At a Glance
This family-oriented resort with 87 suites (most with sea views) boasts a gorgeous oceanfront location and still manages to create an aura of romance for those not traveling with children.
Taking my first steps onto the Carlisle Bay property, I was immediately struck by the sound. The air was filled with bird calls. (At night, this gives way to the chirping of tree frogs.) Combined with the jungle-like landscaping and canopy of ferns, it felt as though I had stepped into the rainforest.
One of the top perks of Carlisle Bay is its marvelous location on the southern coast of Antigua, adjacent to mangroves and an actual rainforest. The resort is centered on a beautiful cove in the shape of a horseshoe, with a soft sand beach that’s a half-mile long and calm water that is perfect for swimming. To the east are the vivid green hills of the rainforest and a mangrove inlet perfect for exploring by kayak. To the west lie more hills alongside a scattering of houses. Guests tend to claim the beach chairs in the early morning hours and by 8 a.m., only a few located in the second row will remain. In the afternoon, as I sipped tea on my terrace, purple-throated hummingbirds zoomed in on the hot pink bougainvillea, sandpipers flitted by and an adorable yellow-breasted warbler hopped around my table hoping for a snack.
To make the most of this natural setting, each of the resort’s 87 suites is situated on the beach. The two-bedroom Beach Suites along the west side of the resort are largely devoted to families. Each is about 730 square feet in size, with a master bedroom with a king bed and a couch, and a corridor connecting to a second bedroom with two twin beds. (Families with more than two kids will find the room a bit snug and should opt for two interconnecting Beach Suites.) Guests with younger children are given priority for the ground floor Beach Terrace Suites, which open directly onto the sand. It’s an ideal set-up, as parents can lounge on the daybed on the terrace while their kids build sandcastles under a palm tree a few feet away. Those with older children are given Beach Balcony Suites with ocean views on the second floor. These are a little less convenient, as you need to go down the staircase and around the back of the building to access the beach. The walk takes no more than two minutes, but it’s not the same as stepping directly out onto the shore. Although they have lovely ocean views, the family-dedicated area offers much more of a casual resort feel, where sand toys are often left in front of the ground floor terraces, and children’s swimsuits are draped on the balconies overnight. Behind the Beach Suites is the resort’s large freeform pool, landscaped with flowering shrubs, and the casual terrace where kids eat dinner.
To ensure a more romantic setting, couples are given Ocean Suites, which run along the opposite side of the property. These are set on the beach as well, but a little further back with views of the ocean and beach chairs on the adults-only beachfront. The pathway that guests use to walk around the resort is directly in front of these suites, which means you don’t have total privacy unless you close your curtains. For honeymooners or couples seeking a more luxe experience, consider the Bay Suites, which offer private butler service and a fully-stocked bar. The Garden Suites are set behind the Beach Suites, so your view is palm trees and ferns and another building, rather than the ocean. That said, they are still extremely close to the beach, so they offer great value if you aren’t particular about the view.
Carlisle Bay boasts a distinctly British vibe. When designer Mary Fox Linton created the resort’s aesthetic, she eschewed the vibrant floral clichés of traditional Caribbean decor and instead went for sleek contemporary style with green and blue hues. At the time, the unfussy aesthetic was widely heralded as a breath of fresh air, but some may find it too minimal and cold. The rooms are furnished with angular mahogany bureaus and desks and boxy white sofas and armchairs. Amenities include Frette linens, ESPA toiletries, espresso machines, Wi-Fi and high-definition and flat-screen televisions with cable channels. French doors lead out to a covered terrace or balcony with a full-size daybed and a wicker table with two chairs. The bathrooms have large soaking tubs and double sinks. Although the rooms are attractive, they are not super luxe and the furniture reflects some wear (scuff marks on the wooden furnishings and imperfect paint jobs on the door trims). The property has not had a full renovation since it opened in 2003 (although the Bay Suites were added and many aspects updated in 2015). If you are very particular about rooms, you will probably be more comfortable at a place like Jumby Bay, where the Pool Suites have just been renovated. (Jumby is also a lot more expensive.) Travelers who prefer hotels with a strong sense of place may find Carlisle Bay’s design too sleek and chic.
