My Virgin Travel Adventure – The Antigua Trilogy.
A few months back I posted a travel spoiler of an upcoming family vacation I was in the process of planning. I referred to it as being my big virgin travel adventure. Well, here it is, this is me finally being able to gush a little and share a lot of what made this trip different for me. Forgive me for my play on words, was it a big virgin travel adventure? Well yes actually, not because it was some kind of all expenses paid vacation courtesy of Virgin Atlantic (though I’m open to offers- just putting it out there), it was in fact a virgin travel adventure because for our family, it was indeed unchartered territory in some ways, a maiden voyage of sorts, and of course in this instance our carrier of choice was indeed Virgin Atlantic. But before I’m accused, this was a holiday we booked and paid for ourselves and my views and reviews are our thoughts and reflections of the journey as a family.
As usual, there is always one thing that kick starts my holiday vacation planning process. You know how you might buy a pair of shoes you love then have to find an outfit to wear them with as opposed to the other way around, the more logical way I guess, well, often, this is how my travel mind works. This one started with me, agreeing the year prior to take up the offer to rent the timeshare at St James Club & Villa’s Hotel again that we had enjoyed on our island hopping trip, inspired by a simple bid on eBay which I won.
Everyone laughed, are you serious, how can you book your holiday based on a sale on eBay? Well, I did, and it was fantastic. I will not lie, I did wonder if I was sending some funds to once of these online scammers overseas…but upon checking with the resort and some emails from the owner to them with me copied in, my faith was restored, so going back in year 2 was a no brainer. I simply didn’t mention to anyone else in the family I’d made this arrangement and paid a deposit as soon as we got home, a year in advance.
You know how life get’s hectic, things you hadn’t foreseen on the horizon occur, including our own wedding, family sickness, renovation of a house, all the normal things, so when I received an email to remind me of the booking I’d made for October of this year, I thought, ok, well at least we have a holiday to look forward to, and then I looked at the dates of travel that had been given to me, I knew vaguely they were for half term, fantastic, Virgin Atlantic had a flight sale on, brilliant, then upon trying to book flights and seeing the prices for our dates of arrival and departure…not so good, rock star prices.
Not one to be defeated I had to play with the dates on the sale to see how I could make the trip as cost effective a possible, which meant flying our early and coming back later than the dates for St James Club. I knew we certainly were not really in a position to do the island hopping again as we did last year, so I had to figure out how to make this work, how to make it interesting and keep the costs down, otherwise it wasn’t going to be worth it and we’d have to sell the dates back to the owner.
We booked to fly out 4 nights prior to moving to St James club & Villas, and to fly home a further 3 nights after departing from St James Club, so how to keep it interesting and not just feel like we were on the move throughout the trip?
Part One: Voilactus, Jolly Harbour.
We stayed on a boat in Jolly harbour. Out boat was booked through Airbnb. This is something we”d never done as a family, yes we’ve been on sailing trips as excursions on vacation, but never have we slept over night or spent several days exclusively alone on the same vessel. We secured a fantastic deal with the boat owner Eduardo (cheaper than we’d anticipated to pay for a hotel), and he offered that we could be flexible on location and stay in Jolly harbour or perhaps stay there for a night or two, then sail to another location and dock there to stay before being returned on our final day to Jolly Harbour to travel on to St James Club. We were offered the services of a Captain to skipper us to anywhere we chose at the rate of $150 per day for any days we required him, I can’t tell you how fantastic this deal proved to be and the freedom it gave us.
Our Boat was simple, inside was pretty basic and clearly it is getting a little dated style wise, but this did not detract from eh excitement, the beauty and freedom being on this vessel gave us, and the stunning scenery when sat up on deck wherever we were at any given time. Being within Jolly Harbour itself was a fabulous location, you have the supermarket on hand, a range of restaurants, bars, the leisure centre with pool, tennis courts, but the most stunning of all is Jolly Beach, what a beautiful beach, especially if you head to the are which the many fabulous million dollar homes are built backing onto, it’s a public beach so there is nothing to stop you walking along and wow, what a sight, and if you like looking at amazing property…this is the spot for you.
