Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Hermitage Bay Antigua - The Nitty Gritty

We needed somewhere new to go as our first choice (Galley Bay, Antigua) had been shut allegedly because of hurricane Irma but actually because they decided to undergo a refit. Because of the non-refundable/re-routeable Club Class tickets I had bought on BA it had to be somewhere on that island, but where? We have stayed in Antigua many times but felt like something new. After scanning the usual places we ended up booking Hermitage Bay which, despite being considerably more expensive, seemed perfect.

We did our usual which was to night-stop at the Hilton, Gatwick South Terminal and not have to get up and drive to the airport early on the morning of departure. I would recommend it as, although the Hilton is a typical mid-grade airport hotel it does have the advantage of being directly joined to the terminal BA fly from. Also, if you use the airport’s Valet parking it is again in the same building and so very easy.

It was our first time trying the new BA check-in area at South Terminal and again the whole thing was very easy. It is close to the hotel and terminal entrance and easily accessible. Strangely there was a bigger queue at the First and Club desks so we checked in at an Economy desk. It is surprising how often this happens! Anyway, having passed through security we eventually found the BA lounge. Again this new lounge was busy but pretty well laid out and you can help yourself to an above par breakfast there.

Obviously long haul planes are big and being an old-ish airport now the jetties that take large planes are at the furthest extremity to the main building so be prepared for the walk. We boarded and it was here that I discovered my first big mistake. Having no First class on this plane the largest Club cabin was at the front with a much smaller Club cabin behind. I pre-booked the window and adjacent seat at the front of the small cabin. My thinking was a) near the exit b) better passenger/staff ratio and c) quieter. A big mistake.

 Now I love my own children and I like some other people’s children, but I got it all wrong. Unfortunately for us (and probably them) we ended up with a harassed mother, disinterested father, a toddler and a baby in the adjacent centre seats and it was sadly noisy, smelly and sometimes exhausting. We had nappy changes on the floor next to me, crying kids, the occasional scream and constant movement. Now I honestly do not think I am a miserable child-hater but by the time we got to Antigua I was not a happy bunny. Why do I relate this? Because I need to suggest that you do not make the same seat choice as me if you are getting old and crusty!

On arrival in Antigua I began to get the relaxed holiday feeling. My seat choice got us second off the plane and the new airport meant an easy air-conditioned transit through the arrival formalities. It really is a nice airport and a smile still gets you a long way. As for my ‘priority’ bags? Straight through and waiting for us! Getting to kerb-side I understood one of the benefits of my 5 star resort. The lady who said hello earlier was waiting there with a smile and a nice man with an air conditioned 4X4 to take us to the resort. Marvellous!

Now you never know what you are going to find when you arrive somewhere new. It’s a bit nerve-racking really as your entire holiday will rely on first impressions, or they do with me. The drive took 35 minutes of friendly chat from our driver, a mile trip on a dirt track and finally the arrival at a very pretty place. Now I chose this place based on what I read and saw online and do you know what? It was exactly what I read, but with an added plus, the people who work there really are downright marvellous.

Like most of these places you do the check-in formalities in a comfortable chair with a cold drink. In this case it was Mojitos although they were non-alcoholic as one needed to be accurate! When my signature was dry on the form they brought me a real one! Are you like me? Do you form an opinion quickly, sometimes too quickly? Judith, who is my wife and thankfully more sensible than me, agreed that the vibe at this place was very good indeed.

The place is not huge but big enough  not to be crowded. The central core houses Reception which links to their restaurant on one side and the bar/pool area on the other. Beyond that is the beach. The rooms/suites are scattered along the beach or built into the large hill bordering the resort. The resort is well fenced and security seems very efficient. Some people find it strange that you cannot just turn up and view these resorts but I personally prefer them secure. If you want to visit then simply phone first.

