Returning to Great Diamond Island Casco Bay, Maine
The Inn at Diamond Cove offers History, Luxury, and Lobster in Portland Maine
By Max Hartshorne
I last walked the beaches and dilapidated buildings of Great Diamond Island, in Portland’s Casco Bay, in the year 1981.
During that marvelous year, I was the editor of the late great Portland Chronicle, and the island was deserted.
I remember thinking about the huge empty buildings, “someone could do something great with these someday.”
July 2021 Visit
In July 2021, I returned to the island, taking the same Casco Bay Lines ferryboat, but what I found there had fulfilled my original prediction very nicely.
Today, you can stay at a comfortable high-class hotel, the Inn at Diamond Cove, or you could rent one of the many restored townhouses and even a full-sized house nearby, and enjoy the ocean views and other attractions of the island.
Just don’t come over without a reservation, I was warned down by the ferry dock when we were departing by the General Manager of the island. It’s divided into two parts–Great Diamond and Diamond Cove. And if you arrive on a Monday or a Tuesday night, there won’t be anyplace to buy food.
Civil War Roots on Great Diamond Island
Centuries before my short 1981 visit to the dilapidated Fort McKinley on Great Diamond, the island was a place for the well-connected to escape.
Portland’s most famous poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Harriet Beecher Stowe enjoyed visits here before the island was converted almost entirely to a military base to defend Casco Bay. Fort McKinley was constructed between 1891 and 1907.
But the wartime need to defend the bay waned and after WWII, the ornate series of officer’s homes, barracks and fortifications lay dormant for nearly 40 years.
Today the privately developed Diamond Cove is the second stop when you take the ferry over and it is made up of McKinley Estates, private homes, and apartments for rent and for sale as well as the Inn at Diamond Cove.
There are no cars on the island, just golf carts, and some service vehicles, and it’s so small it’s pretty easy to get around.
Kids can roam freely in these safe confines, and adults enjoy beach walks and bike rides.
The Inn at Diamond Cove
We were pretty impressed with the sleek two-level room we stayed in during our July 2021 visit to the property.
The Inn used the original buildings, which means very high ceilings, and a lot of wrought iron.
Amazingly, the entire renovated inn was burned to the ground on this same site in November 2013, following an extensive renovation.
The owner at the time, David Bateman, who also owned the Portland Harbor Hotel vowed to completely rebuild it and he did a great job.
In 2021, both hotels were sold to a New Hampshire developer with no plans for any changes.
There are only 44 rooms in the hotel and there are 116 privately owned houses in Diamond Cove.
We met Ty Foster as he was in the midst of renovating one of the McKinley Estates condos, a gorgeous two-story townhouse with old bones but a decidedly upscale interior.
Foster told us about how much he and his young family enjoy spending time out on the island when they are not at their New Hampshire residence.
“There is nothing like being here, it’s so peaceful and the kids love being able to ride their bikes and walk all over without worrying,” he said.
The one thing to remember if you want to leave Great Diamond Island is that the last ferry back from the Portland ferry terminal is 10:15 pm.
If you miss it, you’ll need to contact one of the several water taxis that operate on Casco Bay.
Fun Times at the Inn
The hotel is a lively hub for a wealth of activities that guests might want to enjoy during their stay on the island. The island has paths with great views of the ocean and there is a friendly vibe throughout with few people except residents.
One building that I’m pretty positive any teen would enjoy is the game room, where there are 1980s style Pac-Man games, ping pong, and even a full-length candlepin bowling alley, (set your own pins!).
In the same building downstairs you’ll find a full-court basketball court, a legacy of keeping the troops in shape, and there is a nice sized heated outdoor pool for inn guests.
A second pool on the grounds is for the residents of the condos.
The staff at the Inn are incredibly friendly and during our visit in the era of Covid, we had to make do with fewer of the typical amenities that are customary during normal times.
Breakfast usually is a sit-down affair but we made do with a take-out box.
Our room came with a stove so if you’re especially enthusiastic, you could make breakfast there.
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays
Staff shortages are acute here and so that’s why the two restaurant choices here are both closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Keep this in mind when you book since there is not really much of a food option until the Diamond’s Edge Restaurant opens up on Wednesdays.
Here, we noticed that there IS a kids’ menu, you just have to remember to ask, or else feed your 5-year-old a $40 piece of fish or a lobster.
Some of the families we talked to said they were happy to be able to order chicken fingers, burgers, and fries, they just had to ask for the other more casual restaurant’s menu.
You can’t beat the view from the Diamond’s Edge, literally, the customers can sit on the lawn overlooking the pretty harbor and rocks.
One notable entree was the steamed clams and a starter that paired heirloom tomatoes with pesto and watermelon.
Our server gave us plenty of time between courses to enjoy the view and the wonderful summer ambiance.
The Moscow Mule with blueberry vodka (distilled in Freeport Maine!) was a great ending to our leisurely Saturday dinner at the Edge.
Find out more about the Inn at Diamond Cove in Maine
Casco Bay Lines is how you get there.
This story was written with the cooperation of the Inn at Great Diamond but the opinions are the author’s own.