5 Star Resort that brings 1st Class Experience to the Caribbean
After arriving at the airport in Antigua (pronounced locally as “Anne-Tee-ga”) you pick up your luggage, pass through customs and you’re outside. Look across the street and you’ll see the taxi agents gathered. Ask for the National Tours people and tell them you’re on your way to Hermitage Bay.
“Enough said mon. No problem!” And with that your luggage is swept up and you board a van to Hermitage Bay. Have a cold bottle of water on the way as you look out upon your first glimpses of Antigua. As you begin to ask about some of the rather lavish buildings near the airport you hear a sense of shame as it is explained that many of these buildings once belonged to Allen Stanford (a Texas financier that is now serving a 110 year sentence for operating a Ponzi scheme, money laundering, and fraud) – as if Antiguan’s somehow feel a sense of responsibility for the man’s criminal acts. And yet there these lavish buildings rest, and not at all out of place in the small island’s landscape.
It takes about a 20 minute drive on the wrong side of the road (if you’re used to North American left hand side driving rules) at relatively slow speeds to reach the dirt road that leads to Hermitage Bay. The Antiguan roads infrastructure is equipped with frequent built in speed bumps that negate any notions you might have of reliving The Fast and The Furious. But don’t worry that you’ll be bored because the National Tours Operators are always ready with a history lesson on the island and its landmarks. Antiguans have a proud national heritage and if you’re not familiar with the sport of cricket, you soon will be. You can expect a warm hospitable Antiguan welcome along with a genuine smile and a people that truly enjoy sharing their island with others.
And then, just as you were getting used to the roads and the surroundings, it feels as if you’ve started down a wrong path. A pot hole filled dirt road that would have most locals turning back and considering themselves lost on the small island. But you are not lost at all. Who would suspect that the road to paradise would be so unassuming? You pass through the gated and security-manned front entrance with a honk of the horn (as if they were expecting you), and within a minute or so you have arrived. And already the Eden-like ambience begins like a wonderful fragrance intoxicating you with tales of rest and relaxation. The tour Operator will unload your baggage at the entrance gazebo where you are quickly greeted by an intake coordinator like Antoinette (an attractive smiling young woman ready to get you squared away). She guides you up the entrance steps to the main lobby foyer where a server from the bar greets you with chilled almond scented towelettes and a virgin mojito ripe with mint leaves freshly picked from their organic garden.
Antoinette explains what room you’ll be in and gives you your key while processing a few intake papers for the front desk. She explains the restaurant, pool, and bar hours and will make you a dinner reservation if you like. During this brief orientation your luggage is quietly whisked away to your room by one of the bellhops like Ryan (my bud), Vern, or Jamal. When you’re ready (and depending on the location of your villa) you will be escorted via golf cart to your room and shown around.
Also at the front desk is: Zeke (the resort comedian), Makeba (with the beautiful hair braiding), Mikel (resident dance instructor), and Judith (you’ll recognize her sultry voice and phone demeanor). I hope I’m not forgetting anyone. They are all so nice and wonderful to be around.
Location, Location, Location…
And this begs the question which room is the best room? And while most patrons of Hermitage Bay will have such an amazing time that each will claim their own room is the best I will tell you why I personally liked our room #32 (a Premium Hillside Pool Suite Villa). Let’s begin with the amazing view. It is spectacular any time of night or day and has the bed facing the view. When you wake up, simply look down toward the foot of the bed and paradise greets your gaze. Not all the villas have this particular orientation (a secret our housekeeping staff alerted us to). Since it’s a secret, let’s keep it between us shall we ;)
Admittedly, it can be a bit of a challenge for those unfit vacationers to navigate the beautifully landscaped stair cases leading to the center of activities (down by the lobby). Of course you can take the lower impact golf cart path, but it too can be tiresome after a long day or big meal, especially if you’re making the up-hill climb. And since my wife is a luxury Diva we usually called the front desk for a golf cart pick-up. But what has that to do with why our villa is better? When you enter or exit the room you have a small 5 step climb/descent from the gold cart path. The few higher villas have a twenty plus stair climb from the golf cart path. Taking the steps the whole distance from those elevated villas (without the golf cart aid) is not too bad on the descent so long as you’re an accomplished navigator. The stairs are not a straight-line to the lobby and require some of those Boy Scout-type skills the first few times lol.
