Review of our two-week stay at Sandals resort in Antigua, December 2021.
Our BA flight out left at 1230, so we drove down to Gatwick the previous day, parked our car at the excellent APH, who bussed us to the North Terminal, where we checked into the Hampton by Hilton hotel for the night. Excellent hotel – a good big room. The following morning we were able to check out and walk straight to the BA check-in desks. We’d used the Verifly app, so were able to sidestep the main check-in queue.
Our travel agent had provided an airport lounge for free, so we were able to try out the “Gateway by Easyjet and No 1” lounge, but we felt it wasn’t as good as the No.1 Lounge that we’ve been given in the past.
Excellent BA Boeing 777-200 flights out and back – we’d upgraded to World Traveller Plus, and the extra leg-room and seat width were worth it – much more comfortable. BA used to provide a glass of bubbly once we’d all sat down, but this time it was either OJ or water. The in-flight meals were good and tasty, though we skipped the breakfast on the return flight two weeks later.
At Antigua airport the Sandals rep was nowhere to be seen – we had to be pointed towards their desk in the bus drop-off lane. It was dark by the time we were driven in a private minibus to Sandals, so we couldn’t get much of a view of the island, other than that the roads were just as bad as the UK’s.
At Sandals, we were taken to the Club Lounge for check-in and to our room, no. 208.
The real drag this year was having to wear a facemask at Gatwick, on the plane, at the airport in Antigua, and in the cab on the way to the hotel – about 15 hours in all.
TIP: We couldn't get the Verifly app to work on the way back - a problem shared by others in the queue at the check-in desk at Antigua airport on the way back. This is because the Verifly user interface is counter-intuitive. There's a "Search" button on the Home page - I'd assumed it meant "Search through my previous trips", but it doesn't - it means "Add a Trip". Press this button, and choose "A Trip to the UK" - and all will then work ok.
We’d booked into a “Caribbean Club-level Veranda Suite” upstairs in the Ixoria block - a small 2-storey block close to the Courtyard, with a good view over the gardens to the beach from the table and chairs on the spacious balcony. There was a comfortable big bed, bedside lamps, lots of drawer space in cupboards, and other bits of furniture around the room. A huge TV (which we never used) stood on the big chest of drawers, and the nearby bar area had a fridge, restocked daily with soft drinks, mixers, beer, wines, bubbly, and there were also spirits (though we didn’t recognise any of the names on the bottles), and the tea/coffee-making kit. There was also a sofa, which was mainly used to store spare pillows, and also cushions for the balcony chairs.
The bathroom had a single washbasin, and a conventional bath, with a fixed shower-rose over. Shampoo, conditioner, hand cream, soap, and sanitizing hand-gel were all supplied. Towels and sheets were changed every day or two.
The surface of the bath was peeling off in a few places, and the rug around the bed was a bit worn and snagged.
Our room was convenient for the Courtyard area, with Eleanor’s, OK Corral and Bayside restaurants, the Courtyard snack bar, the comfortable Crystal Lounge, the Courtyard bar and the upstairs Piano Bar. Beautiful Scarlet Macaws Samson and Delilah were housed in a big cage in the Courtyard, and taken for walks by their handler to Eleanor’s restaurant and along the beach promenade to meet the guests every morning – he’d happily sit them on guests’ shoulders for photos.
A floor show was held every night on the Courtyard stage, with loud local bands, including, once a week, one with a spectacular fire-eater with scantily-clad, gyrating Antiguan girls. We normally repaired to the quieter upstairs Piano Bar, staffed by chatty and friendly Dillon and Hersilla, where there were plenty of seats and occasionally a piano-man, who got everybody singing along to old favourites.
There's now a Sandals app for your phone, which lists the week's entertainment, the up-to-date restaurant menus and so on - well worth installing on your phone.
Across the arrivals road from the Courtyard were Kimono’s and Soy Restaurants.
A couple of minutes’ walk away from our room was St Mark’s Square with a shop, the Café de Paris (coffees, cakes and ice-cream), a branch of Colombian Emeralds, the Loyalty shop, Snapshots, and – much-used this year – the Nurses’ Station where we all had free Covid Lateral-Flow Tests on the day before we left.
Just round the corner from the square was the Drunken Duck “English pub”, Mario’s Italian Restaurant, and the outdoor Pizzeria. Walking back down towards the beach, past the massive and (after lunch) noisy main pool with its swim-up pool bar, is the Barefoot-on-the-Beach restaurant.
