(*No photos have been edited and are the property of Memories Await Travel.)
My first trip to Antigua was also my first visit to a Sandals resort! (For the purposes of comparison, however, this blog post was written after visiting three Sandals resorts). After a long day of flying and seeing the water turn more and more vibrant in color, I was excited to see what awaited me in Antigua!
A little background:
Antigua (ANN-TEE-GAH) and Barbuda are sister islands that together (along with a few other small islands) form their own country, officially called Antigua and Barbuda. The islands only declared independence from the UK in 1981! Due to British influence, English is the official language. The name Antigua originated when explorer Christopher Columbus descended upon the area and named it after Spain’s Church of Saint Mary of the “Ancient”. The island has a rich history of sugarcane plantations; and therefore African slaves. Descendants have claimed the island as their own through the formation of the Antigua Labor Party and embracing tourism as reflected in the country’s symbolic flag. The black, blue, red, yellow, and white colors represent African heritage, blood, hope, victory, sun, sea, and sand. As a homeschool mom and first-generation American, I cherish learning about the history of the islands which the Sandals resorts call home. For this reason, I make sure to check out library books to study up about the country. I also buy a flag charm for each island I visit by stopping at The Resort Shop on property. You’ll be happy to know you can purchase both local treats, as well as Sandals, brand merchandise at all Sandals’ Resort Shops. I always take home some of both!
The resort was only about a 20-minute drive from the airport where I boarded my transfer at the Sandals designated desk. After driving through hilly terrain and curvy roads, the driver and I arrived at a resort decked in party lighting that stood in stark contrast against the island’s black nighttime sky. I felt as though I was pulling up for a party at the Jay Gatsby estate in Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”, so fun! I was being dropped off at a celebration that was certain!
Upon arrival, the staff promptly tended to my gear and I was greeted with a glass of champagne and cooling washcloth via silver platter by the Club Sandals concierge. The only task required to check-in was a 5-minute iPad entry while I relaxed in a super cozy chair.
All Sandals stays are an all-inclusive luxury, however, there are extra perks for guests who book accommodations at the Club & Butler Levels.
Club Sandals includes all of the above in addition to being escorted to your room & in-room orientation. This is great because you don’t have to discover you have a question later and then phone the front desk. After the room orientation, Club Sandals guests also receive a private resort tour to gain their bearings. My Club Sandals rep even took note of my camera and gave me some tips on where to find some good shots and what time of day. Club Sandals guests also receive a welcome packet with info specific to CS guests. Inside I found invitations to a special Club Sandals cocktail party, wine tasting, exclusive snorkeling, property holiday tour and even a shopping tour in downtown St. John’s. (All invitations require an RSVP). I was reminded it is always a good idea to take a few minutes to read through your packet for anything you may have overlooked or assumed. For example, 1-800 numbers are NOT free from Antigua and are charged as a regular call & international calling cards are non-operational. Always have communication issues addressed with your cellular provider before you leave for your dream getaway. (Financial institutions need to be made aware of your travel plans as well so your cards will work while traveling.)
Other inclusions by booking Club Level include:
- Dedicated Club Sandals Concierge to assist with planning vacation experience.
- Dedicated Club Sandals Concierge to assist with booking reservations-dinner/spa/tour/private dinners.
- Daily contact with guests throughout their stay.
- Personalized Resort Orientation.
- Escort of guests to bus when they are going on tours.
- All Day Room Service from 7:00AM – 10:00PM. (Except at Sandals Halcyon Beach)
- Robes in all rooms.
- In-Room Bar stocked daily with sodas, juices, water, Robert Mondavi Twin Oaks® wine, local beer and a variety of spirits.
- Specially made Club Sandals room key.
- In-Room Culinary treat for late arrivals.
- Free Wi-Fi in all rooms and public areas. Unlimited number of devices.
Club Sandals Lounge:
- Hours: 24 hours lounge access; Staff will be available from the hours of 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
- High-definition flat-screen TV.
- Selection of Board Games, books and novels.
