20 years ago it seemed like a crazy idea to open a Four Seasons-styled resort in Provincetown. Back then lodging was largely comprised of modest guesthouses scattered throughout the seaside town with a few larger-styled hotels located on its far ends. Yet Thomas Walter saw the possibilities when he and his partner David Sanford (joined later by third proprietor Ken Masi) purchased Crowne Pointe, a guesthouse that sits in the shadow of the Provincetown Monument.
Tom and David had already fallen in love with the town, having been visiting it since they were still too young to legally drink, and decided to live out their dream by opening a full-service, luxury resort at Crowne Pointe. What inspired the idea was Tom’s considerable business travel while working as an executive in the entertainment industry.
“I traveled a lot where I learned the hospitality industry from the guest perspective,” he explained recently. “I experienced very beautiful properties all around the world that I never would have experienced if I hadn’t had that job. So at the same time we were also thinking how can we make Ptown home? And we thought, there really isn’t a full service, high end property there that fulfills that niche. We took our experiences as guests and did our best to create a property that we would want to stay in.”
Just steps from the bustle
Crowne Pointe was realized in 1998 and over the next decade grew to its current footprint of six buildings, which includes the Shui Spa, a full service spa, and The Pointe restaurant. Today the restored Crowne Pointe is a member of the Historic Hotels of America, one of two such properties with such a designation on Cape Cod, and The Pointe restaurant was recently named by Fodor’s Travel as a top restaurant on its list of the “The Best Hotel Restaurants in Cape Cod.”
Then when the Brass Key, a similarly scaled property just down the street, became available in 2008, the couple purchased and renovated it, adding a bar (the Shipwreck Lounge) and more luxury suites. Both resorts have been recognized as AAA four-star diamond resorts for more than 15 years, and both properties were named to Fodor’s “Best Hotel Pools and Spas on Cape Cod” list this past February.
Today Crowne Pointe is comprised of 38 rooms, a restaurant and a spa. The Brass Key is 43 guest rooms as well as a bar. Adding to their appeal is their location, just steps from the bustle of Commercial Street. “I think we offer a separate and unique experience from a lot of other properties. A lot of our guests stay with us because we are full service and the central location of the property.”
A sense of home
What may be the measure of resorts’ success is how guests warm to their properties. “Both create a sense of home for people,” Tom says. “We do have pools and hot tubs and during the day we offer poolside cocktails. We really give you no reason to leave. A lot of people get up and enjoy the full hot breakfast we serve every day, then change into their bathing suits and sit by the pool and relax. Next thing you know it is time for the wine and cheese social hour between 5 and 6 every day. Many of guests never leave. They will partake in the restaurant then come back to the Shipwreck Lounge for a cocktail in the evening.”
In the past few years the Shipwreck has become a destination bar for many, both guests at the two resorts and not, mostly due to its cozy and welcoming environment. “We are a place for cocktails and conversations. When you want to bring friends or family and hang out and have a drink and a nice conversation without loud music pounding in the background. It’s more cocktails by the fireplace and the fire pit, we have couches and lounge chairs and what we call our pods, our outdoor beds for people to relax in. So it is really unique for Provincetown. The courtyard area is something that just doesn’t exist anywhere else. People have really taken to it. And every year try to introduce something new or something special, and keep it fresh and looking its best. I think the guests recognize this and appreciate it.”
A secluded resort
They also appreciate the convenience of both properties’ location, which is just a stroll from the crowds that jam Commercial Street during the summer season. A sleepy village most of the year, the town grows to five times its population for most of the summer, ballooning to ten times that during Carnival Week in August, during which Brass Key will host the wildly popular Ragin’ Cajun Carnival Pool Party. And most visitors assemble on Commercial Street, where day-tripping tourists shop, eat and mingle with the wide variety of LGBTQ people who live and vacation there, including any number of drag queens on bicycles out promoting their shows. In mid-summer, Provincetown offers talent that rivals New York and Boston.
