Exclusive, Inclusive Antigua

On this serene, upscale island, the term “all-inclusive” takes on new meaning.

If the term “all-inclusive” brings to mind images of long buffet lines, Vegas-style nighttime entertainment or loud pool games, you’re not alone. “There is a negative connotation,” says Andy Thesen, owner of Hermitage Bay in Antigua, chalking that negativity up to well-known budget and mid-market all-inclusive resort chains throughout the Caribbean. But in Antigua, he says, all-inclusive means something else entirely. “Almost all the five- and four-star hotels on the island are all-inclusive,” he explains. “It’s always struck me as a bit odd that there are so many all-inclusives on the island, but it’s just the way things were done in Antigua. But what’s interesting about the all-inclusive concept in the current climate is that these people can book for a 7-night stay and come and know how much they’re going to spend” instead of booking an EP property and being “not quite sure how much food and beverage you’ll owe at the end of the week.”

All across Antigua, he says, luxury all-inclusives are offering guaranteed package prices with very few add-on costs, all while maintaining high-end services like gourmet food and drink and luxury room amenities—the perfect combination for today’s luxury client.

Hermitage Bay At about two years old, Thesen’s Hermitage Bay is one of the newer resorts in Antigua, and also one of the smallest, comprised of only 25 individual cottages. “It’s quite small and we have a very secluded part of the island, so there’s a real sense of seclusion and peace,” he explains. Guests here will feel surrounded by nature without actually having to “rough it,” he says. “Everything is made of wood and the resort just kind of sits into the hillside. We built the hotel from scratch on a very beautiful bay, and we tried not to invade the land too much.”

The result: an ultra-private, high-end escape perfect for honey-mooners and other couples looking to leave the world behind. Eight beach cottage suites are set right on the bay, affording views and walk-out access to the serene, sandy crescent and turquoise sea. The remaining cottages are hillside suites, set higher up with their own spectacular views of the bay, offering plunge pools, sunbathing decks and the ultimate in privacy. Beach or hillside, each suite boasts its own verandah and outdoor shower, as well as high-end amenities like flat-screen TVs, DVD players, iPod docking stations and wireless Internet access.

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Hermitage Bay also breaks from the all-inclusive stereotype with its cuisine, which Thesen describes as “some of the best on the island, if not the best on the island.” The restaurant takes full advantage of the resort’s idyllic setting, set right on the beach and combining classic Caribbean dishes with European-style meals. In fact, Thesen says, dining here isn’t just a treat for guests—it’s also a strategy to separate Hermitage Bay from the stereotypical all-inclusive in the minds of clients. “We want to show people that it’s something different, to really emphasize the differences,” he says. “We want to ram that point home by showing that we have French champagne on the beverage menu. It’s not some cheap Chilean sparkling wine, it’s proper stuff.”

And that’s not the only way the resort is setting itself apart. Hermitage Bay just completed its brand-new spa, and offers a complimentary 30-minute massage to all guests staying three nights or more. And plans for another 10 cottage suites are on the horizon as well, Thesen says, promising to “retain the spacious feel of the place.” Rates at Hermitage Bay start at $700 per suite per night dbl.

Elite Island Resorts For Steve Heydt, president of Elite Island Resorts, the difference between Antigua’s all-inclusives and all-inclusives throughout the rest of the Caribbean is a matter of activity. In better-known all-inclusive destinations like Jamaica, he says, “it’s still a heavily active vacation…. They tend to make the guests get together and go play.” Which is fine if you’re looking for an energetic, social getaway. But guests who want to take it easy and relax, Heydt says, might have a better experience at one of Elite Island Resorts’ properties in Antigua. “Our all-inclusive means that you do what you want when you want, and everything’s always included. It’s much more individual. They can go play volleyball, but we’re not going to walk around trying to get people to play.”