Blue Waters, like all tourist attractions on Antigua, is currently closed during the coronavirus pandemic. We were lucky enough to arrive just before the country had any confirmed cases.
It’s a long flight from London to Antigua at the best of times but with a strong headwind it felt like forever.
Antigua was not on our travel radar at all until Pork Belly won a competition with LetsGo2. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of getting an email that says ‘You’re a Winner’ even though you spend the next few hours pinching yourself in disbelief.
For our prize of a week’s stay we were given plenty of choices of departure dates but for one reason or another had to postpone it til early 2020.
The year that will go down in history.
As our scheduled date rolled ever closer we watched, waited and worried, kept ourselves fit and healthy and crossed everything.
The day we flew infection numbers in the UK were still comparatively low and Antigua hadn’t yet seen a single case.
Checking in at Gatwick was a breeze – no queues, plenty of smiling staff, loads of hand wash.
But no-one could control the weather.
Delays to other flights meant by the time we touched down at VC Bird International airport we were mingling with passengers from a second trans-Atlantic flight and the queue for immigration snaked in ever tighter loops round and round the arrivals hall. After more than an hour we were finally through with a nod and heading for the greeting committee.
Too late for the scheduled shuttle bus, our smiling hostess told us not to worry and swiftly negotiated a taxi for us and another travel-weary family.
Hot, tired and with the sun setting on what we were sure was a beautiful view we headed off to our hotel, with our driver giving us an enthusastic potted history of the island. We could barely do more than ‘Oh’ and ‘Ah in reply and I envied the toddler sharing our ride who simply dropped off to sleep in her daddy’s lap.
Google maps suggested it was a brief, 15 minute drive but with the looming darkness and the vicious speed bumps that Antigua uses as its main method of traffic calming, it took a good 45 minutes before we were decanted, dishevelled and disorientated into the lobby of Blue Waters Resort.
From that moment on all our troubles and any figurative bumps in the road were smoothed away and a glorious, shining, perfectly timed week of rest and relaxation began.
First a welcoming face invited us to sit and rest; no need to stand at reception, the check-in formalities were all taken care of while we relaxed in deep armchairs with cool facecloths to freshen up and sipping a welcome mocktail.
Within minutes all was ready, our bags being trundled round to our room. It was too dark by now to appreciate the view from the balcony but we stood for a moment breathing in the cool night air, listening to the rustles and sussurrations of nesting birds in the bushes and the gentle lapping of waves on the sandy shore below.
We were officially in paradise.
The Blue Waters Resort and Spa, justifiably one of the top resorts on the island, is the perfect base to enjoy its beauty.
Not all resorts on Antigua are created equal. On our road trip we saw plenty of alternatives. Some low budget, clean but basic. Others were concrete monstrosities, surrounded by security fencing and bearing more than a passing resemblance to Westworld. We could easily imagine bumping into Yul Brynner (or Ed Harris for those more familiar with the TV remake) and the occasional palm tree didn’t make up for the overall lack of character.
Not so at Blue Waters. Established in 1960, it’s developed slowly and sensitively, hugging the curve of Soldiers Bay and blending in with its surroundings. It was once a sugar plantation and the old mill still stands in the grounds, carefully preserving local history.
The view as you enter through the lobby – a fact we didn’t appreciate until the next day – is spectacular; the tranquil blue waters framed by a soaring arch. The Pelican Bar makes the most of this scenery and provides a restful but sociable area for an evening drink or a quiet place to lounge during the day.
And lounge you will.
In fact tearing yourself away to explore the rest of the island is a wrench, but Pork Belly’s idea of a holiday doesn’t include sunbathing so we opted to hire a car for a few days. That meant we could head back to the resort anytime we felt the need to chill.
So what’s it like to stay at Blue Waters Hotel and Spa, Antigua?
Our Deluxe Beachfront room had a comfortable king-sized bed, full air-conditioning, well appointed bathroom with shower and roll top bath, a well stocked mini-bar and TV. Waking each morning and stepping out onto the balcony to watch the parade of pelicans skimming the waters of the bay was something that could never pall.
Accommodation ranges from double rooms, through family suites and penthouses to secluded villas, all with their own balcony and sea view.
Complimentary Wi-Fi is included and the signal’s adequate for staying in touch on social media, though we decanted every evening to the lobby where reception was strong enough to do our website work. Not exactly a hardship with cocktails and snacks on hand!
Our prize was for a Bed and Breakfast deal, although we could easily have upgraded to all-inclusive if we wanted. We didn’t for two reasons:
- We wanted to strike out on several days to explore.
- We simply can’t eat that much food in one day!
Breakfast was buffet serve-yourself-style with enough choice to suit everyone’s tastes from simple cereal and toast through to a full cooked option.