For the boat people amongst you, Voilactus is a superbly maintained Jeanneau 44 often used as a racing boat and a regular fixture at Antigua Sailing Week, the Heineken Regatta and other annual boat races in Antigua.
Boat Type: Sail
Capacity: 6 people
Make: Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 44
Engine Type: Single Inboard
Length: 44 ft
Beds / Cabins: 4 / 3
The boat has 3 cabins, 2 heads (Toilets) and ample space for storage.
In summary a small apartment on the water.
She has a spacious forward V-berth main cabin with en suite head.
Moving back into the main salon, which has a comfortable, curved seating area.
A full galley (kitchen) with a three burner & oven gas range. Going further back,
there is a navigation area with a spacious chart table, and where the computer,
and all electric panels reside.
Next, on starboard, is one of the guest cabins with a double berth, and an additional pilot berth.
Ideal for a couple with a child or for three children to enjoy their vacations.
This cabin has a sink with vanity.
Opposite, on the port side is the other double guest cabin, with direct access to the port head.
With the services of Daniel our Skipper, we spent two full days (split by 2 days on our own on site), choosing to return to Jolly Harbour at the end of each evening.
We were able to snorkel the best tourist spots, visit Cades Reef, sail along, dock and swim at other resorts fantastic beaches, we prepared our feasts on board using the kitchen below and generally stocked up on great prepared food and drink from the Jolly Harbour supermarket each time. I can’t tell you how amazing and fantastic those few days sailing were. Daniel was very patient, got us all involved with the sailing of the boat and both my husband and son felt quite at home steering or hoisting the sails. I cannot begin to tell you what great value paying a mere $150 per day to sail anywhere of our choosing and do what we wanted at our pace was. Considering almost any other day trip we looked at cost around this price per person, we paid $150 and Daniel was our for the day.
We were able to see some of the famous landmarks of the island from the sea and just really take time to unwind and relax and acclimatise to Caribbean time, then enjoying the buzzing nightlife, the drinks, music, excellent food and conversation with all the other yachters, staff and ex-pats back at Jolly Harbour of an evening. We’d hired a buggy to drive around the resort when not on the boat which made zipping to the beach or restaurant or carrying shopping a very easy task. We were pretty sad to leave on Day 5. But it had been a very hot sticky few days, we did have showers on board and spend a lot of time int the sea, but it ws just unusually hot for Antigua with no breeze, so the thought of maybe moving to somewhere with aircon was a cancellation. One last swim at Jolly Beach, then time to go. this has been our maiden voyage, our true Virgin Travel Adventure. Having only used things from our hand luggage after a quick reshuffle on day one, it was easy to simply pick up the cases and get in a taxi. On to the next one.
Part Two: St James Club & Villas
Hello St James Club and Villa’s. It felt nice driving into the resort, the feeling of familiarity, Knowing exactly where to go, what to expect. In to reception, a welcome Rum Punch, ok if you insist! Life was good. We sat in the lobby for around half hour having drinks, signing in and chilling whilst the staff loaded our bags, and shopping (we’d been to the supermarket at Jolly Harbour) on the buggy to take us to our accommodation, Villa 418 again.
After the confines of below deck on the boat, wow, this was amazing to return, so much space. Villa 418 is particularly spacious and very well laid out. It could easily have been crammed with more bedrooms, but they have kept the place very spacious and airy, well furnished, well fitted with a huge terrace outside on both floors of the Villa. you have everything you need if you wish to be self sufficient, even a barbecue is included, though I must say the all inclusive deal is just so cheap. Despite having supplies and saying we’d not go inclusive, when we heard the deal, we still opted to take six days on the all inclusive option and do our own thing on just 1 of the days.
We certainly put to good use our inclusive option, we utilised watersports at the beach, obviously lot’s of fantastic food and drink, kids club (though this is an area I will come back to…needs some work in out opinion). The gym onsite is fantastic, we hadn’t located it previously but tried to get around to the many areas of this resort there are to chill, be entertained, just so many subtle, blink and you’ll miss it little areas blended in to the natural surroundings. Every day consisted of early morning beach time (like really early, 7am before it got hot for the 7 year old), then a quick swim in the children pool on the way back to the Vill to change and go down to breakfast…always a treat. The staff are very friendly, accommodating and do everything they can to ensure your stay is a happy one and any needs you have are met. I know I’ve covered St James club previously so will keep this one relatively brief, but I have to say, what’s not to like about St James Club?
