Review of Sandals Grande Antigua

Review of Sandals Grande Antigua
By Kira Solomon


Well, we're on the move again! This time, my husband and I were lucky to be invited down to Antigua for a business meeting with Sandals.  I wanted to provide a review for my clients who are considering a stay here in the future.


Arrival 


The flight from Miami is a short 2 1/2 hours.  When we first arrived at the airport we were greeted with smiling faces from everyone.  It felt nice to feel so welcomed.
Welcome sign at the airport
The drive to the resort was about 20 minutes and you get some really pretty views of the different beaches on the island.   At first when we arrived at Sandals I wasn't sure if we were in the right place because it's almost as if you took a small back road to get there, but when we saw the Sandals sign we knew were were back "home".



Property:  Sandals does an amazing job with their properties.  No matter what resort we go to, the grounds always look beautiful and are well manicured.  There are colorful flowers everywhere and palm trees are plentiful.   The sculptures, water fountains and reflecting pools are gorgeous.  

My favorite are the fire features.  At night they light tiki torches throughout the property to highlight the walking paths naturally instead of with bring lights.  There are also several fire pits on the grounds by the beach which make for a romantic and relaxing place to unwind after dinner.  *Tip: Sometimes the cushions at the fire pits are wet from rain or people laying there in their bathing suits to tan during the day.  Just flip the cushions over and the other side will be nice and dry.  Same goes for the pillows on the chairs throughout the property.



Room

We stayed in the Monte Carlo suite in building 7.  It was a beautiful room with a king sized bed, a sitting area, a jacuzzi tub, stand up shower, water closet and a nice balcony overlooking the resort and ocean.  [Click here to view our walkthrough video of this suite]
Mini bar with fully stocked mini-fridge below 
Bathroom with jacuzzi tub and stand up shower
King sized bed.. very romantic! :)
Little sitting area by the balcony
View from our balcony
In fact, we took a walk through inspection of some of the other rooms, including the plunge pool suites, and found that even the lower room categories were spacious and comfortable.
View of the plunge pool on the plunge pool suite


Food/Drinks

My husband and I are foodies, so we tend to be pretty critical of food.  So this is our honest opinions on how we found the food at Sandals.

Eleanor’s (Caribbean):  We ate here twice. Once for dinner and once for lunch (for our meeting).  The food was excellent.  I loved the coconut soup which comes IN a coconut shell.  I thought that was cute.  The seafood was delicious and the lobster was huge.  I could barely finish the tail for dinner or for lunch!   
Lobster :)
Delicious dessert!
Coconut cream soup- IN a coconut :)
More yummy dessert
Fillet minion and a scallop!


Cricketers Pub (Pub food): At night it opens up and turns into a lounge area. People come in and have drinks and food and end up dancing to the DJ’s music or doing karaoke.  It’s definitely the hot spot to meet up with all your friends or make new friends.  And whenever a big game is on, people set up a TV in the little library room off the side of the pub and watch it.  We watched the Miami game in there and it was a lot of fun to watch with the group. We tried their wings and fries and both were great in terms of pub food standards. 
Outside the pub
The pub bar

Snack Cafe (Burgers, Fries, etc):  The food smelled and looked good so we wandered in at one point to take a look at the menu.  We didn't get to order anything but had we stayed longer this would be the perfect spot to stop and grab something to bring to eat by the pool or the beach if you are staying in the Caribbean village, or just hanging out in that area.
Snack bar/cafe

Bayside (International Buffet): We ate here a few times and the food was good.  I was surprised at the quality considering it was a buffet.  But one afternoon we had marlin filets and they were delicious.  They were cooked perfectly.  Though the dessert usually disappointed me as I’m not a fan of cake, but there are little cups with vanilla whipped cream and berries and I loved that.  I also loved the live music here.  There was a man who came in with a guitar and sang to us. 
Singer
View from our table at Bayside.