“We love our location because we are right in the center of town; but once you get onto either property, you are in a nice, secluded resort location. If you choose to take in Commercial Street and want to be part of the scene, it is a two-minute walk. And then if you want something quiet and serene, you can go to the Shui Spa. The Shui Spa has a steam room, sauna and soaking tub, which is available to the Crown Pointe guests at any time, and those services are available complimentary to anybody who is booking a treatment at the spa. So here are you are, right in the center of the town, but you would think you were in some remote resort somewhere because we are so tucked away and quiet.”
An amenity that Tom thought was important to have in his resort was a spa, which is how the Shui Spa came to be. “At Crown Pointe we really wanted it to be a full service property. We really wanted it to be like staying at a Four Seasons, but with the more laid back atmosphere of Provincetown. Spas are an important part of that. I have always been a big spa person. I love massages. I love facials. And I think it is really important to give people the opportunity especially when they are on vacation to get away and escape. And the spa is very special.
“We encourage people to come an hour or two hours or even three hours before their treatments where they can lay in the soaking tub, or go in the steam room or sauna. We have areas where people can order spa lunches. They can even enjoy a glass of wine prior to their treatments.”
One of the Shui Spa’s most unique aspects is its partnership with the New York based cosmetic firm Kiehl’s. “Our spa is the only spa outside of their spa in New York that exclusively uses their products in all our treatments. Even our individual massages start with aroma therapy using Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery oil. So it really makes the spa stand out from any other spa with the exception of theirs.”
‘Shoulder season’ deals
In the past few years Provincetown has spiced up the summer by introducing theme weeks – one for Bears, one for gay women, one for circuit queens, and one for Carnival, the Mardi Gras-inspired event that climaxes the summer in mid-August.
“I think the theme weeks are great,” says Tom. “I think people like to be around people who are similar to them and that’s what drives the bookings during certain weeks. But I think at the same time it is important to remember that Provincetown always welcomes everyone. So even though there’s a theme week going on, it doesn’t mean that everyone isn’t welcome in town at that same time.”
While Provincetown is best-known as a summer resort, many prefer it in what Tom calls the “shoulder season,” which runs from September through May. Most businesses stay open through the fall, which makes it an ideal time to visit while the weather is still warm and the town less crowded. The holiday season is vibrant, with the town jammed for New Year’s Eve; and if you are looking for solitude, there is nothing that can compare to walking the beach on a sunny winter’s day. Both Crowne Pointe (which is open year-round) and the Brass Key (which closes for a few months in the winter) offer deals that make visiting during the shoulder season most inviting.
An international destination
“I prefer the word ‘shoulder season’ because it is when people are coming for a little more of a quiet getaway experience,” said proprietor Tom. “And what we are able to do because we do have the spa and the restaurant, we are able to combine all of those into package deals, which end up being very affordable. What we do is combine a two-night stay with a dinner for two then two spa treatments at Shui Spa, which allows people to come at an very affordable price. We find these packages to be very successful during the shoulder seasons.”
What has also changed in the past few years is how international Provincetown has become in the summer. Visitors from all over the world are succumbing to the town’s breathtaking natural beauty and its seaside village charm.
“It’s interesting,” added Tom. “Provincetown has always attracted people from all over the globe. We have had people from everywhere in the past 19 years. But I think with the growing social media and web presence, people are more aware of Provincetown. And also as the world has become a more welcoming place, Provincetown is attractive to more and more people. That is why we are seeing greater diversity and higher trends in international travelers. We are definitely on the map in terms of being a worldwide destination.”
For now, though, Tom is in the midst of another thriving Ptown summer.
“It is really fun to watch how Provincetown changes from week to week,” he said. “To see it change from Fourth of July to Bear Week to Carnival. Just see the whole dynamic of the town change. It happens so often and it goes by so fast. We get into summer mode, as we call it, and before you blink it is Halloween. It happens fast, but I love to watch the various weeks evolve.”
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