by Michael Blanding and Lissa Poirot
One & Only Ocean Club is quite simply the most luxurious resort in the Bahamas — and one of the most exclusive in all of the Caribbean. From the moment you arrive and walk through the airy French plantation house to catch a glimpse of the azure Caribbean past manicured green lawns, it’s clear you’ve happened on a little snatch of Paradise. And that’s before you stroll the grounds, which require a staff of 200 gardeners to maintain, and are capped by a luxurious terraced flower garden inspired by the gardens at Versailles and topped by the ruins of a 12 century cloister, imported piece-by-piece from France in the 1920s and assembled here in the 1960s.
That’s when supermarket heir Huntington Hartford first purchased the small, uninhabited island off of Nassau, dubbed it Paradise, and set about building his manor house and estate that eventually became the resort. Over the years, the island has changed hands several times, once owned by TV personality Merv Griffin, as well as by hotel magnate Sol Kerzner, who is also responsible for constructing the theme park style Atlantis resort next door. Today, the property stands alone and is no longer a part of the Atlantis collection of resorts. However, guests at Ocean Club enjoy access and signing privileges to all of the attractions at Atlantis — a plus when traveling with kids. In 2015, the resort completed a $25-million renovation, which included the addition of the new Hartford wing and a new full-service restaurant.
The overriding atmosphere at the resort is one of pampered relaxation, with coconut palms swaying in the breeze and adults lounging on daybed by the garden pool while uniformed staff bring them champagne and cocktails. Despite the element of peace and quiet, however, Ocean Club is actually an excellent choice for families, with a stellar kids club that is full of activities for young ones, and daily field trips to Atlantis or other parts of the island for water sport activities to keep kids of all ages happy. At Ocean Club, each guest is made to feel like the experience is created specifically for him or her, with a dedicated butler assigned to every room, champagne and strawberries delivered at dusk (milk and cookies of kids), and sumptuous accommodations that put the luxe in luxury. The only downside, of course, is that with exclusivity comes price — if you are the type to balk at a $25 hamburger by the pool (to say nothing of the room rates!) this spot may not be for you. Additionally, despite the promise of individual service, there is a range of attentiveness among staff, who are all friendly, but vary in punctuality and helpfulness — not something that might be noticed at a regular resort, but something that becomes glaring at a resort that touts an air of exceptional service, with prices to match. That’s a minor criticism, however, for an experience to stay at one of the most lavish properties in the Caribbean. If you can afford it, the experience is not one you are liable to soon forget.
Our Editor Loves
- Fun kids pool
- Excellent kids program
- Artful blend of high-class luxury and family friendliness
- Theme Park
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Family Room 5+
- Game Room
- Kids' Pool
- Kids' Theme Meals
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
The rooms at Ocean Club employ every luxury you'd imagine, as well as some touches you might not expect. In all, the property has 107 accommodations, spread out in two wings of the main house, as well as several more exclusive cottages and oceanview villas. Upon arrival, guests are assigned a private "butler," who will offer to unpack luggage, handle laundry, customize the mini-bar and arrange activities for your stay. That sets the tone for the level of comfort, which continues with amenities including satellite TV, DVD players, iPod docks, down comforters, oversized bathrooms with marble vanities.
The two wings of the main house have slightly a slightly different feel: those in the Hartford Wing are more classic colonial in their decor, with dark hardwood furniture, armchairs, and elegant headboards on the beds. Rooms in the Crescent Wing are slightly larger and exude a more contemporary modern style, with an airy feel accented with deep reds, blues, and mustard yellows. Both wings feature king beds in the guest rooms, and for suites, a separate living area with a pullout sofa; rooms can be combined to add another bedroom. Deluxe rooms feature a sunken bath with tiled Roman mosaics.