Cafe de Paris (Pastries):  This is by far my favorite place.  It opens 7am - 10:30pm and is always serving desserts.  In fact, in the morning they have waffles and ice cream.. for breakfast!  Say goodbye to your diet while you are here. We went in there in the morning for the natural iced teas.  They make an amazing lemon grass tea.  The bottle has a bunch of lemon grass in it.  It’s delicious and was a great way to start the day.  At night we’d pop in and have a little cup of ice cream or a dessert if we didn’t like what was on the menu at the restaurant we went to.  
"You can have whatever you want..." 
Yumm!
Natural lemon grass iced tea
Ice cream at 7:30am!

Maroi’s (Italian):  We went here for breakfast every morning and it was excellent.  The bacon always was fresh and tasted great.  The omelets were delicious and by the end of my stay the omelet woman (I believe her name was Victoria but I couldn’t see her name tag) remembered my order and had it ready for me when she saw me.  The coffee was also great.  Sometimes coffee is a hit or a miss at these resorts but I didn’t have a single cup of burnt coffee during my entire stay, which was refreshing.  

We did eat there for dinner once and the food was just as great.  Possibly one of the best Italian meals I’ve had in a long time.  My favorite were the fried risotto balls at the mini buffet.  My brother visits Italy often and had told us about them when he went to Rome.  He had looked all over our area back home to find someone who makes them so we could try them but we couldn’t find them.  This was my first time having them and they were amazing.  I was surprised to find them there but that is what I love about Sandals: the chefs for the restaurants are from the countries they are representing in their meals.  When we stepped into Maroi’s I felt like we were in Italy from the setting to the wonderful Italian restaurant manager who greeted us with a big smile and a warm welcome.
Fried risotto balls
Seafood risotto
Lava cake!!


Kimonos (Japanese Hibachi):  This is our favorite type of food, Japanese show cooking, and sometimes it's a hit or a miss at Sandals and Beaches.  This time it was a hit.  The appetizers were delicious, the food wasn’t cooked with too much teriyaki sauce and the fried rice was delicious.  It still wasn’t as good as back home, but we were still pleasantly surprised.
Heart of fried rice

Soy (Sushi):  We ate here twice and loved it both times.  George made us sushi the first night and it was great.  So good that I ordered the same thing the next time we went and it tasted just as good.  If there is something you want him to make you specifically that isn’t on the menu just tell him what it is and he’ll do his best (provided they have all the ingredients).  *Tip: even though this restaurant doesn’t take reservations, it’s small and gets packed pretty easily.  Go there expecting to have a drink and sit in the lounge for a little while before being seated at the sushi bar or a table.
Making our sushi rolls
Finished product 
Table setting

Bella Napoli (All Pizza):  This was a great place to grab a snack to bring back to the room or to the pool when we were hungry mid day.  Since it was located right near our room we could just walk by and order it and then come back down to pick it up in 15-20 minutes when it was ready.   The pizzas are personal sized, and if you don’t want to eat a lot split one, but if you’re hungry, don’t share it as it can be small.  It depends on who is cooking it.  One day mine was pretty big and the next day it was really small.
Pizza boxes

Special "white pizza" with shrimp
Barefoot By The Sea:  This is one of my favorite resorts.  I love being able to dine with my sandals off and my toes in the sand.  It's a great place to grab a burger or jerk chicken and listen to the waves while you dine casually.
Jerk ribs


OK Corral (Tex-Mex):  We love Tex-Mex, and were disappointed with this restaurant.  I had the pulled pork tacos and the chicken fajitas.  The food wasn’t awful or inedible, but the "worst" I can say about it is that I've had better.  It may have been an off night, or I may just have to suck it up and say it's not my favorite restaurant on property.  Either way, if you’re really into Tex-Mex you may be a little disappointed too, or maybe I was just being picky that night. Good news is, Sandals is making working on making changes to their dining program, doing a complete overhaul to roll out their new "Discovery Dining" program that will take the quality of food up another notch. So in a few months or even weeks it may taste even better. (For reference: this review was written in 2013)
Chicken fajitas
Pulled pork tacos


