> Destinations > Antigua and Barbuda > Trip Reports > Trip Report
A Perfect Vacation – December, 2003
I thought I would write this to let you know about a great experience we had on Antigua in general, and at the Catamaran Hotel specifically. As for the island itself, we have not found a nicer group of locals on any other island in the Caribbean. Between my wife and I, we've been to Cayman, Bahamas, Bermuda, Martinique, Barbados, Bonaire, Curacao, St. Martin, Turks & Caicos, U.S. and British Virgin Islands, and a number of locations in Mexico. The only group of locals that are equally nice are their next door neighbors from Montserrat. We always felt welcome, had more people start conversations with us than ever before, and we never felt as though we were in danger. Even the "weirdoes" (there are some on every island) will accept a "no thank-you" and go away quietly, saying "hope you have a good stay on the island!".
As for the Catamaran, I'll preface this by saying that if you want a fancy "all-inclusive", or want to pay $350 a night, the Catamaran is definitely NOT your place. However, if you want extremely friendly staff, real value, and a large, very clean room with a nice view, I can't imagine you will find any better place than the Catamaran. Our rooms had exceptionally maintained wood paneling, and the hotel showed an attention to detail which I think comes from the owners who are used to maintaining wooden sailboats. As far as we are concerned, it is where you want to be if you want to get a true taste of the island life.
We went ahead and "splurged" on one of the larger, nicer rooms, which cost us $140 U.S. per night. The room included a nice kitchenette as well as a balcony/porch area overlooking the beach and Falmouth Harbor. The steps to our room went right down to the beach as well. It might seem like a little thing, but the bathroom included a bathtub, which was really handy when we wanted to wash out our dive gear. The room was truly spacious, so even though we spent 10 days at the Catamaran, my wife and I never felt like we were tripping over each other or our 4 large bags of stuff (two were for dive gear alone). In my opinion, a big room beats marble floors any day! While the rooms are not air conditioned, there was always enough wind with the windows open to keep the room comfortable. Don't worry; the windows have screens, so mosquitoes were kept at bay, though you won't avoid every one of them. I can also say that we never once found bugs in the room, and the place was kept ultra clean by an extremely friendly staff. Free use of their sailboats, dinghies and paddleboats isn't a bad thing either!
As for food and other amenities, there is Jimmy's restaurant next door, which had good, though not exceptional food. There is a very nice ice cream shop about a block away that serves very good food, and we would highly recommend their flying-fish burgers. Next door to that is a convenient grocery store where you can get everything you need to stock up for breakfasts or other meals in the room, and they also sell beer & liquor. We really liked having breakfast in the room so that we could get a relaxed start on our day. The Nelson's Dockyard/English Harbor area has a lot of very good restaurants, and is about 20 minutes walk away. This may seem like a long walk, but you can also catch a bus to the area for about $0.75 per person, and bus service is usually quite available, so we never felt like we were staying too far from town. You can also use the hotel's boats to sail over to Pigeon Beach, which is very nice and quite large.
Keep in mind a couple things when you choose hotels on the islands: Every hotel or property is a trade-off. If you go to an all-inclusive, you probably won't go off-site and get a real feel for the people or the food, and most everyone you meet will be another tourist. If you go to a smaller property, the beach probably isn't going to be as good, but you will spend much less money for the lodging, you'll get real local food, and you will probably come out ahead on the $. If you go to a property with a huge beach, you are much more likely to end up a long distance away from a good selection of restaurants, and need a rental car to get around. You are also much more likely to be far away from any good snorkeling or other things of interest (other than the beach). If you get a hotel "in town" you'll be hard pressed to be on a good beach at all, since Caribbean towns are generally built on the biggest harbor, and harbors are generally designed for the import/export of goods, not for sunbathing & swimming. For us, the Catamaran provided the fewest trade-offs and met the highest number of our needs for the right price point.
One thing you should also consider about the multi-national all-inclusives: They usually have struck a deal with the government of the island so they don't pay much in taxes, they import their own food so they don't buy from locals, and they employ locals at minimum wage. So, you often won't end up with that warm friendly feeling from people who know you are supporting the island. Having done both, the all-inclusives just seem to leave us cold.
As for diving in Antigua, while it was not as good as Cayman or Bonaire, it is certainly either underrated or unknown, especially if you dive near the Falmouth & English Harbor areas. While there is not a plethora of wonderful sites, there are about 15 or 20 really decent sites, and some which are really almost exceptional. As for dive operations, John Charlesworth at Aquanaut Diving gets a very strong recommendation from us. John and his staff were not only very friendly and laid back, they were very knowledgeable about the lesser-known fish, they knew where to find interesting reef life, and John tells some very funny stories in the process. If you get to dive with John, ask him to show you the thing he does with little trunkfish!
Well, there is so much more we could say about the island – Shirley Heights, recommendations for specific restaurants, going over to Montserrat to see the volcano, etc., but this is probably too long as it is.
Let's just say that we really liked Antigua, the Catamaran Hotel, and Aquanauts divers, buy you'll just have to check it out for yourself. This has now become our favorite island in the Caribbean!
Thanks to Bruce for this trip report ...