> Destinations > Antigua and Barbuda > Trip Reports > Trip Report
Report on trip May 8 - 16, 2004
I'll try to keep this short, but it won't be easy. First, thanks to all of the previous reviewers who posted reports about Jolly Harbour and Antigua. This was our fourth Internet-planned vacation, and each has been outstanding.
Before you leave. A couple of tips to first-time travelers to Antigua. One evening our credit card was rejected when we attempted to use it at a favorite restaurant. When we called Visa, they told us that they suspended the card, "because someone in Antigua was using our credit card!" (That be me, mon!) They apologized, saying they did it as a precaution, due to an increased amount of credit card fraud in the Caribbean. They advised us to call Visa customer service before traveling overseas in the future, so their Security can be alerted.
We also found it impossible to use our AT&T pre-paid phone card there, thanks to the local telecom monopoly, Cable & Wireless, which blocks calls to other providers. However, AT&T Wireless recently established service on Antigua, so we could use our cell phone, at a rate of $2.30 per minute. (We first had to call AT&T customer service to enable the "International" feature on our wireless account.)
Jolly Harbour Resort. The resort, on Antigua's west coast, consists of over 500 villa apartments (mostly 2 BR, some 1 BR), of which only 22 are timeshare. Timeshare exchanges are managed by a local company, OPBM. Our 1 BR unit (#217 D2) was big enough, with a nice view of the harbor. It needed some basic maintenance, and we were told that a makeover was planned, to be charged back to the owners. Daily housekeeping kept the inside clean, but the bedroom windows were so dirty you couldn't see out of them.
Apartments are wired for 220 volts AC, so you'll need to bring or rent a converter if you want to use any US electronic items. OPBM loaned us a 220v hair dryer at no cost. A $45 utility fee was charged to our bill. Resort phones can be used for incoming calls, but outgoing long distance calls must be charged to a phone card, which you must buy from Cable & Wireless.
On Thursday night everyone was invited to a very nice, free sunset cruise on a large catamaran sailboat. We had delicious snacks, rum punch drinks, and music for dancing. The surprising thing was that absolutely no sales pitch was given, although the resort is actively selling villas and timeshares. In fact, nobody approached us about any kind of property sales the whole time we were on the island! What a contrast from some US resort towns where the timeshare salespeople are all over you.
Internet access was available from computers at the hardware store in the small shopping plaza on the resort grounds, costing roughly $10 US for a half-hour.
Insects weren't a big problem, although we killed a cockroach the size of a small Buick the first night we were there. Our housekeeper (they have daily service) gave us a can of bug spray, which seemed to do the trick.
There seemed to be fewer parking spaces (and driveways) than villas inside the Jolly Harbour Resort. Someplace we read that visitors were supposed to park in a lot by the entrance and use a shuttle service to get around inside the resort. We drove our car to our villa every day without a problem, except for the last night when someone else got our space first.
Antigua and the Caribbean. First time travelers to the Caribbean may undergo a bit of culture shock. We live in the Florida Keys, which prides itself on being "laid back," but this place has taken it to the extreme! Sometimes things seem to run in slow motion, especially any kind of service, but that's OK - hey, we were on vacation, so "no problem, mon!"
The country is very poor, which will be obvious when driving anywhere. The resorts we saw were all nice, and some (like Jolly Beach and Pineapple Beach) were all-inclusive, so if you want to visit them you either sneak past Security or pay for a "day pass."
Getting Around. We chose to rent a car, since we like to explore the places we visit. We went to Hertz, hoping for a car in better condition than the ones we had rented in Cancun and Aruba. No such luck - it was dirty and the roof leaked. We had no flat tires, but the battery failed once. Fortunately, this happened at Jolly Harbour, so a local Hertz guy came over and fixed it on the spot. We bought the optional insurance ($120 US) but discovered later that it had a $1,000 deductible on it. Fortunately we didn't need it.
Driving on Antigua is an exciting (and sometimes harrowing) experience. Leaving the airport, we drove through the capital city of St. John's on the way to the Royal Antiguan Hotel, where we spent our first night. (We arrived a day early, before our timeshare was available). Antigua's city streets, like its country roads, are narrow and full of cars, trucks, people (no sidewalks) and animals. Deep potholes are common. Street and directional signs are few and far between (especially outside of town), so you are guaranteed to get lost - a lot! You drive on the left. If you drift a little to the right, you could take out a car mirror (or worse), and if you drift to the left, there is usually a deep ditch that could also ruin your day. Some people prefer to take a taxi to their hotel or resort and then take bus, boat or helicopter tours while there. I can understand why! (One local told us that the "taxi mafia" took down the signs to discourage visitors from using rental cars.)