Drinks

For the most part, drinks were great.  The swim up bars made great mixed drinks and if you want anything specific just ask them.  If they don’t know how to make it you can tell them how and they’ll put it together for you.  There are always top shelf drinks at the resort bars, so you never have to worry about the liquor not being top quality.  Also, if you think the drinks are watered down, just ask for an extra shot, or watch them make it.  We only had an issue with it once and it wasn’t because of the bartender; I think it was because it was a frozen margarita and it began melting so quickly that it drowned out the taste of the alcohol and then tasted watered down. 

"If you like pina coladas..." :)

Beach

The beach here is beautiful, but the locals harassing you on the beach is a big problem for me.  I know there is nothing Sandals can do, and they take great measures to protect their guests by having security guards all over the beach to make sure locals aren’t coming in.  However, they can’t stop them from hassling you about buying tours and trinkets.  We like a quiet, laid back beach.  Every Sandals we’ve been to with locals on the beach it hasn't been an issue.  It’s mainly been one or two here or there and they remember you so when you say “no thank you” on day one, they won’t bother you again.  But here the same people day in and day out would ask us if we wanted tours or to buy things and it was annoying to be laying there tanning and hearing them talking to you.  Or to have to constantly watch your stuff while you were swimming because you were worried someone may come and take your stuff.  We’d never had that uneasy feeling at any of the other properties but here, so we only went to the beach to use the water sports stuff and swam once or twice, but the water was gorgeous.  It was a great temperature, not too warm but not too cold and it was a beautiful turquoise color.  You could see some fish swimming around your ankles when you stood in the water.  A few tried to suck on my legs and feet and my husband and I were cracking up because it tickled.
Panoramic view of the beach
My popular "coconut on the beach" photo recreated
Someone enjoying the jet-skis 

Pools

The pools are great too and they were a good temperature, which was refreshing.  The main pool was pretty crowded, so we stuck to the smaller pool which is great until they do pool volley ball and that takes up a lot of the space.  We just swam around to the other side of the bar where it was quieter and hung out there.  
Quiet pool
Swim up bar at the main pool


Water Sports

My husband enjoyed this more than I did.  He went out on the hobie cats a few times and only took me once and I hated it (I’m not a fan of open waters when the “boat” I’m on doesn’t have a motor).  We also did the water bikes which was fun, but didn’t get to try the kayaks.

We don’t dive but we did go snorkeling one day.  They took us and one other guest out to a reef off shore and then told us to jump in.  We’d snorkeled before at other Sandals and Beaches resorts but this was our first time snorkeling in Antigua and I wasn’t too impressed with the sights.  I got out and the waves were pretty rough so I ended up swimming back to the boat before the others.  My husband went farther out and saw some fish swimming around the rocks and a few sea urchins but nothing too crazy.  We thought the snorkeling in Jamaica was better.   We did see a ray jump from the water while we were on the boat.  We’d seen that once before back home in Florida and thought it was cool to see.
View from the boat
Right before they said "okay, everyone jump in!" 
Boat that took us out... I just enjoyed the ride :)

Entertainment, Amenities and Activities

I loved all of the amenities on property.  The spa is beautiful, though I didn’t get to try it out.  I always love the Red Lane Spa toiletries in the room and whatever we don’t use I take home for our guests so they can get a “sense” of Sandals. ;)

We didn’t get to do any games but saw a lot of couples participating in things like the scavenger hunt and the pool side couples games.  We kept saying we were gonna have a game of billiards or table tennis/ping pong.  But we never had a chance to do it.

The entertainment was excellent.  The live music was great and couples were able to dance and enjoy themselves.  We liked to sit by the stage in the Med. Village at night and listen to the live music while having drinks and then we’d go into the pub when that became more lively.
Main stage
Enjoying dancing at the "pub club" late at night


We also ended up having a mini party by the beach for our group and the DJ played some great music.  It’s definitely a lively and active resort so if you enjoy getting involved, staying up late and meeting new people, this is the place to go.