Of course if you’re staying in one of the Beach Front villas (although not all positioned right on the beach-but close enough) then the daily commute is a non-issue. But then again so is the view. A plus to these beach front villas might be their proximity to the bar (which also means a better wifi signal at times). Speaking of wifi, I have to say that one of the saddest things I witnessed while at Hermitage Bay was the inability of patrons to unplug. Look at that happy couple at the dining table not locked in a romantic wonder-filled gaze, but rather, each focused on a device of some sort as if oblivious to the paradise surroundings begging to be explored or even each other.
All the literature you read about - and at Hermitage Bay says that there is no need for tipping. But I beg to differ. When greeted by exceptional service it is best to reward it! Though the staff would never pressure you or ask for a tip, the huge smile of appreciation when one is given is that of unspoken gratitude. There are plenty of unhappy, unsatisfied service workers in this world (serving up a brand of hospitality that passes as the status quo) that are ready to process you like vacationing cattle through the spacious mill of unremarkable services. And they are paid minimally for this.
But you will quickly notice that at Hermitage Bay pampering is the norm. The staffs are enthusiastic about making your experience one you will never forget. In fact, within a day or so they will almost intuitively try to meet your needs without you even having said a word. That is really awesome! And thus my wife and I looked for every opportunity to stuff a few dollars in the hands of those that deserved it, and we encourage you to do the same.
And yes we still paid the service tax that is divided between the 80-100 employees, but it’s not quite the same as a well-deserved tip for someone that has gone above and beyond the call of duty.
Critters & Such…
You’ll be happy to hear that since the introduction of the mongoose on the island (a small squirrel like creature) there hasn’t been a sighting of a snake in forever. Neither will you find a scorpion, spider or other such concerns at Hermitage. Albeit the ever pesky mosquito still frequent the area from time to time; though these are fully equipped with stealth camouflage. You will rarely ever see one. But my theory is that they attack during the hours around dusk, so using a little repellant before heading down for dinner might not be a bad idea. I also suggest some anti-itch cream in the event that you discover you’ve been one of their victims. They may be small, but Antiguan mosquitoes seem to have a voracious appetite.
No need to fear during your sleep as housekeeping will set up a mosquito net when they turn down your bed-so you can sleep soundly. And during the entire time we were there (8 nights) I never once heard the sound of that mosquito you can’t seem to see but can hear. Actually, I began to think there were no mosquitoes at Hermitage Bay at all. And I did discover through confidential chats with my pals in landscaping (here’s my shout out to Glenroy aka Eddie Murphy because they look alike, and Lenix aka Madrass - his self-proclaimed nickname: But you will recognize him because of his dreadlock rasta resemblance) that they place some sort of mosquito repellant beads around the resort. And that may account for the lack of the pesky critters as well.
You will however, notice that there are many of those small lizards around, but they are harmless and probably add to the explanation of the lack of mosquitoes despite the lavish landscaping. The hummingbirds are a delight to watch any time of day as they go from to flower tasting their sweet nectar. And the variety of brilliant colors is quite remarkable. Other small birds also seem to have lost many of their inhibitions during meal times and will perch nearby and wait for a small morsel if you feel so inclined (no we’re not talking about a flock-perhaps one or two). There are a number of turtle doves around the resort as well, and although I never saw them there was an accomplished cricket orchestra every night that would play their mating song to gentle waves that would make their way on to the beach.
Admittedly, my wife and I are often of the sort accused of suffering from some manner of OCD, so cleanliness is right at the top of our list of requirements. Hermitage Bay does not disappoint. As a matter of fact they achieve impeccable results when it comes to cleanliness. Not a single item is out of place. The villas are managed almost invisibly several times each day. Each private infinity pool is also cleaned daily and it is not uncommon to catch a glimpse of the landscaping staff ensuring that every luscious bloom is in its proper place. The outdoor showers are rustic, clean, and yet adventurous. While maintaining your privacy you will not miss a minute of the zen-like views, even from your shower. And while we’re on the subject let’s talk about the shampoo, conditioners, and body wash that are well stocked. You will have a choice of either the “revive” or “relaxation” scents which are clearly those reserved for only the luxurious hotels and spas. The texture, fragrance, and consistency of each are of those reserved for even the most critical of Divas. But I welcomed them just the same.
Hot water? Oh yes, and in abundance. An oversized rain-style shower head makes a romantic encounter an inviting prospect for honey-mooner’s or those wanting to inject a spark back into the relationship. But if you prefer a romantic soak in the over-sized tub with scented flowers by candle light (I am certain it can be arranged-of course the tub and flowers are already there).
