by Steve Jermanok
The white sands stretch close to a mile, hemmed in by short jagged peaks, one that looks like a reclining pregnant woman. The beach is gently sloping; a welcome mat for opalescent waters that has the richness of a milk bath. Hobie Cats glide across the bay while on land a smattering of conversations can be heard in Italian, English, and the local patois. Indeed, one feels downright jolly on Antigua’s Jolly Beach. Unlike Jamaica, where peddlers are often too pushy on the beaches of Negril and Montego Bay, Antiguans respect your privacy and walk away when a simple “No, thank you” is heard. And contrary to some Mexico or Dominican Republic resort destinations, there is no sense of dire poverty.
Even at all-inclusive resorts like the Jolly Beach, it’s not uncommon to be dining next to a table of Antiguans at one of their four restaurants. They have been awarded vacations, thanks to a program called “Tourist at Home,” which recognizes people on the island who have somehow stood out in the tourism industry. Past recipients have included immigration officers, taxi drivers, and hotel staff. It’s refreshing going to a Caribbean destination and not having locals merely serve you, but dine with you.
Yet, it’s Jolly Beach, a little slice of paradise in the Caribbean, that you’ll remember the most about visiting Antigua. You’ll want to leave the property to see the sites, but you’ll be happy to return home.
Our Editor Loves
- An affordable all-inclusive getaway
- The scenic island of Antigua
- Kids' Club for ages 3 to 12
- All Inclusive Rates
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Family Room 5+
- Game Room
- Kids' Theme Meals
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
We stayed in a Superior Room, ideally suited for families of four, with two queen beds and balcony. All rooms are air-conditioned, though the sea breeze blowing through the room cooled us off well-enough. The spacious bathroom contained both shower and bath and was equipped with a hair dryer. There's also a television, mini refrigerator stocked with free cool drinks (the benefit of an all-inclusive resort), iron and ironing board, and in-room safe.
If you prefer more space or have a larger family, ask about the two bedroom cottage on the beach. The cottage features one king-sized bed, two twins, private verandah, a flat-screen television, refrigerator, and large bathroom.
We have always found the resort to fulfil all our expectations. We first came on a belated honeymoon - 26yrs - and then brought 3 of our children and one of their partners the second year. This year for our 3rd trip one of our daughters and her partner came back with us where he proposed to her as they were taking photos of the fabulous sunset. We would recommend Jolly beach to all! The staff are so welcoming, the food is diverse and delicious, the restaurants fabulous and the beach with its views amazing.
Instead of booking overprices excursions via cruise ship, we got a day pass to Starfish Resort, which included, breakfast, lunch ALL drinks and a beautiful day on their superlatively supreme beach and delightful pool areas.
Jolly Beach is an all-inclusive, so you can use the two large pools and kids can swim over to the bar for virgin pina coladas and strawberry daiquiris. Or, lounge on the beach and when you get antsy, grab a Hobie Cat or Sunfish sailboat and tack within the protected cove. Windsurfing, sea kayaking, and paddleboats are also available. There are daily windsurfing and sailing lessons if you're a novice at these sports.
Jolly Beach Resort's Kidz Club is available for children ages 3 to 12 (they must be potty trained) in the morning, afternoon, and some nights. Counselors bring kids on lizard hunts, nature walks, and practice the latest moves in dance lessons. In the hot afternoon sun, they often retreat back to the Clubhouse for arts and crafts, movies, board games, and Caribbean story time.
Live bands perform nightly belting out the latest Caribbean sounds, be it calypso, steel drums, and the requisite Bob Marley and other reggae tunes. The whole family can dance the night away under the stars.