Room prices vary depending on what you wish to pay and which location you prefers. The beach-side suites look identical with the only differentiator being that they are beachfront or tucked in the garden behind. We preferred beachfront and my accommodation report refers specifically to them. The remainder (and majority) of the rest of the suites are located off a buggy track winding up the hill behind. From what I gather the accommodation is similar although, in addition, they all have their own deck and plunge pool. These are popular with honeymooners who usually fly in for a week or so from USA or Canada.
The rooms are built in a dark wood which blends in well with the island. They are quite large and designed in a way that complements the low key ambience they strive to offer. In saying that there are some things which some may prefer more than others. For example there is no glass in the windows or patio doors which are instead decked with louvred slats with insect netting on the outside. This obviously keeps the bugs out but can let any chilled escape too thus negating some of the benefits of air conditioning.

The bedroom section is large and has a small step running across it which separates it in to two halves. The lower part has a sofa but this is placed facing the side door which, to my mind, was a bit pointless as it did not take advantage of the view outside. On the balcony there is a small daybed, two easy chairs and a table with two dining chairs. None were particularly comfortable, especially the easy chairs as they seemed to be more for looking at than sitting in! If you are sitting on your balcony (on the dining chairs probably) there is a lovely view of the beach, ocean and sunset.

In the upper section of the room you have the bed, dressing table, occasional furniture, a desk with draws and an amenities unit containing a fridge, safe, tea/coffee facilities etc. The fridge is small but sufficient to hold milk (provided) beer, small wine bottles, spirits, crisps, chocolate etc. These are supposed to be replenished daily if you hand in your order at breakfast. I was pleasantly surprised that they provided drink in your room as many such resorts don’t. We did not use the TV or the music equipment but from what I gather it was good quality. The safe was sturdy.

The bed was big, comfortable and protected by a mosquito net if you wanted to sleep with the slats open. The air-conditioning unit was directly above the bottom of the bed and there is also a ceiling fan to move the air. They  have plenty of plug sockets for hair dryers, hair straighteners phone chargers etc including two British three-pin plugs. The rest of the sockets were 110 volt US style two flat pin types. If you need adaptors just ask and they will provide them. Above the bed head there is a half- height wall that opens into the bathroom. You enter the bathroom through an open space on one side of the bed. There is nowhere substantial to store clothes in the main bedroom.

The bathroom is sufficiently large but a little different to what I expected. The bath was an enormous freestanding tub with taps built into a stalk beside it. I found this rather odd as the hotel supports water conservation although a full bath could supply a small village. It was also not that easy to get in and out of especially with soapy hands and I worried for some of the older folk staying at the resort. The stalk containing the taps was particularly wobbly probably due to the number of times it had been grabbed by folk staggering in or out! Either side of the bath were shelves and a hanging rail for all your clothes. These were open to the rest of the bathroom.

Across from the bath were two sinks with storage around and underneath and alongside that was the toilet. Now the toilet is open to the bathroom and subsequently the bedroom which I personally found off-putting. There was no door, no privacy and obviously nothing to prevent unwanted intrusion by your partner or anyone else for that matter. Odd. Outside the back door there was decking and an outdoor shower. We did not use it but it was a nice option to have. So did we like our room? Well yes, I suppose we did, despite the foibles!

Leaving the room you take a very short walk and you find the pool and bar area and this, along with the restaurant was the centre of most activity. The pool is free-form, infinity and same depth throughout and very enjoyable to float about in. The bar/lounge area was very laid back and inhabited by some of the nicest staff I have ever met on holiday. The drink and cocktail choices are enormous and you get very well looked after for your whole stay. The bar stools are backed, cushioned and very comfortable and the bar team very willing to socialise with you if you feel like it. If you want to sit quietly they seem to sense it and leave you to yourself. You can eat your lunch in the bar if you wish. And they regularly offer you the most delicious appetisers  prior to dinner or tea/sandwiches in the afternoon. Adjacent to the bar they have a library cupboard that hold both books and games.

The hotel restaurant  is something special. One needs to book a table for dinner during the day but this is mainly to ensure the chef has time prepare each meal carefully. The choice is amazing both at lunch and dinner but please leave aside a little extra time in the evening because service is not hurried. You will be offered a wine list but  will be charged if you use it. We did not bother because the house wines were of acceptable quality and your glass always refilled. The restaurant breakfasts were equally good and the choices on offer huge. It is waitress service at breakfast but they do not stint on portions or flavours in fact what you want is what you get. The dining area is on three levels so practically everybody has a great view of the beach.