Dual vanities with plenty of space for both him and her, with a large mirror or two and a separate area for the ladies to apply their cosmetics is the norm. And did I mention the windows that can be opened to a screen, or completely opened to the never ending views?
Your Private Villa…
As you approach the door to your villa you will quickly see it is not the conventional door knob. Reach a few fingers through the hole to lift the wooden latch the holds the door closed and immediately it springs open with the breadth of your private infinity pool and a view that takes your breath away (if you’re in a coveted hill side pool suite villa). To the side are several lounging areas that quietly speak to the level of utter relaxation that can be achieved.
If you’re a smoker that hasn’t quite kicked the habit, there will be no need to be shamed in some out of the way area reserved for you remnants of a bygone era when smoking was accepted by the masses. No, you can quietly find your solace with cigarette in hand as you look out over the magical canvass you’ll start believing nature painted just for you. Add a tropical drink or coffee in the other hand (depending on the time of day) and even you will realize you have landed somewhere truly special. It’s a rustic and yet rich mahogany-feel all around you.
The King size bed is very comfortable and equipped with dual sets of over-sized plush pillows for your enjoyment. The mini-bar is equipped with an assortment of rum, vodka, whiskey, gin, and amaretto, not to mention soft drinks, water, juice, milk and pretty much everything you might desire. Snacks such as chips & chocolate also do not disappoint. Perhaps you prefer tea or coffee? There is a full stock of each in various flavors. Below this is an easy to use safe for all your valuables though you’ll be hard-pressed to find a dishonest person among the staff. But this will be evident very soon as you begin to indulge in Antiguan hospitality. The safe was probably more for our peace of mind having experienced less than ethical persons in the rest of the world, rather than as a protection while at Hermitage Bay.
Like a little music in your life? If you came with an iPhone you’re in luck. A convenient docking station attached to a surround sound set of speakers with active sub-woofer will have you feeling the beats.
The ocean breeze literally engulfs your villa when the large accordion-style doors are open and air conditioning makes slipping off to “never- never land” an easy prospect at the end of a long day. During the midday the temperature may spike a bit and it’s the perfect time to slip into your private infinity plunge pool. It is built to the ideal depth for standing (tropical drink melting in hand) and looking out over your Caribbean oasis.
Getting around the resort? Just dial 0 and ask for a lift. Within a minute or two you’ll be swept away by an eager smiling bellhop, and deposited at the front desk. Don’t be afraid to chat up the bellhops as they often have great insights into the island and its activities. Ryan, Vere, or Jamal are eager to serve and pleasant conversationalists. If it happens to be late at night you might get Larry (the night auditor to give you hand).
There is a nice boutique just left of the lobby entrance at Hermitage Bay that is fully equipped with many male and female items of value including shorts, t-shirts, sundry items, sun glasses, jewelry, and more. But if you’re in the mood for a bargaining experience I recommend a tour into St. John’s where you can find vendor after vendor with everything tourists could ever want. Just let the front desk know your desire for activities and they will set up everything for you including providing you with a typed itinerary if one is needed. While in St. John’s I suggest you wear your sun screen as walking around and exploring can have you in the sun. Getting an up close view of the cruise ships in port is also quite impressive.
Denley is often the National Tours driver of choice and he can deliver you almost anywhere on the island. Be prepared to pay handsomely for taxi service in Antigua though. Fuel is at a premium on the island and likely contributes to the sobering cost. A round trip to Jolly Harbour (about 5 min drive will cost you $32). A trip to the airport could be more like $75 USD and a visit to Shirley’s Heights (a popular reggae music destination on a Sunday evening) will run you about a hundred dollars. You can rent a car at Hermitage Bay for $80 a day if you’re willing to brave the left hand side driving. And this might be worth some investigation if you’re an activity hound like us.
Once out on the beach you can head down to the left to the water sports area. Here you will likely meet a younger, more-fit version of actor Samuel L. Jackson named Devon. He can assist you with paddle board, pedal boat, kayak, snorkel, Hobie Cat, and various other pieces of equipment after you sign a quick legal release/disclaimer (standard). Or perhaps you would like a quick trip to jolly harbour or around the area by boat. Devon is happy to give you a tour at no additional charge and he is a very knowledgeable guide. He is also a certified diver and accomplished free diver. It is not uncommon to see him drying his conch shells that he has collected and sells on the beach. These are always welcome pieces of memorabilia when you trip has come to an unthinkable end.
