White coves, impossibly blue sea and overflowing infinity pools will greet you as you zoom in to Jumby Bay by private boat. Step off it and a mile-wide smile holding a cold drink will drive you by golf buggy to your home for the week. It’s little wonder the likes of Barack Obama, Paul McCartney and Mariah Carey spend their holidays here.
The 300-acre car-free island, 10-minutes from the north coast of Antigua takes its name from the Antiguan colloquial for ‘playful spirit’. This echoes throughout the hotel, from the charming, friendly staff who’ll laugh and tease you like a member of the family, to the bicycles (plus stabilisers) that come with each room and the cheeky Bananaquits hopping about the place sipping on left-over cocktails.
Dating back to the 15th century, the island was first discovered by Christopher Columbus, then centuries later belonged to King Charles I, who for some inexplicable reason gave it away as a gift – clearly he had too many Caribbean islands. Since then it has exchanged hands several times and now belongs to a collection of homeowners (there are 56 private villas on the island along with the Rosewood hotel) on the island, who clubbed together to buy it in 1998. As a resultit has the feel of a very safe and luxurious neighbourhood, rather than a resort.
Exclusive though it is, the hotel has mastered the art of unshowy, barefoot luxury. There is no dress code, it operates a no-key policy and because everything is included in the price, you needn’t carry your wallet around.
The colonial-style rooms and suites are decked out in cool crisp textiles with coral accents, dark wood furniture and plantation shutters. Suites come with separate living rooms (more than big enough for two children) which lead into an inviting bedroom with a bed so high you might just need a leg up to get in. The bathroom is also enormous, with two sinks and family-sized shower, while an outside roll-top tub and rain shower are guaranteed to banish any diva-like behaviour at bath time. The Pool Suite we stayed in had a sprawling terrace facing the beach and a private plunge pool, with gentle steps down and a friendly crocodile waiting to play. Although there’s plenty of room for four in one suite, there are also interconnecting room options.
The living on Jumby Bay is very easy. Down at the thatched beach bar, rum punch – made by a lady fittingly called Sweetness – flows like water. And a parade of treats – frappuccinos, ice cream sandwiches and frozen fruit – are marched up and down the sand by smiling waiters, while you wallow on a lilo or flop on a sunbed under a bohio (hut). When the midday sun (which is more like the 3pm sun, thanks to ‘Antigua time’) becomes too much take shade in the Pool Grille surrounded by the pinkest bougainvillea you’ll ever see. Children will love watching the little lizards that dart between the tables hoping for a crumb, and the cheeky yellow-bellied birds nibbling up the tortillas that bridge the gap between sitting down and lunch arriving. The food here has a strong South American influence, with ceviche, barbecued seafood and fish tacos all featuring highly.
In the evening book a babysitter and head to The Estate House. Hidden away among the grounds, it was the original estate house when the island had a sugar plantation and is the quintessential colonial experience. Start with a martini on the wrap-around balcony expertly shaken up by the legendary bar tender, then head downstairs for an Italian feast by candlelight.
If you want to eat together, The Verandah is better set up for casual meals, serving everything from freshly-caught seafood to steaks and pastas. Rather than having a children’s menu, there are children’s portions. The kitchen will shrink or alter all dishes to meet junior guest’s requirements – who are treated with equal VIP status as the grown-ups. And best of all, none of the menus have prices on them.
For now, watersports are supervised by parents, rather than the kids’ club. There’s Hobie Cats, snorkelling trips, waterskiing and fishing that results in sea-to-table dining, and you can request a wake-up call if the turtles start laying their eggs during the night. Not that you’re likely to have trouble relaxing, but on the off chance you need a helping hand, head to the oceanfront spa Sense.
Before we went to the Caribbean I had been told that Antiguans love children: Jumby Bay proves this theory and in turn children love Antiguans.
There’s plenty for active teenagers and the Rosebud Kids’ Club runs for those aged three to 12 years. At the time of our visit the club room was being renovated to include a shady trio of linked pagodas located in a specifically breezy spot on the island, with a movie room, kitchen and play area all to be ready by the Christmas (2014) holidays.
Outside, wildlife awaits. Anne-Marie, head of the club, has an imaginative programme that kids can dip in and out of. It includes lizard hunting and feeding (using maraschino cherries as bait), searching for Hawksbill turtles and their eggs or visiting Stingray City.
Gardener and naturalist Monty adds to the entertainment, scurrying up trees to pick coconuts for the children to rehydrate on. There’s also beach games, golf putting, cupcake decorating, bag weaving, bracelet making and mocktail shaking. And if your child happens to be celebrating their birthday at Jumby Bay, Anne-Marie and her team will put together a meticulously planned party for them. When we were there she was in the midst of creating an animation-themed event for the following week.
Phase two of the kids’ club plans will include a children’s pool and bushy maze around the clubhouse for security.
Getting there: British Airways flies directly from London Gatwick to St John’s Antigua; from £549 return. A minibus will then take you from the airport to Jumby Bay’s dock (10 minutes) and a catamaran will whisk you to the island in 10 minutes
Top tip: If you’re travelling with a child under two, request a front row seat on the flight, BA will provide you with a cot for them
Travel time: Flights take just under eight hours
Price: All this does come at a price, rooms start from £617 a night per person, all-inclusive – this means all meals, all drinks and most activities. A Pool Suite for two adults and one child costs from £1,754 a night
Best time to visit: Monsoon season runs from September to November, while the high season is during the Easter and Christmas holidays. It is often cheaper to go in July and August but it can be very hot