The Caribbean is ablaze with resort pyrotechnics: Celebrity chefs! Underwater sound systems! Bath butlers and 90-foot “infinity” bars! Wasn’t the islands’ original appeal that they were a low-key, laid-back escape from all that?
British hotelier Gordon Campbell Gray thought so when he opened Carlisle Bay on Antigua, and as his resort approaches its tenth birthday, it’s still proof of the powers of restraint. Simple is dead sexy. That's a formula that's easier to cite than to execute, but it's executed near-perfectly here. And even though Carlisle Bay is middle-aged by glam-hotel standards, it looks more timeless than dated, and there’s no reason to think about a face-lift. In fact, it’s places like this that make you see the futility of chasing trends.
With rates starting at $635 a night ($425 with certain special offers and an early booking discount), Carlisle Bay is pricier than many Caribbean resorts. But you get what you pay for: comfort, confidence, and grown-up class. The 82 oversize suites (really suites—around 800 square feet, with separate living and sleeping areas) are effortlessly elegant, with cool white tile floors, black-and-white nature photography, and splashes of watery blues and grays. Fuchsia bougainvillea frames the ocean views from the balconies. There are iPod docks and Gaggia coffeemakers, but there’s no technology for technology’s sake, none of those touch-screen control panels that leave many of us over 30 longing for a simple light switch.
The food is hands-down the best I’ve had in the Caribbean, since the chef is wise to the fact that after a day in the sun and sea, people just want grilled fish and vegetables. And his delectable gingered-pineapple carpaccio, which I’m still craving. But they don’t always want that, so there are pan-Asian and wood-fired-pizza restaurants too, and meals can be served anywhere on property. (Think private beach and jetty dinners.) And the staff—some 250 strong—delivers consistently competent, confident service.
One of the smartest moves the developers made is separating couples and families, so no one is bothered or feels awkward about disturbing anyone else. Couples get the split-level suites on one side of the property; families get the multi-room suites on the other. Each has its own beach, and the restaurants have separate family hours. In four days here (as the resort’s guest), I didn’t know there were children in-house until I took a kayak out on my last morning. That’s another formula very few hotels get right.