DATE OF TRAVEL: DECEMBER 11 - 18, 2010
As I write this review, my goal is simple. It's to provide future travelers to the Sandals Grande Antigua Resort with a highly reliable and trustworthy analysis of what I would expect you to experience during your stay. I'll try to cover as much as I can.
ARRIVAL AND TRANSFER TO RESORT
You arrive at V.C. Bird International Airport, not far from Saint John's, the capital city. You exit the plane onto the tarmac and walk into the customs area. Be sure you've completed your customs form prior to landing - it will make life easier for you. Customs is a breeze once you make it to the counter. There are individuals working in the airport (easily identifiable by their yellow shirts) in the baggage claim area. They will help you with your luggage, but be prepared to tip them $5 to $10. We did not utilize their services, nor do I think it is necessary for you, unless you have more luggage than you can handle on your own. The ride to the resort (for us) was by van. Be prepared, the roads are quite bumpy. In contrast to Americans, Antiguans drive on the opposite side of the road. It's about 15 minutes from the airport to the resort. Enjoy the ride and take in the local scenery.
ARRIVAL AT RESORT
I was very pleased with our arrival at the resort. We were greeted with champagne, a cool towel, and a small plate of hor d'oeuvres. We had reserved a butler-serviced room, and within a few minutes our butler (Sharene) arrived and escorted us to our room. Once in the room, we were provided with a basic overview of the property and questions we had were answered (such as where the restaurants were located, how dinner reservations were handled, etc.). We were very pleased with the arrival process.
We were upgraded from the Mediterranean One Bedroom Penthouse Suite to the Grande Amalfi Penthouse One Bedroom Suite on the Mediterranean side of the resort. That placed us on the top floor (7th) in the building. The room itself was amazing. It had a large living space with wonderful furnishings, a large king sized bed, beautiful tile and stone work in the bathroom, and a very large balcony with chairs and lounges, and a table. The in-room bar was stocked daily with beer, fruit juice, soda, and water. We were on our wedding/honeymoon and at our request, had cold champagne waiting for us every day. We also enjoyed fruit, cheese and cracker plates waiting on us most afternoons, which was nice.
The resort is located in beautiful Dickenson Bay. As you may have read from other reviews, the beach itself is rather narrow, but is beautiful. The sand is white, the sea is an amazing blue and green, and puffy clouds pace across the sky. Sunsets are absolutely stunning. You can travel to Shirley Heights to view the sunset, but in my opinion, the sunsets are wonderful right at home on the resort. While the beach is beautiful, there is one aspect of the beach that is my biggest complaint. It's not the actual beach itself (the beach is beautiful) - it's the vendors. Here is my experience. Within my first 5 minutes walking on the beach in front of the hotel (as the sun was setting), I was approached by the "Beach Doctor" offering to sell me drugs. After my soon-to-be-wife and I sat down to watch our first sunset after declining the "Beach Doctor", I was approached by someone wanting me to purchase a tour. For the rest of our stay, the vendors were a thorn in our sides that made it so that we didn't really want to even go out on the beach. Sometimes a simple "no thank you" was sufficient, but other times, it required a more extensive exchange. Further, in the evenings, specifically near the Caribbean Bar (next to the Bayside Restaurant), a few locals will stand at the resort fence/wall, asking you to pass them beer, food, etc. I've been to many beaches and have never seen something like this, and it was quite disturbing. Security does nothing to "move them along" either. It was disappointing that with all the money I spent to come to Antigua, I couldn't enjoy an uninterrupted time with my spouse on the beach. So (in conclusion), after this lengthy rambling (after all, this was one of my only compliants about the resort), my advice to you is to enjoy the beach early in the day when the vendors are not as frequent or aggressive, or be prepared to be hassled in the evenings if you walk along the beach or relax at the Caribbean bar after dark. Personally, we never felt unsafe, so I don't want to deter you from taking advantage of the property, but it was certainly a great annoyance (in our opinion), as we also saw a number of other guests disgusted by such persistence in the evenings. Guests shook their heads "no" but they remain anyway. The vendors never set foot within the Sandals physical (fence) boundary as far as we could tell.
DINING AT THE RESORT - BREAKFAST
You have two options for breakfast at the resort (restaurants, that is). You can have breakfast at the Bayside Restaurant (Caribbean Grove) and Mario's (Mediterranaean Village). We stayed on the Mediterranean side of the resort, but I opted to have breakfast at Bayside most mornings. It's located right on the beach, it's peaceful in the morning, and the food, although a buffet, is pretty good. Yes, there are birds (and even a few resort cats) - sometimes in the actual open air restaurant - but neither was a bother to us. I actually quite enjoyed that.
