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Monday, 31 December 2012

A Trip to Antigua

A Trip to Antigua



We all met at Gatwick airport South Terminal in Front of the Virgin Airlines check in area, where we were met by a Virgin Airlines Rep, who assisted us with our check in, which all went very smoothly. (Sarah the ITC rep had her name spelt wrong on her ticket and they were very quick and very efficient in getting this sorted for her) Once we had all checked in we had to take our bags to the end of the check in desk to be deposited with the baggage handlers. We went through the Fast track area which we had been given a pass for from the check in staff, and went up to the departure area where we were again met by the Virgin Rep, who took us to the Lounge for breakfast, which was amazing!

Departure Facilities- Restaurants/Shops/Lounges/information ETC
After going through the Fast track area which we had been given a pass for from the check in staff, we went up to the departure area where we were again met by the Virgin Rep, who took us to the ‘Clubhouse’ Virgins Lounge area where we enjoyed breakfast, which was amazing! We didn’t have any time to hit the duty free shops unfortunately, as we had spent a bit extra time at check in waiting for Sarah’s ticket to be reissued. The Rep from Virgin Airlines, did give us information on the aircraft that we would be travelling on and advised us that by the middle of next year they should have all new aircraft flying out of Gatwick on their Caribbean routes.
General Facilities for disabled/children: Gatwick airport South terminal itself have many facilities for disabled traveler including the following
• Ramps , Telephones at a height accessible to wheelchair users Disabled toilet facilities, reserved seating for disabled people in check in areas and wider access pathways.


As we proceeded through the Fast track area we did see a wheelchair user being assisted through by a member of staff from Gatwick Airport, and found them very courteous and attentive.




Type of Aircraft and configuration: Boeing 747 400 series

Economy configuration 3 /5/ 3
Premium economy 2 /2 on upper deck
Upper Class 2 /2 upper class suites which convert to flat beds

We were lucky to be given Premium economy seats on the way out, which were extremely comfortable and what I liked, was that they had a storage box area to the side of the pair of seats at the window, where you could store your blankets bag etc, with easy access so you didn’t have to get up and down all the time to get thing from the overhead lockers.

On our return journey, premium and Upper class were both completely full, so we were given economy seats, which gave us a chance to sample this service also. As the aircraft had 55 empty seats in economy, after take- off we were able to spread out and get 3 seats to ourselves so we could lie out and get some sleep, so that worked out very well.

On board Entertainment/Meals/service on board:
Virgin Airlines have a fantastic onboard seatback entertainment service including
Kids channels
News channels
A choice of movies which run on a loop
Music channels
TV channels
Find yourself map which logs the journey so you can keep up to date with where you are on your flight.

The staff in the Premium cabin and also in the Economy cabin were very attentive, and nothing seemed too much trouble for them, although on the return as it was a night flight, we were left more to ourselves as most people were sleeping.

Again meals in both cabins were lovely, portion sizes were just enough, and there was plenty of water soft drinks or alcoholic beverages served throughout the flight services in both directions.



Information Given And Length Of Journey:

Approx 9 hours flying time between Gatwick and Antigua.
There was plenty of information given by both the pilot/copilot and also the in flight entertainment system had a find yourself map which kept you up to date with where you were how long to go how high and plotted the journey on a world map for you also.


The Arrival

Immigration:
We spent approx 10-15 minutes getting through immigration, which was not bad, although in the heat it sometimes can feel longer. 1 of our party had a walking stick due to a foot injury, so immigration allowed her to have 2 people accompany her through a fast track area, so by the time we got through immigration they rest of our party had started to take our bags from the carousel, so there was no hanging around waiting once we were through Immigration.
Entry paperwork for Antigua was handed out by the staff on board the aircraft and was all completed, so the time taken to get through immigration, was purely just waiting for other travelers to get their passports stamped and papers checked.