Service  

We met several wonderful staff members during our week on the resort. Ezra, the Sales Manager, is the sweetest person.  If you need anything she is more than happy to help and always has a smile on her face.  She's been down at Sandals Grande Antigua for over a decade and the resort is very lucky to have her.  This place certainly feels like home and she is like the "momma" always looking out for and taking care of  the guests.

Ann Marie (who worked at the Pub but was transferred to Eleanor’s when we left) is amazing.  You’ll know her by her name tag but she is the life of the party at night and has been working with Sandals since 1989, so she is a very dedicated staff member!  If ever she saw us she'd come up to us and give us a big hug and drag us into the pub to get us drinks and make sure we were on the dance floor enjoying ourselves.  We appreciated how at-home she always made us feel.

Sasha (Nasasha) in the wedding department is amazing too!  If you're planning a wedding at Sandals Grande Antigua you are in GREAT hands with her. 

As always, we also enjoyed dining with the Sandals higher-ups such as David Roper (the VP of Industry Relations), Adam Stewart (the CEO), and Gordon "Butch" Stewart (the Chairman and Founder of Sandals Resorts).  After a successful all-day business meeting with them and other top Sandals employees, it was nice to share a meal and a conversation with each of them.

With "Butch" Stewart, Chairman and Founder of Sandals Resorts.
Dining with David Roper, VP of Industry Relations for Sandals
Dinner with other agents, Sandals employees, and Adam Stewart, CEO of Sandals
With Ann Marie (Pub/Elanor's) and Sasha (Wedding Department)


Tips

Bring bug spray. As is with most islands, the mosquitoes and sand flies are awful in the evening.  I had welts all over my legs, arms, and neck from just sitting out one night.  

Don't offer food or drinks to anyone on the beach.  We read that couples could get charged for any water or food that they gave locals on the beach.  Also, don't buy anything from locals on the beach who are unauthorized vendors.  The authorized vendors had tags with their license on them.  

If you plan to do tours, don't book with the beach vendors unless they have proof they are insured.  This offers you protection in case something happens to you while on their tour.  If you're unsure, best be safe and stick with the Island Routes tours as they are fully licensed, insured, and run by the Sandals parent company.

Consider donating to the Sandals Foundation and/or PackForAPurpose.org when you come down.  They are non profit organizations that give back to the community in the Caribbean.  The Sandals Foundation gives 100% of it’s proceeds to helping build and furnish schools, provide medical and dental care, and much more.  They’ve even participated in a spa/neuter program on the islands which if you’ve been down there you know wild dogs and cats are a big problem in the Caribbean.  If you’re making a donation, make sure they take it on when you check out.  I checked off I wanted to donate money and they never took it off so I’m going to have to donate online when I get home.  For Pack For A Purpose, you’re allowed to bring up to 5 pounds of school supplies for the school children down on the islands.  So each time we go I visit the website and check to see what supplies are needed at the school on the island we’re going to and then stock up on some items to bring down.  I always bring pencils after I heard a story about a little kid who broke his in threes so his friends could have a pencil too. :(   Anyway, if you participate, just follow the directions on the website and drop the bag with the front desk or whoever checks you in and they will be picked up by the organization and distributed to the kids with whatever message you choose to leave for them.  You can also visit the kids by doing the “Reading Road Trip” through Island Routes..  That is a trip that takes you to the local school to meet the kids and interact with them.  They LOVE meeting new people and it’s great experience for them to interact with the visitors.  It’s only $20 per person to do the short 2 hour trip and again, all the proceeds go to the Sandals Foundation. 
Our donation

All-in-all, it was a fabulous trip to Antigua, and while the resort isn't for everyone, it's very easy to fall in love with this property.  The staff are excellent, the beach is gorgeous, the grounds are beautiful, and it's a such a romantic place to be.  Even if we were there for work. :)



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