DINING AT THE RESORT - LUNCH
There are several options for lunch at the resort, but I'll just mention a few that we did while there. Barefoot by the Sea is a great option for lunch. You're (as the name suggests) in an open air restaurant (sand floor) on the beach at the water's edge. I loved the cheeseburger, and the chicken baguette. My spouse enjoyed the antiguan barbeque chicken. Another option is Bella Napoli Pizzeria, located next to Mario's. It was wonderful. We typically had our pizza within 10 minutes (they make them fresh to order) and every single time it was excellent. If you have butler service, you can have the butler bring your lunch to the pool or to the beach. We didn't do that, because we enjoyed the restaurants themselves, but it's an option for you. Apparently you can also grab sandwiches from the Courtyard Bistro. Just check your daily "newspaper" in your room to see what options are available to you.
DINING AT THE RESORT - DINNER
There are lots of options for dinner dining. Just be prepared, not all of the restaurants are open for business every single night. Most are closed for one or two days during the week, so if you want to try them all, just schedule your dinner reservations accordingly.
My favorite dinner restaurant was Eleanor's. It is next to Bayside, and in my opinion, that's where we received the best service and some of the better food. I had surf-and-turf, and my spouse had lobster. Everything was wonderful. I felt a little uncomfortable when I felt pressured to purchase a better quality wine, but a simple no thanks was sufficient. The coconut shrimp (appetizer) are excellent.
Bayside is open for dinner most nights. During our stay, that is where most of the themed dinners were held (for example, Antiguan Barbeque Night; Steak Night, etc.). It's sort of the "Golden Corral" at the resort. They typically have a salad bar, dessert bar, and then you order your entree a la carte. The Antiguan Barbeque was excellent - if they make it available to you during your stay, I do recommend it. You can probably skip steak night.
We dined at OK Corral on our final evening at the resort. We both had fajitas and they were good. It's a smaller restaurant on the second floor (above Bayside). The service was a bit slow and they appeared to be disorganized that evening, but it didn't bother us - we just enjoyed spending time with each other and enjoying the wonderful evening weather.
This is just my opinion, but my biggest disappointment in dining experiences was at Kimono's. We were gathered together with four other couples and seated as a group. That's no problem; in fact, we were able to meet other vacationers which was nice. It was however, awkward, as we were sort of left to ourselves in a quiet room until the chef arrived. The most annoying part of the experience wasn't the food, it was the photographer. She basically forced each couple to pose four or five times in different positions for photos as we went around the table. No offense, but I came to eat dinner, not model for photographs. The food was just okay - I enjoyed the shrimp and the chicken. I wasn't too excited about the salmon or the steak. Every experience is what you make of it, and we gave it our best effort (I felt as though I was leading our dinner conversations around the table), but it was just a bit too awkward. If you can get around that, you'll fine. Typically you expect a lot of friendly interaction with your hibachi chef, but this gentleman was rather quiet. Enjoy yourself.
We had dinner at Mario's the first night we were at the resort. No reservations are necessary. I had risotto with seafood and it was just okay. They do have a nice antipasti bar with lots of choices, so check that out. The one thing about Mario's I highly recommend (and apparently it's sort of a resort secret) is to order the chocolate molten lava cake. It is excellent, and you'll find yourself skipping dessert in other restaurants just to swing by Mario's for the lava cake.
This is the English pub. We only stopped in for drinks, but it was a really neat atmosphere. A few British couples we spoke with said it was as authentic a pub as they would find back home. You can get Guinness in a bottle, or Red Stripe beer from the bar. The food menu looked pretty good (I wanted to try the Cottage Pie but never got around to it), and they are open from 5 p.m. until 2 a.m., so it's a great place to hit later in the evening. They also have billiard tables, so you can enjoy those as well. Andy, one of the bartenders, was very friendly.
I highly recommend taking advantage of one of the private dining experiences. You can reserve one through your butler or through the concierge. Be advised, it is an extra charge ($170 for dinner on the beach, or $200 for the "twilight" service in a large private gazebo on the beach). We were married at the resort and had the "twilight" dinner service that evening - excellent white glove service from our server, and the food was the absolute best we had while at the resort. I gave my "two thumbs up" to the chef. Again, it is at an extra charge (so in a distant sense, I felt I was paying for something I could get in one of the restaurants for free), but we considered that the fee was primarily for the atmosphere and the very friendly, attentive service.
We stayed in the Mediterranean side of the resort in a butler category room. Our butlers, Sharene and Dionne, were more than happy to deliver meals to our room (or wherever we were located around the resort). I do want to make a point - on the Sandals website it says that you can order off of any restaurant menu, but upon arrival, we were told that we could order only from the choices that appear in the menu in your room. We didn't push, but I imagine you probably could request any dish you wanted from any of the restaurants and would get it, but we never really needed it.