Luggage Retrieval: as above


Signage/Transfers

All signage was in English and was very clear. There were also a lot of staff on hand to point you in the right direction. We were met by the local ITC rep Cathy, Who along with Sarah, could not have done enough for us. We witnessed Cathy in action at a few of the hotels throughout our trip and her working day never seems to be done. Transfers were by private minibus (which had the same driver all week and took us to all the hotel visits and transfers between hotels etc.) on the way from the airport to the hotel, but on the way back to the airport I TC provided us with a Stretch Limo.


Carlisle Bay 2 nights
The room I had was a beachfront Suite, located on an upper floor overlooking the beach and was in the adults only area of the hotel. The family rooms are all located at the opposite end of the beach and are all together, keeping the adult area quieter for those not travelling with families.
In my room was a kingsize bed, a large bathroom which was open at each end and had a large bath with a window to the side overlooking the mangroves, a separate shower and separate toilet. There was plenty of storage space provided and the room had a sitting area and large balcony with a daybed on which looked out over the beach. State of the Art Coffee machine (fantastic coffee hot chocolate milk warmer etc, but it did take me until day 2 to get the hang of it) and fresh water were provided in rooms and there was fresh fruit of the day delivered to your room daily.

The restaurants were both fantastic and served lots of local produce and many things from their own garden too! One of the restaurants served fantastic Asian themed food. Afternoon tea was served throughout the property each day, and we enjoyed afternoon tea on the beach which was something else. There was a pool onsite, which was mainly used by families with children. Gym, Yoga, Tennis clinic, Library with internet access, free wifi throughout the property, water sports from the beach
Although my room was not Accessible for disable people as it was on the top floor so had 2 flights of steps to get u0p to it, the property does provide disabled rooms. Most public areas are accessible too.

http://www.lhw.com/Hotel/Carlisle-Bay-St-Marys-Antigua-West-Indies



Galley Bay 2 nights

The room I was allocated at Galley Bay was a premium Beachfront Suite, which as its name suggests opened out right in to the beach, which became my back garden for the next 2 days! My room was on a lower floor, and although it would have been accessible for a wheelchair user to get into the room, as it was on 2 levels with a step down into the living area, it would not have been suitable and had not been adapted for wheelchair users. Again I have a kingsize bed in this room with a similar set up to Carlisle bay with a sitting area with table and plenty of storage space in the room. The shower was huge with 2 different shower head at each side of the shower at different heights. There was a large corner bath and I could walk out from my room directly on to the beach, where there were 2 loungers and a small table provided for each room along with many other lounger available on the beach. Mini bar was stocked with soft drinks are beers, and there was a small coffee maker in the room provided (although not to the amazing standards of the Carlisle Bay coffee machine, was easier to understand how to work!)
There is wifi access throughout the property again, lovely pool area, bike hire (yes we made use of this) Tennis courts. Tennis clinic, spa, lawn croquet (again yes we made use of this, with a croquet tournament on our arrival) 3 Restaurants although we only sampled 2, both served lovely food, we had lobster on the first night which was to die for. There are a few bar areas on the property so it is never too crowded, there are also rocking chairs provided along a veranda looking out to sea if you wanted more peace and quiet. The beach area was clean although it had quite a slope to the sea, there was also a gift shop onsite, watersports etc.

