Family fun meets understated luxury at Carlisle Bay

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Room Key: Carlisle Bay Resort

Address: Carlisle Bay, Old Road, St. Mary's, Antigua

Reservations: (800) 628-8929 Or (268) 484-0002

Web:www.carlisle-bay.com

General Manager: Andrew Hedley

Number of Rooms: 81

Rates: From $725 per suite, per night, double, in a Beach or Ocean suite to $1,850 for six people in a Carlisle Suite through Sept. 8 and from Oct. 13 to Nov. 3; from $790 for a Beach or Ocean suite to $2,050 for a Carlisle Suite from Nov. 4 to Dec. 20. Rates cover full breakfast, afternoon tea. Meal plan options available.

Closure: Carlisle Bay will be closed from Sept. 9 to Oct. 13.

Imagine a resort in the Caribbean where the general manager greets every arriving guest and personally sees them off when they depart. Imagine a resort where you can dine in an Asian fusion restaurant with oversize, peony-pink chairs and black-lacquered tables overlooking an outdoor lily pond with floating candles.

Where you can watch movies in a 45-seat screening room with a popcorn machine and designer blue-leather chairs.

Where you can enjoy an ice-cold beer or afternoon tea and sandwiches sitting in your beach chaise under an umbrella.

Where you can hone your tennis skills on one of nine tennis courts under the tutelage of a resident tennis pro.

Imagine Antigua's Carlisle Bay.

The resort, which opened in December 2003, was the brainchild of Gordon Campbell Gray, the man behind London's sleek One Aldwych Hotel.

With Carlisle Bay, Gray sought to bring to the Caribbean a minimalist, contemporary look that was at the same time comfortable.

He encouraged guests to kick off their shoes and to leave the designer clothes and expensive baubles at home.

Carlisle Bay faced some stiff competition when it opened, including island legend and neighbor Curtain Bluff and the all-villa Jumby Bay.

Gray knew that if he was going to go toe-to-toe with these Antigua stalwarts, he would have to infuse Carlisle Bay with the same qualities that made One Aldwych stand out in London: consistently good service, smart design and understated luxury.

"What makes Carlisle Bay special, and what our guests tell us impresses them the most is our attention to detail," said Andrew Hedley, Carlisle Bay's general manager. "We are passionate about the details."

At Carlisle Bay, attention to detail was a warm handshake from Hedley when I arrived after a tiring early-morning flight.

Later, the attention to detail was a beach attendant's offer of a fragrant, chilled towel during the hottest part of the afternoon, a sports massage at the resort's full-service spa that began precisely on the hour and lasted a full 60 minutes, and a basin of water placed by the entrance to my room to wash the sand off my feet.

Carlisle Bay was conceived as a sister property to One Aldwych, without the urban ingredient.  Gray once again collaborated with London designer Mary Fox Linton to create the resort's 81 rooms, which range from 780-square-foot units to 1,600-square-foot, three-bedroom suites that are popular with families.

No matter the room type, units feature substantial, dark-wood furniture; large sofas and chaises; and generously sized bathrooms with separate walk-in showers and tubs.

The owners spared no expense with such items as fiber-optic bedside reading lights, CD and DVD players, espresso machines in the rooms and Frette bed linens.

The walls are decorated with British photographer Jason Taylor's specially-commissioned black-and-white snapshots of local plants and island life.

Large balconies feature enormous earthenware Indonesian urns, wicker chairs and double daybeds.

I looked forward each morning to breakfast on my balcony, watching the pelicans dive-bomb for fish and sharing my sugar with the colorful birds that dropped in for a meal-on-the-fly.

A hit with families

It surprised me that families accounted for such a big part of Carlisle Bay's clientele, representing about 30% of business from the U.S.

The remaining 70% of the U.S. market is made up of couples. Not surprisingly, Carlisle Bay's clientele is upscale and well traveled.

Guests without kids might want to request one of the Ocean Suites, which is where I stayed. The units are strung along the beach between the watersports center and the large pool.

Hedley said that the resort makes an effort to steer families toward the more self-contained two-bedroom Beach Suites, of which there are 27, and the four Carlisle Suites with three bedrooms each.

Carlisle Bay's popularity with families prompted the resort to open a $250,000 kids' club with a pool and play areas for children three and older.

The kids' club is supervised by nannies who are trained to British standards and are certified in first aid for children. 

As for dining, the Asian restaurant, East, serves a wide selection of creative dishes, including tiger prawns in red curry, scallops seared in sesame oil, a variety of sushi and sashimi and green tea creme brulee for dessert.

A more casual option is Indigo on the Beach, an open-air, beachside restaurant that serves three meals a day and features a bar with an extensive martini menu.

Indigo is the kind of Caribbean restaurant where you can kick off your shoes and enjoy grilled fish that the chef and his team caught that same day.

It seems every resort nowadays must have a spa to compete in the marketplace, and Blue, the 17,000-square-foot spa at Carlisle Bay, is a major selling point.

The spa offers six treatment rooms and his-and-her locker rooms with walk-in showers, soaking tubs and saunas.

Blue uses only natural products derived from plants in such treatments as the Tropical Fruit Scrub featuring fresh pineapple, mango and papaya. A word to the wise: Don't show up for this treatment on an empty stomach.

In addition to the treatment rooms, the spa has a large gym, a yoga/Pilates pavilion, a juice bar and a beauty salon.

On the beach, Carlisle Bay offers all manner of nonmotorized water sports and scuba diving trips. Just after my visit in late June, the resort was poised to add a 32-foot boat for fishing trips, sightseeing excursions and snorkeling trips, among other activities.

The custom-built boat, which can seat 12 passengers, is the kind of amenity that keeps Carlisle Bay competitive with more established resorts on Antigua.

It appears the resort is succeeding: Three years after opening, Carlisle Bay expects to achieve an 87% occupancy rate.

To contact reporter Jorge Sidron, send e-mail to [email protected].

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