Antigua Tourism Authority brings some Caribbean sunshine to The Holiday Place
Jean-Marc Lambert, Vice-President of Sales & Marketing for the UK & Europe at the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority recently blew a warm Caribbean breeze into The Holiday Place's headquarters in North London. Enlightening us about all that is great about Antigua and Barbuda, we were updated on the island's unique highlights, what's to come soon in the future and where its strongest appeal lies for different kinds of discerning travellers.
Giving us a break from the bleak British winter weather and treating us to a sun-filled afternoon full of inspiring images and insightful information on Antigua, the Vice-President of Sales & Marketing at the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, Jean-Marc Lambert came to our office yesterday to put on a wonderful presentation on all his destination has to offer.
Among other things we learnt that a new airport had recently been unveiled (as of August 2015), complete with all modern conveniences such as self check-in kiosks and new exclusive luxury hotel is also in the works for 2018. It will be known as the Setai and will be located on a separate offshore island linked to mainland in Jolly Harbour.
Keep reading more to learn what makes Antigua a special destination standing out in its own right, unlike anywhere else in the Caribbean.
Time-warped, laid-back and full of charm
Antigua’s signature laidback atmosphere is a breath of fresh air when compared to bigger and more frequented tourist destinations in the Caribbean. Much less developed and with a more genuine Caribbean vibe, it has a unique local charm and personality that wins hearts everytime.
As Jean-Marc put it when he first started introducing it to us:
"It has the old charm of the 1960s, you still have the typical wooden huts and that very authentic feel. That I think is the big difference - when you look at places like Barbados and St Lucia, they have one or two areas that are very developed and there’s a couple of hotels there so if you there that’s where all the happening is and then the rest is just quiet resorts."
Antigua is much smaller when compared to other more popular Caribbean destinations, there are around 2,800 rooms of which UK tour operators sell around 2,000 rooms in about 20 hotels.
Beaches are all the same around the island and likewise the atmosphere is similar all around everywhere. Unlike other islands in the Caribbean who have very well established hotspots and towns where all the action happens and most of the restaurants and bars are set up, Antigua hasn’t yet exploited this option.
"In Antigua you have the capital in the centre and all the beach resorts all around so there isn’t that one happening place. That’s a negative because if somebody wants that one place where you can walk around there isn’t that; and we have been addressing that with product this morning because around around Falmouth Harbour and English Harbour there is the potential for that but the hotels there are smaller ones (which are not selling) so hopefully we’ll start selling those very soon."
Whether travel-makers see that as an advantage or not, we also learnt that a good proportion of holidaymakers to Antigua and Barbuda tend to be British or predominantly from European origin with very few Americans visiting; unlike other popular hotspots in the region (like say, Jamaica or the Dominican Republic).
How to get there: accessibility for UK holidaymakers
Antigua is a seven-and-half-hour flight from the UK (yes, that’s only 7.5 hours when compared the nearly 10 hours it takes to get to destinations like Cancun or Cuba).
Antigua is extremely well-connected to the UK, with British Airways flying direct regular flights daily from London Gatwick and Virgin flying there four times weekly during the winter and three times during the summer - both routes also operating from London Gatwick. Departing from Manchester, Thomas Cook also offer direct charter flights to Antigua but only during the winter season.
When to go
When it comes to recommending which was the best time go, Flambert was quick to point out there was no particular season or time to visit the island that was more appropriate than another. The weather remains warm throughout all seasons and the waters remain calm and transparent all-year-round. Even hurricane season doesn’t seem to affect it much as it lies off the main hurricane belt (like Barbados or St Lucia) and hurricanes don’t hit it often.
Talking about hurricanes hitting in Antigua, Flambert said:
"Antigua had one last October which is good news because it only happen every 20 to 30 years so it won’t happen for a while now."
Having said that, he also suggested that perhaps a better way to choose when to go was to look at the events calendar and time your visit according to special events like Antigua’s famous Boat Show and Sailing Week as well as the July carnival.
Another alternative to choosing when to go to Antigua takes into account the cost factor. Price-wise the low season months of May, June, September and October presented a great opportunity for holidaymakers as the island was at its quietest at this time (not that it ever gets noticeably crowded or busy like other more mainstream Caribbean destinations) and as a reflection of this most hotels reduced room rates significantly. As can be expected the busiest seasons coincide with the European winter, the school summer break months of July and August and half-term.
Where to stay
When it comes to accommodation Antigua offers plenty of variety in terms of budget and location, with most hotels and resorts being spread out throughout the whole island meaning that there’s not one particular area that’s more susceptible to large numbers or bigger herds of tourists. Yet another bonus.
