NEWBURY - As we drove along a narrow, sandy, one-way street on Plum Island, passing houses magnificent and humble, our eyes were drawn to the sparkle of thousands of round glass nuggets in shades of blue, exploding with the light of the afternoon sun. Pulling into Blue and stepping onto paths made of glass and sand, we sensed that this inn experience was going to be different.
Blue, "the Inn on the Beach," takes full advantage of its oceanfront setting on this barrier island. Behind a glass counter in the lobby a live "ocean cam" displays the surf. Oceanfront suites look onto a wide, sandy beach and offer access to a long veranda with wave-shaped Adirondack chairs on the first level and contemporary rattan barrel chairs on the second. There are two outdoor hot tubs, one overlooking the ocean, the other in a garden across the street. And the roar of the breakers not 50 yards away is ever present.
The decor is striking. Blue was modeled after the Delano Hotel in Miami's South Beach, manager Diane Beaudry told us.
Our spacious oceanfront suite, more than 250 square feet, was almost entirely white. A couch and oversized chair faced a gas fireplace. A flat-screen TV was mounted on the wall, its black cord wrapped in white. Windows overlooking the deck and ocean had white wood blinds and gauzy cream-colored curtains, adding to the beach house feel. The only decoration on the white walls was a series of photographs of Plum Island, Newbury, and Newburyport by Louise Mold, a former island resident.
The queen bed had a white matelasse coverlet over a pleated white skirt. On a marble-topped table we found cobalt blue wine glasses, an ice bucket, and corkscrew. A corner kitchenette had a refrigerator, sink, and coffeemaker. Items in the fridge, including soda, water, and a bottle of wine, were complimentary. Breakfast, we were told, would be delivered in a picnic basket at a time of our choosing.
There were spa robes in the closet, complimentary insignia flip-flops, a phone, and a CD/DVD player.
The bath, also in white, featured a marble-topped vanity with lots of storage space. There was a large soaking tub with a rainfall showerhead, and separate controls for temperature and water pressure. The glass enclosure around the tub made a smallish bath feel bigger.
A veritable cornucopia of toiletries included toothpaste, toothbrushes, mouthwash, soap, a disposable razor, mending kit, shower cap, and vanity kit, along with a hair dryer. The ProTerra Marine products - soap with sea kelp, sea kelp shampoo and conditioner, and bath gel - had a clean, clothes-drying-on-the-line scent.
For all its style, however, Blue came up short in some basic services, all the more egregious in view of the inn's mandatory 15 percent service fee. In an ottoman that doubles as a storage unit, we found a pile of dirty towels. A drawer in the vanity held a hairbrush and ribbon from a former guest. And when our picnic basket breakfast of juice, yogurt, granola, and muffins arrived without plates or utensils, I had to don a jacket and go outside to the lobby to pick up the missing items.
When I asked the manager what the service fee covered, she said it was for the concierge, bicycles, and beach boys; in the off-season we saw none of these, though the manager assured us that concierge services are always available.
Blue's most luxurious accommodation is the Grand Salon, a two-level unit of some 1,600 square feet with two bedrooms, two baths, two fireplaces, a wraparound porch, and ocean views on three sides. The Penthouse, now used for conferences and events, is being converted to an overnight accommodation, Beaudry said, and will be on the same luxury level.
Children and families are welcome at the cottages across the street, which feature one or two bedrooms, living rooms, full kitchens, and gas grills.
Plum Island is home to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, a popular spot for hiking and bird watching. Nearby Newburyport offers shopping, dining, and waterfront activities.
Ellen Albanese can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.