The more elegant oceanview villas create a home-away-from-home with vaulted ceilings towering over 4,000 square feet of living space that includes a full kitchen (private chefs are available for hire if you don't feel like cooking yourself), spacious bathrooms with steam shower, Jacuzzi soaker tub and indoor/outdoor shower that opens out onto a private deck. Another deck features 25-foot French doors opening up onto drop-dead views of the ocean below, and your own private infinity pool for secluded bathing. It truly doesn't get any better than this.
In all accommodations, children 11 and under stay free with two adults; children 12 to 17 are charged at $100/night. Cribs are available free of charge; as are cots for kids 17 and under.
Excellent hotel! Most beautiful location! Beach is pure heaven! Staff is beyond wonderful! Service was beyond excellent! Food is DELICIOUS! Bartenders are experts! Great vacation, friendly people, gorgeous place!
Truly one of the top retreats we've experienced, with that perfect combination of professionalism, elegance and warmth. Feels like a true getaway even though it's a very short plane ride from south Florida. We've been staying at the Ocean Club since 1993, including during 3 hurricanes, and the staff has always been supportive & accommodating, never snobby. We were concerned about what would happen to staff and service with the transition to Four Seasons management, but I'm happy to say that it's the same, if not even better, with many of the same staff staying on as we had hoped. There's an adult vibe, NOT a party vibe, and on the few occasions when there have been children there, they are well behaved and don't ruin the peace and and quiet of the resort. Even though the Crescent Wing is more modern, we like the 2nd floor Hartford Wing rooms. The suites are especially roomy and comfortable and Hartford rooms recently were renovated. It's very quiet in this older part of the resort and the spa is right in the building. We were able to request a pair of dumbbells and a yoga mat for our room during our stay, and there's a special pillow menu upon request (warning: the orthopedic pillow is very hard). Minibar is expensive, with $10 for a small bottle of tonic or mineral water, but plenty of bottled drinking water is provided. We usually go over to the little grocery store about a mile down the road to stock up on La Croix and tonic, and there's an adjacent liquor store with a decent selection of mini bottles and wine. The only area I noted that could use some improvement was the quality of room service food, but the main restaurant, Dune, is top notch and quite accommodating when it comes to special requests. Also the car that shuttles you over to Atlantis was always available, and we enjoyed excellent Italian food at Olives over in the Royal Tower. A NY Times printed news summary is available every morning in the lobby, along with coffee and tea at the bar, with lemonade and fruit in the afternoons. Our butler was always available for anything we needed. The gym near the Versailles pool is nice and the women's bathroom there has steam, sauna, showers, and a spinner for drying out your swimsuit. Little touches like that keep this resort on the top of our list, along with The Cove in Eleuthera, Bucuti in Aruba, and Swept Away in Negril. When you arrive here they say "Welcome home," and they truly do everything to make you feel that way.
Ocean Club has two pools on property, and both are exceptional in completely different ways. The zero-entry Family Pool has a sloping shallow end similar to the ocean, so you can rest easy on the lounge chairs while even youngest kids frolic and play in the water. The pool slopes down into a sizeable deep end with several waterfalls to add to the fun. It's located in a secluded area separate from the more "adult" areas of the resort, so parents needn't worry about disturbing other guests. The Versailles Pool, meanwhile, is an idyll of tranquility; open only to those aged 14 and above, it is situated under the terraced gardens and ruined cloister, offering a perfect venue for quiet contemplation while the kids are enjoying activities elsewhere. A new pool was added in 2015: an ocean front infinity pool, which is the place to be when lounging at the resort.
The KidsOnly Club here is exceptional. Open to kids ages 4 to 12, it operates in a clubhouse full of games and opportunities for arts & crafts activities, with a separate room with a flat-screen TV/DVD, and areas for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii game consoles. The club organizes regular activities, such as sporting events and lawn games, but the beauty is that parents can check kids in and out as desired during the day at no cost -- the club is completely free to guests.
