When Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Louise arrived in Bermuda in 1883, the sleepy Atlantic island was already gaining in popularity among wealthy North Americans, who were beginning to arrive in greater numbers during the winter months.
No doubt the island’s prodigious natural beauty was known to England ever since the colony’s founder, Sir George Somers, requested his heart be buried there and the rest shipped to England.
However, it was the arrival of Princess Louise, and her subsequent declaration of Bermuda as a “Shangri-La,” that made the Atlantic island officially fashionable, kickstarting the tourism industry into high gear. Sensing the opportunity, entrepreneur Harley Trott soon opened a hotel and named it in Louise’s honor. Today, the original wood structure no longer exists, but the hotel, now called the Fairmont Hamilton Princess, remains as pink as ever.
A few weeks ago, I stepped past the welcoming doormen into the lobby and was further greeted by a statue of Mark Twain–a tribute to his tenure at the hotel.
As a “Gold” status member, I could bypass the usual check-in and head directly to the Gold Lounge on the second floor. The long, almost football-pitch length room comes the closest to recapturing its royal days of yore. It’s not just the portrait of the Queen Elizabeth II overlooking all, but also palatial windows, a smartly tailored staff, and upholstery and reminiscent of Downton Abbey.
Gold members have free access to the lounge at all times, which hosts English-style tea in the afternoon and buffet breakfasts in the mornings. The fare is wide ranging, classic, but not inspiring to foodies. However, if you ask ahead of time (and are willing to swallow the additional 29-dollar charge), you can special order a more “local” breakfast of cod, avocado, and potato.
Rooms on the Gold floors are large too. My room, 335, began with a long (by hotel standards) angular corridor, with the bathroom to the right and the main room at the end. For the former, the most distinguishing element beyond the quality toilet and well-pressured hot water was the array of Le Labo shampoos, conditioners, and soaps.
In addition to being very clean and comfortable, the color scheme of main room pleasantly reflected the color scheme of the entire island, with its cotton white bed coverings, powder blue curtains, and wooden furniture. The only shame about Gold Rooms is the absence a balcony, which some lower level rooms do. I know it’s just the architecture of the building, but I’d gladly have traded some gold for it.
But in a place like Bermuda, it’s much better to just go outside anyway and the Princess offers a pleasant landscaped backyard to relax in, complete with koi ponds and two pools–one saltwater, and one regular and heated. Although I was the only one to brave the chilly March bluster at night, floating in the lit, heated pool under a canopy of stars and crescent moon while listening to the sounds of the ocean waves was the peak moment for me.
More social folk might prefer the hotel bar, which was lively, if not outright hopping, each evening I was there. I got the impression the place was an evening hot spot not just for guests but Hamiltonians as a whole. Perhaps it was the fine bar staff and well-mixed cocktails (including the Blue Marlin, winner of Bermuda’s Stir-It Up Summer Cocktail Contest! 2012), or the menu, which is a good introduction to classic Bermudian cuisine (start with the fish chowder). Nevertheless, everyone seems to arrive in good cheer and leave with more.
If there’s anything I’d suggest to the Fairmont Hamilton Princess Hotel, it’s a little more sleight of hand. I’ve always considered the best salesmen to be the ones who could make me forget they were selling me something. For hotels, this philosophy means making guests forget their customers and really feel like a guest. There are many small ways to do so, whether it’s sucking up (or redirecting) the cost of a few amenities, like $6 water in the room or free box of chocolates to all guests, it might inspire more long-term relationships.
That said, the Fairmont Hamilton Princess is a good, solid 4-star hotel and accommodates its guests amply, largely with its friendly and professional staff. But I can’t say it made my heart go pitter-patter. Luckily, there’s plenty of Bermuda for that.
Mike Dunphy stayed as a guest of the Fairmont Hamilton Princess
All Photos by Mike Dunphy