THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Bermuda adventures include seaside sunrises and barside solitude

Email|Print| Text size + By Patrick Gerard Healy
Globe Correspondent / August 14, 2005

SANDYS PARISH, Bermuda -- You can watch the tide rise through the floor of the top banana here.

No, this isn't surrealism, this is the brand new 9 Beaches resort in Bermuda, where guests stay in small sail-cloth-sided cabanas with balconies looking out at an Atlantic horizon. On the resort's 18 acres are nine beaches (hence the name) and 84 cabanas, some of which sit on stilts that dip into the sapphire sea below.

My new bride and I spent five days here on our honeymoon, staying in one of the eight aforementioned ''top banana cabanas" on the water, complete with a 2-by-4-foot Plexiglas floor panel to spy sea creatures below. Although we saw only one large sea slug through the portal, the top banana was worth the extra bread.

Depending on which side of the peninsula your cabana is on, you can either watch the sun rise or set over the ocean from the comfort of your bed. Each night we were treated to the warm ocean breeze and the sound of the gentle lapping waves of the incoming tide. It felt like being at sea in our own little houseboat.

On a peninsula in Sandys Parish, where during the Cold War a Canadian military base once stood (Bermuda is a British colony), the west-side resort is a casual alternative to some of the island's more upscale accommodations. Its slogan is ''the unexpected Bermuda," which is refreshingly appropriate.

''It's a different kind of vacation," said Matt Raio, here with his wife, Michelle, and daughter, Hailey. ''We're used to air conditioning and TV and none of that is here."

''I think once you get over that, it's very relaxing," added Michelle with a smile. ''We have to actually talk to each other now."

Richard and Leslie Franko from Westfield, N.J., celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary, also experienced the unexpected.

''It's a little bit more rustic than we thought Bermuda would be, but it's so relaxed," said Richard.

Added Leslie, ''Normally we stay in more upscale places, so for us this is a little bit of an adjustment. One thing that drew us to it was that it was right on the beach, and many places in Bermuda are not, so that was a plus. It's just something to stand on your porch and there are these gorgeous views with beautiful blue ocean."

Owner Russ Urban, also an owner of Bermuda's luxury resort The Reefs and The Colonial Inn on Martha's Vineyard, said the ideal 9 Beaches customer is a ''soft-adventure-seeking individual."

''It's such a different product that it takes reaching out to the right customer," he said. ''It's not for the type of customer that expects a Ritz-Carlton experience."

There is a calming quiet about the grounds of 9 Beaches. Since there is so much land, it seems crowded only at dinner time, when most of the guests, and quite a few locals, make their way to Hi Tide, the resort's central restaurant. The menu is equal parts surf and turf, and most dishes feature eclectic ingredients that might not make sense on paper but certainly make sense on the taste buds. My platter, for example, featured foie gras wontons and aged beef tenderloin bathed in a licorice root-infused demi-glaze..

The epicenter of 9 Beaches is Dark 'n Stormy's, an outdoor bamboo-built bar and grill named after Bermuda's popular drink of rum and ginger beer. With ample seating and live music on weekends, the bar is attached to the Surf Shack, where guests can rent aquatic equipment during the day.

The abundance of activities available at the resort makes it feel like summer camp for adults, but perhaps because it is adults or because the resort is so large, we didn't see many guests taking advantage of the kayaks, snorkel gear, wind surfers, sailboats, jet skis, and mountain bike rentals. That just meant those things were always available for us to use. There were also two floating trampolines about 150 yards out from the main beach that we often had to ourselves, paddling out to them in glass-bottom floating devices.

At night, the Surf Shack employees were among the only other people at Dark 'n Stormy's. Three consecutive nights at the wonderfully vacant bar earned us an affectionate jibe from a Surf Shack employee who referred to us as ''the barflies" when he saw us in daylight. Our bartender treated us to samples of mixed drinks he was inventing. Had more people been partaking, we might not have been so conspicuous, but it was this unintended emptiness that was so appealing to us -- and so disheartening to the employees.

Ramon Houston, 31, from Nashville, on vacation with his girlfriend, Sheryl Harris, said it is the laid-back environment he enjoyed most about 9 Beaches.

''You can go party anywhere, but if you want to get quiet, you can come here," he said.

The nocturnal quiet could have been caused by some of the other amenities the resort offers, such as wireless Internet in the rooms, iPods, and portable DVD players, which we used one night to watch a movie on our porch.

On Sundays, Dark 'n Stormy's draws local lunchers, when the resort encourages Bermudians to tie up their boats and hang out. Their presence gives the place a busy and festive vitality that is a nice contrast from the quiet feeling the rest of the week.

The owners of 9 Beaches have a commitment to employ as many Bermudians as possible rather than import hospitality veterans as other resorts do. General Manager Marcus Jones said this has resulted in a few negative slips in the lobby's suggestion box.

''If you went to any other hotel on the island, you would not find [this many] Bermudians working there, so what we have is a lot of inexperienced young Bermudians," he said. ''They're keen and they've got a lot of energy, but they need training."

Before we visited 9 Beaches, we noticed that Internet message boards were buzzing with guests' accounts of the resort's growing pains, and 9 Beaches even sent out a damage-control e-mail to address these concerns before our arrival.

''We have a very enthusiastic, capable, and friendly staff who are working on ironing out a few rough patches through additional training and a little time," wrote Jones in the e-mail. ''I am confident that by the time our introductory rates expire, we will be very efficient."

We could tell the staff was green, but any of their shortcomings were balanced by their friendliness. It's also hard to complain when you have the absolutely life-affirming experience of watching the sun rising over the ocean every morning from your bed.

Contact Patrick Gerard Healy at pgh@globe.com.

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