The clientele is largely American and European, mostly from the U.K., but with a good number of Italians. A continental touch: the resort serves afternoon tea (including finger sandwiches and scones with butter and jam) every day between 3:30 and 5 p.m.. You may choose to enjoy your tea on the beach, by the pool or delivered to your room. The European influence lends the resort sophistication, but the overall atmosphere is one of laid-back comfort.
Where Carlisle Bay really excels is its treatment of families—most notably the complimentary kids’ program, which runs between 8:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. and 1:15 - 4:15 p.m. every day. As a mom, I was amazed at how well everything is thought out. For the little ones (ages six months to six years), there’s the Cool Kids Club, held in a gated area with a big jungle gym, lots of sand to dig in, a shallow baby pool (also gated) and a covered terrace with kid-size tables and games. Add to that plenty of shade from palm trees, a good ratio of nannies to kids and lots of structured activities. The Crew Blue Club, which operates during select school holiday periods for older kids (ages seven to 12), offers organized sports (volleyball, tennis, soccer), and fun excursions like a kayak turtle hunt or Hobie Cat sailing The resort will also care for younger children (starting at age six months), but there is a fee of $15 per hour. While plenty of couples come to Carlisle Bay (about half the guests are there for a romantic retreat) and the resort is careful about separating them from the families, there are often a good number of kids around. When I was there, there were up to a dozen kids under ten in the pool, and nearly every table at breakfast had a child at it. For the most part, the kids were well-behaved and spent their days at the kids club or on the family-dedicated beachfront,, but it’s still a very family-oriented atmosphere.
Starting at 5 p.m., families head to the resort’s pool area, where there is a buffet set up. It’s referred to as “afternoon tea,” but it’s really meant to serve as the kids’ dinner. When I was there, the buffet included chicken fingers, grilled red snapper with tomato sauce, white rice, corn on the cob, fruit salad, apple juice and brownies. There are casual wooden tables on the pergola by the pool where all the kids eat, still dressed in their bathing suits. The idea is that parents can feed their children early then put them to bed, hire a sitter and have a civilized adult dinner at 8 pm. As a parent, I find this set-up just about perfect. For those who prefer room service, there is also an all-day children’s menu with a good selection of standards (penne, pizza, mac and cheese).
The property has four restaurants: East, an indoor venue that serves Asian cuisine; Ottimo!, a poolside spot with wood-fired pizza and Italian fare; Jetty Grill, an adults-only seaside restaurant with fresh fish and carafes of wine; and Indigo on the Beach, located on a covered terrace overlooking the water and offering grilled seafood. The resort’s amenities include nine tennis courts (four of which are lit for night play), a 17,000-square-foot spa with a wide selection of treatments, a well-equipped fitness room and a tranquil yoga pavilion located in the lush gardens. On the beach, there are a range of recreational toys like Hobie Cats, Sunfish, kayaks, paddle boards and snorkeling gear, which guests are welcome to use at no charge. I adored the library—a little cottage with comfortable sofas, lots of windows and a hand-picked selection of books arranged by theme: Purpose (Austen, Dickens, Shakespeare), Perspective (biographies), Style (coffee table books) and so on. My favorite part was the book exchange section, where guests were encouraged to leave the paperback they came with and take a new one. There’s also a Screening Room with blue leather chairs where movies are shown daily at 4 pm (for the kids) and 9 pm. (Small quibble: I love the idea in theory, but when I was there, the room had a slightly musty aroma, which is perhaps hard to avoid in a humid environment.)
Who Should Stay
Carlisle Bay is fantastic for families, especially those with kids under 12. The staff really gets what parents need and how best to serve them, and the room set-ups work splendidly. Couples seeking a relaxed atmosphere and myriad water activities will also be pleased. Carlisle Bay is also a good value—you get a lot for your money and there's an all inclusive package for those that prefer an effortless experience. The vibe is very laid-back, so it’s best for those who don’t need or want hovering staff members. There’s no poolside service, for instance, and the service on the beach can be spotty.
Written by Eliza Harris