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Jessica Strul | Photo: Courtesy Images | January 3, 2013
Trade winter blahs for Caribbean blue at luxurious Carlisle Bay on Antigua, and take in the annual Antigua Sailing Week festivities.
Imagine a balcony with a chaise lounge, where sprawled out, you soak in surreal views of blue-green sea stretching out to the horizon. Add to this long, sun-drenched days—capped off with island fare and libations delivered right to your chair on the beach— with your toes burrowed in the sand. Even though this picture is nothing like the hectic daily life you’re used to, it only takes about six hours of total flying time from Chicago. As reality would have it, the 4pm daydream of every North Shore stay-at-home mom and overworked dad is a bona fide destination on Antigua’s southern coast—five-star Carlisle Bay.
Upon arriving at the beachy-chic Caribbean outpost, gracious General Manager Jonathan Reynolds and a tall glass of something tasting like a liquid vacation (fresh watermelon juice infused with mint and ginger syrup moonlights as the official welcome cocktail around these parts) are there to greet me. With a sip, I soak up my new surroundings. From the onset it’s clear—this coolly contemporary property from hotelier Gordon Campbell Gray is all about luxury without an ounce of pretension.
Boasting an aesthetic built around clean lines and an airy, modern feel that emphasizes the view, Carlisle Bay was designed to accommodate both families and couples, without too much unwanted interaction between the two. Largely due to the resort’s smart setup, including 82 suites of various size (some sleeping up to six adults) and diverse layouts, this tricky juggle works seamlessly. In my case, not only is the 780-square-foot ocean suite—complete with king-size bed, roomy tub, separate shower, seating area and balcony—a luxe space for one, it’s ideal for couples, too.
A tranquil place where contentment is found by doing little more than sunbathing and indulging in fine culinary fare that’s just a 24-hour room service call away, or at one of three on-site restaurants (Indigo on the Beach, East and Ottimo), Carlisle Bay is an oasis of relaxation. But if you’re not a lie-on-the-beach-all-day type of traveler, there’s plenty to do, with helpful, well-trained staff (employee-to-guest ratio is an attentive 3-to-1) always on hand to offer tips.
Take the second day of my sojourn, which finds me embarking on a hike, led by the kind and knowledgeable Sylvester Parker (one of the hotel’s supervisors). A leisurely route is available, but my group opts for a full-on three-hour trek through the property’s rain forest, with the workout revealing new views of Antigua. Next on the agenda is a snorkeling excursion at Cades Reef. The boat trip over provides supplementary opportunity to take in the sights of the island—both in (a sea turtle) and out (Giorgio Armani’s home) of the water. Later, back at the hotel, a West Indian rubdown at the 17,000-square-foot Blue Spa—a centering spot offering a full list of treatments (among them manis, facials and massage, with special therapies exclusive to the prenatal and teen set)—proves the perfect way to unwind after the day’s events.
A calming shower and short nap on the aforementioned balcony chaise later, and it’s time to head to dinner. Somehow managing to improve on alfresco dining perfection, the meal is served at a proper table on the beach under the stars, completing the Caribbean fairy tale. All culinary exploits at Carlisle Bay are phenomenal, with this particular evening featuring selections from East’s menu, which is comprised of Japanese, Thai and Indonesian cuisines. Even though East boasts a beautifully designed space in the hotel, savoring unique flavors with sand at your feet is a treat I highly recommend.
The next day brings a glimpse of the annual Antigua Sailing Week (April 27 - May 3, sailingweek.com). Spectators can view this end-of-April yacht regatta, mostly taking place in Falmouth and English Harbours, via a front-row seat on a noncompeting vessel, with Carlisle Bay proffering purchasable spots on its own 32-foot Grady-White motorboat. Boating opportunities are available year-round here—contact Ondeck (firstname.lastname@example.org) with inquiries—but Sailing Week takes top billing. A spectacle for yacht-lovers, it’s impossible for anyone not to get wrapped up in its local fervor.
Enthusiasm is also reserved for Antigua’s nightlife, and, for me, this means a trip to Shirley Heights. Just a 25-minute car ride from the hotel, this former military lookout—perched a lofty 487 feet high—supplies panoramas of the aforementioned harbors and Nelson’s Dockyard to complement infamous rum punch, live steel pan music, thumping reggae and Sunday night barbecue. (Carlisle Bay, too, serves its own version of this Caribbean culinary staple.)
My final morning at the resort is spent padding around my room, taking in the view from the balcony and then squeezing in an hourlong Pilates class taught in the Garden Pavilion. I’m supposed to be clearing my mind and letting thoughts drift away, but my only thought is—over and over—how soon can I come back?