A trip this time of year would typically have been to Aruba as in years past, but we were determined to try something new. As usual, I copiously researched a variety of options. My finalists were the Turks and Caicos and Antigua. Turks was more expensive and farther north. In my mind, destinations farther south usually correlate with better weather, and I wanted to be as close to the equator as possible.
In Antigua, I looked at Jumby Bay, Hermitage Bay, and Galley Bay. The first two were twice the price of Galley Bay Resort & Spa, which had terrific reviews. I decided to book five nights in an all-inclusive, premium beachfront suite for $4,700 and crossed my fingers that the resort would live up to its reputation.
Let’s Begin with the Positives
When trying somewhere new, I really try to manage my expectations. This can be difficult when we’ve had such great experiences at places we’ve revisited over the years. For example, when we travel to Aruba, the weather is consistently stunning, the staff knows us at our hotel and we know the island inside and out. We know all the great restaurants and many of the chefs. Why would we go anywhere else?
Trying new things—especially when it comes to travel—can be daunting. It’s a personal decision to push oneself out of one’s comfort zone. Compounding this leap with the expense of it all can curb one’s enthusiasm. (“We paid how much for this awful experience?”)
Luckily for us, Galley Bay exceeded our expectations. I loved so many things about this little resort.
Galley Bay is an adults-only, all-inclusive boutique resort. Upon your arrival, the resort staff escorts you by golf cart across their lagoon to your cottage. On your way, you will tour and learn about their restaurants, bars and rum shack. You will pass their fitness room, gift shop, outdoor pool, tennis and croquet courts and beachfront yoga hut.
If it sounds like it is a lot to take in, it is not. I absolutely loved the size of this quaint resort—neither too big nor too small. It has only 98 units, and most cottages consist of four suites total (two upstairs and two downstairs).
I typically hate to be on the ground floor, but I chose the lower level because you can walk right out onto the sand. I have never had a room so close to the ocean in all of my trips to the Caribbean or anywhere else for that matter. It was truly impressive. I had my coffee on a lounge chair in front of our cottage (#37) every morning and somehow never heard a peep from any neighbors upstairs or next door.
After our morning coffee, we would change into our swimsuits and cover-ups, grab the beach bag and head to breakfast. Though we had a refrigerator in our room stocked with beer, water and soda, we opted to stay at the pool or on the beach closer to the resort’s bars and restaurants. We almost never returned to our room until our customary nap before dinner.
Our day typically consisted of breakfast at the Sea Grape, whose fantastic menu featured various kinds of eggs Benedict (our favorite!). From there, we would head to the beach and/or pool where we would read until lunchtime. We would have lunch most days at the adorable beach-shack Barefoot Grill, where we would often enjoy the catch-of-the-day fish sandwich and a couple of ice-cold beers. Afterward, we would return to our lounge chairs and continue to, well, lounge.
The sun would drop behind a cliff off property around four o’clock, and that would be our cue to head to the conical-roofed Tee Pee Bar for cocktail hour. A few drinks and a little conversation would ease us nicely into the evening. After a quick nap back at the cottage, we would be refreshed and ready for dinner. On some nights, after dinner at Gaugin or Ismay’s, we would head back to the Sea Grape for live music, but on other nights we would simply head back to our cottage to get ready to do it all over again the next day.
If that sounds too lazy for you, the resort offered water sports and other activities previously mentioned as well as a shuttle to another beach nearby. Had we stayed longer, I could have seen us venturing out more, though I am not complaining—we enjoyed every second of our stay.
Vacations like this only work when certain variables cooperate.
- You need to have good weather. Though it rained daily, no day was a complete washout or one where we missed out on basking in the sun.
- If you’re not going to leave the resort, you need to be able to access all it has to offer. We were able to get a seat on the beach or at the pool every day without fail. Dinner reservations were also not an issue. I have no idea where all the guests were, but the resort never seemed even close to full—even though it was supposed to be.
- In a boutique resort setting, you cross your fingers for good fellow guests. I think the guests may actually have been my favorite part of the whole vacation (more on that later).
- While managing expectations regarding food and beverages at an all-inclusive, you also hope for the best. Galley Bay had the absolute best food of any all-inclusive we’ve stayed in—and great service staff to boot.
Regarding the food, Gaugin was the most impressive. The rare flank steak with chimichurri, mahi mahi and smoked tuna were the best meals we had, all served under thatched-roof cabanas by candlelight.
At the Sea Grape, we had the most delicious lobster Thermidor for dinner (twice!) and yummy ceviche and paella for lunch. Ismay’s was an extra charge and not as good, though our reservation was the last of the evening, so that may have been a factor.
I loved Galley Bay’s dress code for dinner. All three of its restaurants require men to wear collared shirts and pants. They ask women to wear dresses, skirts or pants. This was seemingly a non-issue for this crowd, largely 50+, British and well-tailored at all times. Men wore snappy hats during the day while women sported colorful capri pants. Everyone drank rosé at lunch, and no one drank before noon. I am all for carrying on, but it was nice to be at an all-inclusive resort with no one double-fisting drinks in the pool at ten in the morning for a change.
