Monday, 22 June 2015

Galley Bay, Antigua. Put to the test

I was not so sure whether I wanted to go to Antigua again. After all, years back we used to go regularly and in some ways we thought enough might be enough. More recently we have journeyed slightly deeper into ‘unspoiled’ Caribbean and enjoyed places like the Grenadines enormously. So why back to Antigua? Mainly because we had just survived organising and hosting our daughter’s wedding and were about to commence major house renovations which are sadly still ongoing.

So this was supposed to be a relaxing holiday with little hassle and lots of enjoyment. We chose to go to Galley Bay because of four magic words, All-inclusive and Adults only. We looked at trying Sandals for the first time but decided it was too big glitzy and ‘young’ for our tastes with extras like personal concierges whose main job seems to be pinching sun beds for you early in the morning!

We also looked at visiting Grand Pineapple but their security was such that they would not allow us to view the hotel without prior notice. Shame as we had stayed there at least 4 times in the distant past. Maybe it was because the property had just been bought by Sandals who intend turning it into a ‘Beaches’ brand property encouraging young families. It will be great for them as the beach is beautiful and safe unlike some other locations in Antigua. But not for us…

We had visited Galley Bay years ago in the middle of their ‘slow’ off-peak season and the experience was not brilliant as they were in the middle of refurbishment. However, it was good enough for me to conclude that it could be brilliant if it was developed properly as the location is spectacular and very large. I decided to take Judith there although she was not too keen, and I am glad and not a little relieved to say it was excellent.

Most reports about Galley Bay are complimentary and they enjoy a very high number of repeat visitors. So much so that this in itself can become an issue. As soon as you get people praising a place it almost becomes inevitable that others look for things to moan about. Equally, frequent return guests can behave like they own the place and get special treatment which, in itself, can annoy others. Neither of these issues are the hotel’s fault but have to be faced.

Resorts such as these have to perform a very difficult juggling act of keeping everybody happy whilst working within a budget depending on its  star rating. I think Galley Bay does this well although there are obviously things that can and will be improved in the future. The management host a dinner for repeat guests most weeks and pick their brains for new ideas and improvements and, from what I could see, followed up on them.

The resort is spread out along a ¾ mile beach. The main facilities including the largest restaurant,  the pool and two bars are in the middle as is the entrance approached by buggy over the lagoon bridge. There are also restaurants at either end which, partly due to their location, are less frequented. They are both ‘pre-booking only’ and one (Ismays)  has a fine dining surcharge which is well worth paying at least once during a stay. The other one (Gaugin) is a great place to go to avoid the hurly burly of the main restaurant which can get rather busy at times. We also liked the new lunch snack facility  'Barefoot Grill' which is close to the pool.

Leisure activities take place on the beach or by the pool. The pool area has been expanded since our last visit which has, in the main relieved the umbrella sunbed issue although you still get folk putting out their towels when they have little intention of using them. Why they do this I don’t know but it is an unpleasant behavioural virus that has spread across the Caribbean from Europe! The beach is mainly pretty empty which is great for those that prefer to sit there although they do need to refurbish beach sun loungers and perhaps erect more permanent umbrellas. In saying that I have experienced far worse loungers in more pricey resorts! Non-motorised water sports were great with nice helpful people to guide you.

The rooms that we stayed in and saw were very good. Yes, they could be improved but just remember what you are paying. The bathrooms are huge by resort standards but not air-conditioned like the bedrooms. The bedroom we stayed in (Premium) was again large, spacious and had a lounge area. There was plenty of room for Judith to do her hair and I am glad to say the plugs were nearby unlike other places we have stayed. British people will need adapters as the plug sockets are American style and the electricity is 110 volts.

A safe, ironing board/iron, kettle, coffee maker, television (American cable) bathroom accessories and air conditioning were all provided. Some people moaned that the soaps were in dispensers which seemed to annoy them and the only very slight gripe we had was the air-conditioning minimum was set at 20 degrees which meant cooling was a bit slower. I expect if we asked they might have made an adjustment as they were so helpful with everything else.

As I said earlier the food was generally very good for Caribbean standards and the drinks were all high quality, or at least they tasted so to me! Everything was substantial and I liked the idea of being given free drinks containers to put in whatever you like. They are very useful if you want a drink in your room or if you need to rehydrate yourself at the water and ice dispenser between the rooms. What amazed me is you could practical eat all day if you wanted to as the Barefoot Grill is open until late afternoon and this is followed by afternoon tea/scones/ sandwiches (which few ate) and finally hot snacks in the bar at sunset.

This is clearly a place where you will never get too hungry or thirsty.  The main ‘Tepee’ bar is probably where most people end up during the day and night. It is relaxed, open sided with comfortable seating which I hear is/has been updated. It is a place you can go to watch sunsets and talk to old and new friends. The staff there are wonderful and they manage it well. Sometimes one can be unfortunate as you end up being thrown together with other guests that you are less keen on.

I have been in the travel business for many years and have never been backward in offering criticism and suggestions but I must say I find coming up with anything pretty hard with Galley Bay. Searching my memory I have only come up with two slight negatives which are totally outweighed by the positive things they do:

Firstly, and something they could do, I think they need to provide a changing room/toilet nearer the pool. With the resort so spread out, people do not want to go back to their rooms and the only other cloakrooms are the other side of the bar next to the Sea grape restaurant. These are also too warm, too small and one does not want to wander wet through the bar.

My second point has really little to do with the resort or its management. It is the guests. We are all such a mixed bunch and sometimes we do not get on or relate to each other very well. Some get too drunk while others sit arms folded muttering about them. Some put towels on sun beds while other complain bitterly about them. Some like to shout and one even thought it was cool to play bluegrass music out loud by the pool while another debated (loudly again) which was the best pie and mash shop on Canvey Island. All fascinating stuff but you could see lips curling everywhere although nothing was said!

The guests here are a mixture of mainly British of a mature age, Americans  and Canadians and I guess the fun of it is that you certainly see life out there as different nationalities and classes get loosened up by alcohol. In the main it was fun but any resort in the tropics conveniently located between USA and Europe that provides free drinks will experience diplomatic ‘challenges’ on occasions and I think Galley Bay got maximum points on this.

So all in all it was a brilliant relaxing fun holiday at a very professional and well run resort and I would like to reserve my final comments for the staff and management. If truth were told we moved our holidays to the Grenadines because the people there are so damn nice. We felt Antigua, Barbados and even Tobago had been spoilt by mass tourism and the people had become jaded by what they had put up with from us tourists. Well I was wrong about the Galley Bay team and I openly admit it. I was privileged to meet such  nice and hard working group of people and I wish them success in the future. Well done.
Finally I would say that it might not be to everybody's taste, but if you want a minimum hassle, easy place to unwind it worked for us!