Life isn't ALWAYS better in the Bahamas.
That's a lesson HGTV's "Renovation Island" stars Bryan and Sarah Baeumler learned the hard way when the Canadian couple moved their four kids to the tropical paradise to rehab an abandoned 50-year-old beachfront resort and were faced with both a natural disaster and a global pandemic during the process.
The Baeumlers were renovating the 10-acre property when Hurricane Dorian devastated the Bahamas last summer. Fortunately for Bryan and Sarah, South Andros Island was mostly spared. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the deeply intertwined lives of many of their Bahamian employees.
"We were actually on vacation with the kids in an RV in the Pacific Northwest, when [Dorian] was heading straight for the hotel. We had to have that conversation, like, when we get back there we might just be sorting through debris for personal effects," Bryan told TheWrap. "But it curved north and hit Abaco and Grand Bahama. And, originally, we traveled back there and were relieved it hadn't hit us, but we realized that the people of the Bahamas -- and the Family Islands, especially -- have family all over the place. So a lot of our employees and our friends there had families that had been directly affected or lost lives in the hurricane."
Sarah says that's when she and Bryan told the show's film crew "everything needs to stop" so they could focus on helping their staff.
"We need to locate their family members, we need to recognize and mourn the lives that have been lost. And our camera crew was great and said, we really need time as an island to work together, as a Bahamian culture, and help. And we immediately went into action to provide any help or resources that our family could. It's just something I don't think we ever thought we would already, only a few months in, be dealing with a Category 5 hurricane."
There is a Hurricane Dorian episode among the 22 one-hour episodes from when "Renovation Island" originally aired in Canada as "Island of Bryan." The hurricane and the aftermath took up about half of one of the episodes, Bryan said. For HGTV, the episode been "re-edited a bit," Bryan said, but he doesn't know how much of the Dorian footage and storyline remains.
The Baeumlers may have dodged a bullet from Dorian, but then, "cue the pandemic," as Bryan put it to us.
Though in the early "Renovation Island" episodes it appears the massive project may never be completed -- and almost certainly not within the extremely tight six-month timeline the Baeumlers set for themselves to make tourist season -- in the real world, Caerula Mar Club held its grand opening in the beginning of February. Unfortunately, the real world had more real problems in store.
"We have only been open six weeks and we are already dealing with a global pandemic," Sarah said.
While having to close down (the hotel was "fully booked" from February through June) immediately after opening was not something Bryan and Sarah had planned, in a way, the financial hardship was something they had already accounted for, being a new business.
"In our financials, we had planned that the first year, generally, you're not gonna run at a profit, so we've had protections in place and we talked to our staff there," he said. "We obviously had to pare down staff a little bit but continue on some of the renovations and the work that we're doing on the islands and kind of rotate staff so everybody has still got a little something coming in."
The Baeumlers own 100% of the hotel, which consists of 18 hotel rooms, 22 oceanfront villas, a full-service restaurant, clubhouse, spa, in-ground pool and bar, they told TheWrap.
"Yeah, we're in it," Bryan said. "We're in pretty deep."
Just *how* deep? The Baeumlers purchased the resort for $2 million, and while they planned to put another $4 million into the rehab, "We more than doubled that before we opened the doors," Bryan said.
So yeah, they've invested north of $10 million.
The Baeumlers are planning to have a "post-pandemic re-grand opening" in late October or November. Of course, Bryan says that's "assuming and hoping that the world is back in one piece 'cause it's just a crazy time right now."
The series premiere of "Renovation Island" (formerly "Island of Bryan," formerly "Paradise Found") is this Sunday at 8/7c on HGTV.