At the beach, virtually no guests were on their phones; they were typically reading instead. I also saw a number of guests enjoying afternoon tea—how nice to feel like we were with grown-ups.
I often tease my husband that he only owns T-shirts from places we have visited. Like-minded gentlemen surrounded us at breakfast everywhere I turned. I saw T-shirts from Soggy Dollar Bar (British Virgin Islands) here and Slim’s Elbow Room (Cabo) there and even the Black Dog (Martha’s Vineyard). It was refreshing to be with fellow travelers.
Most guests we spoke to had been coming to Galley Bay for years. A number of them were with a larger group, though they seemed to disperse when it wasn’t mealtime.
Service was very good for the most part, and it got me thinking. Was the service above average because the guests were above average? Did the guests behave so well because they were regulars and respected their servers? Or were these two things totally independent of one another? I don’t honestly know, but I have been to resorts where the guests misbehaved and the staff was still superb. Conversely, I’ve been with a good crowd and had servers on what they call “island time” (slow servers who don’t seem to care about service).
The servers at Galley Bay really seemed to care and were incredibly kind and happy throughout our stay. I saw a number of (I assume) repeat guests hugging them upon entering or leaving the resort. And for the first time ever, I was at a resort that had a strict no-tipping policy. As an American, I found that hard to get used to—yet kind of delightful in the end.
On our last day, my husband and I braced ourselves for the dreaded late-checkout request. How many times had we had a lovely stay somewhere only to encounter a firm “no” for such a seemingly simple thing to do for guests with a late flight? Not only did Galley Bay say yes to our request, but they also offered to let us have lunch at Gaugin to kill some time even after checkout. We left with such a great feeling about the entire stay. Thank you, Galley Bay.
For Your Consideration
I thought I might be missing out on experiencing Antigua by doing an all-inclusive, but as you’ve read, we had a lovely time. Due to construction, our trip from the airport took double the usual amount of time, but we got to see some of the island. On another day, we went into downtown to go shoe shopping and there was not much to see in my opinion. It appears to be more of a marketplace for the locals. Based on these excursions, I don’t think we missed much by staying at an all-inclusive, especially one of this caliber.
Galley Bay’s beach is notoriously rough. It is not unswimmable though, and when my husband and I went in, the water was gorgeous. But they had the red flag of caution flying for our entire stay, so you can dodge the waves as we did or head off property. As previously stated, had we had more time, a few day trips to other beaches would have been nice. #nexttime
We love a dry, arid climate, which is why we frequent Aruba and Cabo. We’ve actually traveled there with friends who complained about the lack of greenery. My response is quite simply, “plants = bugs.” I knew Galley Bay was supposed to have lush, tropical gardens. So I packed the bug spray and hoped for the best. On our first night at Gaugin, I forgot to apply it, and mosquitoes ate me alive. I was miserably itching for the rest of the trip. To avoid another mishap the following night, my husband sprayed me down before we headed out. Back at Gaugin, we sat closer to the water, and the mosquitoes seemed to leave me alone (though it may have been the spray). Proud of myself for avoiding another mishap (or so I thought), I went to take off my shoes before bed and realized the bug spray had stripped the paint right off my patent leather high heels (thus, our necessary trip into town the next day).
At almost $1,000 a night, Galley Bay has things that might bother some travelers. But the good so outweighed the bad that none of this was an issue for me. Still, to make a well-informed decision, consider these points:
- The rooms are a bit sparse, but as I have described, we were only in ours to sleep, enjoy coffee and get ready for dinner. They have all of the amenities you would need, including a mini service area with a sink, coffeemaker and refrigerator, a large closet and bathroom, but they are not luxurious. What is luxurious is the proximity to the ocean right outside your door.
- There is no room service, which was only an issue on our first night after a long day’s travel. The hubby had to change for dinner, and we headed to the Sea Grape where we had the lobster Thermidor. It was so good, we went there on our last night to enjoy it one last time—not too shabby.
- There is no food allowed in the pool area and no food or beverage service on the beach. Normally, we have lunch and drinks in our lounge chairs, but the Barefoot Grill was just steps away from both the pool and the beach, and it was fantastic. There were also waiters at the pool and call buttons for drinks, but we typically waited to get to cocktail hour before carrying on.
If I were to make any suggestion to Galley Bay, it would be to consider heating their pool and installing a hot tub. Given the rain we saw daily, these would have been two nice additions for when it gets a little chilly.
If You Go
Getting to Antigua from a northeastern city can be difficult. You can fly direct out of Newark (EWR) but only certain days of the week. We were bookending a board meeting in Miami and had to fly on a Tuesday, leaving no alternative but a dreaded connection. Though the flights went off without a hitch, it did make for a long day—and the 45-minute ride from the airport felt like something out of Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
I had read reviews that had warned about the possibility of mosquitoes. Learn from my mistake and order something organic well in advance of your trip to Antigua. And remember to apply it.