Three words we typically avoid when making travel plans: Caribbean all-inclusive. But when it's done right, it looks just like Blue Waters Resort & Spa in Antigua.
I'm not your typical all-inclusive resort kind of guy. I prefer to vagabond a bit and I like action. But, after spending a few days relaxing at Blue Waters Resort & Spa on Antigua, I can totally understand the appeal of a laid-back vacation that doesn't require you to constantly take your wallet out.
Blue Waters is not a chain. It is privately-owned. There's a unique, intimate vibe that makes it feel different than other all-inclusive resorts I've visited. To boot, it's one of those rare all-inclusives that feels charming and thoughtful — offering quality and quantity, with no social director (or karaoke or pool games) in sight.
Before I had a chance to put my bags down in the lobby, I was handed a cocktail from the Pelican Bar, a bright indoor-outdoor room with high ceilings and overlook the garden. Watch your step: Cocktails are a theme and they are proud of their martinis.
The lobby, bars and restaurants are mostly outdoors and offer breezy views of the Caribbean. Indoors, the vibe can be described as "Caribbean beach chic" and consists of a mostly white palette with dark wood accents. The resort sits on the northwestern corner of the island and has its own private beach. The landscaping is lush, stunning, and expansive.
On first impression, it was nice to know that I wouldn't have to leave the hotel to experience the best of what the island has to offer.
Claim To Fame
The staff. They are some of the nicest and most attentive people I've ever met. I was amazed by how many of them were able to remember my name and felt like they truly wanted to know me. The resort is elegant and luxurious, but it's also laid-back and comfortable. That feeling comes from the warmness of those who work there.
What's On Site
The grounds are covered with palm trees and colorful gardens that overlook the warm, blue water most of us dream about during dark, dreary East Coast winters. The resort fits into the side of a small mountain overlooking Soldier's Bay, which means the three beaches are practically private. Lounge chairs and umbrellas are ready and available.
If you're not into sand, there are nine swimming pools to choose from, including an adults-only pool, family-friendly pool, and a beachfront pool with views of the Caribbean.
Activities include water sports (snorkeling, windsurfing, kayaking), tennis, and a landscaped running/walking path around the resort perimeter. There's a gym, but you'd be foolish to spend any of your time indoors.
The spa, which has spectacular views, is tucked away and private. The treatment menu offers an array of massages, facials, and other body therapies. I indulged in an hour-long Swedish massage and was transformed into a better man.
An extensive breakfast and lunch buffet is offered at Palm Restaurant, the most casual of the hotel's three dining options. My morning go-tos were pretty simple — give me fresh fruit, toast, and a couple poached eggs and I'm happy guy. Those with bigger appetites can dine until their stomachs are full with an array of salads, vegetables, grilled meats, and fish entrees. And desserts, lots of desserts.
Dinner brought more choices with two additional restaurants to choose from. Cove Restaurant is a white tablecloth situation with flickering candles and views of the sea. The outdoor restaurant serves Caribbean and French cuisine and was my favorite of the bunch. I'm still thinking about their signature Mahi Mahi served en paupiette with olives and fennel. The third option, Bartley's Restaurant, is indoors and decked out in British colonial decor. For those who care, the intimate spot is one of the few restaurants on island with air conditioning.
If you wish to venture outside the resort for a meal, you won't find restaurants within walking distance, but the hotel concierge can make recommendations for nearby spots and will organize transportation.
In the Room
The's an accommodation type to suit just about everyone. Guest Rooms face the beach or the hillside and are simple, clean, and decorated with a modern, elegant island flair. Hotel Suites are more spacious, while The Cove Suites are expansive, secluded, and come with access to a private infinity pool. Villas have multiple bedrooms, kitchens, and massive living areas.
I stayed in a second floor Cove Suite and had incredible views of the water, but next time I'll request a room on the ground floor so I can have direct access to the private pool. My room was huge, clean, and had one of the biggest bathrooms I've ever seen while traveling. When I needed a break from the sun and endless cocktails (there's an unlimited supply of alcohol for all guests) I would head there. Suites are generous in size, and the bathrooms and bedding are fresh and tidy. That's no small feat at the beach. Each night a small edible surprise was left on my bed by the turn-down service. As I was checking out, I couldn't help but picture renting a villa for an entire week with friends.
This Place Is Perfect For
People who want everything taken care of without the emceed pool volleyball games or pretentious attitudes you find at most all-inclusive resorts.
But Not So Perfect For
Anyone looking for action. Blue Waters Resort & Spa is best for those who want to relax.
What to Do Nearby
Antigua is the kind of island where you mostly stick to your hotel, but if you're looking to have some fun off-property, try zip-lining through the jungle with Antigua Rainforest Zip Line Tours. Or ask the hotel to organize a boat ride around the western part of the island. They say Antigua has 365 beaches, one for every day.
English Harbor, which was home to the British Navy for 300 years, claims to be the heart of Caribbean sailing. This is where you'll find the the most restaurants, shopping, and nightlife on the island.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
How To Get There
V.C. Bird International Airport (ANU) is the local airport and a short fifteen-minute drive to the hotel. There are direct flights and connections from the U.S. by way of San Juan and St. Martin, as well as several weekly flights from Europe. JetBlue recently launched direct flights from New York City to Antigua, making this an easy winter escape.
A rental car is nice if you want to explore the island, but not mandatory. Taxis are readily available at the airport and can be arranged by the hotel.
When to Go
Antigua is the perfect winter escape in January, February, and March. Late spring into early summer is also nice for those looking for a more low-key scene with off-season prices.