The villa is mazing in itself, and the fact it’s on the resort with everything at you fingertips, as much interaction and activity as you want, or chilled out seclusion when you desire in the comfort of your own amazing accommodation. with a beach view, close proximity to a bar, pool and steps to the beach, life is good. On this trip we indulged in a new habit, daily sunset tennis, great way to work off the amazing array of food available day and night. My one area for improvement would be, perhaps kids club could do with some attention. The building itself is fine, the staff are very friendly nd accommodating, however, on two trips now, we’ve never encountered another child any time we’ve been to try it for any of the activities. though our son did have some one to one at the pool with a member of staff which was very diligent of her, it’s not babysitting he wanted as much as to play with the other children, and yes the resort is fantastic and families do spend most of their time together, I just feel they need to do more to encourage the kids to maybe coe along and play together…these are the memories they keep often from holidays after all, the friends they made. Never the less, it’s not a huge problem because we did find so much to do onsite, but a suggestion for the resort going forward.
In terms of trips, having had the wonderful services of our Boat and captain in part one, paying huge prices for day trips now from resort did not really appeal so we gave those a swerve, however we did take a hotel shuttle bus into St Johns for some shopping with was interesting, lot’s of jewellery if you’re in the market for diamonds and watches, this is the place for you. But also, some fantastic food at a locally run bar called Cheers, omg the fresh snapper, the prawns, so good, we even took some dressed lobster back to the villa for the evening, it jut looked so tempting.
We had a fabulous week at St James, and then came the time to leave, sad times again, the usual butterflies about was it going to see such an anti-climax removing my family from the resort to go to what may have seemed so much less…a quick throw of everything into a taxi..and on to the next one. time to pick up with the something new and something different, on with the virgin travel adventure,the Caribbean, but not as we know it.
Part Three: Admirals Inn, Nelsons Dock Yard.
When I’d booked Admirals Inn, I’d done so through online booking agent, booking.com and at that time secured a pretty good deal on one of the room sale dates (as per usual). It looked pretty enough online, but I was conscious I was taking the family from an all inclusive resort to an inn, essentially, on a B&B basis, not on the beach, it’s rare for me to stay in the Caribbean and not be on the beach! We had three nights here before our return flight, arriving early in the day and departing in the evening which gave us 4 days onsite, so, my fingers were crossed they wouldn’t be too much of a shock to the family.
There is a great deal of history to the main building of the Inn which I felt and hoped would create something a bit special to round the trip off on, here I have taken an excerpt from he hotel’s website of the background:
” The main building was planned in 1785 (the year after Nelson arrived in English Harbour as Captain of HMS BOREAS) and was completed in 1788.
The ground floor was used to store pitch, turpentine and lead, and there were offices for the engineers of the Dockyard upstairs. The brick passageway at the entrance divided brick-lined pits used for storing the pitch, which was in barrels. Some original pitch marks may still be seen at the foot of the stairs. The bricks used in the building were brought over from England as ship’s ballast, and it is said that the ballast used on the return trip was mostly rum.
The main floor houses a comfortable reception area, lounge and a charming bar. The ship’s plan behind the bar is of Nelson’s ship, H M S BOREAS (meaning “the North Wind”), a 142 foot 28 gun frigate built at Hull. This plan is a photographic copy of the original Admiralty draft of this vessel. Every ship had to leave a draft submitted to their Lordships of the Admiralty for approval of design. The frame surrounding the plans is of lignum vitae, and is an original door frame from one of the entrances to the building.
The round pillars on the grounds once supported a large boat house with a sail loft above. The plans of this building may be seen in the museum. The roof was destroyed by earthquake in 1871, and concrete caps were placed on each pillar to prevent erosion.”
Wow, upon arrival is all I could say. I could not believe how amazing the place was. Admiral Inn, sounds so understated, trust me this is very much a chic boutique hotel with first class facilities, style and service. I had booked our accommodation in an adjacent building called, The Gunpowder suites, to get to these once we’d checked in at reception, we had to get into a boat and sail across to our room, what a treat, this place was stunning in every way.