The hotel lay on low key musical entertainment of the highest quality every evening. The small band of singers and musicians position themselves between the restaurant and bar so all can be entertained at the same time. We found this situation idyllic. The management move around the bar and public areas frequently talking to guests and making them feel at home. Also between bar and restaurant there are toilets which, like everywhere else is well serviced and maintained.

This is a beach holiday resort so how was it you may ask. The answer is excellent however there are a few snags at present. Firstly, there are enough sunbeds and shades for everyone which is a great help and negates the need to run out and reserve one in the morning unless you have a particular favourite. The beds are of a good quality with fitted towels over them. The staff  have a beach station where towels and drinks are always available. It is also manned by excellent people who seem to anticipate your desires for refreshments or dry towels.

The beach itself is visibly beautiful but again has a few issues probably created by hurricane Irma. A lot of shattered sea shells have been swept up on parts of the beach so protective footwear may be needed for delicate feet. Also the sea floor is quite ridged at present, again maybe because of the storms waves which means there are quite pronounced depth changes close to the shore. There is a small ‘reef’ which is mainly rock close to parts of the shore which is interesting to snorkelers but not to others who will need to enter the water either side of it.

Like all beaches in Antigua this one is not private but, being quite isolated it is seldom visited by beach vendors and we only saw one during our stay. Public access to the beach is at either extremity and on one side there is  construction going on. Apparently they are building some quite lavish homes there but thankfully this does not bother the hotel much. It may be something to watch out for in the future though.

Checking out of the hotel was sad but easy. We had enjoyed a lovely relaxing stay and had met some of the special people who work there. They really are that nice and the special service ran right up to our departure. Check out is noon but our flight did not go until after ten that evening. What were we going to do? Nothing except relax as the resort checked and allowed us to keep our room until the taxi transfer came. Wonderful, it really was but do not take this for granted. They will do everything they can to help their guests and we were lucky but sadly, don’t bank on it although certainly ask!

The hotel taxi collected us exactly on time and we bade a very sad farewell. Again, Antigua’s new airline terminal was excellent and we were through formalities in a matter of minutes. There is a general airport lounge airside and this was comfortable compared with the old one. Beware though if you want duty free as the shops are keen to close before the last flight goes so get in early if you want anything.

The flight back on BA was superb. Admittedly  we were put in First Class seats which helps! You see some airlines have fleet management issues and sometimes they have to use aircraft which have First Class seats when they are not selling them on a particular service. It happens quite a lot with Caribbean flights where these planes can be used when they do not have enough Club Class seats. When this happens they upgrade people into the First Class seats even though the on-board service remains Club Class. So, after a pretty awful trip out we had an excellent one back with the new, and very comfortable bed seats.

If anyone has any questions about this report you are welcome to email me at

Saturday, 29 July 2017

British Airways. Saint or sinner?

So what is it with British Airways? Why does it seem so many people are falling out of love with them? If they exist who are these people?  How many?  And do they have a point.
First one needs to clarify who they are as so many things have changed in the airline marketplace. British Airways (BA) used to be the UK’s national ‘flag carrying’ airline and was sometimes seen as a ‘full service’ airline.  In recent years a full service airline was one that charged an all-in price for the full service provided which used to be extensive. People got used to it and some still continue to expect nothing less. Then the airline market changed.

It started with the arrival of what many call ‘cost plus’ airlines. These people (like EasyJet and Ryanair) use a different cost model which is focussed on lowest seat price plus charges for almost everything else relating to the flight i.e. baggage, seat allocation, meals, credit charge use etc etc. Travellers could then choose what they needed, or wanted. This coupled with flexible seat pricing and initially different origin/destination usage appealed greatly to flyers, primarily in the leisure market.

BA and these ‘no frills’ airlines managed to live with each other (just) until the market changed. The catalyst for change came when the Low Cost Airlines (LCA) saturated their initial operating destinations with flights, ran short of new ones, saw opportunities in mainstream markets and, essentially, started wining customers away from BA and others. Their marketing was very popular with the public who failed to understand why the big airlines seemed to charge so much more.