- Tea and coffee station with assorted tea and freshly Ground Coffee (Jamaican Blue Mountain Blend Coffee).
- Coffee machine in all lounges serving Espressos and Cappuccinos.
- New York Times and British Today, The Canadian and any other Times Fax as requested.
- iPads displaying menus, martini menu, weekly activities and Managers wine list.
- Library of Local Books Available.
- Air conditioned comfort.
- Signature Scent.
- Soothing Background Music.
- Guest check-out with Club Sandals Concierge.
- Alcoholic Beverages, Sparkling Wine, Juice, Soda and Water.
- All Day Snacks and Pastries:
- Danish, Croissants, Muffins.
- Coconut, Sugar and Chocolate cookies.
- Assorted Island Treats – Rumball, coconut drops, coconut macaroon.
- Sandwiches and Wraps.
- Club Sandals Signature Drink.
Other Services by Club Sandals:
- Ensure your bags are brought up to the departure area.
- Recognition of birthday / anniversary / special occasion
- Escorted Island Routes Club Sandals Tours****available at an additional cost
I found my room’s interior to be both spacious and private. I liked the elongated foyer that separated the bathroom area from the bedroom area so the accommodations didn’t feel like a hotel room. In keeping with the Meditteranean tone of the room, textiles used were etched glass, stone, ceramic tile, and marble. The yellow lighting created a soft warm glow. I loved the bubble jet tub and the rain shower head. Why oh why do I not have these things at home!
My in-room bar included rum, whiskey, vodka, gin, wine & champagne. It was also stocked with Antigua’s local beer, Wadadli, which is the name natives affectionately refer to the island.
My room was located in the Mediterranean Oceanview Village. This map can be a little deceiving as the beach runs along the west coast. The Mediterranean area is located to the south, the Caribbean area to the north and inland is going to the east.
Since the resort is located off Dickenson Bay, I woke up to this! Those room-darkening blinds were so effective I didn’t know this view awaited me on the other side! The gorgeous colored water in Antigua is the second prettiest I have ever had the pleasure to see! (Cayman Islands gets my vote for #1!)
Tour of the property:
First stop of the day was brunch at Mario’s, the resort’s Italian themed restaurant. The buffet included all the traditional favorites plus local fruits. I ordered tea instead of coffee, only to remember because of the British influence in Antigua, tea actually means hot tea! Back home in Alabama, tea means ice cold, sweet tea!
I love to eat and food is probably the all-inclusive I appreciate the most at Sandals! I love having access to freshly squeezed juices and pastries made from scratch and mixed with yummy local spices.
Dining options at Sandals Grande Antigua include 11 establishments.
Mario’s (Classic Italian)
Soy (Sushi Bar)
Eleanor’s (Pan-Caribbean; Reservations Required)
Bayside (Alternating Caribbean Influences by the Day of the Week)
Barefoot by the Sea (Seafood)
Drunken Duck (Recreated English Pub)
Kimonos (Oriental; Reservations Required)
OK Corral (Tex-Mex)
Courtyard Bistro (Americana Bistro with Caribbean Twist)
Bella Napoli (Pizzeria;)
Cafe de Paris (Parisian pastry shop)
*Some of the restaurants have different operating hours or require reservations, so you’ll need to check prior to heading to dine.
My next stop was to meet with my tour guide to familiarize myself with the room categories at Sandals Grande Antigua. Did you know that Sandals Grande Antigua has 28 room categories? Handicap accessible rooms are also available.
A popular favorite are the Love Nest Butler Rondoval Suites, complete with 20-foot conical ceilings. These circular “huts” are nestled in the middle of the resort in the Beachfront Caribbean Grove.
Here are a few shots of some of the other room categories!
Sandals Grande Antigua resort really is two resorts in one! You may hear discussion on which end of the resort is best, the Meditteranean Village or the Caribbean Village. In my opinion, they are both great. The Meditteranean side is more popular with the youngest of the guests and great for socializing at the main pool. The Caribbean side is most popular with the more seasoned guests that covet serenity above all else! Because the entertainment stage and main pool are located closer to the property’s south side in the Mediterranean Village area, you will find this side a little louder & happening.