Other Activities that Should be Considered…
We tried the private sunset catamaran sailing cruise for about 3 hours aboard the Cat’s Tale II operated by James and Shirley (an absolutely charming English couple that make the experience a treasured one). If I recall it was about $385 USD per couple and well worth every penny.
We also tried the helicopter tour to Montserrat which is a little bit pricier but certainly quite an adventure when you’re considering a close encounter with an active volcano. Not to mention a vision of the area that you simply cannot get anywhere else.
Shirley’s Heights in my opinion is not to be missed. Even the stiffest chap will have a hard time not (at the bare minimum) tapping his toe to the reggae music that plays live to an abundance of tropical drinks available. There is a small cover charge and you can expect to find people of all ages from 8 years old to 78 years old (all just having fun). And if you love to dance (ladies) you came to the right place. I can only describe it as awesome! I don’t usually dance. But after a few rum punches even I was cutting a rug much to my wife’s delight.
Barbuda is beach heaven. You can arrange a 2 hour boat ride (most economic), a ten minute helicopter ride (a bit pricey-$1k), or a hundred dollar round trip flight (in a small twin prop puddle jumper). Be sure and arrange a tour with Levi or Alix. They can meet you at the airport (about the size of a kiosk lol) and from there you can visit the bird sanctuary, 2 Foot Bay (an amazing cave hike), Diana Princess of Whales beach (you won’t want to leave cuz it is just gorgeous-best beach I have ever seen in my travels) and finally the famous pink sand beach aka the River. Shabba a local fisherman will BBQ the best lobster (freshly caught) you have likely ever eaten. If you like lobster I suggest asking for extra! The whole day tour cost $150 for both the wife and me and it was worth double or triple that much. If you have a chance I highly recommend this trip. Stunning pictures for your facebook profile await.
Want to give a jet ski or Seadoo a try? Just let the front desk know and it’ll be delivered to Hermitage Bay right away. It’s about $65 for a half hour and is incredible fun if you’re so inclined.
If it’s a Wednesday I recommend the cooking class, with the added benefit of being able to eat your creation at the end.
Fishing? No Worries. You can enjoy a wonderful fishing trip in which you are bound to find your Mobey Dick or an ever yummy barracuda. And the chef is happy to cook it up for you as well when you return. And you won’t be on some smelly fishing boat. You can expect those rather impressive fishing boats with the rod holders reserved only for those enthusiasts seeking the most exciting of experience.
And finally, for you diving enthusiasts (certified divers), a double dip (two tank) dive will run you about $100 USD. The reef is not as vibrant as some but I did catch a glimpse of several barracuda, a shark (non-life threatening) and even a sea turtle. Don is a very fit diver at Indigo and his female counter part is equally impressive. Oh yes and my final tip: Don’t eat eggs before diving lol.
Drinking & Local Entertainment…
Whatever your heart’s desire is available to drink. I tried them all (alcoholic beverages) for certain including the virgin drinks. Everything was yummy! Breakfast is served in the dining room from 7:30am -10:30am, lunch from 12 noon to 2:30pm and dinner from 7 to 9:30pm. I only mention this because you might miss lunch or skip a meal and find yourself hungry during the midafternoon. You can have a great meal served to you at the bar during the midafternoon 3pm to 5pm. So just ask any of the servers or bartenders and they can make it happen.
If you’re out under a beach umbrella don’t sweat it. A server or two are always on the beach watching inventively. They can offer you cold water, alcoholic drinks, towels and pretty much anything your heart desires. But if they somehow missed you (very rare) simply raise the red flag near your lounger and they will rush right over to attend to you. I often would see Jamol or Anthony (aka The Entertainer because he loves to sing and dance) delivering food and drink to the beach, or setting up placements for guests.
Behind the bar you’ll find the lovable Linda, the ever smiling Levique, Tajah, Kempton, Anthony, and Ryan (not the Bellhop but another Ryan) as a norm. You may even catch a glimpse of Vera (the resort matriarch and one of the fun-loving Supervisors of the F&B department). Good things come in small packages with Vera.
Every night the resort arranges some form of entertainment. One night it’s a jazz singer with a Gordon Lightfoot like sound. The next night Dana Barnes will bring the sounds of Antigua and beyond right to your dinner table. Her accomplished three man band will have the guests dancing by the bar in no time. It’s hard not to be impressed with this school-teacher by day, power singer by night accompany. The next night it’s back to the soothing sounds of jazz (but by another musician than the first). Later in the week a triple threat band and even more animated singer will almost make you forget about your experience with Ms. Barnes. And soon you’ll start to think that Antiguan’s are a multi-talented bunch capable of leaping tall buildings in a single bound. And the entertainment goes on and on.