Almost all airlines have one thing in common. They have shareholders who invest in them and expect a good return. Many are listed on their stock exchanges and therefor need to satisfy analysts and major investment institutions and share dealers. This drive for improved return on investment (ROI) is another key driver for airlines to seek lower operating costs and increased sales. Their very existance depends on it.

To my mind BA has had no choice but to respond positively to these drivers by being competitive with all opponents’ whist protecting and reshaping their brand. After all I have seen little evidence of the bulk of their customers demanding that BA charge premium fares for premium service. The contrary is more evident. With this in mind I see BA has little choice not only to vigorously defend their position but exploit opportunities for new business too.

So how can BA do this and are they competing on a level playing field?  Well the field is certainly not ‘level’ at present although it is starting to get there.  For example BA serves all sorts of routes that no LCA would dream of. They also operate up to four different classes of service on the same plane which is hardly ‘stack them high and sell them cheap’! They also operate on a completely different cost structure. They are trying to improve this by negotiating new staff contracts and outsourcing costs with sometimes disastrous but possibly predictable outcomes. Understandably staff do not want to change their desirable and traditional union negotiated remuneration packages and an outsourced function is less service secure than a costly internal one.

Meanwhile the LCAs continue with their cherry picked lucrative cost and price models without the need to worry about huge antiquated legacy issues. Not for them the concern of taking products away from customers which they never gave to them in the first place. Everyone seems to accept that they are the ‘people’s champion’ in the fight for low pricing.

The only trouble is people have begun to notice BA’s cost reduction and do not like it. People will always expect a service they have always enjoyed but woe betide anyone who takes it away! Hell hath no fury than someone with a meal/drink/seat taken away. This combined with the service imbalance of operating different classes on board is a huge challenge, especially as the less populated premium cabins do not contribute the majority of a flight’s revenue income.

So what is going to happen? Well it is anyone’s guess but I think BA will be taking a long hard look at how it will move forward and I have every confidence they will find a solution. I am also convinced it will not continue to operate exactly as it does now. Perhaps they might operate a two service/one flight system i.e. make the rear cabin low cost and the front full cost. With a flexible cabin configuration this may just work. Another possible option would be to split the airline into low cost short haul and full service long haul service as no LCA airline seems to have found a way into the intercontinental market yet and may never do so.

Going back to the beginning of this blog. Who is getting discontented with British Airways? clearly it is their premium business clients who perceive that service declines as BA drive for increased profitability How many? Well quite a lot really but the situation is still recoverable. And do they have a point? Well clearly they do.Whatever happens I do not envy British Airways but I wish them well. The road will be challenging but I am confident they will get there. They are, after all, a damn fine airline and the envy of many a nation.

Saint or sinner? Well saint is perhaps too kind but sinner? That would be unfair…wouldn’t it?!

Friday, 17 February 2017

Hoping for an airline upgrade. You’ll be lucky!

No seriously, I mean it because luck is probably the best way to describe so called airline selection policy as it applies to that all important upgrade. A huge shame really as, with the arrival of single class competitors, the incentive of potential upgrades is a definite plus when deciding who to fly with. Sad that airlines do not recognise the power and competitive edge upgrades give them.

I read a long running blog the other day on the subject of ‘How to get an upgrade’. It started with someone’s opinion and grew enormously as others (including me at the time) regaled other readers with their tips, experiences and failures. The only thing that seemed clear is that almost everybody wanted upgrades and very few actually got them. The only successes seemed to be with people that made no particular effort but got them as a pleasant surprise.

On looking closer at these and other people one thing began to become evident. It did not seem to matter much on what you looked like, how many in your group or how important you are to that airline. It seemed purely down to numbers and seemed triggered by how full the cabin was you were booked in. Obviously the vast majority of seats are in economy class and also economy passengers are more likely not to show up. As a result airlines overbook this cabin in the hope it ends up going out full. If there are seats available in higher classes then these are used for any surplus economy numbers via upgrades. The same approach applies right up to First Class. Very often when someone gets upgraded from economy they will create a chain reaction of upgrade through Premium economy and Club class right up to the front cabin. Either that or, to save hassle the economy passenger finds themselves placed directly into seat 1A.

