Anguilla Trip Report
If you are like me you will love this place. What is like me? You might get a lot of answers to that depending on who you ask but I think I like the following:
a) I enjoy my luxuries which include air conditioning, a comfortable bed and food/drink when I want it.
b) I like accommodation which is safe and hassle free which is no longer that easy in the Caribbean.
c) People are important to me. I like them genuine and friendly rather than snooty or brash.
d) I am not overly active but enjoy sea sports and scenic comfortable beaches.
e) I enjoy my food but hate overly formal, pretentious and expensive restaurants.
f) Fun bars where you can relax and dance if you want is a bonus.
It is incredibly rare to get all these things in one place but Anguilla provided them all and more. It really is an exceptional island and I am amazed (but secretly relieved) that more people do not know about it. You ask most people in Britain about Anguilla and they will think you have pronounced Angola in central Africa badly! But there it is: this beautiful friendly island that is merely a 30 minute connection from the main British Caribbean holiday hub of Antigua.
We arrived from Antigua on 28th November 2011. The connection was great as you can avoid the chaos of arrival immigration as long as you remember to book checked bags through to Anguilla at UK check-in. If so you simply transfer across to the departure area on the right as you face immigration.
On arrival at the tiny airport in Anguilla you will obviously need to clear immigration. Remember two things, first, be sure you have got hold of and completed an arrivals card and secondly be carefully to write clearly. Very often LIAT Airways forget to give out these forms in advance so ask for them. Also immigration copy almost every last bit on the form into their computer so, if you have not written clearly, it takes ages. Trust me on this!
Once through immigration and customs you will probably need a taxi and there is a taxi controller right in front of you on the left. Taxis can be quite expensive due to their ‘sectional’ charging tariffs where, if you cross over a number of these geographic sections the price jumps. We decided not to pick up a car at the airport as even though it is a small island signs aren’t great and you could struggle first time in the dark. We hired a car which they delivered to the resort and left it at the airport when we departed. Driving is like the UK (on the left) but so are the steering wheels on the hire car!
We stayed at Meads Bay Villas which is within 20 minute drive (most places are) from the airport and we loved it. There are four villas in a zigzag line back from the beach itself. They are located between two small boutique hotels which, although unobtrusive provides added security to the location. We really did think twice about renting a villa in the Caribbean since hearing about a number of high profile incidents over recent times but I can say we felt completely safe here.
You can never rule out crime whether you are at home or on holiday. Nowhere is safe when you have people of any type around. All you can do is be sensible and part of that is to look closely at where you are planning to go. We found that the people in Anguilla all seem to know each other and understand how much they depend on tourism for their future. They want to keep their island safe so people keep coming and also there are not that many non Anguillans living there. From what I see most incidents on other islands are related to issues and people not currently active in Anguilla.
So what about these villas? Well they are well run and looked after by some exceptionally nice and helpful people. You only have to look up some of the reviews and they always recognise these folks. This matters as you really have to depend on them if something goes wrong. For example I was certain our bedroom aircon was faulty as there was a terrible buzzing coming from the wall.
Chris, the boss spent ages on his hands and knees, followed by heads down holes and walls but still no cure. No problem he assured me and called in an expert from across the islands. Still no solution until suddenly he asked me if there was anything in my suitcase leaning against the wall. We opened it and found my razor had switched itself on. I could have died but there were laughs all round and a total refusal to accept any payment for wasted time. Just a small example but I think an important one.
We settled in and spent 3 nights in villa 3. Two big bedrooms, two en-suite bathrooms, outside shower, fully equipped kitchen (better than home) and a comfortable lounge area with plasma cable TV. If we needed anything we asked and it was quickly delivered even if they had to go out and buy it. By the way they will do your initial food shopping for you so it is waiting when you arrive. As a result we were able to sip our own cold drinks and make an omelette soon after we arrived.
They also tidy your villa every day which includes loading the dishwasher, making the beds and putting out fresh beach and bathroom towels. The pool and pool deck were similarly maintained and they will do your washing and ironing at a fair price per load. Just like a hotel but with the added benefits of villa life. By the way the voltage is 110, the plugs are US two pin, robes are provided, as is a safe.
