Exclusive, Inclusive Antigua

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Like Thesen, Heydt says that the economy is making Antigua’s all-inclusive vacations even more appealing to upscale travelers. “In this economy, people like me who would typically take a certain type of vacation may come down a little bit. I’m not going to go to that five-star resort but maybe I would like The Verandah Resort and Spa,” he says.

The Verandah is Elite Island Resorts’ newest property, a family-friendly resort with 200 suites, each with master bedrooms with king-size beds, spacious living room areas and pull-out sleeping arrangements for kids. One of The Verandah’s biggest selling points is its kids’ club, Heydt says, one of the largest in the Caribbean, complete with a wading pool and jungle gyms. “It really is something that a family can feel confident about,” he says. Families here can also choose from three different restaurants: the family-friendly Buccaneer, the beachside, open-air Sea Breeze and gourmet Nicole’s. Rates start at $620 per room per night, dbl, and children stay free.

Elite Island Resorts’ most upscale property, however, is Galley Bay, a more intimate resort designed with honeymooners in mind. “The accommodations are very unique,” Heydt describes, “because some people like the Tahitian concept of our cottages with plunge pools, the sort of Gauguin-style cottage you would have found in Tahiti at one time, facing a bird sanctuary and a beautiful little pond.” Other rooms at Galley Bay, he says, “are the new rooms, all premium beachfront suites, built in 2008.” Those outstanding accommodations are paired with outstanding cuisine, including three different dining venues and what Heydt calls, “the most extensive wine list for its size and location in the Caribbean—and that list is being upgraded even further. Right now we have no wine below an 89 on Wine Spectator’s charts.” Rates start at $965 per room per night dbl.

But most exciting for 2009, Heydt says, is St. James’s Club and Village, another beachfront all-inclusive that’s set to open a resort-within-a-resort concept in March. The new, all-suite, 42-room Royal St. James’s Club will be “a separate hotel within the hotel,” Heydt describes. “It’s situated on the water, and all the rooms have sunken living rooms and you sleep above that looking out over your terrace onto the water.” Guests here will have their own separate check-in and pool and concierge area, as well as access to St. James’s Club and Village’s existing amenities like a new dive center, four restaurants and a pristine beachfront. Rates at St. James’s Club start at $625 per room per night dbl.

Jumby Bay One of Antigua’s most upscale properties, Jumby Bay, A Rosewood Resort, is also an all-inclusive—in fact, it pretty much has to be an all-inclusive, says director of sales and marketing, MaryAnne DeMatteo Diamante. “At Jumby Bay, we’re inclusive just by nature of us being on a private island,” she explains. “So it doesn’t make sense for us to be EP because you check everything else on the dock.” And the separation of a private island isn’t the only difference between Jumby Bay and the stereotypical all-inclusive. “For us, inclusive doesn’t mean voluminous buffets. It’s proper a la carte dining for breakfast, lunch and dinner, afternoon tea, and if you’re on the beach you can have as many drinks as you want,” she says. “It’s more about the experience, with no signing checks or looking at receipts.”

As a private island with residences, Diamante says, Jumby Bay is a high-end product that’s every bit as comfortable as it is classy. “The primary concept for the resort is private owners’ statehomes,” she explains. “Guests in the resort are made to feel like guests staying at your home—and if they were staying at your home, they wouldn’t be paying bills every night for dinner.” The small island atmosphere also allows guests “to interact with other guests more freely. There’s no awkwardness like, ‘Oh, I like these people but now we have to go buy them drinks,’” she continues. “There’s a group of honeymooners who met at Jumby Bay three years ago, and they’ve been back every year since. The inclusiveness actually brought them together and now it’s their annual event every year.”

Of course, it’s not just the inclusiveness—it’s also luxury amenities like plunge pools and outdoor bathtubs in Jumby Bay’s upscale suites. The resort’s freshwater pool is lined with cushy cabanas; the spa offers a host of beauty and massage services; private dinners in-suite or on the beach are just a concierge call away. “Because we’re on a private island, people associate our inclusiveness as a club-like environment. We’ve never had a problem where people didn’t consider us five-star,” Diamante says. “All our travel professionals know how to sell Jumby Bay’s inclusiveness: always with that luxury connotation.” Villa rates at Jumby Bay start at $2,500 per night for a 2-bedroom villa with double occupancy per bedroom.