As you walk your way north however, the resort becomes even more serene. You’ll pass through the Sunset Oceanview Bluff, pass the beachfront hub that houses Caribbean Main Lobby and later arrive at the Caribean Beachfront Village. You’ll find Main Lobbies in both the Mediteran and Caribbean villages. This is the most spread out of all of the Sandals properties (other than Sandals Ochi in Jamaica) in my opinion. While it is easy to navigate based on the theming of the different areas, (everything blends aesthetically), look to walk 20+ minutes if you need to walk from one end of the resort to the other. However, the landscaping is so stunning, you will enjoy every minute of the walk!
After checking out many of the fabulous room categories on property, I took some time to tour privately with one of the landscaping supervisors. She was so gracious to pause from her work and educate me about the local species of flowers, such as the Barringtonia Asiatica with its’ firework looking bursts of hair-like petals. She shared with me that Sandals Antigua had received awards for their landscaping. She also informed me how all of the flowers and plants on property were raised from scratch in greenhouses and groomed meticulously for guests at Sandals Antigua alone! Of the twelve Sandals’ owned properties I have visited thus far, the landscaping at Antigua has been my favorite! I’m not a gardening guru so if I’m stopping to admire the beautiful foliage, that is saying something. These blooms make Sandals Antigua a gorgeous background for a wedding or vow renewal ceremony, FYI! I made sure to stop and visit with the wedding coordination team and learn all about the services provided with Sandals’ Aisle to Isle Wedding Program as well! Don’t forget that all Sandals resorts offer on-site photography services. Whether you are looking for fun souvenirs such as calendars, canvas options or full wedding photography, the Snap Shots Photo & Video Creations shop has you covered!
Overall, this resort is really beautiful and romantic. This is no surprise as Sandals Antigua was awarded “The World’s Most Romantic Resort” by World Travel Awards and is located on Antigua’s best beach on Dickenson Bay.
A closer look at the two sides of the resort:
The Mediterranean side is filled with fountains, pillar-style low stone walls, statues, metal balconies, romantic staircases and even a swooping pergola (popular during the Italian Renaissance).
On the Caribbean side of the resort, you’ll find dreamy gazebos, alluring swings, recreational fun such as tennis, volleyball & pool, exotic birds, commanding skylights and seductive landscaping. The Mediterranean side feels more sophisticated and the Caribbean side feels more hushed. You get both when you book Sandals Grande Antigua! I loved how even the walkways were designed differently on each side. The Mediterranean side splashes straight walkways, whereas the Caribbean side splurges windy & curved walkways. These are little details the average guest might not distinctly notice, but guests will certainly feel a certain way, even if they don’t know why consciously.
A few more views around the resort:
Seriously, I was saving some of my shots as screensavers on my phone! #prettyprettypretty
While guests of all ages vacation at Sandals Antigua and the nightlife includes fun for all ages, I definitely noticed an abundance of young honeymooners who married over the Christmas holiday. However, one huge highlight that stood out to me while traveling across the Caribbean to Sandals’ properties is how well the guests mesh well with one another. The entertainment facilitators on property are lively and comical and do their best to include everyone in dancing, singing, and silliness. A favorite entertainment experience was watching guests of all ages (and various durations of courtships) being gathered to the front of the plaza at St. Mark’s Square. The entertainment crew thus began a game of “How well do you know your partner”. The audience rolled in laughter as frightened male guests attempted via microphone to guess their partners’ underwear sizes. One thing is for sure, you will have fun at Sandals!
For my next day at Sandals Grande Antigua, I wanted to learn more about Island Routes, third party excursions and of course the included water sports by booking a stay at Sandals.
The official partner of Sandals Resorts’ excursions, Island Routes, makes it easy for everyone to have even more fun. Their company has desks conveniently located in the lobby of each Sandals resort. These tours can be booked with your travel advisor prior to travel as well!