I believe I mentioned the dining room times above so let’s talk about the experience. First, at breakfast you will be given a small form to fill out in order to refill whatever you have used from the mini bar. Second, each day you will be asked to make a reservation for dinner. Sometimes it seems like a rush for the first available table, so my wife and I would always book a later time. This gave us our pick of the tables. Generally, Hermitage Bay employs many more Food & Beverage (F&B) personnel than are really needed. So this probably accounts for their attentive service. It starts with what you’ll have to drink. Their wine selection is excellent and they are happy to pour you a sample. If you approve, they will fill your glass. I was always after water so it became customary to hear them inquire: “Would you like sparkling or still water sir?” From there they would bring out the bread of the day (usually an assortment with some whipped/flavored butter).
The menu is replaced each day and therefore always a surprise. But rest assured that whatever it is, it will be exquisite! True it may take a little longer than your average restaurant (since they make each meal from scratch as it is ordered). But I have no doubt you will enjoy every morsel of it. In 8 days at Hermitage there was not a single meal that wasn’t absolutely delicious. In fact, many were so good that I asked them to have the left-overs delivered to my villa. Here’s a tip. If you get a chance to try their cheesecake (and you like cheesecake) order extra. It is light, fluffy and to die for. You can’t really go wrong with anything you order though. If you want more, they will bring it. If you want something from the menu yesterday or days past, just ask for it. I absolutely loved their salt fish and fried dumplings for breakfast. So at one point I had it 3 days in a row (though it was no longer on the menu).
The servers are all kind, always smiling and efficient. They monitor you from a distance and try to act intuitively based on your eating habits and patterns. You’ll soon find this kind of pampering delightful, though you likely won’t want to leave. I saw many guests in tears as they were leaving Hermitage Bay.
Some of your servers will likely be Vera (unmistakably amazing Vera), Kempton (Who appears to be all business until he cracks a smile that can warm up a room), Anthony (The Entertainer), Jermarnie (who looks like a club bouncer but really has a heart of gold from what I could tell), Alisia (aka Rihanna because she resembles the singer), Roslyn (who is such a sweetie with a British accent), Vernell (a warm and efficient server), Annette, Denise, Shebeekie (She’s sporting a very stylish and unique Bob cut that is unmistakable), and I cannot forget my pal Stoney. These are the folks that really stood out in my mind though I hope I’ll be forgiven if I didn’t mention someone. In all honesty every member of the staff at Hermitage Bay is awesome!
The food at Hermitage is so darn good, you’d slap your grandmother just to get a bite. It’s that good lol.
Want to know who some of the people are that I named in this review? Check out the pictures. I have included some so you can feel more comfortable from the moment you arrive. No need to be on the fence
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- ~ Conde Nast Traveler 2015 Gold List Winner ~ The quiet, independently owned Hermitage Bay is comprised of just 27 luxury cottages so that "even at its busiest, the place seems remote and quaint." Whether visiting for the first time or returning as a friend, you'll enjoy a welcome familiarity and "sensation of belonging" from the moment you arrive. Tucked into a beautiful bay in one of the most secluded corners of Antigua, it is perfect for those seeking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Spanning 16 acres of lush tropical gardens, our eco-chic, luxury hotel provides all the comforts of a 5 star resort without compromising the natural habitat that thrives around it. Our open-air facilities, extensive beach and detached rooms allow you to unwind in isolated luxury. Each of the 7 Beachfront and 3 Garden Suites features a spacious split level lounge and patio, while the large wrap-around decks and private plunge pools of the 17 Hillside Pool Suites afford the added luxury of soaking up the Caribbean sun from the privacy of your own sun bathing deck. Whether enjoying lunch by the pool, dining in the beachfront restaurant, or having breakfast in bed, every meal feels privately catered. The menus change daily and feature freshly squeezed local juices, locally grown produce, and organic ingredients. At Hermitage Bay, all dishes are prepared to order, special requests are encouraged, and we are always happy to help with dietary requirements. Non-motorised water sports are included and a shuttle service to and from town and Shirley Heights is available for an additional charge. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Hermitage Bay Hotel St. John`s
- Hermitage Bay St Johns
- Hermitage Bay Antigua, Antigua And Barbuda