After 3 nights we moved to villa 2. All the villas are identical but we moved to be that bit closer to the see. On reflection a waste of time and the slightly higher rental as they are all so close that we only reduced less than 30 seconds walking time! They are clever the way they have landscaped and positioned these villas to ensure privacy and soundproofing from each other. The move was seamless as you go to lunch and when you get back everything has transferred to the self same location in the new villa.
We tended to spend most days at our villa and beach except for the occasional outings to other beaches and locations. The beach at Meads Bay is terrific with a large expanse of powder white sand and small breaking waves. The island is blessed with superb beaches and the other favourite one of ours was Rendezvous Bay where the Cuisinart Hotel is located. Meads Bay villas provide plenty of shades and sun loungers on their stretch of the beach.
There is not a huge amount to see on Anguilla apart from great beaches and views. If you want an action packed holiday or if you have active children you might have a problem. For example jet skis are banned which adds to the peace but may annoy a few. Most other water sports are there and they have one pretty good golf course although it is overpriced in my opinion.
Another amazing thing about Anguilla is the dining choice available. The quality is enormously high and you can get almost anything you like. It will not cost a fortune either and I am staggered that a place as remote and small as Anguilla can attract such culinary skills. The local lobster is delicious and we even found one small new restaurant (On Da Rocks) where you could buy them for $5 each!
We could split our favourite restaurants into two types. The ones you went to purely to eat and the others where you spend the whole evening drinking and dancing. Our favourite eatery was ‘Sand Bar’ which is located in the area called Sandy Ground where most of the other restaurants are. We also enjoyed ‘Straw Hat’ which was located right next to Meads Bay Villas, in fact a 4 minute walk on a moonlit beach.
For fun we went most nights to ‘Ripples’ at Sandy Ground. It is a bar restaurant and it does the best steak and mash as well as fish and chips I have tasted anywhere. The bar section gets pretty lively sometimes but all very good fun. The British Navy goes in there when visiting port and the bar is full of great memorabilia. It really is a place you can go in alone and come out with new friends.
If you want lots of good local music and food there is ‘The Pump House’ at night and ‘Johno’s’ for Sunday afternoon Jazz. Both are at Sandy Ground. These are my personal favourites but, as I said earlier, there are many more that are equally popular including the more expensive which we did not go to like ‘Jacala’ and ‘Blanchards’, both at Meads Bay.
Our two weeks rushed by and the day of departure loomed. Again it was totally relaxed and hassle free. Somebody was going to move into our villa after we left but we were invited to take our time as the staff were willing to fit their preparation around us. The car hire man popped around for the first and last time, swiped my card and suggested I took the car to the airport and left it there. Give the keys to anyone working there he said grinning. We ended up hugging and kissing the great Meads Bay villa staff with genuine warmth and headed home.
Our particular connection at Antigua was not too good. In fact it was going to be a 6 hour wait at the airport which frankly I thought was going to be a nightmare. In my view Antigua airport is a disgrace. Considering the high density of flights passing through it at certain times the facilities are at best primitive.
To help those that have to endure an Antigua transfer I have a couple of suggestions. You will need a fully completed landing card even if you are transferring. You should have told the check in staff in Anguilla that you are connecting and although they will not check your bags through they will mark them with a transit label. This helps the other end.
When you arrive in Antigua you will usually be faced with an enormous queue of hot tired people waiting at immigration. Instead of joining them go over to the left (as you face them) of the desks and there should be a much less busy one for transferring passengers. When through there you have arrived at customs. Again, if you look on the right you should see a smaller queue for transfers.
Now at this point we did something a bit different. We could not face 6 hours at the not so tender mercy of Antigua airport so we used a fantastic, reasonably new service called ‘Outbound Lounge’www.outboundlounge.com. This is a special facility located the other side of the airport that has its own excellent facility. It is a large single story building that has a luxury lounge, sleeping room, showers, outside tables with sun loungers and everything else you could possibly wish for.
A fabulous place to pass time but it does cost and you currently have to be a British Airways passenger (any class) to use it. While you are in the lounge they check you in, sort out your baggage and bring immigration and security over to you. They then drive you directly across the runway to the aircraft steps. A grand way to finish a holiday! I cannot recommend them enough.