I do want to take a moment to speak to the butler service. This is the first time I've had a butler, and it was a great experience. You are provided with a cell phone, and anytime you need to reach your butler, you simply call. They will check in with you frequently as well to see if there is anything that you need. Butlers make dinner reservations for you, they can reserve chairs for you at the pool (which is a great service to have when the resort is full, or if you aren't much of a morning person), they'll stock a cooler with ice and your favorite drinks for when you're out on the beach (we didn't use this, but it's available to you), they ensure your comfort, answer any questions you have, help you pack/unpack, provide you with an orientation of the resort, etc. Given that we were married during our stay at the resort, our butlers (Sharene and Dionne) went above and beyond by decorating our room on two separate nights with flowers, drawing a bubble bath prior to our arrival back at the room, provided ice cold champagne, lit candles, and had music playing for us. We were very touched by all of their efforts. When we departed from the resort, Sharene came out and waved goodbye to us, which was nice also.
DRINKS AT THE RESORT
Each day there is a "cocktail of the day" that is served at the larger bars around the resort. They are very tasty and make you feel just as tropical as the drinks! The bartenders are very friendly. Rolan, at the Mediterranean swim-up bar, became a great friend during our stay. So, all of your cocktails and top-shelf liquors are available at the bars, so enjoy! My second largest compliant (only because I'm a beer junkie) is that the beer choices were bad. At least I helped to support the two local breweries (Carib Lager - Trinidad, and Wadadli - the Antiguan beer). In my mind, if this resort provided a few better brands of beer, say Corona, Heineken, or - even Budweiser, I would have been a lot happier. (You can buy Corona by the bottle in the gift shop, but who wants to do that at an all-inclusive resort?) As far as wine goes, you have basic varieties of the Beringer Estates collection. I suggest the Cabernet Sauvignon - it went well with the steaks.
Originally, we had booked several tours, but in the end, we canceled all but one. Based on other reviews, we booked the circumnavigation tour around the island. It was a 60-mile, 6-hour, cruise in a large "Wadadli Cat" catamaran. We stopped off at Green Island and snorkeled (which was awesome), had a great lunch, and then cruised through Nelson's Dockyard, eventually arriving back at the resort. If you're at the resort for more than a week, you may want to consider more than one tour, but to be honest, I was completely fine spending entire days at the pool, relaxing, listening to music, and taking a dip in the water. I advise you against purchasing any tours from the beach vendors.
We visited the Red Lane Spa the day before we were married (after our trip into Saint John's to the Ministry of Legal Affairs for our wedding license). We had a couples massage, which was wonderful. I left feeling very relaxed. My spouse went another time to have her nails done, and they also assisted in doing her hair for our wedding. Excellent service.
If you're planning to get married at Sandals, as we did, you'll be very pleased with the level of service that you receive from the wedding coordinators and their staff. In one hour, we were able to plan every aspect of our wedding, from a sand ceremony, to our songs, to the kind of cake, to the location. Unfortunately (as you are in the Caribbean) it rained during our wedding day, so we had to move the ceremony from our desired gazebo location in the Caribbean Grove to the ballroom inside the Mediterranean Village. It was (for a moment) disappointing for me, but they did a stellar job and the officiant was excellent (her name is Janet Francis, a marriage officer in Antigua and Barbuda). After our ceremony, the rain had ended, so we were still able to go all over the resort taking photos that we desired. We arrived at the resort on Saturday and were married on Tuesday. As others have mentioned, you will have to go into Saint John's to apply for a marriage license, but this is arranged by the resort and only takes about 2 hours total. Ladies are advised to dress a bit more conservative when traveling to the Ministry of Legal Affairs in Saint Johns. A few suggestions if you're getting married: select a gazebo, gardens, or ballroom for your ceremony. Avoid the beach - it's not as private as you would like to think, for your ceremony. Certainly take photos with your photographer on the beach afterwards, as they make for beautiful photos. Relax, and enjoy being pampered.
The temperatures varied, from the mid 70s in the evenings to mid 80s in the daytime. It's rather humid, as you might expect. I brought 98% DEET with me, but never needed it. My spouse was bitten a few times by mosquitos, but they left me alone. The staff "fog" the property each evening to help get rid of the pests. They didn't bother me at all.
I asked for a few items to be laundered. They were returned in 48 hours. I didn't realize it until I got home, but they never returned a pair of pants I asked them to clean. Prices are reasonable.
Okay, so that's my full analysis of the Sandals Antigua Resort and Spa.
I'm not sure if there is functionality to ask me questions through this website, but please feel free and I will help in any way possible. The bottom line is that attitude is everything. It's a great resort, and you'll have a great time. Just be mindful of some of the issues I expressed above and you'll be just fine.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- •A European Hotel in the Six-Star, all-suite Mediterranean Village •Exotic Rondoval with private plunge pool and butler service •1,400 square foot Mediterranean villa with private plunge pool and butler service•Houses the East Caribbean's largest pool (1 of 6) •Offers 9 dining options and 8 bars including an English pub •Voted "World's Most Romantic Resort" 14 years in a row ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Sandals Grande Antigua Resort And Spa
- Sandals Grande Antigua Hotel St. John`s
- Sandals Antigua
- Hotel Sandals Grande Antigua
- Sandals Grand Antigua
- Antigua Sandals
- Sandals Grande Antigua Resort & Spa Saint John Parish