Close to Jolly Beach, on the south-central part of the island, stands Antigua's biggest attraction, English Harbour. This long inlet, now popular with the Caribbean yachting sect, was once home to the British fleet and naval hero Admiral Horatio Nelson. From 1784 to 1787, Nelson kept the French at bay, some forty miles away in Guadeloupe. The restored Georgian buildings and pier are part of Nelson's Dockyard National Park. A small museum tries to recapture the feeling of being an 18th-century sailor, always ready to battle enemy countries or worse, the ubiquitous buccaneer. Other buildings house bakeries and coffee shops, even an internet cafÃƒÂ© for the homesick sailor.
Up the hill from English Harbour stands a dilapidated fortress called Shirley Heights. It's worth the drive to see the views below of the harbor and the rocky coastline. The lone cannon at Shirley Heights points to the terra cotta roof of a rambling house that's owned by singer Eric Clapton. Indeed, this former British colony is still popular with many Brits on vacation.
For another fun jaunt away from the resort, go sea kayaking, hiking, and snorkeling one morning with Paddles Kayak Eco Adventure, www.antiguapaddles.com. The owners guide you via kayak through protected mangrove lagoons to find starfish a foot in diameter, then boat you over to Bird Island to watch the fast flying frigate bird try to steal fish from the red billed tropic bird. Afterwards, you get to socialize with parrotfish and queen angelfish on a nearby reef. The cost is US$50.
Good shopping can be found at Redcliffe Quay, along St. John's waterfront, where several dozen shops are housed together in a former warehouse. Try A Thousand Flowers for hand-painted linens or West Indies Oil Co for local crafts.
Jolly Beach has five restaurants to sample, from all-inclusive standards to upscale Italian, seafood, even Indian food. Head to Hemispheres and sit under the palms for breakfast. Selections include fresh pineapple and papaya, pancakes, French toast, bacon, sausage, granola, and omelettes created any way you like. You can also return here for lunch and dinner to try the homemade soups, sandwiches, entrees of red snapper and stuffed chicken breast. Caribbean dishes include Pepperpot and Johnny
Most lunches, we headed to the Coconut Grill, down by the pools, for spicy jerk chicken, grilled fish sandwiches, hamburgers, hot dogs, and heaping mounds of French fries. Our favorite dinner spot was Lydia's, set right on the beach. Try the spicy fish stew, tasty garlic shrimp, and the wide assortment of grilled fish, including snapper, marlin, and grouper.
The kids also liked Bocciolo, the Italian restaurant featuring an antipasto bar, homemade pasta, salads and Italian entrees like veal marsala and eggplant parmigiana. On Tuesday nights, the Kidz Club offers a Kidz Soiree, a formal dinner for children where the wait staff and chef give pointers on proper etiquette. Children get to read and understand the menu, figure out which utensils to use, and how to behave in a formal dining experience. Kids need to make a reservation, dress appropriately, and most importantly, leave their parents behind!
Finally, there's Utsav, an open-air Indian restaurant that features such traditional dishes as chicken tikka masala and lamb curry.
Planning & Tips
Aerobics classes and a wide range of equipment are ready for use at the Jolly Beach Fitness Center. The resort also features four tennis courts. Improve your play by having a lesson with the resident pro, sign up for the round-robin tournament, or play a set under the lights at night.
The entertainment staff is good at convincing children and their parents to join a game of water polo or volleyball. Or take a break from the hot sun and play a game of pool, darts, Ping Pong and pinball in the cool breezes of the Games Room.
The Art of Smart Timing
Prices drop in mid-April, so hold off until then and you'll get a rate reduction and good deals that could include flight. April and May are great times to visit the Caribbean, with the same gorgeous weather and little rain.
For Mom and Dad
While the kids are having their formal dinner at Bocciolo, sneak away to your own Italian rendezvous at one of the best restaurants on the island. Italians have made Antigua a favorite Caribbean hub and many ex-pats have opened up their own businesses here, like Harmony Hill. This open-air restaurant sits on a bluff overlooking Nonsuch Bay with the bar located in a former sugar mill. Owner Riccardo Parisi makes his own mozzarella and creates dishes like mahi carpaccio and red snapper with stewed tomatoes, all washed down with a light, fruity pinot grigio.