Warming up with hot coffee and hot chile on a chilly day in Manhattan, Rob Sherman was not thrilled with the weather, but he was in a good mood nonetheless. In October, the managing director of Antigua and Barbuda’s Curtain Bluff, that high-end, 72-suite Caribbean classic, raised its commission rate to 15 percent, and business has been booming. Is the high occupancy rate because of the commission, the temporary closing of upmarket resorts on a few hurricane-hit islands, or the completion of a two-year renovation? Hard to say, because Curtain Bluff has always had exceptional occupancy rates. It is clear, though, that this family-owned and operated all-inclusive is offering an even better experience than before,for both travelers and the retail travel agents who book them. Here are some takeaways from our lunch date:
- We talked about how, on my two visits to Curtain Bluff, I met guests with good positions in the financial world and other businesses. Many—maybe even most—told me they were repeat visitors, often on multi-generational vacations. Sherman confirmed my view of the clientele.
- A minor point, but it meshes with this view: In addition to having a superb tennis program, Curtain Bluff offers squash. When Sherman challenged me to name another resort in the Caribbean with a real squash facility, I couldn’t think of a single one.
- “Our guests could go to fancier places. They could go anywhere,” he said, “but we’re authentic. We have great food, a great location, and a beautifully renovated resort, but people come here because of the staff.” He reminded me that many of the employees live in homes next door to the resort, have worked at Curtain Bluff for decades, and have developed relationships with the guests. While other resorts funnel more and more of their services through technological gadgets, “I know that people want to be touched,” declared Sherman, who has developed real friendships with many of the guests. “I’m at the resort breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and so are the other managers.”
- The $13 million renovation debuted in late 2017 after a 6-month closure to complete the project. International Design Concepts (IDC) and architect Andrew Goodenough re-imagined public spaces such as the port cochere, reception area, dining spaces, bar, and lounge, and they refreshed the rooms as well. “The new look is brighter, lighter, more contemporary,” says Sherman. But what do the veterans of the old (almost 60-year-old) Curtain Bluff think of the changes? “They love it!” he exclaimed, in part because the renovated resort still reflects its origins. “Goodenough and his team took great care to preserve its iconic features,” such as the tamarind tree around which the hotel was originally built.
Speaking of tamarind—the name of the main restaurant—Curtain Bluff added a second restaurant a few years ago, and now it offers more Caribbean-influenced dishes, as well as European and American fare. The resort’s wine cellar has long been one of the best in the Western Hemisphere, and, said Sherman, “we’ve added more New World wines, in keeping with today’s tastes.” Mind you, the house wines under the all-inclusive program are serious bottlings, too.
- On the beach (actually, there are two beaches), the resort has new, more contemporary furniture. There’s now a beach concierge, too, who can arrange almost anything short of a salmon run.
- The designers added private infinity-edge plunge pools to the four Hulford Collection suites. They refurnished all the guestrooms with bright fabrics and furnishings that reflect the blue water and pale sands of the island.
- Reminiscing about his accidental encounter decades ago with resort founder Howard Hulford—in Alaska, of all places—Sherman said, “I was just so lucky.”
Rates from $1,350 per night dbl through April 2nd; $700 per night dbl April 3rd-August 18. For more information, visit curtainbluff.com.