For those looking at entry-level accommodation that offers the best value, good and popular options include the Halcyon Cove by Rex Resorts and Jolly Beach Resort and Spa, both fantastic 3-star properties perfectly perched on two different locations; the former is located on the island’s south-west and the latter in the north-west.
"The highlight of Grand Pineapple is that on top of the hill (which is a 10-minute climb) there’s Mary who’s been there since pre-hotel times as a local villager who has her little outcrop up there, a little shack called The Outback where she makes a barbecue every day for lunch (the raw ingredients are provided by the hotel but she cooks it all up herself) and comes to give guests a welcoming sweaty hug.
"You can have a beer and look at the views. People have written lovely little messages on the wall there. I took my kids there just to meet Mary because she is a character in herself."
The Blue Waters Beach Hotel is another very good hotel but on the higher end of the scale and therefore its price reflects the added luxury. It’s just 10 to 15 minutes from the airport and very special because of its layout. It has two wings, the main Blue Waters and the Cove Suites.
The Cove Suites are truly something else because you have six rooms in one unit with a private swimming pool and a butler, so through the whole day you may be the only one in that unit with your own butler pouring you a drink poolside but you still have three other pools and two beaches to choose from.
At mid-entry level and ideal for families is The Verandah Resort and Spa has its own kids club plus a host of other great families for everyone.
In a similar price range the St James Club and Villas stands out for being made famous by the X-Factor as some of it was shot here and offers a great array of accommodation options for families and groups. As Mr Flambert explained, it often works out cheaper to rent villas for families rather than two interconnecting rooms, which everyone knows hotels (for some unknown reason) are never able to guarantee.
All of the hotels mentioned here operate on an all-inclusive basis, which means the best value is guaranteed whichever you choose.
It must also be said that every hotel in Antigua has its own beach, so you’re never sharing that coveted beach space with guests from other hotels (unless in very rare cases where the beaches are more than a mile long).
Why Antigua? The Highlights
Antigua boasts 365 beaches to choose from and they are all the exact same pristine quality, as Jean-Marc explained:
"Antigua is almost a circular destination, and you can swim on all its sides, whereas some destinations have a better beach on one side of the island than the other. Not in Antigua, the beaches are the same all around the island."
Food is an outstanding highlight, with fresh local produce being the show-stopper and a special emphasis on fresh seafood. Flavoursome dishes are standard everywhere in Antigua, whether you eat in within your resort or choose to eat out amidst the locals.
Although not many know it (because of the general perception of it being too small and quiet for anything loud to be happening) Antigua is a very fun lively place where everyone loves an excuse to party. To get into the party atmosphere head to Shirley Heights every Sunday where all the locals and visitors gather for a fun time amidst rum punch, drinks and live steel band music.
Next year will mark the 60th anniversary of the annual Antigua Carnival, celebrated in the last week of July, so the 2016 edition will be even bigger than aver – a great time to visit.
Lush, hilly and incredibly scenic nature, wherever you are in Antigua you’ll be surrounded by verdant hills (which you can hike for the most magnificent views from the top and the most spectacular sunsets). Antigua’s hills will also allow you to see neighbouring islands in the distance such as Guadaloupe, Dominica and St Vincent. You can also engage in active nature pursuits like zip-lining along the tree-tops, mountain-biking or horse riding.
Distances are very short between different points in the island, you will never spend more than 40 minutes travelling from one end to another, making it easier to explore the whole island at your own pace.
"So it really doesn’t matter where you are because the distance will be the same, so that’s an interesting strength of the destination."
The Boat Show in winter is a true spectacle as is the Antigua Sailing Week in April, which Flambert highly recommended for everyone even for those that weren’t really interested in boats – the whole atmosphere and boat-watching (as well as people-watching) is rather unique.
For a touch of history, English Harbour and Nelson’s Dockyard are the places to get in touch with the island’s past.
Hopping over to twin island Barbuda for an even more secluded and wild experience is also highly recommended, here you can swim with turtles and do some bird-watching as the area is home to the largest Frigate bird colony.
And finally, the signature must-do thing in Antigua is to take a boat out to Stingray City, a breathtaking natural platform where you’ll be surrounded by the shallowest, most transparent waters home to an abundance of friendly stingrays. Here you can pet them and feed them and the experience is suitable (as well as highly recommended) for even young children.
"It’s a lot of fun. Everyone is fairly chilled and relaxed in Antigua. So if you’re there for a business meeting and you want something happening on time it’s not going to work but if you’re on holiday and just want to have some fun, it’s ideal. Many people like that shabby nature and as a result sometimes service is slow, but that’s the Caribbean for you."
Concluded Mr Flambert before the training session wrapped up.
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