultimate exclusive escape.

And since the arduous work of a luxury travel writer is truly never done, and the Ocean House is committed to building community and providing guests with exclusive experiences, I descended from the penthouse right into the private kitchen/wine area that’s part of their innovative Center for Wine and Culinary Arts. Cooking and wine appreciation classes are available to all guests. I attended a private cooking class with Executive Chef K. Shane Cooprider himself. And I highly recommend attending Erin Swain’s wine appreciation class. She’s smart, knowledgeable, funny, the Ocean House wine director, and has the best wine swirl you’ll ever see.Then, of course, it was time for dinner. And since Coast is respectfully closed to children under the age of eight (a great policy by the way), the staff booked us an early-bird reservation at the Ocean House’s sister property, the Weekapaug Inn. It was another glorious night.

And since the Weekapaug is about a 20-minute drive away, we opted to borrow one of the hotel’s brand-new luxury cars that are available to guests thanks to a partnership they have with Mercedes-Benz USA. We took the convertible and enjoyed the Weekapaug’s farm-fresh cuisine before the sun fully set. What could be better?

Smores are better. Smores—made with endless marshmallows and Hershey bars provided by friendly hotel staff over an open fire on the shore of Weekapaug’s quaint harbor —were the ultimate capper.
As you can imagine, none of us were eager to leave after such a short visit. And we committed the crime of visiting the Ocean House without booking a treatment at its award-winning spa (that will be remedied on the next trip!). We didn’t even dip our toes in the pool! But we did play croquet (a must). We learned a lot about the wonderful hotel’s history (the scavengerhunt is a must for kids) and enjoyed lunch on the private members-only deck (a few private memberships are still available).

It was only after breakfast while Sammy and I were checking out the hotel’s large collection of original Ludwig Bemelmans illustrations (anyone who’s read the Madeline books will know who I’m referring to) when I began to comprehend how special the Ocean House is. It’s a one-of-a-kind. It’s vibrant. It’s alive. The beach is amazing and so are the views. The rooms are well-appointed and the halls are filled with original art, laughter, history, and quirks. But most of all, the Ocean House and staff have soul. And it doesn’t get more exclusive than that. For more information, visit oceanhouseri.com

Image Credits: Ocean House, Bill Springer.