Inside the 60th Anniversary of One of the World’s Most Glamorous Hotels

Fireworks were the only fitting way to end the evening. After guests had streamed out

Fireworks were the only fitting way to end the evening. After guests had streamed out of a custom-built tent overlooking the Versailles Pool—following a dinner planned in great detail to call to mind the legendary 1962 Bal du Paradis soiree that inaugurated The Ocean Club, a Four Seasons Resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas—and enjoyed a program including synchronized swimmers, a live band, Junkanoo dancers, and more, lighting up the sky might have been the only trick left in the book. And it worked. The explosions were reflected in that famous pool, and a crowd including hotel regulars, dignitaries, business leaders, and celebrities, stared up in amazement. Considering the property’s storied history, however, nothing less could have possibly done.

John Conway, The Ocean Club’s general manager for the last decade, sets the scene. “Obviously, I don’t have a firsthand account from 60 years ago, but I’ve certainly studied up,” he says. “If you go way back, a Swedish industrialist had the property and called it Shangri-La. He just had one house and all this landscape, and that’s what it was. He’s the one who sold the property to the Great Atlantic Pacific Tea Company—later known as A&P—and that’s when Huntington Hartford II came in.”

huntington hartford gary player

Huntington Hartford, pictured here in 1962 with golfer Gary Player, who would inaugurate a course on Paradise Island, was responsible for expanding The Ocean Club and bringing in iconic touches, like a cloister bought from William Randolph Hearst.

Pictorial Parade//Getty Images

Hartford was, of course, the legendary businessman and playboy who was once one of the richest men in the world. In 1959, be bought what was then known as Hog Island in the Bahamas and renamed it Paradise Island. “He had wintered in Nassau for many years,” Conway explains, “and started bringing to jet set Hollywood crowd to the Bahamas. Then, New York socialites got involved and then the proximity to the United States made it possible for business to grow because we’re only 158 miles from Miami. That’s how it all started.”

Hartford expanded the property and added details like a cloister that had previously been owned by William Randolph Hearst, and he wouldn’t be the destination’s last larger-than-life owner. Throughout the years, The Ocean Club would have owners including the South African tycoon Sol Kerzner, entertainment mogul Merv Griffin, and Donald Trump. In 2017, the Four Seasons began managing the property. It was also a draw for guests who were similarly notable; Zsa Zsa Gabor attended the opening-night ball, Slim Aarons was a regular, the Beatles came for a stay, Cindy Crawford was married there, and James Bond movies—including 2006’s Casino Royale—filmed on site. (A new, limited-edition book, published by Assouline and written by T&C contributor James Reginato, charts the hotel’s glamorous history.)

ocean club bahamas 60th anniversary

The 60th anniversary party for The Ocean Club ended with a riot of fireworks in the sky above the property’s Versailles Garden.

Courtesy the Ocean Club

So, when it came time to mark The Ocean Club’s diamond anniversary, no hum-drum champagne toast would do. Friends and fans from around the world flocked to Paradise Island in February of this year to take part in a Friday night cocktail party—complete with fire dancers and a singer performing on a glass stage built in the pool—Saturday’s gala, and a chatty Sunday brunch that spilled late into the afternoon as recovering guests attempted to recall everything they’d done the night before.

“I had an initial vision that I’d go back over the last 60 years and what had happened, who had stayed at the property, and the history of how this resort came about, even before it became a resort,” says Viktoria Riley, The Ocean Club’s director of marketing. “It was really a lot of research, because you wanted the celebrations throughout the weekend to transport us back to the initial event, but also bring in what has happened since. We decided to do an event throughout three days, and it was a no-brainer for me that the gala had to be called Bal du Paradis, which was what the original party, hosted by Huntington Hartford in February 1962, was called. In a way, we cheated. We are in year 61, actually, but we don’t tell people that.”

ocean club bahamas 60th anniversary

The Saturday-night gala, a tribute to the original Bal du Paradis, marked The Ocean Club’s 60th anniversary and included live music and synchronized swimmers.

Courtesy the Ocean Club

Throwing the events was no simple matter and took almost three years to plan. “We wanted to create very unique events that paid tribute to the resort’s history and, over the three days, felt different,” Riley explains. “One of the very first things I remember talking about was the synchronized swimmers. Back in 2020, I said, ‘We have to do synchronized swimming because Esther Williams was so popular in the ’60s,’ and it’s almost like we built the program around that. Another idea was doing it in the courtyard of the Hartford building, and putting a stage on top of the fountains, and a band upstairs, but we ran out of space. We ended up in the Versailles Garden with an air-conditioned tent we built specifically for the event. We tailored everything. I remember discussing food and beverage with Nancy, our director of events, for four hours, going through everything from what colors we should use to the design of the dance floor. I don’t know if people actually thought about it, but the dance floor had a certain pattern.”

It was a feat, to be sure, at a property like The Ocean Club, there’s always attention to the details. The hotel has nearly 350 employees making sure guests never see the less magical sides of tropical hospitality, and Conway speaks with a mixture of pride and amazement in discussing some of the other major moments the team has pulled off—including greeting a private flight of a few dozen VIP Four Seasons clients at the airport with police escorts and water cannons to blast over their jet upon arrival.

ocean club on paradise island

A Slim Aarons image of the Ocean Club, which just celebrated its 60th anniversary.

Slim Aarons//Getty Images

“I said, ‘What can we do that’s different,’ and one of the guys here, who used to work at the airport, said, ‘Let’s talk to the airport and see if they’ll let us do anything out there,’” Conway says. “I asked whether or not we could use the approach from a head of state comes in, they blow the water cannons off firetrucks and the plane comes underneath it. Lo and behold, they said yes, so we drove onto the tarmac to pick these 48 billionaires up. As the plan landed and was taxiing, it emerged from that mist of water and there was a rainbow right over the top of it. People on board actually could sense what was going on and they couldn’t believe it. They ran off the airplane and said it was the best arrival experience they’ve ever had in their life.”

The Ocean Club

The Ocean Club

Guests who joined for the 60th anniversary might have a sense of how that felt, however it hasn’t yet been decided how subsequent milestones might be celebrated. “We’re coming to a point where almost every five years is a big one,” Riley says. “We’ll have to think about how we’ll mark those dates, because we want to offer something that people haven’t experienced before.”

She adds that some partygoers who were on site in February are already requesting repeat performances. “They’re actually asking, ‘Can you do that once a month,’ and I say, ‘No, we can’t.’”

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Deputy Features Director

Adam Rathe is Town & Country‘s Deputy Features Director, covering arts and culture and a range of other subjects.