The fresh fruit was everything you expect from a Caribbean island – pitch-perfect ripeness with plenty of variety on a daily basis. The sweetest pineapples we’ve ever tasted and enough mango, papaya and melon to feed an army.
So stuffed to the gunwales with that it was impossible to even THINK about lunch. Instead we’d reserve a table at one of the restaurants for an early evening meal.
Now here’s where it gets a bit complicated. If you’re eating at the resort you will have a choice of several locations, but not all are open every day. You do need to decide early on where you will go and reserve your place. We never had a problem getting the time we wanted because the resort was far from full, but in high season your options may be more limited. The restaurants are open to non-residents so you may be sharing with a family party, wedding celebration or birthday. But that just adds to the atmosphere.
- The Cove Restaurant offers Caribbean and French cuisine with flair, evenings only.
- Bartley’s is also only evening fare, with an Asian-inspired menu.
- Carolyn’s poolside cocktail bar serves lunchtime snacks of salads and flatbreads.
- The Palm Restaurant is the main one, with al fresco dining for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and evening meal
The menu changes at each outlet every day but vegetarians like me have to select meals in advance. The food is then prepared and served at whichever restaurant your party is dining at. That takes away the spontaneity but there was plenty of choice. It took me a week to get through all the options and I only returned to a favourite dish, the warm cauliflower salad, on our last night.
Pork Belly, with no such restrictions, had the whole gamut of choices from spicy BBQ to delicately flavoured fish. And desserts so good he sometimes had two!
Of course you can’t be on a Caribbean island without toasting the sunset with a cocktail. Wingrove, the laidback master mixologist at the poolside bar, was always shaker-ready. Need I say more?
With all that food you feel you really should work it off somehow. The beach is perfect for splashing about. It’s sheltered, gently shelving and safe for families with a couple of pontoons to sunbathe on. I headed for one, hauled myself up and prepared to soak up the rays. Not such a good idea for someone as prone to seasickness as I am! I swiftly decanted and headed back to my sun lounger.
There are several pools, none designed for Olympic efforts but all with sparkling clean water, showers, and a supply of snuggly soft beach towels. The adults pool is best for serious length swimming, but the others have stunning views and are great for a gentle wallow.
For the more active Blue Waters offers a few, non motorised sports, all free of charge. After brief instruction you can take out a kayak, small catamaran or pedalo.
There’s a fully equipped gym, which we kept promising ourselves we’d use but never quite got around to, and a luxury spa with treatments from massages to facials.
The resort also organises yoga, pilates and aquarobics sessions which, if we hadn’t been out most days exploring the island, I would have done. Honest.
And then there’s the gardens… all 17 acres of ’em.
For us this was the key feature of Blue Waters and one we’d return for time and time again. Carefully nurtured by a dedicated team of groundstaff, under the careful eye of Head Gardener John, they are a mass of blooms from plants carefully selected to give a blaze of colour all year round.
John hosts a free tour of the garden several times a week and is such a fount of knowledge, enthusiasm and entertainment that guests repeatedly join his morning walks during their stay. Fragrant frangipani, rare palms, beautiful bougainvillea, hibiscus and flame trees cover the area. Butterflies, bees and birds flock to the flowers, especially the tiny hummingbirds that flit from blossom to blossom.
And it’s not all decorative either. The gardens provide herbs, small vegetables and bananas for the kitchens.
All are carefully tended to encourage growth, defeat pests and enhance the views. John’s pride and excitement in sharing this beauty makes the tour pure joy.
We love to chat and everyone we met was welcoming, friendly and looked pretty happy in their work. Only once did a poor, tired looking chef after what I assume was a long shift, greet me with a less-than-enthusiastic ‘Hello, how are you?’ Receptionists and housekeeping staff were a mine of local information about what to see and do on Antigua.
And here’s where it got very strange. In conversation with one of the team it turned out her daughter had studied at a college not far from where we live. The tutor who’d helped set her feet on her future career path turned out to be…… our long-time friend and neighbour!
Antiguan rum was dispatched home with us and her success toasted from half way around the world.
Six degrees of separation anyone?
How much does Blue Waters cost?
The current worldwide pandemic is hitting countries that rely on tourism very hard. It’s likely, when the island begins to open up, there will be special offers to tempt travellers back.
Our experience early in 2020 was that the resort was among one of the more expensive on the island but the all-inclusive deals, with drinks as well as food, were good value.
As prize winners we were spared the costs of accommodation but prices for March 2021 are currently around $540US for 7 nights in a Beachfront Deluxe room.
In a week our food and drink bill at the resort came to just under $520US. We didn’t go crazy but we didn’t stint either.
So yes, it’s in the holiday-of-a-lifetime luxury bracket. But that’s not surprising as the hotel has won a World Travel Award every year since 2014.
So would we save up and go again if we can get there?