She had her at hello.
The minute my daughter stepped into the lobby of the Carlisle Bay resort and saw her friend from hip-hop class in the city standing before her, she was a goner…my 6-year old had found someone infinitely more interesting to hang out with than her family. It was with a mixture of relief and forlorn that I realized the days of my daughter grabbing my tunic sleeves on vacation were over (I still have my 3 year old to perform this function though!). Over the next days, the duo grew to a tight knit pack of brits and nyers running around this intimate resort and huddling in each other’s suites with important agendas. I think they even had concocted a grand (but well-intentioned) plan to write and sell books on the beach with proceeds to a charity but then got too caught up frolicking on the beach and pool to execute the plan. Yes… I am coming to a point…really!
The point is this: One of the great features of Carlisle Bay, with its 82 suites, is its compact spread. Even though the resort wasn’t conceived as a family resort, the layout of the beach, suites, and public areas make it ideal for kids to run around. And that they do. Combine this with a ”laid-back but hip” vibe and and you have a winner.
Carlisle Bay also has the benefit of having diversity on its side. Being a british run hotel on a former british island with direct flights from London, there are quite a few Brits. And, that is a good thing when you are looking to get away from the Manhattan scene. A bit more civilised and a little less glitz and attitude. However, word is quickly spreading on this place among the city streets so don’t be surprised if you find yourselves next holiday soaking in the sun next to your neighbor down the hall (or street).
We chose to return to Carlisle Bay in Antigua for the winter holiday (see my previous review of Carlisle Bay here) for the reasons above and the fact that it is a direct flight and the price was not outrageous like some of the other resorts during the Christmas holidays (and the number of minimum nights was relaxed). For my husband, the tennis courts were among the best he has seen in the Caribbean. And the kids club is very good for children under seven years of age. The screening room (next to the pool), which runs kids movies during the day, is a great diversion for the kids but an unknown moldy smell the last time we were there kept many at bay.
HOWEVER, for those seeking a Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton type of experience, this is not the place for you. Service is inconsistent (and in some cases, like at the pool, non-existent) and you don’t get that in-your-face ”pampered” experience — BUT the crowd here (60% brits, 40% NYers and Canadians) isn’t looking for that. They are looking for convenience and relaxation in a beautiful setting (and it’s a more relaxed crowd in general – no need to dress up here). The new GM, Jonathan Reynolds, is also British (the last GM went over to the new Jumby Bay) and there were some staff on loan from the One Aldwych (a sister property in London) – they were the best, particularly Roberto, the bartender.
Our biggest complaint was the lack of service at the pool. It didn’t exist. You had to go to the bar to order your food or request towels on the lounge chairs to be changed from the previous guests. I have every confidence after meeting the GM, who is very hands-on, that kinks will be worked out. He seemed very interested in getting customer feedback and testing what works and does not — a $50 lunch time tapas fiesta outside on the beach was a thumbs up. In contrast, the $250 5-course New Years eve dinner was over priced, too long and average.
Tip 1: We booked rather late so we were unable to get a downstairs suite which is a huge difference, especially with kids. If you are going to come here, make sure to get a first floor suite – you literally open the doors of your suite to a crescent beach with a really calm and swimmable ocean. Kids go back and forth all day to different rooms – making it feel a bit like a bungalow colony (in a good way). If you are upstairs, you lose this ability and its just a completely different experience. The bottom suites do sell out quickly (many families we met were booking for next holiday to get the same suites).
Tip 2: Carlisle Bay has what it calls a complimentary “children’s tea hour” at the pool from 5 – 6 each day. This is really a children’s buffet (food is inconsistent though – some days good and some days bad) and almost everyone came here each day to feed their kids. You can request something special if there is nothing appealing – and it is all free.
We didn’t venture out much outside the property during our stay – we were content to stay put. Given the remote location of the hotel on the island, not many restaurants are close by. We went to OJs, a beach-side casual restaurant (lots of mosquitos so beware) one night but otherwise either ate at the resort restaurants or ordered in our room. The food at the two on-site restaurants, Indigo on the Beach and East, is pretty good but could use more daily variety as it got staid after a few days. Other guests mention Abracadabra, an Italian restaurant a 20-minute drive away, as being above average (for an island serving Italian food!).
Last Word: Simply, Carlisle Bay couldn’t be more ideal for families with kids looking for a laid-back but high-end resort to park themselves for a holiday break. That is why you will see so many repeat guests here year after year.