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Ed Trippe '64 and Bermuda's Tucker's Point

Bouncing Back in Bermuda

Wall Street Journal
April 24, 2010
The Finicky Traveler, by Laura Landro

The Trippe family, a name long tied to island life, builds the first luxury resort in 40 years; mystery of the ginger beer

The name Trippe has long conjured up Bermuda luxury. In the 1930s Pan American Airways founder Juan Trippe helped pioneer Bermuda as a U.S. tourist destination with the Pan Am Clipper, later investing in its famed Castle Harbour Hotel. Now son Edward has opened a swank hotel at his 240-acre Tucker's Point development — the first Bermuda luxury resort to be built in nearly 40 years.

For the island's tired hotel industry, it couldn't come soon enough. Some historic properties haven't been renovated in years. As in many island destinations, tourism took a hit in 2009; visitor spending in Bermuda fell 23% while air arrivals fell 11%. But travel deals abound on the island, and the buzz seems to be coming back. Beyond the traditional Bermuda-shorts set, the island has attracted some famous homeowners including New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Michael Douglas and wife Catherine Zeta-Jones, and billionaire Ross Perot. And a host of new high-end properties are under development, including a new Four Seasons resort.

I hadn't been to Bermuda, a British territory, in more than 20 years, and had nearly forgotten how pristine the isle is, with its lovely pastel homes, pink sand beaches and azure waters, ideal for snorkeling and diving. I'd also forgotten how easy Bermuda is to get to. Less than 600 miles off the coast of North Carolina, it's about a 90-minute plane flight from most East Coast cities. Rooms at Tucker's Point start at $520 in the high season that runs from May to September.

I arrived at the airport a few hours before my husband, and it took just 15 minutes by taxi to reach the imposing hilltop property with views over Harrington Sound and Castle Harbour. (Besides the 88-room hotel, built up from the lower floors of the demolished Castle Harbour Hotel, the $400 million project includes a golf course, private homes, and fractional ownership residences.) Doormen and bell staff gave me one of the warmest greetings I've had at any hotel anywhere, and whisked me into an elegant lobby with shiny marble floors.

One concern: My room was on a ground floor, which I tend to avoid for security, privacy, and light reasons. But the spacious king-bedded room's sliding glass doors led to a patio a few steps from a lap-sized pool in a private courtyard. Privacy did turn out to be a bit of an issue: I had to duck for cover when I emerged from the bathroom one morning to find two guys painting the trim right outside my room. Still, I loved how convenient it was to the pool. The "welcome" amenity — two cans of ginger beer, a bottle of dark rum, and lime — mystified me until I learned later that it was a DIY kit for a Dark n' Stormy, the traditional Bermuda cocktail.

The hotel's main five-story building, painted a creamy yellow with white trim, surrounds the courtyard, and higher floors have much better views of Castle Harbour's waters, but the ground-floor rooms are the only ones with easy access to that pool as well as private sun beds in cabana-like areas marked with the room number. Other guests can sit on lounge chairs, though there aren't many of them.

Fortunately, the hotel's main pool is much larger with plenty of seating and a family-friendly vibe in the hotel's central Palm Court, near the spa and a croquet lawn. That pool has great views of Harrington Sound, and I was just as happy that most guests tended to hang out there, leaving our little enclave fairly quiet.

I was still on my own for dinner and decided to try the casual menu at Tucker's Bar. Based on past experience, I always worry a little about how a woman dining alone will be treated, but this staff couldn't have been friendlier and more attentive. I thoroughly enjoyed a salad, omelet, fries, and a glass of wine. My husband arrived a few minutes past kitchen closing time of 9:30, but the crew whipped up an omelet to his specs as well.

The next day, we discovered Tucker's Point's one major disadvantage: Its private beach is 1.3 miles from the hotel, reachable by a shuttle that's supposed to run every 20 minutes but often doesn't. (The hotel says it runs on schedule during high season.) My husband decided we should walk one day, but I instantly regretted trying the narrow, hazardous road, with cars, scooters and trucks whizzing by. Fortunately we could flag down the shuttle. The private pink-sand beach, with cliffs on both ends providing seclusion, was worth the trip: At the Beach Club, we had a lovely lunch overlooking the sea.

The hotel's staff goes the extra mile. Once, doorman Raymond Ming — named Bermuda's Doorman of the Year in 2008, as he proudly let me know — took me to the golf club in his own car when the shuttle was late. And after I mentioned at check-in that I'd forgotten swim goggles and needed to buy some, I found a pair in my room that a staffer had purchased for me and charged to my room. At the golf course, a pro shop manager gave me a complimentary pair of kid's golf gloves when they didn't have any women's gloves for a lefty.

That scenic course, $215 for 18 holes per person, is next to the famed Mid-Ocean Club. Also, snorkel equipment or kayak rentals cost extra, in contrast to most high-end resorts we've visited. (General manager Brian Young says the program is being evaluated.) I had both a facial and a massage at the first-class spa, with excellent therapists. Though the spa has no steam or whirlpool, there's a sauna in both the men's and women's locker rooms in a well-equipped fitness center across the courtyard.

During high season, the hotel serves casual dinners at an outdoor cafĂ© near the main pool and at the Beach Club; its formal restaurant, The Point, is open year round. The restaurants are run by an outside company, with an international staff overseen by jovial chef Serge Bottelli, who likes to come out and chat with guests. We loved the honey-glazed salmon, a haricot-vert salad with goat cheese, shaved fennel and pine nuts and tuna three ways — smoked, tartare, and sashimi. We were less impressed with the bland homemade pasta with shrimps and scallops and a fatty-tasting Wagyu beef. The tequila lime cheesecake made up for a lot.

Formal without being stuffy, The Point's walls are decorated with murals from the former Sky Club in what used to be New York's Pan Am building (now MetLife), with serene paintings of old clipper ships by Hong Kong artist Gerald Henderson. When the club closed in 2005, Ed Trippe tried to buy the murals at an auction, dropping out of the bidding which ended at $440,000; then, he says, the winner withdrew and Mr. Trippe got the murals for his original bid, $40,000.

Tucker's Point itself was a bid against some tough odds. Mr. Trippe took back control of the old 400-room Castle Harbour in 1999 after Marriott, which ran it for more than a decade, gave up its lease, and launched his ambitious development plan. But after 9/11, the money dried up and the hotel plan was deferred. He secured local bank loans to keep building the golf club and residential properties, and after fractional golf villas sold out, was able to put the hotel back on track. (There are 65 fractional units — for rent by hotel guests for now — and 11 homes still on the market.)

Checking out some other island properties, I was impressed by the circa-1947 Reefs resort on the south shore, which recently opened sleek new fractional-ownership villas on the limestone cliffs overlooking the Atlantic. I was pretty dismayed, however, by the Elbow Beach hotel, where I'd stayed on my first visit in the 1980s. Now operated by Mandarin Oriental, it's looking sad, its century-old main building overlooking the pool shuttered, with guests housed in 98 cottage rooms along the beach. (Mandarin Oriental says the hotel's Saudi owner plans to reopen the main building and create "a luxurious new resort," but plans are still in development.)

Elsewhere in Bermuda, a New York developer is planning a 150-room Four Seasons resort with 80 fractional residences at the existing Coral Beach and Horizons properties, and Ariel Sands, a 1950s-era property, has closed for a similar redevelopment. A Park Hyatt hotel and residence complex on the northeast coast is planned for 2013.

As for me, I was happy to get back to Tucker's Point by cocktail hour, opting for the excellent Mojito with fresh lime and mint at Tucker's Bar. That ginger-beer-and-rum combo would have to wait.