The view at Cerulean alone would satisfy most vacationers. This villa’s bright white buildings form three walls of an outdoor structure that surround the deck’s chaises longues and infinity pool, and frame a white edge to the blue sky. The fourth wall becomes the blue horizon of ocean in front. Guests can’t help but catch that view of Barnes Bay from numerous parts of the villa, whether it’s from that pool deck or the large bedroom windows, where a smattering of palm trees sway in the foreground and the ocean paints a blue portrait.
But it’s the service where the Cerulean Villa in Anguilla really comes into focus. Manager Bruce Hearn brings experience, training and tact to his role. He works with a core of seven versatile staff members, not including gardeners and security, and comes up with increasingly creative ideas for events and outings. More on that in a minute.
The word “cerulean” means a deep sky-blue, an apropos color not only for what’s above and yonder but what runs through most of the house. Water is a continuous theme, with shades of blue seemingly calming most rooms of the property, while the turquoise water of Barnes Bay keeps its own calm with a ban on jet skis.
Originally built in 1996, the villa was an immediate success with guests. In fact, one family loved it so much – visiting twice a year for several years – that they purchased it for themselves in 2010. They then hired the villa’s original architect Deborah Berke, to oversee renovations.
For the redesign, entire rooms were gutted and redone and one end of the home saw new construction. Creating a sense of intimacy in both the rooms and garden spaces became a leitmotif. All rooms now flow into the expansive pool deck for groups to gather, while more interior lounging spaces were also created.
“It was a significant upgrade to the property,” says Hearn, who adds that the new-look Cerulean took two and a half years to complete. The architect brought in interior designer Scott Salvator, who worked with a team of artisans for the build, including intricate hand-laid marble work of floral and wave patterns can be seen in the bathrooms. With beadboard wood pattern on many of the ceilings, floral curtains, lively broadloom carpet and seaside touches, the house gives off a fresh nautical look.
Its nine bedrooms require a large staff that works full time year round. Hearn compares its staffing needs to those of a mega yacht, with his own crew members taking on more than one role depending on the time of year and guest requirements. “I train them to be multi-skilled,” he says. “I can’t have unlimited staff, so one has to be able to both pour wine and make a bed.”
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Having a full-time year-round team means return guests will likely see the same faces year after year. “You don’t have the turnaround you see in hotels and other villas,” says Hearn, adding that three of his staff have been with the villa since he arrived in 2002. His personnel are familiar enough with the operation and confident in their jobs that they can oversee any extra employees that need to be brought in for larger groups.
Hearn, who prior to 2002 worked in the hotel industry in the Caribbean, has a master’s degree in hotel administration from Cornell University. When the villa closed for renovations six years ago, he enrolled in a program at Starkey International and became a certified butler too.
He has trained his staff to “put the guest in the spotlight” and also makes sure they respect boundaries and be what the guest needs them to be. That means falling somewhere on the spectrum between friendly, talkative, and invisible.
Hearn says the first 24 hours of a guest’s arrival is the most important window to assess the type of service a family is seeking, and insists his staff errs on the formal side. “You have to start high.” One example he offers is to not call the guests by their first names. That is unless they insist. And even then, he tells them to apply the “three times” rule. Only until they’ve asked three times to call them by their first name, do you then give in.
But the formalities can also give over to frivolity, which requires a spoiler alert for anyone looking at booking a stay at Cerulean. Hearn always offers guests a surprise event during their time at the villa. We can’t say what; it’s a surprise, after all. But we’ll share a few of the capers he’s pulled off for past guests.
On one occasion, a family thought that their outing on the villa’s catamaran was going to simply include some snorkeling, and finish with a boxed lunch. But, while on the water, the captain received what the guests thought was a call from the authorities to help in an emergency. The captain then told his passengers that plans had to quickly change – he was needed to help rescue a shipwrecked crew on a nearby island. When the boat landed on the shore, the guests saw something completely different to what they expected: There were large white open tents on the sand and tables covered with white linen table cloths. Lunch was being barbecued on the beach and waiters with white gloves would be serving it to the surprised guests, while a violin player serenaded them. Later, there was an organized crab race. “We called it the champagne ship-wreck,” says Hearn.
Another surprise had one family return to their villa only to be met by a Caribbean carnival taking place on the pool deck. There were traditional costumes and singing, with a special Calypso song written for the family. Another surprise had a tiki-torch-carrying waiter leading a family down to the beach. They were being given a nighttime beach barbecue, complete with a live band and outdoor lanterns.
Cerulean Villa takes its service and surprises seriously. And it’s paid off. Since it reopened in 2014, every guest who’s stayed there has decided to book again. That will put pressure on Hearn to make a surprise that his returning guests will not expect, while making sure there are no surprises in the delivery of experience he and his staff provide.
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