Meals also impact the need to upgrade. If the particular cabin is short of meals they will often upgrade or sometimes if a forward cabin is almost empty but fully catered for they will again upgrade. There is also the airline staff upgrade where travelling airline folk hold upgrade tickets or possibly are friends of the crew. And if there are plenty of meals and not many staff? Then you might just get lucky. Also if you are on a flight that stops somewher you may get an upgrade if they are congested on certain legs of your journey.

Now I always used to think that if I looked smart my chances of upgrade were better. I had hoped that someone in the ground staff were wandering around thinking “now let me find a smart, deserving individual I can bestow this super upgrade on” I am afraid I do not believe this happens any more (it used to). Now some machine randomly selects you or a tired, bored departure desk operative gets told to offer upgrades to whoever is in front of them. I am afraid the truly discretionary upgrade has all but gone out of the window. I suppose the computer could be programmed to select that airline’s frequent flyer members but I have not seen this happening much either.

Looking deeper there is only one true way of getting an upgrade and even that is risky and impossible for most people and that is before check-in. If you can persuade the right airline person at the right level to mark your booking ‘upgrade space available’ it might just happen. A lot depends on the relationship between reservations and airport staff and if the latter remembers to do something about it. For example I tried to help a friend who had just lost his wife and needed to get to Sydney. I phoned the airline reservations number and explained the situation and got nowhere until I got my call escalated to a supervisor. After a lot of persuasion on my part she agreed to try and help and ultimately he got upgraded. Not easy but possible if you persevere

So that is that really. Computerisation, apathy and, in my opinion, short-sightedness by airlines means upgrades are hard to get and mainly coincidental. Just think what a valuable selling tool they could be. They would buy loyalty, give recognition and fill seats productively instead of dishing them out indiscriminately to those not expecting them.

So. You want an upgrade? You WILL BE LUCKY!

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Cheap Flights are what we want. But are they?

I have been waiting for it to happen and now it has. The major national airlines that have been fighting low cost carriers are finally joining them with a vengeance that is creating its own backlash.
Naturally it is about money or should I say profit and ‘shareholder value’. Let me explain. Those same airlines that denigrated those ‘cheap’ airlines in the past have seen their profits suffer and have found it necessary to respond in order to maintain their position as market brand leaders.
Now, they are not going to give away their profit margins and pricing models are they? No. What they are doing is changing them into possibly more profitable returns. You see low cost airlines relied mainly on new routes, new markets, low charges for high volume and almost a carte blanche to do what they want as they were new kids on the block. In fact the crazier their actions seemed the more they were admired.

The big airlines could do very little to start with. These new guys were a pain but did not really hurt them too much on key routes. Meanwhile they still earned enough loyalty from business and other higher end markets to cope plus they had solid schedules to key cities to reduce the damage. In fact I think they did not want to play with low cost in those early evolution times. Then things moved on. Or at least they have on the smaller routes.

The new ‘cheap’ market reached almost saturation point. These airlines introduced as many new routes as they could and filled them with as many passengers that were ready and willing to use them. But what happens when there are so few new routes available anymore? How do these darlings of the City maintain the expected rapid, continuing growth expected from them? The answer is they have to compete for those passengers they once scorned and mainly ignored the mainstream airline traveller.

How did they do this? By in part becoming a bit like their adversaries by flying in and out of major airports and fighting on a far more level playing field. By this I mean they kept their opening fare at the same low levels but charged add-ons for everything else from meals, drinks, bags, credit cards to reserved seats, extra legroom and most of the other things you get (or used to) as standard from mainstream airlines. This has created a massive change which will grow before it diminishes.

To some extent this is what the big world airlines were waiting for. People started finding that low cost airlines are not as low cost as they used to be. The ‘cheap flight love affair’ was beginning to be questioned. Those airlines that could get away with murder in recent years started being called to account when directly and openly being compared with their bigger and more established rivals.