http://www.galleybayresort.com/index.htm



Curtain Bluff 2 nights

I was provided with a Junior suite overlooking the beach at Curtail Bluff, which was on an upper floor, so again did not have disabled facilities, nor was it accessible for a wheelchair, although the hotel do offer disabled rooms. My room had a kingsized bed sitting area and had plenty of storage space, large Bathroom with separate shower and again a large corner bath. A balcony looked out over the beach area. The atmosphere in this hotel is very relaxed, so much so that the doors to the bedrooms do not have external locks or keys, as nobody uses them, the doors can be locked from the inside however. There is a very large wine cellar at this hotel where they give wine tasting lessons, and have a very vast stock of wines, from all over the world. ( I noticed they did have a VERY large lock on this area however! Probably wise…..)
Although things do move at an even slower pace at Curtain Bluff, they have many facilities. There is a lovely spa , and other facilities include , squash court, Swimming pool, watersports, Fitness Tennis courts and tennis clinic. Water aerobics, yoga, pilates, putting green, half basketball court 2 computer rooms, one for children one for adults, Childrens playground, There is a gift shop in the hotel and also several on the beach. There is one main restaurant at the hotel and a beach bar, serving drinks and snack during the day. Food was fantastic once again at this hotel and as you would expect their wine list was out of this world!
http://www.curtainbluff.com


Sugar Ridge 1 night

When we arrived at Sugar Ridge we were not sure what to expect as there was no beach at this hotel, which is not usual in Antigua.
The actual bedrooms were smaller than we had been used to, but they all have very large balconies with day bed tables and chairs and overhead fans. So in effect, this act as an extension to the room. There were 4 rooms per block, and All downstairs rooms (even numbers) have a small plunge pool on their balcony also. The rooms have a mini bar /fridge, iron, ironing board, wardrobe, four poster beds with mosquito nets, small bedside tables and small desk area. Bathrooms have shower only We were shown some other larger rooms near the top that had interconnecting doors and had a twin at one side and double at the others, so could be used as 2 bed roomed family unit.
The food was Amazing and catered for all pallets, everything from sushi (made to order) through to burgers, steaks salads, chicken, fish, club sandwiches, etc. (unfortunately we didn’t get to eat at the hilltop restaurant, but we got to go up there and try out the pool, bar etc!) the restaurant staff were very efficient and very friendly. The infinity pool at the top is quite small but always seemed quite quiet during the daytime so there was plenty room, and the views were fantastic from up there! The pool down by the restaurant area again was quite quiet, and always seemed to have plenty of beds available, there was also a lap pool in the area, and staff were round regularly taking orders from drinks
We did a lovely tour at 7.30 am with Vaughn, who walked us round the whole grounds, and gave a very informative tour and info on all the local vegetation, what different plants are used for etc . He also included a walk through the village beside the hotel grounds. For transfers to the beach, the use 3 different beaches each with restaurants on them which are all included in the All Inclusive package. (Turners, The Nest and Gibson’s) All the beaches were beautiful and Turners was the furthest transfer at around 7 mins. When you have had enough at the beach, you get the restaurant or bar to call the hotel and they have someone pick you up again. The 3 beaches all had guests from the hotel either there before we arrived, or they arrived just before we were moving on to the next beach, again there were plenty of room on the beaches and plenty of beds available, so it seems to work very well, and of course you get a choice of 3 different hotel beaches with facilities rather than just one!! Vaughn dropped us off at Jolly Harbour on the way back for a run round the shops, although you could walk easily to Jolly Harbour area from the hotel. The hotel is quite popular with locals at the weekends and gets very busy in the bar area downstairs where they have live bands playing, and also the Hilltop restaurant which has amazing views gets booked up quite a bit in advance for most nights of the week.




This was my second visit to Antigua, and although we squeezed a lot into our trip, I felt I had enough time to take everything in, without one hotel blending into another. Antigua is suitable for all client types singles, couples and families, there is lots for everyone to do in Antigua from watersports, deep sea fishing, sunset cruises, Zip wire experience, Antigua is packed with history and a trip to English Harbour is a must. Shirley Heights a weekly hot spot popular with tourists, there are many sugar plantation tours, and of course with 365 public beaches there is always the ever popular sunbathing.
Crime in Antigua is very rare and I found the majority of the locals very helpful and kind and they always have an amusing story to tell. The hotel staff are multi cultural with many coming from other Caribbean Islands and there is a large expat population on Antigua.

I look forward greatly to my next visit to Antigua in the future.