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Looking for an extra special place to stay when visiting Portland, Maine? The Inn at Diamond Cove is a boutique hotel in a converted military barracks on a car-free island in Casco Bay. Spend your day exploring the island’s coves by bike or nap on your room’s shady balcony. Follow your meal at the Inn’s destination restaurant with a glass of wine by the fire pit. It’ll give you all the feels of a stay at a friend’s New England summer house.
You’ll have a good time when visiting Portland, Maine. The city has a rich maritime history, a vibrant food scene and plenty of opportunities for kayaking or sunset cruising on the beautiful waters of Casco Bay.
Want to make your stay extra special? Check out the Inn at Diamond Cove. It’s a car-free island property, accessed via ferry or water taxi. Here’s what you’ll find.
Leave Your Worries at the Ferry Dock
I’ve traveled to Portland in the past. The focus then was on the city’s renowned restaurant scene. I happily let my college roommate drag me from one amazing meal to the next, crashing in my downtown hotel room each night, bloated, but smiling.
This trip was a sidebar to an excursion to Maine’s Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor. I had the rare pleasure of my adult son’s company for the vacation so we wanted to celebrate the occasion by staying some place extraordinary.
The Inn at Diamond Cove is a car-free island property in Casco Bay. That’s unusual. But wait. There’s more. It’s a 44-room boutique hotel in a converted Army barracks. Got your attention? Then read on for all the details.
Inn at Diamond Cove Highlights
I fall hard for resorts that manage to pull off “comfortable luxury” and the Inn at Diamond Cove does it well. Here are some of the special takeaways from my stay:
- Car-free island location for a “leave the world behind” feeling.
- Unique military barracks conversion with a variety of guest room configurations.
- Cozy, summer guesthouse feel from the staff, guests and island residents.
- Fine dining in a relaxed, waterfront setting.
- Throwback summer activities include arcade games, ping pong, duckpin bowling.
I’ve stayed in some unique hotel properties before, including a notorious prison (Boston’s Liberty Hotel) and converted railroad station (The Union Station in Nashville). Now I can add Army barracks to my list.
Great Diamond Island was once home to Fort McKinley, a US Army defense fort, decommissioned in 1946 and turned over to the City of Portland. Fortunately, the stately brick buildings were not demolished. Over time, the former officers’ homes and base buildings have been converted into private residences and condos. They surround the Fort’s parade ground. The grassy oval no longer hosts military training drills. It’s now the grazing pasture for a flock of wild turkeys.
The Inn is housed in the former barracks. Originally scheduled to open in 2013, the building was destroyed by fire. Only the brick exterior walls remained. However, the owners retained their original plans for the interior, rebuilt and opened the property in 2015. A glass mural with a phoenix, the legendary symbol of resurrection from ashes, is a focal point of the cozy lobby.
The Inn at Diamond Cove features 44 guest rooms with a variety of configurations to meet your needs, whether you’re visiting solo, as a couple or with kids and grands in tow.
My room with two queen beds and semi-private balcony had sky-high ceilings and a bathroom I’ll dream about for weeks to come. A large comfy leather reading chair with ottoman filled one nook. A wetbar with refrigerator, coffee maker, microwave and bar sink with place settings for two was a nice touch.
When we entered, the room felt dark, even though we turned on all the lights. It took me a minute to realize there wasn’t a window. I opened the door to the balcony which brightened the space. It also provided us with a “howdy neighbor” view of the room across the building…it’s why they’re billed as semi-private.
I’ve stayed at other hotels with this type of setup and never felt on display. I enjoy the front porch feel, reinforcing the houseguest vibe. We got a big “hello” each morning from our downstairs neighbor, an adorable toddler named Coco, as she dragged her mom to the pool for a pre-breakfast swim.
About that bathroom. It hit all my “Magnolia” buttons. Black and white tiles, a huge farmhouse-style vanity. And a roomy shower. A nice collection of luxury toiletries too. My only gripe? The hooks were located outside the bathroom, not sensibly next to the shower.