Finally it seems the national airlines have started to act and I am not sure how popular it is going to become with Joe Public who enjoyed slating them but needed them to be around too. As ‘low cost fares’ went up so did ‘full fare’ prices go down. Except they were no longer the ‘full service’ fare.

The opportunity for these global carriers was there for the taking and being openly displayed to them by those competitors they feared were their nemesis. If you change elements of pricing you can milk extra profit. So now the low cost charges are being introduced by the big boys, particularly on short journeys. Food and drink quality have gone down but now you have to pay for them on top of your fare. The airline takes out a cost and replaces it with a new income stream! This is not the only example of this rapidly growing income stream. On flights cabin crew numbers are getting smaller and compelling reasons present themselves for reducing pay and benefits too. After all it is what ‘the people’ (you and me) want. Now we are finding that major airlines are more often the same or cheaper than low cost airlines on main routes. Sadly it must be at our cost not theirs.

It is a bit sad really but I think the major carriers are going to get a bit of a public bashing over this but hey, they are more profitable and the city institutions will love them! The will also be able to defend themselves by saying they are reacting to what the public want. Meanwhile, as I said before, ultimately Joe Public will end up paying more for less.

Finally a look to the future. I think the short flight market will level out and airlines of all persuasions will compete on more equal basis albeit we, the public, will probably get a more reduced service and at higher prices. As far as the longer distance destinations are concerned, I personally think that it will be a while before this, what I call ‘cost plus’ model takes hold. Companies bankrolled by city institutions have tried before to start up new low cost long haul airlines and have failed miserably. This may change and I see airlines like Norwegian trying their new model in this market but I hold out little hope for such in the near future.

But who knows!

Monday, 16 January 2017

Bequia Beach Hotel Review

OK, so this is our third 2 week stay at this hotel and you might think, with two previous reviews there was nothing more to write about. Well there is! If ever there was a resort constantly improving on itself it is this one.

We arrived after a short connection in Barbados seamlessly AND with our hold baggage. If you are making such connections I really recommend tying a few yellow ribbons around your checked bag handles and then photograph them on say your smartphone. That way the folks in Barbados can quickly identify them and grab them off the incoming luggage belt. People we were with who did not do this only got their bags 24 hours later.
On our arrival in Bequia the hotel transfer vehicle was waiting for us. We got water and cool towels for the 10 minute transfer plus gave our welcome drink order which was ready for us when we arrived. Not bad.

On getting there they remembered both us and the room we stayed in and enjoyed 4 years and gave it to us again. Surprising in this day and age and very welcome.
Small improvements had been made all over the property like extra beach sunshades, improved bar area, leisure equipment etc.
The room was once again excellent and they really do seem to think of everything and, if they missed something (like overseas plug adapters) we simply asked and it arrived without fuss or repeat phone calls .WIFI worked well in the room and poolside.

We know the owner, resort M/D and the GM because all three were out and about talking to guests and checking on their stay. The rest of the staff were their brilliant and kind selves with the restaurant running efficiently and the bar team, particularly Kong already pre-guessing what you want. You almost start feeling like a welcome returning family member!

Food was good and a nice blend of Swedish and Caribbean as there are chefs from both regions working there. We were holidaying during the main lobster season and the special nights they did were a treat to the taste buds. Nothing like soft tasty lobster that you saw being bought from the fishermen up the beach served with well cooked vegetables and/ or fresh salad. Breakfasts were great with fruit, cereals, cheeses, bread and toast available in the buffet while juices, coffee and main courses served on order.I This was not a holiday to diet on unless you really want to. I never made the spa but from what people say it really is top notch too.

All in all a great holiday in a welcoming well run hotel but it did not stop there. The owner tries to think of everything and has branched wider. He has bought Jacks Bar and restaurant on the best beach on the island so there is a broader choice of cuisine. He has also bought at least one mega yacht which had just been delivered and operated its first sunset cruise. Not cheap but one hell of an experience I believe. Finally he seems to have thought deep enough about getting clients to Bequia by buying/leasing at least two King Air aircraft to operate key routes to connecting points. Not your average hotelier!
I know I have sung the praises of this resort but it, and the island of Bequia deserves it.I have no professional interests in this hotel but simply believe it is something very special. Why else would we return to the same place three times?!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Places to go back to again and again

I started writing about places I would (and would not want) to visit again. Having been blessed in the past with a large opportunity to travel in my work and holiday I visited many countries and islands more than once and here is my verdict on them. You might disagree with me about some but I hope this input may help you in your future decision making.

