Despite consumer belt-tightening and APD, we're still flocking to this sunny island. Emily Ashwell looks at the latest developments.
Anyone visiting Antigua this year will notice a dramatic change the minute they step off the aircraft; however, the rebuilding of the airport is just the start of many revamps on the island.
Visitor numbers are up 11% year on year – particularly impressive in the light of the credit crunch and Air Passenger Duty – and this year’s tourists will find plenty of improvements on the island.
The big news is the $45 million VC Bird International Airport. It’s going to have 26 check-in desks, a food court, new bars and cafes and retail stores. The current building is too small to cope with modern traffic numbers, so the new building will be a dramatic improvement. It is due for completion in 2013.
This month British Airways will start operating flights from Gatwick to Antigua seven days a week, up from six.
Antigua’s newest property is Keyonna Beach, a 12-room boutique that opened at the end of last year. The all-inclusive hotel on Turner’s Beach is simply designed, with couples in mind. Rooms have four-poster beds and verandas. The beach restaurant’s menu changes daily, but it always serves freshly caught fish and vegetables from the local farmers’ market. The hotel has Wi-Fi throughout, but generally it’s a place to kick back and relax.
If guests walk along the beach they will come to other hotels and restaurants and it’s a five-minute drive to a golf course, supermarket and other facilities at Jolly Harbour Marina. Rates are all-inclusive and include breakfast, an à la carte lunch and dinner, and wines and cocktails by the glass. Bottles of wine and champagne are extra.
At Sandals Grande Antigua eight Rondovals – or round villas – seven beachfront and one garden – have just been totally renovated. The new rooms have bigger bathrooms with rain showers, flatscreen TVs and a desk.
Uber-luxury Carlisle Bay, on the south coast, has also added some touches that will appeal to the family market. There’s a poolside pizza oven, new Italian ice cream machine, and the family rooms have been revamped.
Blue Waters is a consistent favourite with the luxury UK sector. The hotel has a refurbished cliff-top spa with four treatment rooms using Elemis products. It’s on the site of the Cove Restaurant, which is now moving to the water’s edge. The Cove will feature a bigger bar area.
St James’s Club is a family-favourite and it has recently launched Little Explorers packs for children, which include an activity booklet, magnifying glass, binoculars, whistle, water bottle and sun hat. It will also be hosting storytelling events in conjunction with Puffin and Virgin Holidays during June half-term and the summer school holidays.
All-inclusive resort Curtain Bluff is the home to Antigua Tennis Week, which runs from May 5 to May 12, and this year will offer training from tennis pros, free court time and the chance to participate in tournaments. If they get bored of tennis, guests can try scuba diving, deep-sea fishing and reef snorkelling.
Private island resort Jumby Bay is offering Sea-to-Table dinners, where guests can enjoy a day-long fishing trip with a professional crew, and on their return chefs will cook the day’s catch – likely to include mahi mahi, marlin, tuna or king fish – to their specifications in the open kitchen.
THINGS TO DO
While Antigua is famous for its 365 beaches – one for every day of the year – there’s plenty more to do on the island if you’ve had enough of the beach. Hiring a catamaran or zooming through the trees on a rainforest zip wire are two of the most popular holiday excursions. There’s the historic Nelson’s Dockyard and Shirley Heights on a Sunday is the ultimate night out. Many tourists head to Heritage Quay in St John’s for shopping.
Wadadli Animal Nature Park has been open for a couple of years, but it reopened in September after visitor areas were upgraded. It sits in 10 acres of forest teeming including with iguanas, monkeys and parrots. The mini-safari tour is a perfect day out for families.
Over at The Verandah Resort & Spa, there’s a new mini golf course, which goes through waterfalls and encounters lagoons. It’s been designed for family fun, although visitors who already play golf will still find it a bit of a challenge.
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