We took day trips (weather permitting) to explore the island's towns and beaches, and once we got used to the driving and road conditions, we were OK.
Antigua's People. In addition to the beauty of the island's hills and beaches, the people are fantastic. Nobody is in a hurry, and they love to strike up a conversation with visitors, answering questions and offering advice. But don't be surprised if they ask you for a "donation" before you part company, for "something to eat" or "my sick child." One day a man, working as a landscaper at our resort, recommended a nearby restaurant, Le Castle. When we arrived, we found him working there as the manager. After dinner, he spent an hour with us, offering all kinds of information on his country, its history, laws, etc. He even brought out a book and pointed out pictures of some favorite spots. We found him to be typical.
On the beaches and docks near resorts (such as Jolly Harbour), t-shirt, boat rental, boat trip and jewelry vendors are common, but if you tell them you are not interested, they will politely leave.
The only negative attribute I can give Antiguans is that so many of them drive like maniacs. But they are not prone to road rage, and are friendly to confused tourists. Fortunately, words like "hustle," "stress," and "uptight" are not in the Antiguan vocabulary.
Security. Not once did we feel in danger or threatened by an Antiguan, even some pretty weird-looking dudes. A local guy explained that Antigua's crime laws are very strict, and the newspaper, radio and TV news reports were pretty dull compared to the crime reports we are used to hearing back home.
Jolly Harbour had several security guards positioned around the resort, but they seemed more like window dressing than performing an important function.
Gambling. One night we stopped at the Grand Princess Casino, on the grounds of the Jolly Harbour resort, but we were quickly by a "greeter" and a guy operating a questionable table game, so we left. Later in the week we visited the casino in downtown St. John's and had a much better time. I spent a couple of hours playing roulette with some friendly locals, and quadrupled my investment in the process.
Weather. There is no Weather Channel in Antigua, and weather forecasts are almost non-existent. Locals will tell you to "watch the hills" to the east to spot incoming storms. Weather is just not an issue. Several strong but brief rainstorms hit us during the week, but there was always a nearby store or tiki bar to duck into. Those Antiguan rum punches sure help pass the time!
We were there during timeshare week #19 (2nd week of May), and it was still cool enough to not require air conditioning. We enjoyed the tropical breezes that blew through our apartment continuously.
Currency. Antigua uses Eastern Caribbean (EC) currency, set at an official exchange rate of $2.70 EC to $1.00 US, but most places round it off to 2.5. Always make sure you and the person you are talking to are speaking the same currency. One night we were looking at a restaurant menu's prices in US dollars and asked our server about the daily special. The price seemed very high, so we skipped it, only to learn later that she was referring to EC dollars.
All in all, you can expect to pay anywhere from slightly more to double the cost of what you would expect to pay in the US.
Shopping. The shopping plaza at Jolly Harbour provides just about anything you'll need. It has a small grocery store (soon to be replaced by a larger facility), bank, Hertz office, liquor store, souvenir shops, restaurants, etc. The Vendor Malls in downtown St. John's are another story; you'll be hounded incessantly from all sides from the moment you walk in the door. Not fun.
Restaurants. There are a few restaurants on the Jolly Harbour grounds (Mellini's, Steely Bar & Restaurant, etc.) but our favorite (by far) was Coco's, south of Jolly Harbour, just past the Jolly Beach Resort. Their food, atmosphere and service was excellent, and we would recommend it to anyone. We also liked the Le Castle Restaurant, between Jolly Harbour and Jolly Beach, but nobody else (except for the friendly manager) was there while we were there. Our lobster linguini was delicious.
The bar on Jolly Harbour beach - Castaway's - was a very nice place to hang out for drinks or to have lunch or dinner.
In St. John's, we liked Hemingway's a lot. The Commissioner Grill was not so hot and too expensive.
Since we were there after the busy winter season, there were no lines and no reservations were required anywhere.
Night Life. We had hoped to experience more of the local nightlife, but since we were there during off-season, it was slow. We did go to Shirley Heights on Sunday night, and that was a highlight of the week. We listened to three hours of an excellent steel drum band and then danced for three hours to a local reggae band. We were among the first to arrive, and grabbed some great BBQ before the lines formed. The place filled up fast, and by 10 pm it was packed - indoors and out. A good time was had by all.
On Tuesday night the Steely Bar at Jolly Harbour had their own BBQ, with the same steel drum band (Halcyon). A few people showed up in spite of monsoon rains.
OK, I lied about keeping it short. E-mail me and I'll really give you the details! firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to Dick Conklin for this trip report ...