I feel like dedicating this blog to my very favourite places which can mainly been summed up in two words which are THE GRENADINES. Have you been there? No? Then you are missing somewhere very special and I would urge you to bear them in mind for future holidays. The islands are simply beautiful, the atmosphere is laid back but civilised and the people are mainly absolutely wonderful.

The two islands I spent most time in were Mustique and Bequia. The island of Mustique has a charm of its own and many people do not realise that you do not have to be a millionaire to enjoy it, although it helps! Take a look at my other blogs on this island and you will see why. You get there by taking a 40 minute connecting flight from Barbados on local airline SVG (very efficiently done) or an even shorter one from St Lucia. When you arrive it is like another world of fabulous beaches, lovely people and wide ranging accommodations including two hotels and  many private villas.

The island of Bequia ( can also be reached via Barbados or St Lucia or even St Vincent if travelling from the USA. In truth it is heaven to my wife and me and I cannot see it changing even with more tourism which is what will happen as its fame spreads. There are hotels, guest houses, villas, B&Bs,  in fact you name it and they have it across the full spectrum of accommodations.

When we go we always stay at the Bequia Beach Hotel. You would not need to ask me why if you had been there, it is that good. So good in fact that I am writing my second blog on the place which will be published very soon. People from The Grenadines are kind and honest by nature and the islands really are beautiful and well worth that extra flight which, as I said before, is very easy.

Bequia as an island is perfect with all kinds of different landscapes, terrain and beaches. Princess Margaret and Lower Bay beaches are calm, pristine and have places you can eat, drink or even hire/borrow beach chairs. The main 'town' is Port Elizabeth which is both colourful and easy to get around. It also has an ATM machine and a well equipped supermarket called Knights.

You owe it to yourself to go there at least once although I suspect you will want to go back again!

While on the subject of small pretty islands you also should try Anguilla. There are numerous beaches and a large range of hotels and restaurants. All this yet it remains unspoiled. A great thing about Anguilla is that the weather is probably the best in the Caribbean and the likelihood of it being hit by a hurricane is very small Even though it just happened) as its location seems to miss them as they pass either side. If you go in the quiet season the costs are much lower yet the weather is still fine most of the time. The island still has its links with the UK so Brits are particularly welcome.

Where to stay in Anguilla? Well, check my blogs but we tend to stay either in a beach villa at Meads Bay or the Cuisinart, a beautiful hotel on another perfect calm sandy beach.

So lets get back 'civilization' and a better know and well frequented island, Antigua.

Antigua is often compared with Barbados as they are both main destinations for global holidaymakers but I do not think them similar at all except for the international resorts located there.
This island is a bit smaller but does have a wide range of hotels and activities. It also caters for the adult only and all inclusive markets very well. I find it a place to be either very relaxed or very active, it is up to you if you choose your resort carefully. Recently we stayed at Galley Bay which is an adults only and all-inclusive resort on its own beach. We loved it and recommend you go there if you want peace, a 'few' drinks and one of the best sunset views in the region.

It must be pretty obvious to you that I would, and will, go back to these islands again, God willing. Where next? We plan to go to Nevis next as I have heard great thing about this island and the Nisbet Plantation resort there.

My final report in this trilogy will be in Europe covering Majorca, Kefalonia and Athens so I hope you read them and maybe get some new ideas for your own trips.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Going Back

Going Back?
Now this is a tricky question. So you have been on holiday and you loved it! But would you still love it quite so much if you went back again? Maybe yes, and, quite often, no.

The British, as a nation are quite expert at ‘going back’. We find a place we enjoy and almost inevitably assume it will be just as good if we return. There is a certain reassurance that you know what to expect and clearly a benefit in being able to find your way around. You know the things to avoid and already have in mind your favourite beach/bar/restaurant/resort. What could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately what we inevitably fail to identify is that familiarity can sometime breed ‘contempt’…or at least boredom.