Dotted around the property are several other pools, including at least one with a swim-up pool bar.
The sun-beds by the main pool were more comfortable than the ones on the beach. You can hire a covered cabana (with sunbeds, a sofa and a cool box with soft drinks and beer) by the main pool for US$115 per day – this is a bit like having a Butler for a day. On the beach, you had to get up before 7am to put your towel down on a sunbed with a sun-shade – there simply weren’t enough. Staff regularly come around the pool area and the beach, taking drinks orders.
All beaches on Antigua are public – this means that you do get pestered quite a lot by beach traders selling t-shirts, tops, fridge-magnets, jet-ski rides, excursions around the island by boat or by car, etc.
We enjoyed sunbathing on the beach on Christmas Day – lovely. Sandals did dress up the resort a bit for Christmas.
The Garden staff do a fantastic job – there are exotic tropical flowers and shrubs everywhere, and the lawns are kept green and well-trimmed. The local wildlife appreciated it too – from our balcony we saw lots of Antillean Hummingbirds, Lesser Antillean Bullfinches, Bananaquits, Gray Kingbirds, Carib Grackles, and Common Ground-doves. Meanwhile, Magnificent Frigate Birds and Brown Pelicans flew along the shoreline. We also saw Egrets and Herons from the car on our way back to the airport.
Covid 19 Update
Sandals have put in place all the rules and protocols that you would expect. All staff wear facemasks, and guests must mask up in enclosed spaces such as shops/offices. There are sanitizing gel dispensers scattered about the hotel, and you are asked to sanitize your hands when entering all of the restaurants – there are large pump-action bottles at every restaurant and bar check-in desk. We felt that restaurant tables were a comfortable distance apart – we never felt too crowded, apart from one or two smaller tables at Bayside. The breakfast buffets at Bayside and Mario's are no longer "serve yourself" - wait staff positioned next to the food spoon your food onto your plate for you. Menus are kept in clear plastic sleeves, which are swabbed down before being handed to you.
We chatted with Matthew, the hotel’s general manager, but he refused to say whether there were, or were not, any guests on-site in quarantine after testing positive - we didn’t understand why. In the car on the way to the airport some other homeward-bound travellers confirmed that there were indeed some guests in quarantine.
We tried all of the restaurants apart from Kimono’s and Soy. Bayside was convenient for breakfast, with good food in the evening, too. The OK Corral served great steaks and salmon fillets, cooked on the grill in the middle of the restaurant, Eleanor’s was popular at breakfast and evenings, with good food. The Courtyard Snackbar served a good Chicken Wrap with fries at lunchtime – avoid the Tuna Melt which was awful.
We ate once at the Drunken Duck, which was a bit noisy. Mario’s served tasty Italian food (take a jumper – the AC is turned up to 11). The Pizzeria was good for a snack at lunchtime, and Barefoot-on-the-Beach served mainly fish, burgers and chicken.
Mario’s and the Drunken Duck were the only totally-enclosed restaurants – all the others were open-air (though covered). The house wines were perfectly drinkable – Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon were all on offer everywhere.
Although the food was generally good at the hotel, we felt it wasn’t as good as we'd had at Sandals Grenada or the Grande St Lucian two or three years ago.
I didn’t do any diving this time, for a number of reasons. Sandals have two big, fast Newton dive boats, which went out several times a day, as well as a snorkelling-trip boat. There’s no jetty, and the dive boats don’t have outboard motors, so they can’t back right up to the beach. This means you have to wade out shoulder-deep to get to the boat, while holding your dive bag over your head, which is a bit of a drag.
None of the restaurants open up before 7.30am, so there’s no time to grab breakfast before checking in at the dive centre. You can order something from Room Service for 7.00am, which is a good alternative.
Here's three pages of photos, with about ten photos per page, totalling about five Megabytes per page.
After hiding away for nearly two years, it was great to get away for some winter sunshine. Sandals Antigua met our expectations. Sandals have put in place everything you would expect to combat Covid. The Caribbean side of the resort generally looks a bit tired – it’s not really 5-star any more. That may be the result of cutting-back of maintenance expenditure – Sandals must have lost a lot of revenue and incurred increased costs during the pandemic. The newer, Mediterranean side may be better.
Would we go again? Sandals Grenada and the Grande St Lucian remain our favourites of the Sandals resorts we’ve tried, so probably not.