Hotel Review: Ocean House, Rhode Island, USA
Words by Richard Jones
From state capital Providence in the north, to ‘Sailing Capital of the World’, Newport, in the east, everyone in Rhode Island has heard of Ocean House. Although only a few lucky people have actually stayed at the quintessential South County property, they all know what it is, where it is, and what it stands for.
Ocean House is a bona fide New England icon and Little Rhody’s residents are immensely proud to have such a remarkable resort on their doorstep. And they have every right to be. In 2018, not only was Ocean House declared a five-star hotel by Forbes, its OH! Spa and Coast restaurant were also top rated, making it one of only 13 triple five-star resorts in the world.
As a rule, Americans, and east-coasters in particular, can’t get enough of history, and in this part of the world you will often hear boasts like “this is over 100 years old” or “we have the oldest in the United States”.
And it’s this fascination with the past that brought Ocean House back to life a decade ago.
Once a summer retreat for the wealthy elite, the primrose-yellow, porticoed guest house an hour from Providence and two from Boston, has a storied place in American history.
However, by 2005, the Victorian grand dame hotel, perched high on the bluffs of Watch Hill, had sadly fallen into disrepair. So, to save it from being torn down completely, local residents Charles and Deborah Royce stepped in.
The main building was reconstructed from scratch at a cost of $146 million, with many original features recreated in minute detail. From the 247 windows that were put back in exactly the same place, to the 5,000 artefacts and furnishings saved from the original structure’s interior – no expense was spared in resurrecting the feeling of timeless elegance associated with the property.
In its heyday, Ocean House had 159 rooms, but when it was rebuilt, the Royces decided to go with less rooms in larger sizes. The décor in the hotel’s 67 suites (all of which have water views) is clean and sunny, with bright, breezy colours, and modern, cosy details.
The marble-finished bathrooms, all stocked with Molton Brown toiletries, have shutters that can be opened to make the most of the ocean views from the tub. There is a complimentary in-room bar with gourmet snacks, and state-of-the-art technology including an iPad for room service and activity bookings.
The hotel’s most extravagant guest lodging is the Tower Suite, an incredible four-level haven, complete with a kitchen, deck, fireplace and spiral wooden staircase that leads to the Crow’s Nest – a cozy den overlooking the living area.
While the number the rooms in the hotel was scaled-down during the overhaul, the slew of amenities around the 13-acre property increased. They are all made accessible by the gracious and helpful staff, who display tremendous pride to work at such a revered establishment.
There is 10,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor function space, an indoor saltwater pool overlooking the Atlantic, fitness centre and squash courts. In the gardens, guests can enjoy playing croquet on the lawn, head to the putting green or shuffleboard, or toast s’mores on the fire pit during the evening.
But like many of the world’s leading hotels, it is Ocean House’s smaller, quirkier touches that give the place real character – the cosy cinema, colourful gelato stall and pale-blue striped towels, are yet more reminders of a bygone era.
The property also has a gratuity-free policy, so there’s no stress about tipping. In fact, many essential amenities are complimentary, including wi-fi and valet parking, as well as the hire of Mercedes vehicles to explore the area.
For those seeking pure relaxation, the five-star and 12,000 square foot OH! Spa is home to eight treatment rooms and hair and beauty studio OH! Salon. Guests can choose from a massive menu of seasonally changing treatments that are inspired by the sea or the harvest.
Food-wise, you are also spoilt for choice, with several dining options on site, from the formal eatery Seasons and casual pub fare in the Bistro, to a raw bar and menu of traditional New England specialties in The Verandah.
Dune Cottage has a Mediterranean-influenced choice of brick-oven pizzas, salads, sandwiches and grilled skewers, while new addition, the Secret Garden Champagne Bar, is an al fresco space that showcases Veuve Clicquot cuvées and trendy finger foods. Adding a more laid-back approach is Below Deck, with its family-friendly, weekend lobster boils and barbecues on the beach.
However, the hotel’s culinary highlight is the Forbes five-star Coast by Jennifer Backman.
With a nightly-changing seasonal menu dictated by produce from local farms and the ocean, this is as inventive – and top end – as it gets. Prepared to be dazzled.
The owners of Ocean House are also understandably proud of their 8,000-bottle award-winning wine collection, showcased in two spectacular library cellars. Plus, there is the hotel’s Center of Wine & Culinary Arts programme – a roster of more than 500 classes, including oyster and clam preparation, cupcake creation and cooking as a couple.
And finally, for members, the Ocean House Club offers dining, beach and activity privileges, with guests staying in one of the hotel’s Signature Suites or Cottages invited to dine and drink in the exclusive club room, bar and deck.
If you fancy venturing outside the stunning property, the nearest town, Watch Hill, lined with old-fashioned stores selling candy and seaside paraphernalia, is a 10-minute walk away. Taylor Swift is among those who own a fabulous oceanfront mansion on its outskirts.
In the other direction, on Spray Rock Road, is Ocean House’s sister hotel, Weekapaug Inn, and guests can also benefit from its array of amenities.
In summary, this part of Rhode Island, overlooking Little Narragansett Bay, is a subtler and, in many ways, more appealing alternative to the Hamptons. The Watch Hill area is becoming a firm favourite of the celebrity set, including the Clintons, who checked into Ocean House to lick their wounds following Hillary’s Presidential defeat in 2016.
This A-list guest list can be seen as more evidence that the state’s premier luxury hotel has returned to its former glory. The 21st-century resort sitting atop many ‘Best Eastern Seaboard Hotels’ lists is a modern incarnation of what Ocean House was originally renowned for – a timeless retreat where travellers want to stay, play, dine, celebrate and relax.
But despite all the opulence described above, the resort’s pièce de résistance actually lies away from the main building at the bottom of the rolling lawns – and it is an aspect that hasn’t needed updating.
The stunning private beach, where the warm waves of the Atlantic lap the white sugary sand, and waiters in smart polo shirts shower guests with cocktails and snacks, will make you forget about the stresses of modern life and recall a simpler life from years gone by.
This oceanside paradise is also a gentle reminder that even if you’re staying in the most luxurious hotel, relaxing in an incredible spa or eating the world’s finest seafood, the best things in life can often be free.
Address: 1 Bluff Avenue, Watch Hill, RI 02891
Phone: (855) 678-0364
To learn more about holidays in Rhode Island, go to visitrhodeisland.com
Virgin Atlantic offer direct flights from Manchester to Boston Logan airport from £467 one way. To book visit virginatlantic.com or call 0344 874 7747
Car hire from Boston Logan airport with Hertz (hertz.co.uk) starts from £31 a day.
For an epic road trip behind the wheel of an iconic American vehicle, check out Hertz new American Collection – hertz.co.uk/american-collection