Upon arrival on the other side, we were greeted with the Boom restaurant and bar, the swimming pool and then walked around to our room, which we entered through an art gallery, the sights, the contemporary style, the scent of cinnamon, all evoked such a happy, relaxed vibe, relief, joy, and a pat on the back for mum from the family.
Our room was stunning, simple, elegant, quality furnishings and a fantastic view from our balcony. This was truly a treat and a fantastic way to round of our trip. My only niggle I had, we had some storms, so hehe wifi did drop a fair few times, but that was related to the weather, and as you tut and curse under your breath, you look up and remember just where you are and how bloody lucky you are.
Whilst staying at Admirals inn, we were able to visit Shirleys Heights on a Sunday evening for the weekly party and to enjoy the sunset, food, drink and the awesome steel band followed by a bit of a dance courtesy of the live band. As we were staying right in the heart of Nelson’s Dockyard, in English Harbour, we were able to visit the museum onsite which our son loved and took in a lot of history. We also visited two beaches nearby, Galleon beach which Cecil, our boat man who sailed us from our room daily, also sales guest to the very nearby Galleon beach and picks you up when you’re ready to return to the hotel. Galleon beach is truly beautiful and very private in feel.
Back at Admirals Inn, they have a first Class restaurnant as well as Boom, the pool bar, there is also The Pillars Restaurant which is very much about fine dining. The food was exquisite, the surroundings, nothing short of spectacular, and this side of the hotel is very much the historical side, still all very tastefully decorated and stunning in execution, but you have all the history and splendour of the original naval residents such as Horatio Nelson, you feel you could almost be on a movie set of a historic film, but with a fabulous hollywood luxury element to it.
Truly worth a visit if only for dinner and drinks (the cocktails are amazing, will certainly hit the spot) also when in the bar, you have the opportunity to try out some of the original old naval games.
As well as the fantastic gourmet meals every evening if you choose to eat within the hotel, (though you are ideally located to eat out if you so desire in close proximity to many other options) But every morning,w making up, taking a quick swim then dressing and calling Cecil on the phone provided by the hotel to sail you across to the opposite side to breakfast, felt very special, a beautiful experience, always met by the most fabulous breakfast on the waterfront with the boat ready to take you back whenever you so desire. For the evenings the night security simply drive you back to your room, it’s never an issue, there’s never any wait, it’s all so accommodating and smooth always.
We also visited another beach just a little further in distance but apparently you can walk it, though we took a taxi, where there were more locals swimming, picnicking and the children were very friendly and played together with our son and were happy to talk to us, again a true reflection of the related Caribbean vibe. The following day, we had the same taxi take us on a day trip another beach and then on to Devils Bridge, the historic landmark where the slaves would escape to to commit suicide by throwing themselves into the sea. A very powerful natural landmark, stunning in it’s beauty, power and symbolism. Areal moment of pause and a chance again to gently explore some of the topics regarding slavery with our son and for him to see first how desperate the people felt to meet their end here in this way and see it as the best option.
I could and should give this the full credit it deserves with at least another 1000 words on just how much we got out of this trip. Snorkelling places we’d never been to, learning to sail, our son docking the boat on return to harbour! There is just so much we got out of this adventure both as individuals and as a family. The breaking of the trip into three parts, started out of necessity, in order to secure pretty low cost flights for the Caribbean at this time of year, even with the extra accommodation it still came in cheaper than booking peak price half term flights, yet we were only over by a few days wither side. From a family bonding point of view, it was totally worth it, from a personal, sun worshipper point of view, yes, worth it, from a lover of luxury and all things glamorous, yes it was worth it, and from an educational cultural point of view, yes, we were all enriched, especially the 7 year old, so would I recommend this as a way to break up a trip, absolutely, to encourage you to look beyond the resort, yet enjoy the rest, to get out and do things, see places at a fraction of the cost, in the most interesting way, 100% do it, find your own virgin travel adventure, do something different, even if it’s somewhere you know, shake it up, keep it interesting, you will not regret it I’m sure. three, is a magic number they say, and this Virgin Travel adventure, the Antigua trilogy trip, was truly a magical experience.