As I mentioned, there are many different room configurations available, including bi-level suites and rooms with fireplaces and kitchenettes. Whatever your family’s needs, you’ll be able to find an accommodation that works. Free WiFi is provided for internet access. The signal was strong in our room and in the vicinity of the Inn.
Dining at the Inn at Diamond Cove
The dining options at the Inn at Diamond Cove are limited. You won’t starve but it’s good to know that the bounty of Portland is a ferry ride away.
Lobby Bar and Cafe
Casual breakfast and dinner meal service is in the Lobby Bar and Cafe. You’ll find both indoor and covered outdoor seating. My son and I had breakfast one morning. I found it impossible to pass up the pancakes dolloped with wild Maine blueberries. Yum. My son had a heartier breakast with eggs, sausage and whole grain toast. Service was leisurely. Perfect for island time, but not if we were on the clock.
There’s a convenient Pool Bar for snacks and lunch. Looking for grab and go options? Check out the Diamond’s Edge Market.
Diamond’s Edge Restaurant
The real dining gem is the resort’s upscale establishment, the Diamond’s Edge restaurant. Make a reservation. It’s a popular destination restaurant for city and island dwellers. It’s a very funny scene to watch when 80% of the patrons evacuate en masse as the evening’s last ferry pulls up to the dock.
We sat on the covered outdoor patio during a rainstorm which alleviated the day’s humidity. The chilled Sancerre we ordered was an ideal complement to our starters: fresh from Bang Island local mussels and a surprising salad featuring tomatoes, watermelon, mozzarella and a hint of lava salt. Our only complaint? Not enough focaccia to sop up the mussels’ basil butter broth.
I ordered the scallop entree and my son had the salmon. Both were served with Maine potatoes and asparagus. The meals were delicious, brightened by a drizzle of lemon caper sauce. And we left enough room to split a mini chocolate bundt cake.
There’s no published children’s menu, but standard kid-friendly fare (pasta with butter, chicken tenders, mac and cheese) is available upon request.
Other Dining Options
One additional restaurant not affiliated with the Inn at Diamond Cove is located on the island. The Crown Jewel is steps from the ferry dock. It’s got a bright tropical cafe interior with eclectic offerings including a brunch menu. Sadly, it was closed during our stay.
When rain doesn’t interfere with the getaway fun, you know you’ve found a great hotel. My son and I checked into the Inn at Diamond Cove during a soft, but steady, July rainstorm. We looked longingly at the swimming pool and fast walked over to the administration building to see how we could entertain ourselves until dinner. There’s a variety of indoor activities available on property, free of charge.
A couple of kids were shooting hoops on the indoor basketball court, so we headed to the game room. Two duckpin bowling lanes invite you to challenge friends and family to a game. It’s DIY – you set your own pins after you finish your turn. There’s a ping pong table and several arcade games too.
After bowling (I won!), we decided we wouldn’t melt and walked a couple of the wooded trails, passing some of the abandoned military bunker buildings. They’re equally terrifying and inviting; posted signs warn you to keep out, but they’re super cool to look at in a “Stranger Things” kind of way. Here are the things to do on property during your stay at the Inn at Diamond Cove:
- Heated outdoor pool with hot tub, beach towels and a cabana snack bar
- Tennis courts (BYOR: Bring your own racquets)
- Fat tire bike rentals
- Pocket beaches and coves, Sunset Park and the Moon Garden
- Duckpin bowling, arcade games, ping pong, basketball court (free with your room rate)
- Fort McKinley Museum and historic walking trail with QR codes
- Outdoor fire pit
- Yoga room
- Fitness center
Getting to the Inn at Diamond Cove
One of the truly special things about visiting Great Diamond Island is that it’s car-free. You’ll immediately feel like you’ve traveled to a simpler time when you arrive. But…how do you get there?
Unless you’re an Olympic swimmer, you’ll need a transportation option to cross Casco Bay.
Have your own boat? Lucky you. Arrange overnight docking at the Diamond’s Edge Marina.
Since I’m more Maryanne than Thurston Howell, I needed a different way to get to cross Casco Bay to arrive at the Inn.
