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

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