The Oceanic Hotel on Star Island is comprised of a sprawl of nineteenth-century wooden buildings that enable that enable as many as 280 guests to spend the night among the Isles of Shoals from mid-June through mid-September.
The Star Island Corporation runs the operation, and has done so since 1916. It has connection to both Unitarian Universalism and the United Church of Christ, and there’s a stone chapel offering nightly services, often led by a guest minister who’s there for the week.
Motel-like buildings were added in the 1950s. These are not luxurious accommodations. Except in the motel units, bathrooms are shared, and for all guests, showers are in the basement of the main building, only available on alternate days.
But there is something immensely appealing about the rustic simplicity. Most rooms have one or two twin beds, though there are rooms with three, and with double beds. Many rooms have no electrical outlet, although all have overhead lights. You leave a bucket by your door if you want hot water delivered in the morning for washing up. There are no keys, just a hook and eye. You can keep valuables in a safe in the lobby, but somehow it doesn’t seem necessary.
It may sound corny, but Star Island is calming – serenity infuses the ambiance, and worries get left on the mainland. Since 1897, a big component of the island has been multi-day conferences, and the bulk of the guests will be attending one. These are retreat-like sessions on topics ranging from New England Lighthouses to Watercolor Painting on a Historic Ocean Island. Those who come on their own, as I did, are called Personal Retreaters, and everyone is given a name tag to wear.
Meals, helmed by Food Service Manager John Bynum, are served family-style in the large dining room. There’s always a veggie and gluten-free option, and the food is excellent – especially the homemade breads and desserts.
Rates for personal retreaters start at about $170 a night for a double (slightly lower in September), and are discounted the more nights you stay (six nights start at $780). Rates include daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can reach Star Island from Rye Harbor via the Uncle Oscar of Island Cruises or from Portsmouth with the Isles of Shoals Steamship Company.
Oceanic Hotel on Star Island
Photography by Lisë Stern