Fogg’s Water Taxi is the next best thing to sailing yourself to the Inn. Reserve your ride in one of their boats that hold up to six passengers for one flat, roundtrip fare. Fill the boat and your roundtrip will cost approximately $25 per person. Several departure points are available in downtown Portland. But parking is a concern. See the ferry service section below.
Instead, I chose to depart from South Portland’s Bug Light park. The Inn’s website has a map of the park. There’s a concrete pad near the park museum where you leave your car. It’s unmarked so it feels a little sketchy. Just go with it. Then head down to the boat dock and wait. An $8 per night parking fee will be added to your hotel bill.
The least expensive way to get to the Inn at Diamond Cove is via one of the many scheduled ferry departures on the Casco Bay Lines. No reservations are necessary. Walk up to the busy terminal in Portland’s Old Port district, purchase your roundtrip ticket and climb aboard. In season 2022 roundtrip fares are $10.70 for adults.
Great Diamond Island has two ferry docks. Be sure to purchase a ticket to Diamond Cove. The other dock, Great Diamond Island, is a 20-minute walk from the Inn, in a gated residential neighborhood.
Before you commit to a ferry ride, figure out where you’ll park. Casco Bay Lines does not have a parking lot. The closest parking is on Commercial Street at the Casco Bay Parking Garage. Daily rates max out at $40.
That’s a lot of clams.
Although the hotel indicates the ferry ride is 40 minutes, our ride in each direction was about an hour and ten minutes. The ferry is also used to load and unload cargo, so the length of time needed at each of the stops can vary.
However you arrange to get to the Inn, be sure to call the front desk to confirm your arrival. I didn’t and no one was at the dock to greet us.
In the rain.
With our bags.
One of the restaurant servers gave us a lift in a golf cart because we looked pathetic. I later found out the Inn’s courtesy van had run out of gas (#islandproblem).
Things to Do Near the Inn at Diamond Cove
Sure. You could stay in downtown Portland when visiting the central coast of Maine. Its attractions, shops and restaurants would be right outside your door. But, if you prefer to combine the best of the city with the away-ness of an island resort stay, then the Inn at Diamond Cove is ideal.
The ease of ferry or water taxi travel means you can skedaddle over to a neighboring island or into Portland and return to Great Diamond Island to unwind at the end of a fun-filled day. Or, fit one or more of the fun things to do into your time before check-in or after check-out. Here are some of the best things to do near the Inn at Diamond Cove.
- Shop ‘til you drop in nearby Freeport, home to the original L.L. Bean and numerous outlets. The 20-minute drive from downtown Portland is worth it just for the photo op with the huge Bean duck boot parked outside the entrance.
- Brave enough to swim in the Atlantic’s chilly waters? It’s bracing when you first jump in, but you get used to it. Really. Maine’s Long Island is home to Andrews Beach, a Maine state park. The locals call it South Beach or Singing Sand because of the noise your footsteps make.
- Reserve a table at one of Restaurant City’s renowned eateries. Or sample the local flavors with an Old Port Seafood Lovers Tour.
- Walk the perimeter trail (1.5 miles) around all of Mackworth Island. This Maine state park is a wooded, bird sanctuary.
- Littles will get a kick out of a fire engine Portland tour. Or take a train ride instead aboard the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad. The scenic, three-mile, 40-minute trip travels along Casco Bay. And don’t miss the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine. Forbes magazine named it one of the top 12 children’s museums in the US.
- Peaks Island is the most populated of the Casco Bay islands. Take a 75-minute Spirit of Peaks guided golf cart tour to learn more about Maine island history and culture.
Final Thoughts on the Inn at Diamond Cove
As we were leaving, my son and I both wished we had another day so we could explore one of the other Casco Bay islands and have another meal at Diamond’s Edge. That’s the feeling I always want to have when leaving a resort property…that you’re not really ready to go.
If you’re looking for a go, go, go vacay from sun up to sun down, Great Diamond Island might not be the right fit for you. But if you’re looking to get away from it all and kick back old school, The Inn at Diamond Cove is a Maine destination resort to consider.