When the offerings at the resort itself pale, the club also arranges field trips to Atlantis, where kids are not only able to pay a visit to the waterslides and pools, but are also able to participate in special exclusive activities, such as behind-the-scenes tour of the hospital for convalescing sea creatures. During certain times of the year, the club is also open on weekdays from 6 to 8 pm, so parents can enjoy an early dinner date without springing for the cost of a sitter (a fee of $45, which includes a kids' meal, does apply.) In addition to the KidsOnly Club, the resort offers special water sports outings for teens.
With the resort's expansion, it removed its Crescent Terrace and instead creating a new dining facility overlooking the ocean. Featuring the resort's best views, the new restaurant adjoins an infinity pool and can be found across the lawn from the main lobby. A full-service restaurant, the grill caters to lunch and dinners with a view.
Dune is the domain of celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who has created a sleek modern space in an open-air pavilion directly on the water. If you can, grab a seat on the outside patio, where the tradewinds and romantic ocean views only enhance the taste of French continental-Asian fusion cuisine. Flavors here are both complex and subtle, the likes of a miso yuzu glaze on baked red snapper and sirloin with an emulsion of ginger, mushroom, caramel and soy. It's the kind of high-flying cuisine that only a master chef can pull off, and unfortunately the concept suffers somewhat from the fact Vongerichten isn't in the kitchen himself. (Especially at entrees approaching $60, not including sides, a price point at which anything less than perfection qualifies as a disappointment.) Even so, the environment and unique combination of flavors makes the restaurant a memorable date-night experience.
Pool Terrace Cafe
Lunch is available at the Versailles pool with a small grill that provides a handful of options to enjoy while enjoying the pool and gardens.
Planning & Tips
All about the Extras
Upon arrival, kids are treated to a welcome package that consists of some pool toys, a beach ball, and KidsOnly caps. Rooms are newly stocked with fresh fruit daily, and twice-a-day maids come by to spruce up the environment, including an elaborate turn-down service that includes a drawn bath and a liberal helping of flower petals for both kids and adults.
For those special nights out, the resort offers babysitting service, including dinner and popcorn for in-room movies upon request. Rates are $20 per child until 10 p.m., with $8 per additional child; after 10, they rise to $25 per hour, with $10 per additional child.
Wifi service is available for free at the pool and the library in the main house, and for a fee in rooms.
The Art of Smart Timing
The Bahamas has two distinct seasons: the "dry season" between December and May and the "wet season" between June and November. Temperatures during the former are warm but not hot, averaging between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, while they creep up during the latter to 70 and 90 degrees. Even during the wet season, there is little rain to worry about -- mostly, the islands see just a passing shower or short downpour in the afternoon, followed again by sun. The only time you are taking a chance is during hurricane season from August to November, when once in a while a major guster does pass through; if you are averse to risk, book outside that time, though odds are you'll be fine. While the rates at Ocean Club could never be described as a "bargain," special offers are sometimes available during low and shoulder seasons, from June to December.
Guests to Ocean Club fly into Nassau International Airport (NAS), which is approximately a 45-minute drive away. (Be sure not to book a flight to Grand Bahamas, 150 miles away!) The resort offers a car service to and from the airport for a hefty round-trip fee; a much cheaper option is to take a taxi. In addition, Ocean Club offers complimentary car service to and from Atlantis while on property.
For Mom and Dad
In addition to the adult pool and the fine dining restaurants on property, there are several diversions to keep adults happy while the kids are occupied at KidsOnly Club. Chief among them is the spa, a Balinese-inspired refuge (with "Quiet Area" signs posted all around) consisting of eight open-air treatment rooms for massages, facials and body scrubs along with a Jacuzzi tub in a private garden.
Ocean Club is also famed for its golf course, a Todd Weinkopf-designed par 72 with ocean views so striking you'll be hard pressed to keep your eye on the tee. After a few hours on the links, you can relax with a cocktail or light meal at the oceanside Clubhouse.