Feeling nostalgic (and bored) between Christmas and New Year I looked back over the years to identify again where I had been and, where I had visited more than once. Because of my career in the airline and travel business I found I had travelled to 79% of the countries in the world, many frequently, but I ignored most of those and focussed instead on frequent holiday visits. I came up with a much smaller varied group of destinations dotted around the globe and wondered why I kept on going back and would I go again? My feedback to you is blunt and may cause disagreement but please bear with me as I start at the ‘worst’ and get better as I go along!

These holiday revisits were as follows: Mauritius, Maldives, Dubai, Barbados, Bequia (in the Grenadines), Anguilla, Antigua Athens, New York, Majorca and Kefalonia. Some verdicts were easy. For example I would never want to go back to Mauritius. Why? Because I found the island touristically over resourced and crowded, the people unfriendly with an undercurrent of resentfulness, and a feeling the whole place had been exploited

I also very much doubt if I would go to the Maldives again which really surprised me. I defy anyone to name anywhere as scenically beautiful as most Maldivian islands. I would also commend the staff in these resorts who work ceaselessly to give you a good experience. The problem I have is price and again, exploitation. It seems that the resorts squeeze every last pound/euro/yen/dollar they can from the tourists. Everything is charged at a large premium which results in most visitors being either extremely rich, extravagant or on honeymoon.

 I thought Dubai was over the top but although the Maldives is not so ‘naff’ it grossly overcharges. You cannot take alcohol into the Maldives being a Moslem country yet they allow you to directly connect with a seaplane taking you to a resort with a full drink service. You will pay $50/$60 for a bottle of New Zealand wine which cost $10 in a UK supermarket.

In the Maldives you get the sheer beauty of the place but you are not getting good value and you are stuck on a small island with a diverse and sometimes not so pleasant mixture of guests. And the staff? Most of the workers are Maldivian, Sri Lankan or Indian and they live in tiny compounds in the middle of the resort being paid a pittance in comparison with the resort tariff. So many tourist go there for a one off ‘holiday of a lifetime’, brief honeymoon or as part of a two centre holiday with Dubai or somewhere similar.
The last on my ‘never again’ list is Dubai. What on earth have they done with the place. So much ‘in your face’ wealth and so little genuine sophistication. It is not as though the locals like you. I am convinced they don’t. Again you have the wealthy land/oil owners, a workforce from the Asian subcontinent and imported management to run their businesses. I never fully understood or used the expression O.T.T. (over the top) until I went there. The beaches are not very nice either!

Phew! That got that off my chest. That is my not again list. Mind you. In condemning these places I would probably swallow my bile and go back to the Maldives….if I could afford it!

I would not particularly want to go back to New York either. In saying that I have no particular gripes with the place, it is more that I hate shopping and that seems to be what most people do! I do however love the surrounding area and New York City is as good a base as anywhere else.

Heading south from New York you eventually come to the Caribbean and it is here I have had quite a few repeat visits, most of them very successful. For example Barbados is interesting as it is two islands in one. What I mean is you have the South Coast and the West Coast and they are both very different to each other. There are always exceptions but the south is where the action is. There are more activities, lower cost hotels and it is adjacent to Bridgetown where the cruise ships go. It is the ‘party’ and ‘drink cruise’ area. I had a great time there but I needed a holiday after this holiday!

The West Coast is supposedly more ‘sophisticated’ with high end hotels, restaurants and an obscenely expensive golf course. It is the home of the Sandy Lane Hotel which rivals Dubai for ‘naffness’ and silly prices. It is a great place to go if you like calm beaches and diverse but good service hotels. You need a bigger wallet than the South but you do get good value. We stayed 12 hours at the Sandy Lane (that was enough) before moving to the Colony Club as well as the Sandpiper and Fairmont on other stays. If you are nice to the Bajan people they are nice to you unlike the Mauritians and I will go again as each experience is different to the last.

Still hanging in there with me? I hope so. Now I will give you a rest before, in another day soon I will tell you about my love for The Grenadines in general and Bequia in particular. Visit a gain soon!