Antigua excursions include sightseeing, helicopter tours, road trips, volcano trips, segway tours, shopping experiences, Barbuda escape, eco-tours, rum tours, sunset cruises, horseback riding, kayaking, zip-lining, stingray experiences, Caribbean cooking classes, lobster cruising, sailing, snorkeling, deep-sea fishing and jeep riding too! Our guide for the day arranged for us to sail past famed Italian fashion designer, Gorgio Armani’s house. Ah, just another day in Antigua, right?!
As for included water sports with Sandals, I went sailing with two of my very own lifeguards. I felt safe and had a blast, which is a good thing since I am scared of water! Safety and comfort are of the utmost importance in regards to guests at Sandals.
January was a great time to visit as the humidity was low from the northeast trade winds and the temps were running about 77 degrees by 6 am, but had cooled down to 75 by 8 am. I can handle that for sure. Did I mention I was from Alabama?? If you or someone you know is really into sailing, you will definitely want to check out Antigua’s annual Sailing Week which dates back 50 years! https://www.sailingweek.com
Red Lane Spa & Fitness:
I’m a little embarrassed to admit that prior to this trip, I had never had a massage. I decided my first ever massage would help me relax prior to flying to my next destination. I called down to the concierge desk and booked the Red Lane Spa for my last day. (An appointment at arrival to help kick start your relaxing vacation is ideal as well!)
Massages started at $135 for individuals and $385 per couple. I opted for the 90-minute “Rainbow Dreams” massage. Talk about bliss! I was lathered with seven essential oils along my entire body including feet! It was no wonder due to the soothing music and dim lights that I fell asleep and awoke thinking I was in heaven, lol! Seriously, it took me a minute to enter my body again, ha! A nail bar, glamour bar, gentleman services, and bridal packages are available as well. The Spa is a vacation in itself! Budget for this! You can thank me later!
There is also a Red Lane Fitness Center if you have time on your vacay to relax via workout as well!
I’m not a lover of cats, but you will find cats curled up in various places at Sandals Grande Antigua! Sandals guests are a laid back bunch and don’t seem to mind the felines in the least. They are well-mannered, friendly and never climb on guests or furniture. The resort asks that guests not feed them because they are feed at certain times of the day by staff at the “Cat Cafes!” I actually enjoyed sharing the resort with the sweet fur babies as it made my stay feel even homier and laid back.
Speaking of creatures and critters, I did notice sand flies trying to befriend me while I was on the beach specifically at sunset taking photos. I found an essential oil-based bug repellent in the resort gift shop. This stuff is so amazing and smells good too! The locals also recommended this brand of mosquito bracelets, but honestly, I never had a problem with mosquitos, even prior to this awesome spray! However, I made sure to take note of their suggestion to pass on to my followers just in case you are mosquito prone! https://www.amazon.com/Pitch-Trek-Repellent-Waterproof-Protection/dp/B07H3RN4ZC
Overall, this was a great trip and I can’t imagine anything I would have changed other than the bugs at sunset. The resort was clean, the staff was friendly, the food was good, the water was gorgeous, the beach was beautiful and the security was well-enforced. I always thought I had to feel wealthy to fit in at Sandals, but that wasn’t true at all. If you’re on property, you’re family. As they say at the resorts, “Welcome Home!” Sandals Antigua is your one-stop destination if you’re looking for:
-an all-inclusive that is romantic
-two themed resorts that mesh well into one
-award-winning landscaping perfect for a wedding or vow renewal setting
-stunning colored water & white beaches
-nearby casino gambling in St. John’s
-a resort that attracts younger couples specifically
I hope you’ve enjoyed the review and if you would like a free quote on current Sandals’ promotions, I would love to hear from you! I can be reached at 205-908-8332 cell or text or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next time Antigua! Thank you for making my first Sandals visit a romantic one, even if I was traveling alone for work!
~Clarissa, Your Cruise Planners ® Travel Advisor